Friday March 31, 2006
Exclusive - Direct From The New York Auto Show!!! Have I gotten your attention? Good.
Forty years ago, I attended the show at the New York Coliseum. I planned to scrounge around in one of our many shoeboxes full of old photos and post some pix from the show. I did manage to find lots of car show photos but realized that 1) the pix from the '65, '66 and '67 shows were all mixed together and 2) the quality of the photos was pretty awful. The poor quality was due to my photographic ineptness and the cheap Keystone 126 camera that I used. I was pretty broke at the time; therefore, many of the photos were shot with black and white film which was far less costly to process than Kodacolor.
So, instead of trying to salvage fuzzy and poorly composed photos by spending many hours chained up in my Photoshop dungeon, I have - in Lileks' Institute of Good Cheer fashion - posted various ads and announcements from the 1966 Auto Show 'Official Program' here.
I hope you find the selection amusing and enjoyable.
Line Extension: The 2007 Chrysler 300 Long Wheelbase model is a six-inch stretched sedan. I think that it will be a big hit with livery services and, if priced correctly, will topple the Lincoln Town Car in this marketplace. It will also help boost Chrysler's image in the near-luxury sedan segment.
David Rooney, Director of Chrysler Marketing Communications says that "limousine-like features have been added and custom options are available. The result is a truly distinctive and personalized experience for commercial and retail customers, all for what will be an affordable price." The conversions will be done by an outside vendor but the vehicles will be sold through Chrysler dealers.
It Has Its Grandfather's Face: Saw my first Jeep Commander on the freeway recently. Butt Ugly. The front end reminds me of one of the less-successful AMC Ambassadors from the '67-'68 period. There's a 101-day inventory of these beasts and Jeep is making deals, if you're interested.
Coming Soon? Laser spark plugs. Sounds very ... um ... Futurama.
"The Groupthink Of The Muslim World Is Frightening." Richard Cohen nails it. Discussing the threat to execute Abdul Rahman, the Afghan who converted to Christianity Cohen notes that "with the exception of the (largely) Christian West, the rest of the world has been mostly silent. The Americans have protested, the Brits have protested, the Vatican has protested and so (I assume) have some others. But if there has been a holler of protest from anywhere in the Muslim world, it has not reached my ears. That is appalling."
Cohen continues: "... you can say that these horrors are usually being inflicted by a minority. You say it is a few crazed terrorists of Iraq who are doing the killing. It is not most Iraqis. You can say the same about suicide bombers and torturers and rogue governments, like the one Saddam Hussein once headed. You can take solace in numbers. Most people are like us. Then comes the Rahman case and it is not a solitary crazy prosecutor who brings the charge of apostasy but an entire society."
"... it is not just a single country that would kill a man for his beliefs but a huge swath of the world that would not protest. There can be only one conclusion: They were in agreement. The groupthink of the Muslim world is frightening." I agree.
Quote Of The Day is from George Burns on sex: "It isn't premarital sex if you have no intention of getting married."
Wednesday March 29, 2006
Once Upon A Time ... When I was in college (and dinosaurs still roamed the earth), it was my dream to work at the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan.
The mid-1960s were heady times. Cars were cool, gas was cheap and the future looked bright and Jetson-like. In those days, the Tech Center was The Vatican for car-crazy mechanical engineers. Only the best and the brightest got to work there. I got to visit that Automotive Holy of Holies a couple of times during my corporate career but never fulfilled my fantasy of working there.
I guess I should be glad I didn't. Hundreds of white-collar workers at GM's Tech Center were "escorted to about three dozen conference rooms and told that today is their last day with the automaker."
All part of GM's necessary downsizing, of course. But, cutting people at the Tech Center (some of whom are still probably the best and the brightest) necessarily means cutting development projects. And GM needs to develop new and better products to survive. How will it accomplish this?
Scientologymobile? Jeremy Clarkson calls the 3-series BMW "the Tom Cruise of motoring. The machine you would automatically choose if you wanted a well-made, reasonably sporty four-door saloon. And it was fine. But the next day an Alfa Romeo 159 arrived at my house. Now this is a car you would automatically not choose if you wanted a well-made, reasonably sporty four-door saloon. This is Christopher Walken." Jeremy concludes that the attractive Alfa sedan is "an absolute gem."
Cerebellum DS-19: Independent Sources asks: "Are French brains like Citroens - quirky and low-performing?"
Gate-Crashers: Thomas Sowell writes sagely about illegal immigration. Excerpt: "If Mexican journalists were flooding into the United States and taking jobs as reporters and editors at half the pay being earned by American reporters and editors, maybe people in the media would understand why the argument about "taking jobs that Americans don't want" is such nonsense."
And, if anyone starts mouthing that old 'but Jesus was a refugee' chestnut, read them Kathy Shaidle's well-written article posted on Beliefnet.
As for me, I believe that the operative word here is "illegal". And, before we send 'em back, sentence them to a prison work crew constructing a wall along our southern border. The Israelis can supply working blueprints.
Gate-Crashers II: Part II of Sowell's article is here. Excerpt: "Surplus crops grown with water supplied at the taxpayers' expense and raised by illegal workers can be grown elsewhere with water provided free of charge from the clouds and raised by American workers paid American wages.
Naturally, when the real costs of those crops have to be paid by the farmers who raise them, less will be grown - that is, there will not be as much of a surplus going to waste in government-rented storage bins."
And: "One of the ways of legalizing illegal acts is by the automatic conferring of American citizenship on babies born to illegal aliens in the United States.
The law that made all people born here American citizens made sense when people crossed an ocean and made a commitment to become Americans.
Today, it is just another way of essentially legalizing illegal acts by making it harder to deport those who broke the law."
Gate-Crashers III: On a lighter note, The Onion offers this headline: 'Illegal Mexican Wrestlers Taking Smackdowns American Wrestlers Don't Want.'
2 Gross 2 Visualize: It is rumored that Prince Charles had sex with Barbra Streisand. Reading about it, I was suddenly reminded of the Monty Python 'Twit Of The Year' sketch.
Bad Joke Of The Day: "Doc, I can't stop singing 'The Green, Green Grass of Home.'"
"That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome."
"Is it common?"
"Well, 'It's Not Unusual.'"
PS - Tom Jones was knighted today by Queen Elizabeth.
Quote Of The Day is from Donald Rumsfeld: "Fortunately, history is not made up of daily headlines, blogs on websites, or the latest sensational attack. History is a bigger picture, and it takes some time and perspective to measure accurately."
Tuesday March 28, 2006
Car Sighting: Spotted a yellow 2007 Toyota FJ on a car carrier last week. Coooool machine! From the back it looks 9 feet wide. And menacing. The very next day, I spotted a silver one on another car carrier. The pipeline is being filled.
While driving around the area, last Thursday's sunny weather just lit up Mt. Saint Helens - like a jewel. Gorgeous. Another reason why I live here.
People Are Noticing: I never know who reads this blog. Is it a bunch of other amateur car critics like me, people in mental institutions, automotive-oriented cloistered nuns or what? Well ... last week, I got a very nice e-mail from someone in the automotive business in "the Customer Quality Engineering Division" of a major player. Cool. Hope he keeps visiting.
Excerpt: "I just wanted you to know your impression regarding the results of Consumer Reports reliability study being more "valid" than those of J.D. Power is shared by me and many others in my office."
American Dependency: "Less than 25 percent of BMW's output is sold in the U.S., around 15 percent of Mercedes products are sold there, but nearly 50 percent of Jaguar's production was sold in the U.S. in 2005. If Jaguar is to be permanently stabilized ... some output should be moved to the U.S." Last year, I recommended that Jaguar move production of the S-Type to Ford's Wixom plant in Michigan. Too late now, because Wixom is being shuttered.
And ... As A Bonus Prize - For A Limited Time Only: Scott Ott of Scrappleface claims that "General Motors sweetened its $35,000 buyout deal for 113,000 hourly workers at GM and Delphi, saying that each employee who leaves the companies by the end of March will also get the keys to a brand new 2007 Toyota Sayonara SUV."
Plums To Cantaloupes: Judicial Watch founder Larry Klayman says he may have the first-of-its-kind case - a Broadway dancer fired because her breasts grew too large.
Wasting Money Which Could Be better Utilized Elsewhere: From AutoExtremist: "Word on the studio lots in Hollywood is that GM paid the producers of "Mission Impossible III" $2 million for the "privilege" of having a Pontiac Solstice blown to smithereens in a scene in the upcoming summer blockbuster - this after every other car maker turned them down cold. Now, that's what we call March Madness."
Why pay to promote a product so successful that you sell every one that's produced?
GM = General Morons.
Quote Of The Day is from P. J. O'Rourke: "America is not a wily, sneaky nation. We don't think that way. We don't think much at all, thank God. Start thinking and pretty soon you get ideas, and then you get idealism, and the next thing you know you've got ideology, with millions dead in concentration camps and gulags."
Monday March 27, 2006
Quote Of The Day is from James Lileks on his non-operational cell phone: "I'm sure I'm doing something wrong; the fault could not possibly rest with the cell-phone interface designers, who are, after all, the most highly paid chimps in the software business." And: "I fixed the problem by taking the battery out and putting it back in. Huzzah. Nice if that worked for human organs, too."
Thursday March 23, 2006
GM-Delphi-UAW: For the next few days, smarter (and more highly paid) people than yours truly will be debating the impact of this agreement. My take on its effect on GM's long-term viability - a large, troubled restaurant chain announces that it has created a reformulated topping for one of its desserts and predicts this will somehow solve everything.
Whiner Of The Week: The woman responsible for the Chevy Cobalt - Lori Queen, a GM executive for small cars - complained to Automotive News that the editors and reporters who put together the Consumer Reports auto issue are "the most unprofessional group of people I have ever worked with. They are totally nonobjective and go to great extremes to paint a picture for their paid subscription readers, who primarily buy Japanese cars. They don't consider price or price differences, they don't consider model mix or consumer preferences, they buy the cheapest car they can find (generally), and then base all their opinions on a limited sample."
Queen was apparently upset with the CR's brutal assessment of the Chevrolet Cobalt, which was developed under her watch.
Consumer Reports wrote that while the Cobalt is an improvement over its Cavalier predecessor, "it still falls short of the best small cars. The 2.2 liter engine is spirited but noisy and relatively thirsty." Consumers also predicted much-worse-than-average reliability for the Cobalt and found the seats to be uncomfortable.
I spotted a Cobalt on the Freeway last week. As I stared at it, I thought, "Rental car." The Cobalt just has that kind of look. Not good. Sure enough, the little white car got off at the Airport Exit in NE Portland.
Queen's comment about CR buying "the cheapest car they can find" seems typical of the insular Detroit mentality. Asian manufacturers offer base models which seem surprisingly well-equipped compared with Detroit's offerings. As you move upscale with Asian cars, everything comes standard. With pricey Detroit offerings, however, one must still load 'em up with options to get a comparable vehicle. Here's an example:
My car buddy in Pennsylvania just wrote me about one of his friend's experiences when looking at a new Corvette convertible: "Would you believe $60,000 after taxes and delivery added? Now he's shopping for a Mazda Miata!"
Hmmmm. Edmunds.com says I can buy a 2006 Corvette convertible for $51,390 base plus a destination charge of $800. But the "typical" options packages add a whopping $7,085, according to Edmunds. That totals $59,275 - pretty close to that $60,000 figure quoted by my friend.
I think it's outrageous that these high-priced cars come so "stripped" and the options are so expensive. (This isn't just a GM problem - Porsche is guilty of this same practice.) Meanwhile, the 2006 Lexus SC 430 two-seater retractable hardtop costs $61,996 plus a destination charge of $695. 'Typical' options cost $773 - because mostly everything is already "standard" on a Lexus. Or Acura ... or Miata or other fine Japanese cars! And I bet the Lexus is a lot better built than the Corvette or the Cadillac XLR. And the total Lexus price is $63,464 - just slightly above the Corvette and $10-15,000 less than a Cadillac XLR.
Lori Queen should spend less time and energy bitching about Consumer Reports and more time and energy working to improve GM's offerings.
Speaking Of Chevy Rental Cars: Here's an interesting fact - in calendar 2005, fleet sales were slightly more than 50% of Impala sales. Fleet sales of a key competitor, the Toyota Camry, were less than 10% of overall 2005 sales.
Voices In My Head: I tape a lot of television shows so that I can skip the commercials. Therefore, I have just become aware that the voice of the polite little British-accented gecko on the Geico commercials has been replaced by that of an Aussie - who sounds like one of the guys on Globe Trekker.
Who'll do the voiceovers next? Isaac Hayes? "Hello there, children. How are my little crackers doing today? Today's lunch menu is meatloaf with vegetable medley. And children, have you thought about your car insurance?"
Quote Of The Day is from James Lileks: "If carrots are so good for the eyes, why does the pointy end hurt when you stick it in?"
Wednesday March 22, 2006
One Fair Price ... Sometimes: Saturn claims that its pricing policy simply states that every customer gets the same deal on a vehicle. "You know the price that's quoted on the vehicle you're looking at is the same as the last guy who walked in the door," says Brian Brockman, a Saturn spokesman. "The price is not dependent on how well you negotiate." But, some dealers are now adding a $3,000 Gouge to the price of new Saturn Sky roadster.
Saturn loyalists are angry and rightly so. This policy violates the spirit of the original Saturn philosophy. Of course, I'm not sure that there is a 'philosophy' at Saturn anymore. Or at GM either.
Slavic Longings: Dan Neil describes the 2007 Mercedes-Benz GL - that new full-size, 15-mpg sport-utility vehicle - as "a Cadillac Escalade with a hankering for Czechoslovakia." He continues: "Mercedes-Benz executives offer this wholly meritless defense: Many of its customers leave the brand because the company does not offer a full-size SUV that meets their needs, which is to say, a seven-passenger, 17-foot 4x4 with a 9,300-pound towing capacity. At this point in the presentation in Napa Valley last week, execs showed slides of the GL pulling a 30-foot boat. So there you have it: Mercedes' audience of water-skiing polygamists is underserved."
EuroFlunk: Jerry Flint points out the awful track record of European-designed cars in America. "There's no reason that we shouldn't be able to design and build cars for our market profitably, building what our people like, instead of taking a second-best compromise - meaning, the best car we could make out of a car really designed for the European tastes."
More: "My impression is that Americans just don't think much of European design. ... Care to look at the failures? Start with Volkswagen and its Golf, popular in Europe but a flop here.
Go to Ford. The Contour and Mystique were American versions of the European Mondeo. They failed. There is the Ford Focus, a European-designed small car that started moderately well in the U.S. but is seriously slumping.
Go to GM. Remember the Cadillac Catera, an Opel with Cadillac badges, imported here? A flop. How about the Saturn LS, a European platform with a plastic skin, a flop and now gone like Cateras and Contour/Mystique. The Saturn Ion was another of those Euro platforms used here. The most successful of the Global/European platform cars sold here is the Chevy Malibu, the fleet special, which even GM executives say is a design bore."
The Missing Link? A spectacular example of old-tech/new-tech mashup, the Faber-Castell TR3 featured a calculator on one side and a slide rule on the other. It was manufactured in 1975. (I still have my trusty Post Versalog slide rule - in its original leather case.)
Anorexics Sleep Cheap: A German hotel charges guests by the pound for an overnight stay.
Quote Of The Day is from Jeremy Clarkson who opines that the gearshift on the new Fiat Grande Punto "is the sort of thing that you'd expect to find on an American muscle car or a 19th century railway locomotive."
Tuesday March 21, 2006
Car Sighting: On a sunny Sunday afternoon, I spotted a Ford GT (red with white stripes) and Oregon plates at a stop sign in rural Brush Prairie about a mile from my house. Wow! The car looks as good in person as it does in photos.
I also saw a red Ford Fusion parked at the curb in downtown Vancouver - first one I've seen outside of an auto show. I still don't care for the taillights but the chrome front end looks cool and distinctive. At least the car looks like something besides all those other anonymous-mobiles out there.
Ford Fusion - the Un-Toyota.
Pocket Change: GM checked the pockets of all of its corporate trousers and found that another $2,000,000,000 was missing. Better sew up the holes, boys.
In a prepared statement, Rick Wagoner commented: "We thought there was a lot of money located behind the couch in the break room at the Wentzsville Missouri truck assembly plant but we checked and it's not there. We now believe that most of the two billion got stuffed in the rear seat cushions of some of the last Oldsmobile Aleros that came off our Michigan assembly line. If you're an Alero owner, I'm requesting that you remove the rear seat and check. Please mail anything you find to us, marking it to my attention. We'll happily reimburse you for the postage costs."
I'm glad I'm not a shareholder in this bozo company. Oops, I own shares of the Vanguard 500 Index Fund - so I guess I am. Damn.
Trading Up: This is a very telling story ... a Ford dealer with a Lexus franchise is giving up on Fords after a 48-years in Greenwich, Connecticut. The owners say they need more room for their fast-growing Lexus operation - the Ford store has lost $600,000 over the past two years as its annual sales have declined to 400 vehicles. Lexus sales in 2005 reached the 2,400 mark. One of the owners was cofounder of the 1,700-member Ford Dealers Alliance.
Greenwich has two Rolls-Royce dealerships and two Ferrari dealerships. Land is expensive - a 2.5-acre parcel with an office building near the Lexus dealership recently sold for $99 million!!
Planned Obsolescence: Doug Flint explains why so many of the tools in my various tool boxes are now useless. Excerpt: "My guess is that somewhere around 1965 every nut, bolt, and fastening device that would ever be needed to assemble a car had been invented and perfected: The six-point (hex) bolt. The twelve-point bolt in either fine or coarse thread in a variety of strengths and numbers that could cover virtually every application, including where spatial limitations prevented the use of a conventional wrench or socket. The good old Allen-head bolt (an internal six-point) such as the type that served my '79 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle and all the Ikea furniture I ever bought.
Unfortunately the inventing didn't stop there, but for good reason. Can you picture the scenario?
Chief of 500-man Fastening Devices department talking to head of company: "Sir, I believe we have invented every fastening device you will ever need."
Head of company: "Excellent, Perkins. You and all of your men are fired."" (permalink)
Rich Man; Poor Man: Tim Harford explains why some countries are so poor. Excerpt: "There's no point investing in a business because the government will not protect you against thieves. (So you might as well become a thief yourself.) There's no point in paying your phone bill because no court can make you pay. (So there's no point being a phone company.)"
Quote Of The Day is from Eric Hoffer: "Man is a luxury loving animal. Take away play, fancies, and luxuries, and you will turn man into a dull, sluggish creature, barely energetic enough to obtain a bare subsistence. A society becomes stagnant when its people are too rational or too serious to be tempted by baubles."
Friday March 17, 2006
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Thursday March 16, 2006
The Trouble With Detroit (Part 946): Veteran auto scribe Jerry Flint notes that "suppliers are an important part of technological advance, but in the U.S., Detroit has squeezed them unmercifully and helped drive dozens of these companies into bankruptcy."
Cashin' Out: Dan Neil weighs in on car manufacturer 'relationships': "Suzuki's profile was raised a little more this week when it was announced that GM was cashing out its stake in the company to generate $2 billion in sorely needed hard currency. However, according to Mr. Suzuki himself, the company's strategic alliance with GM would continue. This seems a little like pledging a strong, future-oriented partnership with the Ottoman Empire, but there you go."
Hey! That's Not Faint Praise: Jeremy Clarkson refers to the Volvo C70 as possibly "the most disappointing car in the history of the universe." But it does have "the most impressive sound system since Jerry Garcia stopped being grateful and started being dead."
Surprising Statistic: eBay's 'Buy-It-Now' feature accounts for more than 30% of the firm's revenues.
Flat As A ... I don't know how I missed this item. Rachel Corrie was a U.S. flag-burning, pro-Palestinian activist from Olympia, WA. In the Gaza Strip, she laid in front of an Israeli Defense Force Cat D-9 bulldozer as a protest and got flattened by it when the operator didn't see her. This happened in 2003.
Well, last week, the 'Rachel Corrie Memorial Committee of Victoria' had a "memorial pancake breakfast" (!!!!) at Denny's Restaurant. No, this is not something from The Onion.
The War On Mayonnaise: It's hard to spell and idiot restaurants slather it on everything, even when you ask them not to. Even on things which are already full of almost-too-much flavor, like a large Patty Melt. Excerpt: "What is needed is a total ban (on mayo). Decriminalize crystal meth and crack, and tax the living snot out of people who use them, until they turn their brains to jell-o and mercifully (for us) expire - marine biologists could probably use the extra source of bait to attract sharks for study."
I wish to point out that mayonnaise is such a dreadful product that, in County Mayo Ireland, you can't even buy the stuff.
Headline Of The Day is from The Onion: 'Conspiracy Theorist Has Elaborate Explanation For Why He's Single' An 18-page manifesto that explains Ericsson's theory in more detail is available for free download from his website.
Exchange Of The Day ... is from the old Hollywood Squares. Peter Marshall: "What did the Lone Ranger always leave behind when he left town?" Paul Lynde: "A masked baby."
Wednesday March 15, 2006
GM Goin' Belly Up? Yeah, I know that Robert Farago has been predicting it in 'The Truth About Cars' for over a year ... but I had occasion to talk separately with three car buddies last week. One is a ex-employee of a Tier I supplier to Detroit. All own or have owned their own businesses.
We're all about the same (geezer) age, so we've seen a lot of large and well-known companies declare bankruptcy in our working lifetimes - Penn Central, Studebaker, Texaco, Atari, United, Kmart, Macy's, Braniff, Polaroid, U.S. Steel, National Gypsum, TWA, Allis-Chalmers, Johns-Manville, Lionel, Nucorp Energy, Continental Airlines, Southland Corp., PanAm, Owens Corning and many more.
All of us are convinced that GM is well on its way to bankruptcy. Forget sophisticated cash flow analysis, reading the details of 10-K filings, etc. It's a gut feel - based on lack of good product, GM's severe and continuing misreading of the market, the number of GM cars seen in rental lots, the substantial off-price deals being offered on most models ('March Madness' being the latest) and the lack of interest by any of our friends in owning anything made by GM. Oh, and the fact that it's trying to sell GMAC - its most profitable entity - is a big signal, too.
Another tip-off is the bankruptcy of several key Tier I suppliers. And the reported financial losses of other Tier I vendors that have not (yet) gone Chapter 11. The bankrupt suppliers will soon force price increases on GM - a company which can't seem to raise its own prices in the marketplace because of low perceived value by prospective customers. That makes the squeeze tighter.
1) GM's top management (not just Rick Wagoner but everyone from Roger Smith forward)
2) the UAW (and GM's top management for caving into the UAW's ever-escalating demands over the last 25 years)
3) every senior GM marketing, brand and product manager from 1980 forward.
We bemoan all of the major and costly misfires by GM over the past quarter century, including the mid-80s look-alike sedans, the Cimarron and Catera, the shrunken Cadillac fiasco of 1986, the death of Oldsmobile, the demise of the Rivera/Toronado/Eldorado trio, the neutering of Pontiac, the death and now-too-late attempted revival of Camaro and Firebird, the 'new' and now-dying GTO, the irrelevance of the Buick brand, the unfulfilled promises of the Saturn brand, etc., etc.
If GM goes 'aggressively' bankrupt, we think that it can probably cancel and/or renegotiate all UAW contracts, cut off all weak dealers (GM has too many and needs to ditch at least 40% of them), close factories, shed models and dump its weakest brands.
The fact that Ford has alluded to a possible 'major competitor' (read GM) bankruptcy and the consequences of such an event for FoMoCo in its own 10-K filing is another sign that Chapter 11 is just around the corner for GM. A GM bankruptcy could force Ford into bankruptcy as well and wrest control of the company from the Ford family. Why? Well, Ford is weak to begin with and if GM sheds some of its overhead and obligations, it could cut prices even deeper in a quest for increased sales. Ford couldn't respond competitively without shedding baggage as well. The only way to do so would be for Ford to declare Chapter 11, we believe.
Because DaimlerChrysler is foreign-owned and it is tough (for us) to make head-or-tail from European financial statements and accounting practices, it is difficult for us to say how DC would respond. Or fare.
One of my car buddies - he's been a loyal Ford man for 40+ years - remarked, "Because of warranty issues that might result from these bankruptcies, I can't - in good conscience - recommend a Ford or GM product to anyone. It hurts me to do this but I'm telling people to check out Honda and Toyota if they're thinking of a new car."
Sadly, I have to agree with him. (permalink)
Interesting Factoid ... courtesy of Mark Steyn. ''Anyone who's spent any time in the Muslim world cannot help but be struck by its profound ignorance. The famous United Nations statistic from a 2002 report - more books are translated into Spanish in a single year than have been translated into Arabic in the last thousand."
Quote Of The Day is from the late Johnny Carson: "For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow but phone calls taper off."
Tuesday March 14, 2006
Happy Birthday ... to my dad. He would have been 87 today.
Market Share: A report in Bloomberg notes that "GM's market share on the West Coast is 16.3 percent, compared with 25.5% nationally (excluding sales to rental fleets), according to CNW Marketing Research Inc. Ford has a 14.3% share in the region, which comprises California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Nevada, compared with 16.7% nationally.
Both U.S.-based automakers are below their national average on the East Coast, and are disproportionately strong in the Midwest."
In 1978, we drove across country - relocating from New Jersey to Oregon. I piloted a VW Scirocco, pulling our VW Beetle behind with a tow bar. Once we passed Chicago, I felt pretty lonely - very few 'furrin' cars. It seemed like every vehicle in Nebraska was a big Ford LTD. Or Chevy Caprice.
One of the surprises about Oregon was the large number of import vehicles on the road. I had visited California many times and was always amazed at the plethora of Toyotas and Hondas on the freeways. But I didn't realize that the Japanese had such a strong presence in the Pacific Northwest. The NW dealer network for foreign brands was potent and entrenched. Once exposed to these imports, people liked them and came back for more.
Detroit seemed oblivious to what was happening, even though it is common knowledge that trends often begin in Southern California. The American car producers never made a cogent competitive response to the West Coast invasion of the '70s and now, they've basically lost the West. I suspect the current West Coast market share numbers are a predictor of future nationwide numbers.
I Have A Soft Spot For Jaguar ... but, after reading a report from Gunnar Heinrich, I worry about the brand's viability.
Heinrich writes that "according to British regulatory filings, Jaguar lost $1.1 billion in '03. The British marque’s losses for '04 and '05 easily match - if not exceed - that figure, capping a sixteen-year flow of red ink. Jaguar’s highly-touted plans to sell 200k cars a year? Gone. Last year, Jaguar built 120k cars. US dealers were flooded with 21k off-lease cars; these three-year-old Jags retained just 40% of their value."
Looking Back: Police charged an Australian driver with "reversing further than necessary" after he traveled backwards for more than 25 miles along one of the country's busiest highways.
The Creature From The Deep: Scientists have discovered a strange new crustacean 900 miles south of Easter Island at a depth of 7,540 feet. Details and photo here. Yes, it has a Latin name but - given the ecru 'feathers' - I predict that non-scientists will refer to it as the Liberace Lobster.
Worst President Ever: Steve Hayward reviews Jimmah Carter's latest book: "It is difficult, when confronting the miasma of tired bromides strung together in this book, to point to a single childlike sentimentality that fully expresses the smallness of Jimmy Carter's soul, but this one comes close: "(Rosalynn and I) have been amazed at the response of people to these new latrines, especially in Ethiopia, and to learn that the primary thrust for building them has come from women."
If Carter merely confined himself to digging latrines in countries that lack the common sense to dig them for themselves, he would deserve many of the public accolades he receives. But he trades on his humanitarian good works to burnish his image as an elder statesman, brimming with oracular profundity. The result, as in his current book, is as empty and embarrassing as the naked emperor's new clothes."
Bad Pun Of The Day: If you don't pay your exorcist, you get repossessed.
Monday March 13, 2006
Car Sightings: There is a back road shortcut I take in unincorporated Clark County. It has lots of hills and occasional glimpses of Mt. St. Helens but offers one flat farmland area with an intersection devoid of trees. The intersection reminds me of rural Kansas or Nebraska.
As I approached it heading east, I spotted a sleek vehicle approaching the southbound stop sign. "Whatdahellizzat?" I wondered. As I got closer, I realized it was a 2006 Civic Si coupe. What an awesome car - one of the best-looking on the road. (I don't particularly care for the tacked-on rear wing, however.)
The next day, I was standing in downtown Portland, waiting for the light to change. A Buick Rendezvous pulled up and stopped. I've never cared for the awkward lines of this SUV but, seeing it in profile, the front (forward of the windshield) looks to me like a pig's snout.
Bouncing For Buicks; Jumping For Jaguars: This is a certifiable, desperate act of marketing bankruptcy - for any car dealer just plain out of ideas. Excerpt: "Children will make their parents shop for cars." Riiiight.
Sign Of End Times: In another case of political correctness run amok, "toddlers in Oxfordshire (UK) are not permitted to sing "Baa baa, black sheep" as generations of children have learnt to do. Instead, they must sing "Baa baa, rainbow sheep". In keeping with the new approach, teachers at the nurseries have reportedly also changed the ending of Humpty Dumpty so as not to upset the children and dropped the seven dwarfs from the title of Snow White."
Fair Question! John Derbyshire asks, "If all human beings desire good government, why do the people of Washington DC keep electing Marion Barry?"
If You Click On Nothing Else Today ... click here to see some absolutely amazing chalk sidewalk drawings by the very talented Julian Beever.
And Now, A Message From Albert .... You can create your own Einstein message here.
Useless New Product Of The Week: Presenting 'The Hug Jacket.' I wonder if they have one that's tailored slightly differently, called 'The Cop-A-Feel Jacket'? It would probably sell better.
Quote Of The Day is from Pistolero, a poster on Ace of Spades: "Winners never quit and quitters never win. But, if you never win and you never quit, you're an idiot."
Friday March 10, 2006
Once Upon A Time ... there was a car industry in a mighty, industrialized nation.
But the business landscape was changing and once-great companies were losing strength. And market share. One firm's "previous strengths now became weaknesses. ... old machinery could only produce old-fashioned products." Its "much-vaunted distribution system ... (i.e. - dealers) ... now also proved to be a weakness."
A new competitor came from overseas, with new and improved designs - better products. This foreigner's home country nurtured creative, entrepreneurial businesses and offered a more favorable tax structure. This helped free up funds for new product development.
The new import caused the most prosperous vehicle manufacturer to suffer a 75% drop in sales. Every other established factory in the nation suffered, too. Within 15 years, "every leading brand name had either disappeared or had fallen into new ownership, mostly multinational companies. Many of the closures were inevitable, as lack of investment had rendered production plant obsolete or ranges impossibly outdated."
Is this story about Detroit, GM and the Toyota invasion? No ... (more >>>)
Exchange Of The Day ... is from the old Hollywood Squares. Peter Marshall: "Besides a baton, what did Xavier Cugat always have in his hand when he lead his orchestra?" Paul Lynde: "Arthritis."
Thursday March 9, 2006
Getting Hammered: Dana Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week. This is a very big deal. This huge, century-old company manufactures heavy components for cars and trucks, including frames, brakes, axles and driveshafts. Both Ford and GM are major Dana customers. Worldwide sales are over $9 billion and Dana has over 46,000 employees, 19,000 of which are in the U.S. (The bankruptcy filing covers only Dana and its 40 U.S. subsidiaries. The company's foreign subsidiaries are unaffected.)
Dana will be closing plants, and moving production to "lower cost locations". Dana has been facing increasing pressure from big car makers to sell them parts at lower prices. That coupled with rising energy costs that are driving up the costs of raw materials and driving down demand for gas guzzling sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks have put auto parts suppliers in a financial bind.
When auto companies like Ford, Chrysler and GM spend all their time hammering vendors for price-cuts and other concessions, the end result is substandard suppliers - broke, corner-cutters or just-plain outta business. Or all three. Maybe this is why Detroit continues to be plagued with quality problems.
Dana-Jag Connection: Ray, my good friend and fellow car nut from Pennsylvania, has pointed out that "the supplier of the complete independent rear suspension, limited slip differential, "U" joints, hub assemblies, and driveshafts of all IRS Jaguars since the E-Type is none other than Dana-Spicer, the UK division of Dana Corp. "Spicer" made the solid rear axles and differentials for the XK-120, XK-140, and XK-150 sports cars, the C- and D-types and the various saloons."
Faint Praise: Jeremy Clarkson writes somewhat lukewarmly about the new XK: "The Jaguar is not a car from which you walk away saying "I have got to have one even if it means cutting out my own tongue." It's not a car that stirs the soul and breaks your heart."
Bad News About The Blue Oval: Peter DeLorenzo (aka The AutoExtremist) writes about Ford: "Word is that the Mustang mid-cycle enhancement has been pushed back by one year, even though most of the design and engineering work was wrapped up in February. Even worse, several design programs at Ford have either been scaled back or cancelled, indicating fewer new models and subsequently - more programs getting old in the 2008-2011 time frame."
A Peek Inside The Hospital Biz: An article in last week's Columbian (Vancouver, WA) reports that Southwest Washington Medical Center's "charity write-off added up to a record $15.4 million in 2005, an increase of 17 percent over 2004. ... Adding in other billing "shortfalls" such as under payment for Medicaid services costing $11.6 million, unpaid bad debt of $25.3 million and support for community health-related service programs such as the Free Clinic, its total "community contribution" swells to approximately $56.7 million."
Hospitals throughout the nation are reporting similar trends. "To make up for the dollars lost to charity and from under-payment, hospitals are raising room rates and other fees for those that have insurance."
The not-for-profit medical center generated operating revenue of $384.2 million last year. $384.2mm minus $56.7mm = $327.5mm - that's the real cost of operating this non-profit, if there were no 'freebies'. Therefore, the hospital must 'overprice' all of its services (to you and me) by 17.3% to cover deadbeats and charity cases.
This is just another indicator that the entire medical care system is broken and must be fixed. (The above information is only a single aspect/issue of the problem.) National health insurance, as Canada's experience has demonstrated, is not the answer. One proposed solution is to funnel those unable or unwilling to pay into a lower tier of very basic health care. Right now, they receive the same treatment as paying patients. That's not right.
The Dark Side Of Tommy K.: Thomas Kinkade (aka - Painter of Dreck) claims to be a devout Christian who has brought "God's light" into people's lives. As this exposé in the LA Times indicates, he doesn't seem to be very Christ-like in his personal habits. He is, by some accounts, a boorish lout and a drunk who pees on Disney statues and in elevators, and who fondles women without their permission. Former employees have said they often went with Kinkade to strip clubs and bars, where he frequently became intoxicated and out of control.
Former gallery owners allege that Kinkade allowed them to sink in order to drive down the stock price, so he could buy back his company's shares at a bargain basement price - a charge the artist and his lawyer have denied. The company's stock plummeted from a high of nearly $25 a share to less than $3. Kinkade, who took his company public in 1994, bought it back in 2004 for $4 a share.
I've never thought very highly of Tommy K.'s work, as you'll find out by reading my post of 12/7/05.
Meanwhile his images adorn air fresheners, night lights, teddy bears, toys, tote bags, pillows, umbrellas and La-Z-Boy loungers, which one retailer's ad describes as "something not merely to be acquired, but collected - like fine art itself."
And the money from all this trite crap keeps rollin' in Tommy's direction.
Weather Report: It's dark skies and pouring rain around here. It's quite different in Minneapolis ... James Lileks writes, "Not a jot of snow remains on the ground outside. The sky is the color of freshly asphyxiated Caucasian."
Bad Pun Of The Day: Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other, "Does this taste funny to you?"
"I need to take the gloves off for a moment, you supercilious jerk." Neal Boortz responds to a liberal academic (who has never had a real job) about her claim that moneyed America "wanted your gated communities to keep out the poor, to protect yourselves from crime, to separate yourselves from undesirables."
It's a great read and it's right here - just scroll down a little.
Quote Of The Day is from Eric Hoffer: "Retribution often means that we eventually do to ourselves what we have done unto others."
Tuesday March 7, 2006
Brokeback Solstice: Newark Star Ledger movie reviewer Kathleen O'Brien writes, "If, somewhere in Hollywood, there were a contest for the movie with the most film awards but the least number of actual viewers, 'Brokeback Mountain' would win. So many awards, so few viewers."
This made me think of the Pontiac Solstice. All the buff magazines praise it, yet sales of this low-priced roadster can't seem to equal those of the pricier Nissan 350Z or the even-pricier Corvette.
There seems to be a strong demand for the Solstice - 'Solstice sells in 14 days while Crossfire sits for 302' - but the manufacturing output remains low. I wonder why?
How Reliable? I spent part of last weekend pouring over the April 2006 Auto Issue of Consumer Reports magazine. CR and its readers don't always look at cars through an enthusiast's eyes. Nevertheless, this dispassionate viewpoint provides credible information. CR has a large database for reliability data, too - over 1,000,000 survey respondents. I have always put far more stock in CR's rankings than those of J.D. Power.
• Some of the CR's reliability results were surprising. The make with the worst reliability was Mercedes-Benz, followed by Cadillac, Volkswagen, Pontiac and Volvo. The most reliable vehicles came from Lexus, followed by Toyota, Acura, Honda and Infiniti - although the Infiniti QX56 SUV is, apparently, a real dog.
• Reliability trends generally continue as vehicles age. The Bad get Worse. Eight year-old American cars have about twice as many problems as a Honda or Toyota - almost the same ratio as when new.
• It is disheartening to see so many high-priced new vehicles labeled with the 'Much Worse Than Average' predicted reliability tag. They include the BMW 7-Series, Cadillac SRX, Land Rover LR3, Lincoln Navigator and LS, Mercedes CLK, E-Class and S-Class, Porsche Cayenne, Saab 9-3 and Volvo XC90.
• The Saturn Relay and Saturn Vue are also rated 'Much Worse Than Average'. Anyone remember when Saturn was touted as GM's well-built Toyota Killer?
• Chevy's 'This Car Will Save The Company' Cobalt is also designated as 'Much Worse Than Average'. As is the Colorado pickup. And the Chevrolet Uplander. And the revised Corvette which sadly, is full of bugs. (The last version of the Vette was rated 'Average' in reliability.)
Be warned - after reading the magazine from cover to cover you will be struck with an overwhelming desire to buy something Japanese.
The New Word Of The Year ... is 'Crunchy Con'. As far as I can tell, these folks are political conservatives who drive Swedish cars, use fancy-branded olive oil to cook, make their own bread and mulch. I am more of a 'Snobby Con': I drive a Jaguar, buy whole wheat artisan bread and have a man who mulches for me. I consider branded olive oil to be a little too 'Godfather II', however.
Jonah Goldberg doesn't think much of the whole Crunchy Con movement, referring to it as 'Crunchy Mush'.
It's A Small World: Here is an amazing, detailed model of Disney's Main Street USA made from Legos. More photos here.
For Serious Multi-Taskers: A toilet seat guitar.
Quote Of The Day is from Ralph Peters in the New York Post: "The reporting out of Baghdad continues to be hysterical and dishonest. There is no civil war in the streets. None. Period. Terrorism, yes. Civil war, no. Clear enough?"
Quote Of The Day II is from James Lileks: "I found a tie I liked, which is rare; most ties are ugly enough to make you suspect they're actually tags used by the fashion industry to track the migratory patterns of people with no taste."
Monday March 6, 2006
Soapy Saturday: It was sunny and almost warm (highs in the 50s), so I broke down and washed both cars. They were full of road dirt; the Avalon had wheel wells packed with mud, following a trek through a construction zone. A thorough and intense exterior cleaning was carried out.
The results were gratifying - two sparkling machines. And I did both back-to-back without running out of breath. A good sign ... cardiac-wise.
Diesel = Metric: Christopher Dwight has penned an interesting article titled: 'Hybrid vs. Diesel: A Tale of Two Technologies'. Chris remains optimistic that Americans will embrace diesel cars. I do not think this will happen.
Diesel fuel is very much like the metric system. Scientists praise it, Europeans embrace it and writers extol its logical benefits. But we Americans have tried it a time or to and found it weird, inconvenient and a general pain-in-the ass. Therefore, we are not interested.
And - speaking of weird and inconvenient - no, we don't want to learn to speak Esperanto either. (We don't care how logical it is.) Thank you very much.
Go To The Carnival: Don't forget to bookmark Mark Tapscott's website. He has many good postings thoughout the week but Fridays are extra-special because that's the day he posts the Carnival of Cars - a must-read.
Another Death Knoll For Passenger Train Service: An Amtrak employee has been fired after helping a tipsy passenger. Rebecca Gettleman wrenched her right arm and scratched her wrist during the incident. Before she could set foot back on Amtrak property, her bosses mailed her a letter informing her that she was being brought up on Railroad Labor Act safety charges - namely, allowing herself to get hurt in helping the passenger.
Only at Amtrak will good customer service put your job in jeopardy.
Support Group Needed: Mark Daniels reveals his battle with Cliff Claven Disease. Claven quote: "If you were to go back in history and take every president, you'd find that the numerical value of each letter in their name was equally divisible into the year in which they were elected. By my calculations, our next president has to be named Yellnick McWawa."
I believe that Google has replaced Cliff Claven. For details, go here and scroll down.
"Today's Insurgents Are Lousy Shots." Here's an worth-a-read report on David Frum's visit to Iraq.
Headline Of The Day ... is from The Onion: 'Modern-Day John Henry Dies Trying To Out-Spreadsheet Excel 11.0'
Exchange Of The Day ... is from the old Hollywood Squares. Peter Marshall: "When you pat a dog on its head, he will usually wag his tail. What will a goose do?" Paul Lynde: "Make him bark!"
Thursday March 2, 2006
Car Sighting: Took an overnight trip north to Seattle - and got 28.8 mpg with our Toyota Avalon at freeway speeds of 70-80 mph. On the way home, I passed a camouflaged minivan - Mazda MPV-sized - on I-5 just north of Chehalis, WA. It was a white van with front and rear black brassieres. It had crisp, butch, Dodge Caliber-like lines with a slopey front end and vertical taillights. It appeared to have Michigan manufacturer's plates although the license plate was obscured by netting, which I'm sure is illegal. I had a clear view of the door handles and wasted half an hour on the web looking for similar handles. No luck.
I have no idea what make it was and why it was in the Pacific Northwest. Such things are usually seen in Arizona. Maybe the driver headed north from Albuquerque, got lost and was too stubborn to ask for directions!
Car Sighting II: I was stopped in traffic next to a black Pontiac G6 sedan last week. It's a good-looking car. I think if it had a Honda or Toyota badge on it, the G6 wold sell like hotcakes. Maybe Pontiac should offer a no-badge, 'Anonymous-Option' to improve sales.
Speaking of Pontiac, a good friend of mine hitched a ride in a new Solstice and was impressed with the "white convertible with a tan canvas top, a normally-aspirated Ecotec engine, and a manual transmission. A well-made car. Reasonably efficient. Clean interior design. Controls "fall readily to hand." A bit tight for one as rotund as I, but still comfortable. The seats have sufficient travel to accommodate six-footers. The interior is a clone of the early Porsche Boxster. The sound system is a killer. The exhaust note is ... lacking. Spring will come soon and I've been promised a drive on dry roads then. I wish Pontiac well! The rest of GM will go to hell in a hand basket, but I hope Pontiac survives. Along with the Corvette, and certain Cadillacs. The rest of GM is ... boooooring."
The local newspaper carried a bland and superficial report on the 2006 Geneva auto show with a photo of the new Opel GT. It is a Solstice/Sky clone. The Solstice is the best-looking of the trio and the GT name is unfortunate as this model does not carry the profound and stunning styling of the original (mini-Corvette) GT from the 1960s. I wonder if the GT will be produced at the Delaware factory, making it the first American-made Opel?
"Can't We All Just Try To Get Along?": There seems to have been a major-league pissing contest between Robert Farago (The Truth About Cars) and Marty Padgett (The Car Connection). Here's my viewpoint ... both websites are free. Read one. Or both. Or neither. It's not like you're paying money for a monthly subscription. I read TCC for news and for Doug Flint's column. I read TTAC for car reviews and opinions.
Personally, I think Farago is a better writer than Padgett. (I thought Padgett's Jaguar XK road test was especially fawning and lame.) So what? That's only my opinion. Yours may be different. That's fine, too. I wish both men all the best. After all, they're both part of the EB - Enthusiast Brotherhood.
By the way, the TCC/TTAC comments discussion drifted into which car sites had better Alexa rankings. Frankly, I'm suspicious of Alexa. Its data sometimes conflict with server log data from several websites which I monitor. Nevertheless, while The Car Connection handily beats both Left Lane News and TTAC, all are dwarfed by the rankings of Edmunds and Autoblog. Those sites even surpass AutoWeek's website. As for The View Through The Windshield, it is far, far lower than any of the aforementioned sites in the Alexis pecking order. Which is fine with me.
On a related subject, here's an article on a few automotive bloggers.
Finally, congrats to TCC whose Wackiest Street Names Contest got picked up as a story by the Associated Press. By the way, the winner was 'Psycho Path'. Runner-up was 'Divorce Court'. Heh-heh.
February Vehicle Sales: Honda was the big winner in an otherwise ho-hum February for automakers, posting a 9 percent increase in U.S. sales over a year ago on the strength of its redesigned Civic sedan. Honda's car sales climbed 11 percent in February, with the Civic posting a 37 percent sales increase, while truck and sport utility sales rose 5 percent.
Toyota's sales rose 2 percent in February - car sales dropped 3 percent as buyers waited for the redesigned Camry to hit the market in March. GM's sales of domestic brands fell 3 percent, as car sales dipped 14 percent. Sales of trucks and SUVs rose 5 percent as GM's redesigned Chevrolet Tahoe hit the market. Pontiac Solstice sales were only 1,859 for February. (3,058 units of the far-pricier Corvette were sold. GM sells almost as many Corvettes as Aveos - a surprising fact.) And it seems to have little halo effect for the brand. Overall Pontiac sales slipped by 23%. G6 sales nosedived by 38.4%.
Sales of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury cars climbed 11 percent for the first two months of this year, thanks to the success of Ford's trio of new sedans, the Ford Fusion, Lincoln Zephyr and Mercury Milan. (But overall brand sales for Lincoln and Mercury were down about 14% each. Which doesn't sound so band when you learn that Volvo was off 19.3%. And Jaguar was down a whopping 43%!) Ford's truck and SUV sales fell nearly 7 percent in the same time frame, as sales of SUVs including the Explorer and Expedition dropped 20 percent or more.
DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group sales rose 3 percent, bolstered by a zero-percent financing incentive and fleet sales. Chrysler's car sales climbed 18 percent; truck and SUV sales dropped 2 percent.
Fleet sales made up 41 percent of Ford's February sales. Chrysler's fleet sales were around 37 percent of its sales. GM's sales to corporate and government fleets fell to 25 percent of overall sales, down from 30 percent a year ago.
Invest In A Health Care Mutual Fund: The Vanguard Adviser reports on "a fascinating new study that is being released by economists and actuaries at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. I'd say it gives further support for my long-term contention that investors are well-served by over-weighting health care in their portfolios. The study says that health care, which as a proportion of GDP is now 16%, will rise to 20% over the next 10 years. It's been growing at just under an 8% annualized rate and should continue at more than 7% in the next decade, outpacing economic growth significantly. Interestingly, it's not so much the Baby Boomers who are causing this as the rising cost of care and rising incomes."
Wake Up America! That's what Ben Stein says about our loss of freedom in the U.S.
Quote Of The Day is from Rodney Dangerfield on sex: "Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night."