GirlDriver, USA

GirlDriver, USA
Look! It's GirlDriver, USA.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A little something besides cars.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

America Produces Lots of Steel

And much of it is used to make your automobile. 

Let’s assume that you have never thought about what materials make up your vehicle. Fair enough: We’re looking for convenience, style, and connectivity when we shop for a car.  Most drivers don’t investigate how they are being protected. Engineering is left to the automaker and safety to the ratings of The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, which assure us that in a crash we will be as safe as the situation allows. 

There are reasons to know more: We travel at speeds of 65 mph or more much of the time. Traffic fatalities rose 7.2% from 2014-2015, the largest increase in decades.  In the first six months of 2016, there was a 9% increase over 2015.  Although there is hope that highway deaths will decrease with technology advancements such as active safety features, it doesn’t hurt for us to get familiar with what’s under our ride’s skin. Therein lies the true beauty—the tough and intelligent underpinnings.

Here’s the case for steel. In large measure, steel is what protects us.  Steel has strength, the ability to conduct an impact up into the roof rails and away from passengers and different weights for different purposes. 

While we have lost many steel manufacturing jobs here in the U.S.—about 400,000 since the 1960s—most of the steel used in vehicles sold here comes from the U.S.  The job losses in steel production are thought to be because of trade, but those jobs went away because of technological advancements—fewer people were needed. 

Our demand for steel runs at about 100 million tons a year and about 80 million of those tons are made here. In the manufacturing of steel alone, the industry provides 137,000 jobs in places like Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

The auto industry uses anywhere from 20-25 million tons of U.S. steel as well as steel from other places including Germany, Japan, and Korea. Steel is perceived as less advanced than materials such as carbon fiber, magnesium, and aluminum. “Educating people about steel is the industry’s great challenge,” says Dave Anderson, senior director, automotive market and long products like wire and bar at The Steel Development and Marketing Institute. “The steel industry continues to reinvent itself. In the 1970s and 80s, for example, there were only seven different grades of steel; now there are over 200.”

Applications like the chassis require high-strength steel. If a crash occurs, that steel gets stronger with impact. A different type of steel is used on the sides of a vehicle because it takes the impact of a crash and conducts it up the side frame to the roof, protecting the passengers. Lightweight steel can be formed and designed into the body skin.  Changes to the microstructure of the material and other innovations are what allows steel to be constructed for these different applications. These innovations improve vehicle performance in fuel efficiency, affordability, durability, and quality. 

Advanced High Strength Steel is, according to SDMI,  the fastest- growing material in automotive design. The advances enable automakers to produce lighter vehicles that meet safety standards and it also gives them fuel efficiency. Steel is also a material that has been used in auto factories since the beginning. They don’t need new equipment or techniques to form it, weld it or join it. But, steel prices are also going up and that will show up in the cost of the car.

Structure may not be top of mind when you purchase your next vehicle. But it helps to understand how you are protected, which translates to your comfort level with the safety of your vehicle. And it’s good to know that steel is made right here in the USA.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Electric Car: How’re We Doing?

Not to put a damper on the growth of EV sales, but there has been an inordinate amount of attention paid to them in the past couple of years.  Yes, they have been steady. In 2010-2011, just over 17,000 EVs were sold.  It was the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi iMIEV.

In 2015, 115,000 were sold but now there are 26 models to choose from.  So yes, the sales of EVs are growing and more companies are offering them. 

Part of the impetus for companies to offer them is the U.S. government mandate to reach a corporate average fuel economy of 54.4 mpg by 2025.  That may seem far off, but in terms of automotive development, it’s about two model changes away.

But the sales from 2014 to 2015 declined 6.5 percent because of cheap oil and they are still a minuscule proportion of what we buy. In 2015 we sold over 17.5 million new cars and trucks in the U.S.  Electric plug-ins were 0.75 percent of those vehicles.  

Remember that electric cars aren’t new.  They were first developed in practical terms in the second half of the 19th Century.  In the U.S., a Des Moines chemist named William Morrison debuted the first successful electric car around 1890. It held six passengers and had a top speed of 14 miles per hour. Over the next few years, more electric vehicles from different automakers were on the road across the U.S. New York City even had a fleet of more than 60 electric taxis. By 1900, electric cars were at their heyday, accounting for around a third of all vehicles on the road. During the next 10 years, they continued to show strong sales. 

Electric cars along with hybrids and gasoline powered cars grew in popularity with the increasing interest in personal vehicles.  But it was Henry Ford who basically made the electric car a thing of the past (And he had even worked on an electric car with his friend, Thomas Edison.)  His gasoline powered car, the Ford Model T, was mass produced and affordable.  That helped to end the competition along with improved roads and cheap oil. 

Some might recall the EV1 produced by General Motors almost two decades ago.  I remember listening to then chairman of GM, Bob Stemple, talking about the future being here.  It wasn’t the future and even non-car enthusiasts can tell you that GM crushed every EV1 and sent them to the junkyard.

The top sellers in 2015 were the Tesla S (25,000), the Nissan Leaf (17,000) and the Chevrolet Volt (15,000) and the BMW i3 (11,000).  General Motors is expecting the Chevrolet Bolt to change the landscape of who can buy and afford an electric vehicle and I expect that they are on to something.  The Bolt is a compact car that has a200 mile range on a full electric charge, will be priced at around $30,000 and will be 80 percent charged in 30 minutes.

“The Bolt is more than just a car,” said Mary Barra, G.M.'s chief executive. “It’s an upgradeable platform for new technologies.

Today we’re talking about a number of technologies to power our vehicles. It is becoming more mainstream to believe that fossil fuels are not the future.  Hydrogen, natural gas, batteries and plug-in electric vehicles are coming to market—slowly, but they are coming. And Barra’s comment about the car becoming a platform for new technologies is where the discussion is sure to lead.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

January 7th 2017 Snowed In

Well, we're not exactly snowed in but it's a fact that we did not veer far from our base in Riverhead. It's coming down. I'll give the newscasters that. But, I grew up in New England before the 24-hour news cycle. "Snow", they'd say on the nightly news. That was it. We knew there would be school the next day.  I didn't have a snow day until I went to graduate school in Washington, D.C. School was canceled? Why? A flake came down in Brookland. Panic ensued.

Tonight, January 7th, 2017,  I am with Mark in Riverhead. We walk to Jerry and the Mermaid's for dinner. It's a few feet. We kick a drift here and there and we are home.

Jerry and the Mermaid's big dining room is closed. So it's more like those bars at the Cape where the locals gather. Eight young men walk in.  They look so different. I can't figure out what they have in common so I ask one chubby young man with blonde hair, "are you a group? what do you have in common?" And I apologize for being perpetually curious. It turns out they are the band, Zac Brown.
They have driven from Rochester, NY, through a snowstorm to perform at the local theater only to find out that the show has been canceled and rescheduled. They're having dinner at Jerry and the Mermaids.

Over a delicious dinner of shrimp scampi and linguine, I think of an idea. What if we traveled all over America and I created a new blog called and we encountered places like this?

Over my second glass of wine, this idea starts to take hold.

I get up my courage to interview the waitress. The last thing she needs is for me to take her time. She's very busy. But, she agrees to talk to me. Corrine is 36. She has two kids, 12 and 6. She is busting her ass to make everyone happy. And, surprisingly, in this major snowstorm, Jerry and the Mermaids is busier than hell. I know the waitressing thing. I've done it. And I have periodically prayed that I never had to do it again. And at some point, I realized I could not actually do it. Period.
But Corrine says that she loves interacting with people. She loves talking to people. And when I ask her how things are going she tells me that things are really good. Her daughter is celebrating her 12th birthday tomorrow and they are going to have a party for her and she will be able to be there for her kid.

I'm debating whether or not to interview Zac Brown's band, and this hooded androgynous young creature steps up to our table. "I'm Corrine's daughter," she says "you know, the waitress?" "Yes, I say, Tomorrow's your birthday. What do you want? What do you want to do? What is your future?" I ask her, laying it on.

"I want to make people happy. I'm going to make videos and make people happy."

"You know," I say, "that happiness isn't enough? People have to be fulfilled."

She smiles. Her braces show. Her father is standing off to the side making sure that this journalist is not doing anything to hurt his daughter. And, she says, "yes."

I tell her about 10,000 hours. And assure her that she will most definitely succeed. I really don't want to do video.  But those preferences shadow the difference in our ages.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


Here's Holly. She is part of the small cadre of female automotive journalists who have well worn sensible shoes that get you to your departure gate at any number of airports. But Holly always packed a pair of sexy sandals for dinners with our hosts. I often didn't bother. That would result in a Holly fashion consultation in the elevator heading to dinner.  I'm sure some of that sunk in, but I will never have her fashion sense.

It did not matter what power plant we were mulling over in our travels through the auto world; Holly always referred to Mike and Dylan and Jenna. It was a welcome diversion away from the tiresome chronicling of how many hours-long delays we had all experienced or how many air miles we had accrued. She talked about what we all recognize as what is important--health and family.  Holly's family was her absolute baseline for everything in her life.

For the time I have known Holly, which is about 22 years, she has breezed around the planet collecting and writing travel and automotive stories. And for about the same amount of time, this woman has battled cancer with a fierceness that is rare. We were in a swimming pool at some hotel earlier this year, chatting about this and that (OK, exercise.) and I looked her in the eyes and said, "If your ears were burning last week, it is because Sue and I were talking about you. And what we said was that we did not know another single person who would have handled their illness with such an optimistic, courageous attitude and for nearly a quarter of a century. Her ability to keep herself and her loved ones above it all will remain an inspiration to me for the rest of my life. Sometimes we think things and we don't say them. I am glad I told Holly what I had observed about her.

We saw a couple of make-me-laugh movies together this summer. Ab Fab--terrible. Florence Foster Jenkins--great. We ate popcorn, drank water and walked to 72nd together. I am glad to have had Holly in my life. She succumbed October 6th.

Here's a poem I wrote a while back after my loss:

When Continue Just Won’t
by Kate McLeod
Start broken. 
Breathe Away. 
Consider the lost. 
Miss love. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Introducing Micro Cars

Tiny little cars you may never have heard of

We spent an afternoon at the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville recently. What a delightful, esoteric collection. Below find links to the micro car collection. They capture the spirit and passion of the automakers in unique--I might add--hilarious configurations. But, hey, if we didn't have dreamers, where would we be? Sitting in the dark, eating with our fingers and walking barefoot down a dirt road, I suspect. Have fun. In this dreary, threatening world we live in, a little levity can't but help.

4.       1956 Autonacional Biscuter 100 (pronounced Bye-scooter):

Built on the Isle of Mann in 1955. The world's smallest passenger car.
Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, Iota. Built in Britain.