Tuesday January 31, 2006
The Name Game: Honda Motor Co. is suing Ford on the grounds that the new Lincoln MKX sport-utility vehicle sounds too much like its own premium Acura SUV, the MDX.
Insanity: In 2005, General Motors paid $1.5 billion (!) for people not to work.
Taxing Thoughts: John Rutledge offers the following on taxes: "America is not competing for jobs with China. We are competing for capital. Double-taxing dividend and capital gains income drives capital to China where it earns higher after-tax returns. When that happens, American workers are left behind with falling productivity and uncompetitive companies.
Reducing or eliminating dividend and capital gains tax rates keeps capital in America, where it makes workers productive and supports high incomes. Congress must act now to keep rates from increasing in 2008 by extending or eliminating dividend and capital gains taxes."
Quote Of The Day is from entrepreneur Bo Peabody: "The vast majority of the press is not concerned in covering what is actually happening. They are interested in covering what they think people want to think is actually happening."
Monday January 30, 2006
Nothing To See Here: The weather around here has been dark, rainy, overcast and wet for as long as I can remember - probably since mid-December. Therefore, I have no cool car sightings to report. People are keeping the good stuff in their garages.
I did pull up next to a silver Chrysler Crossfire last week. I think it's a striking design but no one else seems to like it - sales are way below expectations, I've heard.
Dining Tip: My daughter and I attended a car club dinner at the Main Street Ale House in Gresham, Oregon.
We had a good time - lots of enjoyable conversations about cars - but the food and service were abysmal.
If you're hungry and traveling east of Portland, avoid this place.
Blood Alcohol: The driver of a Florida bloodmobile ran a red light on her way to a blood drive and has been charged with drunken driving.
Meaty Badness: A group of drunks went to an In-N-Out and demanded a burger with 100 patties, setting some sort of gluttony record at the burger joint by devouring this 20,000 calorie monstrosity.
Quote of The Day is from Robert Farago on GM: "The entire world now knows The General is in deep shit. (When the President of the United States says he ain't gonna bail your ass out, consumers know there's an ass to bail.)"
Friday January 27, 2006
Me-Too-ism: It's the disease presently ravaging Detroit. The Chevy Camaro concept is a perfect example. Ford redoes the Mustang in '05 with a just the right touch of retro. It's a big sales success. So GM jumps on the bandwagon and develops the '06 Camaro concept. It's a nice-looking car. The problem is the production model won't hit the streets until sometime in 2008 at the earliest (as a 2009 model). By then, the bloom of the pony car rose will be fading and, if oil prices go nuts, the big V-8 Camaro will be the wrong product at the wrong time. A too-late, me-too Mustang.
Chevy showed a sporty Nomad concept in 2003. It was based on the platform now used for the Pontiac Solstice. It would have had a four-cylinder engine - presumably a peppy but unthirsty one - and these was/is room to stuff in a small V-8 if the market demands.
The Nomad would be a better production bet for GM than the Camaro. It potentially could appeal to the tuner market as well as traditional Chevy buyers. Put in production in 2005, it would have been a different-flavored but tasty alternative to the Mustang. Think of it as The Un-Mustang.
In the same way, the suicide-door '02 Lincoln Continental concept was a car people raved about. But Lincoln didn't build it. Instead they let the LS sedan slowly die and are trying to foist-off an Asian-looking concept sedan as the Town Car and/or LS replacement.
Lincoln would rather have its future sedans look like a me-too Lexus than celebrate its unique heritage with something original.
'The Way Sideways': As part of The Way Forward, Ford has cranked up its executive merry go-round. The Detroit News points out that one of the key players is Darryl Hazel, soon to be head of is Ford's customer service division.
Now, I've never heard the other executives mentioned in the article but Hazel was head of the Lincoln Mercury Division during its plunge from relative greatness to the putrid pile it has now become.
So, does Ford show this 57 year-old the door marked 'Early Retirement'? Nooooooo. They award him a new key assignment. And that's the problem with corporate behemoths. They reward the guilty. And/or the useless.
Good Product Is 'The Way': Like me, Jerry Flint is skeptical of Ford's 'The Way Forward'.
Flint writes: "The problem, of course, is product, or the lack of it, combined with weak designs, poor marketing and the turbulence in the management ranks. An ex-Ford man says, "They spend $7 billion a year for product, and there isn't any." ... The company has had three product development chiefs in six years and still can't seem to come up with a winning business strategy or enough winning vehicles. For a time, the company mandate was that all new vehicles for the Ford division had to have a name beginning with the letter "F." This brilliant approach led to such eminently forgettable names as Freestar and Freestyle."
You Don't Have To Be A Kennedy ... to get special treatment from the Catholic Church. Michael Schiavo, who had his disabled wife Terri starved last March, has been re-married in the Roman Catholic Church.
Terri's sister Suzanne Vitadamo has spoken out against the Catholic bishops of Florida, saying Terri may not have been killed if the bishops would have supported the fight to protect her life.
Bishop Robert Lynch outraged many Catholics when he offered his only statement during the 13 days it took Terri to die from dehydration, encouraging her family to reconcile with Michael Schiavo in the name of "peace."
The Catholic Church of Espiritu Santo, where Michael Schiavo's second marriage took place, is in Bishop Lynch's diocese of St. Petersburg.
Wine Review: Last Sunday, I cooked lean filets on the outdoor grill. (PS - I don't want to hear any crap about beef being bad for my heart. When I was in the Critical Cardiac Care unit, the first dinner I ate was filet mignon. Beef - it's what's for dinner. Etc.)
Anyway, we had a truly fabulous wine accompaniment - a bottle of premium wine from Dunham Cellars - 2001 Trutina, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot (17%) and Cabernet Franc (13%). The grapes are grown in the Columbia Valley of Washington. And are bottled at the winery in Walla Walla.
This wine has one of the greatest noses I've ever inhaled. It is fruity, spicy, mossy and intense. We drank it using balloon glasses which keep breaking. But my wife bought a fresh supply of them (from Crate and Balloon-Glass) and gave them to me as a Christmas present.
(PS - I don't want to hear any crap about wine being bad for my heart either. In moderation - a glass or so a day, it's actually quite heart-healthy.)
Good Question: "If George Bush is Hitler," Kathy Shaidle asks, "Why isn't Harry Belafonte a lampshade?"
Quote Of The Day is from John Derbyshire: "I favor the death penalty, preferably by some slow, gruesome, and excruciating method, for the manufacturers and users of that type of padded envelope that, if you tear it open, showers you, your clothes, your furniture, and your lunchtime sandwich with fibrous gray stuffing."
Thursday January 26, 2006
Winter Solstice: I haven't seen one on the road yet but one of my car buddies in North-central Pennsylvania spotted a white Pontiac Solstice ... "with a dirty brown colored soft top. (I don't know why anyone, GM, Ford, Toyota or anyone, would use a dirty brown imitation of old canvas for a soft top.) Nice rear, especially the taillights. Nice dual exhausts.
The front twin grille reminds me of the 1940 Lincoln Continental grille. The Pontiac emblem was nicely done. The interior looked efficient and sports car-ish. First encounter with this car. I liked it, except for that damn brown top. Corvette used that color for a few years, and nobody liked it."
I'm a Lamborghini Murcielago: I'm not subtle but I don't want to be. Fast, loud, and dramatic, I want people to notice me, and then get the hell out of my way. In a world full of sheep, I'm a raging bull. Find out which car you are here. (hat tip - Instapundit)
"It Rode With All The Comfort Of The Middle Ages": Jeremy Clarkson thought the new Nissan pick-up truck was a little too noisy: "It wasn't what you'd call quiet, either. Unless you test shotguns for a living. In a blast furnace."
But then, he doesn't like pick-ups anyway: "They are, to the world of cars, what Mexican food is to the world of cuisine. They exist, they are popular in Texas, and, er, that's it."
Detroit's Mess: Tonya Vinas, managing editor of Industry Week, has written an insightful article about Detroit's mindset versus Toyota's: "General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., face uncertain futures despite their venerable roles in the establishment of the world's largest economy. Somehow, these companies - filled with smart, productive people - have imploded. It seems they have too much of everything that is costly and not enough of everything that sells cars. ...
I posit that they began to concentrate on the external value system of capital markets instead of sticking to an internal value system that focused on continuous improvement and customers, which is what their competitors did. This resulted in misdirected and wasteful growth (overcapacity, complex and inflexible production practices), a disconnect from employees (costly union strikes, negotiations and contracts; top-heavy management) and customers who found better options (Honda, Toyota, Nissan). And because these OEMs dictate, more or less, how suppliers run their businesses, these damaging practices permeated the auto supplier industry, which is going through its own struggles."
She offers an excellent example: "Toyota has five types of catalytic converters across all of its product offerings. One U.S. OEM ... has 140 catalytic converters across all of its product offerings. ... This example illustrates a huge cost differential when all things related to catalytic converters are considered: purchasing, transportation, product design, inventory costs, plant equipment and configuration, etc. And that's just one component!" (hat tip - Dave Leggett)
Like To Wear Black? Create your own Goth poetry here.
Thank God ... I'm not a heretic. I'm a Chalcedon compliant Merlot drinker. Test yourself here. (hat tip - Relapsed Catholic)
Gone With The Hillary: New Sisyphus writes: "Unlike many on the Right, I was pleased with Senator Clinton's "plantation" speech on MLK Day, for it proved once again that the Democrats are beholden to a worn-out ideology that they are unable to shed. Every time she opens her mouth, a new Republican is born. Some of them are even rumored to be Black."
Bride Of Chucky? James Lileks claims that his kid's Amazing Amanda doll is "very needy; it requests food and hugs and so many trips to the potty I suspect it's sucking back 40-ounce bottles of Pabst when we're not looking."
Quote Of The Day is from Rick Brookhiser: "There is also a little town in Saskatchewan, called Bigger. It has a sign outside it saying, 'New York is Big, But This is Bigger.'"
Wednesday January 25, 2006
Concept Car Update: The super-sleek 1964 Pontiac Banshee concept car has been sold by Barrett-Jackson for $210,600.
Developed under John DeLorean's regime at Pontiac, the two-seater Banshee had Pontiac's new, potent OHC straight-six engine and weighed only 2200 pounds. It was to debut at the New York Auto Show and was on display for a day or so, I think.
Then Chevrolet and GM senior execs freaked, viewing the Banshee to be too much of a threat to the Corvette. They ordered the car pulled from the show and instructed DeLorean to cease additional development.
The Pontiac Banshee represents an interesting "what-if" piece of GM history.
Trashing Lincoln (Part 463): Business Week's two car guys picked the Lincoln MKS as the 'Worst Idea' at the Detroit Auto Show. Excerpts: "The Lincolns we are seeing look like Fords. ... It's a pretty nice-looking car on its own. But it's a front-wheel-drive luxury car in a market that wants rear drive. It means Lincoln is bidding goodbye to the big, stately American sedans and settling for a spot in the so-called 'premium' segment. Just say no."
I just found out that the proper pronunciation isn't 'emm-kay-ess'. It's 'Mark S' - an insult to many of the fine, classic Lincoln Marks of yore. Disgusting.
UAW Shoots Self In Foot: Tom Walsh of the Detroit Free Press writes that "militant labor union dissidents are urging confrontation instead of wage-and-benefit concessions to Delphi Corp., General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. This activity "absolutely scares the liver out of Toyota," says David Cole, chairman of the Center for Auto Research, who has been assisting Gov. Jennifer Granholm in her bid to attract Japanese automotive investment to Michigan."
U R What U Drive: Dan Neil on cars as 'statements': "It's important to read cars as women read them, as the material adjuncts of a man's inner life. (Attention, gay men: The same rules apply, give or take a sweater.) Sports cars are needy, trucks are desperate, boxy crossovers and active-lifestyle SUVs scream "focus-group patsy" - women sense these things with an atavism that is a marvel to behold."
Throwing Things Across America: In Pennsylvania, a woman was fined $173.50 for throwing salad greens out of her car.
In Oregon, a man hurled both of his prosthetic legs at a state trooper, striking him with one, after his son was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.
Anti-Catholic Drivel From Your Tax-Supported Public Schools: A diversity program wants to teach kids the lie that Catholics invented the slur - faggot. Why not? We get accused of everything else it seems.
Don't forget that the Pope was in a submarine off Chesapeake Bay, just in case Al Smith won the presidency in 1928.
'Catholic' and 'fat' - the only two groups that can be slandered without repercussions.
Quote Of The Day is from James Lileks on "Bubble-up, America’s favorite also-ran version of the perpetually underwhelming Seven-Up. It's like being "the second most popular indistinguishable copy of Velveeta." Be Alive! it says, suggesting somehow that the act of drinking Bubble-Up was a proof of one's existence. I burp therefore I am."
You can still buy Bubble-up, although the company apparently doesn't have a website. Still living in the 1950s, I guess.
Tuesday January 24, 2006
Auction Madness: I'm referring to the exciting Arizona events as 'madness' only because I didn't have enough spare bucks to join in the party.
The Futureliner, a huge streamlined bus-sized transporter from the 1950s General Motors 'Parade of Progress' tour, sold for a stunning $4.1 million - the highest bid ever received at the Barrett-Jackson auction. And, per Jalopnik, the buyer drove it home. Waaay cool.
The Pontiac Bonneville Special concept from the 1954 GM Motorama went for $2.8 million. Last year, the top-selling car was also a Motorama concept, the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 two-seat roadster that was hammered to $3 million.
The 1953 Chrysler D'Elegance concept car was sold at $1.1 million. This handsome car was displayed at the 2003 Forest Grove Concours which we attended. Fifty-some years later, all these 1950s 'dream cars' (no one called them 'concepts' back then) still look pretty awesome.
A rare '70 Plymouth Hemi 'Cuda convertible went for $2 million. Oh, man. To think I had the cash to buy one of those new in 1970. Elvis Presley's 1960 Lincoln Town Car limousine sold for $515,000.
The Aston Martin spy car from the James Bond movies 'Thunderball' and 'Goldfinger' - complete with machine-guns and tire-slashers - sold for $2.1-million. It is one of only four cars originally constructed and was used for movie publicity.
Al Capone's 1928 Cadillac Town Sedan sold for $621,500, while Hank Williams Jr.'s 1964 Silver Dollar Pontiac convertible was auctioned for $214,500 and a 1934 Packard Twelve Runabout Speedster sold for $3.2 million.
RM Auctions sold some concept cars too, including a 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt with retractable hardtop for $1,210,000 and '54 Packard Panther-Daytona roadster for $363,000.
A 1953 Buick Skylark convertible went for $143,000 as did a '62 Jaguar XKE roadster.
These prices seem insane to me but somebody's buying this stuff.
"The Way Forward" ... sounds like some kind of religious cult. Or an Amway distributor program. "But nooooooooo," as the late John Belushi used to say ... it's the save-the-company game plan put forth by FoMoCo.
Said Bill Ford, chairman and CEO, "To meet this challenge, we are acting with speed to strengthen the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands, deliver the innovation customers demand and create a business structure for us to compete - and win - in this era of global competition."
With speed?! Jeeeez, the layoffs and plant closing are spread out over 6 years. And North American operations won't show a profit until 2008, at best. Hmmmm. Doesn't seem ... ummmm ... urgent enough to me.
Ford will lose 25,000-30,000 people over 6 years and 14 manufacturing facilities will be idled by 2012. Seven are vehicle assembly plants, including St. Louis, Atlanta and Wixom. I wonder if even 30,000 people are enough - that number represents only 10% of Ford's worldwide workforce. And Ford's letting them go at a rate of 5,000 per year. Again, this seems a slow response to a crisis. I bet that retirements and normal attrition account for almost 5,000 job losses per year at Ford. So is anyone really getting the axe?
President-of-the-Americas Mark Fields said the company will offer "more clarity for the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands - with a sharper focus on the customer and a clear point of view that will appeal to more buyers than today." Yeah, well ... how many times has Ford said that in the past?
In a survey about happiness of car dealers, Ford placed last in the list of 20 brands. The Lincoln/Mercury dealer network that Mark Fields referred to as "the envy of the world" placed 18th. I reported last year that Lincoln-Mercury's presence in the Portland metro area is slipping away as dealers dump it or de-emphasize it.
Ford says its ability to successfully implement the plan might be affected by a "market shift (or an increase in or acceleration of market shift) away from sales of trucks or sport utility vehicles, or from sales of other more profitable vehicles in the United States." Hello!! This is already happening. Or from "higher prices for or reduced availability of fuel." Hello, again!! This is already happening, too. Does anyone think that the Iranian situation (which is pushing oil toward $70 per barrel as I write this) is going to change soon?
Ford made money in the fourth quarter but only because it pocketed over $1 billion from the sale of Hertz. Ford was profitable for the full year, earning $2 billion in 2005 because its finance arm posted a net profit of $2.5 billion. Disturbingly, Ford had to take back 23 Visteon facilities last fall in a deal designed to stave off bankruptcy at the supplier. Nothing has been said about what's going to happen at these subassembly albatrosses.
In the product area, Ford is reportedly planning to produce a recyclable vehicle. (I don't know about you ... but two words came to my mind - 'Pinto' and 'Bondo'.) And the company will make its minivans more butch-looking. (Didn't GM try this with the Pontiac Torrent? And aren't its sales pretty underwhelming?)
The UAW (which must negotiate a new contract with Ford in 2007) issued the usual negative, bitch-and-moan statement. I guess FoMoCo shouldn't expect any help from these clowns.
Bill Ford summed it up this way: "The full story of what's happening at Ford can't be told by cuts. You can't cut your way to success. The full story is about what Ford stands for and what we will no longer stand for. Ford Motor Company stands for a farsighted commitment to growth. We stand for a renewed focus on the customer. We stand for boundless innovation." Yadda ... yadda .... yadda. I don't know if this is sincere or a verbal dollop of corporate KY Jelly. Guess we'll see, won't we?
I wish FoMoCo the best. But it's an uphill battle - steeper than Ford may think. The Focus isn't getting as much small car market share as expected. And where's Ford's answer to the Fit, Scion, Mini and other micro cars now being introduced to the U.S.? Mercury still lacks an identity, despite assurances from countless smooth-but-empty designer suits over the years that the brand would soon be "redefined". Lincoln is in dismal shape and I'm not encouraged by what I saw at the Detroit auto show. Ford's full-size trucks and SUVs are very vulnerable to any future price bumps at the pump. (And I think more bumps are coming.)
Meanwhile, Honda, Toyota and Hyundai aren't standing still, waiting for Ford to play catch up.
Is all this really the right Way Forward? Only time will tell.
Chrome TV: I recorded NBC Sports' two-hour Detroit auto show special on Sunday. I expected it to be puffy dreck but it was actually pretty well done.
I'm glad I recorded it though. That way I could fast-forward through the many commercials.
Pensionless Pensioners: IBM, Alcoa, Verizon Communications, HP and others have taken steps to kill off their defined-benefit pension plans.
Back in early November, I wrote: "... don't forget to fund your own 401K, SEP, IRA or whatever with as much money as you can. Because the Big Company Defined Benefit Pension Plan is going the way of the mastodon."
Whack-A-Peacenik: A Greenpeace film "shows that building new nuclear power stations is a catastrophic gift to terrorists" by providing an animation of a jet plane crashing into a powerplant.
Kathy Shaidle suggests that: "the next time a Greenpeace canvasser knocks on your door asking for a donation, stick with the whole 9/11 theme - shout "Let's roll!" and crush him under a 400-lb. drink cart!"
Whoa. Begone. Last month, I wrote something nasty about Garrison Keillor.
James Lileks feels much the same: "I can do without the radio show, but that puts me in the minority around here. It's a smart quality product, obviously, but I've never felt part of the club. When he says "It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon" you can feel the audience sink with audible satisfaction into a warm communal bath, and for whatever reason I've never wanted to join them.
He has a syndicated newspaper column now, and I read every week to see how he will work talk radio or George Bush into the subject matter. It is important for everyone to know that he approves of neither. He can work them into a column on s'mores or the wallpaper of an aged aunt."
Quote Of The Day is from Greg Gutfeld on Deepak Chopra: "Here's what I love about Deepak, in general: Chopra hates the American dream, but exploits it to the hilt for himself. He tells poor people that the key to happiness is through spiritual prosperity. Which he charges for, increasing his own financial prosperity. American capitalism is bad, apparently, for everyone but him."
Friday January 20, 2006
Saab Story: General Motors' Saab brand lost more than $300 million in 2005, up from nearly $200 million in 2004. The division is losing money despite the fact that Saab had its best ever fourth-quarter sales at the close of last year and its highest annual sales in Europe in 2005.
One of the Prime Rules of the Real World is: 'Sexy' sells. So does 'reliable' and 'value'. It's hard to sell 'quirky'. Especially when it's 'expensive quirky'.
A Certain Smile: Remember back in high school, when you met a girl who - at first glance - seemed great? Then you found out she was demented. Or brainless. Or had sea lion breath. Or giant warts all over her tongue. But you were initially attracted to her because she had a nice smile.
That's my take on the Plymouth/Dodge Neon. It had a nice, friendly front face but, once you got behind the wheel, you quickly found that it was a horrid, rattling, crude machine. If there is Rental Car Hell, the name over the entrance is surely 'Neon'.
So, I laughed when comedian David Spade, introducing the Dodge Caliber (the Neon's replacement), snapped, "Anything looks good next to a Neon."
Get Me A Fly Swatter: Summarizing the Detroit auto show, Paul Lienert writes: "What a strange turn of events in Detroit when a tiny Chinese company that builds no more than 130,000 vehicles a year - most of them priced from $4,000 to $6,000 - can steal the media spotlight away from the hometown automakers."
Hmmmm. I'm not at all surprised. A fresh load of steaming crap dumped on a carpet will always attract notice. And flies.
Damning With Faint (And Quiet) Praise: David Kiley of Business Week writes: "The (Toyota) Camry reminds me of a Bosch dishwasher I used to have. I didn't even know it was on, it was so quiet. And it never needed servicing. I admire both appliances."
What?! Bin Laden Doesn't Do Podcasts?! A "poor quality" Osama-gram audiotape surfaced yesterday. In an age where folks like James Lileks are podcasting whilst sitting at their dining room tables - and producing works of high audio quality, you have to wonder about this tape's authenticity, especially since there's no video.
Maybe the bad audio quality is there to disguise the fact that it's been done by an Osama impersonator. One wonders if al Qaeda has its own Dana al Carvey.
Suicide: The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Oregon's one-of-a-kind physician-assisted suicide law. Justices, on a 6-3 vote, said the 1997 Oregon law used to end the lives of more than 200 seriously ill people trumped federal authority to regulate doctors. Oregon's law covers only extremely sick people - those with incurable diseases, whom at least two doctors agree have six months or less to live and are of sound mind.
I am morally opposed to suicide. But, since no innocent third-party is being harmed here, it would seem that individuals should have the option to make their own choices. In any case, this is a matter for the 50 states to decide, each in its own way. Oregon voters want physician-assisted suicide; I say let them have it.
And the Supremes are on my side.
Getting Your Irish Up: Geneticists have identified Ireland’s most successful alpha male. As many as one in twelve Irish men could be descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, a 5th-Century warlord, according to research conducted at Trinity College Dublin. "Given historically high rates of Irish emigration to North America and other parts of the world, it seems likely that the number of descendants worldwide runs to perhaps 2-3 million males," according to the paper, which has been published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
Niall reportedly had 12 sons, many of whom became powerful kings themselves. One was Conall, after whom Donegal (Tir Chonaill) was named, while Tyrone (Tir Eoghain) was ruled by Eoghain. Other sons were powerful in the midlands and all but two of the High Kings at Tara after Niall were his descendants.
High fertility? It's the Guinness, of course.
But Can The Kid Swim? Teddy Kennedy is alleged to have a 21 year-old love child.
"You Got To Know How To Pony ..." Wilson Pickett has died at age 64.
"Na na-na-na-na na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na na-na-na-na ... I need somebody to help me say it one time ...
Rest in peace, Wilson.
Quote Of The Day is from the AutoExtremist his-own-self, Peter DeLorenzo: "I will make a prediction right here and right now: In two years the Lexus LS 460 will be considered the finest luxury car available in North America. Toyota will usurp Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Cadillac and Audi in one fell swoop with this new luxury entry - and the luxury market will be turned upside down once and for all."
Notice that Lincoln isn't even mentioned, which speaks volumes, doesn't it?
Thursday January 19, 2006
'Best Mid-size, Mid-price Car In Which To Break Wind': Every commercial on television seems to features a product which has won a JD Power Award. How many categories are there anyway?
The Angry Boxer: Ben Stein has some thoughts about gas, oil and water: "The bottles of water in my car cost about a dollar a pint and they are a bargain brand and they come from a well in California. The gasoline I put in my car comes from ten thousand miles away, has to be brought here, refined, have huge taxes attached to it, and it's still thirty cents a pint.
I am so grateful, and I am thinking how Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Bill Frist want to surtax the oil companies for the superlative job they do bringing oil to us. Why?
... And where does Barbara Boxer get off yelling at the oil companies' executives for their pay? She's best pals with plaintiffs' class action lawyers who get paid in a day what a big guy at big oil gets paid in a lifetime. And who provides a more useful service? Why isn't she angry at movie stars about their pay? What good do they do compared with bringing us gasoline?"
Arlen The Pompous: Another senator, Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania, gets on my nerves and has for a long time. Specter is often dubbed a "RINO" (Republican In Name Only) by more conservative critics.
Specter didn't have the guts to vote decisively on the Clinton impeachment - one way or another. Instead, he invoked an obscure Scottish rule of law and voted "not proved." Of course there's a backstory - in May, 1998, at the apex of the Lewinsky scandal, President Clinton announced his intention to nominate Joan Specter, the senator's wife, to a political job as a member of the National Council on the Arts (NCA). This was just before the commencement of his impeachment trial about which Senator Specter would ultimately have to vote whether to acquit or remove that same president from the opposing party. And we now know he voted Scottish.
Specter is also the author of idiotic Warren Commission "single bullet theory" in the Kennedy assassination.
I remember his grating voice from 40 years ago, when he was the Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney. Specter loved television face time and, in my memory, seemed to be on the news every night. Long-time Philadelphia residents are waaaaay-too-familiar with the Arlen-and-Joan show.
Ms. Specter has gotten lots of media time - even back in the days when she owned a gourmet pie business. In the 1995 city council election, former 1st District councilman-turned-convict turned consultant, Jim Tayoun, had workers strategically placed at the polls handing out Joan Specter literature with a recipe for Joan's Election Day Chocolate Cheesecake. She won election to council-at-large.
Arlen briefly represented the infamous "unicorn killer," Ira Einhorn, who remained at large for years after Specter successfully argued his bond should be reduced to $40,000. Specter dropped Einhorn as a client just before his run for DA.
The Specters - master and mistress of the Smooth Move. Quite a team.
Tree Flatulence: Everyone believes that trees are miracle plants that take in the carbon dioxide that threatens our planet with global warming and turn it into fresh, clean oxygen for us all to breathe.
But now it seems we need to think again. In a discovery that has left climate scientists gasping, researchers have found that the earth's vegetation is churning out vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent even than CO2. This is not a product of trees and plants rotting, which everyone already knew was a source of methane; it is an entirely natural side-effect of plant growth that scientists had somehow missed.
Yet it is by no means trivial: preliminary estimates suggest that living trees and plants account for about 10 to 30 per cent of the methane entering the atmosphere.
Holy Cow! Ronald Reagan was right.
Prank Call: Punster nerds have inserted joke names on a spacecraft. The New Horizons spacecraft - soon to be bound for the distant planet Pluto - is carrying a list of 435,000 names of Earthlings.
Some are obviously fictitious. In fact, almost all of the names of Bart Simpson's prank calls to Moe's Tavern made the list, including I. P. Freely and Seymour Butz. Heh.
Between A Hard Rock And A Hard Place: After four years, the Hard Rock Café in downtown Austin, Texas has closed its doors.
I haven't been to a Hard Rock in years. I guess no one else has either.
Are Newspapers Doomed? Joseph Epstein of Commentary magazine thinks so.
Excerpt: " ... statistics on readership have been pointing downward, significantly downward, for some time now. Four-fifths of Americans once read newspapers; today, apparently fewer than half do. Among adults, in the decade 1990-2000, daily readership fell from 52.6 percent to 37.5 percent. Among the young, things are much worse: in one study, only 19 percent of those between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four reported consulting a daily paper, and only 9 percent trusted the information purveyed there; a mere 8 percent found newspapers helpful, while 4 percent thought them entertaining."
Quote Of The Day is from J. Peder Zane (of the N.C. Triangle News-Observer) on Maureen Dowd: "I keep thinking of her as a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times. I keep expecting her to display the insight and seriousness that has long distinguished that paper's celebrated writers.
Instead, Maureen Dowd is the Joan Rivers of American journalism: a catty gossipmonger whose stock in trade is not arresting ideas but glib putdowns."
As regular readers already know, I'm no fan of Mo Dowd either.
Wednesday January 18, 2006
I Found This Headline Amusing. From the Detroit News: 'GMAC sees $450 million charge for goodwill impairment'. Didn't GMAC lose every ounce of goodwill back in the '80s when it dunned people late payments on X-body and J-body cars which had already fallen apart? Or for diesel-engined sedans which wouldn't run? Or Chevettes and Vegas that had rusted away to nothing? Or Cadillac 8-6-4 engines that did the one-cylinder putt-putt?
Truckin': I don't follow NASCAR, but Truck-series champion, Ultra Motorsports, has closed its doors.
Reunited: Thirty-seven years after his sports car was stolen, a man in California is getting it back.
The 1968 Corvette was about to be shipped to a buyer in Sweden when U.S. Customs officials running a routine check on its vehicle identification number found it was stolen in 1969 in New York.
Alan Poster had bought the car as an indulgence in late 1968 in the aftermath of a divorce, he told The New York Times in its Tuesday edition. A few months later, his blue 'Vette was stolen from a Manhattan garage.
He Wrecked Disney ... Now He's Coming To CNBC: Which is OK, because CNBC is already a wreck. Michael Eisner, former chief of the Walt Disney Co., will become host of his own CNBC interview program that will be seen once every two months, the network said.
Eisner is an egomaniac who saved Disney in the mid-80s, then proceeded to drive it back into the ground. And was given a kajillion-dollar golden parachute for his 'efforts'. I'm glad I sold my Disney stock several years ago. I wish I had sold it in the early '90s.
CNBC is the Loser Channel. Too bad Dennis Miller is gone. I remember when Jane Wallace and Mary Matlin had a show there - it was good, too. They claimed that CNBC stood for 'Chicks, Nothin' But Chicks.'
And will someone please plug Jim Cramer's loud and obnoxious pie hole?
Book Title Suggestions: You probably know that Ted Kennedy has written a children's book.
Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr has alternate title suggestions to this or future Ted books, including 'Willy Wonka and the Vodka Factory', 'The Little Oldsmobile That Couldn't', 'Me and My Air Pocket', 'Heather Has Two Toddies' and 'My Liver Has a Quiver'.
For adults, there's always 'The Old Man and the Sea'. Or (my idea) 'Profiles In Liquid Courage'.
More On The Bloated Bloviator: Mark Alexander on Teddy Kennedy: "In Senate Judiciary Committee hearings this week, Kennedy actually asserted that the nominee's association with a conservative Princeton alumni group two decades ago should disqualify him from a seat on the High Court.
Well, it's not as if Judge Alito is a spoiled trust baby who got kicked out of Harvard for cheating. Nor is he a United States senator who got drunk, drove a young female campaign worker to her death, then chose not report it to authorities until the next day, and then, only after calling his lawyer, concocting an alibi and developing a strategy to contain the political fallout."
Two Quotes: A good friend sent me this. I have no idea if Teddy's alleged quote is real but I'll post it the thing anyway. It is both tragic and amusing. And it does sound like something Admiral Oldsmobile might say:
"What the American people have seen is this incredible disparity in which those people who had cars and money got out and those people who were impoverished drowned." --- Ted Kennedy on Hurricane Katrina
"Ditto." --- Mary Jo Kopechne
Go To Church; Get Wealthy: Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims that regular religious participation leads to better education, higher income and a lower chance of divorce. His results (based on data covering non-Hispanic white Americans of several Christian denominations, other faiths and none) imply that doubling church attendance raises someone's income by almost 10%.
Quote Of The Day is from Ed Jordan, a poster on Ace of Spades: "If starship full of aliens lands on the earth tomorrow, and they are totally peaceful and want to be our friends, I hope they don't taste like chicken because we already know what that tastes like."
Tuesday January 17, 2006
Wal-Mart Imperial? AutoExtremist writes about the Chrysler's concept car: "(T)he concept that set Chrysler Design back at least 25 years (and sent the design community as a whole into shock) was the relentlessly hideous Imperial Concept. Imagine if Wal-Mart decided to get in the car business overnight and the market they were absolutely convinced they could succeed in was the $300,000+ Rolls-Royce Phantom/Mercedes-Benz Maybach niche.
Being Wal-Mart, of course, they would locate a junior college with a burgeoning wannabe automotive design program (a friend of a friend of a guy over in marketing who's their resident "car guy" said these guys were "good") and commence initial design work. After a month or so and a couple of reviews, they call it "perfect" and then contract an unknown, unnamed manufacturer in China to build the car, so that they can bring it in to the U.S. market for $49,995."
He continues: " ... Clumsily rendered and saddled with comical Toon Car proportions, the Imperial is simply the most embarrassing concept in my recent memory - and when it comes to design turkeys, I have a lengthy one. There is not one good angle, line crease or fold on this "thing" - not one. How could this atrocity have been allowed to happen?"
Good question. Personally, I think Wal-Mart would have done a better job, except for the smiley-faced archer decals it would paste on the doors.
Shades Of Tom McCahill: Dan Neil writes that the new Honda Civic Si "corners like a weasel in a drainpipe."
Interesting Factoid: When a car dealership changes hands, a Toyota dealer fetches at least five times pretax earnings while a solid Ford store only gets three-or-so times earnings.
Yes, I Do Watch 'Numb3rs' On Friday Night: Mark Tapscott writes about the use of complex math models to improve sales and profits in businesses. He cites the use of one predictive model indicating that increased targeted media ads will sell more Ford trucks.
My experience is that clever small businesses better utilize mathematical 'data mining' than gigantic firms. It's probably because the data is smaller, less overwhelming and, therefore, easier to trend-spot, cherry-pick and implement.
Play MST-y For Me: NRO's Corner received a reader e-mail applauding references to the gone-but-not-forgotten 'Mystery Science Theater 3000'.
The e-mailer continues, "I have a suggestion though. Jonah Goldberg should be Tom Servo, the all-wise, chick magnet robot."
This is soooo very wrong - everyone knows that George Will is Tom Servo.
Headline Of The Day is from The Onion: 'Lance Armstrong's Endurance Tested By Sheryl Crow Concert.'
But You Can Never Have Too Much Elvis: An Australian woman allegedly stabbed her partner six times because he repeatedly played an Elvis Presley song.
Police claim the woman stabbed her 35-year-old partner with a pair of scissors during an argument over him playing 'Burning Love' over and over again. Just a Hunka ... Hunka ...
'Affluent Beggars': All about the professional begging racket ... in Ashland, Oregon.
Quote Of The Day is from AutoExtremist: "If you hovered quietly near the all-new Lexus LS460, you could observe the steady parade of German-speaking executives gathering for a good long look at their future nightmare. They weren't smiling or joking. It was like watching athletes watching game film of a competitor that displayed no weaknesses whatsoever - and they didn't have a clue as to what they were going to do to stop them on game day."
Monday January 16, 2006
Car Names: A car buddy of mine thinks that auto manufacturers are designating models alphanumerically because all the good car names are taken. I dunno.
Plenty are still left: Bolus, Pale, Critter, Dry-Rot, Commode, Payback, Rectal, Walla-Walla, Lactose, Hat, Limpid, It-Sucks, Sarcophagus, Testicle, Soapscum, Cantaloupe, Dandruff, Yummi-Girl, Rancid, Thumb, Honeydew, Vermin, Stethoscope, Gingivitis, Thunderass, Vomit, Pill, Bloodsoaked, Dungheap, Sticky, Legume, Frightful, Slimemobile, Distress, Colitis, Hello Kitty, Phlegm, Eight-Track, Rastus, Slug, Turnip, Futon, Infertility, Lamprey, Squeegee, Flatulence, Insult, Eggplant, Turn-On, Hemorrhoid, Creature, Tumor, Urine, Knee, Nosebleed, Prude, Burrito, Hematoma and HootchieMama.
I bet those new Chinese cars will utilize one or more of these model names. I think the HootchieMama 5000 would make a good name, especially if it's on a performance coupe with a huge engine.
Of course, the entry-level HootchieMama would just be another chick car.
Why Crappy Cars Get Good Press Reviews: An article in the Detroit News reports: "Despite the auto industry's troubles, the lavish courtship of some 6,000 worldwide journalists continued unabated during the preview that concluded Tuesday. From fist-size strawberries and Heinekens for breakfast to scantily clad models and Churchill cigars, the treats were plentiful and free.
Volkswagen shipped an entire kitchen - and 12 white-clad chefs - from Germany. DaimlerChrysler opened a closed fire station across from Cobo Center and served up free martinis and $25 cigars to hundreds of reporters each night. Elsewhere in Detroit, invitation-only parties at the Rattlesnake Club and other swank spots raged well into the evening." What would happen if this money was spent on product improvement instead?
Of course, there's a secret code to deciphering press reviews - I have it right here.
The Public Speaks: The Detroit News picked ten consumer panelists and got their reactions to the cars at the Detroit auto show. Callahan Jones, who drives a Cadillac SRX, hustled over to look at the new Lincoln MKX crossover and MKS sedan. She wasn't impressed. "It looks like it competes more with Buick now than Cadillac." Another indication that Lincoln is on life support. Buick?! Ouch!
Heart Attack - It's The New Gay: So ... I announced to the world that I had a heart attack and I started receiving e-mail from a lot of my old friends who came out of the closet with reports of their own formerly-secret heart troubles.
One wrote, "What?!? You've only got two stents? I've got five!" Hmmmmm. I didn't know it was a #@&* contest.
I can't post any more details because ... the First Rule of Stent Club is ... don't talk about Stent Club.
Spamalot: I live too far from New York to see this play and it probably won't hit Portland until 2014. So, my daughter gave me a CD of the cast album for Christmas. Hilarious.
If you like Monty Python and can't get to the live performance, go buy the CD. My favorites are: 'Laker Girls Cheer', 'The Song That Goes Like This' and 'You Can't Succeed On Broadway Without Jews'.
What Your Kids (and grandkids) Are Learning About Islam: More wisdom from the good Doctor Demarche: "Everyone in the United States has at one time or another seen the commercials exhorting you to talk to your kids about drugs before the drug dealers do. Those commercials, of course, do not exist for topics such as religion, or history. But have you ever asked your kids what they know about the Middle East, Islam and terrorism? Ever looked at their history or social studies books? You jut might be surprised- many of the sponsors of hatred, if not outright terrorism, have beaten you to the punch."
Scary. Read the whole thing.
Requiescat In Pace: Dave Adams of D&L Glass Co. in Vancouver, WA was one of the finest businessmen I ever met.
Obituaries are often full of fluff but his speaks the truth: "He will forever be remembered as a man who was honest and lived by his word."
Dave was also a great source of jokes and we used to swap restaurant tales & reviews, life experiences and business gossip.
I'll really miss him; I enjoyed his company. God rest his soul.
Osama Obit? According to NRO's Michael Ledeen: "Osama bin Laden finally departed this world in mid-December. The al Qaeda leader died of kidney failure and was buried in Iran, where he had spent most of his time since the destruction of al Qaeda in Afghanistan." Good news, if true.
'The Great War Of 2007': This is a very frightening must-read. Excerpt: "Yet the historian is bound to ask whether or not the true significance of the 2007-2011 war was to vindicate the Bush administration's original principle of pre-emption. For, if that principle had been adhered to in 2006, Iran's nuclear bid might have been thwarted at minimal cost. And the Great Gulf War might never have happened."
The great question remains - now that Sharon is incapacitated, does Israel have the fortitude to preemptively nuke Tehran? I don't think we (the U.S.) will do it. But we'll follow and support Israel's lead.
Oh, and let's not forget to nuke Caracas, too.
Teddy Is Sad: Jonah Goldberg writes that "Senator Kennedy laments that the hearings have become too political (seriously, he said that). Coming next: Kennedy's passionate assault on drunk driving and political gasbaggery)."
I'll have more on Admiral Oldsmobile later this week. Promise.
Quote Of The Day is from Ann Coulter: "There are no Japanese internment camps today. (Although the no-limit blackjack section at Caesar's Palace on a Saturday night comes pretty close.)"
Friday January 13, 2006
Yes, It's Friday The 13th. And I'm off to the cardiologist today for my first post-hospital check-up. Good thing I'm not superstitious.
Please Kill Lincoln: Dear Ford, I beg of you, please have the compassion to put this once-strong brand out if its misery. It took a mere ten years for the ravages of managerial neglect to put Lincoln on a respirator. Is there a rescue plan, you ask? Apparently it's this:
1. Take a brand with legendary model names - Continental, Town Car, Mark Series, Premier, Capri, et al - and replace them with anonymous random groups of letters MKS and MKX. (One wonders if they'll try to entice black people to buy with an MLK model.) This random letters/numbers technique is known as Management By Alpha-Bits. It really worked well for Pontiac didn't it? Anyone remember the now-almost-mythical Pontiac 6000? Or the T1000? I thought so.
2. Get your styling inspiration from the Japanese. Now, I like some Japanese cars, but mostly their styling is anonymous, ugly or just-plain weird. People don't buy Acuras or Lexi because of MOMA award-winning looks. They buy them because they're nice, reliable cars. And the Acura is a bit sporty, too.
Seeking success by finding automotive 'stylishness' from Asia? What a preposterously dumb idea. It is the equivalent of deriving culinary inspiration from the British.
I could understand if Lincoln threw up its hands and hired some well-known Italian firm to redo its flagship Town Car. (Perhaps Pininfarina - it did such a lovely job on the new Ferrari 599 GTB.) Lincoln could then proclaim the result as "the first Town Car with a 'Continental' flair." Nice ad tagline. And I bet the car would look good, too.
Instead, the MKS sedan concept - apparently a preview of the TC replacement - is basically a Ford Five Hundred in a kimono. Shame on you, Lincoln management. You are idiots. Highly-paid ones, too, which is especially grating. For some reason, I'm picturing Dilbert's pointy-haired boss.
My Dad once remarked, "A Mercury is nothing but a gussied-up Ford, but a Lincoln - now that's a real car." Not anymore.
And I'm Not The Only One: AutoExtremist says the MKS is "one more example of Lincoln marketers wandering around lost in the desert. This just cannot continue." And: "When Anne Stevens, the newly minted COO of Ford of the Americas came out at the Lincoln media event and said that the defining element for Lincoln going forward is growth, we knew that there was no hope for The Land of the Clueless.
Growth? What the hell? Did the word "luxury" ever come up? Anyone? Bueller? How can you grow a brand when you still don't have even the remotest of clues as to what it is? Not only are the people involved in Lincoln marketing incapable of hitting the side of a barn with a baseball, apparently, but they also seem to be actually regressing in their quest to understand what Lincoln is all about. ... We watched in horror as the stewards of Lincoln's existence dropped the ball yet again, allowing the once-proud name to sink further into The Abyss."
Jerry Flint of Forbes is picking on Lincoln, too: "I have some suggestions for the Lincoln name team: DUM2 (or possibly 2DUM), or even URDUM. How about 4GON? My friend Fred suggests the OYE, followed with the VEY for the sister coupe. Or the Lincoln YUK-E." Jerry adds: "Ford stock is now hovering around the $8 mark. With this new crew of thinkers, don't buy at this price. Wait for $5."
Infomercial Slick: Peter DeLorenzo weighs in on Ford's tall/good hair/good teeth 'President of the Americas': "Mark Fields began his pitch looking and sounding for all the world like a late-night infomercial host, but by the end of it - thanks to a large dollop of special effects smoke - he transformed himself before our very eyes into a bad David Copperfield sketch a la 'Saturday Night Live.'"
New Train Pix: I've added more photos - taken last month - to the model train layout portion of my website. When I built my O-gauge train layout in 2000, my mantra was: "I'm only going to do this once and not make a new one every year." In that spirit, changes for have been relatively minor. But I did make and add a couple of things in 2005.
Good Intentions, Bad Idea: In California, a proposed $2.60 per-pack tax on cigarettes is being promoted by the American Cancer Society and other powerful health associations. But the proposed $2.1 billion tax uses scandalously little of the windfall to pay for research into lung cancer or other smokers' diseases: 2%. Instead, most of the money would go from smokers' wallets into the wallets of illegal aliens.
The proposal diverts most of the $2.1 billion tax to emergency-room care and to health coverage for children - two services that, in California, provide out-sized assistance to illegal immigrants.
Quote Of The Day is from P. J. O'Rourke: "America has to act. But, when America acts, other nations accuse us of being 'hegemonistic', of engaging in 'unilateralism', of behaving as if we're the only nation on earth that counts. We are."
Thursday January 12, 2006
Car Sighting: I picked up the Jag from the shop earlier this week - minor repairs. It now runs fine and its sunroof leak has been banished.
At the shop, I spotted a red 1960 Aston Martin DB-4 that was getting its clutch replaced. Beautiful lines. This was not a 100-point show car but a fine, presentable driver. It was provocative and handsome in a James Bondish kind-of-way.
This Is A Big Deal: American Honda Motor will begin production (in Japan) of its next generation FCX hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in just three or four years. Ground breaking ... history making.
You Gotta Give It ... to the folks at Autoblog. They have redefined auto show coverage, liveblogging from the LA show and Detroit. It seems like there's been a new posting every five minutes for the past week.
I'm outta breath just trying to keep up.
Jail Time For Rick? Jim Dollinger (aka - Buickman) of GeneralWatch believes that GM Chairman "Wagoner should be imprisoned. He is a bigger crook than Ebbers or Lay ever imagined. $4,000,000,000 to his Fiat friends, and the stock ends up at Merrill Lynch while their chairman Stan O'Neal serves on our board. Hello???? 30,000 jobs to be lost and today he is quoted as saying there may be more. The man is out to completely destroy what he hasn't already spun off or shut down. Time to wake up!"
Jim also points out that in 2000 GM had a market capitalization of- $66,000,000,000. Now it's $10,000,000,000. That's a loss of $56 billion in shareholder value. Wow!
If You're A Conspiracy Theorist ... (and I am - Occam's razor couldn't shave a single hair on my face), this article from Robert Farago is just for you.
Excerpts: "Why would GM's Board of Bystanders let Wagoner create a bankruptcy-proof pension if, as he claims, "we don't have a plan for bankruptcy"? Why did Merrill Lynch immediately buy GM's abandoned FIAT stock, given that Merrill's CEO also serves on GM’s Board? ... Buickman's right: there are a lot of dubious goings-on over at RenCen involving the disposal of GM's assets. ... And then Buickman says that the UAW and GM have agreed to stage a union strike later this year to destroy the company, so that the nefarious forces responsible can live happily ever after."
Yesssss, Smithers. Everything is falling into place now. (spoken with a Montgomery Burns stage whisper)
Another Of Catholicism's Mysteries: Does the Pope's speedometer have Roman numerals?
'Religion Of Peace' Update: Of course it's a peaceful religion ... but, if you don't belong to it, you're an infidel and will be killed. As 150 members of the Baha'i faith, Iran's largest religious minority, found out. And, while on the subject, read this ...
Very Scary Article: A must-read.
Excerpt: "Islam is the unexploded bomb of global politics. U.S. foreign policy - the only foreign policy there is, for the United States is the only superpower - proceeds from the hope that a modern and democratic Islam will emerge from the ruins of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Through democratic institutions, Washington believes, the long-marginalized Shi'ites will adapt to religious pluralism. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's Islam, fixed in amber since the High Middle Ages, will metamorphose into something like American mainline Protestantism.
Alas, the available facts suggest that the opposite result will ensue: more freedom equals more fundamentalism."
Good Idea: Dave Barry weighs in on the Alito hearings, "Instead of a live human being, the Senate Judiciary Committee should have an inflatable doll sitting in the witness chair while the senators ask their 37-minute-long questions. On those rare occasions when they need an actual answer, staff people could go fetch the actual nominee from the golf course or wherever."
How Airlines Work: James Lileks 'splains all in an economical 276 words.
Quote Of The Day is from John Podhoretz of National Review Online: "Being lectured on moral matters by Teddy Kennedy is like getting childcare tips from Andrea Yates."
Wednesday January 11, 2006
For Ferrari Fans Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf: It's officially the 2006 Silly Concept Car Season. If it hasn't happened already, someone will eventually produce a glossy, coffee-table book titled 'World's Worst Concept Cars'. There's certainly lots of fodder - enough for several volumes.
I suspect that Volume I will have the Bertone 308GT Rainbow on the cover. This 1976 disaster is truly the ugliest Ferrari ever made. Bertone's own website refers to the vehicle as "unconventional". Ahem.
Truly an understatement for a machine which mirrors a kit-bashed plastic model Fiat X1/9 assembled by a glue-sniffing, pimply teenage slacker.
Damn. I Wish I Had Written This: I'm kind-of jealous because Robert Farago communicates so clearly about the Über-Hype of the NAIAS: "Once upon a time, the Detroit auto show was The Detroit Auto Show, not some gussied-up international flying circus. Carmakers showed off wild, inherently stupid concept cars that would never, ever be built and the latest update to their showroom models. And then everyone headed off to open bars and hooker-laden hospitality suites to do what comes natural to middle-aged white men. Now the suits are serious and the web is alive with the sound of clickery, as even industry addicts struggle to keep up with dozens of new models headed for the showrooms. While it's easy to get caught up in the buzz, I'm here to say that all this newfangled media bullshit and product overkill will, as the Brits say, end in tears. ...
The Big Three are neglecting their core models in favor of entirely new models that look like nothing else in their portfolio (e.g. the Lincoln MKX). While the Japanese are not adverse to growing and selling a bit of strange fruit from time to time, they refine and refine and refine their existing best-sellers, minting money and growing market share.
Screw GM's new crossovers, how's the new Impala and big Caddy? Forget about the Ford Edge, how's the new Lincoln LS - I'm sorry, Five Hundred? Crap, really. Nothing but a big soft target for rival automakers coveting their audience. The fact that Ford and GM's "new" SUVs won't offer a world-class hybrid powerplant for another year is nothing less than a disgrace."
And finally: "That's because the vast majority customers don't want a new car. They want a better car. As you can plainly see at The North American International Clusterfuck, Detroit seems resolutely determined not to give it to them."
Amen. Oh, I'll have some things to say about Lincoln's new model on Friday's edition of 'The View'.
Try to contain your excitement.
Why I Don't Read The Freep Much: Sarah Webster of the Detroit Free Press writes, "... Ford Motor Co. will kick off a plan to rescue its struggling 89-year-old Lincoln brand."
The first Lincoln automobile was a 1921 model. Do the math.
Best Dumb-Ass Detroit Show Quote So Far: Chrysler design chief Trevor Creed said "there is nothing nostalgic" about the Challenger concept. Riiiight. (hat tip - Straightline)
Maybe It's Just My Age ... but when I saw the write-up on the Ford Reflex concept car, my eyes kept seeing Ford Reflux.
I thought to myself, "What's next - the Mercury Prilosec?"
Tool Time: According to this site, there's a rumor that Snap-On Tools has booted 44 engineers.
Library Etiquette: A new Dallas Public Library code of conduct that bans distracting odors has drawn criticism from homeless advocates who say the rule unfairly targets the homeless and poor. "No one in Dallas wants the homeless hanging around their door, especially the city," said one homeless man who spends much of his day reading and using the computer at the downtown library.
My solution: Take a bath and get a job. Soap and water don't cost nearly as much as booze and cigarettes, but "homeless" bums and their advocates always seem to find ways of acquiring those.
These days, I avoid libraries. They've been taken over by malodorous, porn-surfing tramps and loud, ill-behaved people.
Why are so many communities friendly to resource-draining hobos but unfriendly to small businesses that contribute tax revenue and jobs?
Dear Harry, Mr. Belafonte - you had one hit record back when I was in the eighth grade. Good for you. This makes you, at best, a minor celebrity and a Trivial Pursuit 'Geezer Edition' question.
No one gives a rat's patootie about your loony, commie political views. Say hello to Fidel Castro for us on your way home and then sit and wait by your phone for Bill Shatner to call - VH-1's thinking of doing another of those 'One-Hit Wonders' programs.
"Come Mister Tallyman, Tell Me I'm Bananas ..."
Scrappleface weighs in on Harry B. here.
And Furthermore ... if Cuba is so great, how come they don't make any cars there? Cuba should build a roadster and name it after Fidel ..... the Castro Convertible. (I think you have to be over 60 to get this joke.)
I Chuckled At The Headline ... and then read the story and laughed: 'Suspected Counterfeiters Clog Toilet'. Imbeciles.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "It apparently does not occur to some engineers who design products that most of the people who will be using those products are not engineers."
Tuesday January 10, 2006
A Japanese Badge Does't Always Equal Quality: Nissan officials are on the defensive after four of five Nissan models produced at a its Mississippi plant topped the annual Consumer Reports list of unreliable vehicles. They are: Nissan's Armada sport utility vehicle, Quest minivan and Titan pickup, and the Infiniti QX56 SUV.
This is nothing new, in my experience. I had numerous quality problems with my 300ZX Twin Turbo which I bought new in '92. Paint, panel integrity, leaky side glass, bad transmission, etc.
But, when you stuffed your foot in it, that Z sure went like stink.
I Like It ... because Posies Aeroliner Sport looks like nothing else on the road. Be sure to check out the hood ornament.
Read It And Believe: Jerry Flint has been around the auto industry since the days when overdrive was a pull-knob under the dash. When he gives his opinion, we should all pay attention: "These days, most Americans already buy cars made by foreign companies. If you pull out all of Detroit's business with the rent-a-car and fleet buyers, you'll see that true retail sales by Toyota, Honda and Nissan easily top those of Chevrolet and Ford. And Chrysler is now owned by the Germans. ....
In the fat years of the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. companies squandered profits on misguided acquisitions and poor product decisions. Too many Americans once owned Detroit cars and believed that dealers and the companies mistreated them when their vehicles had problems. In short, a sizable percentage of the American public is not sympathetic to the plight of the domestic manufacturers."
Sad, but true. I've avoided GM products for years - all because of a 1980 Olds Pile-O-Crap I purchased new. Forgiveness takes a long time.
One-Sentence Car Review: I don't think I can fit in the Honda Fit.
Camry To Accord: "See ya and raise ya five." The 2007 Camry - on sale in March - offers a boatload of features. At Camry prices, too.
Shades Of The 1954 Kaiser Darrin: The Mazda Kabura concept car has an innovative feature: "Instead of swinging on hinges as in the innovative Mazda RX-8, this additional door glides neatly into a cavity notched into the rear-quarter panel area the way a pocket door disappears into a house wall." It's a cool-looking car, though.
Crossing The Bar: The Dow finally crossed 11,000 yesterday. I hope that this portends a good year for stocks.
The S&P 500 (with dividends reinvested) increased a meager 4.9% in 2005 but the Vanguard Health Care Fund (a mutual fund) went up 15.5%. I'm glad I own some. With all the medical bills I ran up last week, the fund will probably go up some more.
Keeping Things In Perspective: Jonah Goldberg writes, "To be sure, Martin Luther King Jr. deserves his place among American heroes. But it's worth noting that what makes him an American icon, as opposed to purely a liberal one, is his vision for a colorblind nation. And colorblindness is no longer a core tenet of the American left. President Kennedy was hardly the liberal of Oliver Stone's imagination. And his brother, Bobby, was more hostile to civil liberties than John Ashcroft, eagerly wiretapping Americans, including King."
The Consequences Of Too Much Booze: Teddy Kennedy remembers "the Goldwater Presidency." Hmmmm. I'll have what Admiral Oldsmobile's having - only a much smaller glass, please.
Bad Pun Of The Day: A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, "I'll serve you but don't start anything."
Monday January 9, 2006
More Retro: The 2006 Lamborghini Miura Concept is stunning. It was designed by Walter de’ Silva, head of Lamborghini Design and pays homage to the original which was (and is) drop-dead gorgeous. I remember seeing one cruise past me on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the early 1970s. Awesome.
It's tough to do Good Retro. The Mustang is great; the Chevy HHR is lame. The Dodge Challenger is dull; the new Camaro concept looks far more interesting (at first glance). The VW Beetle ceased to be cute after the first month when everyone realized that it was nothing but a Golf wearing a lame cartoon shroud. Think Hello Kitty on wheels.
Porsche does the best retro. The 911 was a modern interpretation of the 356 and today's 2006 911 Carrera is a handsome tribute to both, featuring that clean, 'classic' Porsche look. Park a '58 356 next to a 2006 911. Then do the same with, say, a 1958 and '06 Corvette. See what I mean? (Nevertheless, I think the '06 'Vette is a handsome car. I'm not so sure about the '58, though.)
Morgan comes in second (excluding the repulsive, cross-eyed Aero) but, frankly, it's just a bumpy, squeaky, leaky Morgan for Pete's sake - so, who cares. Other than stout-swilling, mash-and-banger-munching Anglophiles.
December Car Sales: GM's and Ford's overall sales were down ten percent in December. The Chrysler Group also reported its sales dropped five percent. Toyota was up 11 percent. Honda reported a 14 percent sales increase. Mercedes-Benz posted a 17 percent sales increase.
Jaguar was down 28 percent. Here's a brand with four distinct platforms with total sales of less than 2,500 per month. No wonder it's losing money. Audi went up 16 percent, Mercury went down 9%, Volvo dropped a surprising and whopping 26%. (In 1956, Ford found out that "safety doesn't sell." Maybe it's happening all over again.)
Another surprising stat - almost as many Lincoln Zephyrs were sold as Mercury Milans. Hmmmm. Is the Milan overpriced? Or are they just 'doing deals' on the little Lincoln?
Ford is pinning its hopes on the Fusion and Five Hundred to recapture the family sedan market. Yet, combined sales of these two models was less than 16,000 units in December, compared with 26,370 for the Honda Accord and 33,324 for the Toyota Camry. Ford wants to ditch the old Taurus but, in December, 14,990 units were sold. (I bet a lot were fleet sales at near-zero margins.)
Meanwhile, the pricier Toyota Avalon continues to outsell the Ford Five Hundred. These sales figures tell me that Ford is still facing an mega-ton scrapload of problems in the marketplace.
If My Jaguar Dies Tomorrow ... I think the 475 hp Mustang GT500 coupe would be at the top of my replacement list. What the hell, life's short, you know?
But Before I Buy The Mustang ... I'll give the new Lexus LS460 a test drive. Just because.
Stop Insulting A Legendary Streamliner: That pretentious idiot, J Mays, claims that the Ford Super Chief concept truck is "inspired by the famous Santa Fe Super Chief transcontinental train." I know all about the Santa Fe Super Chief.
This Ford's no Super Chief. (And Dan Quayle was no JFK.)
Out Of This World: Dan Neil of the LA Times describes the new BMW M6 as "a 500-hp, 10-cylinder super-coupe that looks like Munich's styling department was taken over by Sith lords."
Hair, Height and Teeth: Unless you've been living in a cave (and that means you, Osama), you know that Ford Motor Company's latest Executive Vice President and President of the Americas (doesn't that title belong to Eva Peron?) is the professionally-groomed and polished Mark Fields.
He gave a rousing speech at the LA Auto Show. But skeptical Robert Beamesderfer writes that "auto show speeches are a lot like concept cars. They're all very sexy on the display stand, but once the design heads for the factory floor, things never quite turn out as planned."
I'm a skeptic, too. Tallness, good hair and good teeth seem to be the minimum requirement for highly-paid U.S. auto executives these days. But ... it's important to remember that some of the finest American cars were created by smart, balding, non-descript lugs with crooked teeth, warts and hair growing out of their ears.
And even Saint Zora Arkus-Duntov wasn't all that tall.
Place Hands Over Ears: I never listen to the rantings of crazy street people, Pat Robertson, Al Sharpton or Art Bell. Each of these people are, in his own 'special' way, demented.
About the oft-loony Reverend Robertson, Kathy Shaidle writes: "I'm getting really sick of pointing out that the only people who pay any attention to Pat Robertson are mainstream journalists. The man owns his own TV station, which nobody watches. He is talking to himself. Journalists: you are reporting the words of a man who is talking to himself. Why don't you just get a quote from the local cat lady, at least for a change of pace?"
"You'll Never Find ..." Grammy Award-winning singer Lou Rawls has died of lung cancer in Los Angeles. He was 72.
When deep basso James Earl Jones announced, "Luke, I am your father", I expected Lou Rawls to step out from behind a column holding a microphone, proclaiming (in his distinctive baritone voice), "And, Luke, I am your uncle, man."
Thanks for all the good songs, Lou. Rest in peace.
First Felonious Idiot Award Of 2006: Diamond earrings stolen from a college fundraiser were recovered when a Minnesota man tried to have them appraised at the jewelry store that donated them.
Happy Birthday, Elvis! He would have been 71 years old. And 710 pounds. More Elvis musings here.
Quote Of The Day is from AutoWeek's Wes Raynal on the 2006 Range Rover Sport HSE: "(It) started every time I twisted the key. That's the good news. The bad news is much of the electrical system had a mind of its own."
Friday January 6, 2006
A Big Thank You ... to everyone who sent their good wishes after my recent Cardiac Experience. I've heard from lots of friends and received e-mails from fellow bloggers as well as readers of this blog. I was touched by everyone's concern. When you write a blog, you really don't know who is in the audience. Now I have a better idea of who some of you are. Pleased to meet you.
One of my car club buddies, Kris, e-mailed and asked if I planned to attend a club meet later in January. I told him that I wanted to get back into the swing of things as soon as possible, closing with: "You can't keep a good man down!" Kris wrote back: "The same goes for tacos."
Another friend asked if I had "that new keyhole heart surgery." I had to inform him that an angioplasty is generally performed by snaking a wire through an incision in the groin. He couldn't seem to get his head around this concept. Well, neither can I but that's how it's done.
"Take off your pants and I will make your heart feel better" is something you expect to hear in a Marseilles brothel rather than in an operating theater. But ... I have it on good authority that, at the brothel, they don't shave you first. Technology - it's both strange and wonderful.
I'm feeling pretty good - sleeping well and getting around with neither chest pain nor shortness of breath.
If you want more details, plus my own illustrations of my new, cool twin stents, go here.
Summer; Summer Not: You know how there's summer beer, summer sausage, summer soups, etc.? It now appears that biodiesel is really Summer Diesel.
Land - There's Still Plenty Of It: Thomas Sowell penned a thoughtful article about land use.
Excerpt: "Some of the biggest hysteria about "saving" land is found in places where most of the land is already off-limits to building. Some of the biggest crocodile tears about a need to "preserve farmland" come from people who are not farmers, and who know little and care less about farming.
Chronic agricultural surpluses that cost the taxpayers billions show that there is too much farmland producing more than the market can absorb, while the growing of these surplus crops puts all sorts of chemicals into the ground, water, and air. But the green liars don't mention that."
Headline Of The Day is from The Onion: 'Zamboni Crime Family Indicted In Ice-Shaving Scandal'.
For The Person Who Has Everything: Presenting the red, lip-shaped toothpaste squeezer - the 'Liposuction' toothpaste squeezer gets the last of the toothpaste out of the tube "while accomplishing a visual pun." If you have a dirty mind, you might consider this device to be mildly obscene - in a symbolic kind-of way. (But you shouldn't be having such fantasies while brushing your teeth anyway.)
You Can't Make This Stuff Up: The Rolling Stones would be too old to watch their own Super Bowl performance. Two thousand people will be invited onto the pitch to watch the band's half-time performance. But only people aged between 18 and 45 are eligible, National Football League spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
ge restrictions were applied because the task was physically demanding, McCarthy added. "You have to attend rehearsal and be able to stand for long stretches of time." The youngest Rolling Stone is 58. I think Keith Richards is the oldest - he looks 136 or thereabouts.
Quote Of The Day is from James Lileks, who points out that Crate and Barrel sells neither: "Where the devil is a man expected to buy crates and barrels these days? And if you did want to set up a store that sold crates and barrels, what would you call it? Placemats and Vases?"
Thursday January 5, 2006
Stuff I've Been Reading While Resting: This week's AutoWeek has Detroit Auto Show concept car photos, including the Dodge Challenger. As I wrote back in November, the car lacks passion in its lines. It will not be a threat to the current Mustang - if DC ever puts it into production. Too limp; too late.
The new four-door Chrysler Imperial concept is based on the 300C/Magnum platform, but sits 17 inches longer and six inches higher than the 300C sedan and has massive 22-inch wheels. It's a sleazy knock-off of the current Rolls Royce which - in my opinion - is a design monstrosity. In the race to Ugly, it's neck-and neck, folks.
The Aston Martin Rapide, a handsome and sleek four-door concept sedan (on a stretched DB9 platform) shows just how lame and stodgy the new Jaguar sedan is. As is the Buick-like Maserati Quattroporte.
Interesting Factoid: Cars outsold trucks, sport-utility vehicles and minivans in 2005 for the first time since 1981, exacerbating the loss of market share by truck-dependent GM and Ford.
Quote Of The Day is from AutoWeek's Roger Hart on the 2006 little Lincoln: "My biggest complaint about the Zephyr is the lack of torque. It can barely pull the peel of a Clementine. ... but the biggest problem I have with this Zephyr is its $34,000 sticker. At $28,000, it would be a good deal. But for $34,000, no way."
Wednesday January 4, 2006
A Funny Thing Happened ... while walking down my driveway Monday morning to get the newspaper. I had a heart attack. (Hmmmm. That's another compelling reason to cancel my subscription.)
I experienced a fun ambulance ride (I enjoyed looking out the back window and seeing all those cars pulled over on the shoulder - just for me - and hearing the occasional ear-splitting WHOOOP-WHOOOP directed at the unseeing idiots** hogging the left lane of the freeway), a lot of rapid rolling along hospital corridors on gurneys while watching the overhead fluorescents whiz by, some very amazing and relaxing drugs and several doses of bland hospital food.
I returned home this morning and will be taking it easy for a while. I now have two stents in me - I think of them as My Twin Glasspacks - but I'm feeling reasonably good. Blogging will be lighter for a while as I now have other priorities in my life. (more >>>)
** The WHOOOP-WHOOOP was loud enough that some of these left-lane morons probably had their own myocardial infarctions. This is an excellent way for ambulance firms to maintain a steady flow of new customers.
It's Winter, But The Mercury Hits 100: In Battle Creek, MI, a man attempted to free his car from a muddy field by placing a large toolbox on the accelerator, then getting behind the car and trying to push it free. He was successful in freeing the vehicle, although unsuccessful regaining control of the vehicle. The full-size Mercury sedan accelerated across a cut soybean field with the man running behind.
The car reached an estimated speed of 100 mph, traveled a half-mile, sometimes becoming airborne. The car then struck a tree.
Choke Point: Mark Tapscott exposes the "Biggest Secret" of liberal city planners - they love traffic congestion and want more.
Excerpt: "As more and more people drive more and more cars, the one solution that is absolutely off-limits according to liberals and other exponents of the conventional wisdom in urban planning departments across the country is .... building more roads. The only permissible solutions these people will tolerate discussing and funding are more mass transit, usually in the form of sharply increased government spending for subways, light rail and buses ..."
This sounds like the perfect description of Portland, Oregon. For over 30 years, the I-5 freeway has been plagued with a choke point just south of the Washington border - the heavily trafficked southbound freeway drops from three to two lanes for a one-half mile stretch. Instead of fixing it, the money has been allocated to overpriced, underutilized light rail systems.
I believe that such cities will become ghost towns as frustrated commuters inspire employers to create work-at home jobs. "If I don't have to commute, I'll work for 10% less pay" will become a mantra.
"A Case Of Automotive Anhedonia" ... writes Dan Neil about the Chevy HHR. (Quick - grab your Oxford Unabridged! I'll wait.)
Excerpt: "In its search for fresh, edgy attitude that will resonate with Generation iPod, Chevy has turned, inevitably, to the Truman administration. The styling of the HHR - it stands for "Heritage High Roof" - is inspired, so they tell me, by the 1949 Chevy Suburban. ... The trouble is, outside of lifetime subscribers to Hot Rod magazine, the HHR doesn't remind anybody of anything except the Chrysler PT Cruiser, thus the unfortunate and irresistible sobriquet 'Me Too Cruiser.' ... There is a Detroit-cloistered quality to the HHR, and not simply because it is such a pointed response to a crosstown rival.
The HHR wants to capitalize on a sentiment - a longing for the rockin' good times on Woodward Avenue? - that just doesn't exist in large measure in the mass market. In terms of car culture, the HHR's bid for nostalgia has no antecedent, no referent, no master narrative. It is all echo and no sound."
Neil doesn't think much of the HHR's the interior, remarking that it "looks cheap in places. There's no flashing around the door-lock pins - just holes drilled in the molded plastic - and many of the surfaces feel like recycled milk jugs." Ouch.
Just When You Thought Everything had Been Invented: A new toilet bowl cleaner is shaped like a windsurfer and will float and surf in any tank or commode.
Bad Pun Of The Day: Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn't much, but the reception was excellent.
Monday January 2, 2006
Out Of Air: A long chapter in the history of Volkswagen has ended - the last air-cooled motor was hoisted into a VW Microbus in San Paulo, Brazil in December. The move comes three years after Volkswagen's Mexican division stopped production of the minivan, and churned out its last two-door bug sedan with an air-cooled motor.
Over the years the little flat-four motor was installed in over 26 million vehicles - 20 million Beetles and 6 million buses and vans.
Last week, my wife and I were driving in the Pacific Northwest's crappy (dark and rainy) winter weather and we spotted a vintage VW Beetle just ahead of us. Beetles of one sort or another had been in our family from 1961 until 1995. They were remarkable cars, especially when one considers that their design dated from the mid-1930s.
Beetles were wonderful cars in their own way, but, as these vehicles have passed into Legend Status, myths began to envelop and obscure reality. In the '60s, VW was held up as a the pinnacle of quality. But the reality was a little different. ... (more >>>)
Why I Don't Often Cite The Freep: The Detroit Free Press awarded Truck of the Year honors to the Ford Explorer, noting that it now offers "better mileage and a shiny grille."
Another Kind Of Pollution: The Canadian city of Edmonton has decided to allow bars to employ a novel approach to get around a smoking ban - "smoking buses" parked outside that allow patrons to get their fix without freezing. City officials had initially looked for a way to close the loophole, but then decided that there's no law to stop patrons from smoking in buses parked on bar premises.
So, instead of getting cancer from second-hand cigarette smoke, you'll get it from first-hand diesel exhaust.
Another Reason To Buy From Wal-Mart: Because Paul Krugman doesn't like it.
Don Luskin writes, "Consider Krugman’s column on Wal-Mart last week. Krugman doesn’t find anything corrupt about the "union-supported group, Wake Up Wal-Mart" that has run television ads demonizing the non-union retail giant.
Would Wake Up Wal-Mart have run those ads anyway, without union money? Probably not, but Krugman would likely have written the same column, in which he makes the absurd claim that Wal-Mart - by far America's largest employer - destroys jobs. He even goes so far as to call Wal-Mart's claims to the contrary "the worst economic argument of 2005." Considering some of the loony economic arguments Krugman himself has made this year, that's quite a claim."
Bush-Bashing Black Charity Sits on Katrina Cash: The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which slammed the Bush administration for its allegedly slow and racially insensitive response to Hurricane Katrina, has yet to spend any of the estimated $400,000 that it raised for the victims of the storm.
Quote: "We are collecting all the way up through the very end of the year and then our board has set aside a committee who is going to administer the funds ... the distribution of the money would not begin until January or February of 2006 at the earliest." And you thought FEMA was slow in responding?!
This is another reason to give your money to real, honest groups with a proven track record, like the Salvation Army. The SA helps everyone in need and in a rapid fashion.
Incidentally, about that race thang - the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals has released statistics showing that a higher percentage of whites died in New Orleans as a result of the hurricane than blacks.
Quote Of The Day is from Jonathan Fahey: "GM and Ford have health care and pension burdens that their competition doesn't. But those burdens were there three years ago, when GM's stock was more than three times what it is today. That's when GM was selling at least some vehicles people wanted to buy.
The neglect with which the two automakers have treated their brands is almost criminal. The Ford Taurus was once a great vehicle. It is now dead. And just imagine the look you'd get if you went to a cocktail party and told someone you just bought a Buick!"