Will Tesla’s only long-term competitive advantage turn out to be Dog Mode?

“Comparison Test: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E vs. 2020 Tesla Model Y” (Car and Driver) has Ford crushing Tesla in every area except straight-line acceleration (useful in a country of 330+ million people using a road network designed for 150 million?) and charging network (#BidenWillFixByTaxingTheRich). The Ford Mach-E is built better, has a better user interface, offers more comfortable seats, is cheaper, and is quieter. The Ford accelerates 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds, which should be more than fast enough for street driving.

A comment on the C&D article:

I can’t get over how bad Tesla interiors are. Take away the giant tablet in the middle and it’s completely empty inside. A $60k car with the interior quality of a Mitsubishi. The Mach E is cheaper and has better quality. If Ford is killing you in the quality department you have issues.

Loyal readers will recall my obsession with Dog Mode, going back to 2003 (see Car/Kennel). The legacy car companies seem to be refusing to add these 10 lines of code, perhaps because they don’t want to be held responsible if the feature is used improperly and a dog is baked to death? I wonder if therefore this will become Tesla’s only long-term competitive advantage vs. Ford, VW, Hyundai/Kia, Toyota, Honda, et al.

Also from Car and Driver: “Every Electric Vehicle That’s Expected in the Next Five Years”. It seems that there isn’t much interest in building the Toyota Camry of electric cars, i.e., a car that doesn’t purport to drive itself, that doesn’t accelerate faster than a C5 Corvette, that doesn’t have a huge touchscreen stuck in the middle of the dashboard, and that therefore doesn’t cost more than necessary.

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To cut interactions between the police and the public, should cars restrict speed to the published speed limit?

Every time there is an interaction between an American subject and an American police officer or officers there is a chance that the police will shoot and kill or cripple the subject. In addition to the loss of life, other subjects may lose tens of millions of dollars per incident when the city has to pay civil damages to the survivors of the person who was killed.

Our beloved 2021 Honda Odyssey (“like a Tesla, but spacious, quiet, and smooth over bumps; lacks Dog Mode”), at least when a phone is plugged in (haven’t checked, but maybe it is getting it from Google Maps?), displays the current speed limit. The engine is controlled electronically. If I mash down the accelerator, it could certainly say “I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave” and accelerate only to, e.g., 55 mph. If nobody can speed, nobody can be pulled over for speeding. This wouldn’t eliminate potentially deadly interactions between the police and the general public, but it certainly would reduce them.

Maybe have a single exception: passing another car that is going more than 10 mph slower than the speed limit on a two-lane road. The Odyssey already has all of the hardware and 99 percent of the software necessary to detect this situation (the adaptive cruise control has a radar to see how fast cars in front are going and the lane-departure and lane-keeping systems (the latter adds some steering inputs) use a camera to see if you’re staying in your lane.

Readers: Stupid or Clever?


  • Save lives by limiting cars to 35 mph? (if we look at what we’ve done out of coronapanic, it is irrational not to eliminate most driving-related deaths, which kill far younger people (more life-years lost) and which are far easier to prevent)
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Hyundai electric cars actually do have dog mode

Although I have new respect for Elon Musk due to his scorn for coronapanic and his success with SpaceX, I still don’t love the idea of driving a Tesla (no Apple CarPlay, dashboard replaced by an oddly-placed screen, the image of being a climate zealot (like the jet fuel-pumping Bill Gates!)). Hyundai has all of the bones for a good dog mode, so to speak, e.g., a big battery and an efficient heat pump. This presumably extends to Hyundai’s sister car company, Kia, which just released the EV6 (charge for 4.5 minutes to drive 60 miles… after driving 60 miles to the nearest high-speed charging location).

The clever British have figured out that dog mode already exists in Hyundai EVs. It is buried in the menu structure as “utility mode” and locking the car while in this mode requires using the mechanical key (buried inside the electronic key).

I don’t think I would buy one until I had verified at the dealership that this works on a U.S.-spec car.

One good thing about Hyundai and Kia is that they remain eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit, unlike Tesla. So if you’re a high-income person you can enjoy the spectacle of low-income Americans being forced to work longer hours to pay for a portion of your shiny new car.

Tesla anecdote: I asked an engineer friend if he still liked his Tesla 3. He said that he did, but his wife (a doctor) hated it, finding the “autopilot” jerky/scary. “I enjoy monitoring the system,” he said. I’m consistently confused by the conflation of attempted self-driving and electrification. Why should we expect an electric-powered car to drive any differently than a Toyota Camry? We used up so much energy plugging the thing in every night that now we’re too tired to turn the steering wheel?

Where will we charge this thing? “Biden’s spending plans could remake the economy, says Nobel Prize winner Stiglitz” As in Aladdin, it will be A Whole New World:

A Nobel Prize-winning economist says he not only endorses President Biden’s expected $4 trillion infrastructure spending plan, but expects that it could break the U.S. out of the low-growth, low-inflation environment that has existed for the past 20 years.

See also “Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan calls for EV rebates, 500,000 charging stations”.

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Why can’t battery-electric vehicles win the USPS contract?

Only 10 percent of the USPS’s new delivery vehicles will be election (Green Car Reports):

U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy confirmed to lawmakers Wednesday that electric versions of the trucks will make up only 10% of the next-generation fleet and claimed that a fully electric contract would have cost up to $4 billion more for the whole contract.

They won’t even be delivered until 2023. Given the generally short routes, slow speeds, and guaranteed overnight idle time for recharging, how is it possible that electric can’t be more cost-effective than gasoline-powered?

See also “Oshkosh’s NGDV Mail Van Looks Incredibly Dorky for a Reason” (Automobile):

If electric isn’t the smart choice for USPS local delivery, how could it ever be the smart choice for a family that wants to take some evening/nighttime trips, some intercity trips, etc.?

Loosely related:

  • a comment on a Tesla article: Every time I ask a Tesla owner to list the tech that makes some kind of difference they can’t come up with anything meaningful. What is it? Dog mode? Cheetah mode? Flush-mount door handles? A big tablet stuck to the dash looking like a high school shop project?

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If you love engineering, business, and transgenderism….

… you will love The Lady and the Dale (HBO), a documentary regarding Elizabeth Carmichael, best-known for trying to bring Americans a lightweight three-wheeled automobile.

Ms. Carmichael was hugely successful from a biological/genetic point of view. From Wikipedia (10 kids total):

According to the FBI, Carmichael married four times while identifying as Jerry Dean Michael. She was charged with desertion for leaving her first wife, Marga, whom she met while stationed in Germany, and their two children. In 1954, she married a woman named Juanita, with whom she had two children before their relationship ended in 1956. In 1958, she married a woman named Betty Sweets after knowing her for four weeks. They conceived a daughter, but the marriage ended within a year. In 1959, she married Vivian Barrett Michael, her fourth wife, and together they had five children.

One aspect of the documentary is what happens to an opposite-sex marriage following a gender reassignment.

Americans are not as fascinated with engineering as with transgenderism and crime so the series does not explore what is most interesting to me: Why are cars so heavy?

Passenger rail turns out not to be fuel-efficient because railroad cars are so heavy, dwarfing the weight of even the most obese group of humans who might occupy a car.

The lightest cars on the market today weigh roughly 3,000 lbs. (Toyota Corolla, for example). Electric cars are heavier, e.g., a Tesla 3 is around 4,000 lbs. with a battery offering comparable range to a compact gasoline-driven car. The Chevy Bolt is around 3,600 lbs. Liz Carmichael’s Dale was 1,000 lbs.

It looks as though a prototype has been preserved in a Nebraska museum:

If we want to save our beloved planet, either by burning less gasoline or consuming less electricity, why don’t we slim down our vehicles to what is actually required to transport 500 lbs. of humans? Because we can’t make a car that rides comfortably at 70 mph unless it is heavy? First, with the U.S. population headed toward 500 million, it is unclear that anyone will be driving 70 mph. Second, could we improve the ride quality of lightweight vehicles with active suspensions?

Readers: Who has seen this show? What did you think?

Related: Can-Am Spyder, a modern 3-wheel vehicle made by a Bombardier subsidiary.

See also Facebook uses a Malibu-flying engineering manager to promote careers in engineering…

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Tip from a self-driving car engineer: don’t choose black

A friend is shopping for a new car. He happens to have been working for the past five years on various Silicon Valley self-driving car efforts. What’s he looking at for a new car for himself? A C8 Corvette! (Why not the product of the finest minds of Silicon Valley? “Can any expensive car have a worse interior than Tesla? Seems impossible. They shaved every possible penny there.”)

What color? “Anything but black,” he replied. “The Zeus Bronze Metallic also might be too close to black.” What’s wrong with black? “It will be invisible to Lidar. The cameras might see it during the daytime, but it will be dangerous to drive at night because self-driving cars won’t see it.”

Readers: What do you think of the C8 in Zeus Bronze?

Compare to the Red Mist Metallic, which is the most popular color:

Some additional thoughts from our deeply embedded source…

When can we expect the promised age of self-driving cars?

Hard to answer as depends on legislation and business. Let’s go backwards and try to guess. What is the long-term future? Is it (a) autonomous cars try to mix into traffic with humans, or (b) human driving is illegal?

To get to (a), are the steps (1) start selling autonomous to fleet operators, (2) start selling autonomous to citizens, (3) stop making new human-driven cars, hence no wheel, and grandfather some human driven cars

For (1) to happen the cars have to get good enough, for (2) to happen the cars have to get cheap enough, for (3) to happen Biden/Harris will need the power to repurpose the roads for the greatest public good/safety (also nice because now the government will know where all of the citizens are going and when)

My guess is that the industry wants (a) for now but the government will want (b), which makes more efficient use of roads, simplifies the software, and also facilitates tracking everyone.

Right now (2021) self-driving car is expensive and dangerous. Reducing expense is possible once more money goes into the ecosystem, but it remains to be seen how safely they operate. Horse/car analogy does not make sense: man-driven flesh vehicle to man-driven ICE vehicle. Self driving is from man-driven vehicle to software-driven.

Why is this challenge so tough for software?

The problem with mixing software-driven and human-driven vehicles is exemplified by “is that guy watching Netflix while driving going to yield to my left turn?” Hard to get that right.

When will a family be able to buy a self-driving car, then, without a steering wheel and mix it up with human-driven contraptions?

Pure guess 25 years

A Tesla 3-owning friend:

Tesla owners think by 2017. Then by 2019. Then by 2020. Now by 2021. They pay $10,000 for “full self driving” software. Tucker Auto was shut down for less of a scam.

An immigrant from Eastern Europe participating in this discussion:

My father had a self-driving car for a decade in the 80s. It was called a company chauffeur. He couldn’t do much in the car because it is still less convenient. If it is a short drive, you won’t accomplish much. Read the news perhaps, or write a few emails. Phone calls you can make now.

The self-driving software engineer saw the biggest competition as coming from Uber and similar human-driven services. As long as low-skill labor in the U.S. remains cheap due to mass immigration, self-driving tech would have to be both inexpensive and nearly perfect to be competitive.

Shifting gears, so to speak, for a moment… what about the fact that cameras are being driven around 24/7 in vehicles that can stream footage up to the cloud? The government can already get footage from doorbell and house-attached cameras (see “Amazon Ring is creating the surveillance complex” by Mark Hurst). Will a police officer in 10 years be able to say “I want to see what was happening at the intersection of 8th and Main at 10:32 pm” and get footage from all of the self-driving cars that happened to be passing that location at the time?

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A $5000 electric car

One of my worst predictions ever was a 2003 forecast that, by 2023, the Chinese would be able to sell a basic car for $3,000 in 2003 dollars (about $4,300 in today’s money, adjusted via the BLS CPI calculator). I further thought that Americans, instead of burying themselves in debt to buy a needlessly fancy car, would get around in these $4,300 cars.

The market has moved in the opposite direction, with cars over $40,000 being average (USA Today).

Perhaps there is hope, though! “Tesla’s Nemesis in China Is a Tiny $5,000 Electric Car From GM” (Bloomberg):

The Hongguang MINI EV, made by SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co., is currently the hottest EV in China, the world’s biggest automobile market. Sales of the compact four-seater beat industry giant Tesla Inc. in August, with consumers wowed by its tiny price tag — the EV retails for between 28,800 yuan ($4,230) and 38,800 yuan — and its ability to run for as many as 170 kilometers (106 miles) on a single charge. Orders exceeded 30,000 units in just 50 days.

“A lot of consumers don’t need anything fancy, a commute is all they ask from a car,” said Yale Zhang, founder of AutoForesight, a Shanghai-based consultancy. “I’m all for a product like the MINI EV.”

Maybe by 2023 this will be improved? It already has a top speed of 62 mph, according to Wikipedia. That’s nearly double my proposed speed limit that will keep Americans safe.

The interior:

The exterior:

The commercial..

With two more years of Chinese-speed innovation, why wouldn’t this be a good car for Americans?

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Camry good; Corolla bad

On a recent Cirrus SR20 trip to Florida and back, I let the FBOs pick rental cars for me. The result was typically a base-model Toyota Camry from Go Rentals (awesome service!), which is a near-great car at $25,000. The worst feature is the infotainment system software, which is slow to boot up and slow to recognize that an iPhone has been plugged in for Apple CarPlay. The CarPlay feature does not work via BlueTooth, so a quick stop becomes cumbersome due to unplugging the phone, plugging the phone back in, acknowledging some legalese, trying to get CarPlay reestablished on the screen, etc. Nit: the engine roars a bit and sounds strained under hard acceleration (not a problem if my 35 mph limit proposal is adopted).

Verdict: A better car than a Tesla for practical driving performance and comfort.

Florida was jammed with visitors. The ramp at Naples had jets packed on the ramp as if they were in a hangar, with every square foot of ramp space used as efficiently as possible (more typical: optimize outdoor parking so that it is possible to start up and drive out without another aircraft having to be moved). At Palm Beach, the ramp looked like someone had robbed a Gulfstream store (a friend: “In Palm Beach, people don’t ask if you have a jet. They ask ‘What color is your Gulfstream?'”). Here’s the kind of inequality that upsets me most and that I hope President Harris will address:

(1960 Beech Debonair (still worth an astonishing $50,000!) and a Gulfstream so new that N332DX couldn’t be found in the FAA database)

As I walked out of the FBO, the transportation choices were Bentley or Rolls-Royce:

Due to a Camry shortage, I was fated, however, to drive a Toyota Corolla ($20,000). This has all of the bad infotainment software of the Camry and none of the over-the-road comfort and quiet. It was so much noisier inside than the Camry that it was tough to believe it had been made by the same company. Maybe it would be okay for around-town driving, but it is definitely not suitable for the highway.

Just for fun… the Trump International Golf Club right next to Palm Beach International:

A classic car museum in Sarasota:

(A whole row of Ferraris that people bought and hardly ever drove.)

And, right next the museum, a store where you could buy the Sultan of Brunei’s armored Mercedes limo, perfect for driving to mostly peaceful protests:

Or a wood-sided station wagon for $170,000:

A classic truck…

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Save lives by limiting cars to 35 mph?

Following up on Why do we care about COVID-19 deaths more than driving-related deaths? (March 26, 2020) … by shutting down for a year we’ve spent way more per life-year in our attempt to reduce coronaplague deaths than I ever could have imagined. If we infer from this how much saving a life-year is worth to us, it would be rational to limit cars and tracks, nearly all of which are electronically controlled, to 35 mph. Consider that most people who die in car accidents had many decades of life expectancy in front of them, unlike the typical 82-year-old victim of COVID-19.

An SUV-driving suburban Bostonite who runs his own law practice (representing workers’ compensation plaintiffs who aren’t typically expert computer users and who therefore prefer to meet in person): “I go to work every day at 80 miles per hour.”

Obviously setting the speed limit to 35 mph and relying on police enforcement wouldn’t work. For one thing, our heroic law enforcement officers don’t want to interact with potential COVID carriers (all who want to be vaccinated have been vaccinated, but many refused the experimental (“investigational”) vaccines and it is unknown whether the vaccines work against variants).

Most states have annual inspection requirements. How about insisting that engine control software be updated in order to get an inspection sticker? The update will prevent the car from exceeding 35 mph. New cars, obviously, can be limited via regulation.

How can Presidents Biden and Harris sell this to the American people? “You were happy to sit at home for a year when we told you it might save lives. You can wait an extra 10 minutes to get to Walmart.”

A potential #resistance household in Key West:

And these two in Miami may need a long spell in the re-education camp:

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Toyota Sienna vs Honda Odyssey

For those who need the style and prestige that only driving a minivan can yield… the Toyota Sienna is all new for 2021 and contains much exciting technology (see Electric AWD implemented by Toyota for the 2021 Sienna minivan).

Our 2018 Honda Odyssey recently needed an oil change. While it was getting worked on, I test-drove a 2021 Honda Odyssey (apparently identical to our 2018 with the exception of the graphics on one switch) and walked across the driveway to the Toyota dealer and test-drove a 2021 Toyota Sienna XLE FWD.

The Sienna seems a little noisier inside at 50 mph. The handling and acceleration are less responsive. Stomping on the gas pedal does not result in anything dramatic happening whereas the Odyssey can be a 1980s-grade sports car if you need it to be. There is a wireless charger in the center of the dashboard in a place that would keep the phone out of everyone’s way. But why is it useful? You have to plug in the phone to get Apple CarPlay to work. At that point the phone is charging from the cable. The iPhone 12 Pro Max kept sliding off the precise spot where it needed to be to charge and the charge indicator would then flash.

One plus: the Sienna has a regular shifter for the transmission, instead of a confusing set of push buttons.

The “kick to open” sliding doors don’t work if you leave the keys in the car as we often do when we’re inside the airport fence, for example. So it ends up being an inconsistent interface (works when you have key in pocket; doesn’t work when keys are in car).

Nit: There are (plastic?) chrome buttons all around the touch screen that look cheap.

The other big problem with the Sienna XLE is that it seems to be far more expensive per month than the comparable Honda EX-L, at least when leased (which I think is the most reasonable way to look at the true cost of a car). The Sienna is a hybrid so it gets much better gas mileage, but it could still never save enough in fuel to overcome the extra lease cost ($150 or more per month).

Here’s the monster grille on the Sienna that I tested:

This would be great for a “form follows function” textbook example. The grille is mostly blocked off so as to reduce drag. There is a small hole in the middle for air to come in and cool the engine.

Our family decision: Change it up by replacing our leased white 2018 Honda Odyssey with a leased white 2021 Honda Odyssey.

Loosely related… what happens when MIT geniuses go shopping for cars? “Electric Cars Are Better for the Planet – and Often Your Budget, Too”:

New data published Thursday shows that despite the higher sticker price, electric cars may actually save drivers money in the long-run.

To reach this conclusion, a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculated both the carbon dioxide emissions and full lifetime cost — including purchase price, maintenance and fuel — for nearly every new car model on the market.

My comment:

How can the budget assertions of this article make any sense? A mid-sized Nissan Altima leases for $290/month (spreading the up front payment over 36 months). The Tesla web site shows the lease cost of the Tesla 3 at $525/month. The Tesla’s higher capital cost and high cost of bodywork means that the insurance for the Tesla will be much more expensive than for the conventional gas-powered mid-size car. Even if electricity were free, the Tesla would still be more expensive over the three-year lease. (Here in Massachusetts, the electricity for a Tesla actually costs MORE per mile than the gasoline for an Accord, Altima, Camry, or similar.) Maintenance costs? The conventional car will be under warranty for the entire lease period. It might need a couple of oil changes at $50/each. The Tesla will burn through tires (at least all of my friends’ Teslas have). I wonder if the research was done by people who had never shopped for a car.

Via facts, figures, and research, our best academics have proven that something that costs $525/month is cheaper than something that costs $290/month.

Update: Consumer Reports finally released their test results on the Sienna. Honda did better on the road test (85 vs. 79), “third seat comfort,” “interior fit and finish,” and “trunk/cargo area.” The Toyota was better for predicted reliability and fuel economy. In CR’s scoring system, the Sienna ended up higher overall, but for a lease customer the reliability is irrelevant (since the warranty extends for the full three years of the lease). The superior fuel economy is nice, but, as noted above, saving the planet won’t save you any money because the Sienna lease costs so much more every month.

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