Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 31, 2016

How To Rent a Car in NICE France – And Not Get Screwed

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Nice, France – the crown jewel of the Cote d’Azur (Jerry Garrett Photo)

NICE, France

Standing in the line to rent a car at the Nice/Cote d’Azur airport, I heard the woman behind me telling a man, “Yes, I rented the car for a week, so I could get a special rate.”

“What is it?” asked the man.

“$900,” she said. “Unlimited mileage.”

“What kind of car?”

“A mid-size.”

Holy crap, I thought. Did she ever get screwed. I was paying less than $20 a day.

It’s fairly easy to get screwed – and badly – if you’re a tourist on the French Riviera. Comes with the territory, doesn’t it?

Actually, no. Not if you’re a savvy traveler. Nice can be downright affordable! (For me, it’s cheaper than being at home in California.)

Here are some tips, for the savvy traveler to save money renting cars in Nice:

  1. Book ahead. I use Kayak.com for most of my rentals, and I book 2-3 weeks in advance. But no more than that. Rentals booked a month or more in advance seem to carry higher rates, and more gotcha stuff – like requests to pre-pay for the whole rental to get that “special rate.” No dice. The rental companies have almost no idea what kind of demand there will be that far out; at 2-3 weeks, they know whether they will have too many, or not enough cars, and price them more reasonably.
  2. If you are a member of frequent renter club, like Hertz #1, you might qualify for even deeper discounts. Or added perks like bonus miles on partner airlines.
  3. Understand that airport rentals in Nice are subject to steep facility use taxes meant to gouge unsuspecting tourists – to the tune of $40 or more per rental. (So, if you are renting at the airport, renting for more days can help you “amortize” those tourist taxes over more days, for less of a bite. For instance, if I had rented a car for one day at $20, the $40 tourist tax would have tripled the cost of my one-day rental.)
  4. Rent at an off-airport location to beat the tax. Right in downtown Nice, there are several major car rental companies (Avis, Budget, Sixt, Europcar, etc.) with very competitive rates – and no airport facility use fee taxes. (Some taxes are charged, however, no matter where you rent.) It’s easy to get from the airport to downtown, via city buses that leave right from both terminals (1 & 2); these cost $7-$9 per person, though. If you walk 50 meters out to the main road (Promenade des Anglais) in front of the airport, and catch a regular city bus (like locals and airport employees do) it’s only $1.50 or so.
  5. Use a credit card that gives you rental car coverage, like my American Express card (which eliminates the need for me to take the Collision Damage Waiver – a ripoff insurance the rental car companies want to sell you for $35 or so per day).
  6. Avoid the extras, like the onboard GPS, for which you can substitute your cellphone. The cellphone probably has better maps. (Note: My most recent last three rentals featured cars with factory-installed GPS systems; so even though I declined to pay for them, I subsequently ended up getting them for free.)
  7. Don’t take the fuel option, unless you know how much fuel you’re going to use and/or need – you need to travel at least 400 kilometers, most likely, to make the Fuel Option pay for itself. And unless you know exactly how much fuel the car holds. Otherwise, you’re going to be returning a tank still sloshing around with a lot of very expensive gas ($7+ a gallon) you paid for, and didn’t use. Also, if you are taking care of your own fuel, fill up before you return the car; there are several stations close by on the Promenade des Anglais, or even the A8 Autoroute or E40.
  8. Reserve a smaller car than you think you need. Usually, you’ll end up with a larger car, as a no-cost upgrade (especially at the downtown rental locations). Even if you don’t get the upgrade, you’ll probably be glad you didn’t. The smaller the car you have in Europe, the easier it will be to get around, maneuver, park, etc. (Parking spots are tiny!) Most cars in Europe have folding rear seats, so jamming in all your over-packed luggage for a traveling party of one or two people is not likely to be a problem (having four people, and all their luggage, in a Fiat 500 – well, that could be a problem).
  9. If you rent at a non-airport location, make sure you know their opening hours. The ones in downtown Nice are probably closed a couple of hours in the early afternoon for lunch; closed on Sunday; and closed after 7 p.m. most days. (The airport’s central rental car location seems to be open all the time.)
  10. If you don’t want to be bothered returning your car downtown at the end of your rental (if for instance the downtown location is closed, or you are worried about missing your flight) you can just drop it at the airport, and they will have you pay a $17 drop off fee/penalty. No big deal.

Follow these simple suggestions and the cost of a rental – like that woman’s $900 weekly rate mentioned above – could drop to a fraction of the full rack rate. In fact, my next weekly rental in Nice is going to be $142 – about $20 a day, all taxes included.

Jerry Garrett

March 31, 2016

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 20, 2016

THE REVENANT: The Rest of The Story

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The movie “The Revenant” is billed as a story of survival.

Yeah, kinda sorta. But before you celebrate the “survival” of Hugh Glass, read on.

The Revenant is inspired by an episode in the life of Glass, a pioneering mountain man in the 1800s in the wildest wilds of the American West.

In movie version of The Revenant – the word refers to a ghost-like character who returns from the dead to exact revenge – Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a member of trapping party collecting pelts on the upper Missouri River, in what is modern-day South Dakota. They are attacked by Indians, who are looking for a kidnapped daughter of an Indian chief (she’s not there). The Indians, from the blood-thirsty Arikara (a.k.a. the Ree) tribe also aren’t too happy, in general, about white men encroaching on their lands and slaughtering the wildlife.

A few trappers escaped the Arikara and tried to get back down the river to the safety of a fort. Along the way, Glass is attacked by a bear, and severely mauled. It appears he is likely to die, so two fellow survivors of the trading party agree to stay behind to give him a decent burial, while the others hurry to the safety of the fort with their remaining pelts. Glass’ sitters instead try to bury him (a bit prematurely, as it turned out) and skedaddle a little too soon.

While all this supposedly did happen, some embellishments in the movie aren’t really part of Glass’ actual story, i.e., his half-Pawnee son, the snowy terrain and bitter cold (the actual episode took place in August-September), close calls with other mercenaries and Indians, etc. (The movie was also principally filmed in Argentina and Canada – with some Arizona and Montana thrown in.)

As raw as the movie was in depicting Glass’ ordeal, his real travails were even worse: in real life, maggots feasted on his rotting skin, and his bearskin cloak was actually sewed to his back by sympathetic Indians, to cover where his skin was missing and his ribs were exposed.

Glass did drag himself through the wilderness more than two hundred miles to the fort, to confront his faithless companions. But the younger man, Jim Bridger (who would become a real-life legend among mountain men), was excused from Glass’ retribution, because of his youth. And the other man, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), had enlisted in the U.S. Army; which, as it turned out, prevented Glass from confronting and killing him – because a civilian couldn’t kill a soldier.

After all this, Glass didn’t exactly live happily ever after. He went back to the brutal life of a mountain man, trapping and trading, exploring the headwaters of the Missouri, Grand and Yellowstone rivers, and out-running vengeful Indians. But in 1833, his luck ran out and the Arikara finally caught up with him one final time, and hacked him to death.

So, how do you accurately characterize the tale of “The Revenant”? It is not, in the final analysis, a Homeric tale of survival, because Glass did not, ultimately, survive. It is not a tale of revenge, because the real Glass never got his revenge. The movie, in fact, is not a factual account of Glass’ travails; it is based on a 2002 novel by Michael Punke. Glass did not come back from the dead (like a true revenant); he was not “un-killable” or immortal, although his story has become the stuff of legend.

Although this may be the first time a lot of people have heard of Hugh Glass, it is possible to have heard or read about him previously without perhaps knowing it; elements of his life have been immortalized in poems, songs, non-fiction accounts, television shows and at least two movies (including Richard Harris’ 1971 portrayal of him in “Man In The Wilderness”). A statue in Glass’ honor has been erected near the site where he was mauled.

Jerry Garrett

January 20, 2016

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 6, 2016

The Faraday Conundrum

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Faraday Future’s FFZERO1 concept was unveiled in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS

Faraday Future, at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show here Jan. 4, introduced a bright, shiny object.

Some people, including the Faraday representatives who introduced it, called it a car.

Who knows if it was, or whether it was just a prop.

An object on a stage, as any magician in Las Vegas can tell you, is whatever you tell the audience it is.

If it was a car – it even had a spiffy car-like name: FFZERO1 – it looked futuristic, at best, if not wildly impractical. Techies, who number in the hundreds of thousands at the CES show, feigned starry-eyed wonder. The handful of automotive writers here, who regularly report on the industry, seemed a bit harder to impress.

Faraday folks claimed the FFZERO1 was powered by batteries and electric motors that could propel it by the force of more than 1,000 horsepower. Accordingly, it could travel at over 200 m.p.h. – accelerating from a stop to 60 m.p.h. in less than three seconds, they added.

Those are big numbers – race car numbers – although not ground-breakingly big numbers. A Bugatti Veyron could top that – as far back as 2005. So this is not hot-off-the-presses new news, from a transportation standpoint. The FFZERO1 is allegedly meant to be a race car – it only has a seat for one occupant, after all – but there was no claim it has ever actually achieved such speeds. Or any speed, really. Who knows if it even runs? Was it driven, or pushed, onto the Vegas stage?

That’s the thing about auto show concepts and design studies; they are so often just flights of fancy: Ideas that have leaped off the drawing board (or computer screen). Pick a number – any number – and claim that is its capability. Dream up any powertrain – Ford once touted nuclear reactors in a future filled with flying Ranchero pickups – and promise a transportation revolution.

But what did Faraday really show here? What did Faraday intend to do, besides dazzle a gaggle of credulous tech fan boys? Where was the steak to go with the sizzle? Hard to say. Maybe time will tell. Maybe memory being as faulty and as fleeting as it is, people will soon forget such claims were even made.

Faraday, operating somewhat secretively from Gardena, California at this writing, says it plans to break ground soon on a billion-dollar manufacturing facility on a particularly desolate patch of desert north of Las Vegas. It claims it will hire more than 4,000 new workers and will start building cars there by sometime next year. Exactly when cars – finished cars, federalized to safety and emissions standards, ready for sale – will start rolling off the assembly line is much harder to pin down. The gestation period for competitors – Tesla comes to mind – has been years longer than originally projected.

But Faraday has only been around a couple of years, and already it claims a car like the FFZERO1 is an indication of how fast it can produce something from nothing. Or is it, in the case of the FFZERO1, merely nothing from nothing? That’s why I consider whether the FFZERO1 is really a car, or a merely a carbon fiber rabbit pulled out of a hat.

The FFZERO1 is supposed to showcase the company’s concept of a flat, scale-able platform that could be easily adapted to numerous vehicle types, including luxury sedans, sporty coupes, crossovers, compacts, pickup trucks or even – yes – a race car. The platform, the company said, could also be driven by its front or back wheels, as well as all four.
That concept is meant to facilitate speedier vehicle development than traditional methods, which can require years of refinement and testing to shape many disparate models.
The so-called skateboard platform is not exactly new either; General Motors offered a sneak preview of it more than a decade ago, in its Hy-Wire concept. The world is still waiting, however, for the first vehicle produced on such an architecture.
So, the traditional automotive community might be excused if it is not quite ready to accept Faraday’s claims at face value, especially its rosy projections of a quick entry into the exclusive realm of successful decades-old automakers.
Other red flags: Faraday says the FFZERO1’s pilot benefits from augmented reality technology projected on the road ahead; machine learning skills that help “educate” the car about the driver’s needs in real time and make comfort, convenience, and performance adjustments; a smartphone integrated into the steering wheel; and further electronic aids to minimize driver distraction.
Who knows if any of this tech currently exists, or whether it will make it into any production model – or if some of it did, how long before it might become obsolete?
That’s the thing about high-tech stuff: It becomes obsolete almost as fast as it is developed – sometimes in the matter of months – while a car is expected to last for decades – if not generations. There’s nothing quite as laughable as an older model car with now-passé “high tech features” such as a corded telephone in the center console, a tape deck, or a navigation system with out-dated maps. My 1957 Chrysler came with a .45 record player. How quaint.
In that way – and so many others – cutting edge tech in a car can be a double-edged sword.
That could fuel tech-centric Faraday’s rise, as well as its demise.
Who knows what models, if any, are currently in Faraday’s development pipeline, what they might look like, how well they might harness the lightning-quick pace of technology development? Will eager buyers queue up to buy them?
The only thing we can be sure of, I think, it that the stealthy looking FFZERO1, or anything remotely akin to it, will never appear in your driveway.
Jerry Garrett
January 5, 2016

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SCOTTSDALE, Arizona

The 2012 Dallara-Honda race car, driven to victory in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 by Ryan Hunter-Reay, can be yours – if the price is right.

Here’s the deal: Andretti Autosport, which currently owns the car – chassis number DW12-057, is offering it for sale January 29 at the Gooding & Company classic car auction, adjacent to the Scottsdale Fashion Square mall.

David Gooding, the auction house’s president, estimates the car might fetch $600,000-$750,000 – or more, plus a 10 percent sales commission.

“The sale of this lot,” says Mr. Gooding, “is unprecedented in modern motorsports.” Indeed, this unusual opportunity is believed to be without parallel in classic car auction history. Gooding says he was approached recently with the idea, by representatives of the Andretti Autosport team. “It’s not something I would have thought of,” he adds, “but it’s a very exciting idea.”

Michael Andretti, the team’s chief executive, agrees, “I’m excited to team up with Gooding & Company on this really unique collaboration.” He plans to personally present the car to the winning bidder.

The catch is this: The new owner must allow Andretti Autosport to retain the car, and continue racing it, through the 2018 season. After that, the new owner can take delivery of the car – or what is left of it.

The rough-and-tumble sport of Indycar racing is generally not too kind to the machines that race in it. Most end up crashed before the projected end of their useful lives, or in a dark, dusty corner of a garage after becoming too obsolete to be competitive anymore. An Indy-winning car, however, is highly unlikely to be relegated to such an ignominious end.

“Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car would always have a place of honor in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum,” says Donald Davidson, the facility’s historian, “assuming its owner wanted to display it here.” The speedway museum showcases a number of past 500-winning cars, dating back to the inaugural 1911 race’s triumphant Marmon Wasp. The most recent former winner on display is the late Dan Wheldon’s rebuilt 2011 Dallara-Honda.

After the 2018 Indy campaign, Andretti Autosport is promising to “restore and repair” Hunter-Reay’s car in its period-correct 2014 livery, the Gooding auction prospectus states; with one exception: “This lot does not include the Honda race engine, as it is owned and retained by the manufacturer.”

Since the engine is an integral component of the car’s structure, the owner could receive the car in pieces; if the idea of receiving a box of parts is not appealing, Andretti says a “spacer” could be installed where the engine originally went, to hang the various parts off of it, and facilitate a rolling presentation of the Indy winner. (That’s pretty much how the car will be presented at the auction, as it cannot be displayed with its real engine, to avoid any confusion over what is actually being sold.)

To assuage any disappointment over that, or of having to wait such a relatively long time to receive the inoperable, engine-less, obsolete chassis, the team will throw in two season-long participant credentials for the Indycar series races at which the team enters the car through 2018, In addition, the package also includes VIP passes for up to four guests, although some exclusions apply.

“The opportunity to auction off our 2014 Indy 500 winning – and still active – race car and provide the winning bidder with an immersive ownership experience with our team,” Andretti adds, “delivers a great way to celebrate an iconic moment in our team’s history as we prepare for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.” That race is scheduled May 29.

Hunter-Reay is scheduled to appear with the car at various promotional events in Arizona, in the week leading up to the sale.

Gooding says he expects the auctioneer’s hammer could fall at a price much higher than the pre-sale estimate; however, an undisclosed “reserve price” below $600,000 could prevent the sale from being consummated if bids do not exceed that price.

Finally, just to be clear: Although a measure of fame is an unspoken part of the deal, the car’s new owner is not its sponsor. But such requests undoubtedly could be accommodated for additional consideration.

Please note, however, major sponsorships in Indycar racing can run into the many millions of dollars.

Jerry Garrett

January 5, 2016 (Note: An earlier version of this story appeared a day earlier in The New York Times)

 

 

 

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | October 10, 2015

Dirty Diesels On The Road: NOx Failure Rate 97.5 Percent!

An on-the-road test of some 200 different cars, sold in Europe and equipped with diesel engines, found only five that had real-world nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels the same as levels recorded during regulatory tests in the laboratory.

This is according to test results provided by Emissions Analytics, an independent testing facility based in Winchester, England. EA said it tested 150 diesel models that supposedly complied with Euro 5 emissions requirements, and another 50 that claimed to have met newer, tougher Euro 6 regulations.

That only five were found to get the same emissions results in actual road tests that they achieved in the lab represents a 97.5 percent failure rate.

The test results show the problem with Volkswagen diesels emitting up to 40 times the legal limit of NOx and other pollutants, thanks to “defeat devices” installed to pass tests but shut off pollution controls in on-road driving, is just the tip of an iceberg. The “iceberg” being the rest of the auto industry.

EA did not name and shame individual models, in releasing their test results, but they did note that dirty diesels also come with distressing regularity from Mercedes-Benz, Mazda, Honda and Mitsubishi. An earlier study by the UK’s Guardian newspaper claimed dirty diesels also come from Renault, Citroën, Nissan, Hyundai, Fiat Chrysler (including Jeep) and Volvo.

No VW-style “defeat devices” were found, EA stated, and no manufacturer’s emissions came close to those belched out by VW models (VW Group marques include Audi, Skoda, SEAT and others).

Generally speaking, SUVs were exponentially worse polluters than cars (20x vs. 4x).

The response of the few automakers that were willing to reply to EA’s findings could be best summed up as “hey, we passed the lab tests. We never said on-road results would be the same.”

Most manufacturers, it seems, feel the tests are ridiculous, and a poor measure of NOx, as well as other pollutants. Most seem to favor a new test – even an on-road test – as long as regulators would be willing to make the test “reasonable”. The lab test standard now for diesels is virtually un-achievable in real-world driving, they contend.

Lab tests and on-road performance, EA agrees, have an inherent disconnect.

“Emissions Analytics was formed to overcome the challenge of finding accurate fuel consumption and emissions figures for road vehicles,” the company explains on its website. “It is widely recognised that most drivers struggle to get close to the official fuel consumption figures. Furthermore, readings from a car’s onboard computer do not reflect what comes out of the tailpipe. And yet, all fuel reduction and emissions management tools currently on the market are based on manufacturers’ figures or ECU readings.”

The goal, EA feels, is a test that accurately gauges not only NOx, but “the full range of exhaust gases which contribute to the greenhouse effect, reduce air quality and damage human health and the environment.”

Regulators in the European Union say they are working on just such a test, which may be available in 2016.

But don’t expect suddenly cleaner air. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn has been quoted as saying meaningful reduction in diesel pollution is not likely achievable before 2019.

Jerry Garrett

October 10, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 27, 2015

Batman Prevails In Court: No More Batmobile Knockoffs

Batmobile in Las Vegas (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Batmobile in Las Vegas. Real or replica? (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Even freelance crime-fighters occasionally have to rely on the courts to get justice.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled last week that the Batmobile, the comic book hero Batman’s primary crime-fighting vehicle, has enough distinct character traits to qualify for copyright protection. The upshot is that a company that makes and sells Batmobile replicas can’t do that without approval (and, we assume, rights fees being paid) from the entity that owns the car’s copyright.

That company is DC Comics, which created the Batman character in 1939.

But it was not so clear what copyright DC Comics owned, to what car.

The Batmobile also first appeared in 1939 as a red car (sometimes seen as a convertible, others times as a sedan) that was merely called Batman’s “car”. The first instance of the Batmobile name being applied to it wasn’t until 1941.

Through the years, the Batmobile has appeared in many iterations – from bulky sedans to streamlined spaceship-type vehicles. In a 1943 Batman film, a Cadillac was used – although it had no superpowers. A sequel in 1949 employed a Mercury.

It wasn’t until 1960 that the first car dubbed a “Batmobile” appeared in public; the car, a customized 1956 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, toured the country in a Batman-inspired advertising campaign for a line of dairy products.

In 1965, customizer Dean Jeffries was commissioned to build a Batmobile for the soon-to-be produced Batman television series (the one with Adam West starring). He started to re-fashion a 1959 Cadillac for the task. But when producers asked for the vehicle sooner than planned, Jeffries backed off and the project was handed to noted stylist George Barris.

Lincoln Futura

Lincoln Futura

Barris, in turn, worked with the Ford Motor Company to re-purpose the ten-year-old Lincoln Futura auto show design study into what most people now recognize as the modern Batmobile.

The original Batmobile was reportedly sold by Barris in 2013, at auction, for $4.2 million. Several authorized replicas of that car are said to exist.

Even though many subsequent versions have appeared, the one protected by the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling relates to the Barris-created model.

“As Batman so sagely told Robin, ‘In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential,'” 9th Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote in a lively unanimous opinion issued by a three-judge panel.

The loser, defendent Mark Towle, runs a business called Gotham Garage that was in the business of selling replica Batmobiles for $90,000 or so, depending on how many crime-fighting gadgets a buyer opted for (nail-spewers, oil jets, machine guns, etc).

Inside the Batmobile's cockpit

Inside the Batmobile’s cockpit

DC Comics, owned now by Time Warner’s Warner Brothers unit, sued Towle for copyright infringement in 2011. A lower court judge had ruled in favor of DC Comics, but Towle had appealed.

Batman’s vehicle has consistent character traits that can be protected by copyright, Ikuta noted

“No matter its specific physical appearance, the Batmobile is a ‘crime-fighting’ car with sleek and powerful characteristics that allow Batman to maneuver quickly while he fights villains,” she wrote.

There is no dispute that DC created the Batman character, she continued, and various licenses it has entered into over the years did not transfer its underlying property rights.

Towle’s attorney Larry Zerner contended, “The law specifically states that automobile designs are not subject to copyright. My client just sells cars. The car is not a character. The car is a car.”

That may be, but the Batmobile is a Batmobile.

Jerry Garrett

September 27, 2015

The Moon turned blood red during a full eclipse April 14/15, 2014 (Jerry Garrett Photo)

The Moon turned blood red during a full eclipse April 14/15, 2014 (Jerry Garrett Photo)

What, another Blood Red Moon? Yes, it’s occurring the night of September 27-28, 2015!

And doesn’t it seem like we have one of these supposedly “rare” occurrences every few months? Yes, and that’s because this is the fourth one in the last two years.

But this is it, folks, until 2033. Yes, there’s not going to be another Blood Red Moon eclipse like this for another 18 years.

So let’s enjoy this one, if possible!

The Moon, and its partners, the Earth and the Sun have saved the best of this rare “tetrad” of lunar eclipses for last.

That’s because this lunar eclipse involves another rare astronomical event: the Supermoon!

A Supermoon occurs when the Moon’s mostly elliptical orbit brings it closest to Earth’s surface—about 220,000 miles away instead of its average 240,000 miles. So, this means the Moon will appear about 14 percent larger, and nearly 30 percent brighter, than it normally does.

(Space.com)

(Space.com)

So, late in the evening on September 27 in the Western Hemisphere (in the wee hours of September 28 in the western bits of the Eastern Hemisphere that will see it), when the Earth advances precisely between the Sun and the Moon, it will cast a giant shadow onto the Moon that will create a huge rusty red shadow.

How is the red shadow created? The Earth doesn’t totally shade the moon; some sunlight seeps in from around the edges of the shadow; as the shadow gets filtered through the atmosphere, only light with longer wavelengths gets through. Those are the red-tinged wavelengths of light. Hence, the shadow casts an eerie red glow on our gleaming moon. The effect will be so much more pronounced with the Supermoon.

The last time all these elements came together was 1982, so it indeed is a rare phenomenon. (This Supermoon also coincides with the annual Harvest Moon, which is the closest full moon to the autumnal equinox. No doubt, Pagans will rejoice!)

This eclipse will also be a L-O-N-G one: Total for nearly an hour in peak locations! For comparison’s sake, the one last April 4 lasted just five minutes!

Programming note: Peak eclipse will be at 2:47 am UTC on September 28th—so,  that’s 10:47 pm EDT on Sunday, September 27. If you’re in the eastern United States, you will be in perfect position to see it all! The moon will start darkening at 8:11 pm EDT, and it will start to pass through the Earth’s dark umbral shadow at 9:07 pm. It’ll be completely shaded for about an hour starting around 10 pm.

On America’s West Coast, the Moon will rise fully eclipsed! What a sight!

Astronomers say this is the last so-called “Blood Red Moon” eclipse until 2033. Hope the skies are clear for this one. The next one probably won’t be in my lifetime.

Jerry Garrett

September 25, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 18, 2015

No, This Isn’t The Church in 1960’s “Oceans 11”, But…

Guardian Angel Cathedral (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Guardian Angel Cathedral (Jerry Garrett Photo)

LAS VEGAS

Originally I became interested in the Guardian Angel Cathedral here on the Las Vegas Strip, because I thought it was the one depicted in the final scenes of the 1960 version of “Oceans 11“.

It is not.

This church wasn’t built until 1963. But…

I was onto something. The Guardian Angel church, ironically just a long city block from the old Sands hotel in front of which the movie ends, did have a connection to Frank Sinatra and show business. The cathedral was designed by Paul Revere Williams, a noted Negro* architect who designed homes for Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck and other celebrities and famous people! Williams was quite a trailblazer for his time.

(GACLV.org)

(GACLV.org)

The series of stained glass windows, a fabulous sight to see also, were designed by Edith and Isabel Piczek, Hungarian refugees who became world-renowned artists.

“The art work seen here is the kind of art which does not want to exist for its own sake,” the sisters said.  “It wants to draw you into a passionately and deeply inner existence, step by step, from the dark original creation into the monumentally recreated world of Man’s Super nature. The Destiny of Man is to unfold in front of your eyes, an unfolding which ends in Happiness-your happiness.  The real artwork is not made from glass, paint or tile.”

The sisters, who did this work when they were in their 20, are still alive (I believe) and living in the L.A. area. Williams, also from SoCal, died in 1980 at age 86.

This is a unique and lovely cathedral, nestled between the Wynn-Encore and the Riviera hotels in a tacky section of the Las Vegas Strip.

The church and its grounds create this peaceful oasis in the middle of all the schlock. Beautiful!

But this leaves my original question unanswered: What was that church at the end of “Oceans 11”? Anyone know?

Jerry Garrett

September 18, 2015

* This is how he referred to himself.

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 11, 2015

Prius 4.0: What Does It Mean?

The 2016 Toyota Prius is lifted high in the air, at its debut in Las Vegas on Sept, 8. Why? (Jerry Garrett Photo)

The 2016 Toyota Prius is lifted high in the air, at its debut in Las Vegas on Sept, 8. Why? (Jerry Garrett Photo)

LAS VEGAS

Toyota unveiled the fourth generation of its Prius hybrid gas-electric car here Tuesday night, with a crowd of 300 media representatives and an Australian rock band on hand to commemorate its arrival. The car was hoisted a 100 feet or so in the air, and then lowered onto a stage.

What did it all mean?

Hard to tell.

Toyota only showed off the car. Not much was revealed in the way of technical specifications. That seemed a bit odd, since nobody (okay, let’s say almost nobody) ever bought a Prius for its looks. The charisma-challenged Prius is, and always has been, about fuel mileage. And bravo for that. Kudos well earned, for a fuel economy pioneer.

Will Prius always be the industry's mileage maestro?

Will Prius always be the industry’s mileage maestro?

But will that always be the case?

The new Prius is supposed to get about 10 percent better mileage than the outgoing model, which was rated right around 50 miles per gallon (city and highway). If that means the new model (designated a 2016) is rated at 55 m.p.g. when it arrives in dealer showrooms in early 2016, that will be a welcome improvement.

But it is not a dazzling improvement. And frankly, 17 years after the original Prius appeared in America, 55 m.p.g. is far short of where I thought the 2016 model would be. But I hasten to add that I do not consider the Prius a failure. My daughter, who owns and adores a Prius 3.0 with bullet-proof reliability to go along with budget-friendly fuel economy, would probably object violently (as only she can) to any such characterization!

But the fact is, version 4.0 hits the market as Prius’ lead is dwindling in the national m.p.g. sweepstakes for hybrids. The competition is snapping at its heels (or, rather, its steeply angled flanks, more aptly). By the time Prius 4.0 is re-designed again and becomes Prius 5.0, in six to seven years, unless mid-cycle changes surprise us, whatever edge Prius 4.0 might start with could be long gone.

2001 Toyota Prius: Only the homely.

2001 Toyota Prius: Only the homely.

The original Prius, a 2001 model that actually arrived in 1999, was over-rated at 52 m.p.g. city and 45 highway under the Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy formula in effect at the time; under a new test, the mileage figure was adjusted significantly downward to 42/41.

In an interview with a high-ranking Toyota executive at the time, I was told the company’s internal goal, with each successive generation of the car, would be a 50 percent reduction in the footprint of the battery pack, and a double-digit improvement (was I told 25 percent? I can’t recall precisely) in fuel economy. But, of course, such percentage-based targets tend to become ever harder to attain as each incremental improvement is made.

By that initial reckoning, I had expected Prius 3.0 would have seen mid-60s fuel economy (after all, the original 2000 Honda Insight could hit that number), and so, the 4.0 would have been well into the 70s. The reality, however, was that those original goals were too lofty, and the process of finding fuel economy gains proved has much more difficult than Toyota’s top brass had initially hoped. And today, the race for fuel economy gains seems to be hitting the proverbial wall.

Prius 3.0: 50 m.p.g., millions sold. (Toyota)

Prius 3.0: 50 m.p.g., millions sold. (Toyota)

The reality: The second generation Prius, which made its debut as a 2004 model, improved to 48/45, 46 combined. It wasn’t until the third generation model appeared as a 2010 model that Prius managed to break the magic 50 m.p.g. barrier, with a 51/48 EPA rating.

So, in reviewing the combined m.p.g. ratings, and assigning a percentage to each generation’s incremental fuel mileage gain, here are the hard numbers:

Prius 1.0 to Prius 2.0: 12.2 percent (41 m.p.g. combined to 46 m.p.g. combined)
Prius 2.0 to 3.0: 8.7 percent (46 m.p.g. to 50 combined)
Prius 3.0 to 4.0: 10 percent (50 m.p.g. to 55 estimated)

Where will the auto industry be, in terms of fuel economy, by 2022 or so when Prius 4.0 might be replaced? By then, will 4.0’s m.p.g. rating of 55 be considered passe?

Will 55 m.p.g. one day be considered passe?

Will 55 m.p.g. one day be considered passe?

It is something to ponder. Maybe that’s what version 4.0’s splashy Vegas coming-out party was meant to convey. Maybe engineers have worked extra hard on the fourth-generation model to improve its looks – angles, corners, and origami-inspired shapes have been thrown at it like confetti. Maybe looks will prove to be more of a purchase consideration than they were for the three previous generations.

Or will time reveal to us that Prius is really only about the numbers?

Jerry Garrett
September 9, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 9, 2015

Jeep’s Wagoneer Making Fake Wood Grain Fashionable Again?

Fake wood grain! Stylish again? (Jeep archives)

Fake wood grain! Stylish again? (Jeep archives)

Did you ever think fake-wood grain paneling would be a must-have adornment for one of the hottest models in today’s collectible car market? It seems tacky is back.

Hagerty, the classic vehicle insurance and valuation experts, report a 164 percent increase in the past five years of the classic Jeep Wagoneer, arguably the world’s first luxury sports utility vehicle. Hagerty also says beyond the increase of the number of people insuring Wagoneers as collectibles, the average prices for these vehicles have also increased during the same period by 35 percent.

The average prices are pushing $20,000 now, with extreme valuations two to three times that not uncommon. Some pristine examples have reportedly turned up at fancy collectible car auctions, where they’ve fetched more than $65,000. Those are, generally speaking, low-mileage, in showroom condition (or better), and extensively reworked under the hood. A shop in Texas that specializes in Wagoneer restorations claims it can make them run better than new. (Not hard to believe, as the original vehicles had a pretty atrocious reliablity record.)

The Wagoneer was, in some form or other, in production from 1963 to 1991. It was largely unchanged during that time, except for modest refinements and heaps of options and luxury features piled on. Unbelievably (for me), the fake-wood paneling along the sides of the later models is the hottest option (and probably hardest to restore).

I had a Wagoneer, but it was a rare two-door model – a 1982 Laredo – that eschewed the wood-grain option. I thought it was the Jeep equivalent of a Chevy Nomad wagon. I thought it looked great then, and still does now. Probably just my taste! I sold it after blowing up the transmission, the radiator, several tires (off-roading with it) and a few other major components.

Hmmm, there’s a used one on eBay right now for $6,000! No, I learned my lesson on that one.

Maybe I’ll wait for the rumored Wagoneer revival for the 2018 model year!

Jerry Garrett
September 9, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | September 8, 2015

FCA: The World’s Most Interesting Car Company

A "What's New for 2016" event recently in Chelsea, Michigan, for FCA's next top models. (FCANA Blog)

A “What’s New for 2016” event recently in Chelsea, Michigan, for FCA’s next top models. (FCANA Blog)


CHELSEA, Michigan

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, with apologies to that Dos Equis guy, is the most interesting car company in the world.

I mean, it’s not even close. Consider the vehicles the combined companies make, like the Dodge Challenger (and Charger) Hellcat, the Jeep Wrangler, the SRT Viper, the Alfa Romeo 4C, the Fiat 500, and the Maserati Ghibli. And don’t even get me started on all the Ferrari models.

Its Ram pickups are huge sellers, as is the whole Jeep lineup. They smash sales records every month.

But therein lies the trouble – and the key reason why the company’s leader Sergio Marchionne keeps trying to find another automaker, General Motors in particular, to merge with FCA. Aside from the trucks and SUVs, FCA doesn’t really have enough big, high-volume brands. No Chevrolet, no Ford, no Toyota, for example.

Quarter-mile commute: Dodge Hellcat at dragstrip.

Quarter-mile commute: Dodge Hellcat at dragstrip.

Most of their vehicles, like the 707-horsepower Hellcat models, appeal to niche audiences. The $60,000+ vehicles are money-makers, in and of themselves, but they aren’t selling in big enough volumes to generate the billions that an automaker needs to develop future models.

“You can put lipstick on the pig for a while by doing things like the Hellcat,” former GM executive Bob Lutz said in an Automotive News article this week. “That’s great; it probably makes a lot of money. But that isn’t the future.”

The future, therefore, for FCA, needs to hold a merger. Merely being interesting may not be enough to pay the bills.

Jerry Garrett
September 8, 2015

Posted by: Jerry Garrett | August 28, 2015

First Chinese-Made Car Comes To America

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 5.50.23 PM

 

SAUSALITO, California

The first Chinese-made car, after a decade of fits and starts, false alarms and failed dreams, is finally on sale in America.

This pioneering vehicle is the product of a subsidiary of Geely, a Chinese automotive manufacturing conglomerate. Perhaps you have heard of this subsidiary before: Volvo.

Yes, this is the same Volvo Cars Corporation that was founded in Sweden in 1927. But in 2010, it was bought by Geely from Ford Motor Company.

Geely has only been in existence since 1986, when the company began making refrigerators. It was started by Li Shufu, who early on expressed a desire to enter the auto industry. It started with motorcycle manufacturing in 1998 and moved from there to autos a couple of years later.

In the early 2000s, Geely, along with other Chinese automotive companies such as BYD Auto, Great Wall and Chery, among others, started looking seriously into building cars it could sell in North America and Europe. In 2006, Geely began exhibiting cars at auto shows such as Frankfurt, Paris and Detroit.

Reaction was tepid, at best. The learning curve for aspiring Chinese automakers was steep, and there were other barriers to entry in these markets – not the least of which was the lack of dealer, parts and service networks.

Geely solved the problem by approaching Ford, which had taken over previously independent Volvo a few years earlier, and had soon decided the marriage didn’t work. So Ford didn’t need a lot of convincing to sell Volvo to Geely, even though it meant a fast-track for the Chinese automaker to gain the knowledge, expertise and experience to enter any world market.

Volvo is still nominally independent under the Geely banner, able to design, engineer and market its products pretty much as it wishes. But Volvo is, technically, a Chinese company; this is an advantage, because every other international automaker that wants to enter the Chinese market must do so only through cumbersome “joint ventures” with existing Chinese companies.

While Volvo began building cars in China, designed for Chinese tastes and needs, almost immediately after Geely purchased it, the first Volvo earmarked for export to the U.S. market didn’t get spit out by the assembly line until 2015.

That car, the S60 Inscription, is an interesting product. It is essentially the same S60 sold worldwide (and built in other Volvo plants in Sweden) except that Chinese tastes required that it be stretched by three inches to give it more rear seat legroom. (The Chinese motorist is usually obligated to bring parents or in-laws along, as back seat passengers). Volvo realized the stretched S60 met all the emissions, safety and other marketing needs of the basic S60 – with the added cachet of potentially class-leading back seat room against competition from Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and others.

IMG_9523Even parked next to each other, it is difficult to distinguish between a regular S60 and the stretched S60 Inscription – except for the exterior paint. S60 Inscriptions – at least the first batch, which just went on sale in the U.S. – all adorned in a satin-y exterior paint. It is not unattractive, but the one-off scheme does signal something is up. The S60 Inscription comes with a number of popular features standard such as 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation, walnut inlays, rear park assist and camera, and a turbocharged engine capable of up to 37 m.p.g. fuel economy.

Its base price starts under $40,000, according to Edmunds.com.

The S60 Inscription offers all the attributes one associates with a Volvo, as well as a measure of stability that its slightly longer wheelbase gives it, over a standard S60.

“It is the first car made in China, and imported here,” said Dean Shaw, a Volvo spokesman at a launch event in the San Francisco area this week. “It is also not a product of a joint venture. The 50-50 joint venture requirement for every other automaker is not necessary for Volvo.”

But how much of a “true Volvo” is it?

“A Volvo is a Volvo,” Mr. Shaw said, “no matter where it is built.”

Jerry Garrett
August 28, 2015

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