What happened was, I was hurtling around a mall parking lot in a beautiful British-designed hundred-thousand-dollar sports car, and I thought “Is this the good side of capitalism?”

I ♥ Cars · Disclosure: I like driving sufficiently well to have written, ten years ago, an encomium on the subject that includes a police takedown and a poem.

And there are lots of things to like about the business. It produces products across a huge ranges of prices that work pretty well — better every year, in fact — and last a long time, and about which people have strong aesthetic feelings.

There’s no suggestion of monopoly; competition is fierce and it’s possible for new companies to grab a foothold. The industry tends to place value on its workers, paying them and treating them reasonably well. They do not, at least mostly, have bullshit jobs.

Also, cars address humans’ naturally nomadic nature; there is a special joy in getting on the road and heading out in any direction you damn well please, as far as the road goes. Making that possible really just can’t be a bad thing.

But… · Automobiles have had to be regulated fiercely almost from day one: Their speeds, where they can drive and park, the safety standards on their tires and electronics and brakes and crumple zones and seatbelts and child seating, and of course emissions. The notion of a laissez-faire auto industry is laughable.

And given the slightest chance, car companies lie, cheat, and steal. For example, the recent “dieselgate” scandal played out against a backdrop of nudge-nudge wink-wink regulatory capture where everyone knew that any given car emitted more and got worse mileage than it said on the label. Sometimes the corruption was laughably public, as with the US regulators classifying shitboxes like the PT Cruiser as “trucks” so they could skate around emission regulations.

Not to mention the resistance, in recent years, to looking seriously at electric cars. In the face of terrifying climate-change predictions, the industry did the absolute bare minimum they were forced to. Only now, under combined pressure from global regulators and Tesla engineering, are they showing signs of taking it seriously.

Your point is? · I’m a left-winger and somehow still like a lot of things about business: The drive to figure out what people need and want and get that to them; the labyrinthine fascinations of marketing and sales; drama in trying something out that might not work; satisfaction of being on a well-functioning team.

But yeah, the auto industry is the nice end of the private sector. So much of business is poverty-by-policy, bullshit jobs, institutionalized mismanagement, work-life balance seen as a failing, egregious sexism, corruption of the public sector, and hyperentitled one-percenters who are so, so sure that they earned it all with their own hard work, deserve every penny, and the 99% are just losers who deserve what they’re getting. [Me, I got lucky and know so many people who are smarter than me and work harder and are struggling to make ends meet. Why is that so hard to admit?]

I’m an optimist. I think we can find a better and more balanced way to build an economy and, in the fullness of time, will. And I hope we can still have cool cars.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Jarek (Nov 14 2018, at 05:47)

You could also mention the advertising/lobbying in favour of car-oriented single-vehicle-occupancy status-quo. Somehow all the car ads show the driver rolling through the pleasantly empty streets of a chic city, and never a traffic jam. The companies are also doing some pretty shady lobbying and shying from responsibility in Germany where the push has come to shove and there are increasing numbers of court orders to ban older (lying) diesels from city centres.

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From: Rob (Nov 16 2018, at 20:18)

"The in­dus­try tends to place val­ue on its work­er­s, pay­ing them and treat­ing them rea­son­ably well. They do not, at least most­ly, have bull­shit jobs."

Like used car salesmen? Dealership Advertising Managers? Yeah, no bullshit in them there jobs.

Also see Dwayne Hoover from "Breakfast of Champions"

I am put in mind of this truly epic/hilarious series of posts "Tales from Dishonest Used Car Dealership"

https://www.reddit.com/r/talesfromtechsupport/comments/2us9t4/the_inventory_control_numbers/

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From: Charlie (Nov 18 2018, at 10:02)

A minor technicallity that cuts the other way in dieselgate. The "cheating" vehicles are more powerful and burn less fuel than a "compliant" vehicle. To minimize certain types of pollutants considered more harmful than CO2, primarily NOx, fuel use (and therefore CO2) are higher than they otherwise would be in a compliant diesel vehicle.

Environmentalism as a political lobby is actually increasing CO2 emissions from diesel vehicles within the limits of current technology and the design tradeoffs that are required to meet emissions targets.

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From: Paul Boddie (Dec 05 2018, at 14:23)

No mention of how there are just too many cars in and around our cities?

In my home country, the motorways are constantly jammed, rush hour is miserable, and yet there are plenty of cars with just one occupant. No-one lets their kids walk or bicycle to school any more, accompanied or otherwise: they all seem to want to fill the streets with their illegally-parked cars and then drive stupidly fast around residential neighbourhoods.

In my adopted country there are lots of electric cars (now probably outselling all other categories combined), but there are far too many cars of any kind cruising the urban streets, angling for parking spaces, backing everything up. Here, air quality suffers not just because of emissions but because of road surface dust. For some people, winter is especially miserable.

The car and its prevalence can be a pretty good barometer of the trends of selfishness in society. So there is such a thing as car capitalism after all.

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From: Ted (Dec 17 2018, at 16:22)

Cars have too many negative externalities more than any other technology - air pollution, traffic congestion, land grabbing, urban sprawl, road kill, millions of human deaths and disablements every year, and a propensity to create a toxic dependency on a single mode of transport. Certainly a car is useful when transporting dependents, or bulky stuff, but do we really have to take twenty times our own body weight of lethal polluting machinery with us every time just to get from one place to another ?

If you want to experience truly innovative personal transportation technology, get a top of the range fold-up bicycle, that can integrate seamlessly with every other mode of transport. There's a highly commended British-designed one that has just become available in an electric version, just right for hilly cities like Vancouver.

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November 13, 2018
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