Cars News and Reviews Transportation Transition- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

Did you miss me?

CelloMom has been on hiatus for a few months, following an illness in the family. I've taken my brother's advice to heart, which is to be kind to myself, and decided to let the blog go for the duration. I'm going to re-start slowly. But there's plenty to be excited about.

Even before Volkswagen's disastrous gambit with the diesel engines, the world was already starting to shift toward electric vehicles.

Being CelloMom, I am not an early adopter: far from it. The growing pains of the early electric car made me nervous. But it's not quite so early any more, and as governments push for a fully electric national fleet by 2025 (e.g. Netherlands, Norway) or 2030 (Germany, India), and carmakers are responding by putting more EVs on dealer lots, the diesel to electric transition is now underway.

The growing EV range is erasing range anxiety, so even in suburban and small-town US, where distances are relatively large and diesel exhaust doesn't collect in a thick blanket of smog like it does in large cities, it will make increasingly more sense to switch to electric cars: quiet, clean, cheap to power, and with a kick that puts the torque from even a diesel engine to shame.

But the transportation transition is not just about the electric car. I'm sure you've seen the meme showing a parking lot shaded with a canopy of solar cells. The caption is, "Like and Share if you think every parking lot should look like this!"

This meme gets around.

I don't "Like", and I don't share. I think a climate-sensible parking lot should not look like that at all. It should have 2 to 24 parking spaces, all designated parking for the disabled. Large rows of bike parking. Plus a bus stop.

That's because everyone will get around either on their own physical power, on foot or on bike, on streets safe enough to do so, or on traditional forms of public transport l ike buses, or else by newer forms of shared transport like self-driving Uber-like cars that don't need the parking spots because they go on to the next customer after dropping you off at your destination. All powered by carbon-free renewable energy.

I mean, even the United States is waking up to the incredible potential of offshore wind. Having stopped drilling for oil off its Atlantic coast, the Obama administration has opened up a first patch of coastal water, between New York and New Jersey, for development of a wind farm.

The transportation transition is here, hand in hand with the energy transition. It's an exciting time.



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Cars News and Reviews 2016 is the year the EV stops being a boys' toy- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Monday

In the first weekend of April 2016, the seeds that Tesla Motors has sown with its über-desirable electric cars with their über-pricetags, germinated in an explosive way with the pre-sales of its moderately priced Model 3.

In a matter of days, a quarter milion people had signed up for a car that is more than a year away from being built, in a mass release of pent-up desire that has been carefully built ever since the Model S hit its pre-sales.

Among a certain circle of males (and not a few females as well), the adulation of all things Tesla is palpable. They don't want to hear about the BMW i3 or even its i8. Forget about the pedestrian (sorry) Nissan Leaf. Nobody wants to hear you tell of the European carmakers who are all readying electric cars for their lineups a few years from now. It's Tesla, and only Tesla that exists for them.

And that's okay.

In soccer, the guy who scores the goal gets the glory. More often than not, there's a whole team behind (literally behind) him who's made the goal possible. But once in a while the effort is dominated by a single player. It's like that this time. And the whole team reaps the benefits.

Sure, a coal-powered electric car is worse for human health and the climate than a car running on gasoline or diesel. But you can't have a clean energy transition without a clean transportation transition.

The latter must include a return to human transportation (biking and walking, which are NOT "alternative" transportation modes, but primary ones), as well as shared transportation like buses, subways and rideshares. What vehicles are running around must eventually be electric. And the electricity must come from low-carbon sources.

In that respect, it is heartening that the immense potential for offshore wind in the US is finally being given a chance. In response to continued and mounting public pressure, offshore drilling and fracking has been called off the Florida Everglades, off the coast of California, and indeed all up and down the East Coast.

Instead, the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has opened a section of its marine holdings off the shore of Long Island for the building of a wind farm. Since offshore wind has the potential to supply the US with all of its electricity several times over, this is a great development.

To me, this is the really heady news of the past few weeks. Because when a quarter million new Tesla owners start to wonder where their juice is coming from, they will want to push for more of that clean power. Well, the way is paved for them. So to speak.

Offshore wind mills, I say, not offshore oil spills.



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Cars News and Reviews Super Bummed About Super Bowl Commercials- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

I heard that half the people watching the Super Bowl do it for the commercials rather than the game. Where it used to be that the big game was the debut for the commercials, now it's more like the pinnacle: pre-game there is hype, not of the product but of the product hype. People get primed all over social media to go see those ads. There are teasers, trailers, reviews. We're talking a 30-60 second ad!

It's like something out of Borges, this recursive hype.

Maybe marketing managers are spending so much money hyping the ad, that there isn't much left for the production of the ad itself. Or maybe the long recession is taking its toll. Whatever the case may be, the lineup of ads at Super Bowl 50 is as lackluster as the game itself was pronounced to be.

You know it's bad when you watch the ads, all in a row, on a website that helpfully provides a ranking - and you have trouble figuring out which way the ranking goes, whether Number 1 is on top or at the bottom.

I used to have fun snarking over some of the car commercials in the week following the game, but I have decided to skip it this year. The ads are not worth even stepping on. And I've also come to realise that I'm not going to be part of the machine that perpetuates the hype after the game. For free. No way.

So I'm going on an advertising strike. More than that, I am striking back.

I'm doing that by directing you to the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. Check them out: they have a wealth of resources on how companies are squeezing your children for all they're worth to make a buck off of them, and how to get your kids away from that. Also great for grownups!

CCFC is the organiser of the annual Screen Free Week. Don't wait, start planning for it now.



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Cars News and Reviews Two-wheeled Uber- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

You know Uber, right? Started in San Francisco (where else?), you can now hail Uber drivers in major cities on all continents. They're even in China, even though Didi Kuaidi is giving it a run for its money, offering buses and chauffeur service along with ridesharing. Its Didi Hitch service is expected to pick up quite a few riders over the Chinese New Year holiday.

Uber also operates in Jakarta, but is plagued by the same issue afflicting every car driver: the legendary traffic jams. It is not unusual for riders to request a stop and treat their drivers to a meal so both can resume the trip without the growling stomach.

Enter Gojek.

Gojek is like Uber, but the driver pulls up in front of your door on a motorcycle. Motorcycles are nimble and can slip around the cars. The driver gives you the trademark green helmet to wear, which makes you not only their paying customer but also their involuntary mobile billboard, and you climb on the back.

Like Uber, it's a door-to-door service, you reserve and pay online, and you can leave ratings on the drivers. Recently they have introduced the woman-friendly option of asking for a female driver, which is important in this Muslim country. And for foodies (or the plain lazy), you can order a Gojek ride for your lunch or dinner: the driver picks up your order at the restaurant, pays for it, and you pay for both the food and its ride. They also have more conventional courier service.

You do get to do what motorcycle riders in large congested cities do: breathe in a toxic cocktail. You know all the noise around the Volkswagen diesel scandal, over its cars spewing out way more smog-forming emissions than they should? Well, in places like Jakarta they'd laugh at the whole affair: their diesel contains so much sulphur (1250ppm, compared to 15ppm in the United States) that the NOx is merely an afterthought.

And of course, you don't know who else has been sweating into that green helmet with the clever logo (Gojek is a wordplay on 'ojek', which is the local slang for motorcycle.) To assuage the squeamish, they offer you a shower cap to protect your hair from the brain bucket. Go figure.

On the other hand, you do get to weave around all those cars as they are stuck in traffic. Unless, that is, traffic is so overwhelming that even motorcycles are stuck too.

There was a crackdown in December 2015 on Gojek and its rival Grabbike. But it provoked such a firestorm on social media that Indonesia's president has rebuffed his transport minister's move, arguing that for too many people this is the only way to get around.



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Cars News and Reviews Reclaiming Cities From The Car- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross

Something gives me the feeling we're living in watershed years. Fossil fuel companies are smarting. That's nothing new: fossil fuels are prone to booms and brutal busts through their history. What is new is the relentless rise of what used to be called "alternative" energy, but what is set to become the energy source: Renewables are slated to be the main game way sooner than you may think.

In another realm, the power of the nation state is waning. You only have to look at trade agreements like TTIP and the TPP to see evidence of the rising power of transnational corporations. And when coal kings put a billion dollars into an election, you can see how so many have proclaimed the death of democracy.

But there's pushback. Most notably, mayors have decided to not wait for their national governments to start moving toward a zero-carbon future. They are supporting each other through collectives such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the Compact of Mayors and other organisations.

And they are moving to circumvent the national gridlock.

In one notable example, they are starting to reclaim the city streets from the dominance of the car. Cars and car culture have managed to - let's be blunt - ruin our cities. Downtowns are clogged with traffic, to the point that ambulances and firetrucks can't do their live-saving work. Tailpipes emit a cocktail of toxic fumes that are a danger to public health. Highways have fractured cities into divided neighbourhoods. Cities stink, in more than one way.

And yet, cities are attracting more and more people. Accomodating them requires thinking out of the box: in particular, mayors and city councils need to think outside the box with four wheels..

Recently, Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, has laid out a bold plan to “give Parisians back the space that cars have taken from them.” She is going to turn roads along the Seine into pedestrian zones. She will remove 55,000 parking spots from Paris' streets every year. And even before the VW diesel scandal broke out, she already had a scheme in place to ban all diesel cars from the city by 2020.

“We are leading a more global fight against the monopoly held by cars in our city and in our lives,” she declares. “We want to create a peaceful city, free from the hegemony of private cars, to give public transit, bicycles, and pedestrians their rightful places. Reducing car traffic will help make Paris more pleasant and more full of life.”

Across the Atlantic, Enrique Peñalosa has garmered fame - or notoriety, depending on your outlook - by pushing back on car dominance in Bogotá, starting with the outlawing of parking on the city's sidewalks, which he regarded as a sign of a "lack of democracy".

Peñalosa's traffic policies are explicity driven by a sense of social justice: "A bikeway is a symbol that shows that a citizen on a $30 bicycle is equally important as a citizen on a $30,000 car." He has lots of pithy things to say about taking back the city from the car, and they seem to resonate with people all over the world, as I keep running into his quotes. The one that particularly resonates with me is this:

"Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people."

By that standard, Tokyo is doing pretty well: Children as young as eight navigate the subway system by themselves, and when school comes out the subway trains are crowded with school uniforms. This not only means an invaluable way for the young people to exercise independence, it also keeps thousands of their parents' cars off the crowded roads.

From "Japan's Independent Children"

Even in the United States, the bulwark of car culture, a subtle shift can be perceived by those who look. Last year Paul Trombino, the head of Iowa's Department of Transportation, has quietly made history by calling for a stop on the building of new highways in the state.

And Sylvester Turner, the new mayor of Houston (Houston!) has said, in his inaugural speech, that the city needs a whole new approach to transportation. Merely building new highways isn't going to do the job of moving more people: Turner cites the case of the Katy Freeway, which is now 26 lanes wide in places and still gets hopelessly snarled, neatly demonstrating the law of induced demand.

New York City sidewalks have always been heavily used by pedestrians, but they have had to share the space with garbage bags, hawkers and, most recently, mountains of snow deposited not only by blizzard Jonas, but also by snow ploughs clearing the streets, which still means mostly the car lanes.

In response, New York council member Helen Rosenthal has made the common-sense but stunning proposal to clear sidewalks and bike paths before car lanes: “As we move towards Vision Zero, we'll have to think about the order of operations to move away from a car-centric perspective.”

As they say, Shift Happens.



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Cars News and Reviews Smog kills- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

There are places that are traditionally visited by a dense fog so often, that printers capitalise on it and offer tourists a postcard which is all grey with the words "Greetings From X" emblazoned on it.

It's funny when it's fog we're talking about (except, of course, if the postcard is actually appropriate for your vacation). It is not so funny when it's smog. Because smog kills. It's pretty bad when it's a veil that's thrown over your city on hot days. But when it's so thick you can't see through it, it is a real killer. Who needs cigarettes? All you have to do is go out for a breath of air, as the Tom Lehrer song goes.

The World Health Organisation is about to issue a stark warning about the lethal levels of air pollution in the world's largest cities. An article in the Guardian reports,

"According to the UN, there are now 3.3 million premature deaths every year from air pollution, about three-quarters of which are from strokes and heart attacks. With nearly 1.4 million deaths a year, China has the most air pollution fatalities, followed by India with 645,000 and Pakistan with 110,000."

The culprit is smog, a toxic brew of emissions from coal burning for heating and power generation, dust from construction sites, pollution from industrial processes, and emissions from transport, mostly from vehicles that use diesel.

When it comes to spewing out deadly small-particle pollution, who needs cheating software like Volkswagen put into its diesel cars? In places like the US and Europe, "clean" diesel comes with a sulphur content of 15 and 25 parts per million, or ppm, respectively. In China, diesel is supposed to contain fewer than 300 ppm sulphur, but almost always has more, and it's the sulphur that gives most of the particulate matter (PM) pollution.

Places like Indonesia unabashedly state that diesel contains 1250 ppm sulphur. That's one hundred times more than the new standard proposed for diesel in the US. The reason that Volkswagen is not being sued in Asian countries is that there, it doesn't install the PM scrubbers that are required for its diesel cars. They are not required. More than that: the high sulphur content of the diesel would poison the devices that are supposed to keep the air clean. So why install them at great expense?

I have made the case that in places where the PM pollution from other sources is much higher than from diesel cars (such as many ex-urban areas in the United States), the latter are okay to use, especially since their much higher fuel efficiency means significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions per mile.

But large numbers of diesel cars piled close together in megacities still spell trouble. Think of London, which is home to a large number of diesel cars, trucks and buses. It is well known that Oxford Street has dangerously high levels of PM pollution, and the city is now moving to replace its fleet of double-deckers, currently running on diesel, with electric versions.

High fuel prices, Low Emission Zones (e.g. Rome), exclusion of older and dirtier diesel cars, banning half the private cars (e.g. Delhi), none of that seems to help enough to keep pollution to acceptable levels. Even before the VW diesel scandal, European mayors were already moving to ban diesel engines from their cities altogether.

It's almost as if the "D" designation on a car is equivalent to the label on a pack of cigarettes: "Warning: use of this product leads to damage to your health and that of those around you." If Europe was in love with the diesel engine, consider the recent developments a divorce.

The advent of electric cars will facilitate that transition. Automakers all over the world have seen the writing on the wall. In the next few years, expect them to start offering EVs that are affordable and have a reasonable range, 200 km and up. One example of a recent debut is the Chevy Bolt (200 mile range).

Sure, if all those EV's were powered by electricity from coal-fired power plants, it would still not help the climate a great deal. But at least their tailpipes would be clean of particulate and other toxic emissions, relieving cities of the blanket of smog. Let us hope that the energy transition away from fossil fuels will happen sooner rather than later, so that smog is generated nowhere, and the carbon emissions of this new generation of EVs will be truly zero.



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