Volvo touch screen controls: crazier than Sweden’s coronavirus policies?

We recently rented a 2021 Volvo S60 from Enterprise. Many of the controls have migrated to a central touch screen and there are just a handful of buttons in the center plus some labeled-only-with-icon buttons on the steering wheel. Neither I nor Senior Management could figure out how to do the basics, e.g., keep Google Maps from Apple CarPlay on the screen, sync the left/right temperatures, hang up a phone call from a steering wheel button (from another one of which a phone call had been initiated).

The speedometer cluster seems to be a dot-matrix display, which is nice in theory, but the gauges are not presented as clearly as in a more primitive implementation.

Compared to the typical country, Sweden has taken a different path when confronted with coronavirus. Kids have been in school continuously, for example, and adults at work. The country’s first real restriction, limiting “public events” to 8 people, came a year after the world’s first Covid-19 case (November 17, 2019). (Note that Swedes remain free to assemble privately, e.g., a Swedish family could host a party for 20 friends and not be subject to prosecution (nor be scolded if the guests were unmasked). And the restrictions don’t apply to schools or workplaces.)

(Our Church of Shutdown media, of course, characterizes Sweden as a “failure”, operating from the assumption that the only worthwhile human goal is avoiding coronavirus infection. That said, Sweden doesn’t make the first page of countries ranked by Covid-19 death rate.)

I drive at least 30 different cars per year (rental cars, FBO crew cars borrowed at airports, friend’s cars, etc.). None of them have been as confusing as this 2021 Volvo S60. Who wants to defend Swedish idiosyncrasy in dashboard design?

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Electric AWD implemented by Toyota for the 2021 Sienna minivan

Back in 2019 I wondered Why aren’t AWD cars half electric?

The latest 2021 Toyota Sienna, redesigned with a grille large enough for a 400 HP diesel Freightliner truck, works this way (as does the Toyota RAV4, as a reader comment pointed out on that 2019 posting). From the press release:

Sienna uses a new kind of AWD called Electronic on-demand AWD. Instead of a heavy AWD transfer case and space-robbing driveshaft to the rear wheels, this AWD system uses a separate independent electric motor to power the rear wheels the instant additional traction is needed and at all vehicle speeds.

One bizarre feature of this brand-new-for-2021 minivan is that it has a older generation of the driver assistance technology: Toyota Safety Sense 2.0. The 2021 Toyota Camry, for example, offers “Safety Sense 2.5+” (why not just “2.5”? Is this like “LGBTQIA” where it isn’t complete without the plus sign?) and can perhaps drive itself in a stop-and-go highway situation.

Some excerpts from Consumer Reports:

From our brief time with this preproduction Sienna, it feels as if the van is no longer playing second fiddle to the polished Honda Odyssey. The van is responsive to steering inputs and happy to hustle along winding roads.

Yes, the Sienna is quiet and composed at low speeds when running on electric-only power. But when the Sienna transitions from electric power to the gas engine as a result of added throttle inputs, the engine comes on with a roar. The four-cylinder engine is loud when the driver tries to hurry the Sienna along, particularly on the highway. Sienna owners who are used to the V6 engine’s refinement may find this experience a bit of a letdown.

From Car and Driver:

The all-new Sienna is much improved and heavily refined over the old model, but stops short of leading the minivan class.

From CNET:

One of the best arguments in favor of this Toyota is fuel economy. After a good ol’ thrashing on a wide variety of roads, I averaged just shy of 35 miles per gallon in my Platinum-trim, all-wheel-drive tester. That’s practically economy-car efficiency, plus it’s right in line with this Toyota’s window sticker. According to the EPA, it should return 35 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 35 mpg combined. Front-drive models are rated at 36 mpg across the board, and all-wheel drive is available across the lineup.


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A 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf interfaces with the American used car market

A friend spent $10,000 on a 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf via Carvana, a fixed-price car delivery service. The vehicle arrived in beautiful cosmetic condition, but with a Nissan-brand charger that did not work, failing even to illuminate a green LED when plugged in, much less charge the Volkswagen. A week of hassle ensued in which the proud new owner was shunted from an auto parts store to a Volkswagen dealer. Eventually she got a Volkswagen-brand charger, which was a $700 part (enough for a year of minivan driving in the Age of Coronapanic and with gas at $2/gallon).

The new charger worked, but the car’s computer systems weren’t consistent. She would set off on a short journey with the computer showing a range of 80 miles and then watch the range forecast jump to 3 miles while the car stopped itself on the highway. 2.5 hours later, AAA towed the car away.

Eventually she decided to trade the car back for a 2010 Mini, powered, of course, by dinosaur blood.

I’m wondering if early attempts at electric cars will soon be clogging our junkyards. If her experience is typical, the systems seem to be at a Windows 98 level of reliability.

Speaking of cars, here’s a Mercedes ad from the a recent New York Times web page:

This leads to a “Pride month” web page on

A Proud Owner Speaks

“This Pride month is unlike any other before it. We find ourselves in the middle of a global health pandemic, while so many of us have united in fighting to address and finally put an end to systemic racism and discrimination. As a proud Black and gay man, I take this time to pause and hold space for the Black community because we are hurting and we are demanding lasting change. Mercedes-Benz has stood with the Black and LGBTQ+ communities and has vowed to continue to be with us going forward.

As unique as this time is, it does truly echo and honors the legacy of bravery of the Civil Rights Movement and the historic Stonewall protests, which were led by pioneering Black transgender activists like Marsha P. Johnson. These movements, past and present, intersect at the common point of pushing towards equality for all.

(When you identify as LGBTQIA+, it is acceptable to modify “unique”?)

If the Wikipedia List of LGBT awareness periods is to be believed, Pride month is June, not October (home to Asexual Awareness Week, International Lesbian Day, International Pronouns Day, Intersex Awareness Day, LGBT History Month, Spirit Day, and National Coming Out Day).

We’re informed by the NYT that Americans who identify as LGBTQIA+ suffer employment and other discrimination that reduces their income and wealth. If so, how did they come to have $80,000 to spend on a Mercedes that performs the same function as a $25,000 Toyota or Honda?

Also potentially interesting: the Mercedes web site for German consumers does not contain any content regarding the company’s support of matters LGBTQIA+, at least none that a search-savvy Germany-speaking friend could find. Why are Americans so much more interested in this than Germans?

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Humans are defeating nanny tech in cars?

A typical new car has a lot of driver assistance features designed to make driving safer. Examples from Toyota:

(Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert are separate features, not on all trim levels.)

And the latest, for the 2021 Camry:

But insurance companies don’t cut rates for cars that have these features (source). Here are some possible explanations…

  • highway driving is already very safe and most of these magic features, e.g., blind spot monitor and lane-keeping, work only on the highway
  • humans aware of these electronic guard rails drive more carelessly to the point that the risk is the same
  • the insurance market is inefficient
  • the technology does not, in fact, work well in real-world conditions (our Honda Odyssey blind spot monitoring works great, though, which might be why this fine machine is the choice of Amy Coney Barrett!)

Readers: How do we explain the apparent contradiction?

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How will Amy Coney Barrett rule on the big question for 2021?

Readers: How are the Amy Coney Barrett hearings going? Did she truly sit through five (5!) hours of opening statements on Monday? Why couldn’t she have been resting at the Trump Hotel while the politicians talked about themselves?

This video shows that Judge Barrett’s daily driver is a Honda Odyssey minivan. Have the senators therefore questioned her on the big question for 2021: should we loyal Honda owners jump ship to the new Sienna minivan?

If you can live with seven seats, the top-of-the-line Siennas feature these Gulfstream-style recliners:

An expensive option? The Court disagrees! The entire top trim Sienna costs less than a single FAA-certified seat for a business jet.

How about this grille?

For comparison, the 2021 Toyota Avalon:

And the Audi e-tron (electric!):

Who decided that we needed cars with huge grilles?

Circling back to the Supreme Court nominee, let’s check my Facebook feed… From a Democrat who fled Manhattan:

A woman who hates women for the Supreme Court; it’s great, she can join a black man who hates black people (tap dancers get the bad rap but Clarence Thomas IS the ultimate Uncle Tom) and sit with the white guy majority who hates everybody. Bye-bye civil rights, bye-bye civil behaviour. Voting T-rump is the greatest act of self-hatred (and planetary destruction) currently available. Unmasked rage disguised as pride; wear it well. My absentee ballot has been counted in Maine.

From a righteous computer programmer:

I don’t know what Barrett will do once she’s seated on the Supreme Court. But it’s perfectly clear to me what the man who nominated her expects her to do. And it’s perfectly clear to her, as well.

(i.e., even after she gets her lifetime job, her thoughts and actions will be determined by a man)

From Maskachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark:

#AmyConeyBarrett says she doesn’t have an agenda. But she does have a record—and it stands as an affront to women’s health and rights.

From a divorced mom, part of the most reliable Democrat voting bloc, over a YouTube of Senator Klobuchar’s opening statement:

Please Vote. We can’t just stand by. We have to turn out. #vote2020 #vote

(but her friends are mostly in coastal elite states that are already 100 percent guaranteed to vote for Presidents Biden and Harris!)

From a university employee who describes herself as a “cat person, voter”:

This is not a drill. If Barrett is named to the Supreme Court, I and millions of others will lose access to health care.

(she needs some tips from folks who arrive via caravan over the southern border! Show up at the hospital, don’t give an address, and say “I’m undocumented”!)


  • NYT headline: “Barrett, Declining to Detail Legal Views, Says She Will Not Be ‘a Pawn’ of Trump” (i.e., the nominee talked about people who are and aren’t pawns of the evil mastermind Trump); NYT article body: “I would certainly hope that all members of this committee would have more confidence in my integrity than to think that I would allow myself to be used as a pawn to decide this election for the American people,” she said. (i.e., no mention of Trump specifically!)
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Black Lives Matter/Blue Lives Matter sign for a car

A friend’s high school-age son recently earned his driver’s license. He already has an idea for improving the family Tesla 3: a rotating license plate, like in the old James Bond movies, that would read “Black Lives Matter” when the GPS determined that the car was traversing urban territory and “Blue Lives Matter” when on the Interstate highway or in the suburbs.

This product seems to be available commercially:

I wonder if it could be improved, though. How about E Ink-based signs built into the four sides of a car? As the Social Justice movement progresses over the years, the signs could be kept up to date from a touch screen within the car or automatically downloaded from the manufacturer’s social justice executives. When driving into a retrograde Red State, the messages could automatically be switched to “Heading to Sturgis,” “Preserve the Second Amendment,” and similar.

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Tesla can’t compete in Norway anymore

From “Tesla Is Being Overtaken” (Seeking Alpha, written by a guy who is short TSLA), electric car registrations in Norway:

YTD, there have been 51,115 EV registrations in Norway, and Tesla EVs have accounted for about 7% of that total. This compares with Tesla’s worldwide market share of EV unit sales estimated at 16% in 2019. In 2019, Tesla registered 16,738 vehicles through September in Norway. This year, with only a few days left in September, Tesla has registered only 3,613 – a decline of 78%.

How about a lead in battery tech?

For example, when it comes to batteries, easily the largest cost in producing an EV, VW isn’t messing around trying to redesign batteries themselves. They negotiated a massive contract with the large battery suppliers at a big discount, and let them figure out how to cut costs. And so while Tesla will likely get under that key $100/kwh threshold if/when their new battery design is successfully implemented, VW is already there. A VW company executive revealed to The New York Times last year that the company already pays less than $100/kwh for its batteries. GM has also introduced it’s Ultium battery, also reportedly costing less than $100/kwh, with specs similar to Tesla’s current batteries. GM will include the Ultium batteries in it’s upcoming launch of several new EV models.

I don’t like to think that markets are wrong, but how can Tesla continue to be so much more valuable than any other car company? And if the stock market is right, why is the consumer market for EVs in Norway now 93 percent non-Tesla?


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Tesla is actually a Swedish company?

“Elon Musk says he won’t take coronavirus vaccine, calls Bill Gates a ‘knucklehead’” (New York Post) would warm the heart of any Swedish MD/PhD:

SpaceX founder Elon Musk stirred the pot yet again after claiming that neither he nor his family would take a COVID-19 vaccine even if it was readily available.

During the bizarre exchange, the Tesla CEO decried the nationwide lockdown as a “no-win situation” that has “diminished my faith in humanity.” Musk previously called widespread quarantines “unethical” and “de facto house arrest,” RT reports.

Instead of the current sweeping measures, the Boring Company boss suggested a more targeted lockdown where “anyone who is at risk” be “quarantined until the storm passes.”

Swisher criticized his suggestion, adding that humans could potentially die in the process.

“Everybody dies,” quipped Musk.

When you add the above to Dog Mode, it might be time for us to break down and buy a Tesla (a financially irrational decision in Maskachusetts where electricity per mile in a Tesla actually costs more than gasoline per mile in a Camry or Accord).


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Volkswagen ID.4 versus Tesla Y: Did the Empire Strike Back?

The Volkswagen ID.4 was unveiled today. The base price is $40,000. After middle-class taxpayers work a few extra months to subsidize the rich with a $7,500 tax credit, for which Teslas are no longer eligible, the vehicle will cost only about half as much as a slightly pimped-out Tesla Y.

Although the VW does not have as large a charging network as Tesla, presumably, charging is free for three years.

Car and Driver says that the price will come down to $36,000 in 2022 when production comes to Tennessee. This can’t be good for predicted resale value! And, indeed, the lease price is not that low, nearly $500/month for 36 months with the up-front costs amortized.

How about the dashboard? Did Volkswagen copy Tesla and stick a Chinese touch screen in the middle of the two front seats and call it good? No. There is a real dashboard, according to Car and Driver:

All versions of the vehicle feature VW’s 5.3-inch ID Cockpit. The digital dash cluster uses three frames in the display to show speed, driver assistance information, and navigation. Drivers can opt for all three or just two of the three, with the speedometer always available. The automaker has moved the gearshifter directly to the right and attached it to the display. Twist it forward to go forward and back to go into reverse. A button on the side places it in park.

How about the size? From electrek:

In other words, these cars are the same size.

The VW should be better for driving in the city due to a tighter turning radius. (But how many people with enough money to buy a new car will want to drive into American cities anymore?)

One glaring deficiency from Mindy the Crippler’s point of view: No Dog Mode. At least based on the VW web site, there is no way to park the car with instructions to keep the climate control going. From Cadillac Mountain, below, speaking of landmarks named after car manufacturers….

Is this the beginning of the end for Tesla? The company cannot make cars profitably at current prices, right? And the current prices cannot be sustained when the real car companies are offering excellent electric cars at just over $30,000, right? The competitive analysis by VW shows that the Tesla can charge faster in ideal circumstances and can accelerate more dramatically (not here in Boston; traffic jams are back!), but presumably those advantages are balanced by a lot of disadvantages in areas where traditional car manufacturers have expertise.

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Demand for cars is UP, not DOWN

It looks as though I actually can be wrong about everything.

From March 25, When do car makers cut prices?

Shouldn’t the car manufacturers be having coronavirus special deals? A car plainly isn’t worth as much as it was two months ago. Why are the prices mostly the same? Are people actually buying cars at a similar rate to what it was a year ago? Is the shutdown of car factories roughly balancing the collapse of demand? Even with the U.S. and Europe paralyzed, Japan and China are open for business, right? They can produce a ton of cars, can’t they?

We still don’t have that new car, but it looks as though I was dead wrong as usual: “Looking to Buy a Used Car in the Pandemic? So Is Everyone Else” (nytimes, yesterday). Excerpts:

Eager to avoid public transit and Uber, and to save money, buyers are emptying dealerships.

“Used cars are supposed to depreciate, but I’d look up the book value of a car on the lot and see it was higher than at the beginning of the month,” said Adam Silverleib, president of Silko Honda in Raynham, Mass. “I’ve never seen that before.”

Early in the pandemic, when many people avoided leaving home for all but the most pressing needs, carmakers offered no-interest loans for as long as 84 months to lure buyers. With new-car inventories low, such generous incentives have mostly disappeared.

I was only 90 percent wrong about new car demand:

Those fears might be overdone. Buying a used car does not increase the number of cars on the road, of course. And sales of new cars are not taking off. If anything, part of the sudden mania for used cars stems from the yearslong rise in the price of new cars and trucks. On average, new vehicles now sell for about $38,000, more than many consumers can afford or are willing to pay.

Speaking of wrong about everything, Senior Management likes the idea of a station wagon. These are rare birds on our Planet of the SUVs and I am seriously averse to the Karenmobile (Volvo). That leaves “How Subarus Came to Be Seen as Cars for Lesbians” (Atlantic: “it’s the result of a calculated, highly progressive ad campaign launched 20 years ago.”) and… what else? We saw an interesting looking car the other day, a Buick Regal TourX:

1.4 billion Chinese consumers can’t be wrong about Buick, can they?


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