Zach Sobiech of Lakeland, Minnesota, was a phenomenal young man. Diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer, last year when he was just 17, Zach opted to make his remaining time both enlightening and upbeat.
His mother encouraged him to write letters to cope with his illness and the reality that his young life would end too soon. Instead, Zach wrote music. A YouTube video of his upbeat song “Clouds” has drawn more than 3.3 million views since it was posted last December. In January, Zach signed with BMI, which protects author’s rights and collects royalties on their behalf.
The pundits say young people are losing interest in cars, but they hadn’t talked to Zach. He was passionate about cars and performance; his dream car was a Nissan GT-R, one of the hottest street-legal cars you can buy in America.
Recently, Nissan North America relaxed a few rules and gave Zach a review GT-R to drive for a week. A small thing, perhaps; Nissan didn’t brag about it: there wasn’t any press release, only a post on Nissan’s Facebook page a couple of weeks ago. But it was huge to Zach. His reaction to the GT-R is included in a Soulpancake video “My Last Days” that is also available on YouTube. The video was posted on May 3, Zach’s 18th birthday.
Zach Sobiech died at home yesterday, leaving a world he had made just a little brighter. According to a press release from Children’s Cancer Research Center, his passing was peaceful.
Car companies do a lot of good work, helping various causes and charities and donating money and products when disasters strike. But there was something special about Nissan’s small kindness that sticks out.
Okay, I was wrong. When I first saw the 2013 Buick Encore, I thought “Aztek,” as in the unlamented Pontiac crossover that was the subject of many Motor City jokes. General Motors’ marketing folks said the Encore was designed to attract younger buyers to the Buick marque and I posted a comment saying the only thing the Encore would attract was flies. After a week with the Encore, I am cheerfully munching my words: once inside, the little Buick crossover is a pretty nice place to be. And I am even getting used to the exterior styling. The Encore is a product of the cooperation of GM’s German subsidiary, Opel, and its Korean operations, formerly known as Daewoo. Across the Atlantic, it’s known as the Opel or Vauxhall Mokka, for the coffee bean, and it’s sold here and in China under the Buick name. The Mokka and Encore are very similar but, mercifully, the Mokka does without the fake Buick portholes on top of the hood. The Encore could get along just fine without them, too. When I first saw the Encore, I was surprised at just how small it really is. At 168.4 inches from bumper to bumper, it’s ten inches shorter than than a Honda CR-V and five inches shorter than a Chevrolet Sonic sedan. The Encore is built on GM’s Gamma II platform, the same one used for the Spark and Sonic. The platform is built up a bit to accommodate the Encore’s greater weight and the engineers did a good job of keeping most of the handling dynamics that make the Sonic such fun to drive. Power comes from GM’s 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-banger with variable valve timing, which is good for 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that allows manual selection of gears, to a point. This is the same engine/transmission combination found in the Sonic RS but now it has more than 300 additional pounds to move and it shows. A light foot on the accelerator will make you friends in school zones but nowhere else. Being a bit more assertive helps but 0-60 is still in the nine-second range which means look for long freeway on-ramps. Even navigating city streets requires frequent glances at the speedometer: the two main roads closest to my office have 45 mph speed limits and in the first couple of days with the Encore, I had to pay extra attention to keep up with traffic. Once on the highway, though, the Encore really surprises. Buick’s active noise-cancelling technology damps out most of the road and wind noise and the ride is comfortable without being mushy. You can feel the road but in a good way. On the 75 mph section of our evaluation route, the Encore cruised happily but passing required prior planning and a clear lane ahead. Of course, being relegated to racing snails for pink slips does provide a benefit: the 25 city, 33 highway, 28 combined fuel efficiency ratings are good for any crossover. One last quirk relating to the engine will be found when the hood is raised. For a moment, you wonder where the engine went and then you look down. The Encore doesn’t have an engine bay, it has an engine pit. There’s almost enough room to add a Hillborn fuel injector, complete with velocity stacks, without cutting a hole in the hood. The Encore’s cabin is well appointed and quite comfortable. Buick calls the Encore a premium subcompact crossover and the description fits. The leather-trimmed power front seats seats are firm and supportive and the brown, brown and more brown color scheme is well coordinated. The “wood” inserts add a nice, upscale touch to the ambiance. Fit and finish is good and the materials are pleasant to the touch. One omission that is rapidly becoming a pet peeve of mine is GM’s unwillingness to give the front-seat passenger a center armrest. There’s a decent fold-down armrest for the driver, but a premium anything should have some provision for the passenger, too. With the front seat adjusted for a six-footer, there was room in the back seat for my high school football player son to be comfortable. However, with both of us in front, the narrow cabin didn’t leave much shoulder room. Buick says the encore is a five-seater but the three in the back better be small children or those high-fashion models that weigh 25 pounds dripping wet. Better to consider it a comfortable conveyance for four. Being “length-challenged” creates another problem with the Encore: Space behind the second row of seats is limited to 18.8 cubic feet. That’s room for groceries and not much else. On the other hand, duffle bags can hold a tremendous amount and are more flexible than traditional suitcases. If just two are traveling, the second row of seats can be folded down, opening up nearly 49 cubic feet of space for luggage and the other accoutrements of a fun holiday. The controls are well laid out and GM’s infotainment system is easy to use. The seven-inch non-touch display screen actually rises above the dash; a good idea as it requires minimal eye movement away from the road. It’s especially nice when using the Encore’s rear-mounted camera while reversing. The controls mounted on the steering wheel are logical and their use quickly becomes intuitive. While I could wish for a bit more power, the Encore is nimble and comfortable and fits in even the most au courant parking space. In both in-town driving and highway cruising, the little crossover delivered the promised goods and lived up to its premium billing. Our review vehicle was loaded with about everything GM could throw at it but the specs of even the under-$25K base model make it well worth a look for those in the market for a smaller ute.
2013 Buick Encore w/Premium Group
Key Standard Features
Dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, voice-activated intelliLink audio system with Bose speakers, USB port, Bluetooth connectivity, remote start, rearview camera, heated leather-trimmed steering wheel, leather seating with heated front seats, 6-way power front seats with manual recline, front and rear park assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers.
18-inch Aluminum Wheels
Fuel Economy, City
Fuel Economy, Highway
Fuel Economy, Combined
NHTSA Safety Rating
Five Stars Frontal Crash & Side Crash; Four Stars Rollover
IIHS Safety Rating
Top Safety Pick
Why we’d buy it
Small size, excellent amenities, quiet, good ride, surprisingly good handling.
Why we wouldn’t
A little too small in the rear, engine needs another gerbil, silly faux portholes and other questionable styling cues.
A brief comment on Bloomberg News triggered an article in the Detroit News saying that Fiat might move its corporate headquarters to the U.S. following completion of the merger with Chrysler Group.
The stories cite the usual anonymous sources saying Fiat is attracted by the U.S. market financial advantages and noting Chrysler is currently the component bringing home the majority of the bacon.
Pardon us if we don’t get excited: there are two insiders who have repeatedly said that the old Lingotto factory in Turin might not be the home base of Italy’s largest private employer forever. Or even for very much longer.
One of these is Sergio Marchionne, Fiat’s CEO; the other is John Elkann, Agnelli family scion and chairman of the board.
For at least the past three years, Marchionne has been saying Fiat could move and has mentioned both The Hague and the United States as possible destinations. When Marchionne first mentioned that the company might leave Italy, then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi took time off from his scandals long enough to summon Marchionne to Rome for a Saturday dressing-down. The talk subsided somewhat once pro-business Mario Monti replaced Berlusconi, but the state of flux that seems to have replaced that which previously passed for an Italian government has Marchionne looking westward again.
To Marchionne’s credit, he has repeatedly offered to keep Fiat in Italy. He has even transferred production from a very efficient plant in Poland to a plant in Italy to secure Italian jobs. Most recently, he said he would divert some production from the NAFTA region, where some Chrysler plants are running at or near full capacity, to Italy if the government would work with Fiat on the cost of exports. Most of the major labor unions have adopted new contracts but the Italian government seems to believe Fiat will stay the course merely because it has done so for 114 years and all this talk of relocating is political posturing to get financial concessions from a cash-strapped government.
Unfortunately, Italian politics have, if anything, gotten worse. The results of the elections earlier this year have so far failed to produce a prime minister who can put together a coalition to run the government. A lot of hopes are riding on Enrico Letta who was appointed by Italian President Giorgio Naplitano to build a government and get the country back on track.
Speaking of the turmoil, Marchionne was quoted by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera when he said, “The certainty of running a country is essential for any industrial reality. I hope they hurry to restore credibility to Italy. Beyond the crisis, Italy is in a very difficult situation: without a prime minister and with the departure of Giorgio Napolitano, whose work in the seven past years inspires my enormous respect, there are no references.”
The signs of a potential, if not a pending move, are there. In April of 2012, Chrysler leased space in the old Dime Bank building in Detroit and had the structure renamed “Chrysler House.” The company has just two floors at this time, but there’s little doubt room could be found for Fiat’s corporate staff.
When Fiat Industrial and CNH complete their merger in the third quarter of this year, the new company will be based in the Netherlands. Marchionne, who is chairman of Fiat Industrial, hopes to have both U.S. and Italian listings for the company. Some analysts believe this could be a template for the structure of the merged Fiat automotive group and Chrysler. However, all the signs recently would indicate Marchionne and Elkann would be perfectly happy with just the New York listing and a Detroit address, especially if the European vehicle market doesn’t show signs of turning a corner.
No one is saying Fiat will close up shop and leave Italy entirely; the dislocation and financial impact of the loss of so many jobs could cripple the Italian economy. In addition, Fiat has already invested hundreds of millions into upgrading Italian plants and maintains that it plans to invest even more. However, even the loss of the headquarters would mean loss of significant tax revenues and as well as a blow to Italian pride.
Prime Minister Letta would do well to recall John Elkann’s comments at Rimini. Fiat will continue to make cars; it’s up to the Italian government whether or not they will be made in Italy.
At 10:55 p.m. on Saturday May 14, 1988, 34-year-old Larry Wayne Mahoney of Worthville, Kentucky, was driving his pickup truck in the wrong direction on Interstate 71 in unincorporated Carroll County. Mahoney was intoxicated when he collided head-on with bus operated by the First Assembly of God Church in Radcliff. There were 67 passengers on the bus, mostly teenagers returning from a day at the King’s Island theme park near Cincinnati, Ohio.
The collision caused the fuel tank of the 1977 Ford B700 in to rupture and the leaking gasoline ignited almost immediately. The impact also blocked the front loading door. While no one on the bus was seriously injured by the impact, in the ensuing confusion and desperation to escape the burning bus through the rear exit, 27 people, 23 of them students at North Hardin High School, James T. Alton Middle School and Radcliff Middle School in Radcliff died of smoke inhalation. Only one of the four adults on the bus survived. 34 more people were seriously injured by the fire with some receiving disfiguring burns.
It was the worst school bus crash in U.S. history.
Mahoney, whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.24 at the time of the crash, was convicted of 27 counts of manslaughter and sentenced to 16 years in prison. He was released in 1999.
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of of the Carroll County crash and during a meeting, the five members of the National Transportation Safety Board voted unanimously to recommend new measures to eliminate alcohol-impaired driving.
The recommendations are the result of a year-long NTSB effort make an in-depth study of the problem and craft targeted interventions. These include lowering the state BAC limits from the current 0.08 to 0.05 or less; increase high-visibility enforcement and target repeat offenders; develop in-vehicle detection technology; mandate ignition interlocks for all those convicted of impaired driving; improve effectiveness of DWI courts and improve the use of administrative license actions.
Many factors, such as body weight, make it impossible to define how many alcoholic beverages can be consumed before hitting 0.05 BAC. Smaller individuals can hit the limit with a single 12-ounce beer, a five-ounce glass of wine, or a single mixed drink containing 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor consumed in an hour. Two such drinks, or a single mixed drink with more than a single shot of liquor, like a Long Island Iced Tea, will have most people skirting or over the limit.
The NTSB welcomes comments related to their impaired-driving initiatives via email at ReachingZero@ntsb.gov.
European anti-trust officials have carried out surprise inspections in The Hague, London and Oslo as part of a new investigation into suspected attempts at manipulating benchmark oil pricing by several oil companies, including Hague-based Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil, the government-controlled Norwegian energy company.
In a statement, the European Commission said it “…has concerns that the companies may have colluded in reporting distorted prices to a price reporting agency to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products.
“Furthermore, the Commission has concerns that the companies may have prevented others from participating in the price assessment process, with a view to distorting published prices.”
Oil prices assessed and published by agencies such as McGraw Hill’s Platts, Petroleum Argus and Reed’s ISIS are important references for physical delivery and derivatives markets around the world.
A Shell statement confirmed that its group companies were cooperating with the EC investigation but offered no further comment. Likewise, Statoil said it was cooperating with the inquiry, which it said related to Platts’ price assessment process for crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels.
“Platts confirms that the European Commission has undertaken a review at its premises in London this morning in relation to the Platts price assessment process,” the New York-based company said, adding it was also cooperating fully with European authorities.
If confirmed, the manipulations would be more evidence of the growing turmoil in the world energy market as the United States transforms itself from dependency on imported oil to the world’s largest energy producer, surpassing even Saudi Arabia, and the output of the Middle East, Nigeria and other oil producers begins to be consumed by the developing world.
While it is may come as a surprise to most Americans, who still see the country in thrall to the oil sheikhs, North American oil production is booming. In 2011, the U.S. became a net energy exporter for the first time since 1949.
According to the Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the International Energy Agency, “North America has set off a supply shock that is sending ripples throughout the world. This is helping to ease a market that was relatively tight for several years.”
Thanks to rising production of shale gas, light tight oil (petroleum extracted from shale or sandstone by fracking) and Canadian oil sands, The IEA predicts North America’s output will increase by nearly 4 million barrels a day by 2018. At that rate, the U.S. will overtake Saudi Arabia by 2020 and be completely energy independent by 2030.
“The shock waves of rising U.S. shale gas, light tight oil and Canadian oil sands production are reaching virtually all recesses of the global oil market,” said the IEA in its latest report.
Will all of this change produce the one change Americans would love to see: lower prices at the pump? Not likely; high oil prices (above $70/barrel) are what make use of the new technologies feasible. However, an energy-secure U.S. could potentially save billions of dollars and thousands of lives by being able to disengage itself from the need to protect its foreign oil resources.
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