Cars of the year

by Shelton on January 14th, 2016

filed under Car Lending

This time last year I said the launch of the Bentley Bentayga would be the most import event in the 2015 luxury car calendar and I stand by that, but only just. It’s a pretty out-there piece of engineering, one that can take its own extreme and singular interpretation of luxury to places it’s unlikely to have ever been seen before.

Make no mistake; this is a new market segment (don’t believe the £160k written on the ticket, Bentaygas are leaving the factory in Crewe with a £200k invoice tucked in their door pockets once those beautiful interiors have been made thoroughly personal), and there will be other Super Luxury Utility Vehicles (SLUVs, if you will) including more Bentleys, a Lamborghini and a super Range Rover. 

So a leader yes, but the Bentayga is not our Telegraph Luxury Car of the Year. Its looks (although they are most certainly mellowing and I would urge you to withhold judgment until you have actually seen one) are still too divisive. And surely a key criteria for a luxury car of the year must been that everyone who sees it will want it.

So The Ferrari F12 tdf (the lower case acronym stands for “Tour de France” has to be a contender, if only for its looks. The “basic” F12 was always an arresting little wedge of car, and slashing away at the rear fender, reducing the visual bulk of the front fender and raking the rear screen just that little bit “faster” couldnt help but make it more compelling still. This is one of the all-time great looking Ferraris (all sold, of course to Ferrari’s elite private customer club) and one of the most philosophically interesting also in that it address the question; “how do we evolve a car when it’s already too fast for the public road.” 

Ferrari’s answer appears to be to look beyond mere performance and instead add a degree of pre-programmed complexity to the driving experience, one that demands understanding and learning before it can be accessed, rather like a console game. I’m not sure Mercedes-AMG were intending to “gamify” the handling of its new GT – the replacement for the over-the-top SLS – it’s just a bit tricky, not usually the way I like a car. So I was profoundly disappointed when I first drove a GT as I was (and still am) completely head-over-heels with the way it looks, inside and out. There is no sexier sports car out there. But your blood soon cools as it crashes its way down the road; why do we surrender so much comfort in the chase for superior dynamics these days? 

Oddly for me and the GT it didn’t end there. Over a week or so it’s switchblade steering and one-track rear axle and I got to know each other better and figured what we could do for each other. Rather like a classic car, the GT is one you appreciate for its complexity, its unwillingness to yield all it has from the first turn of the key/press of the button. Although I am still not certain I would want to take on a truly epic trip in the GT, I am certain it is one of the great, front-engined sports cars. And as anyone who reads this column regularly knows, we believe here that mid-engined cars are strictly for the under-40s. 

At the other end of the spectrum, both in terms of price and comfort, is the new Jaguar XF. I actually enjoyed my best drive of the year in the XF – Jaguar’s BMW 5-series competitor – this summer. And not just because the car enjoys the steering, balance and touch that are hallmarks of the brand, but because the car actually rides. It might seem the most basic prerequisite for a luxury car (to make it actually comfortable) but it’s one that’s become completely lost over the last two decades as all manufactures have chased a largely phony “sporting” gait for their cars. At a swipe the XF shows that the complete and utter sacrifice of ride comfort in the name of a dynamic superiority is another deceit of the German auto industry exposed this year. 

So then to the Telegraph Luxury Car of the Year. Not one we have driven yet, but on the basis that desire starts with the very first look (and it is indeed desirability above everything a luxury car must posses) then how could our trophy go to any car but the Rolls-Royce Dawn? Rolls-Royce understands its brand better than anyone out there and the Dawn demonstrates that it’s now happy to have some fun with it. The Dawn is not a serious car, just seriously beautiful. I cannot imagine any car lending so much of itself to a moment in your life. They are a hopelessly romantic bunch down at Rolls-Royce and the Dawn is their most romantic statement to date. It will almost certainly become its most successful also. An awful lot of people have already fallen for the light of Dawn. 

Shift to total cost of mobility pushes car usership to the fore

by Shelton on December 22nd, 2015

filed under Car Lending

Additionally, JLR is developing InControl Protect, which offers the ability to transmit vehicle diagnostic data to roadside breakdown services so they are better equipped to repair the vehicle sooner.

The company has also started fitting built-in trackers in some of its vehicles, providing stolen vehicle tracking.

Meanwhile, car media systems in the near future will be able to provide more personalised information, tracking live flights as drivers head to the airport, for instance, providing information through the in-car system to encourage safer driving.

Were trying to think driver-centric. Stopping that customer pulling out their phone and fiddling or making unnecessary calls, said Bell.

Systemic risk in the market

The shift from owning cars to renting them has had a huge impact on the car finance market, Richard Jones, managing director of finance firm Black Horse, told conference delegates. You wont find any other financial services market that has grown like that – it is phenomenal.

Aligned to this, residual values for many cars have been raised – to as close to future guaranteed value figures as possible – stated Jones. That means if there is a shock [to the market] it gives us a problem, he added.

It gives the person whos got the residual value risk sitting on their balance sheet a problem. It also gives the consumer a problem because theyll no longer be walking back with some equity in their vehicle when they come to buy their next vehicle, Jones continued.

Should a manufacturer effectively become a bank – as is the case with so many customers purchasing cars through PCP – this can create a funding gap, where companies take less in deposits than theyre lending.

Should any of these businesses come under stress – as has happened with VW, which has experienced plummeting share prices since September – they can experience extremely expensive liquidity. Allied to the fact that 65% of all UK car lending comes through captives rather than banks, Jones claimed: Weve got a systemic risk in the market.

While banks have had to adapt their business practices following the banking crisis, Jones questioned whether the industry is heading for a car company crisis.

VW scandal likely to blow over

The long-running VW emissions scandal may be rumbling on, but Steffen Schick, chief strategy officer at car valuations experts EurotaxGlasss, expects this to be a straw fire thats soon to blow over.

To date, not much has happened as far as residual values are concerned, he stated, but while its possible that potential buyers will quickly forget the VW Groups misdemeanours – leaving little effect on used values – it is also possible the situation could escalate.

If public interest in the saga continues, or other brands were implicated, that could obviously have more severe repercussions – especially if regulations are tightened. The third scenario of much stricter regulation, though, could cast a big shadow over diesel as a technology, Schick continued.

Should this happen, Schick predicts the possibility of car manufacturers abandoning smaller diesel engines and others considering alternatives including hybridisation, which could see massively dented diesel sales.

However, Schick said: We are very much in the camp of the straw fire, which will blow over. Despite this, he added: In Germany there is a strong likelihood the tax authorities will actually milk Volkswagen in a major way.

Mazda RX-Vision concept car spins in to the 2015 Tokyo motor show

by Shelton on November 10th, 2015

filed under Car Lending

? Mazda RX-Vision concept car
? A spectactular rotary-engined sports car!
? Suggests an RX-7 revival on cards

Mazda wowed the home crowd with the new RX-Vision concept car at the 2015 Tokyo motor show. Its a rotary-engined sports car lending substance to rumours that the Japanese are poised to bring back the RX-7 sports car before the end of the decade as a mass-market alternative to the Porsche Cayman.

Upsurge In Car Lending Sends Total Auto Debt Above $1 Trillion For First Time

by Shelton on September 30th, 2015

filed under Car Lending

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York released its Household Debt and Credit Report this month.
 The report, which uses anonymous credit data to generate a
nationally representative sample, found that consumers#39; overall
indebtedness increased $2 billion to $11.9 trillion in the second
quarter of 2015.

This number was aided by the increased number of Americans
buying cars which pushed auto loan debt above $1 trillion for the
first time in US history.  According to the report,
Americans took out $119 billion in auto loans from April through
June, up from $95 billion in the first quarter of the year.
 Through the first half of the year, auto sales are on pace to
challenge the record of $17.4 million set in 2000.

Outstanding mortgage debt dropped by 0.7 percent
in the second quarter to $8.12 trillion.  Mortgage debt
declined by $55 billion quarterly, while total household
indebtedness increased just $2 billion from Q1 2015 up to $11.85
trillion in Q2.  Foreclosures hit their lowest point in the
16-year history of the bank#39;s Consumer Credit Panel, with
95,000 new foreclosures in the second quarter – down from
112,000 at the same time last year.

The report found that mortgage balances and HELOC dropped by $55
billion and $11 billion, respectively.  In the second quarter,
there were $466 billion in new mortgage originations, and almost
half of those originations were driven by borrowers with credit
scores over 780.  Only 8 percent ($38 billion) of all new
mortgages were originated by borrowers with credit scores 660 and

Finally, credit card balances increased by $19 billion, while
student loan balances – which totaled $1.2 trillion in June
– remained flat.  However, although student loans make
up only 10% of all consumer debt, the amount of seriously past due
student loan payments total nearly one-third of all seriously
past-due debt payments.

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At 93, Dad steps aside to give his son the top job

by Shelton on August 16th, 2015

filed under Car Lending

Q: What did you change?

A: Pretty much everything. Everything in terms of the lines of business were in. The types of customers we had were changed to much more business-oriented, family businesses, entrepreneurs, professionals. We added subsidiaries that did car lending, added commercial lending, leasing, wealth management, small business administration lending, consumer lending. We didnt have even a consumer lending.

Q: What do you mean by consumer lending?

A: Home equity loans. We didnt have that.

Q: You just did mortgages only?

A: We had mortgages only. Thats all we did. So I kept thinking well, `I wanted to have a commercial bank. I actually met with some people to consider investing in a commercial bank. I went home one night — you talk about one of those ah-ha moments. I woke up and I said, `Wait a minute, I have one. I have a bank. I just have to change it. So thats what I set about to do.

Q: What did your dad say?

A: Well, his tongue has probably has reattached by now from biting it. I had a budget. I had a business plan. It wasnt too different (from when Green was a youngster and he had a present a budget and business plan to get spending money). We would talk about it and we would do it in a way in which it was incremental to our business to start. When it started to work, then we did more of it.So over time and over this time we totally reinvented what we do.

Q: How does your Dad feel now?

A: I think hes happy, I think its safe to say. Well, I know hes happy. I think hes very proud of the job that Ive done.

Tuesday: Banking on character.

Skoda Octavia vRS 230 – going faster again in 2015

by Shelton on March 13th, 2015

filed under Car Lending

In 2013, Skoda debuted its third-generation Octavia vRS (known as the RS in markets away from the UK), which was the fastest Octavia ever with 220 PS and 350 Nm, the car was good for a 0-100 km/h time of 6.8 seconds and a 248 km/h top speed.

Now, theres going to be a new champ in 2015 the mantle of the fastest series-production Octavia is going to be passed on to the Octavia vRS 230, which will make its debut in Geneva. Power coming off the VW-derived 2.0 litre turbo mill is up by 10 PS over the current car, lending the version its particular suffix.

Essentially, whats on here is very much the equivalent of the factory-installed Performance Pack as seen on the Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7, which adds an additional 10 PS to give that one a total of 230 PS.

With the extra 10 ponies, performance numbers have improved, just the 0-100 km/h sprint has been shaved to 6.7 seconds, and the top speed has also creeped up to 249 km/h. Brings new meaning to the term inching away, but thats what vRS 230 owners will be able to do in a head-to-head with those in the 2013 car.

Set to make its market debut in June, the Octavia vRS 230 is the first Skoda to feature as standard fitment an electronically-controlled front axle differential lock for improved cornering performance.

Cambridge City Councilor Favors Parking Spaces Over Bikes Lanes on Pearl St.

by Shelton on February 4th, 2015

filed under Car Lending

At the next Cambridge City Council meeting on Jan. 26, the citys representatives will consider an order introduced Monday night to kill the Pearl Street Complete Street  reconstruction project. This leaves the Base Plan as the only option, which BostInno opined back in December features even less adequate bike safety infrastructure than the Complete Street version.

The difference between the two reimaginings of Pearl Street are striking. The Complete Street option calls for the prohibition of parking on one side of the street from 8 am to 6 p.m to allow for strict cycling and bus and drop off use. The base plan calls for new crosswalks, six-inch curb bump extensions, and raised intersections.

City Councilor Tim Toomey filed the late order suggesting to City Manager Richard Rossi that the Complete Street version be abandoned on the grounds that the removal of a significant amount of parking spaces to create a bike lane has caused much concern and opposition. Further, the order reads, Cambridge must also maintain a balance with residents who have a real need for automobiles as well as a place for them to park.

Interestingly, though, a survey conducted of Pearl Street residents and those who live in close proximity found that just five percent of the 322 respondents felt that Pearl Street was comfortable for bikers. A substantial 75 percent felt that cyclists sharing the road with vehicles is the biggest challenge on Pearl Street.

As of late, however, the City Council has been hearing from residents that they do not want any change in their parking which is likely what Councilor Toomey is responding to, according to a source close to the matter.

The Base Plan also keeps Pearl Street at 11-feet wide, a safety hazard in its own right. One study suggests that travel lanes 10-feet and wider are responsible for 900 extra traffic deaths annually.

According to open-sourced traffic accident data, aggregated by the City of Cambridge, 54 accidents occurred on Pearl Street over a period of from 2010 to 2013 , exemplifying just how dangerous it can be to trek down. Five of those directly involved a bike and another 15 involved a parked car, lending credence to the fact that perhaps accommodating parked cars at the expense of some kind of bike safety infrastructure may not be the best approach.

Some 168 hours of video footage of 17,000 cyclists and 20,000 vehicles in Austin, Chicago, Portland, San Francisco and Washington, DC was enough evidence for researchers to contend that cycle tracks, a bike lane separated from the road by a physical barrier, is the safest bike infrastructure for cyclists.

Featured Image via Creative Commons/ Tim Pierce (CC BY 2.0)

Krungsri Auto banks on dealerships, online channel

by Shelton on December 16th, 2014

filed under Car Lending

Ayudhya Capital Auto Lease (Krungsri Auto), a subsidiary of Bank of Ayudhya and the major player in vehicle loans, will focus more on building relationships with auto dealerships and strengthening its online channel in an effort to keep growing faster than rivals in this sector.

Pairote Cheunkrut, first executive vice president of BAY and managing director of Krungsri Auto, said that even though domestic car sales had bottomed out and used-car prices were stable, the instalment-loan market in 2015 was not expected to witness healthy growth.

We have found that consumers want to buy vehicles but they are not yet hurrying to make a decision. However, based on the assumption of 1 million car sales next year, the hire-purchase industry will grow by 6-7 per cent, compared with [this years] expected loan drop of 25 per cent, he said. That means the banking industrys total outstanding hire-purchase loans will end this year at Bt530 billion.

The new excise-tax structure for vehicles that will be effective in 2016 will have a positive impact on car sales in 2015, as consumers speed up their decisions to buy vehicles before the changes.

Vehicles with engines smaller than 1,500ccm, such as eco-cars, are expected to be more in demand because consumers can afford them.

High household debt remains a big barrier against new lending, but the governments policies on enhancing economy should reduce this problem in the new year, Pairote said.

Krungsri Autos policy is to grow faster than the market. This year, its overall lending grew by 1 per cent, attributed to use of its online channel for used-car lending, and becoming more active in the big-bike segment, a rising star this year.

We expect to end the [year with] outstanding loans of Bt228 billion, of which new cars are the major portfolio at 50 per cent, followed by used cars and refinancing at 45 per cent and the rest in motorcycles and big bikes, he said.

Krungsri Auto is the market leader in instalment loans for motorcycles with a total portfolio of Bt10 billion. He said the motorcycle market still had room to grow because many people were not accessing the financial system. Further, the big-bike segment was showing dramatic growth.

Big-bike importers are more active in bringing in new models to supply the huge demand, he said.

Pairote said Krungsri would announce its financial targets next month. The company will use two main strategies to outstrip the rest of the market, focusing on refinancing and motorcycle loans.

The first strategy is to continue using the online channel,, to tap consumers in the used-car segment as this market becomes attractive again.

Krungsri Auto developed the website to help used-car dealers and individuals make transactions easily than dealing with bank branches, he said.

The company is also developing the online channel for its Car for Cash refinancing product. Refinancing will be a key driver of Krungsri Auto next year as well.

The second strategy is business partnerships for new-car loans. The company recently broadened its relationship to Honda by jointly conducting marketing campaigns.

In general, Honda will use its captive leasing to service its clients.

Pairote said Krungsri Auto would form a similar partnership with Toyota soon.

Krungsri Groups major shareholder Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ has a strong network in the corporate sector, and BTMUs value chain with auto dealerships will be a key driver of new car loans for Krungsri Auto in the near future.

Ally Rides Car Lending Surge While Feds Cut Stake ALLY WFC

by Shelton on December 8th, 2014

filed under Car Lending

Double-digit gains in automobile financing led Ally Financial (NYSE:ALLY) to accelerate to solid third-quarter earnings growth as the auto lender moves to jettison the US governments stake in its business.

The Detroit-based company, formerly known as GMAC Inc., swung to a profit of 53 cents a share, beating views by 12 cents, from a loss of 27 cents a share a year ago, when results were hit by legal settlements with US regulators over mortgage issues.

Shares rose 0.9% on the stock market today. The companys stock is down 10% since its initial public offering in April.

1909 Ballinger-Pinchot scandal erupts

by Shelton on December 5th, 2014

filed under Car Lending

Thursday November 13, 2014 the 315th day and 45th week of 2014, there are 52 days and 7 weeks left in the year. Highlights of today in world history
1909 Ballinger-Pinchot scandal erupts
The Ballinger-Pinchot scandal erupted when Colliers magazine accused Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger of shady dealings in Alaskan coal lands. It is, in essence, a conflict rooted in contrasting ideas about how to best use and conserve western natural resources.
Ballinger was an appointee of President William Taft, the man who had succeeded the committed conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had developed most of his environmentally friendly policies with the assistance of his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot. By 1909, Roosevelt, Pinchot, and other conservationists feared that Taft, though a fellow Republican, and Ballinger were systematically undermining the accomplishments of the previous administration by reopening to exploitation public lands that had been closed.
The Colliers article charged that Ballinger improperly used his office to help the Guggenheims and other powerful interests illegally gain access to Alaskan coal fields, confirming the worst fears of Pinchot and Roosevelt. Despite the fact that he had stayed on as chief forester in the Taft administration, Pinchot began to criticize openly both Ballinger and Taft, claiming they were violating the fundamental principles of both conservation and democracy. Livid with anger, Taft immediately fired Pinchot, inspiring yet another round of scandalous headlines.
The controversy over the Ballinger-Pinchot affair soon became a major factor in splitting the Republican Party. After returning from an African safari, Roosevelt concluded that Taft had so badly betrayed the ethics of conservation that he had to be ousted. Roosevelt mounted an unsuccessful challenge to Taft on the independent Bull Moose ticket in 1912. In truth, subsequent scholarship has shown that Ballinger had not technically misused the power of his office and the charges of corruption were unjustified. However, the Ballinger-Pinchot scandal reflected the ongoing tension between those who emphasized the immediate use of natural resources and those who wanted them conserved for the future, a discussion that remains active today.
1945 Truman announces inquiry into Jewish settlement in Palestine
On this day in 1945, President Harry Trumanannounced the establishment of a panel of inquiry to look into the settlement of Jews in Palestine.
In the last weeks of World War II, the Allies liberated one death camp after another in which the German Nazi regime had held and slaughtered millions of Jews. Surviving Jews in the formerly Nazi-occupied territories were left without family, homes, jobs or savings.
In August 1945, Truman received the Harrison report, which detailed the plight of Jews in post-war Germany, and it became clear to him that something had to be done to speed up the process of finding Jewish refugees a safe place to live.
In late August, Truman contacted British Prime Minister Clement Attlee to propose that Jewish refugees be allowed to immigrate to Palestine, which at the time was occupied by Britain. Attlee responded that he would look into the matter and asked for a joint Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry to examine the complicated issue of integrating Jewish settlers into territory that was home to an Arab majority. Meanwhile, two US senators introduced a resolution in Congress demanding the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
In April 1946, the committee issued its report, which recommended the immigration of 100,000 Jewish refugees to Palestine. Truman wrote to Attlee for his help in moving the repatriation process forward. However, by mid-1946, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff had weighed in, bringing up the question of who would control the lucrative oil fields in a region that had the potential for unstable political and cultural relations between Jews and Arabs. Since the threat of communist expansion into politically unstable regions then dictated most of US foreign policy, Truman and Attlee became convinced by their respective military advisors that Jewish communist sympathizers in a new Jewish state might jeopardize the west’s access to Middle Eastern oil. The settlement plans were put on hold.
Truman was again inundated with requests for help from the Jewish community. The issue of the establishment of a Jewish state was debated and delayed for another two years even though the newly formed United Nations, which had no enforcement power without the participation of the United Statesand Great Britain, had decided in favour of a Jewish state by 1946.
1953 Indiana Textbook Commission member charges that Robin Hood is communistic
In an example of the absurd lengths to which the Red Scare in America is going, Mrs. Thomas J. White of the IndianaTextbook Commission calls for the removal of references to the book Robin Hood from textbooks used by the state’s schools. Mrs. Young claimed that there was a Communist directive in education now to stress the story of Robin Hood because he robbed the rich and gave it to the poor. That’s the Communist line. It’s just a smearing of law and order and anything that disrupts law and order is their meat. She went on to attack Quakers because they don’t believe in fighting wars. This philosophy, she argued, played into communist hands. Though she later stated that she never argued for the removal of texts mentioning the story from school textbooks, she continued to claim that the take from the rich and give to the poor theme was the Communist’s favourite policy. Reacting to criticisms of her stance, she countered that, Because I’m trying to get Communist writers out of textbooks, my name is mud. Evidently I’m drawing blood or they wouldn’t make such an issue out of it. The response to Mrs. White’s charges was mixed.
Indiana Governor George Craig came to the defence of Quakers, but backed away from getting involved in the textbook issue. The state superintendent of education went so far as to reread the book before deciding that it should not be banned. However, he did feel that Communists have gone to work twisting the meaning of the Robin Hood legend. The Indianapolis superintendent of schools also did not want the book banned, claiming that he could not find anything particularly subversive about the story. In the Soviet Union, commentators had a field day with the story. One joked that the enrolment of Robin Hood in the Communist Party can only make sensible people laugh. The current sheriff of Nottingham was appalled, crying, Robin Hood was no communist.
As silly as the episode seems in retrospect, the attacks on freedom of expression during the Red Scare in the United Statesresulted in a number of books being banned from public libraries and schools during the 1950sand 1960sbecause of their supposedly subversive content. Such well known books as John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo, were just some of the books often pulled from shelves. Hollywood films also felt the pressure to conform to more suitably all-American themes and stories, and rock and roll music was decried by some as communist-inspired
1955 Police search John Graham’s home and find bomb-making materials
FBI agents searched the home of John Graham, a chief suspect in the United Airlines plane explosion that killed all 44 people on board on November 1. The jet, which exploded shortly after departing from Denver, contained a hole near the cargo hold and traces of dynamite residue, suggesting that a bomb was responsible for the crash. Within a week, FBI agents began delving into the background of everyone connected to the flight.
One of the passengers on board the flight, Daisie King, was a wealthy woman traveling to visit her daughter. Although the suitcase that she had checked-in had been obliterated by the explosion, her carry-on bag contained a newspaper clipping about her son, John Graham, who had been involved in forgery and theft. When FBI agents questioned Graham on November 10, he told the detectives that his mother had packed shotgun ammunition in her suitcase. Graham’s wife provided more intriguing information: just before Graham took his mother to the airport, he had placed a gift-wrapped package in her luggage, explaining that the present was a jewellery tool kit. Graham denied any knowledge of this gift but the FBI obtained a search warrant to investigate further.
A search of the Graham home turned up the ammunition that Mrs. King had allegedly packed, a small roll of copper wire, and a life insurance policy for Mrs. King, naming Graham as the designated beneficiary. Graham’s wife later revealed that he had ordered her to claim that she had been mistaken about the gift package.
Faced with mounting evidence against him, Graham suddenly confessed to planting a bomb in his mother’s suitcase. He told the agents that he had taken a job in an electronics store to learn how to construct the bomb, which consisted of 25 sticks of dynamite, a battery, and a timer. At his televised trial, Graham retracted his confession but was found guilty. He was executed in the gas chamber in January 1957.
1974 Karen Silkwood dies in mysterious one-car crash
On this day in 1974, 28-year-old Karen Silkwood was killed in a car accident near Crescent, Oklahoma, north of Oklahoma City. Silkwood worked as a technician at a plutonium plant operated by the Kerr-McGee Corporation, and she had been critical of the plant’s health and safety procedures. In September, she had complained to the Atomic Energy Commission about unsafe conditions at the plant (a week before her death, plant monitors had found that she was contaminated with radioactivity herself), and the night she died, she was on her way to a meeting with a union representative and a reporter for The New York Times, reportedly with a folder full of documents that proved that Kerr-McGee was acting negligently when it came to worker safety at the plant. However, no such folder was found in the wreckage of her car, lending credence to the theory that someone had forced her off the road to prevent her from telling what she knew.
On the night of November 5, Silkwood was polishing plutonium pellets that would be used to make fuel rods for a breeder reactor nuclear-power plant. At about 6:30 PM, an alpha detector mounted on her glove box (the piece of equipment that was supposed to protect her from exposure to radioactive materials) went off: According to the machine, her right arm was covered in plutonium. Further tests revealed that the plutonium had come from the inside of her gloves–that is, the part of her gloves that was only in contact with her hands, not the pellets. Plant doctors monitored her for the next few days, and what they found was quite unusual: Silkwood’s urine and feces samples were heavily contaminated with radioactivity, as was the apartment she shared with another plant worker, but no one could say why or how that alpha activity had gotten there. (In fact, measurements after her death indicated that Silkwood had ingested the plutonium somehow; again, no one could say how or why.)
After work on November 13, Silkwood went to a union meeting before heading home in her white Honda. Soon, police were summoned to the scene of an accident along Oklahoma’s State Highway 74: Silkwood had somehow crashed into a concrete culvert. She was dead by the time help arrived. An autopsy revealed that she had taken a large dose of Quaaludes before she died, which would likely have made her doze off at the wheel; however, an accident investigator found skid marks and a suspicious dent in the Honda’s rear bumper, indicating that a second car had forced Silkwood off the road.
Silkwood’s father sued Kerr-McGee, and the company eventually settled for $1.3 million, minus legal fees. Kerr-McGee closed its Crescent plant in 1979.
1982 Vietnam Veterans Memorial dedicated
Near the end of a weeklong national salute to Americans who served in the Vietnam War, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington after a march to its site by thousands of veterans of the conflict. The long-awaited memorial was a simple V-shaped black-granite wall inscribed with the names of the 57,939 Americans who died in the conflict, arranged in order of death, not rank, as was common in other memorials.
The designer of the memorial was MayaLin, a Yale University architecture student who entered a nationwide competition to create a design for the monument. Lin, born in Ohioin 1959, was the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Many veterans’ groups were opposed to Lin’s winning design, which lacked a standard memorial’s heroic statues and stirring words. However, a remarkable shift in public opinion occurred in the months after the memorial’s dedication. Veterans and families of the dead walked the black reflective wall, seeking the names of their loved ones killed in the conflict. Once the name was located, visitors often made an etching or left a private offering, from notes and flowers to dog tags and cans of beer.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial soon became one of the most visited memorials in the nation’s capital. A Smithsonian Institution director called it a community of feelings, almost a sacred precinct, and a veteran declared that it’s the parade we never got. The Wall drew together both those who fought and those who marched against the war and served to promote national healing a decade after the divisive conflict’s end.

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