And so this is Christmas… And what have you done? (thanks, Beetles)

Well, looks like we blew 2016. I won’t even get started on the president the Electoral College gave the (for now) United States. One of a couple friends that builds sidecars just had to drop everything and head home to take care of family. Turkey, home of Ford’s world heavy truck program, is so ungovernable that Turkish military officers assigned to our U.S. military are requesting refugee status. That probably explains why Ford’s touching TV ad with the moslem woman farmer driving a big Ford truck to market has disappeared. And speaking of big trucks, a terrorist has again turned a big truck into a weapon of terror, this time in one of Europe’s fabled Christmas Markets.

But the techies ain’t givin’ up… Here in ‘Merica groups of techies are downloading and archiving terabytes of public domain scientific data on climate, lest Trump & Company think they can make climate change go away by deleting the data. And while the Turkish military and/or religious fanatics may shut down Ford in Turkey, the next Ford heavy truck will be built in Brazil too, and no doubt teams of techs on several continents are developing that truck online. Wouldn’t be the first time, Ford’s Escape/C-Max/Kuga was an international design project as is every new vehicle from every major manufacturer.

And our sidecar builder who had to return home to be with his family? Given a bit of computer software, a dozen gear heads spread all over the world could probably together design and build a sidecar without ever physically meeting, regardless of family obligations, blizzards, or outright acts of war… Ain’t tech wonderful!

If you’ve been around computers much, you know all about “vaporware”- Promised and much hyped software and computers that never make it to market, and are often late and disappointing if they do. Meanwhile, trucking, manufacturing, agriculture, etc. slowly evolve in a well deserved environment of well earned conservatism. But now were seeing a flurry of press releases for the latest trucking software, and now it’s come to this:

nikola_one_14

You can read Nicola’s wacky hype yourself at Nicola’s PR page. Or I’ll just sum up for you here… That’s a completely new cab and it just cost Scania two billion Euros to develop a new cab and put it into mass production. And unlike Scania’s new cab which is compact enough to be legal just about anywhere on the planet, this think is too long for anywhere much beyond the couple hundred thousand truck a year North American market. Nicola brags of 50,000 Units a year, but I don’t think Daimler, Navistar, Paccar, and Volvo are gonna let that happen, and they’ve got the technical and production capacity to build a competitor in place, and ready to rumble. That’s just the start of the “vapors” Nicola is suffering from, this vision is reputedly powered by a hydrogen powered engine assisted by a 300 kilowatt hour battery pack with hybrid regenerative braking and charging. That’s over $100,000 worth of batteries with at best a 10 year life… No wonder Nicola is pushing a 7 year lease on the thing. And don’t worry about the hydrogen fuel, it’s free… If you can find it! There’s zilch hydrogen fueling structure anywhere, and Nicola is promising over 300 hydrogen fueling stations coast to coast… Good luck getting that by the nation’s Fire Marshalls, never mind the NIMBYs. And that of course has to be “green” hydrogen fuel, made with electricity produced by multiple 100 megawatt solar farms… Couple weeks ago I was quoted $2 a watt installed costs of solar power. Amazingly, Ryder and U.S. Express trucking have lent their once good names to this multi billion dollar scam, er, “vaporware”. And we have yet to see this “vision” as much as turn a wheel, never mind move a pound of freight. Memo to Nicola, it ain’t easy gettin’ into big truck building…

Sorry, ain’t been able to find a public domain photo of the Paymaster truck, but you can view a bunch here on Google. Looks 21st century, but the first one was built by Oregon trucker Dean Hobbensieken and hit the road way back in 1971. It rode better, used less fuel, and hauled as much as anything on the road, and would still be competitive today. And unlike the Nicola, the Paymaster trucks actually ran- The 1971 original was sighted hauling around Portland in the late 90s before being retired to a musuem. Ryder, the same company now in lust if not love with Nicola, had 10 built, leased them out, and several if not all survive. A further 3 were built in the early 80s, one of those carried an owner operator couple for over a million miles, another hauls a trailer maker’s products to truck shows, and a third got a bigger motor and flirted with 200 MPH at the Salt Flats.And why not… Underneath the aerodynamic bodywork, the Paymasters were powered by off the shelf diesel drivetrains, moved to a mid engine location for better weight distribution and a lower center of gravity.

But despite favorable press and Ryder’s backing, only 14 Paymasters were ever built. That says just how hard the truck building biz is to break into even for a truck that actually runs on readily available fuel, and maybe explains why vehicle design and especially trucks change by evolution rather than revolution. Wonder how many billion will be blown on Nicola before it crashes?

 

 

Black Friday gets more depressing every year… I soldier through several hardware stores, Home Depot, Sears, etc. in search of serviceable tools and stuff that ain’t Chinese junk that won’t last the winter, never mind till next black friday. The only thing approaching a good deal was an american made needle nose pliers, hammer, and saw blades. Sears had nothing but acres of Chinese made Craftsman tools, a sad fate for such once respectable brands. Homer’s provided free Wi-Fi and little else.

I’ve had it with “new”… I’ve got enough cars and motorcycles and just about everything else to last the rest of my life and probably my heir’s life too. We’re a nation that has reached “peak stuff”, and our garages are too full of stuff to fit a bike never mind a car. Spare bedrooms, attics, and basements full of stuff are further testimony to that. To say nothing of all the stuff that drives the booming storage rental industry…

Where the heck did all this stuff come from? A century ago we couldn’t afford much stuff and there was no “easy credit”, so we bought what we needed and made it last. Come the twenties and banks started financing houses, and we overextended ourselves into a depression. Fast forward through the depression and second world war, and the politicians were worried that the returning soldiers would find no jobs and we’d be right back in a depression. So they juiced the economy with GI and FHA home loans, while GM had invented whole social stratas of car makes with planned obsolescence to market them and GMAC to finance them. ‘Bout as soon as someone figured out how to put magnetic info on a plastic card, the big banks got us junkied out on credit cards, to the tune of about $10,000 of debt for the average american today.

So here we sit barely a century later, a western world with more bedrooms than we got people, a big screen TV in every bedroom and a ‘puter too. We’ve got more cars than drivers, and a couple decades production of barely broken in motorcycles is held captive in our sheds and worse. Same with our lives- We’ve paid for college degrees we’ll never use, and we’re struggling to pay them back on low paid jobs that require little more than a pulse and not too much attitude. The mantra of blind consumerism plays on, long after the jobs we were trying to save left, and we’re left to clean up all the dead electronics and abandoned inner cities.

Black friday was  flop, small business saturday was a step in the right direction, now lets celebrate sustainable sunday. Let’s fix something… The LEED standards tell us that the greenest house is a rehabbed house, with as much of the original house reused as possible. The GREET standard developed by Argonne National Laboratory which takes into account the total carbon footprint of a vehicle from production through scraping tells us that even the greenest hybrid or electric car accomplishes nothing for the planet unless it replaces one that is totally, utterly, and completely worn out beyond repair. Same for education- I got a bachelors degree, but the knowledge I used most was DIY skills I’ve picked up through life. And while they can move manufacturing jobs to the other side of the planet, repairing, reuse, rebuilding, and rehabbing creates jobs here that can’t be exported.

So forget the mall… Let’s fix something!

 

Once again, we’ve got a bumper crop of turkeys ripe for roasting, and this year, maybe impeachment too! We had the usual strong competitors from VW in the “public relations” category, and Fiat+Mopar again produced the biggest serving of lemons in our quality control “trimmings” category. The “social media misfits” category was again a crowded one, what with past multi-winner Fiat+Mopar’s continued web page ads trying to sell me a big bad Ram pickup, despite all the nasty things I’ve said about them. Ford had a hefty turkey competing in the dead tree media manipulation competition, but a couple instrumented road tests of the Focus RS ultimately escaped and dispatched that bird. With the electronic stop watches now proving the Focus RS no faster than a 2 pedal Golf R, Ford has fattened up a new turkey- They’re presenting me online ads for an EcoSport in Portuguese!

But again this is an unusual year, and despite the ever improving turkey raising ability of the usual suspects involving just about anything with wheels and maybe an engine, one competitor has managed to produce a herd of turkeys to win every single category in this year’s roast. And by some strange accident or theft, that person, despite getting less votes than their opponent, is the president-elect of the United States.

Early on Trump proved he had the turkey’s unique “qualities” of aggression and stupidity, with a vengance! Now any real presidential candidate has a whole team of experts that can tell them what car is built by what maker, where, and why. Failing that, a quick google search would have informed Trump that Ford employs more people and makes more cars in the U.S. than anyone else. And while Ford is investing in a new plant in Mexico, they’re doing a billion dollar sustainability upgrade to the home offices in Dearborn and they’re investing billions more in plants around the U.S., including Michigan Assembly. But eschewing facts like any true turkey, Trump put on a boisterous BS story that Ford was moving out of the U.S., based on the long ago announced and ignored story that Focus production was moving to Mexico. Like a turkey unaware that the only other creatures impressed by his brevado BS are other turkeys, Trump ignored the rest of the story, backed by the terms of Ford’s contract with  the UAW, that two new upmarket and better selling products will be built at the plant to replace the Focus. Then to double down on the stupid in true turkey fashion, Trump then blew up an insignificant news story that one Lincoln variant of a Ford Escape’s production was moving to Mexico. Heck, the way Lincoln sales have been going they could move the whole Lincoln line to Mexico and nobody would notice.

Having wounded Ford, Trump must have decided it was time to give some “regulatory relief” to businesses, gearhead and otherwise, in of course a “rollback” to pre-democratic administration regulatory standards. Now given that we seem to alternate between dem and GOP presidential regimes on an 8 year or so cycle, just what democratic administrations regimes regulations is he going to gobble up? And given that regulations tend to have gestation periods measured in decades (ABS heavy truck brakes came in 1975, left a couple years later, and came back in 1996), are all these regulations Obama’s, Bush the Bad’s, Clinton’s, old man Bush’s, Reagan’s, Carter’s, Ford’s, or Nixon’s doing? And even if Trump just gobbles up the regs in the pipeline in the closing days of the Obama administration, many of them like electronic logbooks for truckers have been coming to a boil for decades. Heck, UPS taught me how to use electronic logs over two decades ago… Gets even crazier when Trump talks about “rolling back” exhaust emission standards to legalize “rolling coal”- The manufacturers are already stressed to meet oddball ‘merican emissions standards, and aren’t about to retool to build vehicles for 1990s engines they don’t even build anymore.

But like the unrelenting turkey he is, Trump blusters and “displays”, demanding an end to fuel economy standards and increased coal mining. So here GM has invested a couple billion in the electric Bolt and Volt, Ford has spent a billion plus to bring us efficient Ecoboost engines and aluminum pickup bodies, and even Fiat+Mopar has badge engineered a “Jeep” off the Fiat 500 “stretch” and put a diesel in their half ton pickup… And Trump wants them to eat that investment in hopes we’ll go back to steel and boat anchor engines just to revive the dying coal and oil biz? Not that it’ll help… OPEC has put oil on permanent markdown to all but shut down the Bakken and Permian oilfields, and fracking has dropped natural gas prices so low that no utility even bothers to upgrade coal fired generating plants, never mind build new ones.

And just to make sure he could clinch the top turkey title in every single category, Trump  made one last massive stupid full frontal assault on our last category, trade policy. Now granted, we’ve made some questionable deals like NAFTA, but like a 20 year old car the warranty has long ago run out and the maker gone bankrupt, so we’re stick with ’em. That reality matters not to a Turkey in heat (or as much heat as a 70 year old can muster) like Trump- He’s promised to hit Mexico with a 35% tariff and China a 45% tax on everything they sell us! Now “tariff” is just another word for tax, and we’re gonna get to pay that tax on every Mexican and Chinese part our ‘merican, european, or asian car needs, even if the part ain’t been made in ‘merica for decades. Same deal if we buy a ‘merican pickup like GM’s with a 49% Mexican content or a Hecho en Mexico Ram… Just multiply that 35% tax by the Mexican content to see how much more Trump will tax you on these already overpriced “trucks”!

So by record margins, Trump has won every single category of this year’s Turkey Roast. Heck, unlike the presidential race where Trump needed some fine print in the constitution and maybe some help from hacked voting machines to win, Trump is top turkey and most deserving of roasting or at least preemptive impeachment by a landslide! So enjoy this filet o’ Trump,  sell off your ‘merican stocks on friday, then stock up on “foreign” parts… This Trump turkey may be gobbling up our economy for a long four years!

Political prognosticator 538 gave Trump about a 1 in 3 chance of winning, and luck was with the failed casino owner for a change. So Trump won the electoral college vote and on his coattails the republicans hung on to control of both houses. You’d think the captains of industry, stockholders, and gearheads would be in heaven… Maybe.

Despite the potential repeal of every regulation they despised, the industry that builds all things wheeled does not seem all that pleased. Heck, even the usually nationalist P.M. of VW’s German home state expressed unease with Trump’s threats to slap massive tariffs on competing Mexico. The response was similarly underwhelming in Detroit, and Toyota was none too enthusiastic either.

Why would the manufacturers look a gift horse that would gut the EPA, then soak the  environmental regulations in leaded gas and light them ablaze? Well, the manufacturers had already cut deals with the EPA, and in some cases “sweetheart” deals they were- For example our much vaunted fuel mileage standards are full of loopholes and only about half as tough as Europe’s. So just about every automaker has their compliance all planned out- add a turbo to a smaller engine coupled to an automatic with at least half a dozen gears, plop it down on low rolling resistance tires, and wrap it in an aerodynamic package. Every ones following this plan, and got billions invested to meet the standards… Then this Trump guy and his crazies offer to pull the standards out from under them. And what if they’ll have to source that tiny turboed engine from Mexico? Trump will reward them with a 35% tariff on that Mexican content! No wonder the captains of industry will give Trump the courtesy welcome to Washington, then hope he ignores them.

The stock market was of two minds, with foreign investors dumping american stocks. Then the american investors woke up, and ran american stocks up to even higher levels than they’d previously languished at. Especially inflated were infrastructure stocks, hyped by Trump’s promise of massive infrastructure investment. He didn’t say how he was going to pay for it, his republican henchmen in congress certainly won’t increase taxes to pay for it, and his statement included what sounded like some code words for “toll roads”. Yup, new roads with no new taxes, just a couple buck hit on your credit card every few miles!

For us garden variety gearheads, hopefully Trump’s EPA administrators will certify the 2017 diesel cars and light trucks for sale, once they figure out where the executive washrooms are located and such…

Like to explore the back roads along the border? Donald promises to triple the number of border guards, and with immigration falling, those bored border guards will be looking for someone to hassle… like you. Need a new pickup truck? Trump’s promised a 35% duty on imports from Mexico, which is where better than half of a new GM full size pickups come from. The sticker shock will extend to Mopar pickups too, a lot of which are assembled in Mexico.

So you decide to fix up the old beater instead and head over to the friendly local auto Parts store. Turns out half the parts you need come from Mexico and carry Trump’s 35% tariff surcharge. The other half come from China, and Trump’s hit them with a 45%  tariff surcharge. Better buy while you can though… Tomorrow Trump will probably insult the Mexicans and/or Chinese and they’ll refuse to sell to us for any price. And those ‘merican jobs that were supposed to be created to make those ‘merican  cars, trucks, and parts thereof… The plants were torn down decades ago, and Trump scared most of the available workforce outa the country.

So you follow Harley’s “Screw it, lets ride!” advice and buy a two year old leftover Harley and go riding… Careful, ’cause Trump repealed “Obamacare” and still hasn’t figured out what to replace it with. But riding’ down that country road you can forget it all… Damn, the sun suddenly got bright! And what’s that mushroom cloud over there? So get in the ditch, put your head between your knees… And wonder why the hell you voted for a president that takes nuclear weapons rather lightly, and thinks every country should have them.

So prevent trade wars, police states, and the even worse stupidity that Trump produces by the New Panamax ship load… Don’t vote for Trump!

Remember that big auction of Porsche tractors and other European farm equipment last weekend? It’s was live online via Proxibid, archived auction results here.

Now you would think that an auction of historic and in some cases pretty rare (first swedish tractors I’ve ever seen) in the Dakotas would create little local interest, and without online bidding opening up a worldwide marketplace, the bids would be low. But turned out, over 80% of the bids were onsite! Did a bunch of Porsche enthusiasts take a long drive in the country to take in the auction? Didn’t look like it, I dropped in friday for the previews day and Porsches were nowhere in sight, other than the tractors. What I did see was several locals with their pickups and fifth wheel trailers, grabbing the best loading spots for after saturday’s auction. A few were from far enough away to patronize the local motels, But most of the plates on their pickups were from South Dakota and adjoining states.

So all that Proxibid may have accomplished is to set a floor in the pre-auction bidding, and judging by how fast the prices rose once the live auction started, in most cases it was a low false floor. One of the few pieces I was following was a German made aircooled VW powered small tractor which my onsight inspection, judging by it’s frozen steering and assorted rustiness, suggested that it might need a lot of work and $500 would be a generous bid for it. Sure ’nuff, it got bid well over that before the auction even started, and the online bidders pushed it to $1300. Hope they didn’t pay for it before they got a good look at it. Was following another small tractor, a more common ‘merican made Economy tractor, sorta like a Cub Cadet with some lovable rough edges and restored to boot… Didn’t bring much interest online, but was bid up onsite to $1000, but still a good deal.

So in he world of old tractors, the internet ain’t worth much!

Then last evening VW group, in their usual spirit of accidental transparency, posted a whole training course on how dealers were to deal with the upcoming buyback and emissions “fix” of the 2 liter TDI diesels on their “Audi Academy” website. Heck, the whole damn website was wide open, as a bunch of us over at the TDI Club forums soon discovered. Sometime during the night that leak got plugged, and I doubt the leak was discovered by a hard working admin at VW Group’s web host. Looks like VW Group is monitoring TDI Club and probably other forums like VW Vortex, etc.. And given that VW has paid social media “Ambassadors” roaming cyberspace, no surprise.

Which is really nothing unusual, ‘cept that most manufacturers hide tons of non secret training and technical data behind log in screens and worse… What are they hiding? Are the selling points for their latest Stupid Useless Vehicle that big a secret? And what the heck, probably Russian hackers already have the plans for the next generation whatever, and they’re busy selling them to the Chinese so they can beat the western automaker to market with a knockoff anyway.

Ahh, the “power” of the internet…