Wednesday January 17, 2007
Suddenly It's 1948: My good friend and fellow car nut, Ray, has informed me that new BMW automobiles no longer have a dipstick to check oil levels in their cars. Two of his friends have Bimmers ('06 BMW 3 series and '07 BMW 7-series) - both are dipstick-free. He writes, "Apparently, the computer now informs you when routine servicing is needed."
I'm shocked about this. I still check my oil regularly (level, color and feel). I also check and clean my engine compartment once or twice a year. It's a good way to spot incipient leaks and look for loose connections of any kind. And, it's as close as you can get to 'tinkering' on today's new-fangled vehicles.
I have always thought of BMW as an enthusiast's car but maybe BMW's new target market is now upscale short-termers - lease-happy poseurs who never open the hood.
The '48 Tucker was originally designed to hold a "factory-sealed motor." When something went wrong, you'd take the car to the dealer and they'd swap engines. Today's cars can't be fixed or even diagnosed without computers and software. And the engines in most new cars look like the fanciful stylized plastic ones found in 1960s Fisher Price toy vehicles.
BMW has taken the logical next step - removing the dipstick. Jeez. It's like owning a Tucker. (permalink)
Go, Jag, Go: I haven't seen the Jaguar C-XF concept in person but Jerry Flint has and he thinks Jaguar should put it into production - quickly and 'as is'. He calls it "the hit of the 2007 Detroit auto show" and notes that, compared with the photos, "the live car is a stunner. The design abandons the old Jaguar look. No matter how we admired the ancient lines, a break from the retro styling that evokes Jaguars of the 1950s is long overdue."
Jaguar sold only 20,683 cars in the U.S. last year, spread over three separate platforms - a dismal showing. Flint guesses that Jaguar only sold 50,000 cars worldwide. Jaguar sells 80% of its cars in just two countries: the U.K. and the U.S. Flint believes that Jaguar can't succeed "unless it gets some serious traction on the European Continent", noting that a stylish new Jag "might appeal to European customers jaded with their Mercedes, Audis, BMWs or Citroens."
Flint notes, "Ford executives have said their plan is to make the production car somewhat more conservative than the model on display in Detroit. Why? They want the back seat to hold three people, not the two in the concept. Well, I have never seen three people in the back seat of a Jaguar, and I have been around a long time. Desperate situations call for spectacular solutions - not dulling the design to get three people in the back seat."
Finally, Jerry Flint asks "Is Jaguar worth saving? More than a decade ago, Ford spent $2.5 billion to buy the storied brand and then spent billions more in a futile effort to make it a winner. Some would say give up.
Yet strategically, Jaguar makes sense. It is a global (a big word today) luxury name, and Ford has no other global luxury brand. Some might think that Ford's Volvo division also fills that role. Volvo builds wonderful cars, but they do not carry the prestige of Jaguar."
I fear that Ford will blow this one, simply grafting some XF cues onto the front and back end of the present S-Type at the behest of Ford's bean counters. You know, "Git 'er done ... but on the cheap."
If they blow it, Jaguar is toast.
Cheesy Skimping: At the Big 2.5, line workers higher wages and are less productive than Toyota and other Asian manufacturers. The total disadvantage - 43%.
Mickey Kaus asks, "If you're GM or Ford, how do you make up for a 43% disadvantage? Well, you concentrate on vehicle types where you don't have competition from Toyota ... big SUVs in the 1980s and 1990s. Or you build cars that strike an iconic, patriotic chord - like pickup trucks, or the Mustang and Camaro. Or - and this is the most common technique - you skimp on the quality and expense of materials."
He also points out that "non-union Toyota's productivity, in terms of hours per car, has actually been growing faster than GM's. So ... GM is not catching up. It's falling further behind."
Kaus provides a specific example of quality skimping: "Look at the big Ford Five Hundred - a beautiful car on the outside, based on the equally attractive Volvo S80. But thanks to Ford's cost-cutters it debuted with a tinny, depressing interior that would lose a comparison with a subcompact Toyota Scion. Ford wants $30,000 for the Five Hundred. Forget it!"
In this blog (11/15/04), I reported my first encounter with a Ford 500: "The interior looked cheesy. And I had trouble finding a comfortable driving position - by the time I got everything adjusted to my liking, the 500 had far less headroom (for me) than the Mustang. Verdict ... the 500 will soon be just another losermobile in rental car stables across the country."
And that's what seems to have happened.
White Surprise: Unexpectedly thick snow Tuesday morning brought chaos to Portland streets and highways, stranding 70 TriMet buses. And the mass transit lines suffered delays as well - frozen switches, etc. Plus, the Portland streetcar couldn't climb the slight hill along the line.
Portland only got 1-2 inches but, at our house (north of Portland), I measured four inches of snow at noon.
Many people in this area have no idea how to drive in snow. Or ice. And too many cars are ill-equipped to deal with slippery conditions. Snow tires are rarely seen and most folks do not own chains.
I grew up in Philadelphia where they had real storms. But the buses, trolleys and El were almost always kept running because there was dedicated equipment to handle snow and ice chores. In those days, part of National City Lines contract with the city of Philadelphia stipulated that they had to keep all bus and trolley routes open. And they did so.
Not so in Portland, where the transit system is operated by a governmental bureaucracy.
Stylish Skin Eruption: James Lileks comments on the iPhone: "The very thought of not having the latest Apple toy makes Mac people erupt in hives. Perfectly smooth, white hives."
Want An Apple Phone? You can get one right now.
I Was A Homeless Teen: I was listening to the radio last month and heard something to the effect that the state of Oregon is worried about homeless teens. Lest you get visions of an adolescent doing his homework under a viaduct or sleeping in a decrepit station wagon (or Ford Aerostar), Oregon also includes as a homeless teen "anyone who lives in the home of a relative."
From age 11 to 19, I lived with my grandmother. After my aunt died, my elderly grandmother lived alone and refused to move from the large home she had occupied since 1924.
She wouldn't move in with us, so my parents sold our house and our family moved in with her. She was a semi-shut in, prone to falling and hers was a four-story home, with steep stairs. Realistically, she couldn't live alone.
I had my own room. So did everyone else. I never felt deprived. But, apparently, I was "homeless."
Am I the only one who thinks this move to "redefine" homelessness is just another ploy by some government agency to get more taxpayer funding? (permalink)
In The Future, How Will People Line Their Birdcages? Much has been written about the downward spiral of newspapers. I've also written about it in the past. Here's more:
In 1950 newspapers in the United States had a weekday circulation of 54 million. The circulation figures are roughly ... (more >>>)
Your La-Z-Boy Will Soon Have A Bad Combover: Donald Trump will offer a line of home furnishings. "Now the public can not only wear my clothes, they can sit on my couch," Trump said.
The Trump Collection will ship this summer.
JFK Head Vs. USC Butt: Much controversy erupted in 1963 because existing technology limited Abraham Zapruder to a low-grade movie camera, producing grainy head shots of JFK.
But there's reason for no controversy in 2007, because advanced video technology now allows us to capture remarkable images of a cheerleader's pantyless, shapely behind at a USC game.
Al Queda? Or Just Cherry Bombs? Deputies are investigating the explosion of a portable toilet last week during a school dance at El Toro High School in Orange County, California.
Deputies discovered that a homemade explosive device had blown up a portable toilet on the school grounds, just across campus from a school dance, deputies said.
A hazardous-materials team was sent to the scene.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "A recent e-mail from a man who says that my writings have changed his mind notes that this has not been all to the good. He says he was perfectly happy as a liberal but now he is frustrated when he hears the kind of nonsense that he used to accept without having to think about it."
Monday January 15, 2007
Best Euphemism Of The Week: GM's Chief Financial Officer Fritz Henderson admitted that the company's cash flow was "not anywhere near an adequate position."
Robert Farago of TTAC quipped that this "is a bit like saying a person who's lost is not as well-oriented as they could be."
Is It For Real? Last week, TTAC offered a little piece about Maybach, the über-upmarket German luxury marque. As with flying saucers, Bigfoot and Britney Spear's coochie, I've never seen the real live item - just photos.
Frankly, I don't know why anyone would buy a Maybach. It's very expensive and doesn't look like much. If you're nouveau riche, as most of these buyers probably are (old money tends to pilot far less-flashy vehicles), I would think that a Rolls or Bentley would let everyone know that you've "arrived."
Do The Math: James Lileks runs some calculations: "I fly once or twice a year, and every trip there's a new preposterous law based on the last terrorist plot. Think of it: That hairy weirdo Richard Reid tries to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb half a decade ago, so for the foreseeable future we have to take off our shoes. U.S. aviation handles more than a billion passengers annually - that's 2 billion shoes removed and replaced.
Over the past five years, that's 10 billion shoes. Figure a minute to take them off and put them on - that's millions of wasted years that could be spent keeping your shoes on and kicking Richard Reid in the keister. Haul him around from airport to airport. Charge admission."
Those millions of wasted years are a very big deal - the figure is already 67% greater than the time wasted so far contemplating the Rosie-TheDonald-BabaWawa feud/three-way/publicity-gropefest.
Iraq Interview: I watched the 60 Minutes piece and thought President Bush came off as a leader. He dodged no questions and is obviously determined to see this through. His convictions are unswayed by popularity polls.
Scott Pelley's questions were fair, if not balanced. The president said that the current sectarian violence in Iraq is a destabilizing factor that "could lead to attacks here in America" and, therefore, must be controlled.
Your opinion/experience may differ.
What Happens When You Don't Pay Bus Fare: No one showed up to claim Buster, the TriMet bus-riding dog, so Multnomah County Animal Services put him up for adoption "after neutering him."
How come TriMet doesn't also do this to all thosee bums and unruly teens who ride without paying in Portland?
Wrong Paul: When I read that Ron Paul was going to run for president in 2008, I didn't realize that he was the Libertarian congressman from Southeast Texas. I had him mixed up with Ru Paul.
Now there's someone who would make the '08 race interesting.
Makin' The List: Mr. Blackwell has released his annual Worst Dressed List and Camilla Parker-Bowles has secured the No. 2 spot. Blackwell wrote, "The Duchess of Dowdy strikes again. In feathered hats that were once the rage, she resembles a petrified parakeet from the Jurassic age. A royal wreck." Owwwwww!
Question Of The Day: If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do the rest drown, too?
Friday January 12, 2007
"Let One Hundred Flowers Bloom ..." Changfeng Motor of China announced at the Detroit Auto Show that it would begin selling cars in America in two years. Dave Leggett notes that "it was the company presentation that left some people breathless. The attendant media was treated to a 'propaganda film' entitled 'Developing through innovations in pursuit of the great'. This gave details of the company's history, culminating as the voiceover man barked "Dragons are taking off! Cheetahs are leaping forward!" over a stirring soundtrack of Elgar's 'Jerusalem'."
One of the firm's SUVs is named The Black Giant, which Changfeng says "never makes you disappointed." It is also described as having a "valiant temperament." I dunno. When I hear that name, all I can think of is Dennis Rodman or Michael Clarke Duncan. Or maybe Star Jones before the surgery.
The Black Giant, derived from an old Mitsubishi Panjero design, has many features, the company's website proclaims. These include "ECU engine system, the discharge standard of the Europe II, save the energy extremely." And "design according with human body structure, feel Safety and comfortable." Standard equipment includes "double safe gasbag, safety belt, pillow, brake light, children's protector, the lock, motive force direction, steering column, sea level altimeter, rain controller, defrost glass and rain brush, electronic skylight and a genuine leather sofa."
Because if all of this, says the company, "The remarkable technology is ensured." It concludes, "The automobile appearance is more mighty and more intrepid! With the powerful engine, the design of environmental protection and energy-conservation. All these present to your perfect driving and experience, seem more majestic-looking even more!"
Wow. Better get your name on the waiting list right away. You don't want to miss out on that sofa. Or gasbag.
Luke, I Am Your Step Van: A German artist has modified his Citroën HY delivery van to look like Darth Vader.
So Much For Infallibility ... Last week, Cardinal Martino of the Vatican spoke out against the hanging of Saddam Hussein. "Capital punishment is not natural death. Life is a gift that the Lord has given us and we must protect it from conception until natural death."
Oh, pulleeeeze. Where was the cardinal when Saddam henchman Tarik Aziz was visiting the Vatican? Why wasn't he lecturing Aziz that Kurds have a right to life, too?
By the way, this is the same Vatican that praised Yassir Arafat on his death, referring to the murderous terrorist as an ''illustrious deceased.'' ... (more >>>)
Going Where The Bad Guys Are: In his Wednesday night address, President Bush said, "Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity - and stabilizing the region in the face of the extremist challenge. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria.
These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
Michael Leedon at NRO brings up an interesting point: "I've read that last sentence maybe ten times. Those "networks providing advanced weaponry and training" certainly are based in Iran and Syria. It sounds like he said we are going after terrorist training camps and the IED assembly facilities, doesn't it?" Leedon asks, "Did we just declare war on Iran and Syria?"
I think we're extending the war to wherever the terrorists are. Witness the recent incursion into Somalia. That's a good sign in my view.
Drink To Your Health: Duda Farm Fresh Foods in Florida has engineered celery stalks with hollow centers. The celery can be used as a Bloody Mary straw or an edible swizzle-stick.
Count Your Blessings: If there were only 100 people in the world.
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Ken Lay's Children Inherit 4,000 Pensions'. When Enron founder Kenneth Lay died suddenly, less than two months after being convicted of conspiracy and securities fraud in May, it seemed to be the final chapter in the collapsed energy giant's infamous saga. Yet the disgraced executive managed to extend a hand of generosity from beyond the grave, leaving an inheritance of 4,000 Enron employee pensions to his grieving children.
"We were surprised and deeply moved that Dad had arrangements in place to provide for us after his passing," said the mogul's son. "With his unbelievably generous legacy, we'll never have to worry about money again, unlike a lot of people here in Houston."
In addition to providing for the financial security of his family, Lay stipulated in his will that a large part of his embezzled fortune be donated to the many charities he and his wife Linda supported, including the Houston YMCA, where many former Enron employees now reside.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "Many of the same people who are urging us to get out of Iraq are also urging us to go into Darfur. They say we should "do something" about the murderous horrors in Darfur. But you cannot simply "do something." You have to do something specific. Those who are urging intervention won't take the responsibility for specifying what we are to do - and at what cost in American lives."
Wednesday January 10, 2007
Stupid Idea: Toyota is developing a fail-safe system for cars that detects drunken drivers. Cars fitted with the detection system will not start if sweat sensors in the driving wheel detect high levels of alcohol.
I occasionally shake hands with questionable people, so I keep Purell in my car. If I use it to clean my hands, my car won't start? WTF?
Not Now, Dear: Ford CEO Alan Mulally says that British luxury division Jaguar is not for sale. "Jaguar is not for sale at this time. We really like the progress Jaguar is making both on the product side and on their quality and productivity. They are on a really good positive business improvement plan."
Hmmmmm. FoMoCo better fix this cash-hemorrhaging division real quick then. Maybe the operative phrase is "not for sale at this time." Meaning, perhaps, during the minute immediately following Mulally's statement.
More Auto Show Thoughts: When I saw the first photo of the Honda Accord Coupe Concept - a 3/4 front shot, I thought 'Scion tC.' Of course the Accord is larger. And from other angles, it doesn't look like a Scion at all. In side profile, it has more than a little Hyundai Tiburon, no? The concept is reportedly a thinly-disguised version of the '08 Accord.
The 2008 Cadillac CTS is pretty stunning - in photos anyway. Enough that, when it finally hits the showroom floor, I'll give one a test drive as a possible purchase. Same for the Jaguar XF, although I fear that the production XF will be very watered down. I guess we'll all find out when the production version is unveiled at the Frankfurt show in September. The new Jag go on sale until Spring '08.
By the way, the Cadillac's 3.6 liter V6 features direction injection and is good for over 300 hp on regular gasoline. I like the 'regular gas' part.
Then there's the Mercedes Ocean Drive concept, a four-door convertible. At last, a Mercedes is making an automobile where you can stand up in the back seat and be seen. Great for parades, too - I'm already growing a little mustache. Sig Heil! Fahren Sie mich nach Polen, bitte.
The Alpine Mercedes RLS concept (from the CES show) has a front end which looks like my grandmother's Philco console radio. And a back end that looks like a bathroom appliance from Emperor Ming's lair in a 1930s Flash Gordon episode.
Fair Exchange: Greg Gutfeld weighs in on capital punishment: "I don't know about you, but I thought the execution (of Saddam Hussein) was marvelous. If anything, the Iraqis should be congratulated for a swift and painless operation - unlike the interminable process that accompanies any effort to rid scum already on America's death row. If the U.S. had actually been in charge of executing Saddam, it would actually occur in 2047, and Saddam would be the ripe old age of 110 years old. The BBC would still call him a martyr.
Which is why we should be exporting our executions to Iraq. For every Death Row killer executed, an Iraqi gets to come and live here. We could call it the Inmate-Export Program."
Anti-Death; Pro-Crastination: A couple of posters on Greg's blog offered these comments: "In 25 years, when Scott Peterson is executed, and all the characters make the rounds on the cable shows, here's what we can expect.
The picture of Lacy Peterson will still make her look pretty hot. Scott will look like a 53 year-old balding plumber. Amber Frye will look like a fat skank. Gloria Allred will be dead, but Dianne Feinstein will pretend to be her and only look about 5 years older than Gloria would. Nobody will be able to figure out why Scott would want to bang some fat skank when his wife was so hot. But they will light candles for him anyway because he had a blog at Huffington Post.
And today's child stars will be part of the candle ceremony while chanting, "Don't Execute - Don't Persecute - We Are All Cute" or some such shit."
Or maybe: "President Dakota Fanning will pardon Scott and he will live out the remainder of his days as caretaker and keeper of the eternal flame at the Susan Sarandon Presidential Library."
All this made my head spin in wonderment. What kind of cable shows will we have 25 years from now? Will there be a Larry King robot?
Don't Mess With Texas: It is the most active U.S. state in carrying out capital punishment. Twenty-four condemned Texas killers were executed in 2006, accounting for 45 percent of all the executions in the United States.
I hope some other states will accept this challenge and ... ummmm ... up the ante. Of the 38 states that allow capital punishment, only 14 carried out executions last year and just six of them conducted more than one.
C'mon, people! Pick up the pace.
Quote Of The Day is also from Greg Gutfeld: "Most people who buy organic foods or advocate wind power (often related, since most of the food causes flatulence) would never advocate, say, stricter sentencing laws against criminals - thugs who probably never recycle or turn off the lights before robbing a house."
Monday January 8, 2007
Suddenly It's 1990: At the Detroit Auto Show, Ford unveiled its new TwinForce Turbo V6, claiming that the engine's twin turbos "deliver power of a V8." Ford might even put it in a car or somethin' in 2008. Or later.
Hmmmm. Gee, the Nissan 300ZX twin turbo V6 did the same thing waaaay back in 1990.
Speaking of time travel, that Twin-Turbo Z would have really wowed folks back in 1950.
Chevy Volt Plug-in Hybrid: It's only a concept. Containing all of this year's styling cliches: huge wheels on Ultra-LoPro tires, squashed greenhouse, tiny side mirrors, humpy '66 Olds Toronado fender flares and butch lines that scream, "I'm no wuss, I'm the toughest, environmentally-conscious guy on the planet."
Or, "I'm the meanest bull in this dyke bar."
Yawn. Let me know when GM puts a plug-in hybrid into production.
Mini-Recession: Last week, Automotive News reported that "fleet sales are keeping up the illusion that the domestics' position in this segment is merely calamitous and not utterly cataclysmic", noting that fleets accounted for 65-percent of Ford Freestar sales, 62-percent of Chevy Uplander sales, and over 40-percent of the DCX vans. Less than 1% of Honda Odyssey sales are fleet destined.
People still buy lots of minivans, they just have Honda and Toyota badges on them. Meanwhile, Ford has decided to discontinue the Freestar, whatever that is/was.
By the way, the Freestar's predecessor, the Ford Aerostar, seems to be the official van of the near-homeless. I see more scruffy people driving scruffy Aerostars (stuffed to the roofline with junky possessions) than any other type of conveyance.
At The Movies: Over New Year's, we watched a DVD of 'De-Lovely', a 2004 film which chronicled the life of the great songwriter Cole Porter. It starred Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd. The film was apparently intended as a tribute biopic rather than a true biography, because it was chock full of historical and biographical inaccuracies.
Nevertheless, Kevin Kline is well-cast as the songwriter extraordinaire. Kline's own skills as a pianist simply adds to his remarkable performance. Kudos to the makeup folks who believably 'aged' Kline's character.
Ashley Judd also gives an excellent performance as Linda Porter, with a breezy style and garbed in eye-catching period clothing and jewelry. Unfortunately, she's a quite a bit younger than Kevin Kline. The real Mrs. Porter was nine years older than Cole.
Much is made of the 'love' between Linda and the homosexual Cole. In fact, according to most biographers, their marriage was one of convenience - by marrying, Cole Porter increased his allowance from his parents, and Linda, already wealthy from her first marriage, acquired a husband who was on the verge of international fame.
After his wife's death in 1954, Porter's life went downhill. Doctors amputated Cole's injured right leg in 1958. Drinking heavily and addled from lots of pain medication, Porter apparently spent his final days as a sad old queen - his creative spark extinguished. One biographer reported that the composer often broke household appliances "so he could lure cute repairmen into his lair."
The film's songs are delivered by contemporary, pop artists. I'm told that Elvis Costello is an acquired taste; I suppose in the same way that fried ants are. Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette and Robbie Williams are generally dreadful as well, because of a misguided attempt to add jarringly contemporary vocal stylings to what are supposed to be period performances.
That said, Diana Krall sings well in a proper, torchy 30s style. (She should give lessons to her hubby, Mr. Costello.) But the very best musical performance was by a relatively-obscure Australian, Caroline O'Connor, who delivered a knockout Ethel Merman rendition of 'Anything Goes'.
Some of the film's inaccuracies are very distracting. A green '48 Cadillac sedan with those little prehensile tailfins passes in the background of a 1946 scene. Late in the movie, Cole Porter visits his wife's grave. Parked nearby is a black 1966 Chrysler, a vehicle manufactured two years after Cole's death. Linda's grave is shown on the grounds of the New England home where she died. In actuality, she passed away at their suite in the Waldorf Towers in NYC; she is buried in the Cole family plot in Peru, Indiana.
In the movie, Linda performs the Porter composition, 'True Love' in the early 1930s. The song was written by Cole for the 1956 movie, 'High Society' - two years after Linda's death.
Nevertheless, the film is has lots of enjoyable moments, spectacular sets and is worth a view, especially if you can overlook history and bad singing. (permalink)
Happy Birthday, Elvis. He would have been 72 today. More on Elvis here.
Lame Joke Of The Day: What time do kids need naps? At whine o'clock.
Friday January 5, 2007
Thinking Outside The Box: At the Detroit Auto Show, folks will be treated to the usual chrome-plated boxes with oversize wheels and tires. Detroit is busying itself with the status quo with frequent nods to the past.
"We've reinterpreted the best of Lincoln designs over time, preserving the restraint and elegance synonymous with the brand," said designer Peter Horbury of the Lincoln MKR concept car, the front end of which is eerily reminiscent of that venerable Ipana toothpaste spokesman, Bucky Beaver. And that boxy Ford Interceptor is the coolest '66 Galaxie 500 ever crafted.
While Detroit fiddles with the wishful and obvious, R. James Woolsey of The Wall Street Journal writes about the tsunami of sea change about to engulf the automotive world:
"The change is being driven by innovations in the batteries that now power modern electronics. If hybrid gasoline-electric cars are provided with advanced batteries having improved energy and power density - variants of the ones in our computers and cell phones - dozens of vehicle prototypes are now demonstrating that these "plug-in hybrids" can more than double hybrids' overall (gasoline) mileage.
With a plug-in, charging your car overnight from an ordinary 110-volt socket in your garage lets you drive 20 miles or more on the electricity stored in the topped-up battery before the car lapses into its normal hybrid mode. If you forget to charge or exceed 20 miles, no problem, you then just have a regular hybrid with the insurance of liquid fuel in the tank. And during those 20 all-electric miles you will be driving at a cost of between a penny and three cents a mile instead of the current 10-cent-a-mile cost of gasoline.
Utilities are rapidly becoming quite interested in plug-ins because of the substantial benefit to them of being able to sell off-peak power at night. Because off-peak nighttime charging uses unutilized capacity, DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory estimates that adopting plug-ins will not create a need for new base load electricity generation plants until plug-ins constitute over 84% of the country's 220 million passenger vehicles.
Further, those plug-ins that are left connected to an electrical socket after being fully charged (most U.S. cars are parked over 20 hours a day) can substitute for expensive natural gas by providing electricity from their batteries back to the grid: "spinning" reserves to help deal with power outages and regulation of the grid's voltage and amperage. ... A 50 mpg hybrid, once it becomes a plug-in, will likely get solidly over 100 mpg of gasoline (call it "mpgg"); if it is also a flexible fuel vehicle using 85% ethanol, E-85, its mpgg rises to around 500."
Detroit scoffed when Toyota introduced the odd-looking Prius, warning us that batteries would fail and people would be horribly burned or electrocuted in accidents. Didn't happen. And the Prius just kept getting better. Rumor has it that the next Prius will be a plug-in version.
Plug-in hybrids have the potential to change everything. We'll be reducing our dependency on fossil fuels. Our "friend", Saudi Arabia, can then go screw itself, along with Iran and the rest of the oil-sand Gang of Vipers. What happens to terrorists when all the money to fund terrorism dries up? I guess we'll find out. (I wonder how one says, "You want fries with that?" in Farsi?)
And, if the U.S. builds a few nuclear-powered generating facilities, the dream of the atomic-powered car will finally come true (shades of the Ford Nucleon of 1958).
And where is Detroit on this? Pretty much nowhere. Most of the leading-edge hybrid technology is coming out of Japan. Detroit is much too busy trying to survive. And buying colorful silk dropcloths to unveil chrome and metal wet dreams which will never be built.
FoMoCo Death Watch (continued): GM and Ford each reported 13% overall December sales declines. But Ford's December sales of F-Series pickups, the best-selling vehicle line in the U.S., fell 21 percent while sales of Explorer SUVs slid 30 percent.
"The F-Series being down that much is very troublesome. That's the crown jewel for Ford,'' said Jim Hossack, an analyst with market researcher AutoPacific.
FoMoCo Death Watch (continued, part 2): Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally recently bought a Lexus but said it reflects only his admiration for Toyota and its luxury brand. Mulally claims he deeply admires the Japanese automaker for its manufacturing processes and product development strategy.
He called Toyota "the finest machine in the world, the finest production system in the world."
Here's my question: If Mulally doesn't buy Ford products, why should anyone else?
Note: The report cited claims Mulally bought a Lexus; other news reports state that he ordered one and later canceled it. Where does the truth lie? I dunno. But it would have been a lot better if he had never given the interview. Or given it whilst seated behind the wheel of a Jaguar, Lincoln or Land Rover. Or even an F-Series pickup.
Quote Of The Day is from Larry Miller: "The ones who astonish me are the people who wear hidden, hearing-aid-sized (cell phone) models and strut down the street yakking to no one and looking for all the world like escaped mental patients. By the way, do we even have mental patients who escape anymore? If so, do guards in all-white uniforms still chase them down with butterfly nets? You know, where by the time they catch the guy he's already talked himself into being the head of Ford or something? And everyone's shocked to find out he was just crazy? On the other hand, maybe that explains why they made a car called the 'Probe.'"
Wednesday January 3, 2007
Nothin': The Ford Interceptor concept car has a righteous name, wicked-cool looks and full-size dimensions - 121 inches in wheelbase, 202 inches long. It's the perfect replacement for the ancient Crown Vickie.
So, when's it gonna hit the streets? The Detroit News reports, "As for the vehicle itself, Ford has no immediate plans to develop a production derivative."
This is Ford's way of saying, "We got nothin'."
Fights Like A Girl: Dan Neil describes the current Mustang as "one of the company's bona fide hits. And not without reason: The car looks badass, brooding, hunched over and malevolent, like it was contemplating the first punch of a bar brawl. Just about perfect." He likes the V-8 Mustang GT but "as for the base model, the 210-hp V6 Mustang, please. Looks like Tarzan, punches like Jane."
Of course, this is in the tradition of the original Mustang. When first offered, it came standard with a six. The little 170 cubic inch straight-six motor from the Falcon. With 101 horsepower. And soft, delicate, alabaster-colored hands.
Sometimes, Ya Hafta Wonder ... how can Iran produce nuclear devices when they can't even build cars that work? Hundreds of Iranian-made cars have suddenly caught fire on Iran's roads over the past months, with police pointing to the Peugeot 405 as the main culprit.
"Around 300 people have been killed or wounded and 40 per cent of the fatalities were attributed to the Peugeot 405," traffic police chief Mohammad Rooyanian said.
The Peugeot 405 and other well-known models from the French carmaker have been manufactured under license since 1990 by Iran Khodro, Iran's largest car manufacturer. The state-owned Iran Khodro company has an annual production of about 550,000 cars including Iran's flagship Samand, Peugeot 206 and Peugeot Pars, which is a face-lifted 405.
"Fire service figures from the first six months of the year have said that 700 cars caught fire in Tehran, out of which 70 per cent of them were manufactured by Iran Khodro," said Chief Rooyanian.
This is what happens when you combine French automotive engineering and Iranian assembly skills.
It's rumored that the most popular car color in Iran is ... (drum roll) ... Charcoal. Runner-up ... Burnt Sienna.
Droppings From Jeremy: Clarkson has managed to piss off every BMW enthusiast by comparing the new BMW 335i SE Coupé to a "big dog turd."
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'NASA Launches Probe To Inform Pluto Of Demotion'. NASA scientists launched a special Consoler probe to assure the former planet that it was nothing personal, and that it will make a "great dwarf planet."
Bad Pun Of The Day: Two termites walk into a bar. One asks, "Is the bar tender here?"
Monday January 1, 2007
Hello 2007: On New Year's Eve, we had cocktails in glasses which were decked out with plastic swizzle sticks in the shape of pink elephants - one of my wife's Christmas presents. Then, we cooked filets mignon using the gas grill on our back deck (but we ate indoors - it was too cold outside). We enjoyed our meat and potatoes with a bottle of St. Laurent 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon from Wenatchee, WA.
We stayed up to watch the ball fall and see Dick Clark. Actually, I think it's time for ol' Dick to retire. He's no longer America's Perpetual Teenager by any stretch of the imagination and, while he may be the Poster Boy of Hope for stroke victims, he needs to find a different venue. The Geezer Channel, maybe? President of AARP? Lincoln Town Car spokesman?
The absolute best New Year's celebration was the spectacular fireworks show at the Space Needle in Seattle. There were 1,600 fireworks launching from all over the Needle - top, sides, etc. As well as a light show with HID chaser lights flashing up and down the support struts. Everything was choreographed to music. Best eight minutes on television.
Happy New Year to all.
Goin' Asian: In 2006, California residents bought 938,839 Japanese vehicles and 859,206 "domestic" vehicles. This reversal of fortune for domestic brands is most likely a result of U.S. automakers reigning in their respective fleet sales. The Big 2.5 will end the year with 41% of the California new car buyer market, which is a drop of 9.2% compared to 2005. The Japanese brands, meanwhile, will rise 2.7% to 44.8 percent.
As I've written before, California presages national trends. And Southern California is the car capital of the world.
I Thought This Only Happened To Buicks ... driven by geezers. A Jaguar crashed through the window and traveled 25 feet into a dry cleaning shop in Rockville, Maryland.
And They Call The Windbag Pariah: I feel compelled to link to this story and photo of John Kerry dining almost alone at the mess hall in Iraq. No soldiers would sit with him. He also cancelled his press conference because no one came and worked out alone in the gym without any soldiers even acknowledging his presence.
Bill O'Reilly visited the same day and people waited for two hours to shake his hand.
I have more thoughts on Kerry here.
My Near-Brush With History: Watching former President Ford's funeral brought back memories of an event from my past. Over 31 years ago, there was an attempted assassination of Gerald Ford - on September 22, 1975 in San Francisco.
Ford had made a luncheon speech to a foreign affairs group at the St. Francis Hotel. As he emerged from the hotel and neared his armored Lincoln limo, Sara Jane Moore, a dumpy, middle-aged radical loser-chick, shot at him with a .38 revolver. Oliver Sipple, a disabled former U.S. Marine, was standing next to her. He quickly pushed up her arm as the gun discharged. The bullet flew over Ford's head.
I was inside the St. Francis at the time of the shooting - at a business conference. I didn't see any of the commotion; I only heard it. We found out what it was when someone in rushed in and announced that we had to remain in the room - the hotel was in lock-down - because someone had tried to kill the president. Only later did we learn that Ford was unhurt.
Gerald Ford entered the White House in August 1974, after Nixon had resigned as a result of the Watergate cover-up. He was the only man to occupy both the vice-presidency and the presidency without being elected to either office.
Ford lost his chance at becoming an elected president by pardoning Richard Nixon. In retrospect, it was probably the right thing to do. But people were very angry about Nixon and wanted blood. They didn't get it, so they punished Ford in the voting booth in 1976. No good dead goes unpunished, ya know.
Speaking of which, Oliver Sipple saved Ford's life; the police and the Secret Service commended him. Then the media revealed that Sipple was a closet gay, a fact disclosed by Harvey Milk, the openly-gay political activist. This public outing ruined Sipple's life; his mental and physical health sharply declined over the years. He died in 1989 at age 47.
See what I mean? No good deed goes unpunished. Gerry Ford, Oliver Sipple - coincidence or what? But Harvey Milk was later assassinated.
O Goddess of Irony, we worship thy wry cleverness.
Reflecting on those times, I still can't understand how Nixon ever became president. He was a vindictive, unlikeable human being. His son-in-law, Chris Cox, supposedly described him as "the coldest man I ever met."
Nixon never even thanked Ford for pardoning him. What a self-centered ingrate.
As president, Gerald Ford didn't do much to stem the general malaise of the times - high inflation, high unemployment, fear of gas rationing and closing out the victory-less Vietnam War. His WIN program - Whip Inflation Now - was a spectacular flop.
Nevertheless, those who were close to him have described Ford as one of the most decent men to have held the office of president. Not always a good tipper though. Rest in peace, Gerry. (permalink)
On The Other Hand: Ford's funeral ceremonies paled in comparison to the spectacular-but-tasteless send-off in Augusta for James Brown.
I loved that vulgar 24-carat, gold-plated casket. And the many tribute musical performances - MC Hammer, Bobby Byrd and others, accompanied by Brown's epaulet-clad band, The Soul Generals, featuring the resounding sound of legendary bassman Bootsie Collins - who sat in. Brown's current wife, Tomi Rae Hynie, also sang. (No disrespect for the deceased intended, but I couldn't help but wonder if James married Tomi for her Hynie?)
Michael Jackson even showed up. The usual suspects - Dick Gregory, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton - were active participants in the shindig as well.
Many of James Brown's hit songs were performed, although it was very bizarre to see performers singing 'Get Up' to a corpse in an open casket. Equally unsettling was watching the president of Paine College - a small (107 graduates in '06) black school - bestow an honorary doctorate on the late Mr. Brown during the memorial service.
Oh yeah, here's something else you didn't see at the Ford funeral: "Fannie Mae Burford, Brown's sister, backed her Chevrolet Silverado up to one of the arena's side entrances. The truck bed was stacked with suitcases of souvenirs (for sale), including headbands, towels and women's underwear."
Man, there really are Two Americas. No wait, there are Eight Americas.
At each of the three viewings, James was dressed in different clothing. Because, someone said, James Brown never felt good about wearing the same costume the following night for his appearances. I feel good! Owwww!
On The Other Hand (Part Deux): Of course, the downside to all this is that there's now a lot of pressure on whoever-the-hell is going to plan Little Richard's funeral. Woooooooooo!
Is Bush A Hero? Former NYC mayor Ed Koch writes: "George Bush is a hero to me because he has courage. The President does what he believes to be in the best interest of the United States. He sticks with his beliefs, no matter how intense the criticism and invective that are directed against him every day.
The enormous defeat President Bush suffered with the loss of both Houses of Congress has not caused him to retreat from his position that the U.S. alone now stands between a radical Islamic takeover of many of the world’s governments in the next 30 or more years. If that takeover occurs, we will suffer an enslavement that will threaten our personal freedoms and take much of the world back into the Dark Ages."
Unfortunately, it is difficult to judge a president until long after they've left office - 20 to 30 years. Actions taken thirty years ago are just bearing fruit now. I hope and pray that Bush is doing the right thing. But I sometimes have my doubts. I guess we'll find out as time passes.
Another F***ing Ingrate: Um Abdullah, a Sunni and teacher in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, said she would wear black to mourn the city's favorite son.
"Saddam will be a hero in our eyes," she said. "I have five kids and I will teach them to take revenge on Americans."
Today's Inspirational Thought: Never underestimate the power of very stupid people in large groups. (Somehow, this brings to mind the word 'Kos'.)