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Red Bull Racing Lives the Urban Car Marketer’s Sociopathic Dream

There are a lot of gasp-inducing moments in Red Bull Racing’s new video to promote the Formula One Grand Prix of America, scheduled for Weehawken and Union City in June 2013.

First, there’s the introduction: the national anthem being played by the dulcet tones of a revving engine. Then there are shots of the driver speeding along the walkway at Liberty State Park and through the streets of Weehawken, before heading down an empty Lincoln Tunnel to really open up the throttle.

The Lincoln Tunnel shots are spliced with images of crowded Manhattan streets — implying, but not actually showing, the danger of a high-speed tour of the Big Apple. Then there’s the finale: a Formula One driver burning rubber and doing donuts as two cyclists circle around him in what might be a bizarre share-the-road message.

It’s a video that lots of carmakers would drool over as a way to sell their driving machines.

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the shoot occurred on August 13 and 14, closing the Liberty State Park waterfront walkway to the public. We’ve reached out to the Township of Weehawken Police Department and Red Bull Racing for additional comment on how the video was shot.

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Google-Funded Pundit: Forget Transit, the Future Belongs to Robocars

Last week Salon ran a pretty horrendous piece on the future of transportation called “Oops — Wrong Future.”

Members of the Google robocar team. Photo: Inhabitat

Writer Michael Lind argued that the “case for infrastructure investment has suffered from the lack of a plausible vision of the next American infrastructure.” Things that are not “plausible,” according to Lind, include “renewable energy and mass transit.” He wrote:

The idea that the U.S. could transition quickly from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like wind power and solar power inspired many liberals to support artificially rigging markets in favor of renewable energy by methods like cap-and-trade and renewable energy standards that force working-class consumers, via utility, to buy expensive power from uneconomical wind, solar or biofuel sources. And for a brief moment in time, the center-left in the United States was entranced by the mirage of a continental high-speed rail system.

Okay, we’ll give you a second to consider that this was printed in one of the country’s leading, left-leaning online magazines.

“Rigging markets” is some pretty debatable rhetoric to describe renewable energy standards and cap-and-trade — a policy that is supported by the overwhelming majority of economists. (Billions of dollars in tax breaks for gas companies and subsidies for road building — some people might describe that as “rigging markets” in the opposite direction, but we digress.)

Unlike “uncritical,” “unrealistic” and “entranced” proponents of rail, Lind has a vision for the future that is very much like the present, or even the past. Brace yourself, readers: In the future, the U.S. will have an endless supply of fossil fuel thanks to “environmentally responsible” shale gas exploration. Plus, in the future, rail and bus transit of all kinds will never be able to complete with Google’s self-driving cars.

Lind is a big fan of Google robocars. He goes on about their many benefits:

Robocars may be fatal for fixed-rail transportation, at least for passengers rather than freight. Google has been test driving self-driving cars in California and Nevada has become the first state to legalize driverless vehicles. No doubt it will take several decades for safety issues and legal arrangements to be worked out. But high-speed trains might find competition in high-speed convoys of robot cars on smart highways, allowed higher speeds once human error has been eliminated. And the price advantage of subway tickets over taxi fares in cities may vanish, when the taxis drive themselves. Point-to-point travel, within cities or between them, is inherently more convenient than train or subway journeys which require changing modes of transit in the course of a journey. Thanks to robocars, much cheaper point-to-point travel everywhere may eventually be cheap enough to relegate light rail and inter-city rail to the museum, along with the horse-drawn omnibus and the trans-atlantic blimp.

What Lind — and Salon — fail to mention is that his professional interests are very much entangled with the producer of those cars.

Read more…

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Are Americans Driving Less Because They’re Working Less?

Source: FRED

Everyone’s trying to figure out why, after decades of consistent growth, the amount Americans drive is leveling off and even declining. The decline started during the recession, to be sure, but was more dramatic than in previous recessions. As the economy began to get back on its feet, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) just barely ticked upward — and then fell again.

High gas prices probably have something to do with it. Young people embracing cities over suburban living — and valuing smartphones more than cars — might have something to do with it. It could be peak car — the theory that continued growth in driving simply can’t go on forever.

Joe Weisenthal at Business Insider found the trend notable enough to give it this headline over the weekend: “This Collapse In Automobile Usage Is Completely Unprecedented In The American Economy.”

Looking at VMT data now available on the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis’s Economic Research site, Weisenthal posted two charts that put the one above in a little bit of perspective. (Note that these look somewhat different from the first chart because they look at the change from year to year, not the absolute numbers.)

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The Auto Industry Wants Your Thanks

Feeling warmer and fuzzier about the auto industry bailout? With the help of the Obama reelection campaign, the industry is convincing more Americans that the $80 billion they forked over to save it were dollars well spent.

Image: PRLOG

In the latest Pew poll, the public responded more positively toward the bailout than ever before, with 56 percent of Americans agreeing that it was “mostly good for the economy.”

It has taken hard numbers to soften up taxpayers — numbers like the 1.4 million new cars sold in March that made it the best month for car sales in five years. Looking to capitalize on this momentum, a key auto industry association, the Center for Automotive Research (CAR), has published a report that credits the industry with contributing $135 billion in tax revenues to the feds and the states.

(The irony must here be noted that CAR receives 43 percent of its funding from federal, state, and local sources. Yes, this research about how the auto sector partly funds the government was partly funded by the government.)

Sales taxes; fuel taxes; property taxes; licenses and fees; income taxes paid by industry employees; and corporate taxes paid by automakers, suppliers, and dealers were tallied by the group. On the face of it, these numbers are impressive, representing on average 13 percent of state revenues. States in which automakers have significant operations can see much higher percentages; in Tennessee, for example, industry-related dollars approach 20 percent of revenues. For these states, being dependent on an auto industry on the upswing seems like a very good thing.

That is, until they start adding up the year-in, year-out costs imposed by the industry and borne by the public. A truly comprehensive accounting of the economic costs of car dependency might include everything from highway litter pickup (Missouri alone paid $5 million for this in 2011) to the price of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, estimated at $3.2-4 trillion overall.

But this is hardly necessary. To blow the industry’s $135 billion boon out of the water, just a few line items will do, such as:
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Streetsblog NYC
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Open Thread: The Volvo Pedestrian Airbag

I am ambivalent about the Volvo pedestrian airbag, as seen via Laughing Squid. On one hand, it seems like another way for automakers to help people shirk responsibility for how they drive. Plus, as currently designed, it looks like it’s intended to minimize windshield damage as much as anything.

On the other hand, it is a fact that a lot of people get hit by drivers, and many of them die after making contact with the windshield. It’s entirely possible that this design could save more than a few lives.

What do you think?

(h/t to dave)

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Times Victory: Trio of Bills Take Aim at “Buy Here Pay Here” Car Dealerships

A trio of state legislators have introduced legislation aimed at “Buy Here Pay Here” dealerships in California.  These dealerships, where used cars are sold at a marked up price with loans that have abnormally high interest rates, are often used by people of lesser means as a last resort to get a car.   These dealerships not only sell cars, but provide their own financing, creating two ways to benefit from the overpriced sale of a used car.

My favorite "Buy Here Pay Here" promotional picture.

Last year, Ken Bensinger at the Los Angeles Times wrote a three part series exposing some of the business practices of these dealerships that create extra hardship for disadvantaged car buyers.  This year, he has continued to follow-up on the issue as these bills were introduced and begin to move in the legislature.  Here is a brief explanation of each piece of legislation:

A.B. 1447, Introduced by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-LA)

A.B. 1447 would actually change three parts of the business strategies of Buy Here Pay Here dealerships.  First, dealers would be required to post the selling cost of the vehicle on the body of the vehicle.  This would prevent dealers from setting prices at the negotiating table based on their estimate of what the seller could afford.  The legislation also prohibits Buy Here Pay Here dealers from hasassing references for the buyer after the sale, requiring cash payments in person from drivers and disabling and tracking cars with GPS systems of payments are late. Read more…


Metropolis II and the Enduring Delusions of Car-Centric Cities

Metropolis II, a kinetic sculpture of a futuristic city by artist Chris Burden that will soon start operating for view by the public, raises some interesting questions about the role of cars in cities.

I saw the sculpture, with its elevated roads wrapping around skyscrapers and other structure, sitting still when I visited the museum over the winter break. It might be worth checking it out in action to see 1100 toy cars and 14 train sets whiz and wind their way through the buildings. Metropolis II is a cool contraption and interesting piece of art, like a matchbox car track, erector set, and lego city mashed together and pumped up to gigantic size.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t want to burden such a nifty assemblage with political or planning baggage. But the sculpture’s prominent position in a major museum is drawing lots of attention to the work and the possible future it represents.  The artist’s comments about Metropolis II place it in line with some earlier visions of a vertical, car-dominated Los Angeles that had real influence on the shape of the city today. And I think what Peter Plagens wrote about art critics engaging in urbanism when he reviewed Raynar Banham’s influential book Los Angeles: the architecture of four ecologies, still applies:

” if he wanted to run out and paint pictures of the Roller derby or the Stones it’d be O.K. because it’d be innocuous …  But when you get into architecture it’s big casino, real people’s real lives … and here we go with another strangling round of MacDonald’s, freeways, and confectioners’ culture palaces.” Read more…

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Getting Young People Back Into Cars Is Auto Industry Job #1

Maybe Kia could have been just a little less transparent about marketing cars to kids than this Super Bowl ad from last year. Photo: AutoEvolution

While the choked parking lots at many suburban high schools might mislead you, young people today are less interested in driving and owning cars than their counterparts in previous generations. This is happy news for environmentalists and complete streets advocates, who see fewer vehicles on the road as key to a healthier, wealthier society. For the global auto industry, though, it is an existential threat not to be ignored.

Generation Y’s reluctance to embrace car culture may be temporary, reflecting merely the tough economic times, especially for those burdened with college debt. But studies show teens now maintain connectivity through the internet, not though cars, and teen driving rates have been in steady decline since the late seventies. So young people’s lack of interest in driving may presage a more fundamental shift in how we connect with other people, where we choose to live and work, and how we construct our identities. Either way, the auto industry isn’t taking any chances. Here are just a few tactics car makers are employing to take back the future.

Ratcheting up marketing to kids. Marketing cars directly to children pays off big for car companies even though they won’t be driving or buying their own for years. American children in particular hold real sway over family purchases: more than half of parents surveyed by JD Power said their children had meaningful input in choosing the family vehicle.

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Carlos Morales: Cut Out Buy Here Pay Here Dealerships with Community Car Share

(This is part two of our series on reader’s response to last week’s series on Buy Here Pay Here used car dealerships.  Earlier, Streetsblog published the comments  of Joe Linton, Roadblick, Adrian Martinez, Damien Goodmon and Allison Mannos.  Yesterday, Streetsblog published a more detailed response from Occidental College Professor Mark Vallianatos.  Today, we feature a piece by Community Voice Newspaper Editor and Eastside Bike Club President Carlos Morales.  Stick with this story until the end, it’s worth it. – DN)

My take on proving a solution to this problem would be to create a communal car pool system.

Large corporations are the only companies that I am aware of that have formed and utilize carpools to gain tax credits for both the employee and employers.  Employees use this incentive to save on their gas expenses and parking fees while employers utilize it gain another tax shelter.

If families or community participants can pull their money together set up a “Cundina” or “Tanda” which is interest free way of saving money (it is their own money.)  This systematic lottery is very common in Mexico and seems to have started in Puebla Mexico in the late 1800’s modeled after Chinese workers came to Mexico with the “Hui” a communal rotating credit association.  This practice has crossed and spread over to other communities across this country.

Here is how the cundina works:  A group of trusted friends / family members / neighbors get together decide on a leader, which will be in charge of the collection and distribution of money.  The group decides on the amount of money to be collected and how often the pot is awarded (each week, month or other pre-arranged time frame.)

It starts by each participant pulling a number which is written on a piece of paper that has been placed from a bowl, a hat or a box.  The amount of numbers are determined by the amount of participants, if there are ten participants for example the numbers will range from one thru ten.  The person who pulls number one gets the first distribution of funds, then number two the next time and so on. Read more…

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Update: Villaraigosa/Garcetti/Englander Plan Would NOT Apply to Used Car Dealers

I just received an update from the Mayor’s Office on the proposal to eliminate business taxes for car dealerships.

The motion submitted by Councilmen Eric Garcetti and Mitch Englander for city staff to draft a motion that would exempt car dealerships from city business taxes applies only to new car dealerships, so our concerns about providing incentives for “Buy Here Pay Here” car dealerships to move to the city are alleviated.  Streetsblog still has some concerns with the proposal, but it’s good to know that one unintended consequence that we raised yesterday is off the table.