Your Mobile Phone

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It’s been said – and there is truth to it – that new cars are a lot like cell phones. Or rather, they try hard to emulate them. One you carry; the other carries you. But there is an inherent problem with designing a car to be like a cell phone.

The former is designed to be thrown away after about two years – maybe a little longer but definitely not much longer. Who has a ten year-old cellphone? Who would want one? It would be like wearing parachute pants and being too legit to quit . . . in 2021. What dazzles on the showroom floor today looks dated almost tomorrow. Five years from now you might as well walk around wearing Hammer’s parachute pants. 

Electronic things age faster than a crack-smoking hottie. It’s a permutation of Moore’s Law. How do you instill double the number of transistors every couple of years in a thing already manufactured? How do you make a five-year-old cell phone built into your car’s dashboard not look like a five-year-old cell phone?

A car has to be viable for at least ten years, in order to amortize what it costs. Unless, of course, you don’t buy the car. If you subscribe to it – i.e., pay monthly/annually, eternally – for your plan.

Also just like a cell phone.

It is one thing to toss a $50 made-in-China (say it like Orange Man) smartphone – or trade in an $800 iPhone for the latest iPhone after a year or two. It is another thing to toss or trade a car you spent $35,000 on after a couple of years because it can’t be “updated” anymore or it costs too much to “update” it.

Mechanical things tend to remain useful for longer than electronic things.

Especially computerized electronic things, which is what cellphones and cars that emulate them are, in functional terms.

Cars have been so much longer, having computers installed in them decades before we carried them in our pockets. The first computer-controlled engine management systems were installed in the ’70s – in models like the Cadillac Seville – and by the mid-late ’80s, practically every new car had a computer in addition to an engine. The computer controlling the engine. Then the transmission. Today, they control practically everything, even the gear selector and accelerator pedal.

But cars didn’t get cell phone-emulating touchscreen interfaces (and “apps”) until relatively recently. Today, practically every car has one and is designed to mimic the appearance and functionality of the cell phone.

The car has become the app.

But apps are ephemeral. They bloom and flower like spring dandelions and then wilt and die. One can only do so much updating. In time – not very much time – the underlying hardware is no longer able to support the latest software. It’s true of the computer you carry in your pocket and the one on your desk and also the one parked in your garage.

With the difference being the one in your pocket and the one on your desk doesn’t involve a six-year payment plan and the expectation that after you’re done paying, the thing you just paid for won’t be ready for the recycling bin.

That’s a problem with a mobile cell phone – i.e., a modern car designed to be exactly that. The cell phone is embedded in the car’s architecture and specific to that particular make and model of car. It is probably also proprietary; i.e., the company that made it has the rights to its workings and no else can legally make a replacement for it.

And because these electronic interfaces are specific to the particular make/model of car they were originally installed in – and because it is common for makes/models to be completely redesigned after just a few years in production and – often – not many of that particular make/model produced – there isn’t much economic incentive to produce replacement parts.

Have you tried getting a six-year-old cell phone repaired?

How about a three-year-old TV, which is also a computer and a cell phone emulator?

There used to be – in the Before Time – shops devoted to the repair of TVs. These pre-cell-phone-emulating TVs were heavy and their tube-type displays didn’t have the fine resolution of a modern flat-screen TV. But they did last longer and when they had a problem you could usually get it fixed. It was common for people to keep a TV for 10 years or even longer, if you can imagine. Phones – the ones that plugged into walls – made calls for 20 or 30 years.

Because you didn’t tap or swipe them, you didn’t have to toss them.

. . . 

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  1. Here’s the thing about cell phones…by now, there’s rather spendy for being what’s still tantamount to a TOY, at $1,000 and UP, BUT, you don’t have to spend that much to get a decent phone that will runs most apps and works fine with existing networks, even that 5G crap.

    Where this has gone off the freaking rails, however, is that there was a time when a cell phone was just that, a PHONE. Then along came the PDA (the “other” PDA was already around, but has disappeared since there’s no shame for whatever display of affection anymore…), and their functionality became enhanced as processing power and memory, like with terrestrial PCs, got better and less expensive. The marriage of the two was just a matter of time, with Apple’s original iPhone, more an extension of its then popular iPad music player, becoming the toy for the “cool kids” to have! What many might not know is that Apple had actually put out a PDA in the early 90s, the Newton, which, like the early cell phone, was a “brick” compared to its modern equivalent, and it was not a sales hit, in spite of many innovative features. PDAs had already become functional pocket computers, but their market was also threatened by the new pad devices. So the marriage of PDA and phone was a matter of survival for both. These days, “phones” are more powerful pocket computers with all manner of snazzy video, image capture, and sound technology that just happens to make phone calls!

    At least the market does have much less powerful phones that cost much less, usually under $300, that do about 90% of what their more powerful competitors do, but they still make phone calls just as good!

    You’d think with cars, with most features becoming ubiquitous, like automatic transmissions, A/C, power steering and brakes, multi-port electronic fuel injection and computer-controlled ignition, that the car’s “brain” could become more or less generic, with common interfaces (BT, USB 3.0, and so on), and simple on-board diagnostics that, when something does malfunction, it TELLS you what it senses is wrong, and not just have to get an ODB II code reader and plow through some arcane codes the computer has “thrown”, although BT-enabled OBD II readers are cheap and most codes are commonly available.

    But there’s another aspect that concerns me….SPYWARE and BLOATWARE. That’s part of the reason why older cell phones quit working when they’re “upgraded”, in most cases, they just don’t have the memory to handle these bloated O/S and applications, much of which is stuff to track you, i.e., SPY on you, for both whatever “Uncle” wants to track, plus gather marketing information about you. I fear the same thing is happening to cars…sure, they’ll come with “Free Navigation”…and your daily routine and haunts! Bad enough if your life is threatened by those wanting to kidnap you or kill you, but for those of us not “James Bond”, there can be folks that learn a LOT about you by where you go…and maybe you don’t care for what they’ll do with that knowledge!

  2. “Who has a ten year-old cellphone? Who would want one?”

    Well, my Motorola Dumbphone is now 7 or 8 years old, and I’d like to keep it, but they speak now of phasing out 3G service soon.

    And I have some old twonkies, such as the Motorola Photon Q, or even the Droid 4, and still have the intention of installing a Linux-based OS in them for LAN use. They were the last of the major brands to have a physical keyboard. I won’t be bothered with the pure touchscreen nightmare. What a terrible interface.

    But even though those phones use 4G, I can’t use them on any cell phone network. If I must carry a twonky about, I want that physical keyboard, and I want it to run Sailfish OS or Ubuntu Touch or even Lineage OS so I have much more influence and ability to customize, and won’t be using a Google or Apple product, because fuck those companies.

    So, yes, I want to use a 10 year old cellphone. The new ones don’t do anything they didn’t do then that I want them to do.

  3. Mechanical things lasting longer than electronic things isn’t necessarily true. In theory, an engraved piece of silicone with that merely transmits electricity (along with the software to command it) is more reliable than a burnout-able vacuum tube or a stretchable belt or a breakable relay. The problem is complexity and to a certain extent, size. A vacuum tube can withstand far greater voltage transients than a transistor because a vacuum tube is far larger (and if it is ruined, you can more easily replace it than a tiny transistor). There are literally trillions of ways your iPhone could catastrophically fail due to the fact that we can’t possibly model how a multitude of highly complex overlapping systems will interact under every possible condition. Spaghetti code, delicate transistors, and overall complexity kill reliability. However, pound for pound, transistors are still more reliable. If you tried to make an iPhone using the same systems as an old Western Electric phone, it would break extremely fast. The (electro)mechanical components would have far more ways to fail than an equivalent electronic iPhone. On the other hand, an electronic equivalent to the Western Electric, with large and easily replaced transistors, would break less than the normal WE phone.

    • The Voyager probes now in interstellar space were launched about 47 years ago. And are still sending back data. Using 1970s electronics.
      3 years ago I got my LG plasma tv bought in 2008 repaired at a cost of $250. the only repair it needed other than a $10 replacement remote last year. Another newer tv would have at that time cost $3000. As I rarely watch it, I could not justify the huge capital expenditure for a newer tv.

    • In the days of yore, one could repair radios and even TVs for oneself by removing tubes (not the PICTURE tube of a TV, besides the very high voltage, which was still present even in the old sets that you had to let “warm up”, you just didn’t mess with them), often the burned-out one was evident, and took them to a “tube tester”, a piece of test equipment, like at Western Auto (remember them?). You just ran each tube in question, and replaced those that failed.

      Needless to say, if we were still using vacuum tube technology, or even the early transistors, the modern HANDHELD cell phone, akin to Dick Tracy’s TV watch, would be a pipe dream.

  4. I’m quite familiar with how car systems work, electronics included, having both been involved in making some, and doing some reverse engineering on my own cars to improve upon them or to identify issues.

    Cars tend to use standard protocols and standard components to interface these electronics to the ECU/CAN, however, the manufacturers introduce all kinds of digital rights management nonsense (DRM) for their interconnection, as well as not providing any technical documentation of their custom protocol extensions. This, not cost, is what prevents aftermarket replacement parts. I could build an automotive grade computer that costs less than $100 which can replace any computer in the car, and if I knew the specifications for the protocols in the car, as well as had the DRM keys, this is a straightforward application of embedded software engineering. You can throw out the original, and use off-the-shelf LCD interface modules to interface with existing screens and whatnot.

    It’s difficult to replace discontinued touch screens or similar components, though, but they don’t have to be identical, just a good enough fit, if you control the computer. This is doable.

    Much as I abhor the fondling fingers of Uncle’s regulators, in this one instance, I like things like Massachusetts’ right to repair laws. It should be mandatory to disclose repair information for cars, maybe when official support is discontinued.

    • OL, I didn’t know how bad it was with auto’s. But I’m not surprised. I fight the same thing in my e-controls of the rotating equipment world. We win over a small fraction of clients over time to go as much non-proprietary as possible, and they are very grateful.

    • So, what you’re saying is what I’ve long suspected: the electronics of most modern cars, and not just the entertainment systems, but engine and drivetrain management, is deliberately engineered for PLANNED OBSOLESENCE, and designed to NOT be repairable. It is maddening, considering that ruggedized versions of common form factors like the iTX are out there and not very expensive.

      For example, my #2 son has a 2006 Dodge Dakota that he uses as his “beater”, and for a commuting vehicle and to do occasional “truck” tasks, it’s just fine. Recently there was an issue with the brake warning light that connects to the Master Cylinder. The local Dodge “stealership” there in Henderson, NV, looked at it for a nominal fees (they were reasonable), and diagnosed the problem as a bad left front “module”, which would set him back two grand to replace. Now, what the hell does this truck need separate “modules” for, given that apparently the ECM and/or PCM are ok? I told him I’d rummage the local “Pick N Pull” as by now they’re likely getting 15 y.o. derelict trucks; might have to pay $150 (hey, even PnP’s prices have skyrocketed, good ol’ “supply and demand”!), or we’ll figure an improvisation; but no way in hell that truck justifies that sort of repair, when it brakes and still drives fine. But who knows…in a few years, there might be some S-A-A-A-A-A-F-T-E-E-E-E bill passed requiring inspections, nationwide, and a persistent warning light is likely a “flunk”, so the truck is a junker by default.

  5. I’ve had my flat screen HDTV for 9 years now. Still works great. Panasonic. I try to keep a phone for 3 years. If you have a warranty on the phone you can sometimes get a free upgrade. Happened to me twice with verizon because the old phone is not supported. I hate the touchscreens on my two 2021 Outbacks and some of the software is buggy and annoying. I got the 10 year warranty for an extra 2k. The screen alone controls everything and is 2k to get fixed. The warranty covers everything.

    • I still use an iPhone 5s. There’s no absolute need to constantly upgrade but it depends on your needs and expectations (I am not a power user by any stretch). I plan to run this phone until the relentless 5G push finally drives a nail into its coffin and it’s rendered useless for voice calls. Apple did not implement VoLTE on it so when 4G goes dark it won’t make voice calls. Although ironically it will still work for data.

      • Accept NO “upgrades”. They’re designed to take out the older model phones; Apple and Samsung have already been caught sending these “poison pills” intended to render your older phone useless so you’ll buy a new one.

  6. It can happen sooner – 2018 Grand Cherokee info/radio screen didn’t light up the other day. Off to the dealer just inside original warranty coverage. “Updated software” was their fix. Ok so far but was slow to light up yesterday. This is the first car I have purchased extended coverage including electronics. My neighbors Toyota Tacoma similar problem, Nav unit failed she was within two weeks of warranty expiring- claimed the bill would have been close to 4 grand parts and labor without warranty! She bought another extended coverage plan immediately.

    We don’t change vehicles often, and never needed these extended repair plans till now since I wrench stuff myself. No wrenching the internals of the infotainment unit!

    It would be less of a problem if these were separate units, the Jeep is radio, HVAC, heated seats, backup display all in one. No screen? No temp setting for heat or a/c. It has voice command but not sure that works with a dead screen.

    Our 1991 Chev Silverado and 2003 Ford Escape become more irreplaceable every year that goes by. The Escape has been the most solid, trouble free rig yet.

  7. For all the talk about being more “green” than in the past, it’s simply not true. In the quest for “sustainability” (a word that is tortured out of any meaning) it’s lead to many things become far LESS sustainable. Not just for the environment but our pocketbooks as well.

    For normal people being “green” would be using items much longer than in the past. Meaning they have to be built better to begin with and be far more repairable. And far easier to scrap and part out (for used parts repairing) when they are used up.

    Unfortunately for normal people and the environment, the elite and manufacturers have done the opposite. Items last far shorter and are often impossible to even do simple repairs. When they wear out and break, the whole thing is garbage. And that is where it ends up, in the garbage.

    Take house parts for an example.

    My great grandpa bought the lake house the family still owns a hundred years ago. It still has the original redwood siding, the fir flooring, the interior cedar paneling, the french style windows and the paneled front and back doors. They are all in good or excellent condition, because they have been maintained. They will never be replaced as they are repairable (and some of them have been). They were all affordable and inexpensive building materials back then (granted, today, not so much). In fact some of the items are better with age (the flooring and paneling have beautiful patina that can’t be faked).

    In my book that is what green is. Make it good (and good looking in a classic sense), maintain it, fix it when it breaks and keep it forever. There is little reason to not believe a hundred years from now it can’t all still be in place for my family to continue to use and enjoy.

    Compare it with the (track) house my brother had built in 2004. It has vinyl windows that he has already replaced, because the seals all failed. It has vinyl siding that has faded badly, is crumbling and looks cheap (even though it wasn’t). Except for the one room that has a real wood floor, all the flooring is worn out, can’t be fixed and will be replaced. I remember the (now out of business) builder talking about the energy efficiency (it is a pretty tight house for a track house). For any money he may have saved (not really known to be honest) he has spent it replacing things that have not been replaced in the housed owned for a hundred years.

    How is that house more green than the old lake house? The reality, it isn’t. But they would make you think it was. Replacing a ten year old furnace because a new one is 3% more efficient is something a normal person will not do because it makes no sense. So that is why they are made today to only last ten years.

    Why us normal people don’t say no to more of the nonsense is the reason why they get away with it.

  8. “Electronic things age faster than a crack-smoking hottie.”

    Eric, are you actually regaining your sense of humor??

    To quote the immortal scene in “Major League II” when Ricky Lee Vaughn stalks out of the Bullpen to pitch to Roger Parkman…..Oh My God, He’s BACK! Cue the song.”

    • Thanks, Mike – I try!

      Speaking of which: A friend gave me a real-deal gas mask. I plan to use it to get some booze at the ABC store – where “masks” are still mandatory. If they say anything, I will point out – accurately – that my “mask” actually works.

    • The gal running the P/A and Sound system at the new Indians ballpark (Oriole Park with some paint or tarps in key areas doubling for Jacobs Field, now Progressive Park, as it wasn’t ready when the movie was being film in late 1993) had one fine bod…

  9. The problem with electronics repair is two fold. One, the cost of the experienced person’s time and second parts availability. The first issue is dooms most consumer electronics outside the very high priced Apple stuff and very robustly built things that are meant for companies to buy.

    However, when I was working in consumer electronics my employer’s internal requirements translated to five years of heavy abuse. Then again my employer did a lot of the corporate/government product as well and that attitude translated over into the consumer products.

    Things designed for the consumer market are heavily cost reduced to the point where repair is often more costly than a new one unless a person can do it themselves. 1960s cars were no different in that regard. Eventually it broke to where buying a new one was better than paying someone to fix it.

    The cell phone like nature is most annoying in the operation, because software quality has sucked for years now. I watch as things that used to be simple and work become complicated and don’t with computers and any device that is following the trends. As to repair, there will almost always be work arounds for something as expensive as a car. But again, it’s about the cost of paying someone to do it and getting access to tools to reprogram stuff. It’s a lot to learn and deal with. For the an old 1960s car you can weld in new sheet metal and rebuild the engine and it takes a lot of time or you can just buy a new one. Most people then bought a new one and even more people now. Customer attitude changes the product will change.

    I the industry I work in now most customers expect to be able to fix the product so its made so they can. Some jobs may be a pain, some may be too much money to hire someone to do even, but order the part and do it yourself is there.

    • “software quality has sucked for years now”
      I have seen no significant improvement in Windows usability since XP Pro. Things get shuffled around so you have to re-learn where they are, or how to access them, but they remain the same. In fact, I consider the “ribbon”, whenever it came out, to be a serious decline in usability, although perhaps easier for those unwilling to learn anything to use. I frequently have failures in Windows 10, and effective methods I used as recently as Windows 8 no longer work. For example, perhaps I just haven’t discovered the well concealed method for doing so, but I could previously create a desktop shortcut to any program, any folder, or any document. Not so in Windows 10.

      • He’s talking about embedded code. Highly developed products like Windows and many OSes have matured and benefited from years of betas (that being you, the user beating out bugs). Vehicles are a moving target. Generally speaking you get about 50 defects (e.g. bugs) per 1,000 lines of code. The big guys like Microsoft can do about half that for various reasons like being able to attract better talent, put more bodies on it, absorb more overhead for reviews and testing, etc.

        Within my field of aerospace the rate is lower, about 1 per 1,000, for commercial applications and another order of magnitude better for space and military customers. NASA on manned projects strives for 1 per 10,000 is considered excellent. But the difference here is something that might cost you $100 at Walmart when subjected to the rigors of being space flight qualified will definitely not cost $100 anymore.

        Understanding bugs will always exist the approach is to write enough code to give yourself fault tolerance and ways to work around unintended operation. Automotive designs are in a relative infancy and under pretty difficult schedules. It’s frankly amazing more serious issues don’t develop. You hear about some, unexpected accelerations, airbags that don’t work right, etc. But suffice to say when you get a recall notice for updated firmware it’s usually best to get it, although understand that you also do not want to be the first in line as the next cycle of beta testers either.

      • I still use Win7 and it is the best operating system I’ve ever had. Much better than Vista. I do NOT update my operating system because I do not want Win10 installed in place of 7.

        • And, as long as you’re happy with the programs you run, keep going.

          What will eventually doom your Win7 rig is that newer file protocols won’t work with your software; it’s a form of planned obsolescence that Micro-Brain (Mircrosoft) has long used to make folks buy the “latest and greatest”. Or most web sites won’t work with that browser you’re using, and good luck finding a compatible browser.

  10. I posted this on another article Eric wrote, in that my financial advisor I am about to fire, (who advised my GF and Father) is all giddy about the *Eco Environment*. He kept prattling on and on about “the Eco Environment” to a point I had to interrupt this jackass and ask WTF are you talking about? He blathered about how Apple is going to have your entire environment in their electronic suite; home, car, computer, iphone. He got giddy about the Apple electric/electronic car coming out. All the while he was sitting in his house in Walnut Creek, CA during a power outage. He got insulted when I pointed that out.

    In order for Apple/Tesla/Biden’s plan to get all of us out of our IC cars and limit our freedom and mobility to their devices is coming. How this will happen is a good question. However look at what happened in just 14 months of a false pandemic. Sheople were quite willing to trade their freedom for security. They gleefully complied with local tyranical orders and informed on their neighbors. As Solzhenitsyn pointed out: “To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.” This is how they will pass the motor law… national emergency after another 10 years of propaganda in the schools and a new generation of AOC’s are walking around.

  11. Eric:

    This seems to be a recurring theme on the blog. How designing cars to be more disposable hence nudging people to lease or “subscribe” rather than own as being a goal of endless cash flow for the car makers and endless servitude for the consumer.

    I’m seriously looking at getting a hold of an early to mid eighties MB 300 diesel just as a solid tank of a car that I can work on (without a scan tool.) Also one that can literally run on vegetable oil. Just in case gasoline becomes difficult to source or unavailable. My uncle had one of these kraut-wagens and drove the wheels off of it, still regrets getting rid of it to this day.

    Do you have any insight or opinions on what years MB diesels become so complicated they are no longer worth the effort? Certainly once electronics and scan tools come into play we’re looking at the whole Cell phone analogy all over.
    My thoughts are anything post late eighties would be foolish what are yours?

    • Be careful of the MB diesels. The parts are expensive and hard to find. This should be a major consideration when looking for something that you cam rebuild to last another 20+ years.

      • Parts availability would be my biggest concern on a car 40± years old. At any rate it wouldn’t be a daily driver so much as a novelty back up car.

        I have a 2005 MB sprinter and have found I’m better off doing the repairs and maintenance myself. Very few mechanics, even diesel techs will touch it. There seems to be almost a sub culture of sprinter nuts though, so parts, technical knowledge and resources are easy enough to come by. I’m not sure I’d find that with a mid eighties sedan.

      • Not so bad for the W116 bodies that have the OM617 5-banger diesel. Or the W123 bodies with the OM616 4-banger. But you either have to wrench them yourself, or know and be on good terms with a moonlighting mechanic that’s competent. Forget the “Stealership”, no one there will know how to fix these vintage beasts, and a “German Car” garage is just about as bad for ripping you off.

        • We had one in the early 2000’s. It was a money pit. $1500 for the car, spent over $3000 in parts alone to keep it running over the course of the next 2 years + $800-ish for a new head gasket and engine clean out at the local diesel shop. Sold it when all 5 injectors, the fuel sending unit, and the fuel pressure regulator simultaneously died for the 3rd time. Did all of our own work on it, except when we first got it and it needed a new head gasket (the local diesel shop that specialized in Cummins and Ford/Navistar did that repair and did an excellent job for less than one might expect). I look at that car the same way I look at an MG roadster. It’s great, if you like spending more time wrenching than driving.

  12. In a better society, if the current crop of manufacturers continued to make this crap, others would pop up and come up with something that works, and is retrofittable. What these assholes haven’t figured out is that if you have a universal mounting and harnessing scheme, you could swap controls pretty easily. Of course, there is no standardization whatsoever. Maybe you could eliminate the electronics altogether in view of our sudden inability to purchase chips from China.

    Everything today is homogenous, commodotized. I have been on a 25 year quest to find luggage without wheels and built like the stuff my parents had. I liked the old stuff because it came in multiple colors and was also more trim, compact than the poorly made bulbous crap on the market today. I got on ebay and purchased a new old stock Tourister from the 1960s. It isn’t perfect, but at least you can see what you are packing inside as the lining is an off white as opposed to BLACK. I’m sick of black cars and black luggage.

  13. ‘It’s summer now, and in Aspen that means spotting supercars.’ — RK

    Even plutocratic Aspen doesn’t have a Bugatti Chiron Super Sport yet, since the sixty units to be made won’t start shipping till next year.

    Though race track inspired vehicles normally don’t do much for me, I’ve always had a kink for the Bugatti Type 57SC after examining one up close and personal. Eighty-five years on, the Chiron SS artfully incorporates its retro design cues — the horseshoe grille; the bold swoop sculptured into its sides.

    Mechanically, its 8-liter, 1,578 hp W16 engine (basically two 15-degree VR8s oriented at 90 degrees to each other, sharing a common block and crankshaft) is a tour de force. Firing order is 1-14-9-4-7-12-15-6-13-8-3-16-11-2-5-10 (there’s gonna be a pop quiz).

    Enjoy projects? Compare, say, 80 subway cars (always designed and built to order) at $3 million a pop, versus sixty Bugatti Chiron SS’s at $4 million each — both $240 million projects. The subway cars embody many more tons of material. But their technological density is lower; interiors largely empty but for FRP molded seats.

    Biggest difference is that transit vehicles have a single (usually government) buyer; custom projects like the Chiron SS are built on spec, thus requiring the deep pockets of a major mfr like Volkswagen, plus smitten tycoons to pony up the cash for their object of desire.

    Invariably, with luxury cars as well as luxury houses, bold on-spec projects tailored to plutocrats flower at the tail end of a giant economic boom. This one — right here, right now — is the biggest speculative bubble in human history, fueled by Corvette Joe’s magic money tree flimflam.

    After it pops, one can imagine nomadic humans marveling at the Chiron SS like apes gawking at the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. What kind of culture could have built such a thing? Where did the ‘money’ come from?

  14. As antique as I am, I find cell phones useful as a mobile telephone, and a texting device. Mine has never been connected to the internet, at least not evidently so, and never will be. I have enough trouble operating a full size key board. I have no desire to shrink my view of the world to a 3″X5″ screen.
    I suspect they are far more damaging to the species than any plague could ever hope to be. That being said, they are also quite vulnerable, to hacking and EMPs. They could all become expensive paper weights tomorrow. The mad rush to get everything “connected” has been wildly outrunning any attempt to make them secure. Same with cars. Engine Control Units are no doubt quite useful, and we wouldn’t have the fuel economy, nor the performance currently available without them. Connecting them, not so much. When I first heard of GM’s North Star system, my first thought was “what moron wants their car connected to the internet, wide open to all sorts of security threats, and control by agents unknown”. Fortunately, or not depending on point of view, I doubt I will outlive my two vehicles, neither of which is “connected”

  15. Another difference is that the new phone is likely to be better in some noticeable way compared to the old one. Cars were like that at one time too, as manufacturers figured out what worked and what didn’t. As they competed with each other to out-innovate. Ford vs GM wasn’t just on the racetrack, it was also in the design studio, the engineering workbench, and the chemistry lab. Cars were different back then because the people behind them had different ideas. Ideas that over time became standards because they were the best. Why did the Wankel engine fail? Why do we have steering wheels instead of tillers? Disc brakes instead of drums? These ideas were refined and tested year after year up through the 60s. Even in the 1970s cars were all starting to resemble each other. Not just because of Uncle either. Uncle was like the general who saw the troops moving and hurried to run out in front of them after they’d passed by. Once the refinement reaches a certain point the product becomes mature. Then it’s about incremental improvement and more esoteric marketing, which is a very different task.

    It’s summer now, and in Aspen that means spotting supercars. This year I’m seeing the new Corvettes. They look like every other mid-engine speed machine. I’m not all that impressed, but they pretty much had to do it. Mid-engine is just too good to ignore. Porsche can hang on to their rear-engine 911 for nostalgia but only with a lot of driver assist to keep it planted. But putting the engine in the back seat means you get a whole lot of upside, from aerodynamic drag reduction to weight distribution. Evolution, not revolution. But if you’re firmly in the ‘Vette camp it’s as much a change as if Harley switched to a boxer engine (or electric motor…).

    • Ready Kilowatt:

      I seriously mistook a new vette for a McClaren a couple weeks ago.

      I believe when asked, “why a mid engine in a vette?”One of the designers said: Physics.

      The laws of physics simply don’t care about nostalgia. At the end of the day what works is what works.

      • Indeed, form follows function, whether the form pleases you or not. Which is why I think a great many “new” models are excessively over styled. To try to distinguish themselves from other models. In spite of the fact that there are few functional differences. After driving a car for several years with nearly equal front to rear weight distribution, Mazda MX 5/ Miata, the mid engine is its closest competition. But even these are butt heavy, often requiring different tires front to rear. But butt heavy is better than front heavy. If control is lost on the front, there is no solution. Lost on the rear, possibly.

        • Hi John,

          I get to drive a lot of cars; have driven thousands. I’ve driven on a track, many times. And here’s the takeaway: Almost any new vehicle has more capability, in terms of its limits of adhesion, than almost all drivers have skill. I doubt one out 100 people who own a new Corvette can outdrive the car; I know I can’t – and ( tooting my horn a little) I know I’ve got more experience driving fast than most people and more training and – by dint of both plus some natural capacity for it – more skill than most drivers who aren’t professional drivers or close to it.

          Driving the Corvette is thus not as fun – unless you push it too far and then it gets dangerous – because (in a car like the Corvette) you have to push it really far and if you do that, you’d better damned well know how to handle it when it out-drives you. Mid-engined cars can be especially abrupt in their transitions. Look out, as OJ used to say.

          It is much more fun to drive a car with limits closer to your own. You can also hone your skills in such a car in a way that you can’t in a car like the Corvette.

          I love my Trans-Am for this and other reasons. I can out-drive this car, without getting in over my head.

          • Indeed, both mid and rear engine cars have a reputation of getting out of your control in a hurry, because they are butt heavy. Once it starts to go, it doesn’t want to stop. If my MX5 gets a bit loose its most always quite easy to bring it back, because it doesn’t get completely, uncontrollably loose right away. A bit of a drift before it goes sideways.

          • Eric, very good points, thank you. Got me thinking (as you usually do), that maybe that’s why I am drawn to dirtbike racing and enjoy it. So far, dirbikes have little to no nannies. Sure there are rev-limiting things, which save you lots of money…… and now I can flip a switch for power delivery options. But so far, they have left the ‘traction’ thing alone with no ‘traction control’ or abs, etc…. These things are on streetbikes now, but if you pick wisely, some can be turned off.
            I hope these things don’t start showing up on off-road racing dirtbikes because it will probably end this old-mans desire to still race them.
            My gut tells me the next advance for mainstream dirbikes will be some form of auto-suspension tuning (stiffer for fast, less stiff for slow kind of thing)? It will be a money maker for them as I’m thinking it could be a game changer but be a $1-3K option that a lot will desire to ‘win’.
            Some fun: I was backing up my new Ram to hook up the trailer, first time for this truck and it wouldn’t let me, slamming on the brakes “somethings in the way!!!!” No shit. Took me a couple minutes to figure out how to turn the crap off to hook up the trailer. The camera was nice though, saved me 3-4 ‘get-out-and-look’ events when hooking up yourself.

    • The one thing that’s always been true of Corvettes is they DO compete on value, providing perhaps not the fit-and-finish of a hand built Ferrari but performance nearly as good for a much easier to accept price. In other words bring to the middle class a better quality of life.

      • Agreed, Anon –

        The Corvette is a fantastic value; it is exotic in every way except what it costs. Still, I’d much rather have a ’72 Corvette. That thing does more for me to look at than the new ones does to drive!

      • And used ones are often an excellent value. Frequently driven by middle aged drivers who care about being seen in one, and nothing about performance, and so have never pushed them, much less driven them hard.

      • ‘Vettes suffer from a IMAGE problem, though…usually driven by an aging bachelor who refuses to grow up, with his shirt open to show his chest hair and gold chains. Especially the 70s models. Pity, too, because those one’s from the 50s are AGELESS…


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