Monday December 31, 2007
The Year In Review: For me, 2007 was a good year. I'm still alive, reasonably healthy and feelin' good. My family is fine, too. The stock market is up; not as much as I'd like but it could be worse. This year, we had our master bath remodeled and are enjoying it greatly. I bought a new car after crossing the 100,000 mile mark on my old one. (Go here to see odometer photos at 99,999 and 100,000.)
But the world doesn't revolve around me, so let's expand the view. Dave Barry has written that 2007 "was a year that strode boldly into the stall of human events and took a wide stance astride the porcelain bowl of history."
Car Stuff: Thirty years from now, automotive historians will list 2007 as the year that the United Auto Worker's back was broken. The contracts signed this year were precedent-setting. The UAW agreed to them because it realized that its power and options were now very limited. The UAW's Detroit targets are weak but still strong enough to move more and more work outside the U.S.
John McCormick of the Detroit News wrote: "It's fair to say that the UAW has written its own death warrant with its inflexible attitude over the last 20 years."
It is important to remember that the union movement in the U.S. sprung from unreasonable working conditions and descended from the noble tradition of the guild. In the early years of the UAW, Walter Reuther sought things which seemed reasonable to the man on the street. Fast forward to today: The guild's craft work ethic has, sadly, long been discarded by the UAW. Working conditions have been vastly improved, spawned by competition among employers and by OSHA and other gummint regulations.
When one reads stories about a UAW forklift driver (not even a semi-skilled trade) pulling down over $100,000 per year, one's sympathy for unionized autoworkers tends to evaporate.
As to the car companies themselves: Chrysler has been on the brink of disaster more times than sweet Nell has been in the prone position on railroad tracks. In 2007, Chrysler was sold to Cerberus, the M&A kings of strip and flip. Chrysler's new chairman Robert Nardelli is a cost-cutting slash-n-burn type. The new owners and management are just finding out how bad things are.
Just before Christmas, Chrysler Chief Executive and non car-guy Nardelli told a grim tale for the automaker's 2007 financial report. He informed employees that the company is barreling towards a substantial loss this year. Bankruptcy would be imminent without $10 billion recently received from investors during the Cerberus acquisition. The only really solid vehicles in Chrysler's lineup are Jeeps; this sounds like AMC thirty years ago. How little has changed.
I don't think Chrysler can survive in its present form; the liquidation locomotive is barreling down the rails toward little Nell.
Ford has done an admirable job cutting costs but has a weak product line with not much in the pipeline. The new Edge is selling well but the Mustang is getting long in the tooth, reflected by a sales decline of almost 20%. Sales of the Fusion, which has gotten good reviews and offers good build quality, are leveling. Renaming the dull-as-dirt 500 'Taurus' has done nothing for its sales. Jaguar and Land Rover are apparently going to become Indian brands - who would have ever thought ... ?
Mercury is dying and Lincoln is very sick. Volvo is sneezing and running a fever - North American sales have declined steadily since 2004. F-150s aren't selling well in a tough truck market; Explorer sales have dropped like a stone. Ford has plans, however - the F-150 is getting a new logo badge, according to a FoMoCo press release. (Insert favorite 'rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic' joke here.)
General Motors has introduced some promising offerings: the Cadillac CTS, Chevy Malibu, Buick Enclave and a fresh lineup at Saturn. But the company is still hemorrhaging money and no one knows if these new offerings will deliver the promised quality and continuing sales.
Buick sales are a shadow of what they used to be (down 24% this year alone), Saturn has yet to make a profit in 17 years and Pontiac seems to be redefining itself ... again.
Meanwhile, the truck segment is a disaster - a big one, since 70% of GM's mix is trucks. Inventories of the Silverado and Sierra pickups are over 150 days, despite huge rebates.
There is no indication when or if GM's North American operations will return to profitability.
Toyota has stumbled - with reports of quality problems - in its recent offerings. Toyota's senior management promises fixes but also says they are putting cost-cutting programs in place. In the auto world, these two objectives are usually incompatible. Not good. The Tundra landed in showrooms with a thud - hampered by a falling truck market and quality glitches. But overall sales for Toyota are still very good. Prius sales are up by 70% in 2007.
Honda is having a good year. The new Accord has created excitement and increased sales. Civics are selling well, too. The Ridgeline truck is a bust, though. And Acura sales are generally dismal.
The government has once again put its size 14 foot in the path of market forces, decreeing new CAFE regulations. This is a boon for attorneys who will find continued employment searching for loopholes in these new regs.
Alan Mulally, Ford CEO, told Automotive News: "CAFE is a market-distorting policy (that) doesn't have the consumer in the middle of it." He favors the European approach, with gasoline and diesel fuel being heavily taxed, requiring consumers "to make an economic decision with their purchase." And, in a final note, Mulally said: "We ought to make improvement in fuel efficiency in every vehicle of every size" instead of "trying to force everybody into smaller vehicles." Amen, Alan.
The Economy: The newspapers are full of doom and gloom; television news features stories about families "struggling to make it in today's harsh economy." The numbers do not bear this out. The oft-forecasted recession hasn't happened. Unemployment is near historic lows. (The unemployment rate is currently 4.7%. The average for the last 25 years is 5.5%.)
The overwhelming majority of homeowners are current on their mortgage payments. Housing starts are down but the bicoastal bust seems to have leveled off and there are signs of life in the residential construction market. Inventories of unsold properties are slowly going down. Larry Kudlow's Goldilocks Economy is real.
2007 looks set to produce 3 percent growth in real GDP, nearly 3 percent growth in consumer spending and over 3 percent growth in after-tax inflation-adjusted incomes. "Meanwhile, headline inflation (including food and energy) will have run at 2.5 percent, with only 2 percent core inflation. Jobs are rising over 100,000 per month and the stock market is set to turn in a respectable year despite enormous headwinds. Low tax rates, modest inflation, and declining interest rates continue to boost Goldilocks, which is still the greatest story never told."
Politics: In 2006, Americans were sick of do-nothing, spendthrift Republicans, so they handed control of Congress over to the Democrats, who have proven to be just as bad ... or worse. Congressional approval ratings have dropped to all-time lows and the Democrats are working overtime to set a record for unpopularity that may never again be matched in American history.
In 2007, the public concluded that the "compromise" on immigration offered by Democrats and Republicans stunk. Americans spoke out against amnesty in such force that they literally broke the Capitol Hill switchboard on the day of the final vote. The amnesty bill was soundly defeated. The people speak; democracy works. Sometimes.
The 2008 Election campaign was in full swing throughout most of 2007. Whenever I hear pundits declaring who the next president will be, I tune out. It's simply too early to make predictions. Don't believe that? Just travel back 40 years.
As I pointed out earlier this year, the 2008 U.S. presidential race is still in the Anything Can Happen phase. And I offered two plausible scenarios with very different outcomes.
Passings: More of the icons of my generation are departing this Earth. Rock 'n roll pioneer Ike Turner died at the age of 76. Evel Knievel, the red-white-and-blue-spangled motorcycle daredevil whose jumps over crazy obstacles made him an national hero, died at age 69.
Hy Lit, one of Philadelphia's pioneer disc jockeys, died at age 73. Paper-pusher Mr. Whipple, comic actor Tom Poston, talk show host and toy train buff Tom Snyder, famous mime Marcel Marceau, who fought for the French resistance against the invading Nazi army during World War II, - all died in '07. Marceau was only actor with a speaking role in Mel Brooks' 1976 flick, 'Silent Movie' - a single word: "No!"
David Halberstam, a prolific and talented author, was killed in a car crash. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Vietnam war. I read and thoroughly enjoyed two of his books. 'The Reckoning', an insightful work about the American automobile industry and the rise of the Japanese automakers, was published in 1986. His superb tome, 'The Fifties', was published in '93.
Writer and blogger Cathy Seipp, singer Robert Goulet, showbiz legend Merv Griffin, Mr. Wizard (Don Herbert), songmeister Frankie Laine, humorist Art Buchwald, 'Tiny Bubbles' Don Ho - all passed away this year.
Robert Petersen, the man who founded Petersen Publishing and who brought us Hot Rod, Car Craft, Motor Trend and many more enthusiast magazines that took us deep into California car culture died. As did the engineering brain behind Matchbox toys, Jack Odell.
Bud Elkins, the famous stuntman who drove Steve McQueen's Mustang in 'Bullitt' and also laid a motorcycle down on the blacktop during the unforgettable chase sequence, died at age 77.
Ekins also worked on other super-stunt films such as 'The Blues Brothers', including the famous car chase inside the shopping mall, and 'Diamonds are Forever', where he put that fat red Mustang up on two wheels and drove through a narrow alley. He also did some of the car stunts in 'Animal House'. Elkins was best known for the over-the-fence motorbike jump in 'The Great Escape', possibly the most famous motorcycle stunt ever performed in a movie.
Requiescat In Pace ... to all of them.
Speaking of death, in 2007, they dug up The Big Bopper in Texas. And a 1957 Plymouth in Oklahoma. Neither was in concours condition.
Everything Else: For all the advances in medicine, technology, communications, transportation, etc., I still feel saddened that the America of 50 years ago no longer exists. In those days, we made the best stuff in the whole world.
Fifty years ago or thereabouts, the best - and only - concept cars came from Detroit. Including almost everything shown in the spectacular GM Motoramas, especially the glorious series of Firebird turbine cars. Some dreams came to life - like the '53 Corvette and '55 Thunderbird.
Custom cars and hot rods were found almost exclusively in America. There was no British George Barris or Japanese Ed Roth.
American popular music used to be pretty much the only music. We invented rock and roll; Elvis was a strictly-American phenomenon. In the late '50s, American Bandstand ruled the afternoon airwaves. We made the greatest musicals, too. In 1957, Americans were being entertained by Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. Or The Music Man, or My Fair Lady, while a 9 year-old Andrew Lloyd Webber was munching Weetabix and picking at his butt. The Beatles were gazing in their respective mirrors, testing out pimple creams. And trying to imitate Gene Vincent.
American manufactured the best television sets - Admiral, Philco, Magnavox, Sylvania and Zenith. We produced the greatest TV shows, too. The 1957 season included Perry Mason, The Mickey Mouse Club, The Tonight Show, The Price Is Right, The Phil Silvers Show, Ed Sullivan and Playhouse 90. Meanwhile, Great Britain had the BBC. And Japan offered shadow puppets in the town square of almost every prefecture on weekends.
We used to invent and manufacture the cleverest stuff; fifty years ago, the first electric wrist watch came - not from the Swiss - but from the Hamilton Watch Co. of Pennsylvania. What did France develop that year? The sack dress.
America offered the best toys, too - mighty Tonka trucks, Lionel trains, rocket ship pedal cars and dolls that peed themselves.
America had Disneyland. Sweden offered out-of-focus porn. China spun silk. In 1957, Americans were the only people in the world to purchase more than 3 pairs of shoes per year - an average of 3.48 pairs per person.
Sadly, we're no longer the best in all categories. We've become just another player in an ever-competitive world economy. But, some things are improving - instead of having to buy a fake Rolex from some shady street character in the seedy section of downtown, you can now purchase it on the internet with your credit card.
Happy New Year!
Friday December 28, 2007
Saint Bob, Deliver Us From Evil. And try not to electrocute us in the process. Newsweek has declared GM's Bob Lutz to be the Patron Saint of electric cars. Boy, I bet the Toyota Prius development team is pissed.
Newsweek writes, "When General Motors was fingered as the prime suspect in the 2006 documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?", Bob Lutz's inbox filled with hate mail. "I hope you rot in hell," read one missive to the GM vice chairman, known for his love of gas-guzzling sports cars."
"I believe strongly that this country has to get off oil," Lutz pontificated, sitting beside a massive V-16 engine on display in his office. "The electrification of the automobile is inevitable." When tiny Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley start-up, announced in 2006 that it would produce a speedy electric sports car powered by those same laptop batteries, "That tore it for me," said Lutz. "If some Silicon Valley start-up can solve this equation, no one is going to tell me anymore that it's unfeasible."
This event has become known as The Conversion Of St. Bob - not unlike the Conversion Of St. Paul but without the falling off the horse on the road to Damascus part. And with a V-16 nearby instead of sixteen Thessalonians.
Bob shoulda called Toyota, which has been selling actual hybrid electric cars since 1999. (They're called Priuses, St. Bob. And, unlike the GM EV-1, they actually work in everyday use.) Instead, Lutz green-lighted the Chevy Volt, a yet-to-be made hybrid car, which Wired magazine has dismissed as "vaporware".
Last January, Lutz unveiled the Volt Plug-in Hybrid "concept", featuring impractical side window glazing, huge wheels on Ultra-LoPro tires, squashed greenhouse, tiny side mirrors, humpy '66 Toronado fender flares and butch lines that scream, "I'm no wuss, I'm the toughest, environmentally-conscious guy on the planet." The real Volt, if it ever appears, won't look much like the concept.
Chevy later ran two page color ad spreads in major magazines touting the 'will-it-ever-be-built?' Chevrolet Volt. These were paid for by a corporation which is going broke ... but, at GM, there always seems to be money available for hype.
Meanwhile over in Toyotaland, the Prius more than doubled sales in November '07 compared with Nov. 2006. Prius outsold Saturn's product line as well as that of Buick and came close to outselling the entire Cadillac line.
Detroit had scoffed when Toyota introduced the odd-looking Prius in '99, warning us that batteries will fail and people will 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.
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 simply 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 plus-cent-a-mile cost of gasoline. Utilities are quite interested in plug-ins because they can sell their off-peak power at night to consumers.
Let's not forget that most car outings involve less than 20 miles of driving.
Auto guru Jerry Flint writes: "Competitors like to sneer and say, "Toyota loses money on each one." I do not think so. They get $26,000 for a Prius versus $16,000 for a Corolla, a Toyota that has about the same load capacity as the Prius. That is a $10,000 premium for an attractive design and fuel economy. I think this spread also covers the cost of the Prius batteries."
So ... Toyota presents a profitable hybrid business story and Bob Lutz gets all the ink at Newsweek. Life ain't fair.
Never Make Fun Of The Edsel Again: Presenting the Citroen C-Cactus. A hybrid. Of what, I'm not sure. Uuuuuggggleeee!
Lame Presidential Choices: Jack M. at Ace comments on the candidate offerings: "And I think it's a shame that we are faced with a choice between a guy who's claim to fame is that he "saved the Winter Olympics", or a guy who's claim to fame is that he "lost a ton of weight", or a woman who wouldn't be in the discussion had she not married a future President, or a man who channels dead kids' spirits in court, or a man who was endorsed by Oprah, or a blimp-flying Bircher, or a guy who's been on TV a lot, or a guy who never met a TV news anchor he wouldn't sell out his party for, or a guy who ditched his wife at a press conference."
Bullish On 2008: Prescient investment advisor Ken Fisher - I've been reading his stuff for 20 years and his forecasts are usually accurate - notes that "five years of above-average returns haven't yet generated any groundswell of thinking that we're now in some New Era of above-average returns. That's bullish! It means sentiment hasn't turned euphoric, as it did in the late 1990s. Thus, there's room for more of a bull market ahead. I want to be the first to say we definitely are in a New Era of above-average returns. I'll keep buying stocks until we hear multiple pundits say we are entering a new period of high returns. That will be a time to sell."
"When will this happen, that the consensus will turn almost uniformly bullish? I don't know, but I doubt it will be before 2009 starts. Hence, I'm expecting another above-average year ahead, an easy one."
"Here are a few factors I don't fear as we enter 2008, either because they won't happen or don't matter: further collapses in the mortgage market; a credit crunch ... $125 oil; inflation; rising long-term rates; folly from the Federal Reserve ... Iranian idiocy (a pleonasm); or anything you read in Business Week. My biggest fear is of a rising yen ... the U.S. and European markets are being propped up by speculators who borrow in yen."
"But otherwise, buy stocks and be happy. It's still easy - five years into this bull market - to find above-average companies selling at below-average valuations. And this when valuations are in general low compared with the cost of long-term capital."
Sounds good to me.
Three Religious Truths: Those of the Jewish faith do not recognize Jesus as The Messiah. Protestants do not recognize the Pope as leader of their Christian faith. And Baptists do not recognize each other at the liquor store. Or Hooters.
Bad Pun Of The Day: A book on voyeurism is a peeping tome.
Wednesday December 26, 2007
Hope You Had A Good Christmas! I did - my daughter and I got matching presents from Santa. Each of us received a 1:43 scale diecast model of a 1938 Talbot Lago with body by Figoni & Falaschi, finished in a two-tone blue.
I also got 1:43 models of a '58 Messerschmitt, a swoopy gold 1939 Delage D8 with body by Letourneur & Marchand, a red & black 1933 Duesenberg SSJ roadster and a '55 Chrysler 300.
And I'm reading Lileks' new book, 'Gastroanomalies: Questionable Culinary Creations from the Golden Age of American Cookery'. I also got an Elvis-head PEZ dispenser set featuring three Elvi: young Elvis, Army Elvis and Las Vegas Elvis. With Coke-flavored PEZ refills. And many more gifts as well.
And we watched The Simpsons Movie on DVD - another Christmas gift.
We has a mini snowstorm in the afternoon but it was too warm, so there was little accumulation. Later it turned to rain and everything quickly melted. It was nice to see snow on Christmas, though.
Up In Smoke: Ummm ... that would be electrical smoke. Wired has named "along with the Chevy Volt, which was nominated but didn't make the top 10", the Tesla Roadster as one of the top 10 pieces of Vaporware for 2007. It "is one of the first electric cars to really turn heads. It not only looks like a handful of aces (thanks to some sexing up by the Brits at Lotus Cars), but it tops out at 125 mph and it can go from zero to 60 in about four seconds. And the Tesla ain't no hybrid, either - the fully electric motor can travel more than 200 miles on a single charge."
"The car has been appearing everywhere - Popular Science, The New York Times, Wired - except the blacktop. The Tesla Roadster was promised this October, but now we're looking forward to burning some vapor in 2008."
Quick! Choose One. E85 or Beer? Popular Mechanics has a good article on the Great Ethanol Scam: "The National Renewable Energy Laboratory states that, "Today, 1 Btu of fossil energy consumed in producing and delivering corn ethanol results in 1.3 Btu of usable energy in your fuel tank." Even that modest payback may be overstated.
Skeptics cite the research of Cornell University professor David Pimentel, who estimates that it takes approximately 1.3 gal. of oil to produce a single gallon of ethanol.
Furthermore, "the average price of a pint of bitter in Britain's pubs could increase from around £2.20 to as much as £4 next year. ... The massive hike ... is due largely to increased prices of key ingredients barley and hops - in part because farmland is being turned over to environment-friendly biofuels."
Thanks, ecology moonbats, for the Tortilla Riots in Mexico City and higher beer prices everywhere.
Repeat after me: "Actions have consequences."
There Are Many Embarrassing Ways To Die ... this is just one of them: "Ken Hendricks, a roofing company billionaire, died after falling through his roof. The 66-year-old was checking on construction on the roof over his garage at his home when he fell through."
Send A Message To Elvis! Or Anna Nicole. Or Generalissimo Francisco Franco. Or James Brown. "For a donation of $5.00 per word (5 word minimum), we can have telegrams delivered to people who have passed away. This is done with the help of terminally ill volunteers who memorize the telegrams before passing away, and then deliver the telegrams after they have passed away. We call this an "afterlife telegram".
The $5.00 per word fee, depending on the wishes of the messenger, it is either given to a relative, donated to a charity or used to pay for medical bills."
Found While Channel Surfing ... during a session on the treadmill: '1 2 3 4' by Feist. It's a silly little song but the music is bouncy and the video is astounding, appearing to have been done in a single scene with no cuts - at least at first glance. It may be just clever editing, but the performance is impressive and engaging nonetheless. And ... it helped me keep up my pace.
Quote Of The Day is from Winston Churchill: "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others."
|A Christmas Prayer
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.
Close the door of hate
and open the door of love all over the world.
Let kindness come with every gift
and good desires with every greeting.
Deliver us from evil by the blessing
which Christ brings,
and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.
May the Christmas morning
make us happy to be thy children,
and Christmas evening bring us to our beds
with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven,
for Jesus' sake.
May the Peace and Blessings
of Christmas be with you.
Fad Of The Moment: What's the deal with side vents? In 1930's cars, they actually helped cool the engine. My Plymouth has them. In 2008, many cars and trucks (Caddy Escalade, Ford F150, Cadillac CTS, Land Rover, Jaguar XJ, Ford Focus, etc.) now feature them as style accents. Most of them are either fake or serve no real function.
I have a special name for them: Speed Holes. It comes from a 1995 episode of The Simpsons. Homer is using a pickaxe to punch holes in his car's sheetmetal. Ned Flanders saunters over and asks, "Whatcha diddely-doin', neighbor?"
Homer replies, "They're speed holes, Flanders. They make the car go faster."
Flanders: "Hmmm. Maybe the old Flandersmobile could use a couple speed holes."
In 2036, some car enthusiast kid will see a 28 year-old beater by the side of the road and exclaim, "Hey, that old heap must be a 2008 model. It has Speed Holes."
Sunset On Mercury: Dale Buss reports that "Ford Motor Co. seems to be nudging its Mercury brand closer to oblivion with its latest decision: to remove it from national television ads and some other spending on traditional media, instead shifting more resources online and into dealership advertising efforts.
The decision to reallocate marketing resources for Mercury comes as the brand continues to struggle in the marketplace (sales are down about 7% for the year) and as Ford reportedly plans no new products for Mercury after the introduction of an overhauled Milan midsize sedan in the 2009 model year."
Thinking Outside The Box: A recent Columbian news article caught my eye. It had this opening sentence: "Mass transit may not wind up on the new Columbia River bridge at all, but under it." Planners for the new Columbia River bridge are looking at a quirky design characteristic dubbed "transit-in-a-box."
It means running mass transit lanes - be they for buses or light rail - under the road and inside the main structure of the bridge.
A little background is in order here. The Columbia River Interstate Bridge is obsolete. Originally built in 1917, this is the only lift bridge on busy Interstate 5 between Mexico and Canada. Over 130,000 vehicles cross the bridge on an average day and for four-five hours each day, the bridge operates at or beyond nameplate capacity. The bridge is frequently a bottleneck which impacts both traffic on the freeway, as well as on the river. The lift takes 10 minutes to open and does so between 10 and 20 times per month, which causes nightmarish traffic backups. The bridge is also an eyesore - ugly and decrepit.
The Oregon and Washington state Departments of Transportation have been jointly studying how to replace the bridge for several years now. One of the problems to be faced is that a tall, non-lift bridge will require vastly increased approach ramps, wiping out much of downtown Vancouver and restricting access to the Hayden Island shopping district in North Portland.
The proposed 'transit-in-a-box' (TIB) concept adds another 15-20 feet to the deck height, making the approaches even longer and more detrimental.
This silly idea is indicative of how the bridge committee thinks. While the ... (more >>>)
Sad News: Joe Sweeney, a childhood friend, was killed last weekend in a traffic accident. He and I went to grade school and high school together.
I hadn't seen him in over 25 years; we last exchanged mail about 15 years ago. Nevertheless, his passing is brings sorrow; it is a reminder that we are all mortal.
Rest in peace, Joe.
Signatures Mean Nothing: The international community loves to berate the U.S. for refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocols: "Bad, dirty America, spewing all those carbon emissions! Wrecking our lovely planet. Trying to kill Gaia."
Yeah well, if you look at the data - as American Thinker has - and compare 2004 (latest year for which data is available) to 1997 (last year before the Kyoto treaty was signed), you'll find the following:
• Emissions worldwide increased 18.0%.
• Emissions from countries that signed the treaty increased 21.1%.
• Emissions from non-signers increased 10.0%.
• Emissions from the U.S. increased 6.6%."
Oh, yeah ... emissions from China increased by a whopping 55%. Just thought you'd like to know.
Best Perfume Commercial Ever ... is here.
Political Update: Hog On Ice looks at the John Edwards' "love child" story: "Of course the story is true. It came from the National Enquirer. People make fun of the Enquirer, but think about it: when was the last time they were wrong? They used to print stuff that was completely insane, but over the last decade or two, they've embarrassed a lot of celebrities with true stories. They shrug off lawsuits better than Al Sharpton. Hell, they even beat anthrax."
"One part of the story that makes it credible: the identity of the mom. A trashy-looking blonde who hangs around political campaigns. Hmm ... I've seen that face before. Isn't that the albino who stalked Whitney Houston in 'The Bodyguard'? Or has Laura Ingraham discovered meth? If so, save some for me."
I dunno. To me, she looks like one of those skinny little guys - the ones with the creepy little smiles featured on 'To Catch A Predator' - wearing a cheap blonde chick wig.
Hog continues, "Maybe the story is fake. Maybe Edwards planted it to kill the gay rumors. Who cares? He wasn't going to win or be nominated anyway. If John Edwards were the only candidate on the ballot, most people would write in Pedro. Incidentally, Ron Paul has a love child. But when she threatened to go public, they sheared her wool and sold her to a meat packer."
Hog doesn't like many of the candidates, noting "if Ron Paul is really a doctor, he could do us all a big favor by prescribing speed for Fred
van Winkle Thompson, who is so lethargic pigeons shit on him."
Snark Attack Of The Week is from Ann Coulter: "Hillary wants to be the first woman president, which would also make her the first woman in a Clinton administration to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office instead of under it."
Goodbye Kitty! You can now take out every neighborhood cat with a glitterized Hello Kitty AK47 assault rifle for only $1072.95. (hat tip - Pugs of War)
Geezer Joke: An elderly man went to his doctor and said, "Doc, I think I'm getting senile. Several times lately, I have forgotten to zip up."
"That's not senility," replied the doctor. "Senility is when you forget to zip down." (hat tip: George Pradel)
Quote Of The Day is from Neal Boortz: "I am sick to death of hearing Liberals talk about how difficult it is to raise a family on minimum wage. Why, oh why doesn't someone walk up to one of these people and say, "Hey pal, you're not supposed to raise a family on minimum wage. If you don't have the job skills, or the wherewithal to earn more than the minimum wage, then you don't have any business having children, because you can't afford to raise them!""
Wednesday December 19, 2007
Car Photos! I've posted pix of my new car here.
Under New Ownership: UK publication CAR Magazine has been sold. I first discovered it 20+ years ago. The photography was stunning, the stories interesting, the road tests informative, witty and acerbic. In the U.S., every buff magazine was praising the '87 Honda Accord as the perfect sedan; CAR bitched because the door seals would blow open at speeds above 110 mph and made the interior noisy. I never realized an Accord could go that fast. My wife owned a 1987 LXi sedan. Nice car. But we never drove it fast enough to disrupt the door gaskets.
L.J.K. Setright produced engaging and detailed technical articles on obtuse, complex subjects, filled with wit, irony and references to Latin, the Middle Ages and the Magna Carta. James May and Russell Bulgin wrote delightfully informative stuff. CAR's news section broke stories never mentioned by Motor Trend, Car & Driver, et al.
George Bishop covered press jaunts, critiquing the quality of the canapes and the enchantment of the liquor served. Occasionally, when he wasn't too drunk, or too busy whining about the five-star hotel's two-star mattress, he would slip behind the wheel of the vehicle being introduced and write a mildly descriptive 50 or so words about it.
There was nothing quite like CAR. It was, at its peak, magic. Then came the inevitable shake-ups and changes of staff. And decline. Bulgin and Setright died, May went off to other pastures, Bishop passed out in a pasture, I think. The last time I bought CAR - a year or so ago, it was noticeably thinner and blander. Top Gear is now actually a much better publication, containing some of the Brit cheekiness of the old CAR.
The magazine's new owner is Heinrich Bauer Verlag, a publisher of German general interest mags ... and, according to TTAC, porn.
"Chalk One Up For The Home Team." Dan Neil likes the redesigned Caddy CTS: "Cadillac makes a better car than BMW or Mercedes or Lexus or Infiniti, and that car is the 2008 CTS. No other car in the mass market, with so much at stake for its makers, dares so much as this expressive and audacious bit of automotive avant-gardism.
In a segment that lives and dies by European benchmarks, the CTS sets fire to the bench and throws it through the shopkeepers' window."
Big Bucks; Small Package: Prices for the BMW 1-series have now been released. The 135i coupe will easily run over $40K with a few options; AutoBlog's example prices out at almost $49K. Ouch.
Freedom of choice is great. God bless free markets and capitalism, as Larry Kudlow would say. If this little Bimmer floats your boat, so be it. You can place your order anytime. But if you're looking for a Chevy Cobalt-sized sporty coupe with minimal back seat room, there are a lot of other choices out there. For not very much more money, you could get a 3-Series.
Maybe BMW can sell a 1-series to the California guy who tried to kill himself and a female companion by driving his Bimmer into a large fountain at a cemetery. Both people survived but the BMW was found submerged in the water.
Train Update: I've had a number of model train buffs ask about construction details of my O-gauge train layout. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I took a ground level photo which shows the fold-down legs and removable rockers.
Major Correction: I have sympathy for anyone who writes and is published. Writing is always subject to human error. Thankfully, most are of the spelling, punctuation and sentence structure variety. Factual errors happen, too. And errors of omission. Most are harmless. This error, from The Observer (UK), had the potential to be a doozy:
"We should clarify that the stir-fried morning glory recipe featured in Observer Food Monthly last week uses an edible morning glory Ipomoea aquatica, found in south east Asia and also known as water spinach. This should not to be confused with the UK Ipomoea, also known as morning glory, which is poisonous."
"I Could Minimize My Payments By Selecting The 200-year, Interest-only ARM.": Iowahawk explains the sub-prime mortgage crisis with an anecdotal tale. Sorry, I can't write any more about it ... I'm too busy laughing.
Dueling Headlines ... from the same day: 'Scientists Fear Arctic Thaw Has Reached 'Tipping Point''. And: 'Arctic Sea Ice Re-Freezing at Record Pace'.
Maybe I Should Quit. Or kill myself. Or try to be more like Adolf.
Greg Gutfeld writes, "So Iranian President Ahmadinejad has a new blog and it works, in that "senile grandma in the attic" sort of way. But other than realizing how similar it sounds to Keith Olbermann, it dawned on me that when the elderly, squirrels and crazed dictators start having their own blogs, then blogging is dead."
"The worst five words you can hear at a party is "have you read my blog?" Blogs, really, used be called diaries, hidden under the pillows by troubled twelve year old girls. They were usually covered with stickers of rainbows and unicorns (Oh I loved those unicorns). But now everyone has a diary, but they call them blogs and they're asking you to read them - it's disgusting. It's like pulling off a band-aid and saying - I made it myself!"
"I call it the Sylvia Plath Syndrome - the idea that every nuance of your life should endless fascinate everyone else. At least Plath at the decency to provide a killer ending."
A Daily Gut commenter, Spaceagent, writes, "Imagine if Hitler had a blog - that would have been awesome. But then people would now be saying, 'Your blog, sir, is worse than Hitler's blog.'"
Things You Shouldn't Do: Don't buy a car from someone named Slick. Don't have remodeling work done by a company called Assholes With Ladders. And don't travel on Peter Pan Bus Lines:
"Passengers on a bus traveling from New York to Boston claim the driver kept the bus on a layover for an extra half hour and would not let them leave because he was upset about a complaint over his driving. The Peter Pan Bus Lines driver said he was miffed because a rider called the company dispatcher to complain that he had been swerving during the first leg of Sunday's trip. "Since you aggravated me, I'm going to aggravate you," the driver told passengers. The driver ignored apologies on behalf of the unknown rider who offended him. He also refused to allow passengers to smoke or buy snacks, repeating that this was punishment."
The driver later "raced down the turnpike, flying through toll booths."
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "When there are people with multiple convictions for child molestation, what does that say about what wimps we have become that we cannot bring ourselves to put people away, even when they are a continuing danger to children?"
Monday December 17, 2007
Prediction Fulfillment: I don't remember writing this but, on December 29, 2006, I declared: "As for me, if I had to replace my eleven year-old Jaguar sedan right-this-here minute, I'd do one of the following: 1) buy a new Infiniti G35 coupe, 2) buy a pre-owned, Jaguar-certified, low-mileage 2005-6 XK coupe or 3) buy a brand new Lexus LS460. But my Jag keeps soldiering on and, you know, that's just fine with me. Because there's nothing on the market that's on my 'Gotta Have It Or Else' list."
The Infinity G coupe made the short list; it was, in fact, my second choice. I gave up on the Jaguar XK because I couldn't find any coupes for sale in WA, OR or CA - every available XK was a convertible. As regular readers know, I bought a 2008 LS460.
Misunderstanding: A recent TTAC headline proclaimed: 'GM's Indian Spark a Damp Squib'. It's a story about sales of GM's Chevrolet Spark mini car in India.
Damn, I feel old. When I saw the words 'GM's Indian', I thought they were referring to an early '50s Pontiac hood ornament.
I Offer My Sincerest Apology ... to the late Benny Goodman.
In an August 15, 2007 posting, I reported that NASA now says that four of the top ten warmest years in American history occurred in the 1930s, with the warmest now in 1934 instead of the much-publicized 1998. I remarked that this was "all very logical, since there was a lot of warm air generated by the horn sections of those '30s big bands." And proceeded to berate Mr. Goodman, whose band had a particularly hot horn section - just listen to Sing, Sing, Sing from 1938 or Let's Dance from '39.
Then I read an article in AutoWeek about the 1930 Blower Bentley which stated that these cars "were extraordinarily fast - top speed was more than 100 mph and one example achieved more than 137 mph in 1932 - but they were also fragile and extremely thirsty. Whereas a nonsupercharged 4.5 liter managed 15 mpg, Blower Bentleys guzzled fuel at the rate of 3 mpg."
So ... it was the Blower Bentley's exhaust, not Benny, that was heating up the planet in the '30s.
"Season's Greetings": For those who think this holiday euphemism is something new, I offer this lucky holiday horseshoe-shaped trinket given to my wife's mom in the 1940s by the folks at Harper's Dress Shop on Frankford Avenue, just south of the Margaret-Orthodox El station in Philadelphia.
It offers this promise: 'Keep me and never go broke' (it apparently works, neither my wife nor her mom have ever gone broke) and features a 1945 copper penny.
The dress shop was not so lucky - it is long gone; the address is now the home of the Leandro Pizza House. (permalink)
Bridge Out: The Klineline Bridge in Vancouver, WA has been permanently closed to all traffic - even pedestrians - because it is in danger of collapse. The bridge, built in 1928, carries Highway 99 over Salmon Creek. About 14,000 vehicles a day cross the bridge, making it one of the area's busier surface street bridges.
A replacement bridge will not be ready for 14-18 months. This will be disastrous for retailers in the area and an big inconvenience to those who live nearby.
This bridge has been a well-known trouble spot for a long time. In 1949, a pier was undermined and one end of the bridge dropped several feet. In 1956, water eroded the central pier and the middle of the bridge collapsed. Erosion began again during the 1996 floods and progressed during heavy storms over the past two years. Clark County completed emergency bridge repairs in Fall of '06 to fill in eroded areas beneath two bridge piers. However, high water last winter forced two bridge closures and damaged the repairs.
Why didn't anyone in county government plan in place to replace this bridge years ago? And why hasn't someone been fired for sheer incompetence?
What's In A Name? Most Rev. John P. Foley received his red hat, signifying his elevation to Cardinal, from Pope Benedict XVI at a ceremony at the Vatican on November 27th. A large continent of St. Joe's Prep alumni and friends shared in the moment with Cardinal Foley, including his classmate Henry Gibson (class of '53), the comedian and actor currently appearing as the sexually confused judge on the television series 'Boston Legal.'
Gibson said he and the cardinal have been "solid friends" since 1949 when they were classmates at St. Joseph's Preparatory School in Philadelphia. They and three other classmates referred to themselves as the 'Rat Pack' and were involved in the debate team, drama club and other activities. Cardinal Foley also said that he had the permission of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, to continue doing the English-language TV commentary for the pope's Christmas Mass at midnight.
I've written to my friend and fellow car nut, Ray, to complain. When we were students at the Prep, he designated our small circle of friends as The Rat Pack. I didn't know there was another one.
"America - A Land Of Opportunity ...": Rudy's impressive, two-minute, Make Me President video is posted here.
Bad Pun Of The Day: Two cows are chatting in a field. Daisy: "I was artificially inseminated this morning." Dolly: "I don't believe you." Daisy: "It's true, no bull!"
Friday December 14, 2007
Lexus Agonies: Last week, I promised to tell you about the unpleasant and mind-boggling rigors of trying to purchase my new car. You'll probably be shocked. I certainly was. Read all about it here.
Old Dog: Jeremy Clarkson was not overly impressed with the new Subie WRX: "This car is called Subaru Impreza, which makes you think it will be a bare-knuckle attack dog. But in fact you get a soft and rather elderly labrador."
Farming Out Technology: There is a charity program called One Laptop per Child (OLPC), featuring the XO-1 computer which is molded in bright, childlike colors. The program and computer is the brainchild of onetime MIT media lab honcho Nick Negroponte and the computer features technology "designed for the impoverished children of Africa."
Statistics on world hunger show that in "the Asian, African, and Latin American countries, well over 500 million people are living in what the World Bank has called "absolute poverty." Every year, 15 million children die of hunger."
Back in the 1980s, when Jay Leno did edgy comedy, he had a bit about Toys For Ethiopians. In the piece, he was having a mythical conversation with little Bantu, an African child. Leno presented Bantu with a Mr. Potato Head set. "Look, little Bantu, you can decorate up Mr. Potato and put a funny nose and glasses on him."
"But Bantu is very, very hungry and would just like to eat the potato."
"No, no, little Bantu, this potato is not for eating. It is for play and fun," lectured Leno.
I wonder of the recipients of the XO-1 laptops will use them as shovels to dig holes and plant potatoes?
Left A Good Job In The City: Ike Turner, the ex-husband, alleged wife-beater and musical partner of singer Tina Turner, has died at the age of 76.
In addition to his fame as half of Ike and Tina Turner, he was present at the dawn of rock and roll. Some believe that the first rock and roll record was Jackie Brentson's hard-driving 'Rocket 88' from 1951. It certainly had the correct elements - it was about a car (a 1950 Oldsmobile 88 with a high-compression, overhead-valve Rocket V-8 engine) and featured Ike on keyboards.
I'll always remember fondly Tim Meadows' Ike Turner impersonation - where he would angrily threaten SNL news anchor Kevin Nealon, returning later to apologize - often bearing roses: "You know I love you, Kevin Nealon."
When I think of Mr. Turner, I remember the energetic Ike and Tina Turner Revue stage shows of the '70s. Then I think of the diplomacy disasters of the '70s, featuring that other duo - Warren Christopher Jimmah Carter, who were less than energetic. It made me wish Ike Turner had been president instead: Are you considering nuclear action against Iran, Mister President? "Naw, prolly not ... but I'm gonna slap that bitch around some." I would have cheered him on and worn an 'I Like Ike' button.
Rest In Peace, Ike. Rock on.
Best Amazon Review Ever! On the 'The Best of Vanilla Ice' CD compilation: "If you decide to buy this CD, wait patiently by the mail box till it arrives. Upon arrival, quickly open the box, then pull the security tape from the jewel case. Open the jewel case and place the CD in one hand. Break the CD in half, then slit your wrists with the remaining shards. As you begin to die, look at your reflection in the mirror-like surface of the broken CD, and ask your self what you were thinking when you ordered this CD!"
Quote Of The Day: Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms should be the name of a convenience store, not a government agency.
Wednesday December 12, 2007
In Sunshine Or In Shadow: In bright sunlight, my new Lexus (Nobel Spinel Mica) is almost identical in color to my old Jaguar (Carnival Red), except that the Lexus is metallic red. On overcast days and in the shade, the metallic effect disappears and the Lexus is similar in color to my wife's Toyota Avalon (Cassis Pearl) - a darker maroon color.
The Jaguar always looked red, regardless of lighting.
Interesting Car News: In November, Chrysler told the world its sales had fallen by just 2.1 percent a victory of sorts in a U.S. market that declined by around three percent. Now, CNN has reported that a lot of Chrysler transactions were low-buck fleet sales - Chrysler sent its dealers an internal memo "revealing that retail sales fell by 16.5 percent."
No wonder there are rumors of panic in the streets over at Cerberus.
Interesting Car News II: The Prius more than doubled sales in November '07 compared with November 2006. Prius outsold the entire Acura, Saturn, Buick, Subaru, Mitsubishi, Scion, Volvo and Mercury brands. It came close to outselling the Cadillac and Volkswagen brands.
Interesting Car News III: USA Today was not overly impressed by the Save-The-Company Chevy Malibu: "The V-6 model was tainted by a light howl from under the hood, a vibration in the steering wheel at idle and low speed, and violent shifts by the automatic transmission in some low-gear situations … On paper, Malibu seems superior to the lionized Camry. In practice, judging by the test cars' foibles, maybe not quite." Ouch.
Don't Count Him Out: Former Vice President Al Gore denied again that there were any campaign plans in his immediate future, but told CNN Monday that he hadn't "ruled out getting back into the political process at some point," and that if he did return to political life, it would be to take another shot at the White House. He did not endorse any of the current Democratic candidates for president and did not respond directly to a question about his view of Hillary Clinton's environmental policy proposals.
If Hillary self-destructs, Al may be return to the political arena. Back in June, I wrote about this. Go here and read Scenario 1.
TV Tantrum: Speaking of political stuff ... over the weekend, PBS was into its Begging For Money mode, so programming was all screwed up. Every time I tuned in, it was Celtic Women, '50s Do-Wop or Wayne Dyer. The McLaughlin Group was on in the middle of the night, so I recorded it to view later.
Aside from the usual Eleanor Clift yelling "I'm not finished yet!!!", Pat Buchanan prophesying Doom (from the Jews, Muslims, Arabs, Mexicans or Liberals - take your pick) and senile 'ol Cantankerous John hisself, there was the calm, intelligent Monica Crowley - to my eyes she is a Diana Krall-lookalike (a good thing, plus she's not married to the undelightful Elvis Costello) - and finally, the even-louder-than-Eleanor, crazier than John McL, Patty B and Chris Matthews combined, ghastly Lawrence O'Donnell, the ranting MSNBC talking head and former executive producer of the now-defunct West Wing.
Professional Bush/Cheney hater O'Donnell spent his spittle-laced air time blasting Mitt Romney, proclaiming him to be "racist" because he is Mormon. He declared ... (more >>>)
It's Hard To Believe ... but my favorite aunt died 53 years ago.
She was well loved and there were so many flowers at her funeral that the undertaker had to order up a flower car from the livery service.
She has now been dead far longer than she was alive. God rest her kind soul.
Quote Of The Day is from P. J. O'Rourke: "Skiing consists of wearing $3,000 worth of clothes and equipment and driving 200 miles in the snow in order to stand around at a bar and drink."
Monday December 10, 2007
Whither Mercury? Or Wither Mercury? Ford is reporting that its Lincoln luxury brand will overtake Mercury in sales sometime in 2008. While this statement was intended to convey positive things about Lincoln, it telegraphs a more ominous message about Mercury.
Mercury had a decent November but overall sales are still very low. Buick sells more vehicles; that's nothing to brag about and is an indication of how far the Buick brand has fallen. Pontiac - another troubled brand - sells twice as many vehicles as Mercury. Even perpetual loser brand Saturn outsells Mercury, despite a drop in Saturn's November sales.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Mercury. My dad owned a black '47 sedan. I remember riding in it as a kid. And I always thought that the 1956 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser XM show car was super cool. I liked the Mercury Cougar of the 1960s better than the Mustang.
That said, Mercury is a nothing brand. It never found its own identity. It was always, as my dad used to say, a "gussied-up Ford." Mercury was introduced ... (more >>>)
More Car Stuff: I spent most of the weekend getting acquainted with my new Lexus and learning all the controls/functions. I really like this car but it's always maddening when you get a new automobile. Cubbies and storage spaces are different and you have to figure out where to put stuff. (Note to Lexus: my mini fire extinguisher wouldn't fit in the glovebox or other cubbies. It's rolling around on the floor and I may just remove it. I carry a full-size extinguisher in the trunk but what if the trunk release mechanism catches fire?!)
From some angles, my Lexus bears a familial resemblance to my wife's 2005 Avalon. But the Lexus has tauter lines and the wheels are pushed more to the edges of the car. Here's a comparison:
'08 Lexus LS460
'05 Toyota Avalon
My LS460 is the so-called 'short wheelbase' model yet it has only a one-inch shorter wheelbase than my 'stretched' Jaguar, a Vanden Plas sedan. (There is plenty of back seat room in the Lexus.) The '96 Jag was 203 inches long, so I have a few extra inches of room in my garage now. As a further point of comparison, my wife's old 1996 Lincoln Continental had comparatively huge overhangs, with a 109 inch wheelbase and an overall length of 206 inches.
By the way, the Lexus LS 460, 460 L and LS 600h L luxury sedans reported combined sales of 2,668 for the month of November. (One was mine; my purchase counted as a November sale.) The LS 600h L hybrid luxury sedan accounted for only 170 units. At $120,000-plus a pop - no wonder.
The Difference Between Jews And Muslims: Two short stories illustrating why I'll probably always side with Israel:
Scene I: A grocery store in Manhattan makes a food faux pas, advertising Hanukkah Hams. The store realizes its mistake, quickly fixes it and apologizes. Jews everywhere shrug, move along and go about their holiday.
Scene II: A Muslim school lad wants to name the class teddy bear Muhammad. The British teacher goes along. Muslims everywhere yell, whine and make that weird yalla-yalla-yalla noise with their tongues. The teacher is jailed while some Muslims demand a public beheading. Eventually she is deported.
Imagine The Outcry If A White Person Had Said This: 1960s civil rights icon Andrew Young (who, as he ages, is gradually morphing into a Little Anthony impersonator) says Barack Obama is too young and lacks the support network to ascend to the White House.
In a media interview posted online, Young quipped that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton has her husband behind her, and that "Bill (Clinton) is every bit as black as Barack. He's probably gone with more black women than Barack."
Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart ... over you-ooo oooo oooo.
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "The people who are scariest to me are the people who don't even know enough to realize how little they know."
Friday December 7, 2007
Making A Choice: If you've been reading this blog over the past several months, you know that I have been searching for a replacement for my 1996 Jaguar daily driver.
If I wasn't looking for a luxury nameplate, I'd have lots of choices. In the non-luxury category, I would have considered the Subaru Legacy, Mini Cooper S, Toyota Solara coupe, the new Nissan Altima coupe, Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Mazda6 and maybe even the Hyundai Azera. Perhaps even a Mustang GT.
I've narrowed down my choices. And made a decision. (more>>>)
PS: In the next installment, I'll tell you about the unpleasant and mind-boggling rigors of trying to purchase my new car. Stay tuned. You'll probably be shocked. I certainly was.
Wednesday December 5, 2007
Trolling For Suckers: Last week, my wife and I walked the Vancouver Mall. There was one car on display - a yellow Pontiac Solstice. Next to the manufacturer's sticker was a dealer sticker listing a Market Adjustment Factor of over $3,000. At first, I thought there was a minus sign but, alas, it was merely a silverfish.
The local dealer actually wanted a $3,000 premium for this car! Well, that gave me a good laugh.
Frank Williams of TTAC recently wrote, "The once super-nova Solstice is suffering a full lunar eclipse. Pontiac dealers are looking (and looking) at the second slowest selling car in America, with a 211-day supply on hand. Predictably enough, once the initial excitement for GM's niche model was satiated, sales plummeted. Unfortunately, pre-new UAW contract production didn't. Solstii are piling up on dealer lots, hoping that spring drop top sales increases are eternal. Pontiac's dealers could use the biz; they averaged nine sales per dealer during October."
No Return: Jerry Flint offers seasoned words of wisdom about Detroit's 'lost buyers': "What is the biggest problem for the domestic auto industry? ... If you listen to Detroit executives, the problem is that customers are living in the past. They do not know that the home team has corrected its mistakes and now builds some first-rate cars and trucks. These executives may be correct in thinking the customers are not aware of the progress that Detroit has made. I have a different opinion, however. Today's American consumers just do not care."
"People are happy with their Toyotas, Hondas and BMWs. ... I say it is almost impossible to win back many of today's drivers. With striking designs, Detroit may lure in a few customers, especially from the lesser foreign brands such as Subaru, Mitsubishi or Mazda. Even so, I predict that many of the customers who felt wronged or betrayed by their Detroit cars will not return. ... It took Detroit decades of selling poorly designed vehicles in order to get into its current predicament. With all of the excellent cars and trucks on the market today - from foreign and domestic manufacturers - it will take a good while for Detroit to rectify the situation."
I couldn't agree more. Last year, in The Perfect Storm, I wrote: "Thirty years of pissing-off customers has finally come home to roost. In the 1980s, disgruntled buyers of GM, Ford or Chrysler products could only broadcast their displeasure at work or in bars. Today, the web has changed all that. Angry buyers put up websites. Or vent their spleens online in various forums. Bad news now spreads like wildfire."
"In today's world, information technology provides potential buyers with a cornucopia of information about the vehicles they're considering."
"Meanwhile, the sons and daughters of those angry '70s and '80s buyers continue to remember Pop's Bad Experience (from many dinner table rants) and buy Asian."
Nixon Resurrected? Well, he's certainly not an objective source .... but Karl Rove offered these interesting comments on Candidate Clinton: "Hillary comes across as cold, distant and conspiracy-minded, more like Richard Nixon than her sunny, charming husband. During the Clinton presidency she oversaw a disaster (the effort to sell Hillarycare) and argued hard against welfare reform, one of the promises on which he had campaigned. She is a hard-nosed competitor with a tough and seasoned staff. But her record is weak, her personality off-putting and her support thin. If she wins the nomination it will be because her rivals ... were weak."
Folks, we still have a horse race - at the Democrat and Republican horsetracks. As I have previously pointed out, it's early - almost anything can happen.
Fake Headline Of The Day ... is from The Onion: 'Underfunded Schools Forced To Cut Past Tense From Language Programs'.
Actual Headline Of The Day ... is from CNN: 'Baking Soda Could Help Save Planet'. Damn. Baking soda: Is there anything it can't do? A giant open box would take care of those unpleasant planetary odors too. Especially in developing countries. Or the Sea Lion Caves in Florence, Oregon. But better keep it away from a speeding, unstable trainload of vinegar-filled tank cars.
Quote Of The Day is from Greg Gutfeld: "The left is the humorless folks going "tsk-tsk." They're the dipwads - because the politically correct movement has drained them of any humor. For proof, visit the DailyKos or the Huffington Post. Both are angry graveyards of the aging and unfunny."
Monday December 3, 2007
Maintenance: This week, we drove to Les Schwab and bought new tires for the Avalon. It had been riding on 215/55VR17 tires - OEM Michelin Energy MXV4 S8s. At 25,000 miles, the Michelins were worn to nearly the tread marker and have always been lousy in wet weather - typical of every set of Michelins we've ever experienced (mostly OEM fitments). I wanted to replace them with a premium tire with better wet handling, and a quiet, smooth ride.
I chose Toyo Tourevo LS tires, which have received really good reviews. A quiet ride is promised due to 'Silent Wall Technology and Optimized Pattern Arrangement and Variable Pitch Blocks'. The tires are supposed to be excellent at all-season performance because of a larger contact patch to increase lateral stiffness. Wet traction is supposed to be superior due to 'higher sipe density to obtain the Edge Effect.' M-kay.
I passed on Pirellis (even though I've had good experiences with them on other cars) because the Av's tire size was only available in T-rated (I wanted V-rated skins) and Pirelli got a lot of negative reviews online. So did Michelin.
The Toyos were more expensive than either Michelins or Pirellis but, at this point, my wife's safety is of paramount importance. She tested the new Toyos, driving vigorously on the ride home and was pleased with the grip and cornering power. She said they were quiet, too.
More Maintenance: We also visited the Toyota dealer this week for an oil change/checkup. At 25,300 miles, there have been no problems to report. Not a single one. No squeaks, rattles, warning lights. Zip. Nada. My wife is very pleased with her Avalon.
Then you read about stuff like a guy's 2007 GMC Acadia with "the power liftgate wouldn't lift, the adjustable seat belts wouldn't adjust and the remote start wouldn't start. Before Arnette could make it to the dealer, he had a head-on with a firetruck. His airbags didn't deploy (even though there had been a recall in February for faulty airbag sensors). After the heavily-damaged vehicle sat at a dealership for two months, Arnette discovered the holdup: the dealer couldn't get parts. Two months after that, the Acadia was finally fixed. Ish. The liftgate and remote start still didn't work. And then the GPS system died."
What has General Motors done to help this customer? Apparently nothing. I don't want to pay money to be a beta tester for a car manufacturer. I'd rather buy a car with proven reliability, even though GM's cars are generally better styled than Toyota. That's why GM's sales (symbolic of the Big 2.8) continue to fade and Toyota's (symbolic of the Transplanted 4.2) continue to ascend.
Speaking of General Motors ... Roger Smith, who was chairman and chief executive at General Motors from 1981 to 1990, has died at age 82. He spent his entire career at GM, rising through its financial ranks at a time when the company chose its chief executive from among its 'bean counters'.
Smith was one of the worst CEOs in the auto industry. Often described as arrogant, he was - in terms of damage - GM's version of Jac Nasser. During Smith's tenure, General Motor's U.S. market share dropped from 46% to 35%. He pressed for development of the Saturn brand as a 'Toyota killer' in the compact field, saddling GM with one more unneeded brand and additional dealers, choking off money from other divisions to fund his pet project. I don't think Saturn has ever made a dime.
General Motors invested over $5 billion in the Saturn plant. Add in all of the product development and marketing expenses for Saturn and the total investment-to-date figure is probably closer to $10-12 billion. GM continues to throw money at Saturn. In 2003, USA Today reported, "Today, Saturn sells less with three models than it did in its peak year, 1994, when it had just one car to offer."
One has to wonder what would have happened if GM had invested all that money in Oldsmobile instead of Saturn. With proper design, serious quality control upgrades and a return to its 'position' as a stylish, technically-innovative performance car, Oldsmobile might well have stemmed the tide of luxury and near-luxury imports, offering a serious alternative to Acura, Audi and the like. And made a profit for General Motors.
Under Smith, the company branched out (changed/lost its focus) from a maker of automobiles to explore new technologies, like robotics, electronics and data processing. (The company has since spun off EDS and Hughes Electronics, his two major acquisitions.) Many of his reorganizations added layers of complexity, at times bringing the company to a virtual standstill while managers sorted out who would take responsibility. His bureaucracy-building, product missteps, mishandling of the UAW and badge engineering seriously wounded the automaker.
Smith's name is associated with numerous automotive disasters. One was the infamous GM-10 project, a platform of cars shared by GM's different brands that was supposed to represent a more-efficient way of developing products but ultimately cost the company over $7 billion. The cars, as well as other models sold by GM's various divisions, were derided for looking too much alike; Lincoln lampooned them in an mid-'80s ad.
Somewhere, The Ghost Of Preston Tucker Is Laughing: Martin Eberhard, the founder of Tesla Motors, maker of the forthcoming Tesla Roadster electric sports car, has been fired. "A number of executives have apparently left the company in recent months as engineers have struggled to overcome transmission problems that have delayed the production launch of the Roadster."
Man, I'm glad I didn't put a deposit on a Tesla.
Snake River Memories: Evel Knievel, the red-white-and-blue-spangled motorcycle daredevil whose jumps over crazy obstacles made him an national hero, has died at age 69. Knievel was best known for a failed 1974 attempt to jump Snake River Canyon on a rocket-powered cycle and a spectacular crash at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. He suffered nearly 40 broken bones before he retired in 1980.
In 1978, we traveled across the U.S., relocating from New Jersey to Oregon. After crossing the Snake River, we stopped for a potty break. My daughter's journal contains this entry: "The Snake River Canyon - where Evel Knievel jumped and Susie (our dog) dumped."
"Oh Irony, Where Is Thy Sting?" A North Pole expedition meant to bring attention to global warming was called off after one of the explorers got frostbite. The woman suffered frostbite in three of her toes, and extreme cold temperatures drained the batteries in some of their electronic equipment.
Definition Of The Day is for 'Skeleton': A bunch of bones with the person scraped off.