Updated Plymouth Pix: Posted here.
Hungry Bunny: I read the review of the VW Rabbit by Walter Pabst over at TTAC. I am shocked at what a gas hog this little car seems to be.
The shrimpy Rabbit (only 165 inches long) with a normal, non-muscle car powerplant (165 hp) gets slightly worse EPA gas mileage numbers (22/30) than my wife's much bigger, heavier and more powerful (270 hp) Toyota Avalon (22/31).
If you want a fuel miser, don't buy this hare.
A Whopping Two Percent: Rich Smith of the Motley Fool notes that "Toyota announced that its Georgetown, Kentucky plant has produced the first U.S.-built hybrid Camry sedan and it plans to continue producing the vehicles at the rate of 48,000 per year. Simultaneously, the company projected that in 2007, it will sell a whopping 290,000 hybrids - Priuses, Camrys, Highlanders, and so on - in the U.S. alone."
That's 2% of all annual new car sales.
Not impressed? Consider this - two percent of the U.S. auto market is:
• The entire U.S. market share controlled by Hyundai.
• More than all of the Prius hybrids sold to date in the U.S.
• Roughly twice the number of Toyota's 2005 U.S. hybrid sales.
• Faster growth than the 79% compound three-year growth rate in total U.S. hybrid auto sales.
Diesel Dissin': Jeremy Clarkson describes 'dieselheads' as "like petrolheads only with dirty fingernails and nothing interesting to say." And: "Almost all cars are ruined by the fitment of a diesel engine. In the same way that all wines, no matter how fine, would be ruined if they were served with a splash of crude oil."
Diesel - it's the Esperanto of fuels.
I Hate Change (part 732): I was dozing off to the clipped but excited droning of Fox News but awoke with a start when I heard this, "Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the state of Pennsylvania."
What? This can't be true. Pennsylvania is a huge state with an incredibly large industrial base - all those chemical plants and refineries on the Delaware River, the big coal fields near Scranton and the multitude of giant steelmakers (U.S. Steel, Bethlehem Steel, et al).
At least that's how I perceived it when I was growing up there. And my wife's 1953 World Book Encyclopedia confirms my ancient perception: Iron and steel were the biggest industries (Pennsylvania was the nation's largest producer of pig iron), followed by industrial and electrical machinery - think of Westinghouse making all those transformers. Also mentioned are shipbuilding, hatmaking, textiles and the brewing of beer.
In 1953, more locomotives and rail cars were produced in Pennsylvania than anywhere else on earth.
Pennsylvania led all other states in coal production; anthracite was hauled to major distribution centers along the Pennsylvania Railroad's gigantic, magnificent Horseshoe Curve in Altoona. The Pennsy was once the largest railroad in the world.
It's now 2006 and everything has changed. The mighty industrial giants of yore have morphed into something else. Or moved. Or shrunk. Or went broke. Or disappeared.
Wal-Mart is indeed now the largest employer in the state of Pennsylvania. The runner-up is the U.S. Postal Service, followed by the City of Philadelphia, School District of Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University, Department of Public Welfare, U.S. Navy and United Parcel Service.
Not a manufacturer among them. Sigh. I feel lost.
Axis Of Evil: Marc Shulman notes, "The North Korean regime's obsession with racial purity has led to the killing of disabled infants and forced abortions for women suspected of conceiving their babies by Chinese fathers, according to a growing body of testimony from defectors."
A North Korean doctor, Ri Kwang-chol, who escaped last year, said that babies with deformities were killed soon after birth. Such babies were put to death by medical staff and buried quickly. "There are no people with physical defects in North Korea," Ri said.
The Kim family dictatorship is founded on mystical notions of Korean racial superiority rather than Marxism. Juche - Kim's dogma of self-reliance - is not a theory but a cult and Kim is worshipped as the leader of a religion.
A religion of Pure Evil.
Rolie Polie Olie, R.I.P.: I just found out that this wonderful kiddie show is gone. I always enjoyed it - the visuals were ingenious with an Art Deco/Art Moderne theme.
James Lileks described Rolie Polie Olie thusly: "A nice robot family living in a 1930s-style world, accompanied by clever 'Little Rascals' style music. Great values, gently taught; the parents were wise and kind, the grandpa lived on a farm (with robot cows); the kids had a black-and-white TV, but no computers. An utterly unique world like nothing else in kid's entertainment. Naturally, it's been canceled."
In the entire history of television (a short history - not in the same league with, say, the Great Pyramid or York Minster), the best children shows have always been the ones which also appealed to adults.
Oprah Odyssey: Oprah and her 'friend', Gayle, have been touring the U.S., just like "ordinary" tourists, except that they have an entourage of 20 or so people, back-up vehicles, multiple video cameras and an armored car full of money. They stopped at the Wig-Wam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona which features concrete tee-pee-shaped units. My wife watched the program and reported that the lady who owned the motel didn't even know who Oprah was.
Gayle didn't like the lack of windows and natural sunlight in the teepee, so they left to seek more conventional lodgings. I was surprised that one of Oprah's minions didn't run into town and buy an thick piece of acrylic and make an all-acrylic door to replace the wooden front door on the wigwam. It would have let lots of sunlight in and placated the apparently-claustrophobic Gayle.
This would have been another marketing opportunity to that business juggernaut known as Oprah. She could have offered a private-branded version of acrylic sheet - Oprahglas. (permalink)
Another Missed Marketing Opportunity: You'd think that the makers of Imodium, the anti-diarrhea pill, would sell a pill for constipation called Modium.
Today's Inspirational Thought: A snooze button is a poor substitute for no alarm clock at all.
Friday October 13, 2006
The Perfect Storm: Remember the message of the movie? Commercial fishing always has its risks but can become deadly when several dangers combine to form a catastrophic situation.
The auto business is also a risky proposition (sailing across an ocean whose bottom is littered with the coral-infested bones of Studebaker, Kaiser, DeLorean and many other corporate vessels) but the merging of five disparate factors is now building to a cataclysmic, virulent climax - The Perfect Storm:
1. Start with a ... (more >>>)
Car Sighting: On Thursday, I spotted a new, metallic-slate Saleen Mustang exiting a gas station at Ridgefield Junction.
Grand Opening - Coming Soon: A recent news story reports that Pope Benedict XVI is planning to do away with Limbo. For those unfamiliar with the concept, Limbo is the place between heaven and hell reserved for babies who die unbaptized. It's also the place for the souls of those who were born before Jesus Christ and therefore, had no chance to be redeemed.
Babies sent to Limbo suffer neither the flames of eternal damnation nor the blessings of heaven. They are just biding their time until the end of the world, when presumably they will be pardoned and go to heaven. Theologians have taught that such children enjoy an eternal state of perfect natural happiness.
The real story here is that the Vatican has sold Limbo to a real estate development company as the site for a new Wal-Mart. Limbo offers a pleasant environment, plenty of parking, a stable yet growing population base and no building code restrictions - ideal for the Walton bunch.
Public Service Announcement: Please read - this may save someone's life. A neurologist says that if he can get to a stroke victim quickly he can totally reverse the effects of a stroke. He said the trick was getting a stroke recognized, diagnosed and getting to the patient within 3 hours.
A bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:
1. Ask the individual to SMILE.
2. Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.
3. Ask the person to SPEAK A SIMPLE COHERENT SENTENCE. (ie: It is sunny out today.)
If he or she has trouble with any of these tasks, call 911 immediately.
How Now Dow? I'm very optimistic about the stock market. I think it's undervalued by 20-30% on a historical basis. Larry Kudlow thinks so, too.
The Dow in 1981 was 800. In 1986, it was at 1,900. By 1991, the Dow reached 3,000; 6,000 by '96. In 2001, it was 8,000; now it's closing in on 12,000. Within the next two years, it will pass the 15,000 mark and will continue its upward pace.
What?! You don't believe this?! Well then, go buy some Dietzgen three-cycle semi-logarithmic graph paper and use an Atomic Tangerine Crayola and a SpiroGraph to do your own freakin' projections.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "The beauty of doing nothing is that you can do it perfectly. Only when you do something is it almost impossible to do it without mistakes. Therefore people who are contributing nothing to society except their constant criticisms can feel both intellectually and morally superior."
Wednesday October 11, 2006
Bad Vehicle Name #563: It's from the Chinese, of course. The Great Wall Motor Co. introduced the Wingle pickup truck at the Auto Guangzhou exhibition. The Wingle's name comes from the combination of Wind and Eagle.
It sounds like a term Kim Cattrall's character in 'Sex and the City' might use. "He brought me flowers and took me out for a fabulous dinner but his Wingle was much too tiny."
They Tried The Same Thing In 1986: Last Friday, the Detroit News reported: "Ford is reinventing Mercury as a niche marque designed to appeal to more women, minorities and shoppers who typically don't consider Ford products."
The '86 Mercury Sable was offered as a "stylish alternative" to the Ford Taurus. It was, apparently, the Softer Side of Ford, intended to ... (more >>>)
Keith Olbermann Really Is Milhouse ... even in bed. A woman who claims she had an unsatisfying one-night stand with Keith Olbermann is getting her sweet revenge - she's launched a blog to warn other women about the acerbic MSNBC commentator-jerk's boorish bedroom habits.
According to a story on Page Six, she says he came to her hotel room and opened a bottle of Merlot which he "spilled all over." Then, when "sexual activity began [in] less than an hour," Olbermann had difficulty.
Later, he piled on excuses as to why he had to leave. "He told me he's an insomniac and that it's hard for him not to sleep in his own bed. He also mentioned he hadn't had 'company' in a while. [He said] he had an early meeting with the Yankees [and] he might be allergic to the pillows in the hotel bed."
And, in a Milhouse Van Houten-ny voice, Olbermann complained that he had forgotten his ear medicine. (permalink)
Ah, Fall: This week has been gorgeous - typically a chilly, slightly-foggy morning with a pleasant, semi-warm sunny afternoon finish.
After a nice ride in my Plymouth - one of the last ones of the season because the dreaded EPA winter-mix fuel is almost upon us, it was nice to sit out on the back deck in the fading afternoon sunlight and gaze upon the greens, yellows and browns while sipping some Timbuktu Big Block Red from a balloon glass.
Good Trade: In 'Shop Class as Soulcraft', Dale Dougherty notes that "Matthew B. Crawford writes in praise of manual labor, lamenting the disappearance of the shop class (and shop teachers) as our culture focuses on developing knowledge workers who supposedly use their heads, not their hands.
He writes: "At the same time, an engineering culture has developed in recent years in which the object is to "hide the works," rendering the artifacts we use unintelligible to direct inspection." Don't believe it? Got to almost any auto showroom and pop the hood. What do you see? A Fisher-Price interpretation of an engine.
Crawford wonders if ... (more >>>)
Voter's Dilemma: Jonah Goldberg received a message from an NRO reader: "So you've hired the Republican Pest Control Co. to get rid of your pests, and 5 years later, you've still got an infestation. Do you:
A) Reflect on how difficult it is to cure and infestation?
B) Hire the Democrat Pest Control Co. whose Yellow Page ad talks about "metaphorically killing 'uninvited guests' in your home with kindness" and "uses only non-lethal traps so that they can be relocated to the flower beds in front of your home"?"
I guess I'll hold my nose and vote for A). Especially if there's a plan to eliminate that little bouffant-haired North Korean roach.
Quote Of The Day: "You know that your landing gear is up and locked when it takes full power to taxi to the terminal."
Friday October 6, 2006
Ever Buy A Car Based On An Ad? I didn't think so. Neither have I. Yes, I like car advertisements and I'll agree that a good one helps build the "brand image" or "buzz" that may pique my interest.
But I don't care how good the ad or television commercial is - if the car is a piece of dreck, I won't be motivated in the least to add it to my shopping list.
For example, in the last few years, GM's ad agencies have produced several clever television spots. Most of the Hummer commercials. The Cadillac spots of a few years back. The 2005 spot where various GM cars rolled off a moving car carrier. But most of the vehicles in those commercials got lukewarm reviews in the motoring press or had poor reliability ratings from Consumer Reports. Therefore, 'thanks but no thanks' from yours truly.
Then there's Slash in the latest VW commercial. Selling cars. Or guitars. Or noise. Or something. Beats me.
Will anyone with even half-a-brain buy a Volkswagen just to get a free guitar?
And ... there's my friend Kris (who once was a loyal Lincoln owner), commenting on Lincoln's new 'Reach Higher' campaign, "OK. I'll get a Lexus."
I've talked with a lot of people; most say they pay little attention to ad content when they decide to buy a car.
Toyota moves cars faster than the Dulcolax Express through the proverbial goose with irritable bowel syndrome, but its ads are generally awful. Most of their stuff looks like the detritus produced by local dealers, talking about Special Deals and Low Financing.
Volvo ads provide a warm fuzzy feeling, not unlike urinating down one's leg. But Volvos don't excite me. Never have. Yes, they're sleeker and sportier now but those '70s, '80s and '90s models always looked like the box that a Saab came in. CAR magazine once described Volvo as "an antique car for antique dealers."
Honda television spots seem few and far between. But Honda has created a loyal following of buyers and repeat buyers.
I don't know if I ever saw one on the road, but the King Midget seemed to be advertised in almost every issue of Popular Mechanics and Mechanix Illustrated in the 1950s and '60s. Those ads didn't seem to do King Motors much good.
Infiniti's media saturation with its 'rocks and twigs' launch campaign did little to sell cars. It languished in the marketplace, and was handily outsold by that other new luxury brand, Lexus.
My point is that people in the motoring press (dead tree and online) put waaaaay too much emphasis on ads. So do auto execs in Detroit.
I wish the Big 2.5 would take some of their ad dollars and spend it making better cars. Now that would start some positive buzz. (permalink)
Car Sighting: On Wednesday afternoon, I spotted a huge, bloated, black, mid-1990s Buick Roadmaster sedan with Washington vanity plates - 'CHUBBIE'!
New Word Of The Week: 'Celebutard' - a blend of celebrity, debutante and retard. It would be used to describe a celebrity noted for displays of stupidity. For example, "Paris Hilton is a celebutard."
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Green-Conscious GE Develops Hybrid Lightbulb'. "The hybrid bulb's structure - slightly more complex than the older filament-and-wire models - features a small, efficient four-cylinder internal-combustion engine at the base of the bulb that powers an electric generator attached to the glass mount. The generator produces electricity that is then fed to the electric motor, which ignites a small flame inside the glass casing. Any excess electricity is used to charge the bulb's 300-volt lead-acid battery, which at full capacity is capable of independently lighting a 60-watt bulb for up to 30 minutes."
Quote Of The Day is from Greg Gutfeld: "People with accents believe that you are the one with an accent."
Wednesday October 4, 2006
It's About Profit: In the past, I've sometimes posted end-of-the-month sales numbers for various car brands and manufacturers. I've decided not to post September sales numbers, because they are probably skewed by heavy discounting by certain manufacturers. (Been to a Chrysler or Dodge dealer lately? Or a Lincoln Mercury store - if you can find one, that is?)
Much more relevant data comes from a report by Harbour Felax Group, an automotive consulting firm on profitability per vehicle. The report concludes that "U.S. automakers face a widening gap in profitability per vehicle compared to their major Japanese rivals because of missed design opportunities, heavy discounting and high labor costs."
The study found that General Motors lost an average of $1,271 for every car and truck it sold in North America last year and Ford lost $451 per vehicle. By contrast, Toyota made a profit of $1,715 per vehicle on average. (Honda earned $1,259 per vehicle.)
Overall, the Detroit-based automakers with a combined profitability gap of $2,400 per vehicle compared to Nissan, Toyota and Honda, the report stated. After all, we're talking about the automotive 'business' here and, in any business, the game is about making a profit - not just making Sales but Profitable Sales. I wrote an article about that very subject a few years back. Titled 'Make A Profit On Everything You Do', it points out the fallacy of 'loss-leaders' and other stupid pricing deals.
The Harbour Felax report notes, "Although U.S. automakers have made progress in quality, they still trail in wringing out costs by sharing components across their line-up, an area where Toyota has surged ahead. Toyota has reduced its worldwide costs by $1,000 per vehicle by simply using unseen components such as air conditioning and heating systems more widely."
Component sharing does not mean "badge engineering". For example, the Toyota Camry, Avalon and Solara share a lot of components and as well as a common platform. Yet, each car has its own very distinctive look - unique side profile, roofline, etc. Meanwhile, the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr (or whatever the hell they're calling it this week) are generally perceived as identical cars with mere grille and trim variations - a classic example of badge engineering.
Laurie Harbour Felax pointed out that "GM had made dramatic improvements this year by easing off such discounts and pulling back from sales to car rental companies, which typically command discounts of $3,000 to $4,000 per vehicle purchased."
Speaking of discounts, I've heard that one can buy a new Lincoln LS for $11,000 off list ... $10,000 off for a Town Car. I've also heard that Chrysler 300Cs and Dodge Magnums are also in giveaway mode at the retail level.
Interesting Stats: I found some water-cooler-worthy factoids in the September auto sales data:
• Lexus outsold Jaguar by 22 fold.
• Saturn now outsells Buick, as does Lexus and Cadillac.
• Cadillac sales surpassed Lincoln's by almost 3 to 1
• Pontiac is now outselling Mercury by almost three-fold.
• Toyota outsold Chevrolet; it outsells Honda by 2 to 1 and Mazda by almost 10-fold.
• Hyundai now sells more vehicles than Mazda and Mitsubishi combined.
"Plunk Your Magic Twanger, Froggie!" I was doing my 20 minutes on the treadmill, passing the time by watching 'The Addams Family' on TV Land. Suddenly, a familiar face appeared on screen, playing a scientist, Professor Altshuler, on the 1965 episode, 'The Addams Family and the Spacemen'.
"Holy cow!" I thought, "It's the French pastry chef from 'The Buster Brown Show' (aka - 'Andy's Gang') from 1955 or so." I watched the credits roll and caught the man's name - Vito Scotti.
It turns out that he was a versatile character actor whose career began in the 1940s and continued until his appearance in the 1995 movie, 'Get Shorty'. Mr. Scotti died in 1996 of lung cancer.
In 'The Buster Brown Show', Froggie the Gremlin was a mischievous rubber frog. He would appear in a puff of smoke whenever Smilin' Ed McConnell (or, later, Andy Devine) would yell, "Plunk Your Magic Twanger, Froggie!" That Gremlin was full of mischief and his schtick was to cause pompous adult guests - usually 'experts' or 'lecturers' of some sort- to follow his suggestions and say or do silly things, like pouring vinegar on themselves, much to the delight of the children in the audience.
Froggy somehow caused his foils to deliriously follow any of his outrageous suggestions. As the pastry chef, Vito's character ended up covered head-to-toe in white flour. Scotti also played an Italian expert, Professor Pastafazool, in another episode.
Vito Scotti appeared in both 'The Addams Family' and 'The Munsters'.
In the movie, 'The Godfather', Scotti also played Nazorine, owner of the pastry shop (pastry ... again!) where Enzo the baker was employed. He makes an brief appearance, asking Vito Corleone for help in preventing Enzo's deportation. Nazorine's daughter and Enzo want to get married.
Mr. Scotti was a short man with many facial expressions and his characters seemed to talk nervously with their hands. But he certainly made his characters memorable. (permalink)
Just In Time For Halloween: "Have good wholesome fun this Halloween by scaring weak liberals with the ghosts of Work, Family, Responsibility, Capitalism, Karl Rove, Halliburton, Rush Limbaugh, Wal-Mart, and Uncle Sam! Check out the Trick (Hillary) and Treat (Coulter) section!"
Why America Is Obese (Reason #289): Presenting ... "Jimmy Dean Pancakes and Sausage on a Stick - Chocolate Chip Flavor!" Just clicking on the link will increase your chances of heart attack or stroke.
Bad Pun Of The Day: Dancing cheek-to-cheek is really a form of floor play.
Monday October 2, 2006
More Muslim Anger: Dyslexic Muslims are angered and confused by Pope and spinach headlines. Protesters burned an effigy of Popeye. (hat tip - The People's Cube)
Breaking News! From Broken Newz: 'GEICO Lizard To Be Deported'.
Hey, it's already happened to the Taco Bell Chihuahua.
Quote Of The Day is from Jeremy Clarkson on Camilla Parker-Bowles: "People often criticize her because she's approaching 60. But they forget that Princess Diana was approaching 120 when she went into that tunnel." Clarkson later remarked that Camilla's personal make up artist "was known as 'Ken the plasterer'".