Category: Wheels

The Corvette, and American society

This weekend Chevrolet is bringing a 2020 Corvette to Road America in Elkhart Lake.
I’m not going. I have other plans. Although I’ve always enjoyed Road America since the first time I went there in the 1980s (where there are photos of me appearing to break into a Ferrari and I got one of the worst sunburns of my life), I prefer the July vintage event, during one of which I found this:

No, I didn’t buy it.

Chevrolet also released its dealer tour schedule. The C8 is going to make one appearance in Wisconsin, on Sept. 30. (Which, if you consult your 2019 calendar, is on a Monday.) It will make two in Illinois, and one in Iowa.

The color I would like …

… isn’t offered, of course.

Readers know that I have been skeptical about this Corvette, largely because of its lack of manual transmission, which is a basic piece of any sports car. The rear/mid-engine placement of the engine is an application of technology from a company with historical difficulty in bringing new tech to the public that works as intended all the time.

It has been reported repeatedly that Zora Arkus-Duntov, stepfather of the Corvette (he didn’t create the Corvette, Harley Earl did, but Duntov wrote a detailed letter to GM chronicling everything wrong with the first Corvette, and so GM hired him), thought the Corvette should be mid-engine. (Which the Corvette actually has been for several years. A mid-engine car has its engine either behind the front wheels or ahead of the back wheels. Duntov sought a rear/mid-engine instead of a front/mid-engine.)

Well, with all due respect to Duntov, and not being an automotive engineer myself, I wonder how many rear/mid-engine cars he actually used on a daily basis, or got a dealer to fix, or tried to fix without having actual automotive engineering skills. Those people, not car engineers, are the owners of Corvettes.

Ate Up With Motor describes the C2 and C3 conflict between styling and engineering:

The design of the Sting Ray had been the source of many clashes between Bill Mitchell and Zora Arkus-Duntov. Duntov was contemptuous of the car’s nonfunctional styling gimmicks and poor aerodynamics; the C2 had low drag, but an alarming amount of high-speed lift. Duntov was only an engineer, however, while Mitchell was a vice president of one of GM’s most powerful departments. Although Mitchell never enjoyed the almost unquestionable clout of his predecessor, who had had the patronage of GM chairman Alfred P. Sloan, GM’s senior management was well aware that Mitchell’s work was responsible for a great deal of GM’s market domination. In a clash between Duntov and Mitchell, the victor was inevitable.

Duntov wanted the Corvette Sting Ray’s replacement, which originally was slated to appear for the 1967 model year, to be smaller, leaner, and more aerodynamic, ideally with a rear- or mid-mounted engine. Mitchell, for his part, loved to make cars look aerodynamic, but he wasn’t terribly concerned if they actually were or not.

Like Harley Earl before him, Mitchell was a believer in the formula of longer-lower-wider, and he felt sports cars should have long hoods. He was no fan of the rear-engine layout that Duntov wanted, which he thought would be ugly. Mitchell envisioned the third-generation Corvette more like the XP-755 show car, known as Mako Shark.

Contemporary automotive journalists sneered at the many gimmicks of the Mako Shark and its successor, the 1965 Mako Shark II, both of which were the work of stylist Larry Shinoda, designer of the Sting Ray. Duntov didn’t care much for it either, but public reaction was favorable and in short order, the Mako Shark was approved as the basis of the third-generation C3 Corvette.

As for Duntov’s desired mechanical changes, GM senior management had no stomach for an expensive revamp of the Sting Ray platform. With Corvette sales on the upswing, there seemed to be no reason to mess with success.

A repair guy figured out a problem about the engine’s location:

Automobile Magazine opines the C8’s worst and best  features:

Worst Things About the C8 Corvette

That silly line of buttons down the center console. In person, it’s not nearly as awkward or intrusive as we thought from the photos—it actually looks kind of slick. That is, until you look more closely at the plasticky, cheap-looking buttons that fill it: They’re straight from the corporate parts bin. We understand why, but we can’t say we like it.

No manual transmission option. Yes, we know hardly anyone would buy a manual version. Ain’t care.

The rear end in general. We’re no purists (no specific number of taillamps, or their shape, is essential, for example) but we know a hot mess when we see it. Our design editor feels the same way.

The forthcoming bench racing.The Corvette’s price-to-performance ratio is going to spawn a whole generation’s worth of “just get a Corvette instead of X” posts on every forum we read, and likewise letters to the Automobile editors.

The wait. We still have months and months before we drive it, and before it goes on sale.

Best Things About the C8 Corvette

It’s less than $60,000! That’s Supra money for what is likely to be McLaren 570S-like performance. Even if “less than” means “$59,999” and comes before destination charges, it’s still something special.

Zero to 60 mph takes less than three seconds with the Z51 package and performance exhaust.That’s the best kind of crazy. Did we mention the price for this level of performance?

The engine and transaxle are super, super low in the car. This will certainly aid in handling.

The fit and finish. While the cars at the unveil we attended were hand-built prototypes, the interior materials’ quality and fit and finish are definitely intended to answer 30 or more years of criticism of the Corvette’s cabin. It’s a shockingly nice place to be—as long as you don’t look too closely at those buttons. Also, it’s available with brown paint.

The small, square steering wheel looks like it will be a joy to use. Plus, it leaves enough room for drivers more than six feet tall and of a certain leg diameter to move around as we attempt to tame Chevy’s mid-engine beast.

I’m not sure I agree with at least three of those five points, two of which are contradictory. The chance someone will drive off with a C8 for less than $60,000 is zero, merely due to GM’s destination and other charges and dealer markups, which will be substantial. That doesn’t include one single option — such as the Z51 option, without which there is no claimed 0–60 time, which itself is a Chevy claim unproven by anyone not employed by GM. So you can have a sub-$60,000 Corvette (except you can’t), or you can go 0–60 in 2.8 seconds (though that remains to be seen), but not both.

As for the steering wheels worked better in a non-round shape, all cars would have non-round steering wheels. The bottom of the steering wheel was squared off on C6s and C7s, and though I don’t like the look, that might be said to have a function. (Except that I have driven legs-only with round steering wheels for years without mishap.)

About the C8’s looks, Robert Cumberford writes:

I was working hard in 1955 on a C2 planned for 1958, but its advanced rear-transaxle chassis finally achieved production only with the 1997 C5. That layout did reach production in 1977—outside General Motors—with the Porsche 928, created in part by Anatole Lapine, who’d worked with me on the stillborn ’50s C2. I know little about behind-the-scenes projects that might have occurred during the 40 years between my departure from GM in 1957 and the arrival of the C5 but I suspect that there were a lot of exciting and highly feasible—but not fundable—projects. I do know that Zora Arkus-Duntov advocated for mid-engine Corvettes at least 60 years ago, and that he built a mid-engine CERV research single-seater in the Fifties with its small block V-8 behind the driver. So this car has come to market extremely late.

Some 1970s mid-engine GM concept cars were built to show off the Wankel rotary engines GM might have built, but they were not specifically Corvette prototypes in name. Which is too bad, because they were better-looking than this actual C8. I am deeply sorry to be severely disappointed by the styling of the C8. I hoped for something really new and exciting, not a boringly generic supercar, mostly indistinguishable from the many and varied unimaginative devices that show up regularly at the Geneva auto show. Its styling is confused—and downright messy in fact. I count a dozen horizontal lines, not to mention four convoluted taillights; four nice rectangular exhaust tips; plus varied slots, vents, grilles, indented surfaces, and wing elements . . . just across the rear fascia. The front is no better, and the profile with its short, stumpy nose is equally surprising. Maybe it’s all meant to look purposeful, but to me it seems just a careless, cluttered graphic composition, not worthy of Corvette history and what we expect of this technically brilliant descendant of the Jaguar-inspired elegant original C1 from 1953.

I have no doubt that this will be a very good car, with truly world class performance coupled with American-style daily usefulness and (perhaps) easy servicing—dry-sump engines are not typical dealer shop fare. But I’d have liked to see some traces of the Astrovette or the four-rotor mid-engine concept from the Bill Mitchell era.

That would be one of these:

XP-819 (shown in front of a C2) was a rear-engine prototype, with the engine behind the rear wheels, instead of in front, as with the C8. The past several Corvettes have been technically front/mid-engine, with the engine in front but behind the front wheels, for better weight distribution.
XP-880, also known as the Astro II.
XP-882.
The AeroVette started with a four-rotor Wankel rotary engine, then went to a 400 V-8, both mounted behind the driver’s seat. Those are hinged gullwing doors, an idea whose time never came at GM.
The red car is the Corvette Indy, which begat CERV III.

Compare and contrast previous Corvettes to the C8 in this magnificent illustration by Paco Ibarra:

The problem with nearly every rear/mid-engine car I have ever seen is there is usually more car behind the B-pillar (behind the door) than in front of the A-pillar (ahead of the door), which makes it look imbalanced in the wrong direction. As it is, nothing about this C8 screams Corvette to me; it looks like a teenage kid’s dream of a midengine car that could be made by anybody.

Another point made elsewhere is that GM is coming out with an exotic car supposed to make people forget about Ferraris and Porsches and Lamborghinis (oh my!), and yet it has the same engine the C7 has — a naturally aspirated overhead two-valve V-8. It is a very good overhead-valve V-8, and it wouldn’t stop me from buying a Corvette, but it seems illogical to feel the need to make it mid-engine with an exotic dual-clutch transmission without, say, a four-valve overhead-cam V-8 similar to the “King of the Road” C4. Anyone snobbish enough to turn up his nose over a front-engine Corvette isn’t going to be more convinced by a mid-20th century engine design that lacks the exotica of whatever Ferrari is sticking under its hoods now. (Or an exotic transmission installed in part because of the laziness or inabiliity of potential buyers to shift and use a clutch.)

You might say that the C7 engine is terrific, and it is. You might also point out my previous point about unproven GM tech. But the supposed point here is to make the Corvette appeal to those who wouldn’t buy Corvettes previously because they’re not supercarish enough (independent of the most important consideration, performance vs. price), and on that important point it fails because it’s not a Chevrolet, not a Corvette, and not a car with a 21st-century engine made of unobtainium. And in the process, GM alienated all the Corvette fans who wanted a better iteration of the previous formula (front-mid-engine, rear-drive, available manual transmission) that is one of the few profitable cars GM makes.

The worst thing about the C8 actually has nothing to do with the car, and has everything to do with people’s reactions to the car. One expects GM to shift the hype machine into overdrive. But one would hope adults would be at least somewhat resistant to the hype machine, particularly journalists. The aforementioned writing is all I could find from the auto enthusiast publications remotely critical of the C8.

In 1968 Car & Driver tested the first C3 Corvette and pronounced it undrivable because it was put together so poorly. Even after GM figured out how to put it together correctly, auto magazines pointed out correctly that the C3 was simultaneously a bigger car with less passenger and luggage space. Road & Track was particularly critical about the Corvette for decades, perhaps concluding it should have been more like a Jaguar E-Type (while ignoring British cars’ hideous quality reputations). Dissing the home team product wasn’t necessarily easy to do given GM’s advertising dollars. Now apparently they’re all sellouts.

The bigger issue, though, is that reaction to this new Corvette mirrors everything else in the sewer of our public discourse, on politics, sports teams, music preferences, what you watch (or don’t) on TV including iterations of “Star Trek,” food choices and everywhere else. We are supposed to believe, according to its uncritical fanboys, that the C8 is better than sex, chocolate chip cookies, sunny summer days and puppies, and how dare anyone express a contrary opinion.

I have read accusations that those who are not unalloyed fans of the C8 are Neanderthals stuck in the last century who can’t afford to buy one anyway, because insulting someone for their different opinion is so effective in changing opinions. (Not.) Someone actually bothered to create a Corvette owner stereotype that skipped past the usual midlife crisis trope to specifically include not gold chains and bad combovers, but jean shorts and white New Balance shoes.

No, this is not me. I own neither white New Balances nor “jorts” nor this Corvette.
This is me, but sadly not my Corvette either.
This is also me, but also not my Corvette.

Certainly, except possibly for the C2, every generation has been controversial for those who believe no Corvette but their favorite is really a Corvette. The C3 was way out there in appearance compared with the C2. The C4 had two horrible-looking instrument panels and was hard to get into and out of. The C5 looked blah. The C6 dumped the hidden headlights. The C7 got rid of a bunch of gauges and looked like a rearward-stretched C6.

For at least the last three generations (plus the King of the Hill C4) the Corvette has, however, been the best performance bargain on the planet, regardless of whether front-engine and rear-drive is the apotheosis of vehicular technology. GM, which has proven less than competent at big technological risks, has taken another one by selling its halo car — which has made money for GM for decades, unlike most of its current cars — with technology GM hasn’t used before and inadequately tested before it hits the market next year (there is no substitute for the real world) in a quest for buyers who don’t own Corvettes because they lack, in their misguided opinions, panache.

GM’s claim that they’re almost sold out needs a reminder that GM has not sold a single C8 Corvette. Not one. (I am highly skeptical of all the online claims of people ordering them. I could state that I own one of every generation Corvette, and no one reading this could prove otherwise.) And until they’re actually on the road, none of GM’s claims about the Corvette have proof.

GM has traditionally been one of the poorer run megacorporations for decades. (The conditions that resulted in the GM bailout far predated the Great Recession.) So maybe I shouldn’t suggest that GM could have kept building the C7, or updated it, while also selling the C8 as the Corvette Zora or something like that. The C7 makes money for GM. There is no guarantee the C8 will, and if it goes away, so will Corvette.

 

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A purpose of driving

My position on cars and driving has always been that driving represents transportation freedom — the ability to go where you want to go when you want to go.

That cannot be said about any other form of transportation, including airplanes, trains and mass transit.

There is another thing about driving, though, noted in The Shop:

Countless millions of Americans find relief from their over-connected, stressed-out lives in the simple pleasures of yoga and meditation.

Then there are car lovers.

“What I remember most are those precious times I fired up my car with no particular place to go and no precise timetable, owing my punctuality to no one and my presence only to myself,” auto journalist Jack Baruth writes in a new book on the relationship many Americans feel between the cars they love and their peace of mind.

The book, titled Never Stop Driving: A Better Life Behind the Wheel, features essays and musings on the driving life by some of the nation’s leading automotive journalists and an array of celebrity car fans, including Jay Leno, Mario Andretti, Patrick Dempsey and others.

Why this book now?

“The book is essentially a love letter to the art and act of driving,” said Larry Webster, the editor and lead author of the book. “With driverless cars on the horizon, it’s worth celebrating the fact that, for many people, there are enormous benefits to simply taking a drive in the country or getting dirty under the hood.”

Packed with photos that complement the writing, Never Stop Driving: A Better Life Behind the Wheel is available through The Shop by Hagerty and via retailers nationwide. All proceeds from books purchased through The Shop by Hagerty will fund driver’s education scholarships for young drivers through Hagerty’s License to the Future initiative.

The company’s stated ongoing mission is to Save Driving in the coming age of autonomy and make sure that people who choose to continue to drive themselves always have a share of the road.

“People who love cars aren’t against driverless cars—far from it. They’re going to do a lot of good for society,” Webster said. “But we do want to protect something that also means a lot, and that’s driving yourself when you want to. I hope we never lose that. That’s what the Save Driving campaign is all about.”

What’s on the book cover?

A red Corvette, of course.

 

Here comes the last Corvette

Tonight at 10 p.m. Central time …

… the eighth-generation Corvette gets revealed.

This is destined to be the final Corvette for one of two reasons. It is impossible for GM — the developer of such great leaps forward in automotive technology as the Chevrolet Vega (with melting aluminum engine) and Citation (prominent on the lists of the Worst Cars of All Time), Computer Command Control, V-8-6-4 engine and other examples of Not Ready for Prime Time Tech — to get this right right away, particularly when the rumored all-wheel-drive version comes out, since GM has never manufactured a rear/mid-engine all-wheel-drive vehicle.

The other reason is its price. Either the Corvette is going to be an order of magnitude more expensive than any previous Corvette, or GM won’t make money on it. GM has made money on its Corvettes for decades, but that may end now. Either way, when GM fails to make its profit expectations on this car, that certainly will kill the Corvette.

About that, Raphael Orlove writes:

I’ll start with a little digression. Back in 2007, another gigantic corporate megalith debuted a new generation of one of its classic sports car nameplates. It was controversial in its engine layout, its styling, its size, its weight, everything. But over the years people came to understand it as a legendary vehicle. I’m talking about the R35 Nissan GT-R.

What made that car such an icon was that it offered supercar performance for decidedly not-supercar prices. As we noted a few years ago, at $69,850 was about $30,000 less than a Corvette ZR-1, but not slower.

The thing is, the GT-R has grown increasingly expensive over the years and now is not just as fast as a six-figure car, but priced as a six-figure car. If you want one, you need to drop more than $100,000 for it, at which point it’s not really moving any narrative forward. It’s just a fast car that’s expensive, just like all the other ones, only it has a V6 for some reason. There’s nothing special about it.

The point is, dynamics unchanged, the price is what made the GT-R once iconic and now normal.

The same situation presents itself with the mid-engine Corvette. As anyone who has driven a C7 (or any other modern Corvette) could tell you, the way the car drives is just about faultless. It has tons of power, even in base form. The handling is great. The ride, particularly once you get into the magnetic shocks era, is outstanding. These are usable, practical, exploitable performance cars. They have been for years. There is no reason to doubt that the C8 will be, like the C7 before it, a great driving car.

But if it costs $100,000 or more, there’s no real point to it existing. What’s the point of GM, basically, making a non-turbo McLaren of a few years ago? It’s not new thematically, other than being made by GM. There’s nothing there to prove. There’s nothing meaningful going on there.

But if the car costs what a regular front-engine Corvette does now or even just above it, say, at around an R35-esque $70,000 mark, things are different. Then GM is advancing the sports car narrative. It’s then offering an exotic car platform at a non-exotic price. It’s democratizing a mid-engine powerhouse, and it’s not coming from some low-volume manufacturer. This is Corvette, not DeTomaso Panteras being sold by Lincoln-Mercury dealers.

So while everyone else sweats 0-60 times and power-to-weight figures, keep your eye focused on the MSRP. That’s the only thing here that could make a good car great.

The childlike faith in GM management is pretty disgusting to read. GM seems to believe that one of the great performance bargains in the entire world is not sufficiently exotic enough for buyers interested in Ferraris, Porsches or other overpriced yet unreliable supercars. GM is also catering to the lazy by not equipping this Corvette with a manual transmission. I’m surprised GM didn’t throw in a V-6 instead of a V-8. And, according to Jalopnik

… a square steering wheel.

Not that this matters, since I won’t be buying one of these. In fact, thanks to my career choice and having children, I most likely won’t ever own a Corvette. As someone once put it, life’s a bitch, then you die.

The Corvette SUV returns

Two years ago the Detroit News asked the question of whether Chevrolet should build a Corvette SUV.

No, not this:

Something that would look more like a Porsche Cayenne:

Car & Driver returns to the subject:

In a recent interview with Automotive News, iconoclastic auto-industry figure and former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz was asked about a number of topics, including Carlos Ghosn, Fiat Chrysler’s desire for a merger, and the Trump administration. But the most intriguing tidbit came when Lutz was asked about the mid-engined C8 Corvette and brought up what he would do with the Corvette brand if he still worked at General Motors.

“[If I were still at GM], what I would do is develop a dedicated architecture, super lightweight, super powerful, Porsche Cayenne–like, only much better and a little bigger, medium-volume Corvette SUV. Target worldwide 20,000 to 30,000 units, and price it starting at $100,000. Gorgeous interior. No V-6 powertrain. No low-end version. It has to be the stellar premium sport-utility made in the United States, and the Corvette brand could pull that off.”

Now, we don’t have any reason to think that a Corvette SUV is something that Chevy is even considering, and neither does Bob Lutz, seemingly. But what he said got us thinking: What if Chevy actually did make a Corvette SUV? It’s not such a preposterous idea even if there’s no basis for it, and we also think it’s a no-brainer for Chevy to expand the Corvette brand beyond just the titular model.

Porsche was a pioneer of the super-sporty SUV with the Cayenne, and since that model’s inception, tons of high-end manufacturers have all gotten into the fast-SUV game, tying in the models with their existing sports cars. But Chevy, which has a history of both iconic SUVs and iconic sports cars, has never even shown a concept imagining what a sporty SUV from the bow-tie brand could look like. So we took a shot at imagining it ourselves.

While we do like Lutz’s idea of an expensive Corvette SUV with no low-end version, we think it’s a bit unrealistic. To better compete with the Cayenne, an entry-level Corvette SUV should have a starting price point of around $70,000 and a twin-turbo V-6. But it would need at least a couple different V-8 engine options, and there would have to be high-performance variants. Chevy could easily position a Corvette SUV as the sportiest and most road-oriented of all the high-end SUVs, which would set it apart from the competition.

It would probably need to ride on its own unique platform, as GM doesn’t really have anything that would be a perfect match. The Alpha platform that underpins the Camaro or the Omega platform that underpins the Cadillac CT6 could be possibilities, but neither are really fit for something that would be as sporty and crossover-like as a Corvette SUV would be. Unless Chevy would just say “screw it,” not offer all-wheel drive or any semblance of off-road ability, and build the SUV off the current front-engined C7 Corvette‘s platform.

The styling should be aggressive and tie into the regular Corvette, which would likely mean a coupe-like roofline and a low stance. The interior would need to be luxurious, as buyers in this space expect more from their cars than the middling materials and finishes of the current Corvette. Seating for four adults and at least a modicum of cargo space are a must—Corvette owners need to be able to carry golf clubs around, after all—but it probably wouldn’t have a targa top like the regular Corvette.

The only thing left for us to imagine is the name. Would it be Corvette Activ? Corvette Xtreme? Corvette TourX? Corvette Bison? Corvette Trail Boss? Corvette High Country? Corvette Z71? Corvette Trans Sport? GM has so many good off-road-y names to choose from.

And hey, there’s precedent for us thinking this is a good idea. In 1976, we drove a C3 Corvette to Alaska, and then we re-created the journey in 2007 with a C6. Just imagine how much easier that would be with a Corvette SUV!

I’m somewhat surprised Chevy isn’t considering this, given that it’s going to break its mold by introducing the not-necessary mid-engine no-manual-transmission eighth-generation Corvette at the end of this month. Chevy is already ruining the Corvette, so it might as well go further, right?
This might be the point at which GM should have spun off Corvette from Chevy and into its own division. That would have allowed the Corvette division to have the current front-engine rear-drive Corvette and the next mid-engine model, and priced the latter higher than what is expected. Selling a completely new-tech Corvette for slightly more than the current Corvette means that (1) GM is going to lose money on the C8, or (2) GM cut costs and therefore failed to address the principal complaint about Corvettes, their interior.

An SUV would fit just fine into a Corvette division, as would a four-seater (Camaro). Each could again be priced higher than people expect from a Chevrolet.

 

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.

 

 

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.