Archive | February, 2013

Is your new car watching over you?

14 Feb

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In the 1980’s, if Britain or the United States governments had declared that every citizen must report their personal whereabouts and also to whom they spoke, there would have been an understandable mass revolt and rioting in the streets.

Instead, we citizens were sold the mobile or ‘cell’ phone.

Lured by the promise of entertainment, technology and kudos, we rushed out and bought phones for ourselves and our children.

We bought the phones willingly. The needs of government were met.

It was all about information – being connected and being in communication. Being the first to know, the first to hear.

Twenty years later, we now understand how our cellphones pinpoint our position and our conversations and texts are widely and routinely intercepted and analysed ‘in the interests of National Security’.

Our billing information has been sold and resold a hundred times. British Police forces have sold personal details of car crash victims to ambulance-chasing insurance firms. Apparently, that is okay by us. Absolutely fine.

Since we are anxious to be seen as law-abiding citizens, we trade in our privacy in a way that was utterly unthinkable, even as recently as 1990. We ignore the outrageous  invasion of our privacy by Google, Microsoft and a million life insurance and healthcare agents who now own copies of all our private details.

Some of us actually help out by uploading our private life and photo album details to Facebook.

Next on the agenda of big business and world government: our car.

“…all citizens shall declare their car  journeys, itineraries, speeds attained and addresses visited…”

We are sold ‘infotainment’ and connectivity packages for our new car. We buy them, using our own money.

Intel put it perfectly in their press release:

“…Cars are gradually transitioning from an information isolated island to a mobile information processing platform…”

The statement is almost benign in its apparent casualness.

However, be not fooled. The parking camera package that you bought because you are too stupid to park your own car can now record the license plate of the car behind and in front.

One click of a switch at “Headquarters” and every driving citizen becomes an unmarked Police cruiser, fitted with Automated Number Plate Recognition.

Your three year old car already tells tales on you to its manufacturer. When you send it in to the dealer to have it serviced, you naively believe that the big red box it gets plugged into tells the mechanic what is wrong.

It doesn’t. It uploads data to the manufacturer, who then tells the mechanic what is wrong. The manufacturer now knows if you hit the rev limiter…while in sixth gear. How often the ABS has been activated today.

028rwtrafficYou naughty thing, you! Let us hope that the manufacturer doesn’t tell the Police, or you’d be in deep trouble. Or your insurance company. Or your leasing company. Or your boss, who is considering you for promotion.

Perhaps, having read this far into my post, you are inclined to believe that I am being a little paranoid? Well, it only takes one click and your car uploads its data. The only question that remains is: to whom? 

Your car is already programmed to transmit your speed. Your sat-nav already does so.

Governments around the world are waiting for your opinion. They like opinions. It saves them having to ask.

When will the switch be ‘clicked’?

Well, that really depends on how we citizens feel about it. This is the ‘Big One’. All our other information is already accessed by the State in most Western countries but our car is the last frontier. It has always given us the feeling of freedom.

If we citizens realise that our car is now no longer a source of freedom but instead just expensive transportation, we may decide to take a taxi instead. We may rebel and refuse to buy our next car.

So the trick is to make us want to buy our next car.

It won’t be hard. Governments have progressively increased taxation on older cars and manufacturers have raised the prices of key spares to the point where it becomes uneconomical to keep them working.

As consumers, we take the hint. We buy a new car. Besides, the new one comes with an ‘Infotainment Package’…

Slam dunk.002bankrobber

The bank robber of the future will strip you, tie you up in the trunk of your car, drive to the bank and rob it in your name.

They will walk back to the car and plug in a second-hand ECU under the hood. They will dial a police crime line with your phone, drop it in the gutter and then drive you out to the woods.

There, you will be reunited with your clothes and shoes and given your keys back and told to drive off. As you gratefully sit behind the wheel, the robber will shoot you in the head, put the gun in your hand, close the door and then walk away.

According to the medical records that your doctor sold to your insurance company without your knowledge, you were taking anti-depressants.

According to the Police, always anxious to solve crime, there is an awful lot of even stronger evidence.

CCTV footage shows a person of your height and wearing your clothes and shoes, with a mask. Your phone and your car were tracked across town to the bank. Your phone is found, soaking wet – so no fingerprints there – but its call records are examined. Later that day, you are found behind the wheel of your car by a kid walking his dog.

Why you did it and where you hid the money will remain a mystery. Your life insurance company refuses to pay out to your family.

Isn’t technology wonderful?

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Millions of new cars remain unsold. Join the dots…

8 Feb

DSC00283roadwax

As more than 10 MILLION brand new cars join the ever increasing backlog of unsold stock across the World – four million cars in Europe alone – factory closures are now to become a reality.

Well-hidden and secure compounds across Europe, Asia and America are the usual first home for newly-born cars awaiting shipping to dealers. But these are now so full that dealers themselves are having to store cars in their already-packed yards.

The backlog of stored new cars in Europe now runs to four million. US sources point to a similar figure for America and things are so bad in China that Mercedes Benz are offering as much as 30% discount on some new models (S-Class, anyone?) as an attempt to shift stock.

No matter how politicians of all persuasions in all car-making countries try to dress it up, the fact is that production lines and whole factories now stand to be closed as a means of reducing output to match the drop in demand.

As Jorn Madslien’s BBC article here points out, the 7 – 10% annual drop in European demand since the Banking crisis of 2008 is set to continue through 2013 according to industry analysts.

There is no evidence to suggest that this trending reduction in demand will halt. Unemployment, static wages and financial insecurity continue to keep potential customers away from showrooms.021roadwax

What many ordinary people have overlooked in the last three years is the part that national politicians have played in this unfolding catastrophe.

Anxious to deflect criticism of themselves from voters already outraged at the corruption within the financial industry that has wrecked economic prospects, many political leaders have persuaded car giants to keep production at a steady level to avoid redundancies.

In the last three years, American car-making states have seen the quite shocking sight of trains loaded with brand new cars leaving the factories bound for the deserts – where the cars are simply off-loaded and parked up – as an alternative to laying off workers or reducing pay-packets.

Now, this temporary vote-buying strategy has resulted in such high levels of surplus vehicles that the need to close whole factories has replaced the idea of cutting the odd work shift. There is now no other option left.

Discounting of new car prices at dealership level is now rising into thousands of dollars. Some makes and models are almost dead in the water, effectively having so few interested potential buyers that they may as well not be offered.

Chrysler, for example, has more than six months worth of 2013 Dodge Darts parked up right now, as the Wall Street Journal’s article here reveals.

Six months worth of Dodge Darts. At what point does a ‘new’ car technically become an ‘old’ new car? Can a car that has sat out in the open for most of a year still be described as ‘new’? One can easily imagine the challenges that car manufacturers now face.

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But showroom price discounting – especially up to amounts like 30% – can wreak havoc with the residual value of that car’s marque. The prices of ‘nearly-new’ second-hand versions plummet at auction and fleet clients and Hire Purchase customers can become saddled with a kind of negative equity on their own vehicles. Fleet News made this point six months ago in their article here.

Some commercial vehicle manufacturers have been hit really hard as savvy fleet operators have held onto their trucks for an extra year or two to avoid this depreciation risk. One major truck maker sold zero units of its product in the UK in 2011 as regular clients simply sat tight.

General Motors has only now struggled back into profit in the US after years in the red with an unloved product range. Desperate for small cars it didn’t have, it hastily re-badged Asian Daewoo products, slapping a ‘Chevrolet’ badge on them and shipping them into America.

Now, it is watching as its twin European badges – Vauxhall and Opel – fight a desperate war to survive. It is abundantly clear that 7-10% over-capacity plus some ageing and inefficiently designed production facilities cannot be propped up at all cost.

roadwaxJeep 101

In this situation, the cost will be production line workers. There are no deserts in Europe to hide millions of unwanted cars.

The emerging giant economy of China fueled the revival of hopes in 2009 for top marques like BMW, Cadillac and Rolls Royce. Dying on their feet as Europe and America struggled with a banking collapse, these big names spearheaded a rush to satisfy Chinese auto sales volume growth of 46% in that year.

But by 2010 that figure had dropped to 32% and in early 2011 it slumped to 2.5%.

We are not supposed to use the word ‘problem’. The fashionable and politically correct word today is ‘challenge’.

The ‘problem’ is over-production of depreciating consumer goods.

The ‘challenge’ for today’s politicians is to find unemployed workers jobs that can generate their family a surplus income. Enough to buy yet more depreciating consumer goods and certainly more than enough to live on.

If today’s politicians actually have a solution to this challenge, then they are keeping very quiet about it.

 

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