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  • Newsletter Issue #919

    July 10th, 2017


    Now just imagine this potential disaster in the making: You download an app that appears to have some sort of beneficial purpose, such as making your Mac run faster, or cleaning out unused apps and wasted space. Or you find something similar for your PC. You install it, and at some point in time it locks up your system, and demands that you pay money to make it work again.

    But you can’t just reach for your credit card. The online criminals demand that you pay with bitcoin, a digital currency that is not always easy to set up. They don’t want anyone to track them and find out who they are.

    A possible solution is to erase your drive, and restore from a backup — assuming the backup itself is not infected because you ran it after installing the offending app or update. Or you can just reinstall everything from scratch and consider whether there are any files that you might lose.

    Or pay the piper and get your data released.

    Is there any way to avoid such a catastrophe? That takes us to this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we reported that ransomware is back in the news as the “Petya” ransomware attack affected 12,000 computers in 65 countries including the U.S. This time an infected software update appeared to be to blame for the breach. So if you cannot even trust a software update any more, how are you supposed to keep your documents and computer safe from hackers?  You heard some answers from security expert Shaun Murphy, founder of sndr.com, about what to do to help prevent yourself from becoming a victim of a ransomware attack. Shaun offered lots of information covering the world of cybersecurity.

    Remember, this is not a Mac versus PC issue. It’s a matter of social engineering, fooling people into thinking they are installing something that’s useful, or needed. The most practical protection is to be careful what you download. Check the tech news sites, and, if you’re not downloading direct from Apple’s or Microsoft’s online app stores, make sure the third-party site you visit is recognized as a safe place to visit.

    You also heard from tech journalist Derek Kessler, editor of TeslaCentral.com, as well as managing editor of Mobile Nations. Derek told you all about Elon Musk’s Tesla, a line of electric cars that are having a major impact on the auto industry. Derek owns a Tesla Model S, and he talked about the advantages, and disadvantages of driving an all-electric vehicle. What about the impact of cold weather on the batteries, which can sharply reduce battery life? What about “range anxiety” and finding nearby charging stations before your car runs out of juice? You also heard about the forthcoming Model 3 mid-sized car, Tesla’s first “affordable” vehicle, which will carry a starting price of $35,000. Can Tesla meet its very optimistic production targets to build enough vehicles to fill hundreds of thousands of advance orders?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene, Chris and special guest co-host Goggs Mackay present Dr. Joseph G. Buchman, who recounts his fascinating odyssey through the highways and byways of UFO research over the years. He also talks extensively as to how he connected his interest in UFOs with his interest in libertarian politics, and his efforts to help organize the Citizens Hearing on Disclosure, in 2013, which featured ex-members of the U.S. Congress and Senate. Says Chris about Dr. Buchman “He’s really bright, articulate, up to speed and has a fun, wry sense of humor. Plus, he speaks fluent Paracast.” And. no, this episode is not about politics.


    The past few decades have been littered with failed auto companies. Over my lifetime, I remember such makes as Edsel, Studebaker, Packard, Rambler, AMC, DeLorean, Saturn, Plymouth, Pontiac and Oldsmobile. While there are no doubt used cars from each make to be had, although some would be very old, there are various and sundry reasons why these vehicles have joined the dustbins of history.

    This is not to say they were necessarily bad cars. But changing tastes, poor planning and marketing, lackluster designs and, in the end, poor sales, helped hasten their departures. Sometimes manufacturers had trouble differentiating one brand from another. It’s hard, for example, to define how Oldsmobile differed from Buick, even though both were supposed to represent premium brands, a step below Cadillac. And, yes, I realize that some of you can probably explain in exquisite detail what made one brand distinct from another, or maybe the distinction blurred over the years due to corporate “badge engineering,” in which parts, such as engines and body frames, are shared among several makes.

    So when Tesla Motors was founded in 2003, there were skeptics aplenty, and there still are. In those days, the promise of electric cars that could travel hundreds of miles before they needed a recharge was a misguided fantasy. The closest you came was a hybrid vehicle, and the standard bearer was (and is) the Toyota Prius. It used both a conventional gasoline-powered engine and an electric engine, working together to enhance fuel economy.

    The Prius was introduced in Japan in 1997, and went worldwide in 2000.

    Despite expectations of failure — Apple fans might find this attitude familiar — Tesla has managed to survive, even though it runs up huge deficits quarter after quarter. While a Prius is a pretty affordable car, with prices starting at just over $20,000 plus delivery, Tesla builds expensive cars with sporting pretensions. A Model S sedan starts at $69,500, but it’s easy to push that price to well above $100,000 with a larger battery sporting s higher capacity and other options.

    That puts the Tesla Model S and the Model X SUV in true luxury car territory, matching the prices for vehicles from such makes as Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. So unless you have money to burn, a job with a relatively high salary, or a decent-sized inheritance, a Tesla is definitely not affordable.

    Even during the years when I was earning decent royalties from my books, a Tesla would have been too rich for my blood. Nowadays, even a basic Prius seems expensive.

    So while Tesla can build up to 100,000 cars a year, that’s small potatoes compared to the big car makers, and the volume has to grow substantially to build a profitable business. So Tesla is trying to hit the mainstream with the Model 3, which is basically a small sibling of the Model S.

    The Model 3 starts at $35,000. Until Tesla sells over 200,000 vehicles, there’s also a U.S. electric car tax credit of up to $7,500. Add to that sales tax, doc fees and license fees before you can take delivery.

    If Tesla can meet its lofty production and sales goals, the tax credit will expire early in 2018, at which point you’ll have to pay full price for one. It’s not as if you can just go to the local dealer and dicker. Tesla only sells its vehicles via factory stores. Imagine if all Apple products were only available via Apple Stores.

    Now once the tax credit goes away, a $35,000 car will cost close to $40,000 with all the essential extras. But that’s only a starting price. In order to improve production quantities, Tesla at first is only offering one model in different colors. The options, such as a battery with higher capacity and some luxuries, will come later.

    So this is the “cheap” Tesla, and it officially began to roll off the production lines this past weekend. By the end of July, CEO Elon Musk plans to hand over the keys to the first 30 buyers. Production next year is expected to hit 240,000 cars a year for this model alone, and there are lots of skeptics. The doubters can cite production problems with existing models that have often prevented Tesla from reaching its targets.

    Musk remains optimistic, but that’s his way.

    Even assuming the Model 3 will reach its production goals — or come close — it’s not exactly cheap. You can compare its price to another brand’s Model 3, the BMW 3 Series.

    So the starting price of the smallest BMW four-door sedan, a 320i, is $33,450, close to the list price of the Tesla. But unlike Tesla, there are generous incentives for cars these days since the U.S. market is moving towards vans, SUVs, crossovers, trucks and so on. So a BMW may be discounted by thousands of dollars.

    But when you add a few packages and other options to a BMW, the MSRP climbs rapidly. The extras are expensive, and you’ll quickly find prices soaring well above $50,000 even with some aggressive dealer incentives.

    The Tesla? No doubt a few options — when they appear — will keep it in BMW territory.

    Now I don’t know about you, but I do not regard a $35,000 car as affordable, unless there are going to be very aggressive leasing programs. When or if Tesla adds some options, I can well imagine a Model 3 for more than $50,000.

    To put that in perspective, the average price of a new car in the U.S. as I wrote this is $33,500. Again, that’s partly the result of the move away from sedans, but you can get a subcompact vehicle without too many options for about half that price.

    So will all-electric vehicles always be priced in the range of a small BMW? Even the Chevrolet Bolt, GM’s direct competitor to the Tesla Model 3, is priced in the same range.

    Now the Model 3 is supposed to be a fairly mainstream vehicle, with room for five people, and an estimated driving range of 215 miles; well, except when it gets real cold outside. If Musk can fulfill his production and sales promises, lots of people will buy them in the years to come.

    Is it at all possible that there’s a $20,000 Tesla in our future, or one priced in that range from another manufacturer? Perhaps, but not right away.

    Nonetheless, auto makers are investing heavily in electric technologies. Diesels are going out of favor in light of emissions test cheating from VW, Fiat Chrysler and perhaps other companies. Some day, most cars will be electric, and they may not cost that much more than the compact cars of today, plus the usual levels of inflation. In the meantime, I am rooting for the Model 3, even if it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever be in a position to buy one.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis

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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #919”

    1. Dfs says:

      Okay, you can talk about the Tesla 3 costing $33,500. But also need to factor in the various subsidies and tax credits for which you might be eligible if you buy one. At least in some states these are quite hefty. So I have to wonder how many Tesla 3 buyers wind up being actually $33,500 out of pocket.

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