Monday update: burning electric buses in Paris, my Indy 500 pace car choice, REMs in F1, and flivvers and morality

Thank you to my vigilant sister, Kate Oshima, for calling attention to news of the Paris RATP bus fire of April 29. No injuries were reported in the second instance of electric autobus flambé there in 25 days. The RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) has since taken a full gross of their wonderbuses out of service, and one wonders if the problem will ever be solved and contemplates the horrors if it’s not.

Imagine if the bus had been packed to the capacity of 109 passengers.

Liquid-fueled vehicles catch fire, too, but this is a serial problem with EVs and in fact, one can’t help imagining self-starting EV fires in situations such as the underground car park’s charging stations of a luxury high-rise building or as a couple of big Hollywood stars whisk away from an awards ceremony. The public backlash against EVs would be a catastrophe all its own.

Battery fires from scooters and e-bikes inside New York apartments have created problems of their own.

The latest bus fire in Paris comes just eight days after Sen. Alex Padilla, of California, introduced legislation to provide $25 billion for electric school buses in the United States.

One report of the fire mentions “thick clouds of black smoke and a strong smell of burning plastic.” Not being a chemist, I nevertheless presume that the reported smell of burning plastic was the stabilizing polymer element of the lithium metal-polymer batteries.

“As someone who has worked with very large batteries for a very long time, I am not at all a fan of them moving around on the highways and byways of the world,” writes Daddio’s Patio in a YouTube comment.

My suggestion for the RATP’s next step is change its slogan from à demain (till tomorrow) to plus jamais (never again).

Fears and hopes for Indy pace car announcement

Tuesday is the announcement of the pace car for the Indy 500. Last year it was a white Corvette Stingray. I was afraid this year it would be the GMC Hummer EV. Even though the big Hummer accelerates like the reciprocity of a government kickback, would it go around the corners? Would it detach from its charging station fast enough to get out on track and pick up the pack? Ah, but the pace car is going to be a Chevy, so I’m hoping for a resto-mod Corvair Greenbrier van with a big-block V-8 mounted amidships and a booming basso-profondo exhaust.

These entries from the 1962 Corvair Index were copied from the GM Heritage Center’s offering of vehicle information kits. Note in the caption under the left photo that even Chevy’s writers got confused about the spelling: Greenbrier or Greenbriar?

Interesting coincidence that the Greenbrier shared the name of The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., where GM’s management liked to meet. Just a few years before the Greenbrier, a new sporty model from Dearborn was named Thunderbird, not in the least because Ford chairman Ernest Breech was a member of the Thunderbird Country Club, which opened in 1951 in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

REMs during the Miami Grand Prix

“I’m rooting for Lewis Hamilton’s jewelry,” the waggish Jaclyn Trop wrote in a Facebook post from the Miami Grand Prix.

Hamilton’s glittering Saturday press conference may have offered more highlights than Sunday’s race, which found Max Verstappen starting third but taking second from Carlos Sainz at the start and then maneuvering around Charles Leclerc for the lead on Lap Nine.

That was it: no position changes among the top three in the next 48 laps to the checkered flag. My drooping eyelids sprang open late in the race when Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly banged together and Norris’s McLaren spun out.

Otherwise, the F1 race was deadly dull. I find in this series a damning, maniacal overemphasis on technology, an example being the race-start with red lights that all of a sudden are extinguished. The Christmas tree starting light at any drag strip is more entertaining, and of course so is the traditional flagger with colorful banners.

Another chuckle comes from the F1 pit stops, which are bureaucratic incidents with a large retinue of participants, none of whom makes more than one or two motions. Yes, it’s fast service. So what? The commotion and scrambling of an Indy pitstop has tire changers tossing their power tools against the pit wall and that valedictory squirt of water to dilute any fuel on the car as it leaves the pit stall.

And what is with the Aston Martins starting from the pit road because of fuel being the wrong temperature?

So much esoterica: F1’s popularity is hard to understand.

An American novelist on flivvers and morality

A recent find is “The Flivver King: A Story of Ford-America,” the 1937 novel by Upton Sinclair. Today, Sinclair is best-known for his much earlier novel, “The Jungle,” which looked at the meat-packing industry and led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act as well as the Federal Meat Inspection Act, both in 1906.

One insightful passage relates Henry Ford’s discovery of vanadium steel, a new alloy and much stronger. “It was the beginning of an epoch; cars would be lighter, stronger, cheaper.”

Sinclair also isolates a point of conflict for Ford, who “made good” working for the electric company yet pursued mobility in the form of the gasoline buggy:

The electric company was committed to the idea that electricity was the power of the future; the gas-engine was regarded as incompatible with sound morality.

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