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Lowrider: the DIY car mag that became a Chicano voice of resistance



The California outlet which gave Mexican Americans a chance to see themselves reflected positively in print is ending its run after 42 years

After a 42-year ride, the California car magazine Lowrider is cruising its final lap.

Citing a rise in digital readership, Ten Publishing announced that it would cease to print the celebrated magazine.

What started four decades ago as a DIY car magazine became a vehicle for something larger: cultural pride, an expression of resistance, and an outlet that gave a generation of Mexican Americans, or Chicanos, the chance to see themselves reflected positively in print. It also became a flashpoint where issues of policing and demonization of minorities clashed with emerging forces of Latino youth.

News of the magazines latest turn was met by laments and retrospectives on what it meant for Chicano culture in California and beyond.

A convoy carries the ashes of Sonny Madrid, co-founder of Lowrider magazine, to the cemetery. Photograph: Gilbert Chavez

Lowriders, often customized, vintage cars with extravagant paint jobs, take their name from their ground-hugging, slow-and-low style. The first generation of lowriders rolled out in Los Angeles, home to a booming Mexican American population and resulting racial tension that ignited the zoot suit riots of 1943.

Decades before Snoop Dogg and the 90s west coast rap scene cemented lowriders place in popular culture, three students from San Jose State University set out to document the nascent car scene and, along the way, offer a platform for the Bay areas Chicano community.

Larry Gonzalez, Sonny Madrid, and David Nunez pooled their money and launched Lowriders first edition in 1977. Those first editions included artwork drawn behind prison walls, photos from the community, and of course, pictures of coveted, vintage cars.

It had a lot of soul. It had a lot of heart, said Gilbert Chavez, a close friend to Madrid who carried ashes to the cemetery for Sonnys last cruise.

You saw the people, you saw the neighborhood. It wasnt a magazine, it was a yearbook, he said.

Chavez remembers the early editions as Lowriders glory years. It was a time, he says, when a person didnt need to be a celebrity to appear in the magazine and the photographers who shot the story were inside players in the lowrider scene.

While Los Angeles may be seen as the Mecca of lowriders, the movements magazine of record was launched in San Jose.

And from pioneering the technology responsible for the modern lowrider to creating handheld toys drawn from barrio life, the city has had an outsize impact on the California car scene and broader Chicano culture.

Lowriding didnt necessarily start in San Jose, but in terms of the modern lowrider culture and everything about it thats iconic, one way or another you can trace it back to San Jose, said Jose Manuel Valle, a writer and activist with the community advocacy organization Silicon Valley De-Bug.

Joey Jam Flores, nephew to Madrid, who died in 2015, remembers helping his late-uncle staple the magazines first editions before loading them in the back of his truck for distribution at local grocery shops and liquor stores.

At the time, nobody guessed that a magazine assembled in garages would find an international audience, he said.

San Jose plays an enormous part in Lowriders history. It started here. It was built in homes and garages. Staff members grew up here. We were the landmark, said Flores.

As Lowriders circulation increased, so did the number of cruisers on the streets. Part of that is a credit to an innovation by Andy Douglas, a San Jose mechanic who created the first hydraulic kit for mass-market resale.

The magazine emerged decades before Snoop Dogg helped cement the cars place in pop culture. Photograph: KMazur/WireImage

The first lowriders were low-budget projects, made low only after owners would toss a bag or two of cement in the trunk. The method was foiled, though, in 1958 when California lawmakers made it illegal to operate a car whose parts fell below the bottoms of the wheel rims.

Scofflaws turned to hydraulics, allowing them to lift vehicles with the flick of a switch when police came through. But hydraulic parts were difficult to come by. Owners patched together what they could find from aircraft suppliers and military surplus stores.

Douglass invention changed the game; now, anyone with enough cash in their pocket could make a car bounce.

When Lowrider Magazine started in San Jose, it gave the whole Lowrider movement a big push. Everyone wanted to have their car featured in Lowrider Magazine, Douglas told Lowrider.

The magazines early editions featured a popular comic, Adventures in Hollywood, drawn by the Bay-area cartoonist David Gonzales. Characters from the comic would eventually form the template for Gonzaless Homies, toy caricatures modeled, Gonzales said, on his friends and people he met.

After the toys hit gumball machines, selling more than 1m in their first four months, law enforcement in Los Angeles called for a ban, arguing they glamorized gang life and violence. (Gonzales disagreed, telling the Los Angeles Times that critics were ignorant of Chicano culture.)

Visitors stand in front of 1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxe, named Gangster Squad 39, left, and Jesse Valadezs Gypsy Rose, a customized 1964 Chevrolet Impala, during an exhibition titled The High Art of Riding Low at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles in 2017. Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

It was far from the first time that law enforcement had equated Chicano cultural expression with gang life.

Long before California authorities turned to Facebook to build criminal cases, police in Los Angeles leaned on issues of Teen Angels, a magazine created by a San Jose muralist that depicted barrio life, to search for evidence of gang activity.

At the time, even some advocates for Latino rights saw the magazines young people were reading as public enemies.

The mentality of Teen Angels and Lowriders is to keep people stupid, one advocate said in 1992. Teen Angels was more detrimental than drugs because it shapes what future generations are going to think.

To Gregorio Mora-Torres, a professor in San Jose States Mexican American studies department, criticism of Chicano magazines and the criminalization of cars is part of a long-standing effort to keep Latinos on the margins of society.

Basically, theyve tried to stamp out Latino culture, he said, adding that city officials in San Jose had done little to protect dwindling Chicano murals, often destroyed or painted over by developers.

But San Joses history, combined with its geography, had created a kind of incubator for resistance and Chicano pride, Mora-Torres said.

Mexican Americans have roots in San Jose that predate Californias statehood. As far back as the 1860s, the city was home to a booming Cinco de Mayo celebration that would draw people from across the Bay area and eventually become the hottest place to cruise.

Around mid-century, canneries began multiplying in San Jose, promising jobs and a path to the middle class. Proximity to San Jose State drew young, politically minded Chicanos, many of them raised in the Central Valley, ground zero for the fight for farmworkers rights.

So theres a confluence of elements in San Jose. When you put them together you get a renaissance of Chicano pride, expressed through murals and lowriders, Mora-Torres said.

David Palanco, president of the United Lowrider Council of San Jose, said that the car shows the publication hosts still draw a crowd, and lowrider culture shows no signs of fading. But hes sorry enthusiasts will no longer see their cars on the glossy Lowrider pages.

A lowrider is parked before the 72nd annual East LA Mexican Independence Day parade on on 16 September 2018. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Whats sad is that theres nothing better than having your car in a magazine and seeing it in print and being able to hold it in your hand. Now, thats gone.

Chavez said he was sad to see Lowrider close the curtain on its print product sad to see such a giant brought to its knees but wasnt surprised by the outcome.

A lot of people are saying this is the end of an era, but to me Lowrider lost its soul 20 years ago [when it was bought in 1997 by McMullen Argus Publishing]. It sold out. It lost touch with the community, he said.

Chavez launched his own lowrider magazine, Streetlow, in what he said was an effort to recapture the heart and soul of Lowriders first editions. The magazine is in its 21st year.

Flores, Madrids nephew, concedes that Lowrider today isnt the same as it used to be, but he is happy it made such a long run.

Yes, it changed. Just like everything changes. When it first started, it was about the cars it wasnt about the models or anything else. And when my uncle sold it, I started hearing from the car clubs that they wanted to keep it the way it was.

Years before he died, when the magazine was doing well, my uncle saw the end coming. He knew digital media was going to become a giant. He held on to the magazine as long as he could. It was his baby.

Those who knew Madrid and the iconic publication hed built are nostalgic about the printed magazine (which will continue to publish online). But nobody interviewed for this story believed lowrider culture will die out any time soon.

Lowriding is about being different. Its about improvisation. There are no rules, Chavez said. As long as people continue to be unique, to be themselves and put that into their cars, there will be lowriders. We are the lowriders.

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New Safety Gizmos Are Making Car Insurance More Expensive




American car insurance rates are going up up up. In the last decade, they climbed 29.6 percent to an average of $1,548 in 2019 from $1,194 in 2011. The surge, detailed in a new report from insurance shopping site The Zebra, outpaced both inflation (by far) and the increase in average car prices (more narrowly). And it came even as the rate of crashes has fallen year over year.

Aggrieved drivers have plenty of directions to point their fingers. Vehicle theft is on the rise, and extreme weather fueled by climate change can destroy swaths of vehicles in short order. Hurricane Harvey wrecked up to 1 million cars in the Houston area in 2017. And while crash rates have dropped, they’ve been buoyed by increasing urbanization and a strong economy, which put more drivers—many of them distracted by smartphones—in tighter spaces.

A more surprising, counterintuitive culprit isn’t the wider world or the person behind the wheel, but the car itself. It turns out that new features designed to keep vehicles in their lanes and out of trouble are contributing to rising insurance rates.

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That’s because the sensors that power those systems make cars much more expensive to fix when they do crash. Dent a steel bumper, and a few hammer blows gets you back on the road. Smash one on a new car, and it could mean replacing a radar, camera, and ultrasonic sensors, then calibrating them so they work properly. Replacing a cracked windshield now comes with the extra cost of having someone readjust any cameras that look through the glass. “Technology is playing a bigger role than ever in pricing,” says Nicole Beck, The Zebra’s communications chief. “It’s not actually making it cheaper for people.”

While some studies have shown the effectiveness of emergency braking, insurance companies haven’t yet seen enough evidence to justify a break in rates for most of these features. That’s not to say lane keeping, parking assist, and the rest don’t work. They’re all relatively new, and the actuaries aren’t yet confident that their benefits outweigh the extra costs they incur to repair. Complicating the picture is the fact that each automaker offers its own version of each feature, and that drivers may not keep the systems engaged.

“A lot of the developments so far have mixed results,” says Tom Karol, general counsel for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies. “It’s not really been proven out yet, in terms of benefits.” Which is why, according to the report, drivers who go for electronic stability control, which keeps cars from spinning out of control, save just $8 a year. Those who pay for blind spot warning, driver alertness monitoring, lane departure warning, night vision, or parking assistance systems save nothing at all.

Still, at least one company sees the upside of sensor-driven driver assistance. “They absolutely lower the frequency of crashes,” says Alex Carges, the chief actuary at The Root, an insurance startup that determines rates based on how people drive, using accelerometer and GPS data from their phones.


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Elon Musk on road to $50bn payout as Tesla’s value passes $100bn




Under pay scheme, founder must build electric carmaker into $650bn company by 2028

The Tesla founder, Elon Musk, has taken the first step to becoming $50bn (38bn) richer after the value of the electric car company surged past $100bn.

Musk, already a multibillionaire with a net worth estimated at about $30bn, secured approval in 2018 for a pay deal that would dwarf existing records for renumeration if it was paid out in full.

Under the scheme corporate governance experts have described as staggering, Musk must build Tesla into a $650bn company over the next 10 years.

Hitting this landmark would make Tesla one of the worlds most valuable tech companies worth more than seven times the combined value today of automotive powerhouses Ford and General Motors .

Provided Tesla also hits ambitious revenue and profit targets, and assuming Musk remains its chief executive, such growth would also trigger payments in stock worth about $50bn over the course of the scheme.

At the time the deal was agreed in March 2018, Tesla was valued by the stock market at $54.6bn. Its share price has nearly doubled since then, breaking the $100bn barrier on Wednesday.

Improved sentiment about Tesla on Wall Street is partly down to a surprise third-quarter profit of $143m, which bolstered hopes that the company could end its habit of making significant losses.

If Musk can keep the stock market value at above $100bn on average over the next six months, he will be entitled to the first of up to 12 stock payouts, worth around $350m each.

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The pay deal is staggered so that he receives further awards for every $50bn Tesla increases in stock market value, up to a maximum of $50bn in shares if the company achieves a valuation of $650bn by 2028.

That is still some way behind trillion-dollar companies such as Apple, the first to reach the Wall Street milestone, and Googles parent company, Alphabet.

Tesla supporters have argued that the way the pay plan is structured will help keep Musk focused on the company at a time when he is also increasingly involved in SpaceX, his space exploration company, and other ventures.

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A Move to Make Auto-Safety Features Speak the Same Language




Pop quiz! What’s the difference between Automatic Emergency Braking, Collision Imminent Braking, Autonomous Emergency Braking, Collision Intervention, Autonomous Braking, and a Dynamic Brake System?

Trick question: nothing. All six of those terms have been used by important auto industry organizations—regulators at the US Department of Transportation, standards developers at SAE International, and influential research organization Thatcham Research—to describe automatic emergency braking systems. If your car comes equipped with Automatic Emergency Braking, it should be able to detect a potential collision in front of the car and automatically apply the brakes to avoid it, or at least to cushion the blow.

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Last week, the Transportation Department said it would join an effort to get everyone in the auto industry, including safety advocates, regulators, manufacturers, suppliers, dealers, and of course drivers themselves, on the same page, language-wise. “We want to make sure that drivers are aware that these systems are designed to ‘assist,’ not replace an engaged driver,” Secretary Elaine Chao told an annual research conference in Washington, DC.

The DOT endorsed a standardized list of advanced driver-assistance terminology, released late last year by the National Safety Council, AAA, Consumer Reports, and JD Power, the automotive marketing research company. The list clarifies, for example, that even when using “Active Driving Assistance” features (like General Motors’ Super Cruise, Audi’s Traffic Jam Assist, or Tesla’s Autopilot), the “driver is responsible for the primary task of driving.” Translation: Keep your eyes on the road! Some sort of advanced driver-assistance feature is available on almost all new cars sold in the US.

If you’re confused by the way your car’s new tech works, you are far from alone. Research suggests that people wildly overestimate the effectiveness of driver-assistance features. Thatcham Research surveyed 1,500 people in seven countries in 2018 and found that 70 percent believed you could buy an autonomous car, and 11 percent would be tempted to nap, watch a movie, or read the paper while using a driver-assistance feature. (Do! Not! Do! That!) Undercover researchers with MIT found in 2017 that not all car dealers accurately describe new features’ abilities or limitations to customers. Studies by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety suggest many drivers don’t understand the range of features like adaptive cruise control, which can adjust vehicle speed when it detects another vehicle ahead. The research also suggests that, without specific instruction, drivers can’t actually tell when a feature like lane-keeping assistance is actually on.

An industry review by AAA found that automakers selling in the US use at least 20 different brand names to market adaptive cruise control; there were 19 names for blind-spot warning systems.

But advanced assistance features also make driving much safer, which is why advocates say it’s important to make sure people understand how they work. Another IIHS study compared police-reported crash data and insurance claims from cars with crash-avoidance tech to those without, and found that cars with forward-collision warning are involved in 27 percent fewer front-to-rear crashes than those without the feature; those with forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking are in 50 percent fewer crashes.

(What’s forward-collision warning? The document endorsed by the DOT defines it as a system that “detects impending collision while traveling forward and alerts [the] driver. Some systems include pedestrian or other object detection.”)


Having DOT on board with the new definitions won’t by itself fix the industry’s vocab issues, or solve its wide-ranging consumer education issues. The most important players, the automakers who devise and market the names, were absent from the DOT announcement. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents the automakers that produce almost 99 percent of light-duty vehicles sold in the US, did not respond to requests for comment.

The Feds are working on performance standards for the tech, and their endorsement suggests their language might be consistent within its regulations. “Hopefully we get some commonality when the automakers start complying with those standards,” says Greg Brannon, the director of automotive engineering and industry relations at AAA. He says his and other groups pushing for more harmonization aren’t trying to get carmakers to nix their unique marketing of these features altogether. But wouldn’t it be nice if, say, Jeep were to clearly label its LaneSense Lane Departure Warning-Plus system a “Lane-Keeping Assistance” feature?

“Unfortunately, there's usually a pretty big gap between the marketing and engineering departments,” Brannon says.

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