Tag Archives: Automotive Industry

Ownership: What It Isn’t

Although it seems as though car companies are proclaiming the wonders of electric vehicles and making it sound as though their dealerships are chock full of them, with models to fit every need, that is far from being the case. On the one hand, most original equipment manufacturers don’t have all that many—Ford has two, three if you count a cargo vehicle aimed at contractors; GM has three, and during the first nine months of 2023 it sold 6,587 of them combined; it, too has a cargo vehicle, so if its 333 units are added, that still isn’t very many: if all of them were parked at the Mall of America’s parking lots about half the spaces would still be empty. On the other hand, these vehicles are pretty much pricy: according to Kelley Blue Book, the average transaction price for an electric vehicle—as in what people actually paid at a dealership—was $51,762: in 2022 the U.S. median income was $74,580; with 20% down and a five-year loan, buying that average EV would set someone back about $805 per month, or about 13% of household earnings (although the $74,580 is a pre-tax figure, so it would actually be a lower number).

What a real area of interest that OEMs have is something that isn’t widely talked about because were it to be it might be perceived as being rather greedy. What they want are recurring sources of revenues. That is, traditional OEMs that sell through dealerships (those that don’t use dealers can be counted on your fingers) actually sell the given vehicle to the dealer, then the dealer sells the SUV to you and makes a profit on the difference to what it paid the OEM and what it charges you. This means that the OEM gets money once for each vehicle.

What the OEMs would like is to sell subscriptions to individuals, not so much for entire vehicles (although there is that), but for options. What is perhaps the most notorious example of this is what BMW tried to do a while back, which is to charge a fee for those who wanted to use the heated seat function that was installed in the vehicle. That was pretty much on the heels of its earlier idea that if you wanted to use Apple CarPlay in your 3 Series, then you would pay a fee to BMW to do so. While that CarPlay play isn’t going to occur again, there are efforts by OEMs to develop their own competitive systems, which is where the fees are likely to sneak in. What’s more, what is becoming more common and seemingly acceptable are fees that are charged by OEMs that will allow one’s electric vehicle to go faster: this is activated by an over-the-air software update.

While that may be exhilarating, it is also expensive for the individual who has both the vehicle: they have paid for the motor that is capable of performing at X + 2 but that motor is limited to X until they pay more to get that 2. Presumably a motor that can only provide X would be less expensive than one that can go X + 2, which means that those who have no intention of ever going X + 2 are paying more, and those who are interested in X + 2 pay a recurring fee to the OEM, so it makes money on both ends.

At this point—or a few hundred words back—you are wondering whether this was actually something written for Motor Trend, not Glorious Noise.

Continue reading Ownership: What It Isn’t

“No Particular Place to Go”

When the 2021 Cadillac Escalade was introduced, the vehicle manufacturer didn’t make a big deal out of the fact that this is a BIG SUV—the passenger volume is 168.4 cubic feet, which doesn’t mean a whole lot until you know that your Honda CR-V has more than 60 fewer cubic feet for people, and we’re talking about the regular wheel base Escalade, not the extended model—as much as it touted “Escalade’s industry-first curved OLED display” that “offers more than 38 inches of total diagonal display area” including “a 7.2-inch-diagonal touch control panel driver information center to the driver’s left, a 14.2-inch-diagonal cluster display behind the steering wheel and a 16.9-inch-diagonal Infotainment screen to the driver’s right.” Cadillac, presumably wanted to emphasize that this isn’t just a vehicle that, depending on the engine selected, has fuel economy of 13 mpg, but an entertainment experience, as it had Spike Lee introduce the vehicle at an event in Los Angeles.

Another point it emphasized was that the SUV features an audio system from AKG that includes 36 speakers driven by three amps that deliver 28 channels. Notably there is what is called “Studio 3D Surround.” The speakers are placed such that it delivers “sound like being with the artist in the recording studio.” AKG, which was founded in Vienna in 1947, invented the dynamic cardioid microphone that became popular in recording studios; its capabilities in the recording studio space garnered it a Technical Grammy in 2010. Although there is something to the fact that Mozart spent a considerable amount of time in Vienna and died there which makes microphones and speakers from a company that was founded there, in 1994 AKG was acquired by Harmon International. AKG Vienna was shut down in 2017 and the HQ moved to Northridge, California, the same year that Harmon was acquired by Samsung.

Automakers across the board are banking on things like screens and entertainment to attract people to their models. While there had been radio head units in the dashboards since the mid-1930s when Motorola was established (there was a 1922 Chevy with a radio, but Motorola made radios an accessible option), by and large they have disappeared, giving way to screens of different sizes and configurations.

Continue reading “No Particular Place to Go”

Hearing, Seeing, Earning

No Static At All

According to Nielsen, some 47 million Americans listen to AM radio. Given that there are some 338 million Americans, that isn’t a small number.

While electric vehicle sales are still under 10% in the U.S., the number is growing.

And as it grows, the number of AM radios in vehicles declines. Electric vehicles produced by Audi, BMW, Porsche, Volvo, Volkswagen and Tesla are all AM-radio free.

Ford has announced that its immensely popular F-150 Lightning electric pickup, will not have AM starting in model year 2023.

This isn’t (necessarily) a case of what’s known in the industry as “decontenting,” or removing things to reduce costs and increase profits.

Rather, electric motors throw off electromagnetic interference that affects AM reception in a way that it doesn’t affect FM. (The same goes for other electrical phenomenon, such as non-automotive lightning.)

Because Tesla is by far the most popular brand of EVs in the U.S. (and everywhere else for that matter), it is interesting to note something about its entertainment strategy.

What’s involved in getting AM, FM and Sirius Radio (assuming there is an appropriate antenna affixed to the roof) in a Tesla?

The customer must purchase a Radio Upgrade. It costs $500. But to get the Radio Upgrade it is necessary to get the Infotainment Upgrade. According to Tesla, to obtain the Infotainment Upgrade, “Owners of compatible vehicles can schedule an appointment through the Tesla app for purchase and installation. This upgrade is available for $2,250 plus applicable tax, including installation, for vehicles equipped with Autopilot Computer 2.0 or 2.5 and for $1,750 plus applicable tax, including installation, for all other vehicles.”

But wait, there’s more: “Some features enabled by the Infotainment Upgrade require a Premium Connectivity subscription.” And for that: “Premium Connectivity currently is available as a monthly subscription of $9.99 plus applicable tax or as an annual subscription of $99 plus applicable tax.”

Remember when radios were standard equipment in cars?

The least-expensive Tesla is a Model 3 that starts at $46,990.

Well, at least static from the audio isn’t an issue.

Continue reading Hearing, Seeing, Earning

Rock Around the World

One of the things that is almost taken for granted is that for rock and roll, the language of the lyrics is in English. This is not to say that there aren’t songs written and performed in French, German, Tagalog, Romanian, Spanish, etc., etc., etc.

In India there are 22 different “official” languages and more than a 100 more; Hindi is the number-one official language with English in second place. There are some 1.38 billion people in India, so even if only 24% of them spoke English it would be as many English speakers as there are in the U.S.

There are some 300 languages in China, with the main ones being Mandarin, Wu, Min and Yue. There are 1.4 billion Chinese, so it would probably be comparatively easy, numbers-wise, for a band to go quadruple platinum with a recording in Yue.

There are several theories about the dominance of English when it comes to rock. One of which is that it is fairly well accepted that rock was established in the U.S.

I was in a bar in Dresden, Germany, a few years after the Berlin Wall fell; the entire bar was full of what would be considered in the U.S. kitschy decorations: Elvis, Marilyn, Harley-Davidson, mainly in DayGlo.  It was clear the former Ossis were all-in on what is arguably one of the greatest American exports of all time.

Continue reading Rock Around the World

Cars, Turntables & Physical Objects

Last week I had the opportunity to drive a 2022 Honda Civic. It was the top-of-the-line Touring trim. It is an all-new, 11th generation Civic. It has leather seats, Bose audio with 12-speakers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an array of sensors for safety, moonroof, 180-hp turbocharged engine. . . and a lot more stuff.

It is really an impressive vehicle, and being a Honda Civic, I would imagine that whoever buys one is likely to have it for some years in reliable operation. A value play.

This morning I read piece by Jacob Heilbrunn in The Absolute Sound about his quest for getting a custom reference stand for his turntable. He contacted the chief engineer at a Buffalo, New York-based company, Harmonic Resolution Systems, about getting the company’s VXR stand. As things went, Heilbrunn obtained a custom VXR Zero stand.

It cost $52,000.

The Civic has an MSRP of $28,300.

I suspected that I was missing something.

So I looked at the turntable that Heilbrunn needed this very specific stand to accommodate.

A TechDAS Air Force Zero turntable.

According to Hideaki Nishikawa, who designed the reference turntable, “The goal of the project was to develop a truly groundbreaking product, building on our expertise and knowledge and incorporating new ideas and insights. To achieve this goal, the project had to be cost-no-object. And it had to have whatever technologies would be best suited for sonic performance, no matter how much it would cost.”

The result is a unit that weighs 727.5 pounds and measures 35.5 x 26.6 x 13.2 inches.

According to a recent review in Stereophile, the TechDAS Air Force Zero has a base price (i.e., there are models above it in the TechDAS lineup) of $450,000.

Continue reading Cars, Turntables & Physical Objects

COVID, Tech & Cars

So Kiss cancels. Paul Stanley tests positive for COVID, then a few days later, Gene Simmons did, as well. Hard to rock and roll all nite when you have a severe respiratory illness.

BTS, quite possibly the biggest band in the world, has canceled the BTS Map of the Soul Tour, a world tour. Although the band is from the South, north of the 38th Parallel Kim Jung Un told the country’s Politburo last week that “tightening epidemic prevention is the task of paramount importance”—and it was announced that he was foregoing some vaccines being offered by the U.N.

Alan Parsons—admittedly, one of the musicians of days gone by that I had no idea still existed, which just goes to show that if you don’t think about things, for you, anyway, they don’t exist (no, not a gloss on Bishop Berkeley)—has canceled his U.S. tour.

Nine Inch Nails? Nope.

The Limited Last Minute Post Pandemic Popup Party Edition tour that Limp Bizkit was going to stage has been limited to nothing because we are no post-pandemic and consequently there is nothing much to party about.

A friend who drives from Detroit to New Orleans each year for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival told me the other day that he was set to go south, the room was booked and the car was ready for the 1,000-mile trip, that it had been canceled because of COVID. But then there was Hurricane Ida, and were it not the virus it would have certainly been the massive weather event. (He is still going down in October: he feels that it is important to support the New Orleans community with his tourist dollars.)

And speaking of Hurricane Ida, Bonnaroo was canceled due to the rain.

Plague. Rain. Whence come the locusts?

Continue reading COVID, Tech & Cars

Print Publishing & BTS

It seemed rather strange to me. Yes, I have written before about Rolling Stone offering me a tote bag were I to subscribe, as though the publication founded in 1967 was now taking the route of my local PBS station during a fund drive. What, exactly, would someone carry in their official Rolling Stone tote? Presumably not “Downton Abbey” swag. But maybe that is, indeed, what is carried.

There was a clue, however, in the email solicitation recently sent by RS. It indicated that were I to subscribe before the time was up, I would “Get the BTS Issue guaranteed.” There was a photo of the cover of that issue with the seven Korean boys on the cover with a headline above the logo reading “THE FUTURE of MUSIC ISSUE.” Which seemed to be something of a disconnection: wouldn’t the future provide something like a fan with a USB plug on the end that would allow someone to catch a breeze while getting “Instant Access” to:

–Exclusive interviews
–Award-winning features
–Trusted music, TV, and movie reviews
–In-depth political commentary

A tote bag?

As the pandemic is fading, there are an increasing number of people who are out in the market buying things, which is leading to some rather startling numbers. For example, take the Honda HR-V, a small utility vehicle. In May its sales were up 115.8% percent compared with May 2020. Sure, May 2020 was when many people were inside, calculating how to use the available toilet paper to make it last (this is something that deserves deep economic and sociological analyses: how did an allegedly advanced, 21st-century country like the U.S. suddenly have shelves bereft of Charmin and even off-label bog rolls?).

A stat that is perhaps more remarkable than that is the according to Nikkei Asia, in Q4 2020 Big Hit Entertainment had an increase of 122% year-over-year, as the firm made 52.5 billion won. Big Hit is a Korean company. That number in U.S. dollars is $47 million.

And the biggest contributor to that was BTS. That’s right, the band of the future is making big money for Big Hit, accounting for 87.7% of Big Hit’s revenue for the first half of 2020.

Jin, Suga, J-Hope, RM, Jimin, V, and Jungkook are crushing it.

Continue reading Print Publishing & BTS

Rich Rock Ride

“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.”—F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Ram 1500 TRX is an exaggerated pickup truck. It has a 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8 engine that produces 702 horsepower and 650 lb.-ft. of torque and allows the full-size pickup truck to have a top speed of 118 mph and go from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, 0-100 mph in 10.5 seconds and quarter mile in 12.9 seconds at 108 mph. It has a ground clearance of 11.8 inches and 35-inch tires (if you are rolling in a Honda CR-V know that the ground clearance is 7.8 inches and the tires are a maximum of 19 inches in diameter, more likely to be 17 inches). The interior is exquisite, with acres of suede and leather. And then there is the Harman Kardon 12-channel, 19-speaker, 900-watt audio system with a 10-inch subwoofer and active noise cancellation.

You could drive across a desert and climb a mountain in one of these things in absolute comfort. You could blow the doors off of competitors in muscle cars from a standing start at a stop light. You could drive around town and know that there are very few people anywhere who also have a TRX and feel the pride of exclusivity.

You would spend more than $70,000 on this vehicle (starting MSRP: $70,295).

(And you may be wondering: “Did I somehow get on the MotorTrend website?”)

If there is a vehicle that screams (thanks to the supercharger) and bellows (thanks to that V8) “heavy metal,” then it has to be the Ram 1500 TRX.

It is powerful, raucous and yet tuned and orchestrated to deliver raw power.

Which brings me back to the rich. And rock.

The Lamborghini Urus is an SUV. A sport utility vehicle. It starts at $218,000. It has a 4.0-liter V8 twin-turbo that produces 650 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque.

Clearly, this is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill vehicle that is likely to be in the queue pickup up the kids from the elementary outside of Santa Barbara.

I bring the Urus up because I was surprised to see Lamborghini boasting that one of its owners is “Tony Iommi, guitarist and king of riffs with legendary ‘monsters of rock’ Black Sabbath.”

Continue reading Rich Rock Ride

Music for Parking Lots

If you’ve gotten into a new car recently, you’ve noticed that there is a change that has occurred over just the past few years. As there is a high likelihood that the vehicle is started by a keyfob rather than a key that is inserted into a cylinder on the steering column or on the instrument panel, the car “recognizes” that you have the fob. In fact, in the case of many vehicles, before you open the door, the car “wakes up” and will automatically unlock the door and if it is dark out, initiate a lighting routine so that your visibility is enhanced.

Upon getting behind the wheel, the car “greets” you. This is where the big change has happened. There is likely to be a message on a screen that welcomes you. And there is a series of sounds that acknowledge that you have arrived in the vehicle.

These sounds are an interesting thing. The beeps and buzzers that have long been characteristic of cars (e.g., seatbelt warning; you’ve left the lights on after you’ve shut off the vehicle; your door is ajar) have given way to more mellifluous sounds. These are not some random noises that have been selected for activation. There are sound signatures that identify the brand (were you to climb in another vehicle of the same vintage from the same brand—say a 2021 Kia Sorrento and a Kia K5—you would hear the same micro melody), as well as the various whooshes and whirs that are to make you think that you’re not just getting ready to go to the store to buy some milk but to be whisked away on some sort of magical adventure.

The company that has made an absolute art of the musical sounds within a vehicle is Lincoln. It didn’t hire some little-known creator of digital sounds that are encoded on a chip that is part of a vehicle’s body control module in order to create the audio ambience. Rather, Lincoln hired musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for the automotive soundscape that is part of its vehicles’ signature. The company even has a position called “supervisor, vehicle harmony.”

Continue reading Music for Parking Lots