Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Editorial: What does it mean to buy American?

Following the recent election, the future of many major industries is likely to be in flux, the automotive, motorcycling, and even cycling industries in particular. Each of those industries has their distinct structures for design and manufacturing that can make the idea of "buying American" a difficult one to define. All of them are manufacturing industries that rely on "overseas" manufacturing jobs to one extent or another and with promises from the incoming administration to correct trade imbalances and place tariffs on products made overseas for sale here in the US, there is a lot of uncertainty about what potential impacts there are. And in this day and age of globalized economies, figuring out what exactly is "made in America" is not necessarily clear cut. So when it comes time to purchase that new motorcycle, bicycle, or car, what exactly does it mean to buy American?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Daydreams: Third Generation Acura TL Type-S

At some point, both East Brother and I had access to a third generation Acura TL Type-S. East Brother owned a silver 2008 TL Type-S with the six-speed manual, while I had joint custody of a white 2008 model with the five-speed automatic. We both loved these cars immensely and we both miss them quite a bit. East Brother ended up having to sell his TL when he and his wife purchased a home with only one available parking space. The TL that I shared with our folks ended up getting traded in for a 2011 Acura RL Tech after I obtained my S2000. To this day, East Brother still regrets selling his TL, and I still miss the white TL, even going as far as admitting to friends and family that I would sell my S2000 if I encountered a manual equipped Type-S for sale.

But this article isn't about how much East Brother and I miss our respective TLs. I've seen quite a few TL Type-S on the road in the last couple of weeks, and I started to think what I would do to further improve the car to reach modern standards.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Editorial: Riding the Rails

When I was a freshman in college over a decade ago, Metrolink and I became well acquainted. It was an easy way to get from the small town where my school was, which fortunately had a stop, and the Inland Empire or Downtown LA. The trains were reasonably comfortable, seeing as they were intended for commuters making the daily slog to their jobs in the city, and the ridership during the weekend tended to be largely students going home or the occasional tourist who opted not to rent a car. The trip duration could tend to be on the long side and since rail infrastructure in Southern California is not exactly well developed, once I reached the end of the line, it could take a fair amount of planning to actually reach my final destination. Being a poor college student at the time, that often meant the "last mile" portion of my trip was either another form of public transit or an awful lot of walking. However, after I got a car my sophomore year, I pretty much have never set foot on Metrolink again...until yesterday.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Long Term Test: 2014 Acura MDX Tech FWD Wrap-up

With our folks now retired, and their need for two vehicles at home completely unnecessary, it seemed prudent to part ways with our big, hulking Acura SUV. Even though it has treated us well for the last two and a half years, trading the MDX in sooner rather than returning it at the end of its lease seemed to make much more financial sense. Acura's MDX is a perennial favorite among middle-class buyers, providing a solid mix of luxury accouterments and daily driver practicality. These were largely the very reasons that the MDX was so popular with our family, this being the fifth that we have owned. During its time with us, the MDX served many purposes, having been a road trip car multiple times, including at least one trip where our pup came along for the ride, a work horse, and just a daily driven grocery-getter.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Editorial: The Trolley Problem

Image courtesy of onedio
For those of you who are unfamiliar with what the "Trolley Problem" is, it's actually quite simple. It's a simple thought experiment in ethics that asks you to imagine a trolley headed towards a track with five people tied to it. By pulling a lever, you can divert the trolley to a different track with one person tied to it. So the question here is whether or not you do nothing and let five people die, or do something and let one person die. But what does any of this have to do with cars? With the advent of autonomous cars hitting our roads within the next few years, people have begun to ask a similar question, but about autonomous cars: should the car be programmed to avoid hitting pedestrians, but possibly endangering the occupants, or to hit the pedestrians and save the occupants inside the car?

Image courtesy of Mercedes-Benz
It's an interesting question that doesn't seem to have a truly correct answer to...unless you're Mercedes-Benz apparently. During the most recent Paris Motor Show, Car and Driver spoke with Mercedes-Benz's Manager of Driver Assistance Systems, Cristoph von Hugo. During their interview, Car and Driver brought up the "Trolley Problem" with von Hugo, knowing full well that this is a question that manufacturers do not like to address. Oddly, von Hugo did address the question, stating that Mercedes-Benz's level four and five autonomous vehicles would prioritize saving the occupants of the vehicle.

While not implicitly stated, von Hugo's answer does imply that Mercedes-Benz's autonomous vehicles will run over a group of pedestrians if it means saving the occupants inside the car, or as Jalopnik's Raphael Orlove so eloquently puts it: "My dude. Holy shit. You know what you’re saying there, right? You’re saying that a Mercedes S-Class or whatever, driving down the road, will happily if not gleefully run over a child if it guaranteed saving the caviar-guzzling millionaire inside. Not just a child. An orphan. A group of orphans. A group of sick, orphans with leprosy."

Again, this goes back to the idea that there really is no correct answer to the "Trolley Problem." For a car manufacturer, any answer given will shovel bad PR its way. Save the pedestrians? Why is your company's car killing its customers to save random people? Save the occupants? How could you let your autonomous vehicle become a rolling death machine? In the end, someone is going to be upset and someone is going to get sued.

So, readers, I pose the question to you: if you were in charge of programming the brain of a new autonomous vehicle, how would you try and solve "Trolley Problem?"

So it would seem that as I was writing this article, Mercedes-Benz has clarified that some of von Hugo's comments in the Car and Driver interview were left out. Mercedes' official stance on the problem is "...neither programmers nor automated systems are entitled to weigh the value of human lives." In short, Mercedes-Benz is now also side-stepping the question along with other auto manufacturers.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Overseas Adventures: Transportation culture in Toronto, Canada

As fans of the television series Parks and Recreation, my wife could not pass on an opportunity to tap into her inner Leslie Knope at a parks conference in Toronto. Since I had never been to Toronto before, aside from a few brief stints at Pearson airport while in transit, I felt like this was a good opportunity to explore another Canadian city. We had such a great time in Montreal back in 2014, I expected to have a similar experience this time around. So we hopped on a plane and and after a five hour flight, found ourselves sweltering in the heat of Toronto's summer heat wave.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Long Term Test: 2016 Honda Accord Touring post# 1

For a while now, East Brother and I have been talking about getting a car that we could share. One that I could use as a daily driver to work, and that East Brother could use when he needed to go somewhere outside the range of his Focus Electric. Our original plan saw us aiming towards the end of the year to make the purchase, but ongoing back pain from driving my S2000 daily to my new place of employment in West LA pushed our schedule up by a few months.

We tossed plenty of ideas around, but our decision came down to two choices: the 2016 Honda Accord Touring, and the 2016 Volvo V60 T5 Platinum. Initially, we were pushing for the Volvo as we are both fans of wagons, but there wasn't a single dealer in the area that had the car equipped the way we wanted it. Realizing that it seemed a little pointless to keep pursuing the Volvo, we started shooting emails to our local Honda dealers to get quotes on the Accord. Within a few short days, we took home a Modern Steel Metallic Accord Touring.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Long Term Test: 2007 Honda S2000 Post #7

Update #7
Mileage: 82,057

As much as I love my S2000, I have to admit that it is starting to wear me down a bit physically. I recently changed jobs, necessitating having to travel to West Los Angeles daily. This is only a mere nine miles north of where I used to work by LAX, however, during rush hour traffic, that nine miles easily translates to an extra 30 to 40 minutes added to my commute. Driving from the South Bay to LAX and back was not all that painful, but driving from the South Bay to West LA and back is starting to actually hurt my back. It is also probably not good for my blood pressure either, as I find myself angry at other commuters far more often than I used to be.

East Brother and I have been talking about jointly getting a car for quite some time now, and we decided to push our timeline up. The idea was to get a car that I could use as a daily driver, and that East Brother could use as a road trip car if he and his wife needed to go somewhere that was beyond the range of their Focus Electric. We will reveal which car we picked over the course of the next few weeks. Of course, this is a post about my S2000, and not our new car.

Back to my S2000. Since my last post, I have had to take my car in for its 90,000 mile scheduled tuneup. I always knew maintaining the S2000 was not exactly going to be cheap, but this scheduled tuneup ended up being quite a bit more than I had expected. All those years of sloughing around in 405 rush hour traffic clearly did not do my car any favors. After spending well over $1,500 to get my S2000 back into top shape, it is interesting that it will only see duty on weekends now. I definitely still love the car, and I do sometimes miss driving it daily. The plan now is to see how things work out with our new vehicle, and to possibly turn my S2000 into a project car. I suppose we will see what happens down the line.

Oh, and that infernal clutch pedal squeak is back. See what I mean? Mind of its own.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Editorial: California legalizing lane splitting is hugely important

The debate has been a long and boisterous one, but after all the battling, the stats finally won out and the state of California is the first in the US to officially make lane-splitting legal. Lane-splitting has always drawn a lot of controversy in America, a country dominated by car drivers who selfishly believe that the roads are theirs and theirs alone.

Even in California, the practice had previously only been allowed because it was not expressly disallowed. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) supported it because it allowed their motor officers to move more freely through the gridlock traffic that burdens the greater LA and San Francisco areas during nearly all hours of the day. Motorcyclists support it because it allows riders the ability to move through traffic and keep air flowing to prevent overheating (mostly of the rider, though some older bikes benefit from it too). Car drivers, however, have long disliked the practice because it requires that they be more attentive about lane position and lane changes. Still, most drivers who have lived in California long enough have grudgingly adapted to it, some better than others.

But by taking it from a tolerated act by virtue of lack of legislation to a totally legal act backed by legislation and with guidelines to be provided by law enforcement, California has changed the game. By making it expressly legal, California is saying that lane-splitting is not just safe enough to be a practice, it is safe enough to be a law. That has long been a major argument used by detractors of lane-splitting to fight its implementation in other states. Many opponents have argued that by allowing one kind of traffic to travel between other traffic, it increases the chances for collisions, even though this has not been backed by the statistics. If anything, it has reduced one of the most common car-motorcycle collisions, which is motorcyclists being hit from behind in slow moving or stopped traffic. When practiced with abundant and appropriate caution, lane-splitting makes motorcyclists safer with little impact on car drivers at all.

By taking the step to make lane-splitting a fully legal act, California is hopefully the first domino to fall in what will eventually be more states allowing the act. Attempts have been made to legalize lane-splitting in states such as Arizona and Oregon, but all were quashed by legislators representing car-centric constituents who are fearful of change. But now that someone else has taken a major leap, hopefully more attempts will be made to bring up lane-splitting legislation and more "trial periods" will be considered as other state legislatures begin to realize the potential safety and traffic relief benefits that lane-splitting can bring.

Friday, August 26, 2016

F-Type vs. S2000: Is the Jag Really Worth an Extra $42k?

Ever since we acquired a Jaguar F-Type in our long term garage, we have been wanting to pit West Brother's S2000 against it in a sort of "David vs. Goliath" type scenario. Seems like an apples to oranges type comparison, right? Strangely enough, not really. The 2015 Jaguar F-Type we have access to is the standard, supercharged V6 equipped model, making 340 horsepower. Its fastest recorded zero to 60 time is five seconds flat, with a 13.0 second sprint to the quarter mile. West Brother's 2007 Honda S2000, while having a 100 horsepower deficit, makes up for the power difference with a huge weight advantage. The fastest recorded zero to 60 time is 5.4 seconds, with a quarter mile sprint completed in 13.8 seconds. Just by looking at the numbers, there really is not a huge difference in performance. From just performance alone, the Jag has a hard time justifying that extra $42,000. But what about the rest of the car?