IEEE Spectrum To Forbes: Our Car List Beats Yours

IEEE SPECTRUM TO FORBES: OUR CAR LIST BEATS YOURS

IEEE Spectrum staffer Philip Ross, formerly of Forbes magazine, doesn't like the way his old employer covers high-tech cars.


Philip Ross


Let's see, I'd start with Bill Gates, followed by Warren Buffett. Next would come Paul Allen—a man lucky enough to have been standing next to Bill Gates back in high school—and of course, the Sultan of Dubai.

Yep. Even I, a mere tech journalist, could assemble a list of the richest people in the world, just as the journos at Forbes magazine do every year. But if I did so, they might slap me for impertinence, saying that I lacked their data, their methodology, and their acumen. I do, too, and I should know it: I covered tech for them back in the 1990s, and I never came near the hallowed "rich list."

So you can imagine how miffed we at IEEE Spectrum were when forbes.com ran a piece called "Coolest High-Tech Cars" a few weeks ago, just as we were sending our similarly titled April cover story to the printer, as we do this time every year.

We thought we'd take a little look at Forbes's evidence, methodology, and technological acumen. What conclusions do you think we reached?

Well, for starters, nearly all the cars on their list cost more than US $100 000, one costs more than $400 000 and one's in the seven digits. Not that there's anything wrong with that; nice things cost money. But for the purposes of appraising the technological challenge, you just have to account for expense. After all, a true engineer is someone who can do for $10 what any durn fool can do for $100.

Maybe reporters who cover the very rich are different from you and me. Why else would one of them cite as a technological breakthrough an optional $8000 stainless-steel hood on a Rolls-Royce convertible? Optional it may well be, for the Sultan of Dubai, but the technologically inclined would like to know the point. Does the shiny hood represent a new departure in metallurgy? Does it conserve energy? Will its resistance to stains allow prudent billionaires to economize on wax?

Then there's the question of time. Forbes lists cars that we covered a year ago—the Mercedes Bluetec and the Veyron, for instance. These models were wonderful achievements, but our car guy, John Voelcker, would never dream of including them this year, because our John likes his technology poppin' fresh.

Worse still, from a tech guy's perspective, the Forbes reporter names technologies but does not deign to explain them. In describing the Acura RDX SUV, for instance, he speaks of "technology that eliminates turbo lag" without saying what turbo lag is, or how Acura eliminates it. Since turbo lag has bedeviled engine designers for 30 years, this would seem to be an important point.

But perhaps financial reporters regard themselves as above such tedious detail.

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