The Downside Of Convenience

A friend of ours has a car with a keyless ignition. That means that when he goes somewhere, he does not have to put the key in the ignition of the car to start the car–the key can simply be in his pocket. I will admit that I don’t actually understand the purpose of this technology–if you have to have the key with you, why does it matter whether or not you have to put the key in the ignition? At any rate, if you own a Volkswagen, Fiat, Audi, Ferrari, Porsche or Maserati, your car might have a keyless entry. So what’s the problem?

Bloomberg News posted a story yesterday which stated:

“Keyless” car theft, which sees hackers target vulnerabilities in electronic locks and immobilizers, now accounts for 42 percent of stolen vehicles in London. BMWs and Range Rovers are particularly at-risk, police say, and can be in the hands of a technically minded criminal within 60 seconds.

Security researchers have now discovered a similar vulnerability in keyless vehicles made by several carmakers. The weakness – which affects the Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) transponder chip used in immobilizers – was discovered in 2012, but carmakers sued the researchers to prevent them from publishing their findings.

The article goes on to explain that the transponders that allow the vehicles to sense when the RFID chip is in the car can be hacked. Since the chips are used in some very high-end cars–Audi, Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghini, as well as Fiats, Hondas, Volvos and some Maserati models, there is an increased risk of theft to begin with. The signal from the RFID chip to the car can be amplified and copied by a hacker. Then, when the car is left unattended, the signal can be duplicated, and the car can be easily stolen.

I am not opposed the progress, but if a car is more vulnerable to theft because of the RFID system, it might be a good idea to go back to the old system of putting the key into the ignition until you get the bugs out of the RFID system. However, the Bloomberg article points out that Volkswagen has spent the past two years trying to hide the security problem with the RFID chip, so the average car buyer has no idea he has an increased risk of having his car stolen because it uses an RFID chip instead of a good old-fashioned ignition key. That is a problem. If I spend the kind of money it takes to buy a Maserati, I don’t want an increased possibility of having my car stolen as part of the package.

Volkswagen Employees Have Rejected The United Auto Workers Union

The Detroit Free Press posted an article today about the vote by workers at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee. The workers voted against the United Auto Workers Union (UAW).

The article reports:

Volkswagen has said it favors the creation of a German-styleworks council,” which gives workers a voice on a variety of product and other decisions. Under U.S. law, a union must represent employees for a company to form a works council.

But Snyder voted against the UAW because, he said, Volkswagen is the best employer he’s ever worked for.

“How is somebody here really supposed to know what a works council is going to be like?” Snyder said. “You can have somebody tell you one thing and somebody tell you another thing. Nobody really knows.”

I think that is a really smart statement. The UAW has played something of a role in the bankruptcy of Detroit. They are not totally responsible, but they are not totally innocent either.  I think this vote represents a realization by the workers that they have been treated fairly by the management of Volkswagen and they do not want to risk their current benefits. Unions have traditionally had a role to play in American industry, but many of the benefits of unionization have been taken over by the government. The government now monitors working conditions, waste disposal, and benefits–all things the unions were originally involved in. Unfortunately the unions have become political organizations with overpaid leadership that lives far above the living standard of union members. They have become no different than the corporations and corporate fat cats they continually criticize.

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The Facts Given Are True, But There Is More To The Story

The Nashville Business Journal posted a story yesterday about the economic aspects of buying a hybrid car. There are a few hybrid cars that are an economical choice after two years–Toyota’s Prius ($23,537), Lincoln’s MKZ ($33,887) and Volkswagen’s diesel-powered Jetta TDI ($25,242). There are a few that take considerably longer–the Nissan’s all-electric Leaf ($28,421) takes nine years for its owner to break even and the Chevy Volt takes 26.6 years.

All of that is true, but there is another aspect of this. President Obama’s energy department has always had the goal of making gasoline prices high–it was stated before President Obama was elected that he had no problem with high gas prices–he just wanted those prices to be reached gradually. As the price of gasoline passes four dollars a gallon on its way to five dollars a gallon, you have to wonder what the magic price per gallon is that will make these cars economical for the average buyer. What would the price of gasoline have to be in order to justify the amount government money invested in the Chevy Volt? Would that justify the crony capitalism involved?

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Even The United Auto Workers Union Is Struggling !

Red Volkswagen Bug

Image via Wikipedia

A website called posted a story on Thursday about the financial situation of the United Auto Workers Union (UAW).

The article points out:

In many ways, the UAW resembles the companies it opposed for so long. The UAW is America’s richest union. One of its biggest assets is its strike fund, which stood at $763 million at the end of 2010. If push comes to shove, a union is as strong as its strike fund. The trouble is: The UAW spends more than it takes in. Increasingly, the union has to dip into the strike fund, the Reuters report says. According to government filings, the UAW liquidated $222 million of investments from 2007 to 2009 to cover the shortfall between expenses and revenue.

The article has charts that illustrate the financial problems of the UAW in recent years. One thing mentioned in the article is the fact that the UAW membership fees have dropped to $30 a month. At the same time, the union is having to spend a great deal of money on organizing as some car manufacturers are no longer in Detroit and are no longer unionized.

A Reuters new story reports:

“Volkswagen AG is paying newly hired workers at its Chattanooga, Tennessee plant $14.50 per hour. That is almost exactly what a second-tier UAW worker would make in Detroit. In a sign of demand for jobs at that pay level, the Chattanooga plant had 85,000 applications for more than 2,000 jobs. VW workers have been promised $19.50 after three years on the job. That is just above the $19.28 per hour maximum that entry-level workers at GM would make over the term of the four-year contract now before workers for ratification.”

That is not good news for the future of the UAW.

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