We’ve known for some time that gas powered vehicles are, at some point, going to meet an end. There’s too much data proving the fact that fossil fuels harm the environment. It's not a debate. Work must be done to determine what the permanent replacement for the modern car will be, and some car makers have already started making those steps. We’ve seen hybrid vehicles around for years, and a few companies, like Tesla, are investing in fully electric products for the road. No, this blog is not going to be another Elon Musk burn session, like you’ve heard so much on our podcast, but I am not stil lnot sold on the electric car idea. This isn’t because I’m against helping the planet, but there are still major unaddressed drawbacks to EV technology, even as the cars hit mass production numbers: The technology is not sensible, and it’s not actually as “clean” as people think. When looked at in a vacuum, a Tesla or other EV is much cleaner than your average car. But when we’re looking at helping the planet, we need to look at a much larger picture than just the exhaust pipe. We need to look at factors like how they’re made, and how the impact on the overall energy grid in your community to know the whole story. In a rare occurrence for us at the CEP team, I’m actually going to cite my sources at the end of this piece, so you can look these facts up yourself if you don’t believe me.
The first main reason why I’m not sold on EV’s is the practicality of the idea, or rather the impracticality. Yes, to a niche market, electric cars work perfectly. If you live in Hidden Hills or don’t do much driving outside of home to work and back, an EV could be all you need. But what if you want to hit the open road? Most families have more than one car, so I guess they could have one EV and one gas powered car or hybrid, but for someone like myself, who lives alone, 2 cars isn’t an option. To use a benchmark, the Tesla Model S has a range of 265 miles (Editor's Note: This is Tesla's advertised range. Real-world tests and owner reports have this number in the area of 175 miles). My 2015 Chevy Colorado Z71 can go almost 500 miles before I need to stop. And when I fill up the Colorado, it takes me about 5 minutes to brim the tank, tops. The BEST you can hope for with an EV is roughly 20 minutes for an 80% charge IF you can find a Level 3 supercharger. And where would you stop? Sure, it’s estimated that there are more than 16,000 charging stations in the U.S. That number actually surprised me to see. It’s quite impressive. But a vast majority are found in and around major metropolitan areas, especially focused in California. I get it, you have to start somewhere, but the charging network is just not feasible at this point in time. By the way, this is compared to over 100,000 gas stations in this country. Now, this isn’t any EV manufacturer’s fault, but the charging network just isn’t robust enough. I’m not telling you NOT to buy an EV, just take this into consideration when you’re making the decision of whether or not you’re going to help ol’ planet number 3.
Which brings me to my next point: the idea that you are doing your part to “save the planet” by purchasing and driving an electric vehicle. Time to blow up that notion…you’re not. Compared head-to-head, our baseline Tesla Model S is much cleaner to drive than my Colorado, I’ll give you that. But saving the planet involves more than just a car-to-car comparison. The idea that more electric cars means less fossil fuel isn’t necessarily true, depending on where you live. To easily debunk this statement, one needs to look at their region/state/community’s power grid. It depends on where you live because some grids use more clean energy than others, but in general, folks with EV’s aren’t saving, but shifting the pollution. No, the car doesn’t hold fossil fuels, but the power plants that generate electrical energy that fuels the cars do, a lot of the time. The pollution is merely shifted from the exhaust pipe to the smoke stack. The power plants that drive the energy grid are the guilty parties in this case. More EV charging stations means more electrical energy is needed, which causes the power plants to produce at a higher rate, sending more noxious gases skyward. Again, this isn’t any manufacturer’s fault. They have no control over this, and as communities make efforts to clean up their grids, the problem will gradually subside. But the state of our energy grids isn’t the only argument against the adoption of EV’s.
As it turns out, it takes much more energy to produce an electric car than it does a “standard” gas powered machine. This is due to the high energy requirements to produce lithium ion for the batteries and the environmentally destructive techniques used to mine for the rare elements that go into every EV and other high-tech battery. These elements are often found in very small quantities in developing countries. It involves moving a lot of earth and, unfortunately, creating a lot of waste. After pouring ammonium sulfate down the shafts to dissolve the soil, bags of muck are taken out and passed though acid baths. What’s left after that is baked in a kiln. What emerges from the kiln are the rare earth metals that are used in the electric vehicles. But here’s the thing: the rare earth metals are only 0.2% of what is mined. Not 2%, zero-point-two percent. The remaining 99.8% of the soil mined, now contaminated, is returned back to the environment from which it came. Oh, and if you’re wondering what powers the rock crushers and kilns at the mines, its large amounts of fossil fuels and human sweat. One more thing about the lithium ion that goes into the batteries of these cars: while not in use, these batteries still drain very slowly and have a life cycle that, when reached, renders the batteries nearly useless. So while the difference is miniscule, EVs do use more energy than advertised. Worse still, none of this begins to broach the even more difficult topic of the human cost of performing intense industrial mining operations in countries who will gladly ignore the high human and health costs in pursuit of corporate money.
I don’t write this to slam folks trying to do their part to make the world a better place. As much as my cohosts and I say that we are “out” on Tesla, we are actually “out” on Elon Musk. We can’t stand that bastard. But what his company has done is actually very forward-thinking. They’ve accomplished much more with the EV concept than anyone else to this point. And I’ll mention again that EV producers have nothing to do with any of the topics I mentioned above. They are merely operating the best they can in this environment, just like we are. The point I’m trying to make is that electric vehicles are probably not the answer we are looking for. Yes, we need to make a positive change and use cleaner energy to help our environment. Electric vehicles could be a decent start, but lack of infrastructure to support them and the high energy needed to produce them make them a stop-gap at best. Maybe the answer to clean transportation lies in hydrogen powered vehicles, maybe it’s solar. Or maybe we just need to change our mindset when it comes to the cars we currently drive. Think about it: how many people do you know have a 3 year lease on their car, and will trade it in long before the end of its usable life? Even the worst modern cars can easily run longer than that with the most basic maintenance. Most cars can go long over 100,000 miles before you should even think of trading them in for a newer model. But society’s need for the “newest” and “best” has led to us viewing cars and trucks, items that cost well into 5 figures, as disposable. If we were to keep our vehicles until the actual end of their usable lives, we could make a big dent in the overall pollution of the Earth. As of right now, there isn’t a singular clear answer at the moment. I’ll leave that debate to the people way smarter than me. All I know is, while they are positive step forward, I’m not convinced that electric vehicles are the long term solution that we need.
“How Green Is A Tesla, Really?” – Will Oremus – www.slate.com
“Tesla’s Electric Cars Aren’t As Green As You Might Think” – Lizzie Wade – www.wired.com
The long-announced day has finally come. The "wait" is over, and the moment has arrived. Finally, after what seemed like 4 entire decades, the new Toyota Supra has finally been "revealed". And the only real thing that can be conclusively said about it is that Toyota killed the meme. They killed the Supra entirely, and now it is dead.
At its core, the word meme simply refers to a piece of culture that passes from person to person via a non-genetic vector. Those little internet pictures are memes, lines you and your friends quote from TV shows are memes, and idioms are memes. Car culture is full of memes, and indeed this is yet another part of the culture that I resist because it gives us pretty much only bad and annoying stuff like jokes about minivan drivers and really, really dumb t-shirts. But every now and then there is a car that passes through this zone of annoyance to become a meme itself. The Toyota Supra was one such car, and it used to be a pretty good meme, too. And hold on to your socks, because if you can believe it, this was a car we got in America all the way back to the first generation. Wild stuff!
Originally, the Supra was just a top-tier trim option for the 1979 Toyota Celica, offering features like power windows, power locks, and automatic climate control. In 1982 the redesigned Celica Supra appeared on lots with a performance trim and a luxury trim called the L. You could get your Supra L with velour, so...take that I guess. Finally, in 1986, the Supra split from the Celica and became its own car. While the Celica went FWD, the Supra stayed RWD and became a performance-focused car with an adjustable suspension and a limited slip differential backing up the turbo inline 6 engine. Interestingly enough, Toyota launched their American luxury arm Lexus in 1989, and I think there's a strong case to be made that the Supra pioneered Lexus' entire segment, but that's for another day.
And so we arrive at the meme machine, the Gen 4 Toyota Supra, which launched in 1993. I mean, remember this?
Remember Paul Walker racing that guy in the Ferrari? Remember the paint job and the green underglow? Yes, you do. This scene is one of the most famous from the first Fast movie. Aside from the movie reference, every inch of the Gen 4 Supra is iconic in modern car culture, from the headlights to the taillights, to the spoiler, to the stock wheels and the targa top. But perhaps no bit of this car is as iconic or as mythologized as the engine, or rather, one possible engine. The 2JZ-GTE. Car people are so weird, because I didn't even have to look that designation up to get it right. Aahh the 2JZ-GTE, what a legend it is.
You see, the thing about this engine, seen primarily in the Supra RZ, is that it is massively over-engineered, and therefore incredibly tunable. It's a 3.0L inline 6, strapped with 2 sequential turbochargers and mated (preferably and hopefully) to a 6 speed manual gearbox. From the factory, this engine produced 320HP and 315ft/lbs, with the turbo boost kicking in as early as 1800 RPM. That's some pretty sharp performance, but I doubt it took tuners more than 5 minutes to realize that with some very basic part swaps like bigger injectors, the Supra was capable of pushing 450HP. A tune and a few more serious part swaps later to account for things like the clutch and the boost controller, and 550HP was right there. Gearbox replacement and bigger turbos will sit these cars at 700HP. And with a skilled and determined tuner working the parts, the stock 2JT-GTE engine is capable of producing over 1000HP - reliably. There are some 2JZ engines out there now sitting at 1500 or 1600HP, which is pure insanity. The very youngest 2JZ engines are 12 years old. That's an incredible feat of engineering, and it has deservedly formed its own subculture. Just go to Google and search 2JZ. Its all right there at your fingertips, the entire culture, and all of that stems directly from the Gen 4 Supra, this one car. A 10 second car, Dom? How about a 6 second car?
But all of this is over now. Supras are cancelled, and Toyota is to blame. They made it not fun anymore. Quite obviously, the red car in the cover picture is the brand new 2020 Toyota Supra. It looks...fine. I actually think it looks like a modern interpretation of the Gen 4 Supra, with the main problem being that the 1993 design doesn't translate well. But what I need to show you is this, something called the FT-1 that Toyota announced way back in 2014.
It's the same car. It's the same damned car. Sure, try to talk to me about the microscopic design changes and whatever, but it won't make a difference. Toyota introduced the new Supra in 2014, then spent the past 2 entire years doing that stupid camo-wrapped pre-launch garbage, and then they introduced the laughable NASCAR version, and now after all of that, they want me to be excited about their badge-engineered BMW Z4. And BMW even screwed them out of the good engine! The Z4 makes more power! I'm probably too late on this, but no. We need to say NO to Toyota.
The Gen 5 Supra is exactly what happens to memes when corporations get a hold on them. They strangle the fun and the life right out of the meme by being clueless idiots about what people enjoyed in the first place. Wendy's, I'm death-staring directly at you. I'm about to share a link so we're all on the same page, but only click on it if you have absolutely nothing to live for anymore and are not nursing or pregnant. This commercial is exactly like if the Deepwater Horizon did Chernobyl. It's just so bad, and the Supra is the same. There's no joy in this car, there's no exuberance or excitement. Maybe there WAS, years and years ago, but not anymore. This new Supra will be exactly like the BRZ triplets - there will be wild praise at first, and then people will settle down and realize they just got taken by a business and that the car...kinda sucks. There won't be any massive tuning potential hidden away in this new Supra, its got a BMW engine! Its gonna be all high strung and high-maintenance. I'll even say that I don't think the new Supra is going to have much of a cultural impact at all. I mean, there is already this kind of talk going on about the car, and I gotta tell you, Toyota: If forum junkies are breaking down the logo font of your new halo car like three days after it gets announced, then you have fucked up in a very real way. You took too long. You tweeted out pictures of the "unrevealed" Supra every other day for like 18 months. WE GOT IT ALREADY. Total market saturation, and the car isn't even OUT for another 9 months or so.
So RIP Toyota Supra. You were great, but now you're dead. I'll miss you, and thousands and thousands of other people will also miss you when they finally realize that you are indeed dead and never coming back-
Wait. I just saw something. I just saw it, you guys. I just saw it. We are through the looking glass here, people. The price tag for the new Supra will START at $50,000, and this launch pushed prices for all older Supras into the ionosphere, with some Gen 4s passing well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, even as high as half a million. Oh my god. Could it be? Could Toyota be memeing on all of us? Is it possible the this whole thing is just so that Toyota salespeople can look at each and every one of us and drop the bomb?
Happy New Year, CEP fans! It's been a long time since I've had the pleasure of writing for you. Well, I have some bad news. I'm back. In the vein of the "New Year, New Me" craze that happens for about two weeks every year, I’d like to talk about re-birth.
First, though, let me set the stage:
Any of you who are friends and follow my personal Instagram account or its limited bleed-over to Facebook or Twitter may have seen a photo I posted last night. I took a picture of my car and threw a few hashtags on there. The last one being one related to a group of people at my place of employment. Everyone in the group drives performance Subarus of one kind or another. Slowly, it has turned into a bit of a thing. Conversations in the cubicles, joking discussions of reserved parking spots, etc. Then, it began spreading to others in the office that don’t share our predilection for 6 stars on the front of their cars. It grew to include the 4 rings, the blue oval, Das Auto (does anyone even get that anymore?), and, yes, the occasional BMW owner. We went there. We’re going to need a new hashtag. Then, ideas started getting thrown about for group weekend drives, etc.
To me, that sounds a lot like “Car Culture”.
After our other posts on that subject, you can tell we have a pretty mixed bag of feelings regarding “Car Culture”. My father wrote an excellent guest blog as a rebuttal to Andrew’s claims that car culture is dying. He ended it with the sincere sentiment that perhaps people like your esteemed hosts for the CEP will keep car culture alive. After purchasing a car that other people actually want to talk with you about, I have found out that… we don’t have to. The organic community that is forming at my place of work is a perfect testimony to that. It spread from a bunch of people who all drive the same cars to people who drive the same manufacturer of cars to other “enthusiast” cars and so on. There’s no sense of a “car show” or even a cars and coffee. There’s no exclusive brand loyalty. There’s no posturing. There’s no one “type of person”. It ranges from IT guys, to accountants, to project managers, to engineers everywhere from their mid-twenties to near retirement. We all love the cars we drive and we love to talk about them with other people who “get it”. The cars in this group range from an Audi S5 down to my WRX stopping at every ST, STI, and M car in or around this group. Yet, common ground and conversation can be had on more than just a grudging basis. Eagerly even.
The difference between this car culture and the car culture that we have discussed in the past is words that I’d like to put in the middle to refine it slightly. This isn’t car “collecting” culture like Andrew was, for the most part, discussing in his blog post. It’s car “driving” culture. Car “owning” culture. Car “loving” culture. Car culture is now a “lifestyle” (despite the cringe-worthiness of that word). Daily drivers will reign. The economy is… better, but it’s not the economy of Duesenbergs, it’s not the economy of finned Cadillacs, and it’s certainly not the economy of the Countache. Collectors cars are expenses people don’t choose to afford all that often anymore. People need to find deep relationships with the car they just drive every day. This isn’t true for everyone. Cars that are an easy choice abound. But in people that choose a WRX over an Impreza? A Veloster Turbo or R-Spec over a regular Kia Forte? The GTI over the Golf? Even luxury car buyers that throw R, S, F, IPL, M, or AMG on their badges. We can even include those who buy a crossover or SUV that actually USE them to live their dreams.
This is what car culture is destined to be as it is reborn from the ashes of Suspenders Rick: people who LOVE their cars. All of them. Might some people sneer? Probably. Definitely Suspenders Rick would. However, like it or not, it’s the future. Hey, guy who polished up the daily driver 350z! Stop trying to fit in with Suspenders Rick! I’m looking at you guy in the Outback with the rooftop tent, about 6 tons of gear in the back, and mud on it! Guy who bought the new Camaro! Yes, you! Turn the CarPlay music down and listen to me! To modify a line from Mosing Motorcars, let’s drive ourselves happy! Then we’ll know that car culture can take the quotes off and be alive and well. Again. Despite Suspenders Rick.
Happy New Year, CEP listeners! I hope you and yours had a fantastic holiday season. I know I did, and as the clock wound down on 2018, I took the chance to look back on the year that was. We all get reflective at this point in the year, so that’s going to be the theme of this blog: a 2018 year review. I’m going to be sharing my nominations for the best of the year, from both road and track. Now, we did a year in review for one of our last episodes, but we never did any “award” nominations. I have created fake awards and will present my winners in the coming paragraphs, and the beauty of doing this blog is that my opinions won’t get “tainted” by my co-hosts. Let’s begin with the best on the road…
BIGGEST STORY OF THE YEAR
There’s no question that this has to be Ford deciding to cut production of all cars except the Mustang. While the data does show that trucks, SUVs and crossovers lead the way in sales, there is always going to be a place for cars. Ford even said it themselves, stating that cars are “commoditized.” Well the word commodity, while normally used to describe raw materials, basically means something that sells all the time. This move was clearly a quick cash grab attempt by the company, executed with only investors in mind. Those investors are now pissed, because they’ve watched stock prices go from roughly $11/share at the time of the announcement in April down to $7.65/share on New Year’s Eve.
DIPSHIT OF THE YEAR
While this title could very easily be bestowed upon the entire board at Ford, the real winner is Elon Musk. If you don’t know why, call the SEC or check Twitter.
BEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
I have to nominate the Hyundai-Kia group for this award. If you want to talk about a value purchase, look no further. These folks pack ALL the amenities into their vehicles, along with a 10 year/100,000 mile warranty into truly good looking vehicles that consistently match the competition in horsepower and beat them in fuel mileage, satisfaction ratings and “stuff.” What this company has done in the past 5 years is truly impressive.
BEST NAMEPLATE REVIVAL
It seems like everyone has been eating their ‘Member Berries lately, and automakers are no different. Ford has brought back the GT and the Ranger, with the Bronco coming soon. Honda has relaunched the NSX, and General Motors announced the return of the Blazer a few years after reviving the Camaro. For 2018, I have to pick BMW and their 8 Series as the best. Originally produced from 1990-1999, the 8 Series is back from its 20-year slumber and comes packed with 523hp, a 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds and a road-limited top speed of 155mph. Oh, and they launched an M8 GTE spec race car to boot, which won twice in its debut season.
MOST POINTLESS CAR
Despite all of the ragging on GM lately, I genuinely am a lifelong fan. So it pains me to say this, but the most pointless car of 2018 is the Yenko Camaro, built by the Specialty Vehicle Engineering custom shop. Customers can get this car in one of two “stages.” Stage I comes with 835hp, and if that for whatever reason isn’t enough, you can buy a Stage II version with 1,000hp. Costs are $90,000 and $130,000, respectively. Ok…but why? You can say that this is a track day car (as SVE does, it isn't even road-legal in CA), but you can also spend roughly $25,000 LESS on a ZL1 Camaro which consistently laps track days quicker than Aventadors, 458 Italias and AMG GTs, so don’t you dare give me that argument.
Well, those are all the fake awards I could think up for the road. Time to shift gears here (pun intended, take that, Andrew!) and hand out some imaginary hardware to their track-dwelling counterparts…
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR/BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT
The only winner taking home 2 awards this year is Robert Wickens. When it was announced that Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports was signing Wickens to be James Hinchcliffe’s IndyCar teammate in 2018, I thought they were nuts. While he had some success in the junior open wheel ranks, he had spent the last half-decade racing in DTM, a German sports car series. No one really knew what to expect, but then I found out that Hinchcliffe actually took a pay cut so the team could afford to sign him! Why? He quickly answered that question by qualifying on pole for his very first start, and he was leading the race with 2 laps to go, until an aggressive pass attempt by Alexander Rossi sent him into the wall. In his 2nd career race, his first EVER race on an oval, he finished 2nd at Phoenix. He came home a respectable 9th in his Indy 500 debut. He quickly racked up 4 podium finishes, led 187 total laps and was in contention for the point championship until Pocono.
Now, the biggest disappointment of the year is not Robert Wickens himself. As you just read, he was far from that. The biggest disappointment of 2018 is the devastating accident that kept us from knowing how his 2018 rookie campaign would have finished. Wickens was racing with former champ Ryan Hunter-Reay when the two cars touched, and the rookie went airborne into the catch fence at nearly 200mph, shredding his car into pieces. At this point, the question isn’t if he can get back into a race car, but rather, will he be able to walk again. He’s already shown via social media that he can stay upbeat through a very trying recovery process. Hope to see you back at the track soon, Robert!
DRIVER OF THE YEAR
You’d probably think I’m going to pick Scott Dixon here, as my favorite driver just put a 5th notch into his IndyCar championship belt…but he’s not my choice for 2018. This year, I have to pick another new 5-time champ, Lewis Hamilton. The best F1 driver of this generation just keeps getting better. Yes, F1 is largely dependent on the team’s budget. Yes, a lot of drivers could hop into a Mercedes F1 car and perform very well. But despite the inherent advantage of racing for the sport’s best team, Lewis went above and beyond this year. In 21 races, he matched his career highs with 11 wins and 17 podiums. His AVERAGE finish was 2.6! Compare that to his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who drove in the exact same equipment: 0 wins, 8 podiums. Need I say more?
TEAM OF THE YEAR
I’m going stateside for this award, and passing out my imaginary hardware to NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing. The 4-car outfit dominated the NASCAR schedule this year, winning 12 of the 36 races on the calendar and scoring a combined 39 top fives, 84 top tens and 9 pole positions. Not bad for the team’s first Danica-less season, huh?
While not the team of the year, another NASCAR team needs to be recognized: Hattori Racing Enterprises, from the NASCAR truck series. Founded by former Japanese racing star Shigeaki Hattori, this admirable group competed against tall odds this year. The team was on such a tight budget, they literally didn’t know if they would make it to the track on a week-to-week basis. But in the midst of all the “Will-I-Have-A-Job-Tomorrow” distractions and last minute sponsorship deals, the team kept their heads down and delivered a slew of quality performances. Hot shoe driver Brett Moffitt actually won 6 races and the series championship! Despite the accomplishment, they still don’t have plans for the upcoming season due to budget/sponsorship issues. Hopefully, some good news comes quick because the defending champs have proven that they deserve a shot to defend their title.
LUCKY BREAK OF 2018
If you haven’t seen the accident from this year’s Macau GP, involving German teenager Sophia Floersch…Well, take my word for it, it was nasty. Sophia suffered a catastrophic failure right before a heavy braking zone. While everyone else was breaking for the near-hairpin turn, Sophia slid onto the scene backwards at 170mph, launched over another car and into a photographer’s stand on the outside of the catch fence. She escaped with moderate injuries, required back surgery, and has already stated her intent to be ready to race next season. She gets the Lucky Break award for avoiding what could have been the worst accident in racing this year.
That should just about do it…what an epic year 2018 has been, and not just in the world of cars and racing, but for us here at The Check Engine Podcast as well. While we’ve all had some great personal and professional milestones this year, the fact that we still have a podcast to look forward to is the best news we could’ve hoped for, and it’s because of all of you who take time to listen, comment, like, share, and read.. Please, get back to me on this piece. Do you agree with my choices for these fake accolades? Do you have your own imaginary awards to hand out? Tell us, via our socials or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I wish you all the best in 2019, and ask you to stay tuned because another awesome year of The Check Engine Podcast is right around the corner!