12
Mar
10

Variations on the theme of beige

Jalopnik’s tag for the Toyota recall kerfuffle is “Beige bites back“.  If you’re unfamiliar with Toyota, you might be confused by the moniker: see, to the Jalopnikommentariat, Toyota’s modern offerings (the LF-A perhaps excepted) are essentially the vehicular equivalent to the sort of beige round-edged kitchen appliances that fulfill their functions with an absolute minimum of excitement.  Until now.

What the heck; I like it.  Let’s run with it.

Let’s start with David Henderson’s exasperation with a pair of dumbworm colonies:

First article headline: Roadway deaths fall to lowest level since the 1950s.
Sure, you would expect that with the recession on, right? Well, actually, deaths per 100 million miles fell to 1.16 in 2009, down from 1.25 the previous year, an an all-time low.

So far, so good.  I mean, one can hardly expect a Journalism major to distinguish between raw and normalized statistics — well, one can, if one is willing to court unending disappointment, but that’s not the issue here.  (Commenter baconbacon points out that one would expect deaths per mile to go down as the number of cars on the road decreases — but as mentioned here the number of miles driven actually increased last year.  That doesn’t prove that no fewer cars are on the road, but it’s implying it real loud.)

Second article headline: Toyota troubles spotlight safety agency.
Here’s what the article states that NHTSA head David Strickland said:

Strickland told the panel it was unclear whether the agency can regulate “in a way that allows the industry to build and sell safe products that the consumer wants to drive.”

Of course it fucking can’t

Henderson’s comments:

“Safe products that the consumer wants to drive?” How does he think we choose what to drive now? By buying unsafe products we want to drive? By buying safe products we don’t want to drive? By buying unsafe products we don’t want to drive?

Well, it’s not every day that a government agency admits its own superfluousness.  (It pains me to say it, but Ralph Nader has probably done more for automotive safety than the NHTSA.)  We should also note that Strickland stands head and shoulders above his peers in that he recognizes consumer preference in buying cars — this might be obvious to you and me, dear reader, but we’re not government technocrats.

——

On the subject of consumer preference, Bryan Caplan proposes a new standard for economic welfare:

According to this standard, if A buys X, and would do so if he had the chance to make the decision over again, then X makes A better off.  The Consumer Satisfaction Standard is less tautologous than the Demonstrated Preference Standard; it allows for the possibility – which we often observe in real life – that a person will not be a satisfied customer.  At the same time, if someone complains about X but keeps buying it, the Consumer Satisfaction Standard treats his grousing as empty verbiage.

The predictable chickenshittery reigns in the comments, but Caplan’s point — that neither Demonstrated Preference (“if you bought it, you must have wanted it”) nor Happiness (“you only wanted it if you’re willing to tell a Psych grad student you liked it”) captures human preference quite as well as interpolating between the two.

Getting back to the subject at hand (cars): some friends of mine bought a slushbox SUV when what they really wanted was a stick-shift car.  Why?  Well, apparently British Columbian used-car buyers are pathetic whimpering milquetoasts who’d never be able to figure out that third pedal, and an auto-transmission vehicle would carry far more resale value.  Since they didn’t know at the time how long they’d spend in Canada (having arrived from Germany on a student visa), they chose the slushbox.  I imagine they’d do it again, but I doubt they enjoy waiting for the transmission to make up its mind about whether it wants to upshift this week.

(No, it’s not a Toyota.)

——

Finally, we discover that Toyotas, like the other unintended-acceleration scandal-plagued cars before them, discriminate against old people.  See?  Discrimination is evil, so Toyotas are evil!

In the 24 cases where driver age was reported or readily inferred, the drivers included those of the ages 60, 61, 63, 66, 68, 71, 72, 72, 77, 79, 83, 85, 89—and I’m leaving out the son whose age wasn’t identified, but whose 94-year-old father died as a passenger.

These “electronic defects” apparently discriminate against the elderly, just as the sudden acceleration of Audis and GM autos did before them.

You don’t say.

——

Super bonus snark: Turns out that another Toyota recall looms on the horizon, as every vehicle in the automaker’s lineup since they quit selling the Supra has demonstrably caused net loss of life.

It’s nearly the whole post, but I can’t leave anything out without spoiling the whole thing:

“We’ve received numerous complaints about the complete lack of arousal induced by our dependable, fuel-efficient vehicles,” said Shotaro Kamiya, spokesman for the beleaguered automotive company. “The panty-dropping capacity of our products falls far short of our standards, and for that we apologize.”

Owners are urged to bring their vehicle into local dealerships, where technicians will replace lithium-ion batteries with hemis, install chrome rims, and affix Truck Nutz to the underside of pickups.

Kamiya stressed that the recall was voluntary, and that no deaths were attributable to the defect. “But as no one has ever gotten laid in the backseat of a Yaris, no births are attributable either,” he added.

Won’t someone please think of the children who might’ve been conceived if I’d been driving a Trans Am in high school?

(Extra credit for tying this back into Caplan’s post.)

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