Friday November 28, 2008
Keeping Lincoln: In an article about Ford and GM possibly discontinuing some offerings, Edmunds' Bill Visnic wrote that "Lincoln doesn't work and hasn't since the 1960s."
I beg to differ. Look, I'm disappointed by what has happened to the once-mighty brand; I ditched our last Lincoln for something else. But for an auto writer to imply that Lincoln hasn't had a successful offering in 40 years ... well, that represents the pinnacle of ignorance.
Once upon a time, Lincoln was a desirable automobile brand. The big V-12 Lincoln Ks of the 1930s were true luxury cars, just as worthy as the custom-bodied Packards, Cadillacs and Pierce Arrows of the period. The prewar Lincoln Continental is an ageless classic. As is the 1956-57 Mark II. The Lincoln Continental convertibles of the 1961-64 era continue to be admired and collected by car enthusiasts of all ages.
But none of these fine cars put money in FoMoCo's coffers like the Lincoln Mark III luxury coupe which was introduced in April 1968. A year later, there were still waiting lists for it. The Lincoln Mark IV, introduced as a 1972 model had 51% higher unit sales than its competitor, the Cadillac Eldorado coupe. The Mark V also outsold the Eldorado.
In the late 1980s, when Cadillac had clearly lost its way, overall Lincoln sales actually exceeded those of Cadillac. In 1990, over 233,000 Lincolns were sold; all were passenger cars.
My first Lincoln was a Mark VII. I purchased it new in April 1984. When I sold it in 1992, it had about 90,000 miles on the odometer. It was a wonderful road car. The electronic air suspension provided a glassy smooth ride yet it had a very sporty feel in corners and on Oregon's twisty mountain passes.
On the day I sold it, the car still didn't rattle or squeak. (If you've ever driven an early '80s front wheel drive Cadillac with 50,000 or more miles on it, you'll find a whole new meaning to the terms rattle and squeak. In fact, if you look up rattle in Webster's Dictionary, you'll find a picture of an '82 Eldorado.) I last saw my old Mark VII in August, 1994. It was owned by a schoolteacher. She loved it. It had over 160,000 miles on it, still looked good and didn't burn oil.
Over the last several years, the Lincoln name has been tarnished - decontented, discounted and dissed. During the last 10 years, Lincoln choose to focus on trucks and its non-truck offerings suffered. By calendar year 2004, only 139,000 Lincolns were sold; passenger car sales accounted for less than 79,000 units. In October '08, 4,500 Lincoln passenger cars were sold - total Lincoln brand sales for the month were 7,400 or so.
I've owned five Lincolns over the years and - as regular readers know - I'm unimpressed with recent offerings. No Lincoln enthusiast I've met likes the bland little Zephyr/MKZ but all are pleased that the brand still exists and has the potential, as Ford's financial woes wane, to offer better products.
Visnic concluded, "Lincoln is Ford's Buick. It might be argued that insisting Ford drop-kick Lincoln leaves the Dearborners defenseless in the lux market. It also could be argued that with Lincoln, Ford is defenseless in the luxury market. There, we said it."
Wrong, Mr. Visnic. A somewhat tepid, not-quite luxury Lincoln line which handily outsells an even more tepid (and less profitable) Mercury is a much better alternative for Ford than no luxury nameplate at all. (permalink)
Once There Were Giants: It seems that car companies are pulling out of the Detroit Auto Show left and right. Scott Noteboom has written: "Perhaps the auto industry folks need to study these pictures (early 50's auto show pics from LA, Chicago, Detroit, NY and Paris) so that they can remember what they were and recall how they used to lead the swim instead of crying for the lifeguard."
I have some thoughts about the spectacular auto shows of 1955 here.
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'GM Covered With Giant Tarp Until It Has Money To Work On Cars Again'. According to CEO Rick Wagoner, the automotive giant spent its last $18 on cinder blocks to help secure the tarp.
Remembering Hanscom's: Last week, I placed our Swiss Colony order for Christmas. Among other things, I ordered a two-pound Dobosh torte - the closest thing I've been able to find to Hanscom's seven-layer cake (a childhood favorite). People who grew up in Philadelphia knew all about Hanscom's Bakery ... (more >>>)
Mega-Dittos, Greg: Over at The Daily Gut, Greg Gutfeld has selected nominees for the Turkey of the Year.
His picks include Madonna (she's exercised her physique into a tortured coil of rope - she could pass for a sailor's knot or a portion of a pachyderm's intestine - is it any wonder Guy Ritchie is the happiest man alive right now?), The View (there is not a single redeeming feature to this program - the entertainment equivalent of the innermost circle of hell, where ignorance and hot flashes meet - culminating in loony tunes conspiracy theories and crying jags), Ethanol Supporters (here's the heart of global warming theology - and it is a theology: a fundamental self-loathing for the human race, knitted into an overpowering sense of self-importance) and David Gergen (if you don't know who David Gergen is imagine a sock dipped in flesh, gargling on a gerbil).
As Stewie Griffin has said, "Yesssss. Thank you."
Quote Of The Day is from The Simpsons' Lenny: "There's nothing like revenge for getting back at people."
Wednesday November 26, 2008
The Birth Of The Inifiniti Brand ... according to Jeremy Clarkson: "Toyota decided that a Lexus should be built to a standard unparalleled in the world and that the cars should drive and feel better than any Mercedes. Nissan, on the other hand, just wrote Infiniti on the back of a Datsun. In crayon. Hoping the Americans would be fooled."
Diner At Twilight: Last weekend, I shot a flash-free exposure of the Mayfair Diner on my O-gauge train layout.
The neon sign atop the diner can be configured to over 40 different animation combos. I've chosen a static sign with a buzzy E which blinks rapidly. By the way, there is a real Mayfair Diner in Philadelphia; more information about it can be found here.
More photos of the train layout's Mayfair Diner are here.
No Limited-Edition Santa Plates This Christmas: The Lenox Group Inc., maker of fine china, giftware and those overpriced Department 56 "collectible" buildings and such, has gone bankrupt.
Memorable Thanksgiving Quote is from Greg Gutfeld on Big Bird, the star of Sesame Street and Macy's Parade regular: "He's not a turkey, of course, but without turkeys, he'd be nude. His costume is actually made of 4,000 turkey feathers all dyed the color of the New York Times editorial board."
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Thousands Gather For Stuffing Of Giant Rockefeller Center Turkey' Excerpts: "Moments after a 150-foot-tall crane stuffed the raw turkey to overflowing, ground crews fastened the bird's gargantuan legs together with nearly 200 yards of kitchen string. ...
Crowds reportedly started arriving before noon to watch the festive turkey-stuffing spectacle, which included live musical performances by Josh Groban and American Idolwinner David Cook. In addition, the entire cast of NBC's Chuck received the honor this year of walking inside the turkey's abdominal cavity to retrieve the 1,000-pound giblets packet. ...
On Tuesday, gravy boats came up the Hudson River, while dump trucks heaped with mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and boiled corn lined Sixth Avenue for nearly a mile. Several dozen workers have also been added to the payroll to shovel congealed fat and gristle off the sidewalks ..."
Buh Bye: Alan Colmes, who looks like Jimmy Smits turned inside out, is leaving Hannity and Colmes.
Rumor has it that he will be replaced by an inflatable Bozo the Clown punching bag, which Sean H. can easily work over.
And, unlike Alan, Bozo has a nose that squeaks. If the new clown works out, it might get its own radio show.
Speaking of clowns ...
Bad Investment Advice - Only $161,538 Per Visit: Four major banks, including one that collapsed, two that received federal bailout money and one that filed for bankruptcy this past September, paid former President Bill Clinton $2.1 million for 13 speeches he delivered on their behalf between 2004-2007, according to Senate financial disclosure statements filed by Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Repeats: After watching about two dozen episodes faithfully captured by my DVR at some ungodly hour, I remain convinced that ten+ year-old reruns of 'Homicide: Life On The Street' are better than 96.3% of the current offerings on television.
Bad Pun Of The Day: I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
Monday November 24, 2008
Used Future: The Automotive Lease Guide has released its projections for the vehicles most likely to retain their value three years from now. The winner was Mini, retaining 64.5% of its value 36 months hence. The Honda Fit and Scion xB were close behind. "Cadillac ranked the lowest of all luxury brands in projected resale value, expected to retain only 36.9 percent of its value in a segment that averages only 44.3 percent value retention."
The F150 was the best light truck at 40.7%.
Expensive Porsche Sedan - Wet Dream For Rich Dentists: Emboldened by their success with the Cayenne SUV, Porsche is planning to sell 20,000 Panameras globally each year.
Hmmmm. How many orthodontists are there in the world anyway?
Pay Radio Part II: I've received a surprising number of e-mails about my satellite radio posting of Friday. People seem to either love Sirius XM or hate it.
I elected not to get satellite radio in our cars. I didn't like the little central fin on the roof of the Lexus. Or the Toyota. (A gigantic central fin, like the one on the original comic book Batmobile, Boston Blackie's car or that Checker Aerobus I once spotted would have made me a lot more interested.) And I don't need pay radio. I use free radio for top-o-the-hour news and for traffic reports. Sometimes, I'll play a jazz station on FM or the Music of Your (Geezer) Life station on AM. I have to be careful about the MOYL station. There are so many commercials for Life-Alert bracelets, walk-in bathtubs, reverse mortgages, cripplescooters, retirement villages, portable oxygen devices, cancer treatment centers, etc. that if I listen too long, I fall into deep, age-related despair, obsessing about my wrinkled, spotted hands holding the steering wheel.
Talk radio? No thanks. It distracts me and raises my blood pressure. More often than not, I'll play CDs while driving, especially if I'm in the mountains where reception's poor. The Lexus has an iPod jack, so - if I ever bother to get one - I can load all of the 1,364 iTunes now in my database and play 'em in the car.
Sirius XM is bundled-in as part of our satellite TV package, so I'm familiar with the firm's offerings. I have no complaints but I'm just not motivated to have it in my automobiles. Neither are a lot of other people and that's Sirius XM Radio's big problem. Sirius and XM couldn't make it as two separate companies; so they merged this year, hoping for a miracle. (The same kind of miracle that was the basis for that brief GM-Chrysler flirtation last month.)
A couple of weeks ago, the now-conjoined Sirius XM announced that it had lost almost $5 billion in the third-quarter. Apparently, satellite and transmission expenses as well as programming and content expenses continue to rise faster than sales revenues. Many analysts expect Sirius XM to lose money next year too. This doesn't seem like a viable business model, does it? I don't think so and neither do investors - the stock closed Friday at 14¢/share.
Currently, its subscriber base is 19 million. This may drop because of the lousy economy. "They are a very, very discretionary expense," said Larry Rosin, co-founder of consulting firm Edison Media Research. "Families are cutting their expenses. It seems doubtless they'll lose some people that way."
The business graveyard is full of companies who thought they could get people to pay for what they used to get for free, including an epidemic of paid-content internet sites. (As well as those firms whose costs regularly exceeded revenues.) Pay radio remains a tough sell. If Sirius XM can't convince more people of the value of its offering, expect to see another rectangular hole being dug. (Unless the gummint gives the firm a bailout - along with seemingly every other business with a sob story.)
Too True: Comedian Louie CK says, "Everything's amazing in our world and it's wasted on the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots ..."
And: "When I was a kid, we had a rotary phone ... a phone you had to stand next to. And you had to dial it - do you even realize how primitive that was? You're making sparks!" More here.
Drudge Report: It has a face only a mother could love but it "is one of the best-designed sites on the web. Has been for years." Like an air-cooled Beetle, it's timeless.
Plus, the single-pager makes $1 million per year. I'm jealous.
Third Term For Clintons: Hillary Rodham Clinton has decided to give up her Senate seat and accept the position of secretary of state. Just look at all the ex-Clintonistas appointed so far. Apparently, 'change' was code for 'more 1990s please, only older'.
I'm confused. Does this mean that it's Hillary who will be answering the phone at 3:00 am?
The Cult Grows: Ludlum Elementary School in Long Island, New York has been re-named in honor of President-elect Barack Obama "at the request of numerous school students." To get a public institution named for you, you're supposed to be 1) dead or 2) old. And you're supposed to have actually done something.
At the request of students? This is not about adding chocolate milk to the lunch program. This is serious stuff. If we let kids name schools, half our education institutions would be named after a Bionicle character (Hydraxon Elementary School, Axonn Middle School). Or Dora The Explorer. Or Bob The Builder. Or Hannah Montana.
Maybe this week there will be a Twilight High.
It Walks Down Stairs! Betty James, who co-founded the company that made the Slinky - the coil-shaped metal toy that could walk down stairs, died last week at age 90.
I had a Slinky, my kids had a Slinky ... I think everybody had a Slinky at one time or other. It was a truly educational toy. When you overstretched it, you learned the first Law of Mechanical Engineering: once you get beyond the Yield Point of steel, you can never go back ... you're screwed. Your toy is ruined, whether it's a Slinky, the space frame of a Birdcage Maserati or a critical truss on an Interstate bridge. You have to get a replacement.
In 1945, James and her husband at the time, Richard, founded the company that would later make Slinky - the toy for which she was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2001, after hundreds of millions of Slinkys had been sold worldwide. She took over management of James Industries in 1959, after her husband left her to follow a religious cult in Bolivia. Richard James died in 1974.
I couldn't help but wonder if her casket was made of spring steel and walked down the church steps by itself.
Bad Pun Of The Day: Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
Friday November 21, 2008
Moral Relativism: A couple of years ago, a local television station did an expose on an InterBeggar (a panhander plying his trade at an Interstate 5 on-ramp), who - at the end of his work day - drove off in a late-model Lexus to a nice home in suburbia.
Is this any worse than the Detroit Three CEOs flying to D.C. in private jets to beg Congress for a bailout? By the way, there are 24 daily nonstop commercial flights from Detroit to the Washington area.
Bail Out This! Auto dealers are demanding a bailout as well, claiming that pending manufacturer bankruptcies "will drive them out of business." Yeah, right.
Many people will recognize the name Ron Tonkin. He was the outspoken president of the National Automobile Dealers Association in the early 1990s. Ron Tonkin Automotive of Portland, OR is a huge operation - the largest locally-owned dealer in the state of Oregon. I'm no fan and will never purchase from them again but I must admit that they are very successful, selling well over 15,000 vehicles a year.
The Tonkin family started out selling used cars, picking up a Kaiser-Frazier dealership just after World War II, later adding Willys, Nash (later AMC), followed by Mercury. As a young man, Ron Tonkin bought out a small Chevrolet store in 1960. He became a Ferrari dealer in 1966. Later he signed up to be a DeLorean dealer. Then he picked up a franchise for the Vector M12 sports car. Tonkin currently sells Honda, Toyota, Chevrolet, Nissan, Acura, Dodge, Mazda, Scion, Hyundai, Kia, Lotus, Ferrari and Maserati - a diversified portfolio. Tonkin closed its Lincoln-Mercury operation in mid-2004, converting the showroom to a Kia store.
If GM and Chrysler go away, Tonkin would probably use the Dodge and Chevy showrooms to create more floor space for its more deserving brands.
Most successful auto dealers long ago acquired import marques as a hedge against falling Detroit fortunes. Any dealer who didn't do so and gets killed off by the death of any of the Detroit Three deserves what he/she gets for being a #$@!&% business idiot.
No bailouts for dummies.
Coming Soon: The New Pelosi GTxi ... reported by Iowahawk. The Pelosi GTxi SS/Rt Sport Edition is the mandatory American car so advanced it took $100 billion and an entire Congress to design it. Excerpt: "Best of all, the Pelosi GTxi SS/Rt is made right here in the U.S.A. by fully card-checked unionized workers and Detroit's famous visionary jet-set managers. Even if you don't own one, you can enjoy the patriotic satisfaction that you're supporting the high wages, good benefits, and generous political donations that are once again making the American car industry the envy of the world.
But why not buy one anyway? With an MSRP starting at only $629,999.99, it's affordable too. Don't forget to ask about dealer incentives, rebates, tax credits, and wealth redistribution plans for customers from dozens of qualifying special interest groups. Plus easy-pay financing programs from Fanny Mae.
So take the bus to your local Congressional Motors dealer today and find out why the Pelosi GTxi SS/Rt Sport Edition is the only car endorsed by President Barack Obama. One test drive will convince you that you'd choose it over the import brands. Even if they were still legal."
I bet this vehicle will hit the streets before the Chevrolet Volt.
Scale Reality: If you examine the world of model cars, you'll find a plethora of duplicate offerings from different model manufacturers. It seems like everyone makes little Porsche 911s, Ferraris and Dodge Vipers. There are probably 20,000 model Vipers sold for every full-size vehicle. Most toymakers offer a 'classic' line and, if you look at their catalogs, you'd think that every real car in the 1950s must have been a two-seater Thunderbird or a turquoise and white 1957 Chevy Bel Air.
Many model train layouts have scale autos traveling black-painted 'roads' but too many are filled with the aforementioned cars as well as yellow Coca Cola trucks - another mega-popular scale vehicular offering. The middle level of my layout is '50s-themed but offers a variety of vehicles from the period. Some are even ordinary, lowly sedans with blackwall tires - the kinds of cars usually found in period photographs.
Back To The Future: Sirius XM stock has plunged more than 90% this year and was trading recently at just 17¢/share. I'm not surprised; Pay Radio always seemed like a nutty idea to me.
Imagine going back in time 50 years and trying to describe satellite radio to people. "What!?! In the future you have to pay for radio!?! What's next? Having to put money in a machine to fill your tires with air?!"
Here's another 'go back 50 years' story.
Remembering: It's hard to believe that tomorrow will mark the 45th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. It makes me feel so damn old. And sad.
I was leaving a college classroom after taking a thermodynamics exam at Villanova University. In the hallway, the professor pulled several students aside and whispered, "The president's been shot in Texas." He had no further details, so I hurried to the parking lot, hopped in my red VW Beetle and turned on the radio.
I began driving home and, just as I got on the Schuylkill Expressway, JFK's death was announced. Not knowing what to do, I turned on my headlights. As did most of the other cars on the road.
The events of November 22nd put an end to JFK the Man. His promise was unfulfilled, his administration unfinished. But JFK the Legend was born on that November afternoon. But, even when we strip away the myths, hyperbole and the what ifs, Jack Kennedy lives on in our memories as a handsome fellow with great ideas, pursued with "viggah!"
Writer/commentator Cal Thomas wrote eloquently about John F. Kennedy: "For some, all things seemed possible with Kennedy in the White House. When he died, most things seemed impossible. There was a sense we had been robbed of hope and hope denied produces cynicism and despair, two viruses that continue to plague our culture. Speaking as one who became a conservative and realizes that the 'myth' of Camelot was exactly that, I still miss him. Even more, I miss much that was good in American life that seems to have perished with him."
Rest In Peace, Jack.
I've posted more thoughts on the Kennedy Era here.
The Truth About Costco: I really like Costco - the employees are friendly and the prices are great. I was surprised to learn from an article in Better Investing magazine that, while the company has total revenues of $63.1 billion per year and membership fees account for a mere $1.3 billion of that, those membership fees account for 82% of the firm's operating income.
Thankfully for Costco, member renewal rates are 87%. (permalink)
And You Laughed When I Posted My Idea: "Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years," say scientists at Los Alamos, the U.S. government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.
I proposed this very thing back in July 2008. Behold, the power plant of the future, today:
Jonestown II? Peter Hitchens has written, "The swooning frenzy over the choice of Barack Obama as President of the United States must be one of the most absurd waves of self-deception and swirling fantasy ever to sweep through an advanced civilisation."
"Anyone would think we had just elected a hip, skinny and youthful replacement for God, with a plan to modernise Heaven and Hell or that at the very least John Lennon had come back from the dead."
Global Warming Alert: An abnormally cool Arctic is resulting in dramatic changes to ice levels. In sharp contrast to the rapid melting seen last year, the amount of global sea ice has rebounded sharply and is now growing rapidly.
The total amount of ice, which set a record low value last year, grew in October at the fastest pace since record-keeping began in 1979.
I suppose the Al Gore Greenland Tropical Cruise has been canceled. That sure ain't gonna help the high suicide rate in eastern Greenland.
Global Warming Alert II: Buying local produce may despoil the planet more than munching apples shipped in from New Zealand.
Excerpt: "Local food production does not always produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the 2005 DEFRA study found that British tomato growers emit 2.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of tomatoes grown compared to 0.6 tons of carbon dioxide for each ton of Spanish tomatoes. The difference is British tomatoes are produced in heated greenhouses. Another study found that cold storage of British apples produced more carbon dioxide than shipping New Zealand apples by sea to London.
In addition, U.K. dairy farmers use twice as much energy to produce a metric ton of milk solids than do New Zealand farmers. Other researchers have determined that Kenyan cut rose growers emit 6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 12,000 roses compared to the 35 tons of carbon dioxide emitted by their Dutch competitors. Kenyan roses grow in sunny fields whereas Dutch roses grow in heated greenhouses."
Quote Of The Day is from Robert Benchley: "The only cure for a real hangover is death."
Wednesday November 19, 2008
Mystery Car Identified: The always enjoyable James Lileks has posted a bunch of old restaurant postcards from the 1950s and 1960s online.
The image of The Brahma restaurant of Ocala, Florida has a small car with a fabric surrey roof in the parking lot. James commented, "Automotive historians will no doubt recognize that car. I don't."
The car is a relatively rare one - a Fiat Jolly. These were standard Fiat 500s and 600s converted to open air vehicles by Ghia, the Italian coachbuilder. The resultant beach buggy was marketed worldwide as the Jolly, meaning "joker" in Italian.
The Jolly was introduced in 1957 and was manufactured until 1966. Jollys were mostly used in resort areas (St. Thomas, Barbados, Capri , etc.) and were popular with hotels and rental car firms. The cars had cut down sides (no need for doors) and wicker seats. Less than 1,000 were made over the years.
When we visited the Isle of Capri in 2002, all the tour taxis were contemporary little white Fiat Puntos which had been converted to stretch-limo convertibles. No Jollys were seen. No Mercury Capris either.
The Fiat Jolly was sold in the USA between 1958 and 1961. They were a rare sight in the U.S. because Fiat had limited distribution and the cars, while cute, had only 22 horsepower. (By comparison, a 1962 VW Beetle had a 40 horsepower engine.) I would bet that less than 100 were imported to the states.
Check out the rest of the restaurant photos here. I particularly like the interior decor of the Steer Inn, especially the floor. (permalink)
First Look: The 2010 Ford Mustang. I like it. I'm impressed with the revamped interior, too.
Robert Farago, President-For-Life of The Truth About Cars, asks about the blue Mustang in the promotional video, "What is that color?"
Well ... in 1955 and 1956, it was called Aquatone Blue and it was in a '56 Ford Mainline Tudor of that exact color that I learned to drive.
Nosedive: I continue to be amazed and appalled by the arrogance of General Motors - making no promises of change, refusing to acknowledge its shortcomings and offering no manager's heads for past and current offenses - just thrusting its poorly-crafted, rusty tin cup in Washington's direction and mumbling, "Got any change?"
That 'change' - billions of dollars - won't come from D.C.; it will be picked from the pockets of us taxpayers.
Over at TTAC, Ken Elias wrote about GM's urgent request for a government bailout: "Stop whining. Stop blaming everyone and anything but yourselves for your current predicament. You look stupid as a company. GM should stand up and tell the truth we've all known for years: their problems are entirely of their own making. Man up!
There's an old adage told by aviators all over the world. When your airplane is in trouble, do something, anything, to change the outcome. Doing nothing and you're sure to hit the dirt. Right now, GM's doing nothing besides begging and not getting much sympathy."
During Rick Wagoner's entire reign, the direction of GM has been steeply nose down.
As Comic Book Guy would say, "Worst pilot ever."
American Leyland: Rick Moran writes that a bailout of Detroit would effectively nationalize the U.S. auto industry, creating a Yankee version of British Leyland. And we all know how that BL thing turned out.
Rick also wonders why we don't also retroactively bail out John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company. "Sure it's been bankrupt for 160 years but I didn't see any limitation attached to that bailout bill, did you? ... The fact is, the American Fur Company failed and it's your fault. Tell the truth now, when was the last time you bought a beaver hat? Don't you realize that thousands of fur trappers have been thrown out of work because you selfishly decided to be a slave to fashion rather than thinking of those trappers, trading post managers, export facilitators, dock workers, and ship captains who lost their jobs as a result of the switch from beaver pelts to silk in hat making?
And, of course, you know where that silk is coming from, right? This may have been the first instance of a Chinese attack on our economy. Haberdashers, seduced by cheap imports of silk, ought to be ashamed of themselves. The American Fur Company must be saved else we will lose our competitive edge in the world's fur trade. Then there are the national security implications which are just too horrible to contemplate."
Car Sighting: Last week, while in the People's Republik of Portland, I spotted a second-generation Scion xB taxi in black and white cab livery parked outside the Red Lion Hotel at Lloyd Center.
I wondered if the rear leg room was decent enough for taxi use - after all, the wheelbase is only 102 inches and the car is less than 170 inches long. (permalink)
Time Flies: My wife has been repairing old photo albums; many of the snapshots have come loose over the years. These old photos have brought back a lot of memories. It's hard to believe that 30 years ago, we were just taking delivery of a large vacuum forming machine - our plastic company's first major equipment purchase.
We had to rent a crane to lift it off the semi. It had traveled across the U.S. from North Carolina to Oregon in 1978, arriving on a cold, foggy late-Fall morning. (permalink)
One Sentence Political Sum Up by Karl Rove on Joe Biden: "I think he has an odd combination of longevity and long-windedness that passes for wisdom in Washington."
Quote Of The Day is from Steven Wright: "I didn't get a toy train like the other kids, I got a toy subway instead; you couldn't see anything but every now and then you'd hear this rumbling noise go by."
Monday November 17, 2008
Perhaps This Is The New Chrysler Theme Song: Steely Dan's Donald Fagen singing 'Everything Must Go':
"I move to dissolve the corporation
In a pool of margaritas
So let's switch off all the lights
And light up all the Luckies
Crankin' up the afterglow
'Cause we're goin' out of business
Everything must go."
"Show the world our mighty hidey-ho face
As we go sliding down the ladder
It was sweet up at the top
'Til that ill wind started blowing
Now it's cozy down below
'Cause we're goin' out of business
Everything must go."
Automotive Formaldehyde ... courtesy of John Batchelor, who notes that we'll soon see "GM in the grave. But not yet. First we will witness the walking death of GM through the first Obama term, administered by industrial undertakers and union ghouls and their cheerless PACs."
But first "there will be banal TV ads for the unwanted, ineffective, grossly expensive electric car Volt, bought and paid for by the unimaginative Congress with the winking collusion of GM's clueless Rick Waggoner."
Under New Management (Hopefully): Jim Manzi asks, "What would it mean to have GM go bankrupt?" His answer: "A change in ownership and a renegotiation of contracts."
Jim notes that "when people sold parts to GM on credit, or employees (individually or via union negotiations) entered into labor contracts with GM, they undertook counterparty risk. That is, they were taking, in part, a bet about whether GM would actually be able to pay them what they are owed. This is also true for pension payments, which are simply deferred compensation, as much as it is for deferred payments on credit terms for parts. To act now as if they should be protected from this risk is to treat them as children."
"Isn't it important that we maintain an industrial base as a matter of national security? Yes, but that is not the same thing as saying that the current management of GM needs to continue to have operational control of these assets, or that current employment levels are appropriate, or that current union contracts need to be maintained."
Empty Wallets: The U.S. Commerce Department has reported that retail sales fell by 2.8 percent last month. This is the biggest drop on record, surpassing the old mark of a 2.65% plunge just after 9-11.
The October sales decline was led by a huge fall in auto purchases but sales of all types of products suffered as consumers - worried about their jobs and the market turbulence - cut back sharply on spending.
The dismal report on retail sales was 40% worse than the 2 percent decline that analysts expected. It marked the fourth straight decrease - the longest stretch of weakness on record.
Retailers are bracing for possibly the worst holiday shopping season in decades. Some economists are forecasting a recession that could turn out to be the steepest since the 1981-82 downturn. A survey of the nation's largest chain retail stores found that retailers suffered through the weakest October in at least 39 years.
I think this is going to be a very bad recession. And, unlike 1981-82, its scope is worldwide which will only exacerbate the situation and make recovery even more difficult.
Good Sentence; Good Riddance: Ronald J. Chenette, 39, of Brush Prairie, WA, was convicted Friday of killing a police tracking dog. Chenette, whose prior convictions were for second-degree murder in the stabbing death of a drug dealer and for second-degree assault, will now spend the rest of his life in prison.
Chenette became the subject of a police search last year after his friend called 911 and said Chenette was armed and threatening to kill police. Deputies from the Clark County Sheriff's Office surrounded a wooded area behind Bethel Cemetery while a SWAT team, including dog Dakota, went into the woods. Officers testified that a loudspeaker was used to call out to Chenette to try to get him to surrender and Officer Roger Evans, Dakota's handler, testified he shouted out a warning before releasing Dakota.
But the jerk shot the dog anyway. Now he will pay. This happened less than two miles from my house.
May this cretin rot forever behind bars.
Cooking By Flashlight: With the time change, we're back to grilling in the dark. I did two filets mignon on a recent Saturday night. We consumed them along with a bottle of 2005 Arbor Crest Petite Sirah. It was magnificent, offering numerous rich notes - starting with a hint of licorice. We purchased it at the winery which is located on a hill overlooking the Spokane Valley.
The winery itself is a gem; the Cliff House is a National Historic Landmark built in 1924. The three-story Florentine house is surrounded by an arched gatekeeper's house, sunken rose garden, open-air pagoda, terraced flower and herb gardens and a life-sized checkerboard. The owner's brother manufactured ski chairlifts and built a passenger tram from the estate to the river valley 450 feet below. The winery offers great views and equally great wines.
With the economy in the tank and our retirement portfolio shrunken like the head of a naive missionary visiting the 19th Century Congo, we may as well drink our troubles away with something good, right?
Speaking of which ...
Investment Advice ... courtesy of Tom McMahon:
It's The Little Guys Who Keep This Country Afloat. Does Obama Realize This? I don't often agree with Mark Cuban but he's made a good point about the economic crisis.
Excerpt: "If we are going to solve our current economic problems, our (new) President (to be) needs to get first hand information on the impact his proposed policies will have on real Joe the Plumbers. People who are one person companies living job to job, hoping they get paid on time. We need to know what the impact of his policies will be on the individually owned Chrysler Dealership in Iowa. The bodego in Manhattan. The mobile phone software startup out of Carnegie Mellon. The event planner in Dallas. The barbershop in LA. The restaurant in Boston."
"Entrepreneurs that start and run small businesses will be the propellant in this economy. President-elect Obama needs to have the counsel of those who will take the real risk inherent in creating companies and jobs. Those who put their money and lives on the line with their business."
97% of all new net jobs over the last 10 years have come from small businesses. Before any policy is enacted, the question should be asked, "How will this affect Joe the Plumber? Or Jayne the Graphic designer?" Sadly, it probably won't be.
Quote Of The Day is from architect Frederick L. Olmstead: "After all is said and done, a hell of a lot more is said than done."
Friday November 14, 2008
The Truth About Tires: As I look through 'All-American Ads of the '50s' (I'm rereading some of my old books), I find that there are several ads devoted to 'foundation garments' - ladies' girdles, corsets and the like. Those rubberized things pretty much disappeared by the late 1960s.
Feminist writers claim that the demise of these garments was due to the liberation of women in the 1960s. Conspiracy-theorist that I am, I wish to point out that the rate of decline of foundation garment sales in the 1960s exactly equaled the rate of increase in radial tire usage on cars. I believe that much of the ... (more >>>)
Blog Housekeeping: Please note that I've added several new entries to my Greatest Hits page.
Quote Of The Day is from Ernest Hemingway: "What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."
Wednesday November 12, 2008
How Low Can You Go? An acquaintance in south Florida - the Land of Convertibles - reports that a friend purchased a brand-new, fairly loaded 2009 Chrysler Sebring Limited convertible last week for $21,000 - $14,000 off the factory sticker.
"Not With My Tax Dollars": A CNBC poll showed that 70% of Americans do not wish to bail out Detroit automakers. That's because most Americans have a healthy mix of common sense and fair play.
Mark Perry puts things in perspective with the question, "Should U.S. taxpayers really be providing billions of dollars to bailout companies (GM, Ford and Chrysler) that compensate their workers 52.5% more than the market (assuming Toyota wages and benefits are market), 54% more than management and professional workers, 132% more than the average manufacturing wage, and 157% more than the average compensation of all American workers?" He has data and a chart to drive home his point.
Shut Down: Big inventories of current-generation Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ models will lead to the closure of Ford's Hermosillo plant in Mexico for the entire month of January. Inventory levels of the Ford Fusion are 120 days, while the MKZ is at an unbelievable 229 days - almost eight months.
Just months after adding a third shift at the Lordstown, OH assembly plant where the Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 are built, GM is laying off 1,100 employees.
These problems have less to do with dropping gas prices or markets shifting to Asian brands than about a lack of prospective customers, who aren't buying anything - either because they're scared of the economy or because they can't get credit.
Maybe This Is What Obama Means By 'Change': In 1974, while traveling through northern Italy, I found that the Autostrada toll collectors wouldn't give coins as change in this cash-strapped country, where the lira was worth less every week. Instead, you received postage stamps. (Of course, they wouldn't let you pay your toll with those postage stamps.)
If the New Democratic Overlords want to convert all Interstates to toll roads (yes, they're making noises about this) and bail out GM and Chrysler, maybe we'll all be receiving random Delco or Mopar parts as change at toll plazas.
Happy vs. Bitter: Here's an interesting comment from Australia - a place distant enough from the U.S. to have a little objectivity: "Did anyone hear (George W. Bush) whining about all the stuff that's been said and written about him? Has he blackballed a network for asking "tough" questions? Has he querulously queried a news anchor about being a shill for the opposing side?
Do you know why conservatives generally have the capacity for graciousness in victory and defeat? Because, as a rule, conservatives are happy with who they are. There's no cognitive dissonance going on, because we live what we believe - we like free markets, so we consume; we actually care for our less fortunate neighbours, so we give generously (of our own money that we earn) and we buy their stuff so they can gain wealth; we don't believe the economy works by taking from one and giving to the other (as though a dollar for you means a dollar less for me), so we work hard, pay our taxes grudgingly and rejoice at the success of others while working to secure our own; we don't believe in (global warming), so we don't agonise over the recycling or flying or driving anywhere. It's bliss.
If you're a lefty in a western capitalist democracy, this is impossible because you are living off the wealth created by a system you think you despise. You are inherently angry and bitter all the time, because your life can't measure up to your impossible ideals, and you are naturally self-absorbed and self-centered because of this anger and bitterness. It's all-consuming."
Every year, we get a holiday newsletter from a couple who are true liberal moonbats. One year, instead of 'Happy Holidays', their missive closed with 'Boycott Texaco!' - no explanation was given. Last year, the letter closed with: "We are grateful for many things in 2007 but not for a never ending war in Iraq. On a personal level, we grieve for the loss of a good friend who inspired us to 'act locally and think globally'. Some of his last words were, 'Vote Obama'."
Yeah, well ... Obama might have won but I'm still a reasonably happy guy. I've had a pretty good life so far and hang around with people I enjoy. Meanwhile, the 'act locally and think globally' guy's still dead.
I like to think that my last words will be nonpolitical. And timeless. Something like: "Owwww! This really hurts."
Subprime - It's The New Black: Via iSteve, Niall Ferguson writes, "Significantly, a disproportionate number of subprime borrowers belonged to ethnic minorities. Indeed, I found myself wondering, as I drove around Detroit, if 'subprime' was in fact a new financial euphemism for 'black'. This was no idle supposition. According to a joint study by, among others, the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, 55% of black and Latino borrowers in Boston who had obtained loans for single-family homes in 2005 had been given subprime mortgages; the figure for white borrowers was just 13%.
More than three-quarters of black and Latino borrowers from Washington Mutual were classed as subprime, whereas only 17% of white borrowers were.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, minority ownership increased by 3.1 million between 2002 and 2007." (hat tip - Kathy Shaidle)
But At Least We'll Be Able To Group Hug ... and sing 'Kumbaya': Iowahawk notes that it is "heartening to realize that as president Mr. Obama will soon be working hand-in-hand with a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard like Senator Robert Byrd to craft the incoherent and destructive programs that will plunge the American economy into a nightmare of full-blown sustained depression."
Train Report: Ten days ago we brought the train platform in from the garage and I've been working on it in my spare time ever since. I am pleased to report that - as of late Tuesday afternoon - the train layout is now up and running. We quaffed celebratory cocktails - with the obligatory pink elephant stirrers - in honor of this milestone. Drinkies by the (new) fireplace. Life is good.
The mountain scenery has been refurbished. I also replaced the bubbler in the Rohm & Haas water tower. I am pleased to report that the Edsel showroom has two Edsels inside and the Used Car lot outside is now full of E cars: convertibles, hardtops, station wagons ... the whole deal. I had purchased several additional 1:43 scale model Edsels this year; the lot now looks very realistic.
I also made minor repairs to all the buildings and signage as I set things up this year. And reglued a bunch of loose stuff. The only glitch was that I could not get the Lionel animated kiddie swing set to work. After screwing around with it for an hour, I finally discovered that the internal resistor which keeps the swing speed at a reasonable rate is apparently fried. If I jumped it electrically, the swing set went supersonic - even at a low voltage input.
So ... this unit, which I purchased less than two years ago, is basically junk after - I dunno - 40 hours running time. I am never again buying anything with the Lionel brand on it. I have had more trouble with Lionel stuff than any other O-gauge railroading product.
I have now reinstalled the MTH flagpole in the swing set's place on the layout. The flag-waving device is over eight years old and works fine.
The Preserve at Woodstone Village And Other Fake Names: The proprietor of Sippican Cottage takes on developers who assign billion dollar names to tract houses. His humorous posting is titled 'If You Lived Here, You'd Be Crapi Now'.
Excerpt: "... naming your buildings, and the neighborhoods they're in, is an American art form. There's a list of only a dozen or so words allowed for naming tract-house neighborhoods, which can be used in any combination of pairs to differentiate your cul-de-sac slice of heaven from the benighted troglodytes that live two streets away."
My late mother-in-law once lived in a place named Nomad Park Estates. There were no 'nomads' - just old people, no 'park' - just blacktop, and no 'estates' - just single and double-wide mobile homes. And those 'homes' weren't really 'mobile' either.
Just Wondering: What do vegetarians keep in the meat drawers of their fridges? (permalink)
Quote Of The Day is from Bertrand Russell: "It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this."
Monday November 10, 2008
What If ...? If McDonald's goes out of business tomorrow, will we all become vegetarians? Or starve? Of course not. We'll just trot across the street to Burger King. Or Arby's. Yes, there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
McDonald's workers would lose their jobs - probably only for a short time, because Burger King et al will be hiring extra help to handle the increased volume of business. Bun and catsup suppliers who were tight with Mickey D will lose all their business - but, if they were smart, they'd already be selling to other fast food joints (it's called 'customer diversification') and will make up the lost business as other firms grow to fill the McD-sized gap.
Capitalism is a game of survival of the financially fittest and the most fleet of market-savvy foot. Corporate America is littered with the skeletons of companies whose offerings didn't change with the times - trolley car manufacturers, railroads, hat blockers, fitters of spats, corset firms, etc., etc. Or businesses that failed to keep up with competition and market trends - Mervyn's, Wilson's Leather, Studebaker, Tower Record stores, Bennigan's, IndyMac Bank, etc.
If GM and Chrysler shut their doors tomorrow, it will not ... (more >>>)
Blue Christmas: The nation's retailers saw their sales plummet last month to the weakest October level since at least 1969, as the financial crisis and mounting layoffs left shoppers too scared to shop.
Gap's same store sales in October fell 16% in the last four weeks. Sales at the on-life-support Banana Republic division fell 17% and at Old Navy North America the drop was 20%.
Macy's, Costco, Saks, Target, J.C. Penney, Chicos, Nordstrom, American Eagle Outfitters, Abercrombie & Fitch and other major retailers are also reporting declines, typically in the 10-20% range. Neiman Marcus was down a whopping 27.6 percent.
Las Vegas Sands, the hotel, gaming and resort development company - owner of The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, the Sands Expo and Convention Center, etc., is failing to perform in accordance with its debt covenants and could possibly go bankrupt. The recession is taking its toll all over Las Vegas. MGM Mirage and Wynn Resorts are experiencing dropping share prices.
In addition to the nearly 7,000 people who lost jobs when Circuit City closed 155 stores recently, almost 800 people who work at the company headquarters are now out of work. Douglas A. McIntyre of 24/7 Wall St. quipped, "At the rate things are going at the electronics retailer, everyone left at the firm will be unemployed by Christmas." Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this morning.
Toyota has more than halved its earnings forecasts, saying annual net earnings will plunge to a 9-year low as a financial crisis batters demand for its cars, cuts access to credit and sends the yen higher. The impact of a global credit crisis has spread to emerging markets such as China and India, throwing a wrench in automakers' plans to seek strong growth there to offset slumping sales in the big U.S. and European markets.
Meanwhile, AutoNation Inc. the nation's largest auto retailer, said it swung to a $1.41 billion loss in the third quarter, with customers finding it increasingly difficult to get car loans and the overall economy tanking. During the same period last year, the company made a profit of $72.1 million, gleefully selling big SUVs that customer could stuff into those three-car McMansion garages. What a difference a year makes!
Fidelity Investments is cutting nearly 1,300 jobs this month and the mutual fund company says more layoffs are coming early next year. Is it because Obama is going to 'nationalize' everyone's private retirement funds? Or that laid-off people can't make contributions anymore?
So far this year, most of the major business magazines and newsweeklies have lost anywhere from 15% to over 30% of their advertising pages. AutoWeek, a 52 issues per year car mag ever since I can remember, will now only publish every other week. But it will keep the 'Week'-ly moniker. Go figure. And, unfortunately, the talented Justin Berkowitz at The Truth About Cars just lost his Managing Editor job due to falling ad revenues.
DHL, the package shipper with the distinctive yellow trucks (and planes) with red graphics, has announced that it was cutting 9,500 jobs as it discontinues air and ground operations within the United States. DHL Express says that it will continue to operate between the United States and other nations.
Optimist that I am, I didn't call the recession until late last month. Despite employing thousands of 'experts', the people at the International Monetary Fund didn't even bother to predict a recession until a week later. Actually, they said that the world economy will be in a recession in 2009, making them the last group on earth to use the R word. "World growth is projected to slow from 5 percent in 2007 to 3 percent in 2008 and to just over 2 percent in 2009, with the downturn led by advanced economies."
So they aren't yet admitting that we're already in a recession, just that one could happen next year. What a pack of useless dummies.
Please keep your seat belts fastened. There's a lot of turbulence just ahead and we're expecting a bumpy ride, folks.
The Implementator Of The Grand Poobah: Barack Obama has established the first ever 'Office of the President-Elect'. It sounds like a Kingfish title from an old Amos and Andy skit.
In the oft-funny book, 'Class' (subtitled 'A painfully accurate guide through the American status system'), Paul Fussell has a chapter about words as class indicators ... (more >>>)
Don't All Politicians ... do this in one way or another? Headline: 'Councilman Arrested for Peeing on Crowd'. Steve Lipski, a Jersey City, NJ councilman has reportedly been arrested for urinating on a crowd of concertgoers from the balcony of a Washington D.C. nightclub.
The New York Daily News reported that the two-term councilman was charged with simple assault. The newspaper says 44-year-old Lipski was removed from a place called the 9:30 Club on Friday night. That's after club staffers saw him relieve himself onto the crowd from a second floor balcony during a concert by a Grateful Dead tribute band.
Yes, he's a Democrat.
Monster Mash: James Lileks weighs in on The Munsters. "As much as I like Fred Gynne's Herman, I can't stand the show. The Addams Family was superior in every single way, from characters to music. I mean, who wouldn't want to be Gomez, really? Cheerful, rich, a man of leisure, besotted with his wife, loving father, cigar aficionado. Morticia was a Goth sylph; Lurch a man of breeding and refinement. The Munsters had Lily, who looked like a sheet draped over general store stove with a dime-store wig on top."
I couldn't agree more. Although The Munsters did have cooler cars.
'Addams Family Values' remains one of my favorite movies.
Something Bush Should Have Done Years Ago: Last week, Barney, the White House dog, bit a Reuters reporter outside the WH briefing room.
Quote Of The Day is from George Carlin: "Having a smoking section in a restaurant is like having a peeing section in a swimming pool."
Thursday November 6, 2008
Cousin Pricing & The Art Of The Deal: My cousin leases one car exclusively for business. He takes a lot of business trips to New England and upstate New York, so he needs AWD. He hauls samples and such: therefore, he needs a wagon or SUV. He currently leases a loaded 2006 Ford Explorer; the lease is up in a couple of months.
He has been reasonably happy with the Explorer but was shocked to discover that Ford Credit doesn't want to do leases anymore and that the lease deals available are unattractive. The old Explorer has lots of life left in it but he won't be purchasing it because Ford wants to sell it at the stated residual value which is about 40% more that the Explorer is actually worth.
He knows that General Motors won't do lease deals either and has no interest in a Chrysler product. (GMAC, the house financier of General Motors and Chrysler vehicles, lost $2.52 billion [!!!] in the most recent quarter.)
He's now looking at either a Toyota or Subaru SUV. Both car companies are happy to write leases with attractive (but realistic) residuals.
My cousin has always leased American iron for business use, mostly Fords. He will now be joining the line of formerly loyal customers who are now taking their business elsewhere.
No wonder Detroit is dying.
(Update: My cousin leased a 2009 Honda Pilot.)
Tucker Redux: It seems that Chevrolet is already offering accessories for the yet-to-be produced Camaro. Preston Tucker did the same thing for his car.
Buyers were encouraged to buy radios, windshield visors, seat covers and the like to help support the brand and provide Tucker with much-needed cash to develop his new automobile.
At the time, the Detroit Three roundly criticized Tucker for his Accessories Program and claimed that it was "just another element of a big consumer scam."
When Tucker Corporation went belly-up, people were stuck with floor mats, luggage and such which didn't fit anything else. I once dated a girl whose father owned a 1950 Lincoln with a Tucker radio jammed into the dashboard radio slot.
In 2012, will there be Priuses with Camaro accessories awkwardly installed?
Back To The Thirties: Last week, I recorded an old 1937 black and white movie, Topper, which starred Cary Grant, Constance Bennett, Billie Burke (later to be immortalized as The Good Witch) and Roland Young as Cosmo Topper, the bemused recipient of his dead friends' good deeds.
The film has one song running through it - a Hoagy Carmichael ditty, 'Old Man Moon'. In the nightclub sequence, the tune is ably performed by the vocal quartet, 'Three Hits and a Miss'. The talented Martha Tilton was the "Miss" in the group. She later joined the Jimmy Dorsey Band. Martha eventually joined singer Jo Stafford and others to form a swing chorus for Benny Goodman on his radio show. She became Goodman's lead vocalist after his former girl singer parted ways and hit the big time with the song 'And the Angels Sing.'
For me, the biggest star of the movie was the Topper car - a 1936 Buick customized by Bohman & Schwartz and fitted with special controls including a second hidden steering wheel. As a stuntman drove the car using the hidden wheel, it would appear as if the vehicle was being driven by a ghost.
Tony Gerrity, then at Bohman & Schwartz, transformed the Buick chassis into a very 'Buck Rogers' design which included a shapely central fin, supercharged Auburn-like exhausts, a distinctive nose, teardrop fenders on all corners and a racy cut-down windscreen. Other custom features included placing the stock headlamps higher off the fender by mounting them on catwalks, fitting standard Buick parking lights on both front and rear shapely teardrop fenders, and the addition of fender skirts to reduce the rear wheel openings by about four-inches. Due to the prominent rear dorsal fin at the rear of the roadster there was no trunk lid.
In 1939, the studio sold the Topper car to the Gilmore Oil Company. Re-sprayed in the Gilmore colors of cream and red, the Buick was fitted with a public address system for use in promoting Red Lion gasoline. The car was modified several times and eventually gained a set of 1948 Cadillac finned rear fenders. (permalink)
modified Gilmore car on exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum
Thanks ... for many hours of reading pleasure: Michael Crichton, the million-selling author of such thrillers as 'Jurassic Park', 'Timeline', 'The Terminal Man', 'The Great Train Robbery', 'Sphere' and 'The Andromeda Strain', has died of cancer at age 66.
Requiescat In Pace
Oh No! No More Apple-Cheeked Kitsch! German porcelain maker Goebel announced that it will stop making Hummel figures by the end of the year due to a steep decline in sales. Hummels have been made since 1934 and are based on drawings by a German nun, Berta Hummel.
At one time, more than 1,600 workers were involved in making the porcelain figurines in Roedental, Germany. The Hummel shutdown will affect 230 of the manufacturer's 340 employees.
Quote Of The Day is from Rita Rudner: "I work for myself, which is fun. Except for when I call in sick - I know I'm lying."
Wednesday November 5, 2008
The People Have Spoken: Barack Obama has been elected as 44th President of the United States. I congratulate him and wish him well. May he guide our nation wisely.
But, if he doesn't ... in four years, we'll get to throw him out on his ear. And that's what's great about American democracy. God bless America.
God bless John McCain as well; he gave a generous and honorable concession speech. Readers know that he was my pick. I thought that McCain could pull it off but as the returns came in and he lost Ohio, I knew it was over. John is a fine American and a true patriot. He deserves every American's respect, whether you voted for him or not. So does Sarah Palin. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from her the next time around.
This blog will now return to its non-political roots - cars, trains, wine, humor, snark, etc. See ya tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Tom McMahon has already summarized 2008:
Tuesday November 4, 2008
Special Gift: Over the weekend, we celebrated our daughter's birthday. I gave her a car - a 1:18 scale model of her favorite classic marque, Packard. It was a candy apple red 1953 Caribbean model with wire wheels and wide whitewall tires.
The Caribbean was a limited production convertible, initially based on Packard's 1952 Pan American showcar designed by Richard Arbib and built by Henney Company of Freeport, Illinois - long-time supplier of professional-car bodies (hearses, ambulances) for Packard.
The Caribbean's interior was luxurious and leathery. Power was supplied by Packard's 327-cubic-inch, 180 horsepower straight eight. The Caribbean was priced at a steep $5,210. (In 1953, a new Ford Mainline business coupe cost only $1,400 and a top-of-the-line Ford Crestline convertible could be had for $2,000 or so.)
Packard sold only 750 Caribbeans for the 1953 model year. But it outsold the Cadillac Eldorado by 200+ units. For 1954, the Caribbean offered few styling changes, mainly two-tone paint, new chrome side trim and lowered rear wheel cutouts. 1954 production dipped to only 400 units.
A restyled and modernized 1955 model sold just over 500 units. Tales of mechanical problems and workmanship problems hurt Packard sales - and Caribbean sales as well.
The 1956 Packard Caribbeans didn't sell well either - even though a hardtop model was added to the line: just 276 convertibles and only 263 hardtops were produced - 539 in all.
1956 was then end of the road for the Caribbean nameplate and for Packard as a true luxury car. The '57 and '58 offerings were little more than gussied-up Studebakers.
Eons ago, I worked at an appliance store owned by a guy who once owned two Packard Caribbeans - a '54 and a '56. He had been awarded both as new cars by a television manufacturer (Zenith, I think) for being the top dealer of the year. Even when those Packards were relatively new, he parked each outside, off the driveway and in the mud next to his house. (permalink)
Downtime: October vehicle sales were, as anticipated, pretty dismal. Car sales fell, truck and SUV sales crashed. John Ogg said it's like a "beauty contest for nursing home residents. There is just no way to make these (numbers) look pretty."
Industry-wide U.S. sales of cars and light trucks were on track to come in below 900,000 units in October after dropping below the one million threshold in September for the first time in 15 years, according to initial sales data.
European auto sales also tumbled for October, with sales declines of 40 percent in Spain and 19 percent in Italy.
General Motors' U.S. sales dropped 45 percent from a year ago; the company opined that the industry was on track for its worst month in 25 years. GM said that this stunning decline was attributed to "uncertainty over the deepening credit crisis" and weak consumer confidence. GM truck sales were down 51 percent and car sales were off 34 percent. Mark LaNeve, GM vice president, said that, adjusted for population growth, "this is probably the worst industry sales month in the post-WWII era."
GM said it would roll out a Red Toe Tag sale with lower vehicle prices and cash-back offers starting immediately. Saturn sales were off 55%. Most other GM brands did poorly as well. Hummer sales dropped 65%.
Ford's sales dropped in October by 30.2%, "under pressure across all vehicle segments amid the slowing domestic economy and weak consumer confidence." And tight credit, too. Toyota's sales dropped 23 percent for the same reasons. The drop included a 34% in light truck demand, while car sales fell 15 percent.
3,543 Toyota Avalons were sold in October - a drop of 43%. Meanwhile, Ford only managed to move 2,515 Taurus models, a decline of 53%. Ford Edge sales fell off a cliff - down almost 60%. Surprisingly, the Explorer outsold the Flex almost 2 to 1 and F-150 pickup sales are doing relatively well - dropping only 16%. That's not bad considering the state of the construction market - at which the F-150 is targeted.
In the luxury segment, Lexus sales were down 35%. Only 1507 LS models were sold - a drop of 49% over last year. Mercedes was down 34%. Cadillac sales were off by 55% Porsche sales declined 50%. BMW did better than most dropping only 14%. Lincoln - with six models - had total sales of only 7,400 units in October. Only 1,309 of the MKZ sedan were sold; the MKX crossover dropped to 1,459. Overall Lincoln sales declined by 28%. Volvo has nine model offerings with total sales at a dismal 3,717 units in October, a sales drop of 52%. No wonder that brand is in trouble. Another troubled FoMoCo brand, Mercury, now outsells Volvo almost 2:1.
Speaking of unloved Swedes, Saab sold 1,975 vehicles in October - a decline of 13%.
Chrysler's overall sales were down 35% - only 95,530 units total sold for the entire company. Honda was down 25%, as car sales declined 22% and truck sales fell 29%. Sales at Nissan tumbled 34 percent.
The only positive numbers were from Audi (up fractionally - 23 cars more than October '07) and Mini - up an astounding 56%.
No money, no credit. It's generally ugly out there.
Iceberg-Cold Phrasing: Robert Farago at TTAC wrote that "purchasing a Chrysler product is akin to booking a steerage-class cabin on the Titanic."
Dog Bites Dog Dept. The headline: 'Car crashes into auto-themed cafe'. It seems that Hubcaps, a Walnut Creek, CA diner with an automobile theme, received a taste of the real thing when a Honda sedan lurched into the diner's glass entryway. The accident occurred when a Mercedes and a Honda collided outside the establishment. "The collision sent the Honda onto the sidewalk and through the glass doors of the popular breakfast spot, which is decorated with framed photographs of classic automobiles."
On Sale: Investment guru Ken Fisher puts the recent stock market roller coaster in perspective, "The average bull market, of which there have been ten since World War II, takes stock up 150% before the cycle turns. The average 12-month rebound from the bottom is 36%.
No, I don't know where the bottom is. I just know that stocks don't go down and stay down. ... Unless you are in your late 80s and were an adult as World War II ended, stocks are cheaper, adjusted for tax rates and interest rates, than they've been at any time in your adult life."
Ann Coulter Was Right! Two UCLA economists say they have figured out why the Great Depression dragged on for almost 15 years - Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
After scrutinizing Roosevelt's record for four years, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian conclude that New Deal policies signed into law 71 years ago thwarted economic recovery for seven long years.
"Why the Great Depression lasted so long has always been a great mystery, and because we never really knew the reason, we have always worried whether we would have another 10- to 15-year economic slump," said Ohanian, vice chair of UCLA's Department of Economics. "We found that a relapse isn't likely unless lawmakers gum up a recovery with ill-conceived stimulus policies."
In an article in the Journal of Political Economy, Ohanian and Cole blame specific anti-competition and pro-labor measures that Roosevelt promoted and signed into law June 16, 1933. ...
"Cole and Ohanian calculate that NIRA and its aftermath account for 60 percent of the weak recovery. Without the policies, they contend that the Depression would have ended in 1936 instead of the year when they believe the slump actually ended: 1943."
"By 1939, the U.S. unemployment rate was 17.2 percent, down somewhat from its 1933 peak of 24.9 percent but still remarkably high. ... Recovery came only after the Department of Justice dramatically stepped enforcement of antitrust cases nearly four-fold and organized labor suffered a string of setbacks, the economists found."
No Longer 'Working': Author and radio host Studs Terkel has died at age 96. His books often told the stories of everyday Americans whom he interviewed - from businessmen, to waitresses.
His first major work was 'Division Street: America' (Chicago's Division Street as a microcosm of America, published in 1967), followed by 'Hard Times' (memories of the Great Depression) and 'Working', a 1974 saga about the lives of ordinary working people. All worth-a-read books, in my opinion.
After reading a book review for the then best-seller 'Working', I requested it at the Mt. Laurel N.J. public library. The librarian said she'd never heard of it. She asked for the name of the author. "Studs Terkel," I replied. She scowled and said, "Sorry, we don't carry porno books."
Rest in peace, Studs.
Thought For Today: The shin bone is a device for finding furniture in the dark.