Noting that GM was trying hard to pump up the 2016 sales stats and probably their stock price too, GM and Costco are offering supplier price, a $700 cash card, and probably a cheesy toaster too if you’ll buy a new GM car by end of business year. “Vettes and Volts included. So on the off chance a good deal on a Colorado diesel pickup was in the offing, I queried Costco’s auto website and made the mistake of giving them my e-mail and phone number…

What followed was a deluge of e-mails, phone calls, and even a text from Hendrick Chevy here in Naples. Would I like to make an appointment for a test drive? Even two calls from allegedly my home area code to verify that I’d been contacted. I actually stopped by the dealership to measure the bed of the pickup and quietly parked by the used car office… I’d hardly gotten out of the car before a salesperson was being paged there over the PA. I ducked out before he arrived, by which time an actual paying customer had arrived for him to “help”. Did a quick visual inventory check, and nary a long bed crew cab on the lot, and the diesel is only available with the crew cab. Wandered through the show room and not a brochure in sight… God forbid a customer actually help themselves!

Having no luck with the Chevy store, I tried Costco’s local GMC dealer, Devoe. They at least had the wisdom to surrender after only one phone call, and shared that GM only builds long box diesel Colorados to order. Meanwhile, a day after I told Hendrick Chevy they didn’t have a truck to suit me, they just sent me another e-mail…

Maybe I should have shopped for a ‘Vette… Searched some online forums and with the GM/Costco deal 20% off list is common. ‘Vettes list for $55K and it’s near impossible to option one over $100k, despite the fact that on the tracks the ‘Vettes routinely beat imported exotics with $200k and up price tags. And Hendricks Chevy has a whole row of ‘Vettes, and whole rows of dorky pickups with similarly lofty price tags… Easy choice! Heck, even the loaded Colorados are pushing $50k.

The ‘Vettes are darn tempting, problem is, anything that looks that fast is a “rolling probable cause”, which means you’d best not be speeding in one. Better a plain sedan with muscular powertrain and suspension, for my purposes…

Up here on the tundra we keep our big jackets with the big pockets on all winter, never know when a blizzard gonna come up. We keep them big pockets full of gloves and survival  supplies, and with the rather loose open bar beforehand I’d loaded up on some vintages far beyond my normal budget. Microsoft apparently wanted to impress us with their “convertible” laptops and software, so I grabbed a lifetime supply of each too. Rumor had also spread that the containers of Santa’s toys contained a few “extras”, just in case…

When it had become rapidly obvious that our self-driving truck had mistaken the frozen Red River for I-29 and a low bridge was imminent, I pulled the big red knob and hoped for the best. This of course sets the emergency brakes on both trailers to full locked wheels, but all that commotion set the ice into full failure mode, sinking the whole rig a couple feet as we sat parked on the shallow bottom of the river under a county road bridge a few miles south of Fargo. With satellite and cell reception blocked by the bridge and valley, the truck’s computers went nuts. Spotting what looked to be a fire tanker access ramp easing up the riverbank I saw an exit, and the mucky river bottom probably gave better traction than the ice. But the Freightliner and it’s electronics would have none of it, and responded to my engaging gear with a total system shutdown.

So I climbed out and reconnoitered, county road signs orienting me… I-29 being terminally boring, I usual travel US-75 or old US-81 between Fargo and points south. Wasn’t there a taller than usual Mack MH cabover sleeping in a farmyard a hundred yards west? Never mind the cold and snow, I quickly walked that hundred yards and was greeted by a little ol’ house with a roaring wood stove and an already inebriated trio of bachelor farmers. Gave the bachelor farmers a few bottles of the cheaper booze as “icebreakers”, then made small talk ’til they were drunk enough to make an offer for the Mack. We settled on new laptops for each of them, more booze, and a hunting rifle apiece. Inspected the Mack and found it matched my suspicions- limited production all wheel drive UPS tractor built for the Colorado Rockies, even the chain box was full of enough iron for every wheel. Started right up with a jump, and while it warmed up we opened the containers to see what firearms were available. By Canadian regulation the ammunition was far separate from the firearms, and I offered them some oddball rifles they were unlikely to have ammo for, being I still had to get the dead Freightliner aside and the trailers outa the river…

The deal was done and I chained up the Mack, proceeding down that ramp into the river. Tire chains ain’t supposed to be used for towing but they did the job, though Freightliner should really get all their “tupperware” outa the way of solid tow chain attachment points.  Even with the dead Freightliner’s brakes locked it was no contest, the Mack quickly moving it aside. The real challenge was the loaded trailers, but they were already half jackknifed by the panic stop so I could get a running start before the “train” stretched out and their load was felt. Finally made it up the ramp and outa the river, then consulted the old reliable paper map and found my way to I-29 south.

The storm delivered everything advertised- snow, thunder, freezing rain, fog, whatever. Ended up hanging all the chains to get over the Buffalo Ridge, finally ran outa the ice and made tracks to Sioux Falls. Learned a few new tricks… When everything is covered with ice, if the wind gusts blow your back trailer into a guardrail it just slides on the ice and does no damage. Backed the trailers into the dock by midnight and let the elves deal with it.

And Freightliner, you might want to get your piece of junk outa the river before the spring floods. And when the weather clears, I promised the bachelor farmers I’d come back and show them how to use the computers… Then again, they may have found ammo for their new guns by then!

If you’ve followed this irregular blog regularly for a few years, you’ve noted that I seem to end up in the service of Santa every xmas. Ever short staffed, Santa seems to send out an invite to a North Pole or thereabouts “media event” to every writer with a CDL or Locomotive Engineer’s license every December, and I sucker for it every time.

With global warming, the logistics are shifting- While the North Pole is still officially Santa’s “home office”, the actual workshops where the elves toil have been moving to terra firma ringing the increasingly navigable arctic sea lanes. And thanks to the activism of Humane Societies everywhere, the reindeer have been retired to ceremonial duties while a fleet of now obsolete Panamax container ships have taken their place. On land,  Santa’s traditional fleet of steam locomotives is now supplemented with early diesel streamliners, which produce damn near as much smoke but little steam.

This makes the logistics path for the coasts fairly simple- Just sail in to the empty for the  holiday weekend ports and cross dock to the waiting sleights and horseless carriages. But for the middle of the continent, it’s a little more complicated, what with the rocky Canadian Shield being a bit more of a bar to navigation than mere ice. But thanks to the dissolution of the legendary Canadian Wheat Pool, there’s an underused port and railroad running south available at Churchill, Manitoba at the south end of Hudson Bay… And Santa is all over it!. Get the container ships of toys into the harbor before freeze up, transfer to the waiting trains, then fleet them south down the single track. But if you’ve looked at a North American rail map, you’ve noted that most railroads go east-west and Santa’s toys need to go south. Fortunately there’s a little used intermodal lift facility in the giant BNSF yard near Fargo just before the tracks from the north turn east and west, and it’s right by Interstates 29 and 94…

So it was that I was summoned on xmas eve to a familiar sounding address in the boom town that is Fargo. Expecting the usual industrial digs or worse, arriving by the failing light of late afternoon what should appear out of the fog but a fancy new glass and steel modern office building, and stranger yet was a suspicious “Windows” logos all over the place. Hadn’t even walked up to the guard’s desk and my $200 Windoze laptop was overheating, and it was supposed to be off. Inside, instead of a vast warehouse or garage with abundant sweets, cider, and hot cocoa was a buffet of skimpy organic vegies and lettuces and an open bar stocked with expensive beverages far beyond my usual experience. I thought they wanted us to drive tonight?

I’d noticed a lot of Mercedes in the lot, but Microsoft does pay above market for Fargo, but still low by Seattle standards, which probably explains why they’re there. After an hour or so of alcohol availability, Freightliner’s finest “spin doctors” went to work, attempting to impress us with their latest “autonomous” trucks. And as some of the press collapsed from the libations, a Freightliner VP of something or other took the stage and detailed our xmas eve assignment. In the back parking lot were dozens of new self-driving Freightliner trucks, and we were to bobtail the couple miles over to the intermodal rail yard, hook to our trailers, and make our deliveries. I’d made the mistake of letting slip that I had a doubles endorsement, and was rewarded with a route south on Interstate 29 and not one but two trailers.

Introduced to our Freightliner, I was greeted by a massive dashboard display full of Windows 10. Tried to just start the truck and drive, but the truck/computer insisted I enter our destination, and it didn’t know what or where BNSF Dilworth Yard was. Looked up the address on my cheapie ‘droid phone and manually entered it and Windows was happy. Fog wasn’t too thick yet and plenty of streetlights to navigate by, so after a couple hours I’d rolled two containers on trailers across the line to North Dakota where the pair could legally be married and hitched the whole mess together.

I’d become increasingly confident in the trucks ability to drive itself, and after I’d taught it the route on the first trip I could pretty much let it take over on the second trip… No doubt the truck’s computer was recording GPS waypoints and learning that route. After a couple turns on the main streets it seemed to learn how wide to take the corners with two trailers in tow, so as we got close to the freeway I punched in “follow route”, should be easy for the truck’s computer to find I-29 to Sioux Falls. I clicked on the web browser to check out the weather and road conditions…

The fog was getting thicker, thick enough that the usual landmarks had disappeared. Don’t remember the onramp to 1-29 being that steep a downhill, nor the actual freeway near as crooked as the parallel Red River of the North. In the absence of visual clues, I cracked the window a bit… Is that cracking thunder? But we needed to get south before the freezing rain and blizzard caught us, and I don’t remember 1-29 ever being this smooth… Dang Freightliner at least rides good, lean the seat back and I could fall asleep…

Dang, that’s a low bridge ahead!

 

 

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!