Ever since Fiat Chrysler reintroduced Alfa Romeo to America a few years back, each successive model has become more practical and usable. The tiny 4C is a brilliant little carbon-fiber roadster, but best considered a toy. The Giulia is a gorgeous midsize sports sedan that’s available with a twin-turbocharged V6 that sounds like it came straight out of a mid-1980s Ferrari F1 car. But as much as I adored the Giulia Quadrifoglio, it’s pricey and as discussed previously it’s too low to the ground to deal with a major snow storm. But Alfa has us covered there as well with its first-ever utility vehicle, the Stelvio which I drove the week before the big storm.
There’s an old adage that you should never meet your heroes because you will inevitably be disappointed, or something to that effect. As I ponder the people I’ve come to know and in many cases befriend over the past decade, I’ve come to believe the core premise of that statement is fundamentally flawed. We are all after all simply human beings and without our inherent flaws and frailties, raising anyone to hero status diminishes that humanity.
In many ways, I’ve been incredibly fortunate in the course of my life and career. When I was young I spent countless hours pouring through car books and magazines wishing I could be the narrator or protagonist in those tales. After focusing on engine design and vehicle dynamics while studying mechanical engineering, my later work took me off in very different directions which would later prove be very valuable to me. However, throughout the first decade of my professional life, I never really imagined where my path would ultimately take me and who I would know today.
It was only the emergence of blogging and online journalism that opened new doorways that I was able to pass through. As a young reader and engineer I was aware of the many names on bylines and the characters they wrote about. Executives, designers, engineers, racers and writers. In some respects I saw some or many of them as personal heroes that I’d like to emulate.
Now however, as I’m well into middle age, having met many of these people, my view is more tempered. While I’ve obviously never met many of the people that are widely considered truly heroic like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela or Eleanor Roosevelt, we’ve all heard enough about other aspects of their respective lives to realize that above all else, humans.
This is not meant to denigrate the accomplishments or actions of any of those people. The accomplishments must be taken in context. The context of our limitations and flaws and humans and the environment in which we live. In some cases, that context will serve to further elevate while in others, we’ll find that the accomplishments came about by mistreating those around the person we might have admired.
I’ve been remarkably fortunate in that I feel like the balance in my life has been generally toward the positive people. Despite some of the personal struggles along the way, having the opportunity to know and befriend many of the people whose work has inspired, educated and entertained me over the 40-some years since I became interested in cars has been a wonderful experience and I’m eternally grateful to my amazing wife for supporting me along my path.
But there have been those that I now know enough about that I would never want to consider as friends despite still respecting what they achieved.
Ultimately though, I’ve come to believe that hero worship is not a positive thing and it should be discouraged. It would be better for society as a whole if we all looked at each other in the context of our lives. By elevating people excessively despite the decidedly not heroic aspects, we are dehumanizing them. In that, we lose the perspective that we are all capable of doing admirable things great and small and being better humans.
Authors note: Back in 2009 when I was still the technical editor of the now defunct GreenFuelsForecast.com, I sat down for lunch with Lou Rhodes and Doug Quigley of Chrysler. At the time, Lou was president of the company’s ENVI divison and Doug was executive engineer for EVs. Over the prior 18 months, ENVI had shown off two sets of electrified concepts and was still hoping to get at least one into production. At the time of this conversation, Chrysler was struggling to survive and barely a month later, the company would go through bankruptcy reorganization before emerging as part of Fiat. While none of the concepts at the time, made it to production, lessons from the project were fed into the Fiat 500e and in 2017 a plug-in hybrid Chrysler minivan finally arrived as the Pacifica.
(Auburn Hills, MI, March 27, 2009) Over the last two years numerous automakers including Nissan, Renault, Mitsubishi and General Motors have garnered attention for efforts to develop commercially viable electric drive vehicles. More recently Chrysler has also publicly jumped into the fray with the creation of its ENVI division, unveiling of several prototypes and the announcement that at least one of those vehicles would go into production in 2010.
Lou Rhodes, President of ENVI and Doug Quigley, Executive engineer spoke with Green Fuels Forecast about Chrysler’s plans for electrification. When ENVI was publicly announced in September 2007, many saw it as a knee-jerk reaction to all the hype that General Motors was getting for the Chevrolet Volt. In fact, the work of ENVI began quietly in late 2005 when the Chrysler Group was still firmly ensconced within DaimlerChrysler. (more…)
Ok, let’s immediately deal with the elephant in the room. The Toyota Prius Prime is not an attractive vehicle. In fact, to my eyes, it’s quite homely. Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll leave the aesthetic judgements to your own tastes and move on to how Toyota’s sophomore effort at a plug-in version of its icon works. While the first-generation Prius PHV was a bit of a swing and a miss, the functionality this time is in most respects a home run.
One of the longest running jokes in the tech industry is that Google’s customer support system is nothing more than a python script (for those that aren’t techies, python is a programming language widely used by Google). Getting actual human help for problems with Google problems was long thought impossible. However, Google really came through for me recently.
Back in 2010, when Google launched it’s first smartphone, the Nexus One, it was seen as a commercial failure in part because Google had no real infrastructure for providing sales and technical support. While Google still has issues on the sales side with trying to purchase their most popular phones the tech side has dramatically improved.
In January 2016, I bought a Nexus 6P as a replacement for the last in a long series of Motorola phones going back to an original 2009 Droid. I’ve really liked the 6P in the time I’ve owned it, especially the camera. When we took a family vacation to Puerto Rico last year, for the first time, I didn’t take a big SLR with me, relying only on phones and while there are some shots I would have liked to get with a longer lens, I wasn’t disappointed with the image quality.
In recent months however, the battery life has severely degraded and running the AccuBattery app it estimated that the battery had less than half its original capacity. Since like most modern phones, the battery is sealed into the case, I decided to reach out to Google to see if they had a battery replacement program like the one offered by Apple.
If you happen to follow any Android news feeds, you may have seen a bunch of stories in recent days about Google replacing defective Nexus 6P smartphones with newer Pixel XLs. I actually contacted Google before these stories started appearing and was fully prepared to pay for a battery replacement.
Google store support actually offers several ways to contact them, email, live chat or by phone (you enter your number and they will call back in a few minutes). I opted for the chat and after explaining the diagnostics I had gone through including a factory reset, I was informed that they would replace my phone, free of charge. Since the Nexus 6P has been out of production for some time, they didn’t have any stock left for replacements.
Instead Google offered to send me a new Pixel XL. The 6P was offered in 32, 64 and 128 GB sizes but the Pixel is only available in 32 and 128 GBs so Google is actually giving the larger 128 GB for customers that have 64 GB 6Ps. I received an email with a link to order my replacement and two days later I had a brand new phone! I didn’t even have to sit around an Apple store for a couple of hours for a genius bar appointment.
For a time from late in the last decade through the first half of this one, it seemed like a second generation Acura NSX would become the automotive equivalent of Duke Nukem Forever. Starting in 2003, every few years Honda would reveal a new concept that seemed to preview a new supercar but for some reason or other, the project just never came to fruition. At least not until the spring of 2016 when Honda’s newly christened Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, Ohio started turning out a handful of cars per day.
In 2017, do vehicle segment labels even have any meaning anymore? Back in the dark ages of the 1970s we knew what a sport utility vehicle was. It was essentially a shortened body-on-frame pickup truck with an enclosed, but often removable rear body. But then in 1984, Jeep introduced the XJ Cherokee and it all began to change. Now a utility vehicle can be whatever an automaker’s marketing department deems it to be including a high-performance compact, hot hatch like the Mercedes-AMG GLA45.
If you are in the Detroit area on August 6, 2017, please come join the Hespen Rally to honor the memory of Patrick Hespen and help raise funds for research into a cure for cholangiocarcinoma , the rare cancer that took Patrick’s life way too soon. There were will be lots of cool cars and Patrick’s friends, family and colleagues. Register at http://hespenrally.com/
It’s not unreasonable to think of Buick as the original near-luxury brand. It was the first of the many brands that Billy Durant acquired as he began building up General Motors more than a century ago. Later as Alfred Sloan organized GM’s marketing efforts and brands into a stair step from Chevrolet at the entry level to Cadillac at the pinnacle, Buick was slotted in just below the top as the “doctor’s car.” A few decades ago, a big sedan like the LaCrosse would have been the brand flagship, the model an up and coming professional would be driving on their way to eventually having a Cadillac. Today, the recently introduced third-generation LaCrosse is almost an afterthought for customers as they rush to buy crossovers like the sub-compact Encore and full-size Enclave.