Category: Wheels

Transportation taxation without representation

Dan O’Donnell:

In something of a surprise, the Republican-led Wisconsin Legislature has rejected Governor Evers’ effort to raise the state’s 32.9 cent per-gallon tax on gasoline in an effort to close a projected $1.1 billion budget shortfall.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who has long been open to the possibility of raising the gas tax, told a group of conservatives last week that “an increase…to fund Wisconsin’s transportation projects is off the table,” the MacIver News Service reported exclusively.

This about-face has left Evers scrambling, as he believed that his proposed eight cent per gallon hike was a potential opening for negotiation with an eye toward a compromise at four or five cents per gallon.

Not a chance, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinelon Friday.  In a news release later that afternoon, Vos agreed that any increase at all would be “tough to get done.”

As well it should be. Raising the gas tax is a short-sighted solution to a long-term problem. So naturally, Illinois is diving in headfirst.

On July 1, Illinois’ gas tax will double from 19 cents per gallon to 38 cents. That, combined with the 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax, means drivers in Illinois will pay 56 cents in tax on every gallon of gas they purchase—a total of $10.08 every time they fill up an 18-gallon tank.

Assuming that the average driver fills up once a week, he or she will pay $524.16 just in gasoline taxes each year. Illinois’ new tax comprises $177.84 of that; a whopping 34 percent.

Such a dramatic increase in the middle of the summer vacation season will have an immediate impact on driving habits. Generally speaking, when gas prices are higher, people drive less—especially those for whom the added price is a more significant factor.

Gas taxes are among the most regressive in America, as they have a disproportionate impact on those who earn lower incomes (and, not coincidentally, tend to drive older, less fuel-efficient vehicles).  Someone earning $200,000 isn’t likely to notice or care much about having to pay $13.68 more per month in Illinois gas taxes. Someone earning $20,000 certainly will, and they will modify their driving habits accordingly.

An even more significant concern for Illinois—or any state dependent upon a gas tax to fund transportation infrastructure—is the American consumer’s long-term driving habits.Ride-sharing has made private car ownership much less of a necessity in cities like Chicago, while car companies themselves are clearly preparing for a future without gasoline.

By January of 2018, the world’s automotive manufacturers had already spent upwards of $90 billion researching and developing electric vehicles.

“We’re all in,” Ford Motor Company CEO Bill Ford, Jr. told Reuters after spending an estimated $11 billion on electric.

Just two months ago, General Motors—the country’s largest carmaker—announced a $424 million investment in production of a new electric-powered Chevrolet.Earlier in the year, Steve Carlisle, president of GM’s Cadillac brand, said the company was going “all in” on electric vehicles.

“[By the] early to middle part of the next decade, all transportation will be electric,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.“Once you say that’s the way the world is going to be, it comes down to, ‘So how do we get there?’”

Even online retail giant Amazon, which has been at the forefront of global technological trends for more than a decade, is betting big on electric vehicle technology with an estimated $700 million investment in a company that has been developing an all-electric pickup truck and SUV.

Once this technology is widely available and, crucially, affordable—perhaps in as little as five years—gas tax revenues will plummet, leaving states dependent on them scrambling to plug even greater budget deficits than those they face today.

Wisconsin, then, would be (as per usual) wise not to follow Illinois down this road.Governor Evers believes that an initial eight-cent gas tax hike coupled with a yearly increase of another cent to tie the tax more closely to the rate of inflation could bring in several hundred million dollars in revenue per year, but this estimate just isn’t based in reality.

The easiest way to reduce public consumption of a product is to tax it, and the quickest way to convince consumers to make the leap to an electric vehicle is to make the price of keeping their old gas guzzler too great to justify.

If, as the automotive industry predicts, electric vehicles will dominate the roads in just a few short years, increased dependence on a steadily rising gas tax would leave Wisconsin with a new and even more pressing problem: What can it do when the product it has been taxing no longer exists?

Benjamin Yount reports on a worse alternative than raising the gas tax:

Republican lawmakers in Madison are facing more questions from the right over their plan to possibly create a per-mile fee for drivers in the state.

Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin is the latest to voice opposition to a study included in the Republican’s proposed transportation budget that is ostensibly aimed at the feasibility of a mileage fee.

Eric Bott, AFP’s state director in Wisconsin, says the study is really the first step toward a new tax on drivers.

“This so-called ‘study’ approved by [the Joint Finance Committee] would also give the Committee the complete authority to institute a per mileage fee program without any additional oversight from the entirety of the legislature or the executive branch,” Bott wrote in an open letter to lawmakers. “The language does not limit what the fee could be or how much tracking the government can do of your driving.”

Republicans on the state’s budget writing panel, the Joint Finance Committee, last week voted to include $2.5 million for a study on a mileage fee.

But the proposal they agreed to goes well beyond just a study.

JFC members gave themselves the power to decide if a per-mile fee is needed, what those fees would cost, and whether those fees need to increase at any time.

JFC members would be the only ones to vote on the fees, the full State Assembly and State Senate would not have to act.

“A mere 16 members of a legislative committee would determine if the government can track your mileage and charge you a yet-to-be-determined fee – an unprecedented authority for a legislative committee,” Bott’s letter said.

In reality, 16 lawmakers wouldn’t need to vote to raise the fees, just a majority of the Joint Finance Committee would have to agree to raise the fees.

“Under the proposal, nine votes is all it would take for government to start tracking how we drive and assessing a massive new tax. That’s not democracy as we know it,” Bott said. “Our system of democracy and our state constitution require politicians to vote on tax increases. This is an attempt to shirk that responsibility.”

There is no guess as to how much a per-mile fee on drivers would cost. Though Republicans are looking to raise nearly $500 million more for roads in the new state budget. Much of that money would come from increases in license plate fees, a new hybrid car fee, and an increase in the cost to transfer a car title.

It’s parts of a nearly $2 billion construction plan to build and fix roads across the state.

“The transportation budget passed by JFC includes other revenue increases, paid for by hardworking Wisconsinites. The increases in title fees and annual registration fees can and should be enough,” Bott wrote in his letter. “We need to focus on sustainable transportation funding, which includes many of the reforms to the Department introduced by your colleagues, not an invasive and costly per mile fee.”

Bottom line, Bott said, is that taxpayers deserve better than a shadowy process that could end up costing them for years and years to come.

“The policy included in the June 6th transportation omnibus motion that gives the Joint Committee on Finance unilateral authority to impose a per mile fee on Wisconsinites is a dangerous precedent to set for our democracy, our privacy and our pocketbooks,” Bott added.

It is a gross violation of our rights to give anyone or any group the ability to unilaterally set taxes without a vote by the Legislature. One has to wonder who in the GOP thinks this is a good idea.

The crazy thing about a mileage tax is that out-of-state drivers wouldn’t pay anything (similar to increasing registration fees), but Wisconsin drivers would be taxed on their travel outside the state. At least the gas tax is paid by out-of-state drivers, although this state’s gas tax is already higher than the natural average. Any tax increase that affects products shipped by truck will become more expensive to ship, which will raise the price of that product. A mileage tax certainly looks like an attempt to get people to travel less, which is a strange attitude for a state in which tourism is one of its top three industries.

Automatic indexing of a tax is similarly taxation without representation. Every tax increase should be voted on by the Legislature. (Actually, I would prefer statewide referenda on tax increases, but that requires a change in the Constitution.)

I remain unconvinced that any tax or fee increase is necessary. Spending prioritization certainly is necessary. The state Department of Transportation has convinced no one except the road-building lobby (i.e. the Wisconsin Transportation Development Association) that it has initiated any kind of spending or other reform to make road projects cost less. Until then, the DOT does not need more money.

 

 

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A story you probably thought you’d never see

Douglas A. McIntyre:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles proposed a merger with Renault that would create the world’s third-largest carmaker. The eroding economics of the industry make such deal more likely by the day. Deep trouble at Ford Motor and General Motors’ need for more heft to compete with rivals Toyota and Volkswagen make a marriage between the two largest car companies increasingly probable.

Fiat Chrysler argues that a tie-up with Renault will lead to $5.5 billion in savings. As car sales have flattened in the United States and started to drop in China, the two largest markets in the world offer less hope for revenue improvement. Neither company has much of a sales footprint in China. Renault has none at all. Both have a strong market share in Europe, but it is one of the most competitive markets in the world. At the low end of the market, VW is the dominant force. At the high end, it is BMW and Mercedes.

While GM and Ford both have a strong market share in the United States, Ford has stumbled. It has withdrawn most of its sedans in the American market because sales have shifted from cars to sport utility vehicles, crossovers and pickups. Ford’s only bright spot in the United States is its F-Series full-sized pickup, which is the top-selling vehicle in the nation. Ford’s sales in China are abysmal and falling. GM’s are strong, but it is up against other car companies, both local and global, that need the largest car market to be successful.

Ford’s management, under CEO Jim Hackett and Executive Chair William Ford, has shown it can cut costs. It recently cut 7,000 white-collar workers. That will save $600 million. Hackett has set total savings of $14 billion for the five-year period that began last year. He also said the company will invest $11 billion to have 40 electric and hybrid cars by 2022. Not many outsiders believe he can make his goal. Ford may build more electric cars and hybrids, but selling them is another matter. The competition in this market runs from tech companies like Alphabet’s Waymo to Tesla, startups and every major manufacturer in the world. There is no evidence Ford is ahead of this wave, and so far, it appears the company is behind it. Confidence in Hackett, in particular, is low.

GM is better regarded than Ford, primarily because of the work of CEO Mary Barra. She has been CEO of GM since 2014. It also has cut costs. However, many outsiders believe it is ahead of most of its rivals in both the electric and self-driving car businesses. GM owns 75% of Cruise Automation, a leader in artificial intelligence of future cars.

GM has two other advantages over most global manufacturers. It is among the leaders in car sales in China. With its joint venture partners, it sold 813,973 vehicles in the first quarter. GM is also the leader in U.S. car sales, with about 17% of the market.

One of the primary hurdles GM would have if it took over Ford is that the market share of the two in the United States would be close to 30%. Either U.S. regulators would need to accept that, or the combined company would need to sell or spin out some of its brands. The most likely of these are GM’s Buick or GMC truck business.

While GM may have a future as a standalone car company over the next decade, Ford does not. Its market cap is down 42% over the past five years, while GM’s is close to flat. The savings in a combination would be well into the billions of dollars. A marriage of the two also could compete effectively with Toyota, VW and perhaps the new Fiat Chrysler and Renault combo. GM also has the advantage that it is considered to make among the most dependable American cars.

Who would have predicted a GM–Ford merger at any point?

The possible irony here is that GM has fallen out of favor with many car buyers due to its bailout in 2008. And GM clearly has issues with those not turned off by the bailout, as GM Authority reports:

During GM’s Q1 2019 earnings call, a Barclays Capital analyst asked GM CEO Mary Barra a rather interesting question: whether the automaker’s products lack the desirability of key rivals, particularly when it comes to vehicle design and effective marketing tactics that attract buyers.

“We’ve talked over the years about the cultural change you did at GM and a greater focus on cost accountability, making sure you’re in the right product and geographies to drive profit,” asked Brian Arthur Johnson of Barclays Capital. “But one thing I do hear from investors is, if they look at GM design, broadly speaking, both the vehicles, the interiors, the advertising it just doesn’t, in some people’s view, have the kind of pizzazz as you might see. I don’t always like going back to Tesla, but it’s not lost on some of us that one of your designers created Elon’s vehicle lineup.

So just, how are you thinking about the state of design overall at GM? Is it an important differentiator? Or do you think it’s more important to get capable vehicles out there and kind of play it more on the profit and the cost game? And if it is more important, what would you — what are you trying to do to kind of move it to the next level?”

GM CEO Mary Barra responded with the following, providing some insight into the automaker’s thinking and processes:

“I think it’s incredibly important. You have to do everything to win in this market. And design is a very important piece of it. I think we have a very disciplined process where we clinic data and understand the customers in segment and what they’re looking for, how they view products. Full-size truck is different than a Cadillac is different than a compact SUV like the Chevrolet Equinox. And so, we have a very rigorous process on how we develop trucks and really focus on putting the customer at the center as we do those designs.

But all aspects are critically important. I think if you – you mentioned advertising as well. I think Cadillac is a really good example as you’ve seen the shift that we’ve made. And Steve Carlisle can do a better job of telling you, but the list that we’ve had with Cruise, with the right campaign has been very very successful. And I would also say, when you look at brand building, there’s been tremendous improvement across all of our brands and strengthening from the key brand metrics.

So we’re focused on having beautifully designed products that people want and desire and got to have to having the right contenting, so we could have the right package and efficiency and affordability for the customer and winning in the marketplace and then having advertising that breaks through. But sometimes the advertising that breaks through and is most effective with the customers isn’t the one that wins all the awards.”

That seems like a nice reply, but it still doesn’t really explain what the automaker will do to solve the elephant in the room, which is that a significant amount of U.S. car buyers do not desire GM, its brands or products when shopping for a car – whether due to prior quality or reliability issues, image-related factors, or an entire list of other potential reasons. It’s a serious problem, one that leaves GM competing for a smaller portion of buyers.

Meanwhile, some of the automaker’s newest vehicle designs have been critiqued for being bland or unattractive, including such models as the all-new 2019 Chevrolet Silverado, refreshed 2019 Camaro, and the all-new 2020 Cadillac CT5.

In addition, the Super Cruise campaign mentioned by Barra might make for a good talking point, but its success is very limited. The spot in question – called Pioneers – isn’t focused on Super Cruise, but rather mentions it in passing, while also bringing up a whole bunch of other Cadillac attributes. But apparently, it’s effective.

Or not if it’s not actually selling GM cars.

This will be really interesting to watch.

 

Mustangs and Chargers and Corvettes! Oh my!

One of the two Car Chase Wonderland YouTube channels recently posted tributes to movies with car chases featuring Ford Mustangs …

… and Dodge Charger …

… both of which were featured in the greatest car chase of all time:

My exhaustive coverage of Corvettes on this blog has included the lamentation of the lack of great movies and TV shows that feature Corvettes as central to the setting.

Someone then reminded me of this movie:

It turns out Car Chase Wonderland also has footage of other Corvette chases …

… though the extent to which any of these Corvettes are central to the movie, except for the abominable “Corvette Summer,” is debatable.

The last Corvette

Dave Cruikshank:

The front-engined Corvette is dead. GM head honcho Mary Barra delivered the news last week the final production C7 would be auctioned off this summer.

While the press skimmed the surface of this historic automotive event, The C7’s demise has received little in-depth coverage. Not only is this a melancholy milestone for us ‘Vette fans, but a little bit of an automotive Groundhog’s Day as well.

Case in point, take the introduction of the GM’s LS powerplant way back in 1996. It debuted in the 1997 C5 Corvette and then GM quietly phased out the Gen 1/Gen II small-block motors with little fanfare. By the time production halted, GM produced over 50 million old-school V8s, easily dwarfing the Model T, Corolla, and the VW Bug for all-time automotive sales goliath. Yet, it went out with a whimper and folks hardly noticed.

Fast forward to last week’s announcement the C7 was dead, and GM seems to be taking a similar tack, quietly pulling the plug on the the last front-engined ‘Vette. Lasting just six model years, the C7 will match the C2 as one of the shortest running generations in Corvette history.

It also quashes the conventional wisdom that the Corvette would be a two-platform lineup, at least for the time being. Let’s back up and review key events that led to the euthanization of the old-school Corvette.

GM invested almost two-thirds of a BILLION dollars in the expansion of Bowling Green. We were certain it was to accommodate two Corvette models. Some thought it would be a Cadillac variant or at the very least, the C7 would live on to appease traditional Corvette buyers.

Now that the C7 is dead, what’s going on in Bowling Green that required doubling the size of the factory? Is there a second model we don’t know about? In an SUV/CUV crazy market, it seems unlikely that GM would field a high-zoot sports car as the crown jewel of Cadillac. A more profitable Escalade would make sense, but a low volume sports car? Seems far-fetched at this point.

We know that high-performance engine assembly for Corvette (and now Cadillac’s Blackwing V8) has been brought in-house, and the paint shop is completely new, but what exactly will GM do to fully allocate a mega-expanded Bowling Green is up for debate. As we’ve all seen in the past few months, GM isn’t shy about shuttering plants if they aren’t running at darn near 100 percent capacity.

Especially risky for Bowling Green when you’re completely rewriting the rules of the brand and the jury is still deliberating if a mid-engine car will be warmly regarded by the Corvette faithful.

We would have loved to have been a fly-on-the-wall when Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter and gang pitched GM brass on the C8 Corvette. It was probably the hardest sales job ever in the annals of automotive history. Could you imagine the following scenario? Let’s cue up the wiggly lines on the TV and go back in time…

Picture Tadge at a round table with GM brass, “Hey, we are the undisputed king of sports cars in the North American market, selling between 25 to 40,000 units annually at a huge profit to the company. What we’re proposing is completely re-writing the template of the car, with a more exotic design. Even if it means alienating our fiercely loyal customers…”

As we know now, GM brass approved this strategy and we’ll have to see how it pans out at the end of the year when the C8 hits the market. If that weren’t enough change, there is most likely an electric or electric-assisted versions of the C8 waiting in the wings as well. Whether Chevrolet can maintain sales volume with a completely different car remains to be seen, which hints there could be more going on.

So if the C7 is dead, could a Corvette branded SUV be in the wings? This would make the most sense. Before you dismiss this as heresy, one only needs to look to the Porsche line-up and note its 2.5 ton Cayenne SUV accounts for the majority of Porsche sales and probably helped it survive and remain a semi-autonomous car company.

Chevrolet critics have long lobbied for a spin-off of the Corvette because they think the Bow Tie image is damaged or not cool enough to attract younger, foreign-brand leaning customers. We say Corvette and Chevrolet are intrinsically linked forever and busting them up is a long-shot, but still believe the Corvette as a multiple-platform brand has not been ruled out.

We speculated that the Camaro would replace the C7 as the front-engine, rear wheel drive “entry level” Corvette and we now feel vindicated. For decades, “the pony can’t outrun the horse” was an unwritten rule at Chevrolet. Corvette was the performance king, period. That credo was obliterated in slow-motion starting almost 10 years ago with the introduction of the Fifth Gen Camaro.

Chevy’s pony has since matched Corvette tit-for-tat with shared engines, an equally sophisticated chassis and the best tuning and refinement (thanks Al Oppenheiser) GM can bring to life. Not only has the Camaro been groomed (right before our eyes) to take the Corvette’s crown, it is one of the best performance cars on the market at any price. A fitting successor to our “old-fashioned” C7 and good news that we can all rejoice in.

I can personally attest how mystical the idea of a mid-engine Corvette has been for the last zillion years. I can remember as a kid, I’d hit the drugstore at the end of the month to see new issues of the big car magazines. Staring back at me from the news stands were headlines that barked “Secret Mid Engine Corvette Coming!”

Time and space would stand still, and I would plop down, right there on the spot, and read the story, hanging on every word. The pictures of Zora Arkus-Duntov and Bill Mitchell next to advanced Corvette prototypes at GM’s Warren, Michigan Design Center were exotic and beguiling.

Bristling with the latest high technology, these future Corvettes not only captured my imagination, but an entire generation of car lovers as well. Entire forests were clearcut over the years to print the latest scuttlebutt on a car which until this coming July 18th, 2019, never materialized.

    • The Mid-Engine Corvette story is decades in the making. Photos: General Motors

    You would think the announcement that the car is indeed slated for production would be heralded as the second automotive coming but sadly, that’s not reaction on the internet. Social media forums are the latrine walls of our generation and feedback on the new car has been brutal.

    “Oh look, a new Fiero,” is a common, fairly kind response. Another reader posts, “If I wanted a Ferrari, I’d buy a Ferrari..” Others are more blunt in their disdain for the new car, “It looks like sh*t…”

    Fair enough, but the hardpoints of a mid-engine car design are fixed and unmovable, and lend itself to look-a-like styling. Cab-forward passenger compartment, short hood, the elimination of aft stowing, and a rear bulkhead in the cabin, are just a few of the aforementioned obstacles engineers face, not to mention stylists.

    Which leads us to um, the styling. Chazcron over at MidEngineCorvetteForum always has the most up to date renders.

    Here’s our take: We predict the new-age C8 Corvette will be a game changer. We speculate the performance will be such a quantum leap ahead of the C7 that it makes the old car obsolete. We think once people see and drive the new car, it’s risky approval by GM will seem like a no-brainer.

    If it comes in at $75,000 (with the anticipated exponential leap in performance,) it will put the foreign exotics on the trailer – for a third of the price – and will change the global sport car market forever.

    It would serve us well to remember Zora Arkus-Duntov at this time. He was convinced the mid-engine layout was the evolution the Corvette was destined to undergo. He tried in vain for years to get a mid-engine car approved and sadly, died without seeing the birth of such a Corvette. We know he’s watching from up above with a smile…

    The childlike faith that GM will not screw up America’s only sports car boggles the mind. Everyone with the remotest interest in cars should know of GM’s record of new technology — the melting aluminum engine for the Chevy Vega, the Oldsmobile diesel V-8, Computer Command Control, the V-8-6-4 … shall I go on? How about the powerhouse Corvettes that got all of 165 horsepower in 1981 and 205 horsepower in 1984?

    A rear-mounted engine will be an engine that no normal person can do anything with beyond maybe checking the oil. Corvettes have always been cars their owners could work on, but apparently not anymore. Nor will a rear-engine Corvette have any room for luggage, unlike the C4 through the current C7. (So much for weekend getaways.) Nor will be the C8 be a car its drivers can shift, since they will all have automatic transmissions, a point Cruikshank ignored. (Manual transmissions require driver skill.)

    No one with any sense believes GM will sell the C8 for only a little more than the C7. This car will be more expensive to build, and Government Motors already has too many vehicles that don’t make money. Nevertheless, snobs who don’t buy Corvettes now because they’re not Ferraris or Porsches won’t buy Corvettes when they are rear-engine and more expensive. So this is likely the final Corvette, because GM will not sell as many Corvettes as they think, they will lose money, and they can’t lose money.

    A bargain at twice the price

    Real Clear Life:

    Did you recently run your little red Corvette right into the ground? Or is the Chevy sports car still on your bucket list, so far remaining just out of reach of your bank account? Either way, if you’re interested in a new ‘Vette, now is the time to buy.

    After it was revealed back in February that dealerships were weighed down with 9,000 C7 Corvettes, Chevrolet is offering a once-in-a-lifetime deal on the model: zero-percent financing for a whole 72 months (yes, six years), available until April 1st.

    That’s not all. Individual dealers are also offering additional discounts, a rare occurrence alongside the flatlined APR — normally, you get one or the other, not both. As the Drive points out, a quick search found a 2018 Corvette Z06 for $71,194 (down from $86K) and a 2018 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport for $62,297 (down from $78K). But the Corvette Stingray is also part of the offer, as you can see on Chevrolet’s Current Deals page.

    The reason for the surplus isn’t necessarily that these cars are undesirable, but that the next Corvette is so desirable that buyers are willing to wait until the eighth generation rolls out.

    But the Corvette C8 still hasn’t debuted, so as Carscoops notes, there will most likely be additional discounts for 2019 C7 models. So if you can’t decide in the next week, don’t despair — be on the lookout

    That is fortunate since i probably don’t have time to buy one by Monday.

    I decided to spec one out wigh minimum equipment…

    … and came up with $58,155 for a base Vette with only the darker red paint and transparent top. (I forgot Corvette Museum delivery for $990.) Going to the top of the line (while avoiding frivolous options like red brake pad calipers and Stingray logos )…

    … takes it up to $80,005. I can afford the $5.

    The only way to drive

    Vaksal G. Thassar:

    I was backing my wife’s car out of our driveway when I realized I wasn’t watching the backup camera, nor was I looking out of the rear window. I was only listening for those “audible proximity alerts” — the high-pitched beeps that my car emits as I approach an object while in reverse. The problem was that my wife’s car, an older model, doesn’t offer such beeps.

    I had become so reliant on this technology that I had stopped paying attention, a problem with potentially dangerous consequences.

    Backup cameras, mandatory on all new cars as of last year, are intended to prevent accidents. Between 2008 and 2011, the percentage of new cars sold with backup cameras doubled, but the backup fatality rate declined by less than a third while backup injuries dropped only 8 percent.

    Perhaps one reason is, as a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put it, “Many drivers are not aware of the limitations” of the technology. The report also found that one in five drivers were just like me — they had become so reliant on the backup aids that they had experienced a collision or near miss while driving other vehicles.

    The fact that our brains so easily overdelegate this task to technology makes me worry about the tech industry’s aspirations — the fully autonomous everything. Could technology designed to save us from our lapses in attention actually make us even less attentive?

    Uber’s march toward a self-driving car hit a major speed bump last year in Tempe, Ariz., when one of its self-driving Volvos struck and killed a pedestrian. While a lot of focus was on how a vehicle with cameras and radar sensors could completely miss a human being on the road, less has been said about the failure of the most intricately programmed system in the vehicle — the brain of the human in the driver’s seat.

    An investigation revealed that the driver was watching Hulu until the moment of the crash. Because the human brain is impeccable in its ability to filter out extraneous information, thistype of behavior should have been predicted. During normal driving, our brains are in a near-constant state of vigilance. But let someone or something do the driving for us and this vigilance easily fades.

    Something similar seems to have happened with a handful of fatalities involving Tesla’s Autopilot mode. It seems that the drivers made little to no effort to intervene.

    The introduction of safety technology has resulted in unintended accidents in other contexts as well. In December 2017, a patient died at a major medical center when a nurse searched for an anti-anxiety medication in an automated dispensing cabinet by typing only its first two letters. She chose the first drug that appeared in the results — Vecuronium, instead of Versed. Vecuronium is a paralytic drug that is sometimes used in executions.When it was administered, the patient’s vitals crashed and she died within days.

    Technology seems to have turned against us once again in the deadly crashes of two Boeing 737 Max 8 aircrafts. In October, pilots on Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia seem to have struggled against the plane’s supposedly lifesaving technology. Investigators suspect that sensors incorrectly interpreted the plane’s ascent as too steep, causing the plane’s “maneuvering characteristics augmentation system” to kick in. It brought the plane’s nose down, ultimately into the Java Sea at 450 miles per hour.

    Boeing had begun to develop a software fix, but it wasn’t ready in time for Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which just this month crashed, possibly because of the same bug, killing all 157 people on board. In these cases, no one can criticize the pilots for failing to pay attention. Still, the crashes were a wake-up call, especially because pilots weren’t required to be trained on the new technology.

    Though a supercomputer will always surpass the human brain in terms of pure speed, the brain is beyond complex in its ability to reprioritize salient data inputs from multiple sources. If one input becomes less relevant, our cognitive systems shift their attention to the next most relevant one (which these days is usually our mobile devices).

    But there’s one feature available on some cars today that can increase a driver’s vigilance instead of diminishing it — the manual transmission.

    A car with a stick shift and clutch pedal requires the use of all four limbs, making it difficult to use a cellphone or eat while driving. Lapses in attention are therefore rare, especially in city driving where a driver might shift gears a hundred times during a trip to the grocery store.

    I’ve owned a stick-shift vehicle for the last 20 years. I bought my first upon graduating from med school — a used 1994 BMW 325i. Years later, my best man wrote “just married” on the back windshield, and the next year my wife and I drove our newborn son home from the hospital in it.

    Sadly, sales of manual transmissions are falling, and many automakers, including Audi, are discontinuing the option in the United States. It appears that I’ll have to keep my 2013 S4 model until 2026 if I want to teach my kids to drive a stick.

    When I bought that first five-speed BMW, my dad cautioned me about safety, thinking that driving a stick would be more distracting and less safe. He was wrong. Though research on the safety of manual transmissions is scant, one study on the driving performance of teenage boys with A.D.H.D. revealed that cars with manual transmissions resulted in safer, more attentive driving than automatics. This suggests that the cure for our attentional voids might be less technology, not more.

    I’ve felt for some time that safer roads and vehicles has resulted in worse drivers. I’m not suggesting going back to the days of bias-ply tires, drum brakes and road signs with no give to them, but drivers seem to be putting less thought into their driving because they can.

    The alleged $169,900 Chevrolet

    Corvette Forum asks:

    It’s safe to say that no car in recent history has been more hyped up and talked about than the forthcoming C8 Corvette. But that’s what happens when you’re allegedly taking an American icon and changing the entire drivetrain layout. Thus, we’ve been awash with more rumors and conjecture than usual in regards to Chevy’s radical new Corvette. The latest of which popped up right here at Corvette Forum recently. And it’s safe to say that you probably won’t like it.

    “$169,900 is a go,” said Zerv02“If you’re in the under 100k camp, you will be disappointed. Let the madness ensue.”

    Now, if you’re a regular around these parts, you already know that this is the same member who allegedly saw the C8 Corvette interior with his own eyes. Then, he shared a sketch and some additional info about it with us. This claim, however, is more than a little shocking. Especially for those who believe the Corvette will continue its position as a value-priced supercar. And most people just aren’t buying it. Starting with f-16pilotTX.

    “I love all the contributions you shared with us Zerv02. But with all of the other evidence and credible sources, I just can’t see that happening, brotha.”

    Others, like fasttoys, point out the many obvious problems this price point would present for GM.

    “Lol I am out!!!!! Good luck GM. Zerv, you’ve lost your mind. If you’re correct, GM has lost their mind. Not buying a Chevrolet for 169k. I can buy a pre-owned 2017 Mclaren 570S for $145k with less than 4k miles and with a 3-year unlimited mile warranty. I can buy an Audi R8 for under that price. That is a hand-built car with a hand-built V10. Even the Viper was hand-built and came in at just $100k.”

    Others, including Corvette ED, don’t necessarily see a problem with it. That is, of course, if this is the price of the range-topping version with world-beating performance.

    “For the top-of-the-line 1,000 hp car, that price would be good. I see the base mid-engine car having a starting price of $65,000.”

    And in that regard, it makes a little more sense, especially if GM is aiming to go up against the best the world has to offer in terms of performance. Which is what the OP believes will be the case.

    “This will be a global car. An American GT to compete/rival the likes of Porsche, McLaren, the Italians, ect.”

    In that regard, a high price makes a little more sense. If Chevy wants to build a halo car similar to the Ford GT, they could certainly do so and charge a hefty premium. In limited numbers, it would most certainly sell out, as the GT did with no issue.

    Corvette Forum asked for opinions, and got them (abbreviations, misspellings and bad grammar not corrected):

    • My personal opinion is keep it do able for the common gm fan that being said tho is its it not time to evolve into what checy/gm is as a big name every type of race winner and it’s already proven in drag racing drifting etc but it’s not world renoun like Ferrari or McLaren l. What best way to that build a hyper car and disimate all that gonna cost a lot because r and d isnt cheap so if I pay that much I expect to get that much if u no what I mean
    • If GM decides that the C8 will be it’s only offering to the public and the price tag is on average 100k+, they can begin plant closing 6 months after the “kids” have their new toys.Just watch!
    • No closings due to $100k+ ZR1 and near-100k, Z06. In ’19, pricepoint won’t make a significant difference. Look at Harley. (2019 CVO is $44k.) Their issues are due to a vanishing demographic and Snowflakes’ inability to afford or even appreciate their products. (This phenomenon is killing Vettes too.) IMO, GM will continue with loss-leader C-8s at $60-$100k. The ZR1 will be “Holy Shit” high but, within a year, begin trickling down to relative affordability.
    • I believe GM has the ability to flatten the competition…..all of them…. at a reasonable price. But what is reasonable for a corvette? 165k ish? So be it. Holden/GM laid the smackdown on the 5 series with the G8. Apples and oranges i know, but i see i terrace type as its always been the last 20 years. You will be able to get 80% of the performance at 50% of the top tier cost with aftermarket close behind the lower performance optioned C8’s
    • I agree with you GM could lay the smack down but guess what ? a Lambo or Ferrari buyer will NEVER EVER buy one, they are filthy rich and the Corvette is a cheap car to them no matter where the engine sits or what the price is. I am a Corvette man no doubt about it but i win a couple of millions and guess what an real exotic will be sitting in my garage not a Corvette.
    • If GM has to make a mid-engine hyper-prized supercar with small production numbers, let them. But leave the Corvette out of it. In the real world, supercars dont exist, meaning most of us can never have them. Wanting what you cant have is a waste of dream. And keep the damn engine in the front where it should be, letting the drivers ass sit on the back wheels. Its a sportscar.
    • after working for GM 27 years, I can say they can make as much money mass producing the Corvette than putting a high dollar price tag that no one can afford, base will be $65,000
    • Also did work at GM for 27 years and am a fan of Sloan’s vision. Looking at the whole GM, I don’t see Corvette being their most expensive product. There’s already a disconnect having Corvette within Chevrolet, THE Corp’s volume brand. Then, GM should reinforce Cadillac as its premium brand. Cadillac cannot sustain its leadership image around the World with recent products, however good they may be: basically everyone is “good” today, and some relatively newcomers really excellent. The brand needs much more: it would need the Cien, the Ciel, even the Sixteen; those should sell in tiny volumes at very high prices and should not have to be individually profitable: a very difficult exercise for GM! But then, desirability of the brand will go up, and pull the upper half of GM’s lines, including Corvette.
    • Based on these photos I have no lust in my heart for the C8, no matter how well it drives. Hopefully they work out the shape because as shown it’s atrocious.
    • It looks great but $170 thousand, plus tax makes this pretty close to $200 grand. I guess we can all kiss Corvettes goodby! I guess that Corvettes will soon be a thing of the past. If 95% of the peple in this country can’t afford to purchase one then I’m sure GM will shut down production pretty fast. I have had one from every gen but 4 and I guess I won’t have one from 8.
    • I worked at GM for 39 years and I’ve learned in that time that upper management is disconnected from the everyday reality of the common man who is the Corvette buyer . The Corvette shoud remain a RWD car at a price that the common man can someday afford . This new model should have been moved to the Caddy lineup . There they might find buyers willing to part with close to 200 Grand for a car and sales tax’s .
    • I suspect that the majority of us Corvette enthusiasts bought our cars used…and at a fraction the new car price. Doesn’t mean we would not have bought a new one, but at some point family finances take over. I predict that a $170K Corvette would sell about 1/10th of the volume of the C7s (including all variants). With that few new C-8s out there, a large number of Corvette enthusiasts will be disappointed by the dirth of available used C-8 inventory and, possibly, move on to other brands/products. I don’t think that’s what GM wants…to effectively destroy the brand through its exclusivity. I think it possible that Corvette will either launch a “C-8 Corvette lite” or continue/further evolve the C-7 so that the C-8 could stand on its own as a Ford GT fighter and the rest of us could drive our favorite mark while dreaming of the day when we could step into a used C-8. Just my thoughts.
    • OK, If you got the bucks. The number of buyers is being cut down every year as the price keeps going up up up.
    • GM got bailed out by the US Government once, after that you can bet that GM will not subsidize a loss product again (ie SSR, Pontiac etc)., especially a marquee name like Corvette! Considering a 1LT msrp is around 60k and then there are 4-5 more expensive models after that up to 120k you have to look at the sales numbers and determine which category this new car needs to be in. While I like the Z06, I bought a new 1LT and added Z06 wheels and can’t be happier. Now I keep my cars, I have my original 92 and my original 05 SSR. So it will be exciting to see what comes out and their idea of an entry price. But you know if they do look good, you will not be able to get one for MSRP until 2021 as they will all be sold above MSRP just like the 2014 C7 were.
    • A Corvette that isn’t attainable isn’t a Corvette. The car should be built but it should be a Cadillac. Keep the Vette for the masses, elevate (and perhaps save) GMs most iconic brand with a Caddy super car! 

    I suspect that never in the history of the Corvette have there been so many negative reactions to a proposed new Corvette. If anyone at GM had a decent respect for the opinions of mankind — assuming these rumors are true, and you know what’s said about rumors — GM management would be concerned.

    For that matter, those who love Corvettes should be concerned. The great thing about the fifth-generation Corvette — and if you’re looking for a Christmas present for your favorite blogger may I suggest …

    … is that it is neither as mechanically complicated (front-engine rear-drive V-8 powered) nor as expensive nor as fussy as exotics that may deliver more performance but can’t really be used as daily drivers. GM has not built a mid-engine car since the Pontiac Fiero in the 1980s, so given GM’s quality reputation one should be suspicious it can pull this off, particularly given GM’s current problems. And given that GM makes money on every Corvette it makes now, a phrase about not fixing what isn’t broken comes to mind.

    As I’ve extensively documented here before, the Corvette might be the best performance bargain in the entire world, but not so much north of $100,000. Even with tires not recommended for use below 40 degrees, a Corvette that breaks down can still be fixed at one of the thousands of Chevy dealers in this country. That statement does not apply to Porsches, Ferraris or Lamborghinis.

    Government Motors fails again

    Investors Business Daily:

    General Motors’ decision to close four U.S. plants and lay off 14,700 workers, 15% of its domestic workforce, is an economic tragedy. And it might have been avoided if GM had listened to the market, rather than the Obama administration.

    During and after the financial crisis, GM decided to do the government’s bidding in exchange for billions in subsidies. At one point, the federal government owned more than 60% of its shares, costing it more than $50 billion. By the time it sold the shares in 2013, U.S. taxpayers had an $11.2 billion loss.

    How’s that working out for GM now? Not very well.

    GM’s CEO Mary Barra, who took over the company in early 2014, reshaped the company’s offerings to please the Obama White House’s leftist auto czars, as did her predecessor. Barra has bet the company’s future on electric cars and other less-popular offerings, instead of what people want.

    “The (GM) restructuring reflects changing North American auto markets as manufacturers continue to shift away from towards SUVs and trucks,” Reuters noted. “In October, almost 65% of new vehicles sold in the U.S. were trucks or SUVs. That figure was about 50% cars just five years ago.”

    So what was GM making? Well, electric cars, for one. But even with a $7,500 subsidy, they don’t sell fast enough. Why? As the joke goes, the extension cord isn’t long enough. For anyone who has a long commute or wants to take a road trip, an e-car makes no sense. As such, GM’s commitment to electric cars is emblematic of its recent market failures.

    Worse, it’s based on a kind of environmental fraud. Electric cars aren’t “zero emission,” as we’re constantly told.

    For one, building an electric car produces more CO2 than building a regular car. For another, if the car’s batteries get their charge from electricity generated by a coal-fired plant, that makes an “electric car” really a coal-fired car.

    It’s the electric-car industry’s dirty secret, one that undermines GM’s rationale for making such a big bet on electric cars.

    As for President Trump, he hasn’t directed his anger at electric cars per se. He has directed it at GM’s layoffs from closing four plants here in the U.S., idling nearly 15,000 people.

    Very disappointed with General Motors and their CEO, Mary Barra, for closing plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland,” but keeping plants in Mexico& China, Trump tweeted Tuesday. “The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get!”

    In particular, Trump’s says the corporate tax cuts and sharply lower taxes on repatriated profits from overseas should be going straight to the bottom line of comes like GM. So he’s now promising to look into cutting subsidies on electric cars and imposing tariffs on domestic car imports.

    We understand Trump’s ire. But it’s misplaced.

    Government shouldn’t pick winners and losers. Period. And that’s exactly what subsidies are: the government substituting its judgment for that of the marketplace. Why do we do it at all?

    It never works as expected. It can’t. The government, despite delusions to the contrary, can’t possibly know what people want and need. Yet, a perpetual leftist dream remains an economy run and funded by government “experts.”

    We see that in the Obama administration’s decision to subsidize GM during the financial crisis by investing tens of billions of taxpayer dollars in its stock and propping up money-losing operations. By ignoring the supply-and-demand signals of the marketplace, it only made GM’s problems worse.

    More specifically, it led to GM committing itself to the unprofitable electric car market, one of President Obama’s pet projects. At one point, Obama even vowed to buy a Chevy Volt when he left office. He didn’t.

    Not only has GM’s Barra embraced electric cars, but she sees the government as her partner in the enterprise, as she wrote in a recent USA Today op-ed. In it, she noted that her electric car plan “requires collaboration by the private and public sectors, supported by comprehensive federal policies.”

    It’s no joke that some today call GM “Government Motors.”

    Ironically, one of the victims of GM’s cutbacks will be the hybrid plug-in Chevy Volt. Even so,  GM’s commitment to the subsidy-sucking electric-car market remains unshaken, Barra says.

    After all, who needs to please actual customers when government can compel people, either by huge subsidies or outright regulation, to buy your product?

    And who buys those electric cars, anyway? Mainly those whom the left calls “the rich.”

    “Overall, the top 20% of income earners receive about 90% of EV tax credits,”  noted The Hill. “Additionally, data from 2014 indicates that over 99% of total EV tax credits went to households with an adjusted gross income above $50,000.”

    So we subsidize wealthy consumers at the expense of lower-income consumers, who can’t afford electric cars. That’s economic perversion, “regressive” not “progressive.”

    “Barra wants taxpayers to foot the bill for her speculation on what the future will look like,” economics writer and Wall Street analyst John Tamny recently noted. “If Barra were truly certain, she wouldn’t ask for taxpayer support.”

    Lest you think we’re being too harsh on GM, it’s not alone. Once-dominant GE’s shares have plunged nearly 60% this year. There’s a common theme here: GE’s long slide from grace began when Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s former CEO, began spending more time at the Obama White House than running his company.

    There’s a lesson in this for other companies, summed up in Instapundit Glenn Reynolds’ catchphrase: “Get woke, go broke.” Immelt already learned that bitter lesson; Barra is learning it now.

    Sadly, GM is just another once-great American company that went wrong trying please a government master, and not the customer. We can only hope other companies will learn from GM’s error.

    ‘Javelin’ was right

    Readers of my previous blog may hazily remember that 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had the Secret Service handle of “Javelin,” after his father, George Romney, who ran American Motors Corp. before he was elected governor of Michigan.

    (I’d say here that we owned a Javelin, but you knew that.)

    On Monday, GM reported plant closings and layoffs, which prompts the Goldwater Institute (whose namesake, Sen. Barry Goldwater, owned both an AMC AMX and a Chevrolet Corvette, so he was the man) to observe:

    “Let Detroit go bankrupt,” former presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrote in 2008, arguing that the federal government should not bail out the failing domestic auto industry for their poor management decisions. Vilified for turning his back on America’s autoworkers, Romney lost the argument, Barack Obama won the election, General Motors got its way, and U.S. taxpayers got stuck with an $11.2 billion bill to keep the company alive.

    Today’s announcement from General Motors that it will close two plants in Metro Detroit and lay off 14,700 workers helps prove Romney right, albeit ten years later. Romney wrote that with a bailout, the American automotive industry’s demise “will be virtually guaranteed” because it would not be forced to undergo radical restructuring to be competitive in the marketplace. By subsidizing failure, the federal government would be gambling with taxpayer dollars and forestalling the inevitable.

    This wasn’t the first time the government had bet heavily on General Motors at citizens’ expense. In a story much like recent efforts by state and local governments to give away billions of dollars to win a new Amazon headquarters, the cities of Detroit and neighboring Hamtramck teamed up in the early 1980s to win a new General Motors factory, chasing the promise of jobs and renewal of depressed and blighted neighborhoods. The Detroit News reports:

    General Motors and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young hatched a plan: If the city would get the land, the auto company would build a state-of-the-art plant, crossing the border with Hamtramck, employing 6,000 people and providing a glittering example of what the auto companies and their suppliers could do in the city of their birth.

    Residents who had lived in the targeted neighborhood would be given offers to sell their homes and move to make way for “progress,” but as the Detroit News reports, not everyone wanted to sell. In the face of protests and a legal challenge, the city moved forward with the plan, and a Michigan Supreme Court decision upheld the city’s decision to raze the site for General Motors. The factory was built, and decades later the court decision was overturned, but today, some 37 years later, that factory will be closed as General Motors fights to save costs.

    One Detroit-area politician is feeling particularly burned by the decision. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat who was elected to Congress in November, decried the decision on Facebook:

    “[M]ake no mistake, this is a perfect lesson illustrating that corporations are not your friend, and handing them tax breaks and incentives is a losing game. Taxpayers bailed GM out with billions just a few short years ago – and now they cut jobs to make bigger profits?

    “What’s worse, Detroit tore down the vibrant Poletown neighborhood for GM, destroying a community, displacing hundreds of families, and a couple decades later this is how we’re rewarded.”

    Hoping for rewards in exchange for corporate welfare can come with a high cost, and General Motors’ story should be a cautionary tale about government picking winners and losers with taxpayer dollars—and in taking private property for a supposed “public purpose.”

    In a paper for the Goldwater Institute, economics professor Shirley Svorny wrote about the high costs of government subsidization of private businesses—and who pays the cost when if those companies fail:

    There are limited, specific situations where local government can improve on private-sector outcomes. A political decision to redirect tax dollars so that benefits accrue to individual firms is not one of those situations…The company bears none of the costs if it fails in its effort or chooses to move elsewhere. That burden falls on taxpayers.

    The thousands of autoworkers who lost their jobs today—and the homeowners who lost their property to General Motors decades ago—know that lesson all too well.

    Life imitates art, motor vehicle department

    Some time ago I wrote about a Hot Wheels car, the Overbored 454, that prompted my semi-fascination.

    Click on the link and you can read my speculation over which Chevrolet (obviously since Chevy designed the 454, and the 454 is still available from GM in crate engine form) the Overbored 454 was supposed to emulate.

    Then came this photo from Holz Motors in Hales Corners via Facebook Friend Chad Millard …

    … which certainly looks a lot like the Hot Wheels car (minus the hood actually covering the engine):

    The real car is a Hot Wheels edition Chevy Camaro SS, about which the Chicago Tribune writes:

    Back when the days were long and the years were endless, back when time was on my side, I used to line up two lanes of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, running from the family room to unknown roadways. A few decades later my kids did the same thing on the window sills overlooking our city street. We are not alone. There is something magical about a toy car, how it transports you through time and space, through reality and imagination.

    The Hot Wheels package on the 2018 Chevy Camaro is the same kind of time machine. Instead of fantasizing about all the driving freedoms of adulthood in a die-cast toy, the real-life Camaro V-8 powers you through the nostalgia of youth. At least that’s the premise of the $4,995 package celebrating 50 years of Hot Wheels history.

    The Custom Camaro was the first of the inaugural class of 16 Hot Wheels to be sold in 1968. It had a racing stripe and mag wheels. The 2018 Camaro 2SS features a black racing stripe bisected by an orange strip the width of a Hot Wheels track. The orange Crush exterior also evokes the toy’s racing track. It has special 20-inch satin graphic, or black, wheels that unfortunately do not have the five-spoke mag wheels with red stripe slicks of the toy version.

    Hot Wheels badging adorns the fenders, illuminated door sills, and steering wheel. Orange stitching, orange brake calipers and other orange elements keep occupants in a Hot Wheels state of mind.

    But the real charm is the 2SS Camaro itself. The 455-horsepower 6.2-liter LT1 V-8 engine — same as in America’s supercar, the Corvette — is a bruising, chest-thumping beast of burden. The engine note is a national anthem of engineering prowess, thanks in part to the dual-model performance exhaust ($895). There is a quiet or stealth mode to activate valves in the exhaust, so cruising around the neighborhood need not be obnoxious. But like any big dog, it begs to be let loose.

    This most powerful Camaro SS ever, according to Chevy, hits 60 mph in 4 seconds with the eight-speed automatic. With the six-speed manual in the test car, Chevy estimates 4.3 seconds. That’s the penalty for rowing your own and thinking man is better than machine.

    The manual is worth the penalty. The gear stick manual is short and stubby, the shifting quick and direct. Unless you’re easy on the throttle. In an attempt to save fuel, at light throttle from a stop, as you shift to second, the car will redirect it to fourth. First to fourth is nothing I got used to in my week with the car. It could be a problem if you’re turning right or left from a stop sign and need to jump into the far lane to beat traffic then have a sudden lack of power. Then just start in second. Active rev matching paddles help to keep downshifts smooth.

    The rear-wheel drive handling is composed; you can wag the rear with much more control than the buffoons in V-8 Mustangs crashing out of cars and coffee events all over YouTube. We weren’t able to track it but spent plenty of time on and off ramps grinning like lottery winners. It’s been over a year since we last drove the Mustang, so memory may favor the fresh, but the overall handling was more confidence-inspiring than the other muscle cars. At a decade old and aging, the Challenger is just so big and heavy. Camaro could be pushed harder, faster, better than Mustang and Challenger. And the steering wheel feels as if it were made for your hands.

    The inside feels as if you got microsized inside one of those Hot Wheels, though. The high beltline and low roofline make for small windows and poor visibility, which has become as synonymous with Camaro as muscle cars are with midlife crisis. But the outside is striking enough to stand the test of time, as it has for classic Z28s. Tradeoffs.

    Once inside, the cramped cabin sort of perfects itself. All the controls are within effortless reach so the driver can stay snug in the seat. The center console is thick, the seats narrow, but the orange stitching and uncluttered dash with circular vents maintains that Hot Wheels state of mind. GM’s layered vehicle info display takes a minute to understand but then it’s very easy to use, as is the touch screen and voice commands. The head-up display is excellent as well.

    The rear seats are more for storage or for folding down than sitting anyone; toss your phone back there if the cupholders are in use. The trunk is huge, but the opening small. We had to jam our hockey bag in like we were stuffing our foot in a skate for the first time all season. Once inside there is plenty of depth for golf bags, suitcases, and the two passengers that couldn’t fit in the rear seats.

    The Hot Wheels package may seem like an unnecessary money grab for a vehicle about to get refreshed for 2019, but all the little easter eggs, badging and Hot Wheels track elements are reminders of a time when dreams were only as big as the imagination. Camaro is the payoff to all those Hot Wheels-inspired dreams.

    This is not an Overbored 454; it’s a Not-Overbored 376, but the Camaro’s 455 horsepower is five more than the most powerful 454 Chevy ever offered in a car, the LS-6 454 in the 1970 Malibu SS. (And that may have been an underestimate, since insurance companies were getting nervous about horsepower.) That same year Chevy claimed it offered an LS-7 454, with reported 465 horsepower, in the Corvette, though the LS-7 was never actually built for a Corvette.

    That’s the Hot Wheels SS. In case you find 450 horsepower insufficient …

    … you could upgrade to the ZL1, with 200 additional horsepower thanks to its turbocharger.

    Another potential similarity with the Corvette is that you can get the ZL1 without its (suitable only for the height-challenged) back seat. I think the Overbored 454 lacks a back seat.