Monday, June 20, 2016

EV charging done wrong.

Last weekend I was thrilled to find that our local REI had installed EV charging stations. (You may remember last year we bought a second hand Nissan Leaf.) I pulled into one of the parking spaces (painted green, with "electric vehicle charging only" painted on the ground), popped the charging port and went to the charging station. They had the option of SAE Combo and CHAdeMO fast chargers, as well as a pair of 240V J1772 level 2 chargers. Our Leaf has a CHAdeMO port so we hooked it up and touched the screen on the charging station to continue. No lights came on. Checked the port - it was connected OK. Then the screen displayed "tap RFID card to start charging" and here's where it all went south.
The charging station we had found is operated by a company called EVGO, which means first of all it's not free. Ok I'm fine with that - it was a pipedream to think we'd be able to charge for free. But there was no mechanism to pay at the charging station. The REI employees didn't sell cards either. So I looked up EVGO to find out what the deal was. 10¢/minute or $1/hour for fast charging - great. Except they only offer that if you subscribe to their service for $15 a month plus taxes.
We spend exactly $8.65 in electricity each month charging our Leaf. Why would I pay nearly double that for a subscription that only then offers me access to charging stations where I then have to pay by the minute?
This is EV charging done completely bass-ackward. It should be a monthly subscription with no cost at the charger. Or better still, there should be no subscription fee, but with bank card readers or NFC payment receivers at the charging station (like we have at gas pumps) then we could pull up and pay-as-we-go for charging.
I have no problem paying to charge our Leaf but I'm not paying an extra $15 for the privilege. Imagine if you had to pay a monthly subscription before you could access the pumps on a petrol station forecourt.....

Monday, June 13, 2016

Viewers call again for Chris Evans to be removed from so-called "Top Gear"

Having made the long, slow, painful trek through last week's so-called "Top Gear" I can fully understand the story that ran in several papers where a great many people asked why Jenson Button couldn't replace Chris Evans (Top Gear fans call for Jenson Button to replace Chris Evans as host). Again, Evans was shouty, unfunny, rude and generally obnoxious, and again he proved that all he's capable of whilst driving a car is reading the press release. It also became extremely apparent that he doesn't drive the cars for the external shots. The internal camera views always show him driving in a straight line along the runway, and the external views show a driver who doesn't even have red hair.
The crowning moment of glory however, came when Jenson Button was allowed to drive the McLaren 675LT with Evans in the passenger seat. It was immediately more funny and more engaging, with Button drifing beautifully around the track, one hand on the wheel, the other stroking the alcantara fabric on the A-pillar and musing about the style of the radio. Funnier still was Evans reaction in the passenger seat - outright terror, proving he's not equipped to drive powerful cars, nor be a passenger in them when they're driven by race drivers.
The absolute truth comes from the viewing figures though. 4.4million in the first week, dropping to 2.8m last week. A new all-time low for the show, being beaten now by Country File, Antiques Road show and a charity event on ITV. Evans is in total denial at this point, now claiming "Overnight television viewing figures for Top Gear have never been less relevant."
I disagree. The main presenter for Top Gear has never been less relevant. Chris Evans needs to go before he sinks that ship completely. Leave it in the capable hands of Matt LeBlanc, Sabine Schmitz, Chris Harris - and just maybe - Jenson Button.

Monday, June 6, 2016

So - the new BBC Motoring Program...

The BBC have a new motoring show, in case you hadn't heard. They keep calling it "Top Gear" but it's absolutely not Top Gear. Not even remotely. Remember when Top Gear was crap - the first few episodes of the Clarkson years? Before they found their stride? The new motoring show makes those early Clarkson shows look like finely polished TV. In fact - and this was something I just didn't think was possible - the new so-called "Top Gear" makes the U.S Top Gear look like a decent show by comparison.
The best analogy I can come up with is that it's akin to watching the Hindenburg crash into the Titanic. In slow motion.
So what's wrong with it? The most obvious problem is Chris Evans. He's a very unlikeable man WHO SHOUTS ALL HIS LINES FOR NO REASON, can't read off the autocue, can't time a joke, can't review cars, can't drive, isn't funny and has no chemistry with anyone he works with. I thought the BBC had learned this decades ago but apparently not. Apart from being awful on camera, he's also a wizard at getting the audience to hate him: Chris Evans 'swore at Top Gear audience' who didn't laugh at his jokes. I think once you see the episode you'll know why they didn't laugh.
Speaking of the audience - it's now way too big and so obviously clapping and laughing on cue that they might as well have just put a sitcom-style canned laughter track over the top.
There was no news segment - well - there was but it was in Extra Gear which is an aftershow that specializes in even more wooden presenters, reading autocues to tell you how CHRIS EVANS SHOUTED EVERYTHING FROM HIS AUTOCUE. It's partly saved by Chris Harris, who is a decent motoring presenter in his own right (but you wouldn't know it from watching Extra Gear). I suspect he's been told not to compete with Evans because compared to his standalone shows, it was like he was a shadow of his usual self. Why he's hitched his trailer to this dying horse is a mystery - maybe he doesn't like his career?
Apart from Chris Harris, I'm not sure anyone knows who any of the people were in Extra Gear - just a bunch of talking heads reading badly scripting "banter" whilst trying to look like it wasn't scripted.
The star in a reasonably priced car is now the star in a half-a-million pound race-prepped rally car, and the circuit now includes an off-road section meaning that the times mean nothing any more (because the off-road section is a huge variable) and that they're seemingly quite happy to ruin the road circuit by dragging rocks and mud on to it.
There's clearly going to be a running gag about people throwing up when driven by Sabine Schmitz- but they blew that joke in episode 1 with some terrible scripting.
Oddly, Matt LeBlanc is the only redeeming feature of the show. When he's reading off autocue and playing stooge TO THE SHOUTING GINGER ONE, he's as awful as Evans. But when he's allowed to do his own segments, he's quite watchable.
Sabine Schmitz - it goes without saying - is the best of the lot because she can both drive, and present at the same time. Evans can't really drive, and his idea of presenting an opinion consists entirely of reading the press release whilst demonstrating how much he can't drive.
Will so-called "Top Gear" improve with time? Probably, but for that to happen they need to get rid of Chris Evans quickly and replace him with Chris Harris. They also need to abandon "Extra Gear" which is a sad, desperate "please like us" show.
To put it in perspective, so-called "Top Gear" now has a record low viewing figure for the last 10 years, and the bookies are betting 4:1 that Evans won't make it past the end of this series, and 2:1 that this is the last series altogether. Yeah. It sucks that badly.
Now the bar has been set this low, Clarkson, Hammond and May's new show on Amazon could literally be an hour of them drinking tea and it would be funnier than what the BBC have produced.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Yet another Takata airbag recall.

At this point it should come as no surprise to anyone that eight manufacturers recalled another 12 million Takata-airbag-equipped vehicles (those are just US numbers) on Friday. This is on top of the 5.5 million recalls announced on Monday last week. (And also on top of the 3.4 million recalled in 2013, the 4.8 million recalled in 2014 and the 3.3 million recalled in 2015).
Once again the culprit is airbag modules, occupancy sensors or inflators. Take your pick, because I think now it's fairly safe to say that ANY vehicle with a Takata airbag will eventually be recalled at this point.
In case you're keeping count, that's a total of 29 millions vehicles recalled so far, just in the US.
If you want to check for open recalls - in the US at least - the safercar website has a lookup that you can use either via model, make and year, or more easily via your VIN: Check for recalls.
At this point you have to wonder how Takata can survive this. There's class action suits against them and almost every car manufacturer who uses their products - VW, Audi, Honda, Toyota, Fiat, GM, Chrysler - you name it, they all have open suits against them. What's amusing is that in 2015 this was already the largest vehicle recall in history, and that was before the extra 15 million (so far) vehicles were added in the first 5 months of 2016.
I think you should just assume that at some point, the vehicle you're driving WILL be recalled because of this.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A thought experiment for you, on the subject of self-driving cars.

I've blogged about this before, but here's a thought experiment for you (Given that Tesla are now involved in two high profile cases where their autopilot crashed the car and they're saying they're not to blame):
It's the future, you're in your self-driving car, minding your own business. You're on the motorway, commuting to work. A minivan full of kids on the school run is to your right, a motorcyclist is to the left. Traffic is moving at a steady pace. The truck in front of you has a badly-secured load, and as it hits a pot-hole, a large sheet of steel is dislodged and slides off the back, catching the wind and flipping up. At this point a crash is inevitable. At the very least, someone is going to be seriously injured, and at the worst they could potentially be killed. Your self-driving car has logic built into it for a situation like this, so who's it going to choose to kill?
Does your car kill the motorcyclist to avoid the steel sheet and save your life? Does it defend the motorcyclist (because they are the most vulnerable road user in direct proximity), leaving the option of killing you or the van full of kids? If that's the case, who's life is more valuable? You on your own, or the children next to you? Can your car make that life-changing decision in a split second, taking into account all the variables and inputs from all its sensors? What if the self-driving minivan is also trying to make the same decisions at the same time?

Think about it. When you buy a self-driving car, there will be a clause in a contract you will have to sign, that indicates that you're OK with the idea that the car you've just bought might one day choose to sacrifice you for the common good.

Now how do you feel about self-driving cars?

Monday, May 16, 2016

It's a sad day when car performance and handling is lowest on buyer's list of influences.

A recent study reports that in the grand scheme of things, car buyers are ranking the performance and handling of cars as very low on their list of things that influence their buying decisions. The highest ranking item is, according to this study at least, the entertainment system.
As a gear head I find this yet more evidence of a troubling trend; people just don't like driving any more. They're not trained properly and have no real interest. Driving standards have been plummeting for the last decade and as manufacturers add more and more distractions in the cab, with more and more isolation from the road. Honestly if the performance and handling of a car are that low on people's lists, I wonder why they buy a car at all and don't just use cabs, public transport and Uber. I wonder if I'll see the end of drivers who enjoy driving, who are allowed to drive in a spirited manner in my lifetime? I wonder if legislation and insurance will just make it too expensive to actually drive? I wonder if we're all going to be forced into joyless self-driving mobile entertainment centers? If that's the case then just shoot me now. I still rate performance and handling as number 1. If my phone can connect via Bluetooth so I can stream Spotify then that's really all I need. I don't need to text from the steering wheel, or get Twitter updates from celebs with inflated egos on my dash display. But it seems I'm in the growing minority. It's a sad day for driving for sure.