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Posts tagged cars

"Woman taking her time rambling south at 63 mph on the Hollywood Freeway near the Vine Street exit in Los Angeles on a Saturday afternoon in 1991," from the series Vector Portraits, by Andrew Bush, at M+B Gallery, Los Angeles, 12 September–15 October :: via We can shoot too
from "People, Parking, and Cities," by Michael Manville and Donald Shoup, Access, Fall 2004 :: via Koranteng's bookmarks

Disney Hall’s six-level, 2,188-space underground garage cost $110 million to build (about $50,000 per space). Financially troubled Los Angeles County, which built the garage, went into debt to ?nance it, expecting that parking revenues would repay the borrowed money. But the garage was completed in 1996, and Disney Hall—which suffered from a budget less grand than its vision—became knotted in delays and didn’t open until late 2003. During the seven years in between, parking revenue fell far short of debt payments (few people park in an underground structure if there is nothing above it) and the county, by that point nearly bankrupt, had to subsidize the garage even as it laid off employees.

The county owns the land beneath Disney Hall, and its lease for the site specifies that Disney Hall must schedule at least 128 concerts each winter season. Why 128? That’s the minimum number of concerts that will generate the parking revenue necessary to pay the debt service on the garage. And in its ?rst year, Disney Hall scheduled exactly 128 concerts. The parking garage, ostensibly designed to serve the Philharmonic, now has the Philharmonic serving it; the minimum parking requirements have led to a minimum concert requirement.

from "Why the Death of S.U.V.’s?," by Steven D. Levitt, Freakonomics Blog, 24 December 2008

Here is the puzzling thing. The apparent cause of death for S.U.V.’s was high gas prices. Doesn’t that mean that with low gas prices S.U.V. sales should come back to life? I can think of a few reasons why that might not be the case:

1) Consumers think that the low current gas prices are temporary, and in general gas prices will be high in the future. Thus, they don’t want to get stuck with a vehicle that gets poor gas mileage. The question this raises is why consumers were so sure six months ago that gas prices were going to be high forever (which turned out to be wrong), but don’t believe now that gas prices will stay low.

2) The uncertainty of fluctuating gas prices takes the fun out of owning an S.U.V. Even if gas prices won’t be that high on average, it is so unpleasant to have an S.U.V. when gas prices are high that people don’t want to have them if gas prices are volatile. This explanation seems kind of dumb to me, but maybe it is possible.

3) When gas prices got high, it became uncool to own an S.U.V. Perhaps the process for going from cool to uncool is not easily reversible. Once something is uncool, it remains uncool for a long time, even when the forces that caused it to be uncool recede. This might explain why the demand for pickup trucks remains strong, even as S.U.V.’s fade. Somehow the spike in gas prices didn’t make pickup trucks uncool in the same way as S.U.V.’s. Similarly, minivans have never been cool (or at least not for a long time); so if this explanation is right, minivan sales should stay strong.

excerpt Baby on board
from "Looking Under the Hood and Seeing an Incubator," by Madeline Drexler,, 15 December 2008

In truth, experts say, the developing world doesn’t need more incubators. It needs incubators that work. Over the years, thousands have been donated from rich nations, only to end up in “incubator graveyards” — most broken, some never opened. According to a 2007 study from Duke University, 96 percent of foreign-donated medical equipment fails within five years of donation — mostly because of electrical problems, like voltage surges or brownouts or broken knobs, or because of training problems, like neglecting to send user manuals along with the devices.

To compensate for this philanthropic shortsightedness, medical staffs either crank up the temperature in “incubator rooms” to 100 degrees or more, or swaddle babies in plastic to hold in body heat. Such makeshift solutions led the Boston team to ask: How can we make an incubator for the developing world that will get fixed? . . .

In his discussions with doctors who practice in impoverished settings, Dr. Rosen learned that no matter how remote the locale, there always seemed to be a Toyota 4Runner in working order. It was his “Aha!” moment, he recalled later: Why not make the incubator out of new or used car parts, and teach local auto mechanics to be medical technologists?

from "A race to use less gas in the long haul," by Ken Bensinger, Los Angeles Times, 8 September 2008

“In the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, carmakers all offered super-high-efficiency cars,” says Eric Noble, president of the Car Lab, an auto industry research and consulting group. “Now that consumers are clamoring for them, those cars are pretty much all gone.”

For the 1992 model year, car buyers had the choice of 33 cars that had a combined city and highway EPA rating of at least 30 miles per gallon. For the current model year, there are 12. And though the 1990s had its share of gas guzzlers, it’s notable that the two-wheel-drive Ford Explorer from 1992 had better fuel efficiency (17 mpg) than the same model in 2008 (which gets 16).

With demand for efficiency surging, carmakers are racing to improve their lineups. General Motors Corp., which currently doesn’t have any cars that top 30 mpg combined, said last month that it would spend $500 million to produce a new compact car for 2011, the Cruze, that would reach 45 mpg on the highway. That’s about 13 mpg below the rating for its most fuel-efficient Geo Metro 14 years ago.

a more than 95 theses post by Alan Jacobs

Bumper stickers such as “Make Love, Not War” and “More Trees, Less Bush” speak volumes about a vehicle’s driver — but maybe not in the way they might hope. People who customize their cars with stickers and other adornments are more prone to road rage than other people, according to researchers in Colorado… .

The researchers recorded whether people had added seat covers, bumper stickers, special paint jobs, stereos and even plastic dashboard toys… . People who had a larger number of personalized items on or in their car were 16% more likely to engage in road rage, the researchers report in the journal Applied Social Psychology.

“The number of territory markers predicted road rage better than vehicle value, condition or any of the things that we normally associate with aggressive driving,” say Szlemko. What’s more, only the number of bumper stickers, and not their content, predicted road rage — so “Jesus saves” may be just as worrying to fellow drivers as “Don’t mess with Texas”.

Szlemko admits that he is not entirely surprised by the results. “We have to remember that humans are animals too,” he says. “It’s unrealistic to believe that we should not be territorial.”

[here, via Slashdot]