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Autoworker Sings The Praises Of Detroit-Built
I got an e-mail from a guy who works in the auto industry about my post from yesterday, "Buy American! (The Automakers Need Your Charity)," in which I open with:

I'm from Detroit, and I'd love to buy an American car -- just as soon as they start coming out with cars that top the imports.

Well, truth be told, GM did come out with a pretty groovy car that I wanted to buy -- the EV1. Note to Ted Danson, whom I used to see at Gold's Gym:

No, I never had the hots for you, just for your car. Hope this clears the staring thing up.

Unfortunately, there's no chance of buying an EV1, because GM not only stopped making them, they yanked them back from their owners and turned them into scrap -- the subject of the film, Who Killed The Electric Car?

The guy who wrote me contends that Detroit is making nifty autos. I dunno, I don't read many auto reviews, but it seems when I do, the auto reviewers aren't exactly dancing in the streets over Motor City design. Here's the guy's e-mail:

While Honda and Toyota produce excellent product lines, Ford and GM can match them them on several levels. What about the rest of the Japanese automakers? People seem to forget that the majority of them, Nissan, Subaru, Mitsubishi etc. produce inferior vehicles to Detroit. And the Europeans? Please. They may look nice, but unless you buy a Porsche, GM and Ford are far better choices.

As someone who works in the automotive field I got a kick out of the letter from the guy from Colorado. Often when I talk to someone who states, almost proudly (oddly enough) that "I will never buy an American car again because they all suck" further questioning usually reveals that they are rarely informed. "When is the last time you owned an American car?" I'll ask. "1984 is the usual answer. Or, as in the case of our Colorado friend he will say "topped off with scuffing my shoe on the ridiculous foot operated parking brake that hasn't evolved since 1960." That's a tell. I haven't seen a car built by the Big 3 with a manual transmission that has this type of parking brake in.....ever that I can remember. And "scuffs" his shoe? Please. I'm 6'4" and I've never scuffed my shoe on my American car or my piece'ocrap BMW that I had on the parking brake. A hand-operated parking brake in an automatic vehicle is just stupid.

Detroit lost lots of customers in the 80s and they deserved it. However, today, Detroit produces many vehicles that are superior to Japanese makes but unfortunately consumers, while pointing the finger at Detroit for being behind, are actually living in the past themselves.

So...which Detroit vehicles are so much better than the imports?

Posted by aalkon at July 19, 2007 7:46 AM

Comments

Some facts about the EV1, the research and development of which was produced by _my_ division of GM, Hughes Electronics:

General Motors lost two billion dollars on the project, and lost money on every single EV1 produced. The leases didn't even cover the costs of servicing them.

The range of 130 miles is bogus. None of them ever achieved that under normal driving conditions. Running the air conditioning or heater could halve that range. Even running the headlights reduced it by 10%.

Minimum recharge time was two hours using special charging stations that except for fleet use didn't exist. The effective recharge time, using the equipment that could be installed in a lessee's garage, was eight hours. Home electrical systems simply couldn't handle the necessary current draw for "fast" charging.

NiMH batteries that had lasted up to three years in testing were failing after six months in service. There was no way to keep them from overheating without doubling the size of the battery pack. Lead-acid batteries were superior to NiMH in actual daily use.

Battery replacement was a task performed by skilled technicians taking the sorts of precautions that electricians do when working on live circuits, because that's what they were doing -- working on live circuits. You cannot turn batteries "off." This is the reason the vehicles were leased, rather than sold. As long as the terms of the lease prohibited maintenance by other than a Hughes technician, GM's liability in the event of a screw-up was much reduced. Technicians can encounter high voltages in hybrid vehicles. In the EV1, there were _really_ high voltages present.

Lessees were complaining that their electric bills had increased to the point that they'd rather be using gasoline.

One of the guys I worked with transferred to the EV1 program after what was by then a division of Raytheon lost the C-130 ATS contract. He's now back working for us. He has some interesting stories, none of them good, though he did like the company-subsidized apartment in Malibu. He said the car was a dream to drive, if you didn't mind being stranded between Bakersfield and Barstow on a hot July afternoon when a battery blew up from the combined heat of the day and the current draw.

http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/7/10/22447/3144

Posted by: rusty wilson at July 19, 2007 10:23 AM

Lessees were complaining that their electric bills had increased to the point that they'd rather be using gasoline.

I hope, someday, to either move into a house I own or to build a prefab house (ideally, out of recycled materials). When I do, I hope solar power technology will be in a place where I can run much of my life on the sun. Not sure what's happening with wind power, but if that can be harnessed, that would be great. Finally, we need to go nuclear.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 19, 2007 10:26 AM

Of course. But the reality is that fossil fuels are solar energy.
There have been some major advances in solar cells as of late. The advances involve nano technology.
Wind is good, but there are maintenance costs involved.
The best things on the horizon are LED lights. Also synthetic fuels, but they still release CO2.

Posted by: rusty wilson at July 19, 2007 10:48 AM

Solar energy doesn't make Saudi sheiks or the bin Ladens rich and powerful. But for the oil wealth in the Middle East, these people would have power over the lives of the rest of us on the level of African tribesmen.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 19, 2007 12:51 PM

Amy - No, but solar energy capture produces mostly waste heat. If enough people do it in a concentrated area, it will cause localized climate disturbances.

You want to build an energy efficient home, talk to George Bush. He has one in Texas. Good insulation, high-efficiency HVAC systems, proper installation of trees - these are going to get you much more bang for the buck than photovoltaic panels.

Rusty - I'm kinda excited about the LED technology. I've gone all fluorescent in my house (except for dimmed sockets) because the heat generated by incandescents was insane - the 300W of light in my office raised the temperature a good 5 degrees. LED offers lower heat output, lower power consumption, AND full-range dimmability. The research on PV cells is neat too, but if they can get the waste heat problem licked, it could be possible to put them into the roof of every home in reasonable climates and get something out of it.

Posted by: brian at July 19, 2007 1:16 PM

Amy - do you think that if we stop using oil the middle east will suddenly go broke? You think Europe is gonna stop buying oil? China? India?

FUNGIBLE.

Energy independence is good, but not for the reason you give. Our energy independence will insulate us from market disruptions, but it won't weaken the middle east.

Posted by: brian at July 19, 2007 1:17 PM

Silverado, Focus.

Posted by: PurplePen at July 19, 2007 1:37 PM

Brian,
I went all florescent about twelve years ago. Of course they have much better light output now, plus they are cheaper.
I can not wait to go LED!! Think how much power they will save this country. Here in The Woodlands they have replaced all the stop lights with LED lights. They don’t use much power, they are way brighter and they don’t burn out.
Amy,
If we would allow drilling off the East coast, west coast, and Alaska it wouldn’t make Saudi sheiks or the bin Ladens rich and powerful. Plus.....it would employ Americans! Why do we waste this national wealth? Are we waiting for it to have zero value?
More production causes lower prices. Lower prices means less money for the Middle East.

Posted by: rusty wilson at July 19, 2007 1:59 PM

From a 2006 interview with Chris Paine, director of "Who Killed the Electric Car":

"...BRANCACCIO: You couldn't buy one if you wanted to buy one.

PAINE: No. No, what you said, 'Hey, okay, my lease is up.' We said, 'What's the cost to buy the car out?' They go, 'Oh, no option. We take the car back.' 'No option? I wanna keep my car.' 'No, you can't have it.' So everybody who had these electric cars were mostly people who really wanted to keep them. And they said, 'No, we need the cars back.'

BRANCACCIO: You mean really a lot of passion about a stupid car?

PAINE: I know. I never even liked cars until this EV-1 electric car. This was something special..."

"...BRANCACCIO: They were pretty strict about this. They took the cars away. And they didn't wanna just store them somewhere in the off-chance that gasoline would ever go up to $3 gallon. Which P.S. I think it has. They wanted these babies destroyed

Was it just GM that wanted the cars back?

PAINE: No, it was all the car makers. You know, I mean, even Toyota and Honda which are green car makers, supposedly, were after these cars. Ford, Chrysler, they -- they took them all back..."

Link: http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/223.html

Posted by: Doobie at July 19, 2007 6:05 PM

I'd love to go LED.

And as far as where we drill, it's important to balance not poisoning ourselves and making species go extinct that may be necessary cogs in the chain.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 19, 2007 8:41 PM

> necessary cogs in the chain.

How will we know if they're necessary?

This is fun.

You're saying that some are unnecessary, right? OK. Kewl.

> I'd love to go LED.

Word. I hate agreeing with you about environmental matters.

Posted by: Crid at July 20, 2007 2:09 AM

Amy,
Don’t feed me that sound bite BS. Drilling oil wells dose not cause us to poisoning ourselves and making species go extinct that may be necessary cogs in the chain. How i9n the world could it? What a load of BS. I am so tired of 100 year old shots of oil disasters being flashed in Green organization commercials. What a load of propaganda. Furthermore, spindle top, where they collected oil in lakes, had huge pits open up and swallow drilling rigs and numerous other disasters, is a pristine place today. You can not even find the field. So I ask, if after 100 years there is no trace, how bad was it?
Modern day practices are totally different than what is portrayed by these groups.
By the way, for you Amy;
CHEAP, PAINTABLE SOLAR CELLS:
Researchers at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets. "The process is simple," said lead researcher and author Somenath Mitra, PhD, professor and acting chair of NJIT's Department of Chemistry and Environmental Sciences. "Someday homeowners will even be able to print sheets of these solar cells with inexpensive home-based inkjet printers. Consumers can then slap the finished product on a wall, roof or billboard to create their own power stations."
Bring it on. But "someday" isn't soon enough.

Posted by: rusty wilson at July 20, 2007 7:40 AM

"Or, as in the case of our Colorado friend he will say "topped off with scuffing my shoe on the ridiculous foot operated parking brake that hasn't evolved since 1960." That's a tell. I haven't seen a car built by the Big 3 with a manual transmission that has this type of parking brake in.....ever that I can remember."

This guy doesn't drive. Thus, his e-mail is junk. Savannah River Site leases vehicles from Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet for use at my facility, all of which have foot-operated emergency brakes.

And all of which work less well than the one on my 1987 Nissan pickup - with 460 thousand miles on it!

Posted by: Radwaste at July 20, 2007 8:01 AM

> my 1987 Nissan pickup - with 460
> thousand miles on it!

I'm sincerely impressed! Home many times have you hand the engine block rebuilt?

Posted by: Crid at July 21, 2007 6:57 AM

Sorry... Distracted by something shiny.

How many times have you rebuilt the engine?

Posted by: Crid at July 21, 2007 7:41 AM

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