Posts Tagged ‘car’

French vehicle number plates: Choose your département (Economist)

Monday, May 10th, 2010

201017eud001[Editor's note: Coming from California where we do not list admin-2 counties on our license plates, it was always odd (from a privacy perspective) yet delightful (from a geo-nerd perspective) to see plates from Georgia and elsewhere that tagged them thus. France tried to scrap and now revamp their plate system, leaving it with a curiosity akin to the OBX & etc place bumper stickers one sees on the US east coast.]

Republished from the Economist.

What new licence plates reveal about car-owners and where they live

WHEN the French government decided to bring in new number plates, it all seemed simple. Under the old system, car-owners had to change their plates every time they moved from one département to another. Under the new rules, which came into effect last year, a licence plate belongs to the car even if the owner changes address. As a logical consequence, new plates would no longer display département numbers.

Yet this was to underestimate the fierce attachment of the French to theirdépartements, first created after the 1789 revolution. Under the first version of the new plan, the département number was to have been an optional add-on. One argument, never quite made explicit, was that this would enable drivers to avoid stigmatisation. Those from certain roughbanlieues, such as Seine-Saint-Denis, north of Paris (93), have always been treated with extra suspicion by the police. They could now choose to be less identifiable on the road.

The French were dismayed. One poll found that 71% disapproved of the numbers becoming optional. Some feared that it might be the beginning of the end of the administrative département. Families argued that it would ruin car games for children. Over 220 parliamentary deputies and senators joined a campaign, “never without mydépartement”, demanding the numbers’ reinstatement. “It’s a matter of roots, of attachment to a land,” said Richard Mallié, a deputy from Bouches-du-Rhône (13), who led the campaign.

Eventually the government backed down and agreed to make département numbers compulsory again—but in tiny, almost illegible characters. The result is an overloaded ugly mess. Worse, the département number is now pure whimsy: car-owners can choose anywhere they want, not just where they live. And they can change without modifying their official registration.

A year after the new licence plates were introduced, who wants to parade their roots, and who to disguise them? The most popular choices seem to be the 69 of Rhône, around Lyon, and the 59 of the Nord, centred on Lille, a département mythologised in “Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”, a warm-hearted 2008 box-office hit. And the least sought-after? Not the 93 of Seine-Saint-Denis, but the 75 of Paris and the 92 of Hauts-de-Seine, which includes the swanky suburb of Neuilly. Parisians, the car dealers say, turn out to be the ones who are keenest to hide their origins—perhaps to protect their cars from casual vandalism when motoring on holiday, prompted by their reputation for haughty arrogance.

Sweden’s Acme Advertising creates arresting green motorcoach marketing (Acne Advertising)

Monday, February 1st, 2010

flugbussweden

[Editor's note: Video (below) showing creation of a 3d art installation showing how 50 cars = 1 bus for CO2 emissions in Sweden. Thanks @jnack!]

Republished from Acne Advertising and AutoBlog.

Sweden’s Flygbussarna Airport Coaches asked Acne Advertising to make the case for travelers to take a coach to the airport instead of a car. Instead of leading with price, comfort, or ease, Acne went for hot air and green – as in CO2 and the environment.

To vividly illustrate that one Flyggbussarna coach can hold about 50 people – as opposed to the typical Swedish passenger car, which averages 1.2 occupants – while emitting the pollution of just four passenger cars, Acne built a coach out of fifty crushed cars – primarily expired Volvos and Saabs.

The installation was placed next to the road to Sweden’s largest airport, and what ensued was lots of public awareness. And traffic jams. Which would have increased CO2, ironically. Follow the jump for a video on the campaign. Even if the resultant congestion made the earth a bit warmer, it’s still very cool.

50 cars or 1 coach? from acneadvertising on Vimeo.

Figuring Autoworkers’ Pay (NY Times)

Monday, December 15th, 2008

[Editor's note: This graphic from the New York Times shows how the crux of the auto bailout is not a labor pricing issue but a core a supply and demand issue. The labor costs of a new car is only 10% of the price of a car and any remaining "labor" cost difference after recent union concessions is due, like any large company, to supporting prior retirees, a cost that newer companies have yet to experience (Diane Rehm Show, 15 Dec 2008). If the Big Three could make cars that were smart, efficient, reliable, and had resale value, now that's the ticket. Besides, it's not like the Heritage cadre were crying foul over big financial firm bailouts when those white collar workers certainly make more than the average American worker. Thanks Laris!]

Republished from the New York Times. By DAVID LEONHARDT. Published: December 9, 2008

Economic Scene
$73 an Hour: Adding It Up

That figure — repeated on television and in newspapers as the average pay of a Big Three autoworker — has become a big symbol in the fight over what should happen to Detroit. To critics, it is a neat encapsulation of everything that’s wrong with bloated car companies and their entitled workers.

To the Big Three’s defenders, meanwhile, the number has become proof positive that autoworkers are being unfairly blamed for Detroit’s decline. “We’ve heard this garbage about 73 bucks an hour,” Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said last week. “It’s a total lie. I think some people have perpetrated that deliberately, in a calculated way, to mislead the American people about what we’re doing here.”

So what is the reality behind the number? Detroit’s defenders are right that the number is basically wrong. Big Three workers aren’t making anything close to $73 an hour (which would translate to about $150,000 a year).

But the defenders are not right to suggest, as many have, that Detroit has solved its wage problem. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler workers make significantly more than their counterparts at Toyota, Honda and Nissan plants in this country. Last year’s concessions by the United Automobile Workers, which mostly apply to new workers, will not change that anytime soon.

And yet the main problem facing Detroit, overwhelmingly, is not the pay gap. That’s unfortunate because fixing the pay gap would be fairly straightforward.

The real problem is that many people don’t want to buy the cars that Detroit makes. Fixing this problem won’t be nearly so easy.

The success of any bailout is probably going to come down to Washington’s willingness to acknowledge as much.

Let’s start with the numbers. The $73-an-hour figure comes from the car companies themselves. As part of their public relations strategy during labor negotiations, the companies put out various charts and reports explaining what they paid their workers. Wall Street analysts have done similar calculations.

The calculations show, accurately enough, that for every hour a unionized worker puts in, one of the Big Three really does spend about $73 on compensation. So the number isn’t made up. But it is the combination of three very different categories.

The first category is simply cash payments, which is what many people imagine when they hear the word “compensation.” It includes wages, overtime and vacation pay, and comes to about $40 an hour. (The numbers vary a bit by company and year. That’s why $73 is sometimes $70 or $77.)

The second category is fringe benefits, like health insurance and pensions. These benefits have real value, even if they don’t show up on a weekly paycheck. At the Big Three, the benefits amount to $15 an hour or so.

Add the two together, and you get the true hourly compensation of Detroit’s unionized work force: roughly $55 an hour. It’s a little more than twice as much as the typical American worker makes, benefits included. The more relevant comparison, though, is probably to Honda’s or Toyota’s (nonunionized) workers. They make in the neighborhood of $45 an hour, and most of the gap stems from their less generous benefits.

The third category is the cost of benefits for retirees. These are essentially fixed costs that have no relation to how many vehicles the companies make. But they are a real cost, so the companies add them into the mix — dividing those costs by the total hours of the current work force, to get a figure of $15 or so — and end up at roughly $70 an hour.

The crucial point, though, is this $15 isn’t mainly a reflection of how generous the retiree benefits are. It’s a reflection of how many retirees there are. The Big Three built up a huge pool of retirees long before Honda and Toyota opened plants in this country. You’d never know this by looking at the graphic behind Wolf Blitzer on CNN last week, contrasting the “$73/hour” pay of Detroit’s workers with the “up to $48/hour” pay of workers at the Japanese companies.

These retirees make up arguably Detroit’s best case for a bailout. The Big Three and the U.A.W. had the bad luck of helping to create the middle class in a country where individual companies — as opposed to all of society — must shoulder much of the burden of paying for retirement.

So here’s a little experiment. Imagine that a Congressional bailout effectively pays for $10 an hour of the retiree benefits. That’s roughly the gap between the Big Three’s retiree costs and those of the Japanese-owned plants in this country. Imagine, also, that the U.A.W. agrees to reduce pay and benefits for current workers to $45 an hour — the same as at Honda and Toyota.

Do you know how much that would reduce the cost of producing a Big Three vehicle? Only about $800.

That’s because labor costs, for all the attention they have been receiving, make up only about 10 percent of the cost of making a vehicle. An extra $800 per vehicle would certainly help Detroit, but the Big Three already often sell their cars for about $2,500 less than equivalent cars from Japanese companies, analysts at the International Motor Vehicle Program say. Even so, many Americans no longer want to own the cars being made by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

My own family’s story isn’t especially unusual. For decades, my grandparents bought American and only American. In their apartment, they still have a framed photo of the 1933 Oldsmobile that my grandfather’s family drove when he was a teenager. In the photo, his father stands proudly on the car’s running board.

By the 1970s, though, my grandfather became so sick of the problems with his American cars that he vowed never to buy another one. He hasn’t.

Detroit’s defenders, from top executives on down, insist that they have finally learned their lesson. They say a comeback is just around the corner. But they said the same thing at the start of this decade — and the start of the last one and the one before that. All the while, their market share has kept on falling.

There is good reason to keep G.M. and Chrysler from collapsing in 2009. (Ford is in slightly better shape.) The economy is in the worst recession in a generation. You can think of the Detroit bailout as a relatively cost-effective form of stimulus. It’s often cheaper to keep workers in their jobs than to create new jobs.

But Congress and the Obama administration shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that they can preserve the Big Three in anything like their current form. Very soon, they need to shrink to a size that reflects the American public’s collective judgment about the quality of their products.

It’s a sad story, in many ways. But it can’t really be undone at this point. If we had wanted to preserve the Big Three, we would have bought more of their cars.

Interactive Commuting Time Maps – Find Where to Move (MySociety)

Monday, November 10th, 2008

[Editor's note: This MySociety.org article from 2007 shows how an interactive web map can help users narrow down the best places to live or work based on a home prices ($) and commute times (t) by car, bike, bus, or train. Interactive Flash versions of the maps are after the jump. Thanks Lynda!]

Reprinted from MySociety.org.

In 2006, our late friend and colleague Chris Lightfoot produced a series of time travel contour maps, after the Department for Transport approached mySociety about experimenting with novel ways of re-using public sector data.

This mapping work was very important because it provides a potentially revolutionary new way of working out the best place for people to live and work.

Commuting Time Maps

Following widespread interest across the net and a major feature in the Evening Standard, the Department for Transport asked us to show them how this work could be taken further, and that is what we are showing here today. Get a quote for your map now

Improving legibility and clarity

Many of the maps we produced last time were very pretty, but could be somewhat difficult to interpret. We therefore teamed up with Stamen to improve the visual clarity and fun. Our first approach was to improve the base mapping to something more delicate and appropriate, using OpenStreetMap. We then worked on the colours and textures of the contours to make them quicker to interpret. Click on the images for larger versions.

Old map of London

Showing travel times to work at the Department for Transport in Pimlico, arriving at 9am

Old map of London showing travel times to work at the Department for Transport in Pimlico, arriving at 9am
Click image for bigger version.
© Crown copyright. All rights reserved. Department for Transport 100020237 2007

New map of London

Showing travel times to work at the Department for Transport in Pimlico, arriving at 9am

New map of London showing travel times to work at the Department for Transport in Pimlico, arriving at 9am

Click image for bigger version.

(more…)

Geography Is For Real: Oil Costs Up (Sundry)

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

Omnibus of a weeks’ newspaper coverage (reprints):

Are Oil Costs Creating a ‘Made Here’ Movement?
NY Times’ Andrew C. Revkin on August 2, 2008

Referencing:
Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization
NY Times’ Larry Rohter on August 3, 2008

Larry Rohter, who recently returned to the United States after many years covering Brazil, has a fascinating story in the Sunday paper examining how high oil prices may be blunting the globalization of manufacturing. Concerns over carbon dioxide emissions may be playing a role, as well. He starts out with an anecdote about Tesla Motors, which planned to build its batteries in Thailand, assemble most of the components of its electric sports cars in Britain, and then sell them in the United States.

But high shipping costs have changed that company’s plans, and those of many others, Larry writes. Here’s the “nut graf”:

Cheap oil, the lubricant of quick, inexpensive transportation links across the world, may not return anytime soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains that treat geography as a footnote in the pursuit of lower wages. Rising concern about global warming, the reaction against lost jobs in rich countries, worries about food safety and security, and the collapse of world trade talks in Geneva last week also signal that political and environmental concerns may make the calculus of globalization far more complex.

Maybe the world is not as flat, or small, as it once seemed. The breakdown of trade talks also implies more countries are thinking local. I’m not sure this bodes well for the global thinking, and interaction, that’d have to take place if the world were to get serious about curbing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. What’s your take?

Continue reading at New York Times . . .