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Milestone, V

December 29, 2013 Leave a comment

seven

Ron’s View regulars know that when December 29 comes around, it’s time for my annual post on the number of miles I’ve driven my car in the past year, with additional analysis of the monthly/annual driving averages since I brought it home seven years ago tomorrow. As I observed two years ago, “I don’t imagine anyone besides me finds this all that interesting. Nonetheless, I enjoy doing the analysis, and writing a post about it allows me to record the data in a convenient place.”

In my first milestone post, four years ago, I found that I had driven a total of 11,640 miles, for an average of 3880 miles per year or 323 1/3 miles per month.

Three years ago, I had driven only an additional 3268 miles, for a total of 14,908 miles, bringing the annual and monthly averages down to 3727 miles and 310 1/2.

Two years ago, I had added 3693 miles to my total, yielding an odometer reading of 18,601. If we forget that extra mile, we find that my cumulative averages were 3720 miles per year and 310 miles per month.

A year ago, I added 3634 miles, closing the year with an odometer reading is 22,235. My cumulative annual average was down to 3705 5/6, with a monthly average of 308 5/6 miles.

We’re ready for this year’s result. I just went outside to check, and my current odometer reading is 25,740. Thus, in the last year I have driven 3505 miles, or just over 292 miles per month. My cumulative annual average has dropped further, to 3677 1/7 miles, and my monthly average is down to 306 3/7 miles.

Once again, I wonder if my car will outlast me. One of these years, we’ll need to use it for a major road trip. Last year, there was a three-day trip to Walla Walla, which added close to 600 miles in one shot. No such trips this year. A coastal drive at least as far south as Monterey awaits. Maybe in retirement.

Categories: Automobiles

Motorcade Madness

December 1, 2013 Leave a comment

motorcade

[Click on graphic for better image. Graphic from The Atlantic, by L-Dopa, accompanying this article]

I mentioned in my last post, by way of explaining my absence from Ron’s View of late, the events of two weekends ago (my mother-in-law Bea’s death) and last weekend (funeral, associated family events). One of those family events, dinner a week about about now for dinner at Gail’s sister’s, led us straight into an unexpected traffic mess.

On the way up, we stopped at the Apple Store so Gail could get a new screen for her iPhone, which was becoming less and less functional two months after its great fall. From there, I was stunned to find us in a long line trying to exit northbound on a local street, a street that in my decades of driving regularly through that neighborhood has never been so backed up. Not counting just after UW football games anyway. Then, as we slowly worked our way north and west toward I-5 to continue our route northwards, we encountered still more traffic in unlikely places.

With I-5 in sight and a massive line of cars heading north on a local road, I said to Gail and Joel that I-5 must be closed. Joel checked the map on his phone and said no, it shows no traffic. I pointed out that if it were closed, there would indeed be no traffic. Then Gail asked if any event was taking place and Joel said oh, yes, Obama’s in town for fundraisers. Had I read the paper, I would have known that he was due to head from the airport (south of downtown) through downtown to a private home in the north end of the city. We had stumbled right into the stoppage of I-5 that was designed to offer him clear sailing. We slowly edged north until we were able to get on an entrance with traffic flowing freely, Obama having apparently gone by. A routine 25-30 minute trip had taken an hour.

Perhaps it’s worth explaining that Seattle is long north and south, narrow east and west, with water on both the east and west sides–Puget Sound and Elliott Bay to the west, Lake Washington to the east. I-5 runs north-south right down the middle. And the city is divided east-west in the middle by natural and artificial waterway, so one can’t get from south to north without driving across one of a handful of bridges. What this means is, if you stop traffic on I-5 northbound, you are screwing everyone who wants to go north, even a limited distance.

Is this sensible or is it madness? An awkward question to ask on the weekend that fell exactly fifty years after the assassination of JFK.* Yes, presidential security is important. I get that. I do. But must thousands and thousands be pushed aside? For a fundraiser?

*I won’t dwell on where I was fifty years ago, but yes, I remember well where I was on learning of the assassination. I also remember where I was two days later, fifty years to the day before encountering the Obama motorcade. You may have read last week about the NFL’s decision to go ahead that day with its regularly scheduled games. I was at one of them. My beloved Giants against the St. Louis Cardinals at Yankee Stadium. That morning, my father stopped with my brother and me at the local post office to meet my uncle, who was dropping off my cousin to join us. As Jimmy got in the car, he announced the shocking news that Lee Harvey Oswald had just been shot. And off we went, to the Bronx and the game. 24-17 Giants. I’ve never forgotten the score. Let’s see. Here: the boxscore. It says the temperature was 48 degrees, with 19 mph winds. I remember the wind, and being plenty cold.

Anyway, we made it to Tamara’s and ate dinner: leftovers from the post-funeral dinner the night before. Gail and her siblings got to take care of some business. Eight o’clock rolled around and it was time to head home.

We were happily driving south on I-5, back from the suburbs into Seattle, southward through the northern part of the city, approaching the I-5 bridge that crosses the ship canal. And suddenly everything slows down. All southbound lanes uniformly. Then stops. Then stop and go. A mile ahead is the left-lane exit to State Route 520, which leads toward our house and then over the Lake Washington floating bridge to Medina, Bellevue, and the other communities of the Eastside. High up on the bridge is a sign that offers traffic warnings when needed. It is lit up. We finally get close enough for me to see that it says there’s been an incident on SR 520. Bridge closed. All lanes closed. Exit to 520 closed.

Wow! That must be some incident! Or so I was thinking.

Not your ordinary incident, though. I was naive. You see, after his North Seattle fundraiser, Obama was off to Medina, to the home of a retired Microsoft exec for fundraiser number two. And the time had come for him to drive back to Seattle to his downtown hotel. They closed the entire 520 bridge westbound and I-5 southbound just for him. For fundraising.

This is total madness. There are so few ways into Seattle. Two of the three biggest were closed. (There’s also I-90, coming across Lake Washington a few miles to the south.) We sat there for 15 minutes. No more stop and go. Just stop. Then Gail and Joel noticed flashing lights coming west on 520, south on I-5. Moments later, we were released.

Maybe next time Obama can do his fundraisers via Skype and let us go about our business.

Roche Harbor 4: Ending on a Downer

August 31, 2013 Leave a comment
Roche Harbor

Roche Harbor

I still haven’t written Roche Harbor 3. When I do, I’ll describe our wonderful outing last Saturday in the waters of the San Juan Islands and the spectacular seafood feast during our break from boating. The outing ended with us being dropped at the Roche Harbor dock around 5:30 for our 6:00 Kenmore Air seaplane flight back to Seattle. (I took the shot above late in the afternoon, on our way back.) And what a beautiful flight it was, culminating as we swung from south to north by the top of the Space Needle and came in for our landing on Lake Union. We could see the faces of the people on the Space Needle observation deck. Well, Gail couldn’t. To my astonishment, she was looking at her iPhone.

Soon we were at the Kenmore Air Seattle dock, saying farewell to our companions, walking through the terminal, and out to our car. In my first Roche Harbor post I wrote about our arrival at the terminal the morning before:

Our flight was scheduled for 11:00 am. We arrived around 9:50 and spent some time parking. There’s a small free lot by the terminal, but it was full. The website spoke of a pay lot next door. We interpreted that to refer to the strip of public parking just off the street to the north of the terminal, found a spot there, paid for the day’s parking (Friday–it’s free Saturday), and checked in. I mention this detail because I will return to it in another post, the choice being a poor one.

The moment I spotted our car on our return, I knew something was wrong. It’s like the windows weren’t there. I could see right through. No tint. Gail’s reaction, as she would explain later, was different. She thought another car just like ours had parked next to our car and blocked the view of it. Sure enough, as we drew nearer, it was our car, and the windows were open. Or gone. Sunroof too. Once we got to the car, we saw that the glovebox was open and papers were strewn over the front passenger seat and floor.

Someone had broken in, obviously. But how did he (I assume he) open all the windows? Were the windows even there? Or had he carefully removed them all? Unlikely, but it seemed equally unlikely that he could have opened them all without starting the car. I suggested that Gail get her key out and start the car so we could at least verify that the windows were there. Which they were. Sunroof too. Everything was intact. Nothing was stolen.

I decided to go around and make sure each door worked. Only when I got to the final door, the driver’s, did I see that the lock mechanism had been punched out, with one piece on the ground. He must have hammered it in or broken it some other way, then gotten the door open. Did the alarm go off? Did he start the car to open the windows? If so, why not drive away in it? And anyway, why open them at all, unless the point was to inflict damage, in case it were to rain for instance? Or to give others access?

Anyway, as we relieved as we were that the car worked, that nothing was stolen, that the damage appeared confined to the broken lock, that nothing got wet, that no one malicious took advantage of the open windows and sunroof to vandalize anything, this was just about the most depressing sight imaginable.

Monday morning Gail called the dealer and prepared to drive the car up. I was talking to Bert, our remodel site superintendent and friend, about what happened when he mentioned that he knows some cars have a feature allowing you to (intentionally) open all windows at once. I went online to see how that might be done and read that you can hold down the unlock button on the key for 3 seconds to effect this. Maybe it’s hot and you want to get air circulating as you approach the car. Hold the button down and everything slides open. I went out and tried it on my car. Sure enough.

That made me feel a lot better. Presumably the miserable person who broke our lock didn’t intentionally open all the windows. Rather, his lock jimmying must have triggered the window-opening signal. He may have been taken entirely by surprise. Who knows? Maybe he even felt bad about it, wanting access to our belongings but not wanting the car left open to the elements.

Nonetheless, we had a broken lock. Gail drove the car out, got a loaner, ended up waiting three days for all the necessary parts to come in. She brought the repaired car home Thursday afternoon, just in time for our early morning departure the next day, yesterday, for New York, where we are now.

Categories: Automobiles, Travel

Bridge Fear

May 26, 2013 Leave a comment
Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Tomorrow’s NYT has an article on the fear induced in drivers by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which runs for a little over four miles from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to a point on the west side just outside Annapolis. Of particular interest is the service provided by Kent Island Express, which described itself as “the Preferred Bay Bridge Drive-Over Company. Nervous about crossing over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge? If so, you’re not alone. Our Bay Bridge Drive-Over Help will let you relax and enjoy the ride and the view!”

As Trip Gabriel explains in the NYT article, some clients aren’t so interested in enjoying the view.

Construction workers have been known to ride in the back seat of their pickup trucks, hats pulled over their eyes and their ears plugged. A woman once rode with a blanket over her head. A man asked to be put in his trunk, an offer that was refused.

In the spring of 1988, during the year we spent in Princeton, we took a trip to Annapolis. I decided it would be fun to cross the bridge, so we got off I-95 in Delaware, headed south a ways, then west on 301 and over the bridge. A great way to arrive in Annapolis. I have no memory of the crossing being scary.

No surprise, perhaps, for a Long Island boy who grew up crossing the Triborough, Whitestone, and Throgs Neck bridges regularly, the George Washington and Verrazano-Narrows bridges less regularly. (The bridges between Manhattan and Brooklyn? Not so much.)

Yet, I did experience bridge fear once, on the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. It was Thanksgiving weekend, November 1995, and we were down for a family event. My parents and my brother’s family came out from New York and we all stayed at a hotel on Coronado. (No, not the famous one, though I did stay there briefly in the summer of 1966, and we did drive over in 1995 to wander around in it.) After the rest of the family left, we stayed in southern California for an extra few days, eventually getting up to Disneyland. Our first morning on our own, we departed from Coronado to head up to the Wild Animal Park in Escondido.

I approached the bridge without any concerns. But then a weird thing happened. As it curved left to change direction from the approach to the eastern crossing of San Diego Bay, I wasn’t convinced the car would go left with it. Of course, that was under my control. And I didn’t exactly panic. But I got mighty anxious.

Here, see for yourself:

Coronado Bridge

Coronado Bridge

You’re looking north at Coronado. I was driving from the north onto the approach and you can see the curve I was navigating. Up, up, up. Left, left, left. It just didn’t look promising. I can’t explain the feeling. I just knew I wasn’t enjoying the experience. Where was the Coronado equivalent of Kent Island Express? Worse, we’d be returning in the evening and I would have to make the drive one more time the next day.

The NYT article on the Chesapeake crossing has a link to a Travel and Leisure article from October 2010 on the world’s scariest bridges. It’s a slide show with each page featuring photos and text about a particular bridge. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge is on page 9. Have a look. And go to page 15 too, for Washington State’s famous Deception Pass Bridge.

Deception Pass Bridge

Deception Pass Bridge

As the Travel and Leisure text explains about this one,

if the drive over this foggy strait in the Puget Sound isn’t particularly scary to you, try walking over the narrow pedestrian lane at the edge of the bridge. That’s where you’ll find especially hair-raising views of the rushing water directly below.

Yup. Even if I don’t usually get anxious driving over bridges, walking is something different altogether. I well remember the first time I visited this bridge, in the fall of 1981. I parked in the south side lot and began to walk northward. I didn’t get far.

Check out the other bridges. It’s fun to work through the slides and imagine crossing each one.

Categories: Architecture, Automobiles

Milestone, IV

December 29, 2012 Leave a comment

five

Ron’s View regulars know that when December 29 comes around, it’s time for my annual post on the number of miles I’ve driven my car in the past year, with additional analysis of the monthly/annual driving averages since I brought it home six years ago tomorrow. As I observed last year, “I don’t imagine anyone besides me finds this all that interesting. Nonetheless, I enjoy doing the analysis, and writing a post about it allows me to record the data in a convenient place.”

In my first milestone post, three years ago, I found that I had driven a total of 11,640 miles, for an average of 3880 miles per year or 323 1/3 miles per month.

Two years ago, I had driven only an additional 3268 miles, for a total of 14,908 miles, bringing the annual and monthly averages down to 3727 miles and 310 1/2.

Last year, I had added 3693 miles to my total, yielding an odometer reading of 18,601. If we forget that extra mile, we find that my cumulative averages were 3720 miles per year and 310 miles per month.

Now for the latest news. This past year, I have driven 3634 miles, which represents a monthly average of 302 5/6 miles. The current odometer reading is 22,235. My cumulative annual average is down to 3705 5/6, with a monthly average of 308 5/6.

I often note in these posts that one particular trip during the given year distorts the numbers. This year is no different, thanks to our late July wine trip to Walla Walla (described here and here). The drive each way is about 270 miles. Adding local driving in Walla Walla, I probably did about 570 miles of driving. Subtract that from 3634 and we find that I’ve driven just 3064 miles this year, or 255 1/3 miles per month.

If I owned an electric car, the Walla Walla trip would surely have been the only one this year that I couldn’t have made, though then we could have substituted Gail’s. Once again, I find that I’m a prime candidate for an all-electric car. However, as I concluded last year, at the rate that I’m driving, my car may outlast me. It’s hard to make the case for letting go.

Categories: Automobiles

Lutz on Volt Lies

August 18, 2012 Leave a comment

[From the Chevy Volt website]

The right wing has no shame. That’s not news. But when Bob Lutz, American automobile industry icon, calls them out, we know how bad it has gotten.

Lutz is the man behind the Chevy Volt, the innovative electric car with a supplementary gas engine that allows the driver to make longer trips without recharging. The crazy right wing (i.e., the heart of the modern-day Republican Party) has seen fit to attack the Volt and General Motors as expressions of Obama’s socialist vision for America. Lutz — no liberal he — is none too happy, and last spring he fought back in several venues. There were a Forbes column, a co-written Chicago Tribune op-ed, and — in the March/April issue of Charged, a magazine about electric vehicles — an interview by Markkus Rovito.

Here is some of what Lutz had to say to Rovito (hat tip: Jim Fallows). Please read it.

The level of owner satisfaction is extremely high. Quality and reliability is extremely high. But the downside is that the political extreme right has been distorting the facts of the Volt. The Volt passed the government crash tests with a five-star safety rating, and didn’t roll over. But the testing protocol requires that even if the vehicle doesn’t roll, it has to go through the rotisserie maneuver, which is five minutes on one side, five minutes on its back, five minutes on the other side, and then back on its wheels again. At some point during the rotisserie, some fluid leaked out, and three weeks later caused a short in the battery and the vehicle caught fire. I mean, how safe it that? Three weeks should give people adequate time to exit the vehicle.

And what did all these right-wing commentators make of that? “Chevy Volts catch fire.” All of them were talking about “yeah, they all catch fire. GM’s gonna recall ‘em. There’s just another Obama-inspired program – a misguided socialist automotive policy. And not only did they spend a lot of your hard-earned tax dollars creating this vehicle, but now they put a $7500 tax credit on it.” Well, there are a couple of things wrong with all those statements. First of all, the Volt was my idea in 2006. We showed the first prototype at the Detroit Auto Show in 2007. Obama wasn’t elected until late 2008, so Obama could not be the progenitor of the Chevy Volt. And what they also conveniently forget is that the $7500 tax credit for electric vehicles was enacted under the Bush administration.

As for Volts catching fire, the crashed one caught fire after three weeks, and then the NHTSA, in order to determine the root cause of the fire, deliberately mistreated two more battery packs until they caught fire to try to find the root cause of the initial fire. That of course in the media was: “GM grapples with additional Volt fires.” And these people are supposed to be for American jobs? They did such reputational damage to the Volt that the demand dipped to a very low level. So GM did the right thing, which was to idle production for 5 weeks and lay off workers. So here are these right-wing pundits who are always talking about jobs, jobs, jobs. Actually through their irresponsible reporting on the Chevrolet Volt they managed to put American workers out of their jobs for five weeks! It annoys me to no end.

[snip]

As a conservative myself politically, it annoys me no end to see deliberate lying and misinformation coming out where they will trash an outstanding American product and do damage to American employment just to get at Obama. That’s just plain unethical.

Amen.

Categories: Automobiles, Lies, Politics

Design and Culture of Parking

January 8, 2012 1 comment

It won’t be news to regular Ron’s View readers that Gail and I love Nantucket. Imagine my delight, then, when I came upon a photo of a Nantucket parking lot last night in a NYT slide show illustrating the good (Nantucket) and bad (Disney World, below) of parking lot design. The slide show accompanies Michael Kimmelman’s article, the front page story in today’s Sunday arts section. Kimmelman begins with the premise that

we ought to take these lots more seriously, architecturally. Many architects and urban planners don’t. Beyond greener designs and the occasional celebrity-architect garage, we need to think more about these lots as public spaces, as part of the infrastructure of our streets and sidewalks, places for various activities that may change and evolve, because not all good architecture is permanent. Hundreds of lots already are taken over by farmers’ markets, street-hockey games, teenage partiers and church services. We need to recognize and encourage diversity. This is the idea behind Parking Day, a global event, around since 2005, that invites anybody and everybody to transform metered lots. Each year participants have adapted hundreds of them in dozens of countries, setting up temporary health clinics and bike-repair shops, having seminars and weddings.

Disney World

[Yann Arthus-Bertrand/Altitude]

Kimmelman continues with several interesting examples. The article is well worth reading. He also draws attention to ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking, a book due out in March by MIT professor of landscape architecture and design Eran Ben-Joseph. The Nantucket photo that drew my attention in the slide show is credited to Ben-Joseph, so I assume it makes an appearance in the book, which I have just now pre-ordered from Amazon. Here’s the book’s MIT Press blurb:

There are an estimated 600,000,000 passenger cars in the world, and that number is increasing every day. So too is Earth’s supply of parking spaces. In some cities, parking lots cover more than one-third of the metropolitan footprint. It’s official: we have paved paradise and put up a parking lot. In ReThinking a Lot, Eran Ben-Joseph shares a different vision for parking’s future. Parking lots, he writes, are ripe for transformation. After all, as he points out, their design and function has not been rethought since the 1950s. With this book, Ben-Joseph pushes the parking lot into the twenty-first century.

Can’t parking lots be aesthetically pleasing, environmentally and architecturally responsible? Used for something other than car storage? Ben-Joseph shows us that they can. He provides a visual history of this often ignored urban space, introducing us to some of the many alternative and nonparking purposes that parking lots have served–from RV campgrounds to stages for “Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.” He shows us parking lots that are not concrete wastelands but lushly planted with trees and flowers and beautifully integrated with the rest of the built environment. With purposeful design, Ben-Joseph argues, parking lots could be significant public places, contributing as much to their communities as great boulevards, parks, or plazas. For all the acreage they cover, parking lots have received scant attention. It’s time to change that; it’s time to rethink the lot.

I look forward to learning more.

Categories: Automobiles, Books, Design

Milestone, III

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s December 29, which means it’s time for the annual review here at Ron’s View of how much I’ve driven my car in the last year. I don’t imagine anyone besides me finds this all that interesting. Nonetheless, I enjoy doing the analysis, and writing a post about it allows me to record the data in a convenient place. Come along for the ride if you wish.

The significance of December 29 is that it’s the day I bought the car, five years ago. My first milestone post was written three years later. In it, I observed that “the odometer reads 11,640. Dividing by 3, we find that I have averaged 3880 miles per year. And dividing that by 12, we find that I average 323 1/3 miles per month.” I then noted that in the car’s early days, I made three round trips to Vancouver, BC, on University business for a total of about 900 miles. “Subtracting 900 from the total, I find that I’ve done 10,740 miles of driving over three years, or 3580 per year, or 298 1/3 miles per month. That’s more like it.”

In last year’s milestone post, I discovered that my driving was down. The odometer was at 14,908, meaning I had “driven the car 3268 miles this year, for an average of only 272 1/3 miles per month, or a fraction over 9 miles a day. Averaging over the car’s four years, I have driven 3727 miles per year, or about 310 1/2 miles per month, or about 10 1/3 miles a day. If I deduct the 900 miles of driving to Vancouver and back, I bring the daily average over four years down to about 9 3/4 miles.”

This year, I drove more. My odometer now reads 18,601. (I didn’t want that extra mile. It’s only there because we took Emma to the vet this afternoon and had to return the long way to avoid traffic.) The beauty of 18,600 (let’s just say that’s my total) is that when you divide by 5 you get an average of 3720 miles per year, and when you divide that by 12, you get the nice round number of 310 miles of driving per month on average over the five years that I’ve owned the car. As you can see, that’s about where the average was a year ago, meaning it’s been an average year.

Digging a little deeper, I actually drove 3693 miles this past year, an increase of 425 miles over last year. It’s not hard to find the source of the increase. Gail knew instantly when I asked her to guess: our Memorial Day weekend trip to Portland. Take that away and our mileage in years four and five would have been nearly identical.

Thus, Portland trip aside, I’m still driving less than 10 miles a day. My largest drive in any given month often is a trip to the airport and back. As I concluded last year, I’m a strong candidate for an all-electric car. It won’t get us to Portland, at least not until I-5 has charging stations, but it will do everything else I need it to do.

What do you know? I just did a search on I-5 charging stations and discovered that there was an announcement just yesterday. They’re coming soon! There’s coverage in today’s Seattle Times, but on an inside page, so I had missed it. Still, 30-minute charges every 60 miles doesn’t sound all that attractive.

The real problem is, my car is going to last forever at the rate that I’m driving it. I’m not prepared to let it go just yet. The electric car will have to wait a few more years, by which time there should be a better charging infrastructure and better mileage between charges.

Categories: Automobiles

This is What We Do

July 30, 2011 Leave a comment

The video above is the Chrysler ad from the Super Bowl half a year ago. I used it in a post at the time. The blog title is from the ad’s final line, in which Eminem points at the camera and says, “This is Motor City [pause] and this is what we do.”

Why the rerun? Because it’s such an astonishingly good ad, and because I was just reading about it in James B. Stewart’s Saturday business column in today’s NYT. Stewart’s theme is Chrysler’s turnaround under Fiat ownership since the federal bailout.

In what surely ranks as one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the annals of American business history, this week Chrysler reported adjusted net income of $181 million and a 30 percent rise in revenue, to $13.7 billion, even in a still-soft global car market. Its June sales jumped 30 percent from the previous year, its 15th consecutive month of increases. Its market share has grown to 10.6 percent, from under 6 percent. Chrysler repaid its outstanding government loans in May, six years ahead of schedule, and last week Fiat paid $500 million for the Treasury’s remaining 6 percent stake in the company. The American government has recouped $11.2 billion of its $12.5 billion investment in Chrysler, and would probably have made a profit had it held the debt to maturity. Meanwhile, Chrysler employs 56,000 people and has added 9,000 jobs since the bailout.

Not bad.

Stewart focuses in his column on the experiences of a Chrysler dealer in suburban Philadelphia, David Kelleher. This leads to a moving scene, the context being the decision to revamp the awful Chrysler Sebring, and to rename it the Chrysler 200.

[Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio] Marchionne made the bold but controversial decision, criticized by some Republicans in Congress, to spend $2 million for a commercial in January’s Super Bowl.

The day of the game, Mr. Kelleher was attending a dealer convention in St. Louis, where dealers were clamoring for a glimpse of the ad. Chrysler leadership finally agreed on condition of confidentiality. A few hours before kickoff, the dealers watched as a camera panned through the industrial ruins of Detroit to the ominous pulse of “Lose Yourself” by the rapper and native son, Eminem.

“What does this city know about luxury?” a narrator asked. “What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life? Well, I’ll tell you: More than most.” The images shifted to a statue of the boxer, Joe Louis, Diego Rivera’s lush Detroit Industry mural, mansions from Detroit’s heyday. “It’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel,” the narrator continued. “Add hard work and conviction and the know-how that runs generations deep in every last one of us. That’s who we are. That’s our story.” Images flashed by celebrating Detroit and its people, with barely a glimpse of the new 200. Finally Eminem emerged from behind the wheel and walked into the beautifully renovated Fox Theater to the uplifting strains of a gospel choir onstage. At the end, letters appeared over the dark screen: “The Chrysler 200 has arrived. Imported from Detroit.”

“I was stunned,” Mr. Kelleher recalled. “I looked around. The room was silent. Some people were crying. Then the applause started and just rolled through the auditorium and kept on going. We felt a rebirth.” Mr. Kelleher immediately e-mailed his chief salesman. “Get on the computer right now and order 40 200s.”

Watch the ad yourself. See if you don’t cry too.

Categories: Automobiles, Video

We’re Back (USA. Cars.)

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been pretty excited about the Chevy Volt. If only my current car weren’t just four years old, with just over 15,000 miles driven, I would trade it in for the Volt. What with my averaging 308 1/3 miles per month, or just over 10 miles per day, I’d be a perfect candidate. The Volt’s gas engine would rarely kick in to re-charge the battery.

But that’s not all GM is up to. They’re on a roll. Firing on all cylinders. Or, as Dan Neal writes in his review of the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sports Wagon in the WSJ two Saturdays ago, “GM is getting its mojo back, playing the game, rousing the faithful. You have to love it.” (See the accompanying slideshow too.)

Let’s say you bought this car, a Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon, with a 6.2-liter, 556-horsepower Corvette V8, six-speed manual transmission, magnetorheological dampers (I’ll get to that), Michelin SP2 gumballs, 15-inch front Brembo brakes with six-pot calipers, and microsuede wrapping on the steering wheel and shifter. Well, first of all, you’d be one strange cat, which is to say, unusual. Notwithstanding any nitro-burning ice-cream trucks or flying boattail Rollses in your neighborhood, this wagon is about as esoteric an automobile as you’re likely to find. Statistically speaking, General Motors will sell exactly none of these cars, the Detroit equivalent of Zoroastrianism.

But if you did buy one, what would you do with it? You’d have a lot of options. Like Cadillac’s 3.6-liter CTS wagon—with a mere 304 hp—the V-Wagon has a useful and accessible 22 cubic feet behind the rear seats and a generous 56 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded. Among other things, you could take three weeks’ worth of groceries to the test-and-tune session at your local drag strip. Zero to 60 miles per hour in this car goes by in 4.3 seconds—such acceleration momentarily takes years off your sagging jowls—and then the car really starts to move, thundering through the quarter-mile in 11.9 seconds at 116 mph, according to my colleagues at Car and Driver, who do impeccable instrumented testing.

Such a car would be useful if you wanted to duck car-pooling duty or avoid field trips with the Cub Scouts, because no child emerging weepy and jelly-kneed from the back seats of this supercharged washing machine will ever want to get back in. You’ll be on cupcake duty from then on.

You could attempt to redeem yourself for such an automotive purchase, as you should. The V-Wagon is utterly, cosmically and seismically wrong, a filthy, shameful ogre of torque that bellows and sets alight thatched roofs as it drives by—Caliban with pushrods. You owe God or somebody an apology.

Perhaps you could put on demonstrations for the local high-school physics club, using the g-meter built into the car’s instrument cluster to show exactly what more than 1 g of lateral acceleration feels like. It feels like a fat lady is trying to push you out the side window. Or if not physics, the Greek club, since like Antaeus the V-Wagon maintains an Olympian grip on the earth and draws strength from it. Maybe you could help out at the police training range, letting cadets chase you to improve their hot-pursuit driving skills. Then, having been completely demoralized, these plebes will quit to become firemen. The world needs firemen.

What you couldn’t do is volunteer to rush transplant organs to faraway hospitals, because if you did, you’d only arrive with coolers full of gazpacho.

Over at Chrysler, I can’t tell you much about the new Chrysler 200, but I can tell you to watch the two-minute ad for it that was the high point of yesterday’s Super Bowl. (Just click play on the embedded video above.) The Joe Louis fist. Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry fresco. Eminem: “This is the Motor City and this is what we do.” A paean to manufacturing and to what made America great. Stirring, even if Fiat does own a big chunk of Chrysler.

And speaking of what makes America great, even if this one is made in Japan, have a look at yesterday’s NYT car review, Ezra Dyer’s droll look at Infiniti’s new behemoth.

The QX’s most helpful features, though, are the ones that apply to the simple challenge of seeing out of the thing. Visibility is always a problem in a full-size S.U.V. You’re sitting up there in the wheelhouse and your bumpers are somewhere down below the cloud ceiling, possibly in different counties. You’re always getting home and finding small items like A.T.M.’s and hot-dog carts stuck in the wheel wells and wondering, “How long has that been there?”

To address this problem, Infiniti’s Around View monitor uses multiple cameras to digitally stitch together a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle, which is mighty useful in parking lots and other close quarters. A blind-spot-warning system lets you know when a Miata is swimming like a remora off your rear flank.

My favorite electronic helper, though, is Distance Control Assist, part of the $2,850 Technology Package. (The full-boat QX56 4WD that I drove included that option, as well as the $2,450 Theater Package and $6,950 Deluxe Touring Package, bringing the grand total to $72,170.)

You could probably live without the Theater Package’s twin DVD screens, but the Technology Package should be considered mandatory. It includes Distance Control Assist, which uses lasers to scan the road ahead; if it concludes that you’re on a collision course with a car or other obstacle, the accelerator pedal physically pushes back to clue you in to slow down. If you’re still oblivious, the QX hits the brakes for you, which could be a real boon in mind-numbing stop-and-go traffic.

The system really works; I drove the QX several hundred miles and didn’t crash into a single thing. I attribute this success to Distance Control Assist, my own careful driving and the fact that the QX56’s front-end styling physically repels most living things. One gentleman driving ahead of me took a look in his rearview mirror and promptly set a new land speed record for an octogenarian in a Buick Park Avenue.

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