December 30th, 2013

#4076: Negation of brilliance

I don't know how many times I've seen this kind of thing from US automakers, but it's often enough that it's a distinct pattern: doing something brilliant in such a way as to completely negate the brilliance of the action.

Observe, if you will, that Chevrolet is offering a 2.0 liter turbo diesel engine in its 2014 Cruze. Notice that it makes 151 horsepower and 264 ft-lbs of torque.

264 lb-ft of torque from a 2 liter 4-cylinder engine--and at 2600 RPM!--is face-ripping torque; that's 6-cylinder territory and my Jeep requires twice that displacement to generate that kind of torque. On the weekend car shows I see them taking diesel engines and doubling their power and torque output all the time just by adding a new fuel map, an intercooler, and maybe propane injection; it really doesn't take much and a diesel engine gets more efficient as you turn up the boost. You do have to obey the laws of physics, and of course you must observe the mechanical limits of the engine, but manufacturers leave a lot of power and torque sitting on the table in order to keep costs down. Plenty of that can be liberated without reducing the service life of the engine one iota.

All this means that in ordinary driving the typical person will get pretty high fuel economy. My guess is somewhere north of 40 MPG if the driver can keep his right foot out of the carpet.

...and you can only get it with an automatic transmission. And of course it's the most expensive model in the lineup--$25,000 MSRP for a car which starts somewhere around $18,000. For that diesel engine, you pay an extra $7,000, because you cannot order just the engine; you must buy the model that has the diesel engine, and it naturally is the top-of-the-line model with a premium trim level and "package features". (We used to call them "options", back when you could pick and choose. Now you must buy packages, and cannot remove any features from the package. Supposedly this makes cars cheaper. I fail to see how.)

What's not available as an option? A block heater, something every diesel engine sold north of the Mason-Dixon line must have if you don't want to spend your winter mornings mucking about with battery chargers and starter fluid. Diesel engines are hard to start when cold, and the colder it is, the harder they are to start; a block heater helps considerably.

So my evaluation of this? GM wants to give itself an excuse to say, "Well, Americans just don't like diesels!" This is the kind of thing that happened when GM tried to do diesels in a big way in the 1970s: by taking gasoline engines and converting them into diesels, with disastrous results...and of course their conclusion wasn't "Gee, we did something stupid" (because saying something like that would have gotten a lot of GM execs fired) but "Well, Americans don't like diesel engines!"

Americans don't like diesel engines that throw head gaskets and crack blocks after 5,000 miles, no. We're kind of particular about having machinery that doesn't self-destruct during normal use. I would have thought that to be kind of obvious, but then again that was the era of "planned obscolescence" and GM was at the head of that pack. And then they were gobsmacked when Americans began to buy Japanese cars which were built to last as long as possible, rather than buy junk that was designed to break after a couple of years.

By making the diesel engine model prohibitively expensive, GM has ensured that it won't sell at all well...and in a couple of years they can discontinue it and say, "Well, obviously Americans don't want diesel engines."

*sigh*

If you idiots would give us usable diesel engines at reasonable prices you might be surprised at what we do. Take a look at the explosion of diesel engines in pickup trucks; you can't throw a poodle across a parking lot without hitting a pickup truck with a diesel engine in it. This didn't happen because someone said, "Hey, we can charge a premium for this!"

I do believe I understand the theory here, though. "We'll lure Jetta buyers away from VW, so that's why we can price this thing so f-ing high!" ...except that most of the people who buy Jettas are buying them for the VW name, not the diesel engine. The diesel engine is the best performance option on the car.

The other thought? "We'll be luring hybrid buyers, so we can make a mint on this!" ...except that most of the people who buy hybrids are buying them for the eco-snob factor, not the fuel economy per se, and diesel engines simply do not generate as much "smug" as a hybrid does.

The market to aim at is, instead, the people who want a crapton of fuel economy with reasonable performance, without spending far too much money in the process. That means making a manual transmission an option, and it means not pricing the f-ing car so high as to put it near the lower third of the family sedan market.

But of course no one ever accused the American auto industry of being smart.

* * *

Speaking of which, JayG takes aim at my employer. I don't blame him for being pissed off; any reasonable person would.

This comes, I think, from the corporate tendency to use contractors for such work. The other example given in his text and those of the comments is Comcast, which also uses contractors for outside work...and which has a less-than-stellar reputation for customer service.

The problem is, plenty of third-party contactors simply don't care about the quality of their work. As Mrs. Fungus and I saw a little more than a year ago, the contractors who were to install cable here at the bunker had been ready to tell us they couldn't do anything that day and leave, because there were some branches where the cable had to hang...but mostly because it was a Friday, near noon, and we were their last call for the day. (When Mrs. Fungus asked them what office they worked out of and told them she was a supervisor, suddenly it was possible for them to complete the installation...if I were to cut down a few branches. That took me fifteen minutes.)

Meanwhile, the guys who have showed up here for other issues, who have been actual Comcast employees, cared a great deal about ensuring we were happy with the service.

I think that's the issue here: using contractors reduces costs for large corporations, because they don't have to employ armies of people...but there is a reason the contractors cost less. It removes a lot of control the corporation has over the quality of customer interactions, and the contractor has no incentive to put his best foot forward.

There is no excuse whatsoever for the kind of sloppy work Jay describes. A water leak can cause a lot of damage to a home, and quickly; whoever installed that appliance needs to be not working for Best Buy any longer, in any capacity. Not only has Jay been turned off the brand, but his discussion of the issue on-line is going to turn off others. All because one moron couldn't be fucked to screw a hose on right.

On the other side, though, is Jay's complaint about the 48-hour wait time for a service tech. It's almost impossible for a large corporation to have enough service people that they can send a tech out on a moment's notice. It is possible, but you'd pay an awful lot of money for it...and such a business would rapidly close its doors, too, because someone else would undercut them. The margins in appliances and such are very, very thin because there's a lot of competition.

No one offers 24-hour emergency service for this kind of thing, because it's cost-prohibitive. If you have an industrial robot that costs you $10,000 per hour of downtime, it's cost-effective, but for a $500 washing machine? I don't know what the profit margin is on a washer (nor could I discuss it here if I did) but I know it's nothing like the typical margin on groceries, which is approximately 25-50% depending on the item.

And exactly the same thing could have happened if he'd gone across the street to Lowe's.

* * *

But I do believe that--with the exception of the moron who installed that machine--everyone else at Best Buy did an honest job. It's just that there isn't much the average employee can do when confronted by this kind of situation.

I don't know how many times I've had to explain to someone that I'm only able to do A, B, or C; for example, if you have an accidental damage plan and you drop your phone, I'm not allowed to go over to the cell phone section and grab you a new phone. You're going to get a factory refurbished phone as a replacement--it will be utterly indistinguishable from a new phone--and it's going to take two or three days to get here, and it doesn't matter what the salesman promised you.

(It matters even less what you think the salesman promised you. Here's a hint: when someone sells you a protection plan and hands you a pamphelet, read the fucking pamphelet. It's your best resource for understanding what you get for your money. Buying the protection plan automatically indicates that you've accepted the terms and conditions thereof.)

I'm not happy to tell people they can't have what they want, but if I ignore the standard operating procedures of my employer I'm asking for a pink slip...and I'm not going to jeopardize my job because you're mad that you're being asked to pay a $150 deductible as agreed. If you buy an expensive glass telephone and drop it on the concrete, and it breaks because you couldn't bear to put it in a protective case--then yeah, I don't have a lot of sympathy for you--certainly not enough to jeopardize my job.

Jay has every right to be angry in this situation, but there are some highly entitled people out there.

* * *

I'm going to comment here on the stupidity of modern cell phone design.

The most popular smartphones are made by Apple and Samsung, and they're all made out of glass. That's not even an exaggeration.

The iPhone 5 has a glass face and a glass back, and a thin aluminum frame. The Samsung Galaxy phones are the same way. The glass face runs right up to the edge; there's a thin aluminum rim around the glass. The back is an eggshell-thin piece of plastic. You drop one of these things and it's ruined. Not just damaged, but ruined.

These things cost SEVEN HUNDRED FUCKING DOLLARS. The only reason so many people have them comes from the miracle of financing: you get a Samsung Galaxy with your new Sprint account and you end up paying some $1,200 fror the stupid thing over the course of the contract--added almost invisibly onto your cell phone bill. And you can get accidental damage from handling (ADH) coverage for about $10 a month.

This is another reason I own a $30 Tracfone: I have more money invested in the talk time than the phone itself, some 20 times as much; I have enough talk time on that phone to buy a Samsung Galaxy III if I wait for a sale. But I paid for that talk time over the course of years, at about $3.50 per month because the old phone had double minutes.

My phone is not "slim" or "elegant" but if I drop it, it's not going to shatter. If something outrageous happens to it, I pay $30 for a new one.

Contrast that with the deductible on Best Buy's ADH plan for smartphones, which is $150. You drop your iPhone 5s, and bring it to us for replacement under your ADH plan, it's going to cost you $150...and you only get to do that three times before your contract is fulfilled. And Best Buy had to do that because it simply costs too much to give away refurbished phones to every butterfingers who can make a monthly payment.

So where the attitude used to be, "Hey, I dropped my phone and it shattered, but it's okay because I can go get a new one!" now it is, "Crap, I'd better be careful with this thing!" Uh, yeah. Duh!

...all of which would be utterly unnecessary if the damned things weren't made out of glass. We have more durable materials, but of course they're heavier, and a robust phone isn't sexy.

* * *

There is no job market for lawyers. This was true 20 years ago; it is not less true now.

Law school is expensive, and we have enough lawyers. We have more than enough of them already; we don't need more. We could summarily shutter 95% of the law schools in the United States for a decade--perhaps two--and still not suffer a dearth of lawyers.

* * *

Ship of fools trapped in the ice.Global warming morons aboard a ship are trapped in Antarctic ice. It's summer down there and they're jammed up in so much ice even icebreaking ships can't get through to them.

But of course global warming is melting the polar ice caps and we're all doomed.

*sigh*

* * *

I don't think there's a graceful way to end this post.

#4077: Stuck in summer ice

A comprehensive story on the global warming scientists who are stuck in Antarctic ice in local summer. Austral summer is happening right now, and it's the time of "midnight sun" in Antarctica right now. Now is the time of year when you would expect ice to melt, if global warmmongers are right and everything is getting hotter.

These people insist that the Arctic ocean being free of ice in boreal summer is a sign of global warming. Just wait: they'll blame all this nonsense on global warming, too.

That's the thing very few people are saying about this story: it's summertime where those people are. That's why they're doing this now; you don't want to try that kind of expedition when it's local winter, because the temperatures are prohibitively cold and the weather is just drop dead nasty and there's no sunlight.

Yet without even having to look, I know that the mainstream media is reporting this such that the average idiot can see the coverage and say, "Well, why did they go there in winter? Duh! They should have waited for summer!" (The same media that will explain the most obvious stuff in the universe if it wants the viewer to have a thorough understanding of an issue.) Why? So as not to have any deleterious effect on the populace's opinions on man-made global warming, of course.

The whole thing is pretty damned funny, though. It's not just a bunch of greenies getting stuck in ice in summer; it's the metaphor for Man's ability to fight nature that really makes me smile. These people insist that human carbon emissions are causing unnatural climate change, yet humans don't even have enough power to get one ship unstuck from the ice. The people are going to have to be taken off the ship via helicopter, and if conditions don't ease pretty soon the ship is going to suffer the fate of all icebound ships and end up with a crushed hull on the bottom of the Antarctic sea.

I don't wany any of these people to die or be injured and I hope they all get home safe, but I'm still going to laugh at them.