Thursday June 30, 2005
Appropriate Speed: Rio de Janeiro legislators have voted to end enforcement of speed limits in parts of the crime-plagued city at night to try to cut down on attacks on slow-moving cars.
I've always felt that something should be done about speed limits around those 'Danger - Falling Rocks' signs around here. Either the limit should be 5 mph so that one can see the rocks falling and steer out of the way or 150 mph so that one is exposed to such danger for the shortest time possible.
What About Tomorrow? Jerry Flint on car 'deals': "... GM has been lurching from one sales promotion to another. The latest deal is the "Employee Discount" on virtually every GM vehicle except for Corvette.
Yes, it will work: Sales will rise, inventories will drop and GM will grab back some market share - at least temporarily. But this means GM is giving away five months of overstocked production and it is selling ahead, or moving inventory at giveaway prices to people who might have waited for the '06 models. All this is further conditioning consumers to wait for another outrageous deal before visiting a GM showroom.
Why not just shut down the factories for a month? Probably because the financial men who run GM, and have lost 30% of market share in a dozen years, figure they can improve cash flow with the giveaways. They don't care what it does to the business tomorrow."
Pimp My Plex: This week kicked off the new season of MTV's 'Pimp My Ride.' The boys at West Coast Customs had their way with a plump '76 AMC Pacer. Alex (The Wheel and Tire Guy) was fabricating Plexiglas bins and remarked, "I flame polish the edge, so - when I glue it - it sticks better."
This is very bad advice ... (more >>>)
D'Oh! 91 percent of American school children between the ages of 10 and 17 could identify a member of the Simpson family, a greater percentage, incidentally, than could name the vice president of the United States. Of course, the survey was taken in 1999, when Al Gore was VP, so the data may be skewed. (In case you don't remember him, Al invented the Internet. By the way, he's also a hero.)
If You Don't Read This, You Will Die in Horrid Squalor: In grade school, I was told to use an attention-getting first sentence. I suppose James Lileks was given the same instruction.
His article in The Strib begins compellingly: "The utter randomness of life is horrifying, really. Some might find it exhilarating, but consider: I discovered that the Organized Living store, where I go whenever I feel the sudden need to spend $14 for 6 cents worth of plastic, is going out of business."
Oooops! A New York state lawmaker says he's embarrassed, after he mistakenly sent out an e-mail message that referred to his constituents as "idiots." Well, he's right - lots of people are idiots. I've referred to some as such in prior blog postings.
Of course, I can do so with impunity because I'm not going to ask the idiots to vote for me later.
Walla-Walla Madness: If you live in a lucky-enough area of the Pacific Northwest, be sure to visit your local Burgerville. It's Walla-Walla Days and the battered, fried Walla-Walla onion rings and Walla-Walla Cheeseburgers are pure heaven.
My wife and I just dined at the one in Battle Ground. We'll go back again before the Walla-Wallas are gone. Maybe several times!
"Mmmmmm. Poodleburgers!" An animal rights group wants the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA to gut its cafeteria menu of fish and seafood, arguing that "serving fish at an aquarium is like serving poodle burgers at a dog show."
Today's Thought is from Miss Piggy, on eating Chinese food: "You don't knit with forks, so I see no reason to eat with knitting needles."
Wednesday June 29, 2005
Not-So-Great Expectations: General Motors is dialing back its sales forecast for the retro-styled 2006 Chevrolet HHR wagon from 100,000 units annually to 60,000. No wonder.
When the PT Cruiser was introduced, not everyone saw it as a reincarnation of a '30s Ford flatback but most agreed that it looked like something from a street rod show n' shine.
The HHR is supposed to be reminiscent of a '49 Chevy Suburban, a machine rarely seen at car shows and, in its salad days (forgive the pun), was used by vegetable hucksters and truck farmers hawking goods along city streets and alleys. Or for hauling city slickers from the train station to dude ranches in Montana. Jerry Flint has some additional thoughts on the subject.
GM = General Morons: AutoWeek reports: "Stung by the success of the Ford Mustang and Chrysler 300, Chevrolet is studying rear-drive cars." Studying? Studying!?!?! GM should stop "studying" and start building! And, in a related story, AutoWeek reports that a GM Tech Center employee remarked to an AW photographer who was shooting some pix of the much-hyped Graphyte concept SUV-hybrid: "No wonder we can't sell anything. Look at that. It just looks silly."
Boom! The Detroit News reports: "Sales of the Mustang are up 47 percent through the end of May over what they were last year before the redesign. The redesigned car is selling better than Chrysler's popular 300 sedan. It also is outselling 13 brands, including Scion, Saturn, Mercedes-Benz and Subaru. Ford is working hard to fill the remaining 5,500 outstanding Mustang orders but has told dealers to stop taking 2005 orders and start selling the 2006 models." As I've written many times before, when Detroit builds cool, desirable cars, people buy them - in droves.
Top O' The Line: An article on keyless entry/start systems notes that Toyota expects about 35 percent of Avalon buyers to choose the high-end Limited model, which offers keyless operation.
Big Plans: Infiniti hopes to increase its annual U.S. sales by more than 50% to 200,000 vehicles over the next five to seven years.
Unsafe At Any Height: The tragic death of a Wal-Mart heir in an ultralight aircraft made me realize that summer news reports are usually filled with ultralight disasters. (No one seems to get injured in these mishaps - they always die.) I would wager that twenty times as many people have piloted go-carts than ultralights. But when was the last time you read about a go-cart death?
Go-carts are made by small businesses (or home-made) using tube stock and small engines. So are ultralights - except they have wings. In my mind, ultralights are flying go-carts. I'd guess that they are two hundred times more dangerous than land carts. (Statistics are a hard to come by because ultralights and go-carts are generally outside the government's jurisdiction.)
My conclusion - go-carts are OK; flying go-carts are very unsafe. Stay away from them. If Boeing or Honda ever gets in the ultralight business, I may change my mind.
Are We Running Out Of Oil? Maybe. An interesting, dispassionate and troubling article is here. (hat tip - Econopundit)
Admiral Oldsmobile Speaks Out (Again): On the eve of the President's excellent speech about Iraq, Teddy Kennedy declared that President Bush "needs an effective strategy to repair the damage the war has caused to our military and to our reputation in the world. Realism is hard medicine to swallow."
Here's some realism: Teddy's head is so far up his own ass that he can suck the yet-unprocessed booze from what's left of his liver. "The world" has been dismissing our reputation far longer than I've been alive. Democracy ain't easy. Neither is the fight for freedom. Thank God that the Admiral never became our President.
As George Bush said, "We have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America's resolve. We are fighting against men with blind hatred - and armed with lethal weapons - who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality. They take innocent lives to create chaos for the cameras. They are trying to shake our will in Iraq - just as they tried to shake our will on September 11, 2001. They will fail. The terrorists do not understand America. The American people do not falter under threat - and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins."
Today's Thought is from Bo Diddley: "Don't let your mouth write no check that your ass can't cash."
Tuesday June 28, 2005
On Target: In Pennsylvania, a man was sentenced to time already served and ordered to continue psychiatric treatment after pleading no contest to driving a stolen vehicle through a Target store.
Homermobile: A car has been covered in computer keys, forming a Homer Simpson mosaic on the hood.
Cue Up The Melancholy Violins: In a story about GM retirees who worry about whether "the promise of lifelong medical care" will evaporate, the Detroit News leads off by declaring that "a 78-year-old widow in Flint fears she'll one day have to choose between cable television and prescription drugs." Lady, if you think for a moment that cable is more important than your good health, you should vacate the planet ASAP.
Saturday Sign Off: After working on cars most of the day, I settled down with a glass of Merlot and watched the finale of CNN's 'Capital Gang.' I've not been a regular watcher and I don't often agree with Margaret Carlson, but she seems like a rational person and deserves much credit for sitting next to Robert Novak for all those years. I always thought that someday a sharp-toothed, fire-breathing demogorgon would explode from Novak's head and devour everyone within a 20 foot radius.
Hello Kitty Railroad: The East Japan Railway Co. has unveiled a new shinkansen (bullet train) that will run at a speed of 225 mph, which may make it the world's fastest train. The Fastech train has retractable, cat-ear-shaped air brakes which makes the train resemble Hello Kitty. The Japan Times has a photo.
Stinky Magazine! A new study reports that the smell of male underarm funk makes men dig Men's Health magazine. (hat tip - Boing Boing)
I Have Seen The Face Of Evil. And heard its voice ... as BTK serial killer Dennis Rader calmly and clinically described how he murdered 10 people, calling his victims "projects" he lined up in advance to fulfill his fantasies. He is living proof that devils walk among us - disguised as ordinary, nondescript mortals. The ones you'd never suspect. Scary.
The BM In IBM: The company is planning to hire more than 14,000 new workers in India this year, even as IBM proceeds with layoffs of up to 13,000 workers in Europe and the United States.
Today's Thought is from Albert Einstein: "Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen."
Monday June 27, 2005
Car Sighting: Driving around in Portland last week, I got a glimpse of a highly customized '50 Studebaker 5-window coupe on a flatbed car carrier. It had been slammed and converted into a fastback pillarless hardtop. Painted jet black. Stunning. (My quickie sketch of the bullet-nosed Studie - based on a 5 second stare - doesn't really do it justice.)
More Proof That The End Is Nigh: Fiat plans to introduce a Maserati station wagon using an Alfa Romeo design and parts.
Radio Rage: I usually awaken to top-o-the-hour news on our clock radio. On Friday morning, the first thing I heard was US Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) ripping the "Republican-appointed U.S. Supreme Court" over the Kelo decision - that economic development can be a justifiable "public use" for condemning private property.
I think it's a very bad decision; the Court upheld the use of eminent domain by local governments for the purpose of economic development, 5-4. But, DeFazio, in the manner of too many liberal Democrats these days, is a liar.
Here's the vote breakdown: all of the liberals (Ginsburg, Stevens, Breyer) and two moderates (Kennedy, Souter) sided with big business and big government. All the conservatives (Scalia, Thomas, Rehnquist) and one moderate (O'Connor) stood up for the individual and voted against such arbitrary property seizure. Typical Demo strategy - blame the Republicans/conservatives for everything.
Of course, the quickest way to get this decision reversed is for some red state burg to try and tear down a methadone clinic to build a shopping center. Or demolish an abortion clinic to construct a business park. Then watch the libs weep and gnash their teeth.
Requiescat In Pace: Ventriloquist host of the 1950s "The Paul Winchell-Jerry Mahoney Show", Paul Winchell has died at age 82.
He brought dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff to life and held 30 patents, including one for an artificial heart he built in 1963.
Quote of the Day is from Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson: "Much of the money that has poured into poor countries since the 1950s has simply leaked back out - often to bank accounts in Switzerland - as corrupt rulers have stashed their ill-gotten gains abroad. One recent study of 30 sub-Saharan African countries calculated that total capital export for the period 1970-1996 was in the region of $187 billion, which, when accrued interest is added, implies that Africa's ruling elites had private overseas assets equivalent to 145 percent of the public debts their countries owed. ... A similar story can be told for aid payments, a large proportion of which are simply stolen. Which brings us to the fundamental problem of African politics: corruption."
Aid to Africa is wasted aid - it almost never trickles down to the needy.
Friday June 24, 2005
Boxy Success: Toyota Motor Corp.'s Scion raised its 2005 U.S. sales forecast to 140,000 vehicles. Detroit must be embarrassed that this two year-old brand now outsells established marques like Mercury, Lincoln, Volvo and Saturn. Because Toyota offers essentially no cash or financing incentives, Scion is already profitable, claims Mark Templin, Scion brand manager.
Comeuppance: Tim Shaw, an obnoxious British shock jock, announced on-air to a pin-up girl that he'd be willing to leave his wife and two kids for her.
Shaw's wife was listening and quickly put up his Lotus Esprit Turbo for sale on eBay. The auction lasted exactly five minutes and three seconds. The car, estimated to be worth $45,000, sold for 50 pence (90 cents) and was soon driven away by an anonymous buyer.
Unsafe At Any Time: Ralph Nader plans to open a Nader Museum in an abandoned mill in his old home town in Connecticut.
"Historically, it's a nice context because that's where so many workers got injured, in factories around the country," said Nader. From the article: "Ralph apparently cannot see the sad irony in turning a once-thriving mill that employed hundreds of local residents into a tort lawyers' museum. And isn't saying that workers got injured in factories a bit like soldiers got shot on battlefields or drunks got plastered in saloons? Where else are they going to get injured?"
Ann Coulter Unleashed: Her take on Gitmo is here. Excerpt: "Here's a foolproof method for keeping America safe: Always do the exact 180-degree opposite of whatever Jimmy Carter says as quickly as possible."
Quote Of The Week is from Brad DeLong: "My two cents' worth - and I think it is the two cents' worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994 - is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. Heading up health-care reform was the only major administrative job she has ever tried to do. And she was a complete flop at it. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly." (hat tip - Econopundit)
Homer Simpson, Genius: "Scientists have genetically engineered tomato and tobacco plants to produce a vaccine against the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS."
Homer Simpson did this several years ago, using a little plutonium to develop Tomacco, a tomato/tobacco hybrid.
'I Walked on the Moon' is Brian Regan's hysterical hour-long DVD. I enjoyed every minute of this Father's Day gift.
Brian lampoons everything including emergency room visits, UPS, Fig Newtons and dinner party braggarts.
Need a good laugh? Get this DVD ... and you'll cheer right up.
Thursday June 23, 2005
Comeback Kid: I'm not a big Porsche fan. I once considered buying one and, upon close inspection, found the car to be seriously overpriced. (Well, duh!) But I must admit that the original 911 design remains a milestone for purity of line. And, one must give Porsche credit for becoming "the best car company in the world," according to Jerry Flint.
Excerpt: "When Porsche hit bottom, the directors hired someone who knew something about building a better company, not just juggling a balance sheet. He understood change had to come from inside, not by squeezing down the prices of partsmakers. The key people are product engineers who want to build the best product in the world, not just M.B.A.s. It's not easy to remake an auto company, but (Porsche) did it."
If You Think You Need One Of These, You're Really On The Ropes. General Motors now has a "positioning and portfolio team."
If You're Reading This, You Have To Pay A "User Fee": A few days ago, I received an e-mail from reader Cliff who complained about dealer repair surcharges. It seems he took his '03 Passat in for its 20,000 mile service. The bill from the VW dealer had some surprises.
Cliff wrote: "I don't expect much from my dealer and, as usual, got what I expected: 1. Charged 1.89 parts plus 1.24 labor to "fill" my already full washer fluid back up. 2. Charged $25 "EPA User Fee" which they explained was for rag and oil disposal."
Cliff has my sympathy. One would think that the $90+ per hour shop charge would cover such overhead items. (That's the $60+ per hour 'flat rate' plus the knowledge that any mechanic who can't beat the rate by 50% or so is waaaay too slow.) Does this mean that banks will begin charging for pen chain wear? Or restaurants for silverware usage?
Perhaps all of us should should back-charge dealers for wear and tear as well as gas consumption during road testing of our vehicles. And for "EPA disposal" of those insipid, pretentiously-printed paper floor mats they leave in our cars.
"You Will Soon Read This Article." Everything you wanted to know about the fortune cookie business.
The Chinese Century? Mark Steyn writes that it's not gonna happen.
Who's Screwing Up America? Survey results here.
Early Television: Much of it happened in Philadelphia, writes Richard Corliss. Ernie Kovacs was better than the Today Show as a source for morning inspiration.
There was a live, daily western drama, 'Action in the Afternoon,' whose musical director was a 20-year-old named Dick Lester; he later went to England and directed 'A Hard Day's Night.' 'Action', an hour-long Western, was broadcast from WCAU's City Line studio, where the back lot was also the employee parking lot. One cast member was John Zacherle, who played the town's undertaker. Zacherle later became famous playing horror-flick host 'Roland' on Friday night's Shock Theatre.
Full disclosure: Corliss, now a Senior Writer (covering movies, show business and sports) at Time, was a high school classmate at St. Joe's Prep in Philadelphia many years ago.
Wednesday June 22, 2005
'Beyond Belief': Last week, we rented 'Beyond The Sea'. My wife and I spent two hours watching it and a half hour discussing the movie's serious flaws. This would have been a good starring role for Kevin Spacey in 1990 but his time has passed. Having a 46 year-old play a man in his early twenties is an atrocious idea. Twelve layers of sheer pantyhose over the camera lens can't soften the lumps, bumps and lines of age enough to suspend disbelief. (You'd think that Hollywood would have learned this after casting 86 year-old Mae West as a love goddess in 'Sextette.') And, if more than $10 was spent on Spacey's various movie toupees, Hollywood's bunko squad should be summoned.
The movie was filled with continuity problems. And the period cars weren't correct. Bobby Darin was diagnosed with rheumatic fever in 1944. But all the vehicles on the street were 1928-31 Model A vintage. Where were the '36 Fords, '41 Chevies and, of course, '39 Plymouths? In 1968, candidate Bobby Kennedy is shown being chauffeured around California in an old '58 Caddy Fleetwood. Never happened.
Darin's mother is laid out in an odd, eastern European-style casket, providing a clue that at least part of the movie was shot Somewhere Beyond The Black Sea. Darin is shown in the dressing room of the Copa wearing an appropriately skinny bow tie for his 1960 tuxedoed stage appearance. In the next scene, he bursts onto the stage wearing a big fat 1971 Engelbert Humperdinck tux tie. My wife noted that Sandra Dee's hairdo was all wrong - all the time.
I was mentally recutting the film as I watched it - a bad sign. (Mack, the Knife.) The storyline was very much distorted - to the point of fantasy/fiction. Too bad, because Bobby Darin was an exceptional talent with an interesting bio and deserved a better movie. (I saw him perform at the long-gone Latin Casino in 1969. Here's a car-related factoid - the Latin Casino was demolished in 1980 to make way for Subaru of America's headquarters in Cherry Hill, NJ. More trivia - in 1975, Jackie Wilson suffered his ultimately-fatal heart attack while performing onstage at the Latin. Still more LC bad luck - while performing there in 1962, Brenda Lee dislocated her neck. The last six days of her engagement were canceled and she spent the rest of the week in Cooper Hospital - Camden, NJ.)
Spacey does a surprisingly good job with the vocals and captures much of Darin's signature body language. I just wish this movie had been made 15 years ago - with a better screenwriter and director.
Dumpster Diving: A woman searching for aluminum cans in a trash bin was dumped into the back of a garbage truck after the driver emptied the Dumpster without realizing the woman was inside. This moron said she doesn't collect cans unless she needs gas money. She also said she's unemployed because of a bad back.
Ooooh. Can't work - disabled due to limited mobility and, therefore, on the public dole - but is healthy and agile enough to enter the Dumpster Olympics! The woman also complained because she lost her cell phone when she was dumped and has hired an attorney. Only in America ....
Thanks For Saying It. Somebody Needed To. Steve Tilley of the Edmonton Sun writes: "Michael Jackson is cleared of all charges. Tom Cruise proposes to Katie Holmes. And, in the same week, several earthquakes rock California. Coincidence? Or warnings of divine retribution to follow? Yes, of course it's coincidence. Do you really think that if your deity of choice wanted to smite some Jesus-Juicin' NAMBLA hall of famer or a cradle-robbing Scientologist of dubious sexual orientation that He/She/It Who Cannot Be Named would fire warning shots across our bow in the form of a couple relatively minor tremors?" Read on.
Another One Bites The Dust: Check out this obituary (with photo). Excerpt: "Alas, the stolen election of 2000 and living with right-winged Americans finally brought him to his early demise. Stress from living in this unjust country brought about several heart attacks rendering him disabled."
And: "Having never gained the recognition he deserved in his own lifetime his family hopes to publish a book of his works." I guess he was too busy being angry. His nickname was 'Snake.' Loser. (hat tip - Michelle Malkin)
Question Of The Day: My friend, Dick Ferris, asks: "Ever wonder why they sterilize the needles used for lethal injections?"
Tuesday June 21, 2005
Car Sighting: Followed a black 1951 Citroen Traction Avant into downtown Battle Ground. It has rear turn signals near the rooftop, like the later DS-19.
I had forgotten how narrow the tires are on old cars, especially this model which is little changed from the 1930s.
Car Magazine Writers Are Wrecking The Car Business! At least, that's what one of them writes. Anonymously.
Efficient Spending, Careful Market Research: AutoWeek has an interesting story about the development of the Honda Ridgeline pickup truck. Excerpt: "A core team of 37 engineers, led by (Gary) Flint, did the engineering design work on the truck over about four years. In one of his assignments at GM, Flint helped engineer the Chevrolet S10 pickup."
And: "Compared to General Motors, (the Ridgeline's cost) is peanuts," Flint says. "But that's why we make money. We are very, very frugal and very, very careful. I don't even throw out used pencils. It's an extremely different mind-set between Honda and General Motors."
"During the Ridgeline's development I spent an hour every Saturday morning at Home Depot with my tasty beverage, and I watched people load things in the parking lot," Flint said. More: "He took notes as he watched people struggling to load their purchases. Making the vehicle easier to use and blending the best attributes of trucks and SUVs became two core goals of the Ridgeline. The Ridgeline ... is not aimed at buyers looking for a traditional pickup. Instead, it is aimed at Honda's upscale customers who occasionally need to tow and haul heavy loads."
Flint says he started with no preconceived notions about the Ridgeline. "We didn't look at what people were buying," he says. "We listened to what they wanted." Why haven't Ford and General Motors been doing this?
Darwin Award Nominee: An 82-year old Maryland man was hospitalized with burns after trying to siphon gas from his car with a vacuum cleaner while the engine was running.
Gitmo Griping: I am sooooo sick and tired of people carping about the "inhumane" conditions at Guantanamo Bay. These are the best-treated POWs in the history of mankind.
Dinner selections at this "prison" include Baked Tandoori Chicken Breast, Mustard-Dill Baked Fish, Lyonnaise Rice and Fish Amandine. Ann Coulter provided this saddening quip: "Sounds like the sort of thing you'd get at 'Windows on the World' if it still existed." I'm sure these meals are an improvement over the gourmet fare these terrorists and wanna-bees experience at home - sun-dried goat.
If I were running the place, I'd be serving be nuttin' but pulled pork on Jewish Rye. Every day. (But then, wasn't it the Eagles who sang, "You can't hide your Lyonnaise"?)
On the subject of Gitmo, here is Christopher Hitchens at his best: "I should very much like to know how a Gore administration would have dealt with the hundreds of foreign sadists taken in arms in Afghanistan. I should also like to know how other Western governments, which are privately relieved that the United States assumed responsibility for the last wave, expect to handle the next wave of fundamentalist violence in their own societies. No word on this as yet." I'd like to know, too. And: "The man whose story of rough interrogation (at Gitmo) has just been published in Time had planned to board a United Airlines flight and crash it into a skyscraper. I want to know who his friends and contacts were ..."
Speaking of torture ... (more >>>)
Real Torture: John Hinderaker at Power Line wrote: "Marines in western Iraq made a sobering discovery yesterday that highlights the folly of those who decry "torture" at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay: Marines on an operation to eliminate insurgents that began Friday broke through the outside wall of a building in this small rural village to find a torture center equipped with electric wires, a noose, handcuffs, a 574-page jihad manual - and four beaten and shackled Iraqis.
One way you can distinguish a real torture center from an American detention facility is that in the real thing, people keep dying: "They kill somebody every day," said Mr. Fathil, whose hands were so swollen he could not open a can of Coke offered to him by a marine. "They've killed a lot of people.""
Monday June 20, 2005
Unloved Vee-Dub: Dan Lienert writes in Forbes: "Relatively speaking, nobody wants to buy the Volkswagen Phaeton sedan. In February, only 69 Americans purchased the flagship Volkswagen, compared with 152 last February. These sales are terrible for the product of a high-volume, mainstream carmaker. They seemed that way at this time last year, and now they have declined by 55%. Dealers are routinely offering Phaetons for $10,000 under the sticker price. ... The problem is not the quality of the Phaeton - it's the quality of the VW badge. And it's the mediocre reputation Volkswagen dealers have ..."
The Latest Desperate Act: Ford pays its workers to sell cars to friends, neighbors and relatives.
Chrysler Revives 'Aspen' Model Name: Because all owners of 1970s Aspens are dead - either from car crashes, rust-induced blood poisoning or frustration.
Better Than A Lada: Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. broke ground on a Camry assembly plant in Russia, in a vote of confidence in the booming Russian consumer market. Capitalism works.
Ubiquitous Toyota: By 2006, Toyota will have the annual capacity to build 1.66 million cars and trucks, 1.44 million engines, and 600,000 automatic transmissions in North America. Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America has announced the company's first North American gas-electric hybrid production will be at its Georgetown, Ky., plant where 48,000 Camry hybrid vehicles per year will be produced, starting in 2006. The addition of hybrid production represents an additional $10 million investment in the plant.
Watching the television coverage of the missing girl in Aruba, Natalee Holloway, I couldn't help but notice that 80% of the cars I observed were Toyotas, including several Camry police cars.
Creepy Fire Bug: The co-author of a book on a deadly 1958 Catholic church-school fire in Chicago has been charged with setting a fire at a different Catholic school. He had been a firefighter but lost his job two years ago.
Happy Anniversary! For our 39th wedding anniversary on Saturday, my daughter made us a pizza with '39' spelled out in meatball slices. Yum!
Friday June 17, 2005
Is That A Front Air Dam? Or A Scraper Blade? Defunct automaker Rover's parts business (X-Part) has been taken over by Caterpillar UK. So you can now equip your Rover 75 with tracks, Power Shift bulldozer blades or backhoe attachments. Or buy yellow touch-up paint by the gallon.
Makeover: Everybody (including me) has an opinion about How To Fix General Motors. Michelle Krebs believes that prettier cars are the answer.
Liquid Illusions: Peter DeLorenzo of AutoExtremist writes: "In the last two weeks, GM has been bringing in journalists and analysts to the GM Design Dome at their Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, for one-on-one sessions to view most of their upcoming products for the next 30 months. Though we can't provide anything more than sketchy details, suffice to say, anyone counting GM out at this point will be surprised, make that shocked, at the array of new cars and trucks they have in the pipeline. Most impressive was the attention paid to the design of their interiors across the board, something that has been long overdue. And the new products are, in most cases, jaw-droppingly beautiful in their execution and details ... These new vehicles reflect "Maximum Bob's" influence everywhere you look. ... they're now well and truly engaged in The Game."
Oh, please! Excuse me for being skeptical, but - for years - GM has been inviting journalists for 'secret' previews. Then the models never appear or are much crappier than the glowing reports indicated. GM must put something in the water. Or the scotch.
"Gentlemen, Start Your Dozers": It must be very difficult to lose a grown child. It must be even worse, carrying the knowledge that she died from an ill-advised political act of protest.
Now Rachel Corrie's parents are touring America to raise money for the same stupid cause - creating new housing for suicide bombers. I guess the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree. Note to Israel: The Corries will soon be in Palestine. Get your Cats warmed up.
Travel Advisory: Fox News headline: "Jacko Weighing Getaway Destinations". How about Hell?
Creepily Hilarious: An unforgettable Father's Day gift for someone - a liquor decanter made from a squirrel.
To All Dads: Happy Father's Day. I've posted my thoughts on fatherhood here.
Thursday June 16, 2005
Favorite Movie And TV Cars: Hagerty Insurance, which insures collectible automobiles, invited people to name their choices. From 10,000 responses, here are the top ten picks (my comments in parentheses):
1. Dukes of Hazzard's General Lee (There's no accounting for taste.)
2. Bullitt's dark green 1968 Mustang (Yes!),
3. Gone in 60 Seconds' Eleanor - the 1967 Shelby GT500
4. Back to the Future's flux capacitor-equipped 1983 DeLorean
5. Batmobile from the '60s TV series (all other Batmobiles are crap)
6. James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger (Cool!)
7. Smokey & The Bandit's Pontiac Firebird T/A (see General Lee comments)
8. Herbie the Love Bug (Who wouldn't love Herbie? A DKW? A Toyota Toyopet? A Trabant?)
9. Starsky & Hutch's 1974 Ford Torino (see General Lee ... again)
10. The Green Hornet's Black Beauty - from the 1966 television series (WTF?! Why? How?)
I would like to add the following personal favorites: Mrs. Peel's Lotus Elan S2 (possibly because of Diana Rigg) and John Steed's Blower Bentley in 'The Avengers' (James Bond also drove one in 'Dr. No'), Cosmo Topper's center-finned custom roadster from the 1937 movie, 'Topper', the Mini Coopers in 'The Italian Job' (either version), Edd 'Kooky' Burns' hot rod in '77 Sunset Strip', Sonny Corelone's 1941 Lincoln Continental coupe from 'The Godfather' (sans bullet holes), Elvis' '32 flathead Ford roadster in 'Loving You', Speed Racer's Mach 5, Toyota 2000 GT from 'You Only Live Twice' and The Munster's Coffin Dragster.
My son tells me that its official name is 'Dragula'. He adds: "Singer Rob Zombie had a hit song called 'Dragula', but when it came time to shoot the video for it, they were unable to secure the Dragula car for some reason and had to use the Muster's Coach instead."
Here's a little-known fact - if you see a "Goldfinger" DB5 on display somewhere, it's a replica. The original was stolen from an airport hanger in 1997. Its whereabouts are unknown.
Lotsa Pix: You'll find over 170 photos taken at the Henry Ford Museum here.
It's Those Expensive Hats! The Onion offers an analysis and explanation of why General Motors' costs are rising.
Plastics Protest: Chen Hsien, an employee of Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works Ltd., a plastics factory that manufactures lightweight household items for Western markets, expressed his disbelief over the "sheer amount of shit Americans will buy."
More Proof that people will buy any kind of crap. "In-Souls inserts are designed to provide a tangible support to assist Christians to literally "walk in the word of the Lord." Worn in the right shoe, each one provides a related scripture and affirmation." In-Soul also peddles inspirational air fresheners. I wonder if any are made by Fenghua Ningbo Plastic Works? (hat tip - Relapsed Catholic)
Not For Vegetarians: If you eat burgers or just like to read about 'em, this hamburger blog is for you.
Wednesday June 15, 2005
Oil Scams: Boston Phoenix scribe Alvin Olifson writes that "with an oil change, I'm an easy mark. They've got me pegged from the moment I'm guided into the service bay and hesitate before remembering how to pop my hood. It is generally downhill from there. I wait helplessly in the unnaturally bright waiting room, drinking bad coffee, and desperately clinging to my soon-to-be-useless $17.99 coupon. Inevitably, the mechanic pops in his head and says - in that friendly yet self-satisfied tone people use when they know they can charge you $1000 to urinate on your tailpipe - "Mr. Olifson, I need to go over a few things with you." In all my years of oil changes, this has never been followed by a discussion of how clean I've kept my air filter. ... And so my last $17.99 oil change cost me more than $100. Something apparently needed extra lubing. Don't ask. Lord knows I didn't."
My thoughts on oil are published here.
LaCrosse, We Hardly Knew Ye. Jerry Flint keeps an eye on the Buick Death Watch. Excerpt: "If there is any Buick leadership, I can't find it. One previous head of Buick went off to sell hardware, another left to sell cheesecake."
Not Quite The Same Repair: A mechanic was removing a cylinder head from a Harley motorcycle when he spotted a Harley-owning heart surgeon in the shop. The mechanic shouted across the garage, "Hey, Doc, can I ask you a question?"
The surgeon said "Sure." The mechanic remarked, "Doc, we both do valve jobs. So how come you get paid a hundred times more than I do for the same work?" The surgeon smiled and replied, "Try doing it with the engine running." (hat tip - Dave Trabert)
Long Time: Using a typical printer, it would take 3,066 years to print the entire Web. But you might be able to speed things up if you put your printer in a microwave. I believe that Homer Simpson suggested that Marge put their microwave inside another microwave to make dinner faster. "Mmmmmm. Speedy dinner."
The Late, Great .... One of the contributors at Power Line (Scott Johnson) offered a tribute to the oft under-appreciated rock and roll singer, Jackie Wilson, noting: "Before Wilson left the Dominoes, Elvis Presley stopped by to see them perform during his late 1956 stint in Las Vegas. Wilson performed an Elvis medley as part of the Dominoes' show, and Elvis was bowled over by Wilson's version of "Don't Be Cruel." Elvis returned the following three nights to see Wilson. On the legendary 1957 "Million Dollar Quartet" recording of Elvis with Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, Elvis can be heard imitating Jackie Wilson imitating Elvis; it's a transcendent moment in the history of pop music."
I've heard the 'revised' version of 'Don't Be Cruel' on a Million Dollar Quartet bootleg. It's much better than the bubble-gum pop original - more bluesy with a slower tempo.
No mention of Jackie Wilson is complete without the opening bars of 'Reet Petite': "Well, look-about, look-about, look-about, look-about, ooooohhhhheeeee!"
Easy To Fold It May Not Be: This downloadable PDF has step-by-step instructions for making a paper origami Yoda character. (hat tip - Boing Boing)
Tuesday June 14, 2005
Dull At Any Speed is the title of a Washington Post article by Maryann Keller, author of 'Rude Awakening: The Rise, Fall, and Struggle for Recovery of General Motors' - a very fine and prophetic book from 1989 which GM should have read but probably ignored.
Offering a dispassionate analysis of GM's current problems, Maryann now writes, "GM has forgotten how to make cars that people want to buy."
NASCAR's Not Interested: Not enough room for decals. But it's racing in its purest form - no steering, brakes or suspension. On two-inch, hard plastic tires. (hat tip - Auto Prophet)
Six-point-six? The always-readable Erica Eversman (aka - AutoMuse) reports that "AutoWeek subscribers own an average of 6.6 vehicles." I wonder how people classify a cars as only .6? Is it a partly restored classic or something they regard as a partial car - a half-dead '70s Datsun B-210, a rusty Yugo or a 1955 Flying Feather from Japan? And how many of the remaining six are actually roadworthy?
I have a friend, who - as a 23 year-old - owned 28 cars. Only one of them ran. And it needed to be jump-started every time. I once owned six cars; it was a full time job to keep them all running decently.
Hybrid Style: Here's my theory - if Birkenstocks remained as comfortable as they're reported to be (I've never worn a pair.) but were styled like a conventional shoe, sales would drop by at least 50%.
Chronic Birkenstock wearers aren't just shodding themselves, they're Making A Statement. In the same way, the Toyota Prius is a big seller because its unique styling makes it look like nothing else on the road. It lets everyone else on the road know that the driver is Eco-conscious. And Better Than You.
Honda's distinctive but too-small Insight hybrid is being phased out in favor of the more practical Civic-based hybrid vehicle. I think that the all-new 2006 Civic Hybrid should borrow some of the Insight's styling cues (like skirted rear fenders) to make it unique and more appealing to Planet-Caring Poseurs who want to inform the rest of us that they are driving something Superior. Maybe Honda could also add distinctive wall-to-wall front-end lighting like the '80s-era Mercury Sable to further differentiate the vehicle from mundane, gasoline-only Civics.
I have a soft spot for the current Insight though.
Monday June 13, 2005
Cool Mag: Dave Thomas, formerly of AutoBlog, sent me a copy of his new employer's magazine, MPH. I think this publication is a real winner ... although the demographic target is clearly much younger than yours truly. The high quality and uniqueness of the photos reminds me of CAR, published in Great Britain. But CAR costs almost $10 bucks an issue - more than the price of a full year's subscription to MPH.
I enjoyed the sheer irreverence of the mag - although barbs were tossed at some of my favorite False Idols. Like The Beach Boys. MPH called them "a lame barbershop quartet." I liked the original early to mid-60s Beach Boys, although the remnants who performed in later years were just awful - Beach Old Men. And Brian Wilson has no voice anymore and wears the innocently bemused look of a drug-addled idiot. Or a serial killer.
Some of MPH's classified ads have a low-rent air - "Latin women seeking men", "nudist singles" and "Asian brides" - instead of the usual overpriced and umlauted car care products. But the magazine's writing is witty and quip-filled - a Maserati MC12 is described as "rarer than a celebrity murder conviction" and Paris Hilton is correctly categorized as talentless, except in her "gloriously fuzzy" bootleg video.
If you spot MPH at a newsstand, pick up a copy. It's good. (More on car magazines here.)
Little-Known GM Models: On last Thursday's Daily Show, anchor Jon Stewart reported that consumers are "unenthusiastic about such recent GM offerings as the Chevy Clunker, the Buick Rusteo and the Actually On Fire-Bird."
Mossy Machine: A car owner proclaims: "My car is so seldom driven that, even in dry Montana, it has become a moss garden."
Three Cheers For Denzel: Denzel Washington has fulfilled a promise after a December visit to a military hospital where wounded U.S. soldiers recuperated. The Oscar-winning actor and his wife, Pauletta, gave an substantial donation to Fisher House Foundation Inc., which helps families of hospitalized military personnel.
Fly Your Orientation: A judge orders St. Augustine, Florida to fly 49 gay pride flags on a bridge. Will someone volunteer to knock down every one of them using the Animal House Death Car in its 'Eat Me' birthday cake disguise? To quote D-Day: "Ramming speed!!" (hat tip: Relapsed Catholic)
Interesting Facts about church-going: It's a lot lower than many people thought. One estimate for U.S. actual church attendance is only 18.7%. And don't use this as an excuse to skip church this week! Meanwhile, the number of Catholics in western Washington state has almost tripled in the past 10 years - from 350,000 to over 900,000. (permalink)
Long Shot: Here's a story to make your day. (hat tip - Michelle Malkin)
A Quote To Remember is from NYT's "economic guru", Paul Krugman, who wrote in 1998: "By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet's impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine's." What a moron! (hat tip - The Conspiracy To Keep You Poor & Stupid)
Celebrate! Have A Duff Beer. Good news: 'The Simpsons - The Movie' is coming. Bad News: It's two years away.
Friday June 10, 2005
Taxi! Taxi! A group of 13 Cubans set sail for the United States in a vintage blue taxicab - a homemade, custom-stretched '46-48 Mercury sedan with a roof rack - converted into an unwieldy 'boat.' (I feel I know this car. When I was 5 years old, my dad bought a big '47 Merc 4-door. In 1956, he traded it in on a new Ford. Could this be our family's old Mercury?)
Where Stuff Is Made: Find out in this thought-provoking article by Alan Reynolds. Excerpt: "The Toyota Avalon has 70 percent domestic content, the Honda Civic 75 percent, but Chrysler's PT Cruiser is only 60 percent domestic."
Goin' Out In Style: Cadillac style, that is. Presenting Willie 'The Wimp' Stokes, Jr.
Investment On Rails: An article in the New York Times suggests that the Lionel over-and-under set - a notoriously unpopular 1960 offering featuring O-gauge trains running on trestles above a matching HO train set - may now be worth $100,000. A popular price guide from 12 years ago lists a value of $9,500 for the same set.
That's a pretty fantastic rate of return - far above any U.S. stock index. (hat tip - Kris Sundberg) (permalink)
Quote of the Week is from Thomas Sowell: "What will future generations think when they see the front pages of our leading newspapers repeatedly preoccupied with whether we are treating captured cut-throats nicely enough? What will they think when they see the Geneva Convention invoked to protect people who are excluded from protection by the Geneva Convention?"
"During World War II, German soldiers who were captured not wearing the uniform of their own army were simply lined up against a wall and shot dead by American troops. This was not a scandal. Far from being covered up by the military, movies were taken of the executions and have since been shown on the History Channel. We understood then that the Geneva Convention protected people who obeyed the Geneva Convention, not those who didn't - as terrorists today certainly do not."
Why Africa Is A Mess: Mark Steyn is at his usual best. Excerpt: "According to the World Bank's Doing Business report, in Canada it takes two days to incorporate a company; in Mozambique, it takes 153 days. And Mozambique's company law has been unchanged since 1888. In the midst of the unending demands that Bush do this, Blair do that, do more, do it now, would it be unreasonable to suggest that, after 117 years, the government of Mozambique might also be obligated to do something about its regulatory regime?
Meanwhile, next door in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe's government is being given hundreds of thousands of tons of emergency supplies from the UN's World Food Programme. At the press conference, James Morris, head of the WFP, was at pains to emphasise that the famine was all due to drought and Aids, and certainly nothing to do with Mr. Mugabe's stewardship of the economy. Some of us remember that during the 2002 G8 summit, also devoted to Africa, Zimbabwe's government ordered commercial farmers to cease all operations."
The Number One Cause of obesity in America ... is Garfield. And, for the record, I think Garfield is one of the lamest comics on the planet. Almost as bad as Agnes.
Somebody Help! The Kyrgyz are kidnapping k d lang!
Thursday June 9, 2005
Selling Cars To The Wealthy: It's not hard. Listen. And be honest. Sweat the details. Works for selling to the non-wealthy, too, I bet.
Quote Of The Day is from Dave Leggett of just-auto about General Motors recent announcements: "I guess the concern is that it is still too little too late, that more radical surgery is needed with a much greater sense of urgency. Corporate history is littered with great corporations that disappeared because they failed to grasp some of the macro forces at work (demand and supply side) that other companies adapted to better. Why is GM doing so much less well than Toyota? Does what Rick Wagoner said yesterday fill you with confidence that the tide will turn?"
Choke Point! Headline from The Onion: 'Chrysler Halts Production Of Neckbelts.'
New Car Blog: Popular Mechanics now has a blog. But it doesn't roll up and fit in one's back pocket the way the old print issues of mine from the 1950s used to.
Mercedes Concept Car Inspired By Fish: This is not a new idea. Remember the 1965-67 Rambler Marlin? (hat tip - AutoBlog)
Drunk Tech: Hundreds of cases involving breath-alcohol tests have been thrown out by Florida judges in the past five months because the test's manufacturer will not disclose how the machines work.
The judges have been using a standard that if a DUI defendant asks for a key piece of information about how the machine works (its software source code, for instance) and the state cannot provide it, the breath test is rejected as evidence.
Business Advice From A Gamer: Jane Pinckard's 'All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Video Games' translates the strategies of shoot-em-up games into real-world business wisdom.
Example: "Always, always be moving. This is most true in multiplayer. Don't hang around waiting, because even though you have the sniper rifle, they might have the shotgun. You're just asking to be sneaked up on. This is a great technique to apply to the office. Walking around, everyone sees that you are there, but you always look busy, on your way to doing something else. They can't pin you down to ask you to do stuff. Plus, it's just good exercise."
And: "Always take headshots. That is, get directly to the point. ... Don't dance around the issue ... if you've got something to say, take aim and fire away." (hat tip - Boing Boing)
He Remembered: Never let it be said that John Kerry doesn't remember his people. After the campaign was over, he sent an e-mail to all his staff and volunteers saying that he and Teresa wanted to "[t]hank you for your remarkable work and dedication ... You did not do this for the money ...", adding "I'd like to be helpful to those of you who could use assistance."
Of course, he sent the e-mail on June 6th - seven months after the election. I guess he was too busy working on that pesky Form 180. Meanwhile, everyone's unemployment benefits have probably run out. Oh, and all of us just found out that Kerry's Yale grades weren't so hot, either.
Wednesday June 8, 2005
Off Season: The Truth About Cars correctly bemoans the sheer idiocy of introducing a brand new two-seater convertible - the much-hyped, yet-to-be made Pontiac Solstice - just as the weather is turning bad in October or November. Note to General Motors - timing is everything.
Harsh Medicine: General Motors plans to eliminate 25,000 jobs in the United States by 2008 by closing additional assembly and components plants, part of a plan to revive its struggling North American operations. This is the equivalent to amputating limbs to try and stop a cancer.
Meanwhile, GM's suppliers continue to pay the price for GM's continuing failures. These folks made investments and hires based on false promises of pricing and volume. Thus, The General's troubles create a negative ripple throughout the manufacturing economy. (There is a great disturbance in The Force.) GM still remains full of beancounters who have neither vision nor product passion.
Amputation alone may not save the patient.
P. Diddy's Next New Ride: Here.
A Little Bit Light In The Driving Shoes: A Sicilian court condemned road authorities for suspending the driving license of a man after finding out he was gay. The court said being gay was merely "a personality disturbance" which had no bearing on a person's ability to drive.
The driver was "deeply perturbed by what has happened. He has lost his hair."
He now resembles Right Said Fred.
Monorail! I was putting my new registration cards in my cars and I noticed a space for 'Monorail Tax'. I don't have to pay it but people who live in Seattle do. Plus they also have to pay the RTA/Sound Transit Tax.
Lyle Langley sure sold the Democrats a bill of goods on this one. As The Simpsons once sang: "But Main Street's still all cracked and broken ..." "Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!" "Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!" I have mucho more-o commentary about mass transit follies here.
Me Monkeys: Read all about the 'You're Special' generation here. And, I just found out that in some schools, the famous playground game - the one involving a long rope - has been renamed 'Tug of Peace.' God help us!
Other People's Money: Alberto Vilar, head of the Amerindo Mutual Funds (Amerindo Investment Advisors Inc.), was arrested by federal authorities for using $5 million of a private client's money as "a personal piggybank to pay personal expenses and make charitable contributions without the knowledge, consent, or authorization of the victim." (hat tip: FundAlarm)
Scumbag Alert: Page Six ran an article about Jessica Hendra, daughter of best-selling author Tony Hendra. In a new book, Jessica states that her father sexually abused her from the age of 7. Her mother, Judith has backed up her allegations and has claimed Tony once admitted he'd molested their daughter.
Tony Hendra is the author of 'Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul' - a book I reviewed last year. To read my review, go here.
'Guide To The Perfect Latin American Idiot': This book review is definitely worth a read. I bet the book is worth reading, too.
Excerpt: "Liberation theology, which portrays Jesus as a Marxist revolutionary and sucked a whole generation of Latin American priests and nuns into active support for communist guerrilla movements, is not about liberation at all, the authors write. Rather, it is a Christian reflection of Moslem fundamentalism."
From Those Wonderful Folks ... who confiscated my wife's nail file: They let this guy into the country carrying several weapons including a bloodied chainsaw. Morons!
Tuesday June 7, 2005
Prius Repairman Blues: It would make a good song title. Maybe you'll hear it someday on 'Austin City Limits'. At present, it is the lament of Gus Heredia, a Toyota Prius technician at North County Toyota in Anaheim. As Toyota's gasoline-electric hybrid approaches its fifth anniversary in the U.S., he finds customers with Prius problems few and far between.
"We get an average of about 100 cars a day through the service department," Heredia said. "Maybe three or four are Priuses, and they're usually just in for an oil change. I'd go broke if the Prius was all I worked on." The 2005 Prius won the top spot for premium compacts in the J.D. Power study, with owners reporting 72 problems per 100 cars, well below the industry average of 118 problems. Most of the Prius complaints dealt with features and controls, such as the navigation system, rather than with performance of the hybrid system.
Faux Comet: I hate it when marketers slap a celebrity's image on stuff that has no relation to the star. Oxford Diecast recently offered a split-screen Volkswagen van with 'Bill Haley and the Comets' imprinted on the sides.
I was sure that Haley, a rock and roll pioneer ('Rock Around The Clock', 'Crazy Man Crazy', 'See Ya Later Alligator' and many more hits), didn't use a lowly, underpowered VW for his cross-country touring.
So I did some research and found that, while Haley had a 1950s Ford F-100 panel truck for hauling equipment, the band usually traveled in nice cars.
As this tribute site states: "Then in 1956, they bought several Cadillacs. Finally, they bought a bus, although Bill still often preferred to ride in his own pastel pink Cadillac."
PhD = Piled Higher and Deeper? Mike Adams, a PhD himself, opines.
Stop The Movie ... I Gotta Take A Leak! I watched 'The Aviator' last weekend ... the three-hour Aviator, that is. Cool sets and special effects, but way too long. The descent-into-madness scene never seemed to end. And the inclusion of the Kate Hepburn romance seemed pointless and lengthy to near-obsessiveness. (Is Scorsese a secret Kate hag?)
The acting was impressive, and Cate Blanchett did a good Hepburn (although no one can top Martin Short). But, as I watched it, I was visualizing what scenes I'd chop. A man of Martin Scorsese's age and experience should know that his audience's bladders get uncomfortably full after awhile. Or, maybe he doesn't care, because he brings an empty glass milk bottle with him to the theater. Just like Howard Hughes.
Monday June 6, 2005
"Cadillac's 'Hot Rod' Not So Hot." That's the verdict from Paul and Anita Lienert on the $53,680 Cadillac CTS-V. Excerpts: "There were way too many things that looked cheap, from the carpet to the overhead console - stuff you'd expect to find on a $12,000 compact, not a $50,000 luxury sedan." And: "We've complained before about the chintzy-looking plastic that Cadillac used on the instrument panel and doors of the CTS, and unfortunately they've done nothing to improve or rectify the situation on the V-series. We also noticed some glaring problems with assembly quality." Not good.
Remember The Imperial? From Chrysler? Virgil Exner, Jr., son of the famous Mopar stylist, shows his vision of Imperial's answer to the Cadillac Sixteen here. It has a 20-cylinder engine! (The front fenders seem to be "borrowed" from a 1980s Zimmer Quicksilver, though.)
Exclusivity?! Here's Yer Exclusivity! Only 67 examples of the ultra-luxurious Maybach were sold in the first quarter, handily beating out Oldsmobile and Studebaker. And Imperial.
Movin' Dead Iron: Ford is now offering $1,000 cash back deals on its 2005 Five Hundred and Montego sedans as well as Freestyle wagons. The very slow-selling four-door Explorer now carries a whopping $5,000 rebate.
Dubious Promotion: Elena Ford is taking step up the career ladder at FoMoCo. The 38-year-old descendant of Ford founder Henry has been appointed director of North America product marketing, planning and strategy.
The Detroit News writes: "She is credited with helping revive Mercury. Its product lineup suffered from a severe lack of attention until last year's rollout of the Montego sedan and Mariner small SUV." Revive? Revive?! This is like saying that Mark Felt is credited with "reviving" Richard Nixon!
Yawn! GM tells dealers that Buick line will be cut back to four or five vehicles. Been there; done that.
Healthy Hourglass: Curvy women are more likely to live longer than their slimmer counterparts, researchers have found. At the Institute of Preventative Medicine in Copenhagen, researchers found those with wider hips also appeared to be protected against heart conditions.
Women with a hip measurement smaller than 40 inches, or a size 14 would not have this protection, they noted. Paging Fiona Apple - get to a doctor immediately! Or a Wendy's! (PS - Sir Mix-A-Lot was unavailable for comment.)
Come Back To The Five & Dime ... Here's a rational assessment of legend James Dean. Excerpt: "The unnatural deaths of other popular icons have inspired bizarre conspiracy theories - and the occasional Elton John ballad ..."
Darth Gardener! Buy the T-shirt here.
Friday June 3, 2005
History Repeats Itself: Long-nosed, short-decked luxury cars have come and gone over the years. Most custom-bodied Duesenbergs of the 1930s had this style feature. As did many Rolls Royces up to the early 1960s.
In 1962, Virgil Exner restyled the entire Chrysler Corp. line with a long-nose, short-deck theme he called 'Forward Flair.' Then there were the hump-backed Cadillac Sevilles of the early 1980s. The current Maybach tries to capture the theme but its sloping roofline dampens the full effect.
Auto styling runs in circles. Everything old becomes new again.
Latest Car Sales: May was a mixed bag for auto companies. Compared with May 2004, Ford was down 10.5%, Lincoln down 17%, Jaguar down 39%. Ouch! Meanwhile, at GM, Cadillac was up 12%, Chevrolet cars up 12% and Hummer up 63%. Chevrolet Cobalt retail sales were up 73 percent compared to its Cavalier predecessor. Buick LaCrosse retail deliveries were twice the combined Century and Regal retail volume of May 2004. Pontiac G6 retail sales were 92 percent higher than year-ago retail Grand Am V6 sales.
At Toyota, Avalon sales were up 166.8 percent over last year. Prius was up 158.7 percent. Lexus increased of 9.6 percent. The boxy Scion xB subcompact jumped 32.3 percent over May of last year.
Remember When The Simpsons Visited Blockoland? Danish toymaker Lego said Wednesday it is in talks with several partners to sell its four Legoland amusement parks and expects to reach a deal this summer. I guess this means that the properties are "on the block."
Quote of the Day is from comedian Norm Crosby: "Do you realize when you go to court in front of a jury, that you are putting your fate in the hands of 12 people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty?"
Thursday June 2, 2005
Ugly Story: Jerry Flint is a talented auto writer. I'll read anything he writes - even if I don't agree with it - because he's opinionated, insightful and entertaining. When I saw the title of his latest article, "A Tale of Two Butt-Ugly Cars", I just had to read it. You should, too.
Low Volts: Dave Leggett of JustAuto is attending the European Automotive Components in Stuttgart and writes that "it was also interesting to note the generally downbeat view on 42v electrical systems architecture that was not so long ago being talked about as the Next Big Thing. We heard that there are costs involved on 42v that mean its widespread introduction will not happen until well into the next decade and also that more development work is needed. I guess 12v systems will just have to cope." Now I really feel old. I still remember when automakers switched from 6 to 12 volts. I even owned a couple of six-volters.
Dolores Claibot: Toyota plans to sell service robots in Japan by 2010 to care for the elderly. Toyota sees an aging population and declining birthrate as opening the door to demand for service robots in child care and nursing homes in Japan. (hat tip - AutoBlog)
A Dollar A Throw: Pitch used D-cells at 'im till he topples. In Hood River, Oregon, a 24 year-old man who has vowed to spend a week suspended high in a tree in the center of town. This multi-pierced, dreadlocked loser, who is trained as an arborist, says he is staging the tree sit to protest the Bush administration's forest policies. He says he believes his is the first truly urban tree sit.
He has five gallons of water and enough granola and to last him through the end of the week.
Headline of the Day: "Islam humiliated by giant teapot." (hat tip - Relapsed Catholic)
Quote of the Day is from comedian Dick Capri: "I got a new watch ... a Michael Jackson watch. The alarm goes off whenever the big hand touches the little hand!"
Wednesday June 1, 2005
Good Old Days? Or Better New Days? Peter Egan of Road & Track compares new cars with "classics" from the 1960s: " ... the new cars have a few things going for them. Most notably, all of them are easier to live with on the highway, with taller gearing for a more relaxed gait on the open road. I'd drive my new Mini from Wisconsin to California without a second thought, while the old Cooper S would be spinning its heart out on the Interstate - and the transmission would be worn out when you got there. Even the old Mustangs and Corvettes are pretty undergeared, unless you swap transmissions or rear ends.
The new cars also have more horsepower and get better mileage, while polluting less. (Modern Corvettes can achieve 28 mpg on the highway - about the same as the 1968 Beetle we once owned.) New cars handle better and have modern tires with improved grip. They also have real brakes and go much longer between tuneups, with engines that are almost sealed units. ... Back when I was a full-time car mechanic in the 1970s, watching cars get slower, uglier and duller every year, I would never have believed this could happen. We live in good times, again." Indeed.
Portland, Oregon = Little Beijing. Paul Jacob notes that both cities suffer from urban congestion. "It's much worse in Beijing, but Portland's traffic congestion isn't getting any better. Further, both cities' traffic is worsened by bad government."
This excellent article explains the reasons why I no longer dine or shop in downtown Portland. And, just across the river, downtown Vancouver, Washington is mirroring Portland's actions - and is beginning to experience the same problems. I no longer dine or shop in downtown Vancouver either.
Why I Don't Blog On Weekends: For years, famous political insiders fell all over themselves denying that they were Deep Throat from the Watergate Era. Now W. Mark Felt, a retired, semi-obscure FBI executive has identified himself as the culprit.
And, in other news ... I am pleased to announce that, on weekends, I'm Eleanor Roosevelt.
Quote of the Day is from Paul Lienert in the Detroit News: "I was stunned to learn that the new Toyota Avalon, for instance, makes considerably more power and torque than the new BMW 330i."
"A Penny Pincher's Lexus": That's what Forbes calls the Toyota Avalon. More: "The Avalon is an accountant's idea of a Mercedes. Compare Toyota's Avalon to DaimlerChrysler's entry-level Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan, which costs $24,000 more. The Avalon has more horsepower and torque, as well as more shoulder room, hip room and backseat legroom. You should only spend that $24,000 extra for the Mercedes if image means a great deal to you - and if you're willing to forego the E-Class' endemic problems with reliability. Otherwise, you don't need to be a coupon-clipper to see the superior value of the Avalon. You just need to be comfortable owning a car that blends into the scenery - a characteristic which actually appeals to fuzz-fearing leadfeet like us."
Finally: "We recommend the Avalon with no qualifications. ... The Avalon is a better value - by which we mean it gives you more for your money - than just about any car we can imagine. In addition to giving you luxury-car features for less-than-luxury prices, it now has a powerful engine and the best gas mileage of any large sedan on the market."
Inside Ford: Chief Operating Officer Jim Padilla, in an interview with AutoWeek, discusses Ford's big sales hit - the Mustang: "There's not a nickel of incentive on the darn thing. Conquest sales are huge. And surprise, surprise, the Mustang last month outsold the Chrysler 300 by a substantial amount." Padilla talks about incentives: "For the first quarter, this ($2,834 per vehicle) is what our total division was versus Chevrolet (at $3,772 per vehicle). This ($2,950) is what the F series was versus the Silverado (at $4,119). We do that very deliberately because of the strength of the product." And: "We're backing out of the rental fleet. We're down around 61,000 units through '04. That was logical because we want to protect our residual values."
Jacking Up! The consequences of lift kits ... here. (hat tip - George Pradel)
More Good Times Ahead: Economist guru Larry Kudlow writes: "While the 2005 economy is not necessarily bursting at the seams, the outlook remains non-inflationary and bullish. ... On an after-tax basis the profit share of GDP is at a post-WWII high of 8.1 percent. After adjusting for the on-again/off-again cash-expensing bonus for depreciation, after-tax profits rose 27 percent (non-annualized) in the first quarter and nearly 37 percent over the past year.
Profits are the hinge of business, and business is the backbone of jobs and the economy. With profits rising to record levels, future economic expansion is assured. ... we are looking at non-inflationary prosperity for several more years to come. This is a good stock market scenario where the broad indices still look to be 20 to 25 percent undervalued."
Headline Of The Week! From The Onion: "Origami Bird Poached For Scrap Paper."