Posted on March 23rd, 2011 No comments
Straw men are easy to construct and even easier to knock down. That’s really the idea isn’t it? Create a fake issue, then counter it, voila! Your argument is made and won, all in the same breath.
So it goes with Marty Padgett’s piece on carconnection, “Why Detroit Isn’t The “New” New Orleans“.
I was directed to this piece by John Voelcker, an associate of Padgett’s. I’ve read, argued with and agreed with John’s writing for years. Basically, John is a good guy and so, I am sure, is Mr. Padgett. Which leaves me wondering, what was the impetus for carconnection to deliver what’s really a flame at the people of Detroit. Was it really one sentence in some Jalopnik piece? And how many sentient beings out of their teens really take Jalopnik seriously about anything?
Let’s start with the straw man. Padgett writes…
They’re both withered and pretty much defenseless–but does that mean Detroit is the new New Orleans? Does it deserve some kind of federal intervention? Here’s what our colleague, Jalopnik editor @RayWert says:
“Detroit’s New Orleans-like loss of population received no telethons or FEMA assistance. America doesn’t care about Detroit people.”
About what I would expect from Jalopnik. And Padgett deftly explains that no, you don’t get FEMA assistance for the kind of slow burn economic disaster that’s befallen Detroit for the last two decades (or more). That’s obvious. And without reading the Gawker piece (after years of wasting my time, I just don’t bother giving Nick Denton the click) I can’t really further delve into why Wert wrote what he did. Nor do I care to. I’m much more interested in what Padgett wrote for his site.
My argument with Padgett begins here:
And yet Detroit got cash anyway. The city and its suburbs–via automakers and by extensions, suppliers, employees, and dependents–received billions in bailout loans in 2009 that probably prevented the city’s head count from falling twice as far.
We have to parse this one carefully to really see the folly contained inside. On the exterior, it seems to a reasonable, common sense remark but it isn’t and here’s why.
“Detroit” didn’t get the “cash”. GM, Chrysler and Ford have been getting the cash. The difference is enormous. That, for the most part, GM, Chrysler and Ford care really care less about Detroit and the other former locations where they once made cars is self-evident. In the rush to “stay competitive” the big three have off-shored as much production as they possibly can ignoring any tie to the communities left behind in the desolation.
Then Padgett drops the trickle down bomb, “The city and its suburbs–via automakers and by extensions, suppliers, employees, and dependents–received billions” but it’s a weapon of misdirection. Again, the people of Detroit, the city of Detroit didn’t get this money. The automakers who have become pseudonymous with the city they once built cars in got the cash. Some of that federal largesse went to facilities in Detroit, much of it, arguably most of it, did not. None of it went to the people of Detroit or the city of Detroit to help them grapple with the problems they face.
That doesn’t even begin to account for the ongoing subsidies Detroit gets indirectly from federal programs for investing in green-car technology and in sub-federal money that keeps factories alive when they probably weren’t viable on their own account.
Again, the difference between the city receiving monies and the car companies, two thirds of which are now located the suburbs surrounding the city, cashing in is enormous. In many cases the big three have invested that subsidy money, as they have to, domestically. Have that money been spent in Detroit? No, not in its entirety by any means.
As for factories that “weren’t viable on their account” who is to blame for that? The people of Detroit? Are they somehow less productive employees than other places? Or maybe it’s the city of Detroit, maybe the city itself is to blame? I think the blame for the viability of factories rests solidly, but not solely, on the car companies, their managers and executives. Those same executives, by the way, who have been real benefactors of the government bailouts Padgett mentions. Those execs have been collecting their salaries and bonuses while their former factories decayed and their business models were invalidated. Blaming it on the city or on the employees isn’t just wrong, it’s malicious.
Padgett continues to erect straw creations for ceremonial burning…
The second point’s much worse. “America doesn’t care about Detroit people” is political plutonium.
And then he launches into some sideways thing about George Bush. Look, honestly, America doesn’t much care about Detroit any more than it cares about Wilkes-Barre, Cleveland, Gary, Pittsburgh, Rochester, South Bend, Flint or Milwaukee (to name just a few cities). America, passively or otherwise seems to be pretty comfortable allowing the industrial part of our economy to wither and die only to be replaced by the service economy, yes, a nation of fast food and hotel employees. I don’t want to get off track and dig into the politics of all of that but I do think it bear mentioning that if we, as a nation, cared about this sector of the economy and the cities and states that depended on it, we might have talked about building other things or modifying the ways we build things here. Instead, most of us were perfectly content to encourage and subsidize the big three to move as much manufacturing out of this country as possible. If that is “caring” I’ll take apathy.
It’s inflammatory, much like the Jalopnik post that inspired Padgett to write what he did but I do think there is something valid in the comparison. Not a direct one to one comparison, life and reality is seldom that simple. But as a metaphor things like the image below help us see things differently. They force to re-evaluate the so odiously misnamed common wisdom and perhaps, see more truth than we did before. This is one of the first page of Michael Moore‘s 1996 book, “Downsize This!”
The top image is the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that was bombed by Timothy McVeigh. The lower image is a closed factory in Flint. Before you dismiss the comparison, again, not a direct one, consider the following. The Murrah tragedy was the act of one man intentionally trying to destroy federal property and maim and kill. The second image, the Flint factory was the direct result of auto executives making intentional decisions to close a local factory, fire workers there and demolish the building. They’re not the same acts by any means but the point Moore makes in his book is simple and obvious, both acts had much the same results. Lives were ended prematurely. Families were destroyed. Communities were devastated. Was this the fault of those workers? Were they just not good enough? Did they deserve what they got?
In his second to last paragraph Padgett blames Detroit’s ills on, “the unions, and an overbearing, overburdened city government”. Notice what’s missing?
Padgett won’t get an argument from me that some unions have, at times, been out of control. But it’s difficult to blame the big three’s ills on the unions, after all, did the big three also sign onto all those contracts? If those contracts are burdensome or badly negotiated, why did they agree to them?
And Detroit’s civis issues have been well publicized. Their laughable civic government is, well, laughable. And not defend them but allow me to add this. Anyone who has ever run a business can understand this. A growing business is one that is typically much more simple to manage than one that is shrinking. Detroit has been a basket for a long time because of an ever more eroding tax base, and ever increasing burden of costs associated with managing a shrinking economy. For anyone, even the best of civic leaders, Detroit would be a serious challenge.
And ponder this for a moment, what’s been run worse? The city of Detroit, with no federal help and a shrinking economy or the big three car companies with tons of federal assistance and a mandate from the government that they are too big to fail?
Padgett closes with the follow…
New Orleans has levees. Detroit has denial. They’re both Achilles’ heels, but one doesn’t have to be.
Wow, game, set, match. If only Detroit would just pick itself up by its rusty bootstraps and be a real city, it wouldn’t be losing population at a ridiculous rate, turning over entire blocks into improvised gardens and still be host to innumerable empty factories, homes and offices.
I would say that there is some serious denial taking place but it isn’t on Detroit’s part. No, it’s denial from those of us who think that a city devastated by outsourcing, rampant with private enterprise management as malfaisant as the very worst of its civic mishandlers, can just bounce back with a good attitude and the power of positive thinking. Detroit, as a place full of people, is emblematic of the what’s happened to once vibrant middle class this country had. And we ignore that lesson at our own peril.
My note: The title of this piece is, obviously, a line from Pink Floyd’s “Time” which, for some reason I only half understand, was resonating in my head while I wrote this. -russell
Posted on March 11th, 2010 1 comment
And here’s where I rip CNN a new one.
Let’s face it, running a huge multi-national, like the proverbial sausage factory, isn’t pretty but that doesn’t stop millions of people from gobbling up the product.
This story, no matter how it ends, is going to be real ugly for Toyota.
Apparently, a person whom CNN describes as “former in-house defense attorney Dimitrios Biller” resigned from Toyota, cashing in a four million dollar severance package and walked out with more than 6,000 documents and emails from his former employer. In the article, Biller claims the documents are damaging to Toyota, “Not potentially, they are. They are very damaging,”
There’s little doubt in my mind that just about any lawyer could produce documents that were damaging to a former client. That’s the nature of legal representation, right or wrong, we’re only pondering half the story if we can’t admit that. So even under the best circumstances, this is going to be another nightmare for Toyota.
So the real question is, so what does he have? What do these documents show us?
So what did CNN learn?
The documents — some of which were reviewed by CNN — were sent by Biller to Toyota officials. There are numerous references to so-called “Books of Knowledge,” highly confidential information on design, safety systems and testing records allegedly generated by Toyota engineers on everything from roll-overs and roof safety to sudden unintended acceleration.
Here’s a photograph of one of the not-so-secret “Books of Knowledge” I took in January of 2009. It happens to be “the Book” for the third generation Prius. The man holding it is known simply as the “The Chief”. He’s Chief Engineer of the Prius, Akihiko Otsuka.
And this picture…
And this picture of The Chief actually consulting the book to respond to a question…
So, yeah, secret book of knowledge. The Chief referred to this “book”, well, folder, that appeared to contain a vast amount of very well organized data on the the third generation Prius, many times throughout the presentation and questioning.
Here’s how CNN described it;
highly confidential information on design, safety systems and testing records allegedly generated by Toyota engineers on everything from roll-overs and roof safety to sudden unintended acceleration.
Of course any company that designs and builds a car has this information. In fact, I would guess that every car company has this information on every vehicle they’ve made and yes, it’s confidential. Is that surprising or somehow “damaging” to Toyota?
Again, the question is, depends on what’s in there. But by no means does mere existence of this information mean Toyota has done something wrong. This is shoddy, tawdry reporting. Give me an example of something that’s damning from these documents which CNN claim they have examined. CNN does, later on, but it’s, well, read on please…
So far, we know an ex-Toyota lawyer grabbed a bunch of privileged communications and is now, now that he’s out and has his four very-large bonus, he’s claiming these documents are damaging.
Further on we read about a specific liability case. A case, as it turns out, which Biller defended Toyota in. The accident was a Camry rollover which Toyota settled for $1.5 million. The plaintiff’s lawyer in the case is quoted as saying,
Embry, who added Toyota provided just enough information to show Toyota vehicles “met the minimum standards.”
Perhaps sad but again, what I would expect from any company defending itself in a multi-million dollar and not proof of guilt by any means.
Again, from the CNN article:
Included in Biller’s documents is an e-mail he said he sent to his bosses summarizing negotiations. It says, “TMS [Toyota Motor Sales USA] concluded that it would be better to pay a premium to settle this case and avoid producing the ‘Books of Knowledge.’”
So Toyota decided to pay off this claim rather than divulge what is basically a blueprint for building the Prius, even more, they’re the results of building the vehicle using those plans and testing it. I’m sure there’s a lot of folks that would like to get that information for free. GM claims to have spent three quarters of a billion dollars designing, building and testing the Volt, so far. Who wouldn’t love to see “the Book” on the Volt? Do you think GM would fight to keep that information secret?
Although Toyota calls the materials “trade secrets,” Embry said,
So why, if Biller knew a judge had ordered all information produced, didn’t he produce it? He said he tried but was stopped by a superior who told him, “You have to protect the client at all costs.”
“Even if that includes,” Biller asked, “committing criminal acts or violating the law?”
The answer, Biller said, was yes.
Did he break the law? “No, I did as much as I could as a lawyer for a client to not break the law,” he said.
At least he follows orders.
Toyota says publicly that Biller is full of it and they will continue to fight to keep those documents private. I can’t blame them but I will add this, if there is something in there that is truly damning, I’d be at the head of the line to kick some Toyota ass. But the evidence has to be there. I won’t do it on the allegations of a former lawyer who left Toyota years ago because of a “nervous breakdown”, grabbed a bunch of privileged communications and then, four years later, threatens to make them public.
I want evidence. Where is the evidence? We have enough allegation and assumption on this issue. Enough to clog the news organs of this country all too much. Where are the real facts?
There’s no doubt CNN should be reporting this story. My question for them, when will they actually do some reporting? If their goal was act as flack for this former lawyer, job well done. If their goal was to inform the public, they haven’t really bothered to tell us anything important, have they?
And as I said at the top, there’s no way this can end well for Toyota. It just adds more ironic gasoline to the fire. Even if Toyota is successful in keeping “the Book” and rest secret, then they lose image wise. If they make it public, everyone gets everything they spent millions learning.
Yes, this is going to suck for Toyota.
And by the way, just for laughs, here’s The Chief and I later in the day…
Posted on February 8th, 2010 No comments
Just my opinion.
The news. What we currently refer to as “the media”. It’s a constant vacuum on our society sucking up everything within reach of its gaping maw and yet, all we get out of the other end, as with a household vacuum, is all too frequently just hot air.
The news cycle sucks the life out every event. And what’s more there’s a false hierarchy established, the lead story is, well, the lead. It has to be important or they wouldn’t talk about it first. It’s a ridiculous and arbitrary measure. As part of a futile attempt to fill time and grab eyeballs, we see stories which are trivial rise to international publicity right next to important stories. We see the same b-roll footage and hear the same sound byte vivisected over and over again by a small pool of reporters, commentators and pundits. It’s a frighteningly inbred pool.
I think, in a world where (/Don LaFontaine) truly important things are happening we’re seeing lead off coverage, for much of the last two weeks, on Toyota. On a car. On a recall, an event which is hardly unknown to this fine land. On a recall where the documented injuries can be counted on one hand. And no, that’s not to minimize anyone’s safety or the seriousness of issues involved. Something like the Toyota story demands coverage. But it also deserves, no, we deserve, as listeners, viewers and readers, we deserve to know the facts. We deserve to not have to sift through hours of speculation just because someone has to fill in the time between commercials (or space between display ads).
All of this ranting of mine is leading up to this. I think that once some of the dust from this settles we’re going to find out that if we had given this issue some time to develop and the parties involved time to respond, I think that if we understood all the legal and regulatory issues involved, we’d find a much less dramatic story. I think we would find something much less deserving of the treatment the Toyota recall and the 2010 Prius brakes have received. And I think if we’d been told about this in a rational, succinct and informative matter, we would be better served by those organizations whose secondary mission is, after all, to inform us.
I’m not absolving Toyota of anything here. Nothing. Rather, I am creating an indictment of the media who have, once again, let us down. I’m saying that we should know about this. All of us. I’m saying the way the media has handled the news has put a false imperative on the story and created the idea that Toyota was required to communicate daily with them on the issue. We need the media to put pressure on corporations. We need a media that holds corporations responsible for what they do. Now, more than ever, we need a media that is asking the tough questions, the right questions and delivering a clear and factual narrative.
How many of you think, no matter what you think of Toyota, that’s what we have?
What we don’t need are hourly reports when, in fact, there isn’t anything to report or information will be forthcoming. There’s a ticking clock put on some news stories that may or may not be a reasonable or even sensible. It’s all out proportion to the importance of the issue.
Back to Toyota. With regard to the 2010 Prius issues in the media. I think we’ll find out that Toyota has been and will continue to do the right thing for their customers. I think we’ll find that a lot of the smoke and heat from the media was just that.
I started this site almost five years ago (it will be five years in April). I started it for one reason. I wanted to create the kind of site I wish had existed when I was looking around at different Toyota sites. That isn’t to denigrate what anyone else is doing online. I think we’re all part of the what makes the net and to an extent, citizen journalism and commentary so vital. We’re just different parts and we perform different functions. I wanted the Prius Owners Group to be, I guess pretty selfishly, a site that I would like to read and I directly borrowed organization, intent and presentation ideas from my favorite sites. The POG has always been a place I could be proud of not because it’s the best or the most traveled or the most linked to. The POG is instead the very best that I can do. And there have been a few times in the last five years when I stared to feel like I was phoning it in. I didn’t have anything really passionate to post or comment on. And if you’ve been a regular reader, one of the dozen or so of you out there, you’ve seen times when not a lot happened here. It’s those times when I’ve chosen to let the site sit fallow, for a day, or sometimes more, rather than stuff it with filler. I value my time and you know, I value your time more than that.
Thanks for coming by and reading.
More news, as we get it.
Posted on February 20th, 2009 1 comment
Nathan Adlen, who appears to be an aspiring auto writer, published on the philly examiner site (this site just gets worse and worse), blathers about, well, the title says it all…
And the car Adlen is specifically recommending, “(late 80s early 90s) Geo Metro XFi”. No seriously.
And while Adlen’s points about how green it can be to drive a fuel efficient, used vehicle and how unsafe this tin box of joy is, are well made his backhand to the Prius, whining about smelting metals and recycling batteries, is pretty much hot air.
All in all I don’t think the Car Talk guys are worried about Adlen throwing his hat into the car commentary business. Recommendations such as the Geo Metro should keep him safe in relative obscurity for a long time to come.
Posted on January 15th, 2009 No comments
Regular news and commentary posting will resume tomorrow. I’m still getting other things in order after being gone for two days.
Ladies and gentlemen, courtesy of Toyota, the 2010 Prius…
Posted on January 12th, 2009 No comments
The secret Prius event tonight will be amazing. There’s no doubt in my mind Toyota is going all out to impress those of us who get the first look at this car. We have three hours of “up close and personal” time so I am sure there will be some amazing photo ops. In addition to this, all the US Toyota executives will be there to talk with us. That’s pretty incredible in and of itself. Add in a unique, historic and gorgeous location and I think this will be something worth checking back for.
The event is scheduled to end at 9:00 p.m. Eastern tonight but Toyota has not been pushing any of the timetables on us. And what I mean here is that it’s possible we’ll be staying later.
Have no doubt that once I get back my first priority will be to upload all the photographs, video and my commentary on the evening…but it may be late this evening (for a number of good reasons).
Thanks for visiting thus far during the Prius Connection Detroit debut and stay tuned, I personally guarantee the best is yet to come.
Posted on January 11th, 2009 No comments
I’ll be reporting live from the Detroit Auto Show. I’ll be shooting pictures at the reveal of the 2010 Prius as well as other events Toyota has scheduled surrounding the debut.
Look for the inside scoop, commentary, pictures and video from Detroit.
Posted on December 4th, 2008 No comments
Maybe you’ve seen these before. They are the officially released images of the new Honda Insight and 3G Prius. For some reason, seeing them side by side, I was kind of captivated. In reading through various commentary online I’ve seen a lot made of the similarities between the two vehicles. I think it’s a bit superficial to focus on that too much. As I’ve said many times before, the Prius’ appearance is mainly dictated by necessity. It has one of the lowest drag coefficients of any production vehicle sold. So it’s no surprise that the Honda is similarly shaped since Honda’s stated goal was MPG.
The new Honda Insight
The 3G Prius
What struck in reading through the announced (so far) details is how these two cars are diverging.
-The motor in the 3G Prius is larger than the 2G Prius, up from a 1.4L to a 1.6L. The Honda is debuting with a 1.3L motor. Clearly Honda is focused on MPG performance.
-The 3G Prius, as far as I know, will use the same HSD system the 2G uses. The Insight will use Honda’s IMA hybrid system based on the previous incarnation of the Insight. Direct comparisons between the efficiency of IMA and HSD system weren’t really possible because the two cars (the previous generation Insight and Prius) were so different. Once again, the new iterations of each car will be difficult to compare as the Honda seems to be slightly smaller, probably lighter and the 3G Prius is actually a bit larger than even the 2G.
-Toyota hasn’t officially announced pricing on the 3G so it’s anyone’s guess what that will be. It seems reasonable to speculate it will, at the lowest, be the same as the current generation, probably higher. Honda is already planning to undercut Toyota pricing, the word is now that the base MSRP will be below $20K.
In general it seems like Honda is positioning the Insight to be the MPG performance, entry level hybrid and Toyota is slightly re-positioning the Prius to be the hybrid family sedan of choice. Looking at it from Toyota’s perspective I think that’s a strong strategy especially if Toyota can pop up with a smaller, lighter and cheaper hybrid, possibly badged as a Scion or something along the lines of a Corolla hybrid. It would give Toyota two strong hybrid options above and below Honda’s.
Either way, the good news is two of the very best car manufacturers are set to release two, exciting new hybrids that will offer different experiences. For the American car buyer, that’s welcome news indeed.
Posted on December 3rd, 2008 No comments
Isn’t the writing on the wall already? Somewhere down the line don’t we see a time when the personal vehicle is going to be a luxury, not a commodity everyone (apparently) has a “right” to?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about taking cars away or draconian legislation. I’m talking about gas prices, which will go up again, and the future of cars.
This article about a parking study in Chandler Arizona is an excellent example. The study found there was adequate parking, most of it within a one or two blocks of destinations. The reaction to the study is telling. The commentary is to the effect that one or two blocks walking distance isn’t acceptable.
Municipalities that spend millions of new parking are missing the point of the times we are living in. They are looking backward, not forward. The future of personal vehicles is smaller and fewer. The future is better mass transit, where applicable*.
* I was born and lived most of my life in California. And I offer that trivial factoid up to say that I’m not coming from a place where mass transit will replace every car. We’ve spent decades creating communities and cities where that isn’t reasonable. But I do think we’re going to be forced to seriously reconsider the way we plan our communities and not think about more cars but more mass transit. Given what we have, right now, this isn’t practical everywhere. That’s a mistake we’ll have to live with for a very long time but it is reality.
All of which is to say, we need to begin, right now, looking at ways we can incorporate mass transit into our plans, not adding new roads and parking garages. We need to look for new, better solutions not just more of what we did yesterday.
Posted on December 1st, 2008 No comments
A great interview with Al Gore about the future of cars. There’s a great comment in there tying any government aid to the auto industry to better vehicles. I think that’s a key that isn’t brought up enough. Given the disgusting examples we already have of waste and abuse in the financial bailouts, we have to get some better commitments from the auto industry before even thinking about bailouts (which, I’m personally against anyway but that’s another, long, topic).
One more comment, gas prices. I agree with both Gore and Obama on this, Americans are already “falling for it”. The lower prices on gasoline have already seen a change in the tone people use discussing the issue and I’m seeing the big tanks back on the road. Using less gas makes sense for so many reasons but it seems as though most people won’t change unless they’re forced to.
Sort of a rather sad commentary on the human condition I suppose.
Here’s another take on the situation which considers a wider range of issues.
Posted on October 22nd, 2008 No comments
This is not a commentary on HEAT, the PBS documentary that this snippet is taken from. This is a commentary, really a brief note on the review of the documentary.
This line is utterly infuriating…
Yes, you may have bought a Prius and installed those energy-saving light bulbs, but it ain’t helping much. Because your neighbor’s still driving that Hummer and the American economy is built on the notion of cheap and plentiful petroleum products with, until recently, little or no thought to what that meant to the planet.
No, no, no. This is as dumb as those people who complain about getting a raise because it will raise their tax withholdings (but those raises are always more than the extra taken taken out so yes, nest affect is, more money). Doing something does count even if your neighbor is using coal to heat his swimming pool. Less CO2 is less. It won’t help anything if you’re polluting as much as this mythical neighbor. So the idea that your conservation efforts only count if everyone you come into come into contact is also conserving is just plain stupid.
Now the “but”, but of course it helps more if your neighbor (mythical or otherwise) is emitting less CO2 but in the end, less is less.
Simple, isn’t it?
Posted on October 13th, 2008 No comments
My Toyota Prius makes me drive gently – there’s no need for speed
Wayne Hemingway: Commentary
I have driven a Prius for six years and 120,000 miles and, if Toyota had asked me, I would have told them to go for the best fuel economy rather than higher performance.
The last thing that a Prius owner worries about is speed or acceleration so why focus on increasing them? It won’t make me rush to replace the one I have.
What’s the point in making the new one go even faster when the old one can already do well over the 70mph limit? I never find any problem with overtaking. My Prius has made me drive more gently, partly because you can see the fuel consumption displayed on a chart in front of you. You also get a nice feeling when driving around town and running on the battery rather than revving the engine.
But Toyota must have done its research. No car company has a better record of predicting what the market will want to buy. Despite all the concern expressed about the environment, people are still obsessed by a car’s performance. There are too many people being influenced by Top Gear.
Wayne Hemingway is a designer and founder of the Red or Dead label
Hey, I love Top Gear but it’s an essentially silly show and anyone who places a lot of stock in what they say is missing the obvious part, it’s silly. Didn’t I say that already?