atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#6180: Things that need doing, badly

They either need badly to be done, or they at least need to be done in a bad fashion. Something's gotta happen.

* * *

Ford eliminating all cars from its lineup. Trucks, SUVs, crossovers, and the Mustang--that'll be it. They can't remain profitable otherwise.

"There are several factors involved,...improved safety ratings and ride qualities of these vehicles."

And the dirty secret no one will discuss: price.

Here's the thing: when a sedan that seats four in reasonable comfort costs $35,000, and a truck that seats 6 and can tow a boat or haul half a ton of drywall costs $40,000, which do you think is going to sell more?

My first car was a 1975 Chevrolet Impala. Dad bought it new in 1975 for something less than it's circa $5k sticker price. With its "planned obsolescence" engine failing, nine years later it got a junkyard engine (costing $450, installed) and saw further service, until 1990, as my car. That car could (and did) tow a boat; it had a massive trunk, and could easily carry six people in comfort with their luggage in the trunk with room for a cooler. The back seat was huge, and as comfortable as a sofa. With the junkyard engine it got 20 MPG on the highway and it was no less safe than anything built today.

Today the equivalent car costs $35,000 and is about the size of an economy car from 1975. Its towing capacity is limited. It can carry four people in moderate comfort, and luggage for two, though it's a bit cramped. It gets perhaps 27 MPG on the highway.

Or--spend five, seven, eight grand more and get a truck, which has room and carrying capacity and so forth.

"Improved ride quality", for trucks and SUVs, has been a solved issue for more than a decade and a half. Og's Exploder had a smooth, comfortable ride, certainly nicer than my Jeep, which was an end-of-production unit that had begun initial design in the late 1970s for a start of production in 1984. By 2000, virtually no one was still doing solid axles even on "serious" off-road vehicles any longer--at least not at the front--but Jeep still did because the Cherokee was still selling pretty well.

Ditto for "safety ratings". They've scored high on those because they're bigger than cars etc, and lots of people bought SUVs because they were perceived as being safer vehicles.

And not to put too fine a point on it, but passenger cars just aren't as profitable. First off, they have to compete on price; in each segment there are multitudes of offerings and many of them come from places with lower labor costs. Second, though, is that the trucks--largely being simpler to build--just cost less to make, and thus make it easy to profit. The Excursion, when Ford was building it, included a guaranteed profit of $15,000 per unit, because it was dead simple to build the thing.

The real problem is that building cars is too labor-intensive. If we made cell phones the way we make cars, even a cheap smartphone like mine would be $2k. The problem is, we can't make cars the way we make cell phones.

If GM or Ford decide they want to build a new factory, who do you think has a say in how that factory is built besides the companies themselves? Government, sure, because an auto factory is a big deal--but the unions have a say, too. Ford may want to build a car factory which is a marvel of 21st century automation, but once the plans become public knowledge the union throws a fit and they all go on strike until Ford redesigns the plant to ensure a certain number of union employees have to work there.

I am, of course, glossing over the issue of automation. Setting up any kind of automated facility is an enormously complex undertaking, because all those machines have to be programmed and maintained--and it's likely that no one has tried to build a factory that way because the setup cost is prohibitive. But simply getting it past the union is nearly impossible--no union would sit still for a factory that made cars and employeed mainly engineers and technicians rather than blue-collar union workers. (The government might be a problem, too. A plant that employs a thousand white- and blue-collar workers does not generate the tax revenue that one employing 3,000 blue-collar workers does. The union has this lever, as well.)

I recall, several years ago, commenting on the union costs of making cars--something like $5k a unit for GM cars and $3k a unit for Ford.


* * *

Can Harvard escape censure for this? The ivy-league schools have a certain level of "old-boy network" about them, of course, because of the prestige they hold. To be honest I'm not sure they deserve it, considering how many idiots in government turn out to be alumni of either Harvard or Yale yet somehow they haven't got two brain cells to rub together.

The idea that the admissions board of the prototypical ivy league school has been...extra-selective about which candidates it admits is therefore not terribly surprising to me.

* * *

When I assert that the American press was fine with Hitler until he invaded the USSR, I am not just spouting. This guy got blogrolled.

* * *

He's too busy with other projects. Martin has written himself into a corner, anyway. Having to split one book into two was a sign that A Song of Ice and Fire had become an unwieldy mess. I mean, c'mon, you've seen how thick the damned paperbacks are! A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons were originally meant to be one book but the proliferation of protagonists made that impossible. (I mean, literally impossible, because there's only so many pages you can put in a paperback before it becomes as unwieldy as a cinder block!) Combined, those two books top out at 1,700 pages' worth of simultaneous events, which is to say that the stuff happening in one book is happening at the same time as the stuff in the second one!

And as I've said multiple times, Martin has a further dilemma: if the story follows the track it's on in the books thus far, it will end with the White Walkers exterminating all life on the planet sometime shortly after the most evil character wins final power over all the Seven Kingdoms. This will make all the critics and a small subset of the fans--the self-styled intelligentsia--very happy and will declare it to be ART!!! for the ages; but the majority of fans of the series will be disgusted and hate it.

If, on the other hand, the storyline in the novels turns around and the good guys wins, the majority of the fans will love it, but the critics and the intelligensia will hate it and pan it mercilessly because it's not ART!!!

Martin himself has said the good guys win, but it's something of a pyrrhic victory. I can live with that, because what I care about is story first. (And second, and third, with "art" a distant third.) And a story that hits an epic low such as this one, only to have the good guys rebound and win, is usually a pretty good story.

(Just as an aside, what the TV series did with Jon Snow isn't even a deus ex machina, because they had plenty of precedent in the thing for just that occurrence.)

But even ignoring the dilemma Martin has, he's just got an enormous pile of shit to dig himself out from under. The story in the books has not begun to turn around; where I left off (Feast for Crows) the good guys were still getting their shit handed to them in detail at every turn.

Ultimately, I think Martin's game plan is to let the TV folks finish the story for him; then when he sees how that ending goes over with critics, elites, and fans alike, he can write his books that way ("That was the ending I intended!") if it goes over well, and if it doesn't, he can write something else. Anything else, that will seem like artistic genius in comparison.

* * *

I think teaching your parrot to scream "fuck" is in poor taste but I admit it makes a funny video.

* * *

I remember reading these pages in the Heathkit catalog in mute wonder that the average person could actually own his own computer.

Well...if he had a couple of spare grand to toss around. When a new car cost $7k. Yeah. In 1978, to most people, computers were still massive machines kept in locked rooms and attended to by experts, and only the initiated could touch them.

I wanted to get one, even though I had no idea what I would do with a computer; and anyway it was a moot point because what kid could shell out two grand?

Five years later I had a Commodore 64, and there was plenty I could--and did--do with it. Progress!

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