Monday November 30, 2009
Death Cult: A deal for General Motors to sell Saab collapsed least week when the buyer pulled out - a move that threatens a 60-year-old Swedish auto brand with closure after mounting losses.
Sweden has ruled out a state bailout for Saab, saying the brand's future would have to rest with finding a new private-sector buyer. The other main potential buyer, Chinese auto firm BAIC, is showing minimal interest - either because they're not really interested or are just hoping for a super-bargain price.
Saab has always been a cult car of sorts, with odd styling and quirky features. It had limited appeal but garnered a loyal following of skiers, tweedy college professors, pipe-smoking fiction writers and angular, manly women. Saabs were mostly seen in the mid-Atlantic states and New England.
In 1959, you could buy a 93B for $1,900, a few hundred more than a Beetle but several hundred less than a Ford or Chevy. Quirkiness on a budget. Over the years, Saabs became more sophisticated ... and expensive. And Saab found that there was not much of a market for High-End Quirky. (Meanwhile, Subaru took over the Quirky-on-a-Budget market. And much of the manly women market as well.)
As a specialty manufacturer with a limited line of vehicles and a relatively small fan base, Saab always had a difficult time making a profit. Saabs were popular in Scandinavia but never racked up much in the way of sales elsewhere on the Continent. Italy is full of European cars but I never saw a Saab there. Same for France and Germany.
GM bought 50% of the Saab car operations in 1990 for about $700 million. It paid $125 million and assumed debt for the remainder of the unit in 2000. GM never made money on Saab during the nearly two decades it owned the brand. Efforts to use GM platforms to engineer recent Saab models pissed off The Quirky Faithful and failed to either broaden the brand's appeal or make it profitable.
Saab sales dropped 35% in 2008. U.S. sales this year were down nearly 62% through October at 7,441 vehicles.
Like many storied auto nameplates (DeSoto, Duesenberg, Franklin, Jensen, Hudson, Packard, Stutz, Triumph, etc., etc.), Saab has ceased to be viable as a business. Therefore, it's probably a dead brand. (permalink)
Fair Trade? South Korea exported 600,000 cars and light trucks to the US last year. Only 7,000 American autos were sold in South Korea. A ratio of 86 to 1 seems a more than a bit unbalanced, yes?
Douglas A. McIntyre has noted, "It is hardly worth the time, effort, and taxpayer money to salvage GM and Chrysler if US trade policy will allow South Korea free access to American markets while South Korea blocks imports that might help The Big Three recovery sales."
Out With A Whimper: When the last Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line, it headed straight to a museum. Last week, the last Pontiac - a white G6 sedan - exited the Orion Assembly plant and apparently went straight to rental car duty as part of a fleet order.
It's a sad ending for a brand that once found over 800,000 loyal buyers every year. (permalink)
Global Warming Update: The 2010 Olympic Winter Games torch is slowly making its way across Canada. Organizers have reported that it has been blown or frozen out of service 12 times in its trek so far.
Quote Of The Day is from Russell Baker: "Misery no longer loves company. Nowadays it insists on it."
Wednesday November 25, 2009
History Repeats Itself: The Honda Crosstour - the new tall, fastback sedan with the big front grille - is a puzzle to auto industry experts.
"According to early Edmunds' data, buyers seem to think the Crosstour competes most closely with the Toyota Venza, with ToMoCo's wagon-on-stilts being cross-shopping against the Crosstour more than any other vehicle. Other Honda models are also heavily considered against the Crosstour, according to Edmunds Auto Observer, as are a panoply of other cars. Luxury rides like the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series wind up in the comparison column, as do more traditional crossovers like the Chevrolet Equinox and Toyota RAV-4."
Hmmmmm. Big fat grille, fastback shape, tall four-door sedan - I know what it reminds me of ...
Steering Clear Of Uncertainty: A new survey has found that customers are avoiding those formerly-bankrupt government bailout queens, GM and Chrysler.
A recent ChangeWave survey of 2,025 respondents "shows Ford - which avoided bankruptcy and didn't take government bailout funds - has emerged as the unequivocal winner among the big three U.S. manufacturers. A total of 41% of consumers say they're more likely to buy a Ford in the future, compared to just 8% and 3% for GM and Chrysler respectively."
"We also looked at which autos consumers currently own, and compared those findings to the brands that planned buyers say they're most likely to purchase over the next year. The results show Toyota and Honda with by far the most momentum going forward - followed by Hyundai and Ford. On the downside, both Chrysler and GM show negative momentum and, unless this trend is reversed, face a significant loss of market share going forward."
ChangeWave's conclusion: "As expected, Toyota (71%) and Honda (69%) have the highest customer loyalty rates in the industry. But Ford currently ranks a surprising third, followed by Hyundai. The best that can be said for GM (53%) is it finds itself in the middle of the pack, Chrysler (28%), on the other hand, has the lowest customer loyalty rating in the industry."
More Doom & Gloom: Clark County Washington's jobless rate was estimated at 13.7% in October, up from a revised 12.4% in September and 7.1% in October 2008. Clark's unemployment rate is aggravated by the rough economy in Oregon, where October's statewide unemployment rate was 11.3%.
The Mortgage Bankers Association reports a record 14.4% of U.S. mortgage loans were either one payment delinquent or in the foreclosure process in Q3 2009. This is an increase from 13.2% in Q2 2009.
Furthermore ... (more >>>)
What A Depression Looks Like: Here's the entire toy section of the 1934 Sears Christmas catalog - a single page - courtesy of James Lileks.
Calling All Susan G. Komen Marchers: The Komen Foundation and its affiliates fund non-duplicative, community-based breast health education and breast cancer screening and treatment projects for the medically under-served. The organization believes in the value of mammograms, especially since its namesake was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young age of 33 and died three years later.
I suppose you've read about the Feds telling women under 50 to skip that annual mammogram. Saves money for that universal health care thing, ya know.
"Tens of thousands of lives are being saved by mammography screening, and these idiots want to do away with it. It's crazy - unethical, really," said Daniel B. Kopans, Harvard Medical School radiology prof.
Dr. Bernadine Healy, former director of the National Institutes of Health, said the directive would save money but not lives, adding that, if the new guidelines are followed, more women will die of breast cancer.
Sarah Palin was right about those Death Panels. This is a sneak preview of Obamacare. I hope the many supporters of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation will contact their congressional representatives and let them know how they feel about such cost-managed, value-engineered health care. (permalink)
Going Rogue: Sarah Palin's new book rocketed to the number one spot on Amazon based on preorders alone. Once it was released, the book quickly sold out of its first printing and achieved sales of 300,000 its first day.
Yet liberal intellectuals disdain Ms. Palin and decry conservatives as ignorant troglodytes.
So ... these great thinkers must be voracious readers themselves, right? Here's how some of their political heroes' books are doing:
• Nancy Pelosi's 'Know Your Power', released April 2009, ranks #85,750 on Amazon.
• Barbara Boxer's 'Blind Trust', released July 2009, ranks #687,029.
• Harry Reid's 'The Good Fight: From Searchlight to Washington', released May 2009, #1,474,817.
I can't recall the exact number but I'm almost positive that my first business book got a higher ranking than either Boxer's or Reid's tomes.
Over at Ace, Russ from Winterset has actually read 'Going Rogue' and offers a comprehensive review.
I'm hoping to get Sarah's book as a Christmas gift. (permalink)
Headline Of The Week is from The Onion: 'Dan Brown reveals sinister origin of ampersand.'
Monday November 23, 2009
Chop-Chop: Last week, I saw a white Dodge Magnum with Lamborghini-style swing-up doors in Portland. My first thought: "Why?" It seems like a ginormous waste of money. And on a station wagon, no less.
I've seen these things referred to as 'scissor doors.' Watching them in action made me think: "Shouldn't they be called 'paper-cutter doors' instead?"
Undecided: A car buddy recently wrote: "I saw a new Ford Taurus today ... to my eye it was butt ugly - the rear, the sides (very very tricked out) and the unremarkable front."
I've yet to see the redesigned Taurus around here, although I have seen videos of it and it doesn't look too bad - unlike the new Cadillac CTS wagon which looked like an ugly, unbalanced eyesore on video. I'll reserve judgement on the style of the Ford and Cadillac until I've seen each in person.
In southwest Washington these days, when I spot a new vehicle it's usually a CUV. Of the new sedans I've seen, most are either Japanese or Korean.
The Taurus Limited is a heavy car. It is only five inches longer than my wife's Toyota Avalon but the 2010 Taurus Limited weighs 600+ pounds more than the '10 Avalon Limited. It weighs 300 pounds more than my wife's old '96 Lincoln Continental, which was about a half-foot longer than the Taurus.
The 2010 Avalon is faster and is rated at 19/28 mpg, compared with 17/25 for the Taurus. Both are within $1,000 of each other and have roughly the same horsepower rating.
A Fool And His Money Are Soon Parted: The silliest product I've seen this year is ... (more >>>)
Railroad Report: I am pleased to report that the annual Christmas train layout became fully operational Friday afternoon. The happy event was celebrated with a large Manhattan.
Fish Wrap: Last week, my wife picked up a copy of the Sunday Oregonian, primarily to check out the retail ad inserts. I hadn't looked at the Oregonian in years but I can now conclude that it remains the worst large city newspaper I've experienced. A waste of two bucks.
When we relocated ... (more >>>)
And You Want These People To Manage Your Health Care? "The U.S. government is having a tough time guesstimating how many small businesses failed in this recession, casting doubt on the reliability of vital data on employment and economic growth. ... Government data has difficulty gauging the health of smaller firms because there are simply too many of them, leaving officials to rely on surveys and models that are hit and miss."
Gee, did they ever think of looking at ... I dunno ... tax returns? Or, as Barry Ritholz suggested, bankruptcy filings? "In 2008, 43,546 businesses filed for bankruptcy; Even more are filing in 2009 - Q2 of 2009, the most recent data available, saw 16,014 bankruptcy filings - on pace to run 33% more than the prior year."
With all the data available in today's data-captured, info-driven, high tech world, it is amazing that our government remains so #$@!* clueless.
Pithy Description: I'm a closet Sopranite. Even though The Sopranos ended in 2006, I record and watch old episodes whenever they appear on A&E.
Last weekend, my DVR recorded four episodes. DirecTV provides a two-or-three sentence description for each one.
A 1999 Sopranos episode had this one-line summary: "Various rats are whacked."
It sounded like something Fat Tony would say on The Simpsons.
Breaking Nutritional News: The FDA has replaced the food pyramid with tofu trapezoid.
Q&A: From Hoosierboy:
Q: What's the difference between Obama's cabinet and a penitentiary?
A: One is filled with tax evaders, blackmailers and threats to society. The other is for housing prisoners.
Quote Of The Day is from Voltaire: "It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong."
Friday November 20, 2009
Remembering: It's hard to believe that Sunday will mark the 46th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. It makes me feel so damn old. And sad.
Folks of a certain age, whether or not they're 'car people', think of JFK every time they see a dark-colored, 1960s-era Lincoln four-door convertible.
John F. Kennedy will be forever linked to his very special Presidential automobile. I believe that JFK's parade limousine is an allegory for the man, his presidency and the myths which grew up around him ... (more >>>)
Wednesday November 18, 2009
Pucker Factor: Dan Neil relives his experience driving a 1950s era Mercedes 300SL Gullwing: "The only time it got squirrelly was when its enormous gas tank started to go dry. Liberated from a couple hundred pounds of gasoline, the 300SL's swing-axle rear end would ever more urgently want to snap oversteer.
For weeks I was finding bits of plaid upholstery in the most unmentionable places."
All of us once-aggressive air-cooled Beetle drivers of a certain age understand the thrill of oversteer and rear axle jacking.
New Math: Whether or not you buy a new GM or Chrysler vehicle, you've already paid for a third of it.
Thomas D. Hopkins has written, "To better appreciate the scale of the bailout, it is instructive to divide the taxpayer's contribution of $79 billion by the number of vehicles [GM and Chrysler] sell. If the two sell 7.36 million vehicles during 2009 and 2010, the subsidy represents $10,700 per vehicle. That (plus interest forgone) would be the direct taxpayer burden (a) were no further subsidy granted and (b) the firms do not survive beyond 2010."
Elvis Has Left The Building: Robert Farago, founder of The Truth About Cars, has left the site. I thank him for many hours of entertaining reading and a ton of automotive insight.
Best of luck, Robert, and thanks for the ride.
The Legacy Of William B. Stout: William Bushnell Stout was a prodigious engineer and inventor. Aviation historians know him as the builder of the 1919 Batwing, which was the first commercial American monoplane and as the father of the Ford Trimotor airplane. The Trimotor was the first production passenger airplane designed with a metal skin instead of cloth, wire and wood. In a way, Bill Stout helped to create commercial air travel by developing a reliable commercial aircraft made with durable materials.
Automobile buffs may remember ... (more >>>)
Bus Drivers Who Stare At Goats: Two baby pygmy goats tried to get a free ride after they broke out of their pen and walked on board a C-Tran bus in Vancouver, WA. Eventually, a passenger shooed the pair, Yoda and Yates, off the bus and the pair continued to wander around for several hours until they were caught.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: In pursuit of an Eagle Scout badge, Kevin Anderson, 17, voluntarily toiled without pay for more than 200 hours over several weeks to clear a walking path in an east Allentown park.
But the Obama-lovin' SEIU (Service Employees International Union) thugs are considering filing a grievance against the city for allowing Anderson to clear a 1,000-foot walking and biking path at Kimmets Lock Park.
The Wisdom Of Chris Rock: "Gun control? We need bullet control! I think every bullet should cost $5,000. Because if a bullet cost $5,000, we wouldn't have any innocent bystanders. That'd be it. Every time someone gets shot, people will be like, '"Damn, he must have did something. Sh*t, they put $20,000 worth of bullets in his ass.'' People would think before they killed somebody, if a bullet cost $5,000. 'Man, I would blow your f**king head off, if I could afford it. I'm gonna get me another job, I'm gonna start saving some money, and you're a dead man! You better hope I can't get no bullets on layaway.'
So even if you get shot by a stray bullet, you won't have to go to no doctor to get it taken out. Whoever shot you would take their bullet back: 'I believe you got my property.'''
Goin' Asian: There are about 41,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States, according to Chinese Restaurant News, a trade publication, more than the number of McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King franchises combined.
Quote Of The Day is from Brendan Behan: "There's no such thing as bad publicity, except your own obituary."
Monday November 16, 2009
Asian Century: Sales of the $150,000 Mercedes S class are now higher in the People's Republic of China than in the U.S. or Germany. "According to USA Today, Mercedes CEO Dieter Zetsche says that China is its number three market - just behind the U.S. and Germany for total sales of all the company's car and light truck brands regardless of size or cost."
Only In Oregon: Last week, the giant Holiday (nee Christmas) Tree arrived at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland. The Douglas Fir, donated by Stimson Lumber Company, will stand undressed until the day after Thanksgiving, when it will be decorated with 15,000 energy efficient LED lights.
The huge 75-foot evergreen was escorted by Santa who arrived in a Prius. (permalink)
Breaking Science News: Water has been found on the moon. In a related story, an espresso ... (more >>>)
Direct Mail Defaults: Advanta Corp., a large issuer of credit cards to small businesses, filed for bankruptcy protection last week after the recession caused many customers to default on payments.
In May, the Spring House, Pennsylvania-based company stopped opening new business credit card accounts and shut 1 million accounts, hoping to limit losses and preserve capital after a whopping 20% of its loans had gone into default.
I remember getting several unsolicited mail pitches from Advanta a few years back. I guess all those mailings harvested too many marginal companies.
The bankruptcy filing excluded the company's Advanta Bank Corp. unit which is also in trouble. It's been under an FDIC cease and desist order since June.
Customers would still be required to make payments on outstanding credit card balances. Advanta said it is collecting its $2.7 billion portfolio of managed receivables from 360,000 customers - an average of $7,500 per account.
Your Stupid Government At Work: While the Obama Administration's Justice Department was busy setting up a public civil trial for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other 9/11 detainees now in Guantanamo Bay (trial to be held in federal court in New York - just a few blocks from the Big Hole that used to be the World Trade Center), the TSA (Transportation Security Administration, aka: Thousands Standing Around) has banned snowglobes from airplanes.
So, the scum that set in motion the plot that killed 3,000 people on American soil have been granted the same rights as any U.S. citizen. Except you, if you try to bring a souvenir snow globe home from Disneyland. Meanwhile, your tax dollars will be paid to the terrorists' lawyers.
Harry Truman or Franklin Roosevelt would have ordered a swift, closed-door military tribunal with an execution shortly thereafter. Oh wait. That's exactly what Roosevelt did.
The current President wasn't present for either announcement; he ran away to do his Asian Apology & Bowing Tour. And spend time thinking about how to try and blame Bush for the disgraceful flu vaccine shortages.
Told Ya: A plan to slash more than $500 billion from future Medicare spending - one of the biggest sources of funding for President Obama's proposed overhaul of the nation's health-care system - would sharply reduce benefits for some senior citizens and could jeopardize access to care for millions of others, according to a just-released government evaluation.
Full Washington Post story posted here. Report projection: "By 2014, Medicare Advantage enrollment would drop 64% from 13.2 million to 4.7 million because of less generous benefit packages."
Fly The Fabulous Skies: "The National Gay Pilots Association has designated $15,000 to be awarded in student scholarships during 2010. Scholarships of between $3,000 and $4,000 are available to students pursuing an aviation career as a professional pilot. The scholarships are merit based; criteria include demonstrated academic ability, financial need, and active participation in matters of social justice and the betterment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community."
"Scholarship awards will not discriminate on the basis of an applicant's sexual orientation."
Yeah, right. Like they're going to award one to Clint Eastwood or Chuck Norris. (hat tip: Kris Sundberg)
Quote Of The Day is from Henry Ford: "If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability."
Friday November 13, 2009
Car Sighting: The other day, I spotted a Studebaker Lark peeking out of a rural barn. It looked to be in good shape. This Studie was the 1962 second-generation model with the mock Mercedes grille and quad headlights.
A deceased brand for over 40 years, Studebakers are rarely seen these days. And when you do spot one, it's usually a swoopy Hawk model. But I always thought that the Larks had a certain charm.
Originally introduced as a 1959 model - well ahead of the compacts from the Big Three, the Lark was ingeniously designed around the core bodyshell of the full-sized 1953-58 Studebakers. By reducing the front and rear overhangs, the car could still seat six people comfortably and hold a surprising amount of luggage yet be sensibly compact, light and nimble. Plus it could be had with a peppy, 195 horsepower V-8 engine.
The Lark truly saved Studebaker. The company was in big trouble with low sales during the 1958 recession, following years of losses. Sales of the new Lark skyrocketed and made Studebaker a profitable entity again - for a while. Over 120,000 Larks were produced in the 1959 model year. The base 90 hp flathead-six stripper Lark - ironically labeled as the DeLuxe model - could be bought for under $2,000. The fancier Lark was designated as Regal.
The basic compact Lark design carried on through model name changes, faceliftings, Chevy engines and a move to Canada until the last Studebaker was produced in 1966. (permalink)
Spilt Milk: Gwendally wrote in her online journal about a neighborhood store which sold locally-produced organic milk in half gallon glass bottles. "It's fairly expensive, as milk goes, about $6 including the $2 bottle redemption fee attached to the glass bottles. ... But what's happening is that people are coming in and purchasing those glass bottles of milk with food stamps. Food stamp laws require that you not discriminate about what people can buy with them: they want the expensive milk, they're entitled to buy it.
Then they walk outside and dump the milk and come back in to cash in the bottle redemption, leaving with $2 in cash per bottle in their pocket."
This story reminds me of the time I was in line behind a kid at the supermarket on the morning of July 4th. He bought three bags of ice and paid for them with food stamps. (permalink)
Something Smells At The Zoo ... and it's not the elephants. Two top officials at the Oregon Zoo in Portland stepped down abruptly, just days ahead of what is expected to be a negative audit of the zoo's management of capital construction projects.
"Metro spokesman Jim Middaugh confirmed today that the second ranking zoo manager, deputy director Carmen Hannold, who was in charge of maintenance and guest services, is no longer employed by the zoo. And neither is Steve Chaney, who was in charge of construction."
Sounds like some kind of monkey business goin' on.
Jobless Recovery: I hate to use the 'R*cov*ry' word, because so far there is no sign of one. I suppose that the U.S. economy will recover in time; it always has in the past. But the numbers look disturbing. ... (more >>>)
Sharp Drop: During the current recession, retail sales have dropped 11.5%, similar to the 1980-83 recession. But they have dropped at a steeper pace. Both of these recessions have exhibited a bigger drop in retail sales compared to other postwar recessions. For example, retail sales declined less than 2% during the 2001 recession. The 1990 recession saw retail sales fall less than 5%.
We're All Headed To Debtors' Prison: The federal government kicked off fiscal year 2010 by posting its widest-ever October budget deficit. "The $176.36 billion gap is more than $20 billion wider than the shortfall recorded in October 2008, driven up by lower tax receipts, stimulus-related revenue reductions and consistently high government outlays."
During the month, the government racked up $311 billion in outlays compared with $135 billion in receipts. It is spending an astonishing 2.3 times what it earns.
At the equivalent of 9.9% of gross domestic product, the latest figure is the widest U.S. deficit as a share of GDP since 1945.
An Amazing Post By A Couple Of Committed But Intelligent Liberals: Noting that the Bushes quietly visited Ft. Hood last week to comfort the families of the murdered and wounded, HillBuzz has written, "If there are any of you out there with any connection at all to the Bushes, we implore you to give them our thanks … you tell them at a bunch of gay Hillary guys in Boystown, Chicago were wrong about the Bushes … and are deeply, deeply sorry for any jokes we told about them in the past, any bad thoughts we had about these good, good people.
You may be as surprised by this as we are ourselves, but from this day forward George W. and Laura Bush are now on the same list for us as the Clintons, Geraldine Ferraro, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, and the other political figures we keep in our hearts and never allow anyone to badmouth.
Criticize their policies academically and intelligently and discuss the Bush presidency in historical and political terms … but you mess with the Bushes personally and, from this day forward, and you'll answer to us.
We hope someday to be able to thank George W. and Laura in person for all they've done, and continue to do. They didn't have to head to Ft. Hood. That was not their responsibility.
The Obamas should have done that.
Thank goodness George W. is still on his watch, with wonderful Laura at his side."
Don't just read the article, read the comments, too. Smart people are waking up to the fraud that is our Teleprompter President and his wife, the Scowler-in-Chief.
Part Of The Elvis Presley Healthy-Living Lecture Series: Hooker-loving ex-NY-Gov. Eliot Spitzer gave a talk on ethics at Harvard University.
Keepa You Hands To Youse-a-self: Italian priests have been noticing that worshipers are reluctant to dip their hands in the communal holy water font for fear of catching swine flu.
Inventor Luciano Marabese came up with a solution: a hands-free automatic holy water dispenser. The device works along the same lines as a a restroom soap dispenser but has the look of a traditional font. The faithful place their hands under the dispenser where an infrared detector senses them and spritzes out measured doses of holy water.
Quote Of The Day is from Douglas A. Irwin, author of Free Trade Under Fire: "For one particular car produced by an American manufacturer, for example, 30 percent of the car's value is due to assembly in Korea, 17.5 percent due to components from Japan, 7.5 percent due to design from Germany, 4 percent due to parts from Taiwan and Singapore, 2.5 percent due to advertising and marketing services from Britain, and 1.5 percent due to data processing from in Ireland. In the end, 37 percent of the production value of this American car comes from the United States."
Wednesday November 11, 2009
Recipe For Failure: In 2006, there were 619 Lincoln-Mercury dealerships nationwide. Now, the number had dwindled down to just 357 at the beginning of 2009. How does one achieve such marvelous efficiencies? Simple. Choke off product development money. Decimate the product line. Move both brands downscale. Start rumors about discontinuing one of the brands. Stir lightly.
Sit back, let everything percolate and wait for the inevitable. (permalink)
Entrepreneurs & Money: Gregory Sullivan at Sippican Cottage has written, "The world is rather a harsh place for true entrepreneurs just now, much more so than for people that are gaming some system for money, which has become the Holy Grail of angel investors. I've learned everything in this life the hard way, and the hardest lesson to learn is to only borrow money - which includes accepting capital for a piece of the action - to expand on something that already makes money."
Here's what I learned from owning my business ... (more >>>)
Quip Of The Week is from Mark Steyn: "The Royal Mail rejected a postage stamp featuring Benny Hill because his saucy antics contravened company policy on harassment in the workplace.
Hmm. Hope this won't derail the USPS Clinton commemorative."
Department Of Irony: Environmental activists claim that a Eugene Oregon biomass plant will release too much pollution. Excerpt: "The Oregon Toxics Alliance is appealing the issuance of a pollution permit to a new Eugene-area biomass plant, saying the wood-fired power plant will release a host of pollutants and 234,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year."
Gee, I thought the Oregon Toxics Alliance was a fraternal organization of extremely flatulent people.
Quote Of The Day is from Norman R. Augustine: "If a sufficient number of management layers are superimposed on top of each other, it can be assured that disaster is not left to chance."
Monday November 9, 2009
Dazed & Confused: A few months ago, I wrote something about Opel. I don't plan to opine about the Current Soap Opera That Is Opel because I don't understand it any more than I understand David Hasselhoff. Even when he's not drunk.
Bertel Schmitt of TTAC has a much better understanding of the German car biz and Opel than I do. I don't think he's sure what's going on either.
All Aboard! On Saturday, we brought the train platform in from the garage. The weather was awful. We delayed the move until early afternoon due to heavy rain and thunder in the morn. It finally stopped raining at 1:15 pm; we immediately began working. Just as we finished up, the skies opened up again and it poured rain for the remainder of the day. But everything went smoothly. No animals were harmed; no people were killed.
The train layout is now in place in the living room. There is still much work to be done but I hope to have it operational before Thanksgiving.
Hire Me Instead: The 2009 Hammacher Schlemmer holiday gift catalogue arrived last week. This year, HS is offering 'The Genuine Lionel Store Display Diorama'. It is "inspired by the lavish department store window displays of the 1950s." ... (more >>>)
I Never Met Any Episcopalians With Sudden Jihad Syndrome: Last week, a radical Mormon Army officer, shouting "Joseph Smith rules!" committed the worst act of terror on American soil since 9/11.
No, wait - he wasn't a Mormon ... he was a Muslim. But you shouldn't draw any conclusions from that, we are told. It could have been anybody ... perhaps a even wild-eyed Presbyterian, firing handguns and yelling, "We love John Calvin!" Yeah, that's happened before.
I offer my condolences to the families of the 13 soldiers who were murdered as well as the 38 who were injured. This Muslim mass-murderer (after shouting "Allahu Akbar!") killed many more Americans than were killed by the Muslim mass-murderers who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.
No U.S. government official nor mainstream media editor wants to call this an act of terror or associate it with Islam. (Although, when someone bombs an abortion clinic, it's always assumed that he must be one of those "crazy fundamentalist Christians.") The President His-Own-Self has cautioned Americans "not to leap to conclusions."
OK. Let's look at the facts. The Fort Hood rampage is a continuation of a number of recent violent incidents - arrests in Texas, Illinois, Colorado, New Jersey and New York for planned or contemplated terrorist acts. There have been others since 9/11 - a "deranged" Muslim breaking into a Jewish community center in Seattle and killing one worker and injuring six others; another "misguided" Muslim running down students at the University of North Carolina, the notorious Muslim Beltway Shooter, the murder of an American soldier by a fellow soldier, a Muslim, just before the Iraq War, the shooting of an Army recruiter in Arkansas, and the killing of an agent at an Israeli airline counter in Los Angeles. See any trend here?
The Fort Hood Jihadist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, had reportedly been reprimanded for "proselytizing about his Muslim faith with patients and colleagues" and had posted suspicious items on the internet six months ago. He's an Army officer, yet nothing was done about his odd behavior and actions.
Let's start correcting this mess immediately. Begin by allowing all military personnel to carry sidearms on base. Give Hasan a speedy military trial (treason, terrorism, multiple counts of murder - pick one or pick 'em all) and execute him. Arrest any other soldiers who make remarks sympathetic to our enemies and charge them with treason. Initiate a program of Terrorist Profiling and start checking out every suspicious Muslim in this country.
Political correctness killed those patriotic Americans at Fort Hood as surely as the Islamist gunman did. (permalink)
Actions Speak Louder ... etc.: Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, visited wounded soldiers and their families during a private visit to Fort Hood's Darnall Army Medical Center on Friday night. Meanwhile, the current Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Hussein Obama, spent the weekend relaxing at Camp David.
Comparative Religion 101: Things people seem to dislike about:
Daphne Klink of Jaded Haven speaks for many of us: "I find myself increasingly repulsed by Muslim practices and beliefs. Middle Eastern, African, Asian, American, the country of origin makes no difference.
Women and children treated as chattel, genital mutilation, child brides, honor killings, culturally accepted pedophilia, the black drapes and head coverings, no rights, no votes, little to non-existent educational opportunities, no voice, no choices, no recourse.
Persecution of homosexuals. Imprisonment, stoning and whipping for morality crimes.
Lack of free speech.
The foul treatment of non-Muslims in Islamic countries.
The demented hatred of Jews. ... Islam pisses on human talents that fall outside the dark walls of its faith.
Hell, I even dislike their dislike of dogs." (hat tip: American Digest)
1. The Spanish Inquisition (killed about 3,000 people over a 356 year period. The Muslims did that in a single morning in New York City.)
2. The pedophile priest scandal
3. What's the deal with that Pope dude's hat?
How come, when the Dalai Lama visits other countries, he never goes out for Mongolian barbecue?
Hard Times: Last week's announcement of 10.2% unemployment for October - a 26-year high - was distressing but not surprising. It is now about 40% higher than the Obama administration's projections based on their stimulus plan.
When you add in the individuals who have stopped looking for work as well as individuals working part-time because they cannot find full-time positions, the real October unemployment rate (as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) rises to 17.5%. That is the largest percentage since the Great Depression according to the New York Times.
Worst Postwar Recession Ever: In late 1975, the number of unemployed for over 26 weeks peaked at 1.8% of the U.S. civilian workforce. In early 1983, the percentage was 2.6. In October of 2009, the number was 3.6%.
Catch 22: In the Pelosi-crafted health care bill, if you don't pay for health care insurance you may go to jail:
• Section 7203 misdemeanor willful failure to pay is punishable by a fine of up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to one year.
• Section 7201 felony willful evasion is punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment of up to five years.
But - once in prison - you'll get free health care. (permalink)
Ignoramuses: They're not just Americans anymore. Excerpt: "One in 20 UK schoolchildren thought Adolf Hitler was a coach of the German football team. And one in six youngsters said they thought Auschwitz was a Second World War theme park while one in 20 said the Holocaust was a celebration at the end of the war."
Quote of the Day is from Bill Vaughan: "Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them."
Friday November 6, 2009
Luxury Branding: Defining 'luxury car' is a little confusing because not everyone agrees on which brands qualify. (Is Volvo a luxury brand? Is Lincoln still a luxury brand?) And many carmakers slap luxury nameplates on "entry level models" - the new substitute for the 1950-60s "mid-priced field."
Although the luxury border remains undemarcated, here are the top selling brands based on data for October 2009: Lexus - 19,500, Mercedes-Benz - 18,200, BMW - 16,400, Cadillac - 11,600, Acura - 9,800, Audi - 7,400, Lincoln - 6,700, Infiniti - 6,500, Volvo - 4,400, Porsche - 1,642, Jaguar - 882, Ferrari - 113, Maserati - 111, Bentley - 77, Rolls Royce - 22. Three morons bought Maybachs in October.
This is a big change from 20 years ago, when Cadillac sold an average of 22,200 vehicles every month and Lincoln sold 19,500 per month. In fact, Lincoln sold over 12,000 1990 Town Cars monthly, compared with a mere 360 purchased in October 2009.
Fifty years ago, there were three luxury marques sold in America - Cadillac, Lincoln and Imperial. (Mercedes sales were almost insignificant, BMW pedaled mostly Isettas & motorcycles and Lexus, Infiniti et al didn't exist.) In any given month, Caddy moved about 12,000 units, Lincoln sold 2,000 or so and Imperial produced under 1,500.
During the 1960 model year, the "entry-level luxury" field was served by top-of-the-line models of lesser nameplates like the Ford Thunderbird (7,500/mo.), Oldsmobile 98 (5,000/mo.), Buick Electra (4,500/mo.), Chrysler New Yorker (4,200/mo.) and Mercury Park Lane (800/mo.).
Times certainly have changed.
My Million Dollar Business Idea: It taps into the big three ... (more >>>)
Politics For Dummies: After every election, pundits dissect the meager leavings of the election post-season and issue proclamations. Don't believe the hype. Or spin.
There's nothing profound to learn. Here's the simple truth ... (more >>>)
Gobblegook For Dummies: the Federal Open Market Committee's most recent press release has been translated into English, courtesy of Karl Denninger:
"Conditions in financial markets were roughly unchanged, on balance, over the intermeeting period."
"We don't count the 29.9% interest rates that Citibank decided to charge its credit-card holders in this computation; but if we did that would be considered a good thing, since raping the consumer is positive for banks. Oh, and we're a bank."
"Activity in the housing sector has increased over recent months."
"Four year olds and cats are cashing the $8,000 homebuyer credit, as the IRS has recently disclosed. This of course supports housing."
"Businesses are still cutting back on fixed investment and staffing, though at a slower pace; they continue to make progress in bringing inventory stocks into better alignment with sales."
"We suckered a few of you, but most businesspeople have IQs larger than their shoe size, and refuse to play our game any more. As a consequence our attempt to hose them isn't working out so well."
"In these circumstances, the Federal Reserve will continue to employ a wide range of tools to promote economic recovery and to preserve price stability. The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and continues to anticipate that economic conditions, including low rates of resource utilization, subdued inflation trends, and stable inflation expectations, are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period."
"When something doesn't work, do more of it! That's the ticket!"
World's Worst Magician: Actor/comedian Carl Ballantine has died at 92. Billing himself The Amazing Ballantine, his vaudeville-style comedy routine involved incompetent stage magic tricks accompanied by wisecracks from tuxedo-clad Carl: "Well, if you're gonna watch that close, the trick is off."
The Amazing Ballentine appeared on The Milton Berle Show, Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town, The Tonight Show and many other variety shows. As an actor, Carl Ballantine could be found somewhere in almost every series ever on television. He is best remembered for his co-starring role of Navy man Lester Gruber on the TV series McHale's Navy (1962-66). RIP.
Live Long And Prosper: This week marks the 70th anniversary of the first retirement under the Social Security pension system. Ida May Fuller filed her claim in Rutland, Vermont and, a few months later, received her first $22.54.
She worked only three years under Social Security and paid only $24.75 into the system, but she lived to be 100 and wound up collecting $22,888.92 by the time she passed away.
Quote Of The Day is from François de La Rochefoucauld: "Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue."
Wednesday November 4, 2009
Strike - Yer Out! The United Auto Workers have rejected a proposed no-strike contract with Ford. The new contract would have put the company on par with Chrysler and General Motors two companies that were bailed out by the American taxpayer and are now partly-owned by the UAW. The union will carry on until the current Ford contract runs out in 2011.
If the union then elects to strike, things could get interesting. For openers, the UAW is a shareholder in FoMoCo's domestic competitors, GM and Chrysler. A strike could be deemed an anticompetitive practice and, therefore, a violation of the Robinson-Patman Act. Injured parties or the U.S. government may bring an action under the Act. Since it could be argued that the UAW is acting to restrain trade, they could be also charged with violations of the Sherman Ant-Trust Act.
When Michael Milken was accused of using contacts to manipulate stock and bond prices, the government brought a RICO indictment against him, for interfering in an orderly market. A strike against a competitor (Ford), manipulated by a shareholder in GM and Chrysler could well be deemed a criminal act under RICO statutes.
Finally, If the UAW struck Ford and this was deemed disruptive to the nation's best interests, a president could threaten to draft workers into the armed forces and make them return to work in uniform - at Army pay. Harry Truman stopped a national railway strike in 1946 by issuing such a threat. The strike was quickly settled on Truman's terms. (It is hard to imagine the present oval office occupant doing this but, if his popularity keeps dropping, he might get desperate enough to anything.)
We're in uncharted waters here. So is the UAW.
October Sales Summary: Good for some car companies, not so good for others.
Ford's sales in October rose 3% and it gained market share due to strong demand for its Ford Fusion, Taurus, Edge. Mercury Mariner and Lincoln MKZ models. Chrysler's sales fell 30%; Mazda was off by 6% or so. Toyota sales were dead-even with last year. Honda sales dropped fractionally. GM rose 4% - its first monthly sales gain in almost two years. Nissan was up over 5%. Porsche saw U.S. sales in October rise 15%, while Subaru jumped almost 41%. Hyundai sales were up a whopping 49% to 31,005 vehicles, while Kia sales jumped 45.3% to 22,490 units.
While it's nice to see some healthier percentages, it is important to remember that the year-over-year comparison bar had been set pretty low. Sales in October '08 were dismal: GM fell 45%, Chrysler dropped 35%, Nissan declined 34%, Ford was off over 30%, Honda was down 25%, Toyota fell 23%, etc. Last October, the stock market crashed and the banking crisis caused business and consumer credit to dry up, leaving people dazed and confused. And scared. October '08 vehicle sales were around 900,000 units - a near-record low.
Last month, Toyota Prius sales were up over 14% to 13,496, as were sales of the RAV4 (13,971) and Lexus IS (3,162). ES sales were up almost 7% (4,413). Toyota Avalon sales were 2,539 - a drop of 28%. (By comparison, 6,067 Ford Tauruses were sold in October, an increase of 141%. Pretty impressive.) Only 804 Lexus LS models were sold - a decline of 46%. But sales of the Lexus RX were up over 60%.
At GM, trucks are still outselling cars almost 2 to 1. Buick sold 3,228 units of its redesigned LaCrosse. Sales of the little, crude and unloved Chevy Aveo dropped by 54% to a mere 1,459 units. But the General moved 8,082 Camaros, compared with 4,709 Ford Mustangs and 2,398 Dodge Challengers.
Things at Chrysler remain bleak; the company's U.S. market share is now less than 8% with a total of 65,803 units sold. Only 583 Dodge Calibers found buyers in October - a miserable number but better than 515 Dodge Dakota pickups, 327 Jeep Compasses, 135 PT Cruisers, 54 Chrysler Aspens and a mere 47 Dodge Durangos sold during the month. Pathetic.
Sales of Smart were off 70% with 661 vehicles sold, indicating that pretty much everyone who ever wanted this tiny car has already bought one. Fad over.
Toy Fun: I love this time of year. Lots of catalogs arrive and I learn about all the new toys and gadgets. A mailing from Bits and Pieces had three items that caught my eye:
Joke Of The Day: Nancy Pelosi was touring the countryside in a chauffeur-driven car. Suddenly, a cow jumps out into the road, they hit it full on, and the car comes to a stop.
• Remote-Control Bumper Cars: Send the 4.5 inch cars racing around with exciting sound effects and flashing lights, trying to bump each other. The first car to get bumped three times freezes and loses.
• Granny Racers: Instead of sleek race cars, two old ladies in wheelchairs zoom around a slot car track with crossovers. Each granny has an individual speed controller.
• Line-Sensing Fire Engine: A small optical sensor on the bottom allows the fire truck to follow any thick black line made from a marker or crayon on a white piece of paper. Kids get to draw their own roads - cool.
Nancy, in her usual charming manner, said to the chauffeur, "You get out and check - you were driving."
The chauffeur gets out, checks, and reports that the animal is dead but it was old.
"You were driving; go and tell the farmer," commanded Nancy.
Two hours later, the chauffeur returns totally plastered, hair ruffled with a big grin on his face.
"My God, what happened to you?" asked Nancy.
The chauffeur replies, "When I got there, the farmer opened his best bottle of malt whiskey, the wife gave me a slap-up meal and the daughter made love to me."
"What on earth did you say?"
"I just knocked on the door and when it was answered, I said to them, 'I'm Nancy Pelosi's chauffeur, and I've just killed the old cow ...'" (hat tip: George Pradel)
Survival Skills: Gregory Sullivan at Sippican Cottage has written, "Many people with skinny glasses instead of safety glasses talk a good game. They grow cucumbers in a window box and put together an IKEA shelf and then start blogging about how they've returned to their pioneer roots."
In other words, filling a diaper is not a reason to proclaim, "Look, I made something."
Mr. Sullivan mentioned Norm Abrams (PBS' The New Yankee Workshop), noting that he is the penultimate example of ... (more >>>)
Quote Of The Day is from Thomas Sowell: "When I think of the people with serious physical or mental handicaps who nevertheless work, I find it hard to sympathize with able-bodied men who stand on the streets and beg. Nor can I sympathize with those who give them money that subsidizes a parasitic lifestyle which allows such men to be a constant nuisance, or even a danger, to others." (permalink)
Monday November 2, 2009
Just Thinking Out Loud: Fiat-Chrysler intends to make Dodge Ram trucks a separate brand: Ram.
Anybody else besides me ancient enough to remember when Packard decided to spin off Clipper as a separate brand?
Look how that worked out.
Bumpy Road Ahead: Don't buy the government hype. Last week's alleged 3.5% U.S. third quarter GDP growth is mostly smoke and mirrors. Cash for Clunkers distorted the U.S. economic figures in an unsustainable fashion. Business Insider posted a dramatic chart and commentary.
"According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), motor vehicle output spiked a seasonally-adjusted 157.6% quarter on quarter. This is completely unprecedented. Vehicle output is clearly going off a cliff next quarter. The question will be how low can the blue line below go.
Next quarter, we won't just be returning to business as usual for auto output. Don't forget that Cash for Clunkers pulled future auto demand, i.e. some of Q4 demand, into Q3. Thus Q4 is likely to be very weak since many people who planned to buy a car in Q4 probably took advantage of Clunkers and bought in Q3."
Steep drop ahead ... look out below!
Driving Impression: Last week, we took my Lexus in for routine maintenance. My wife and I made the long drive to Kendall Lexus in Eugene, OR because that's where I bought my car. Plus they're good folks and have treated me very well. Unlike the Lexus dealers I encountered in Portland and Tacoma.
The dealer gave us a free loaner car during the service - a black Lexus RX 350 SUV, powered by a 270 horsepower six-cylinder engine. The $40K+ vehicle had 15,000 miles on the clock. It was nice enough with lots of luxury bells 'n whistles, but not particularly smooth-riding or peppy. But I'm spoiled because I'm used to driving soft-riding sedans, not SUVs. (The last time I drove one was 10 years ago - a Mitsubishi Montero loaner. I only remember that it was a surprisingly thirsty beast.)
I've read that the RX is the best selling Lexus model of all time. We drove it around downtown Eugene and even motored to the top of Skinner's Butte for a bird's eye look at the city. I must say that we're as unimpressed with the city in 2009 as we were during our first visit in 1978 - it's still a dumpy, semi-sprawling town full of hippies. (On the other hand, U of O sure clobbered the USC Trojans Saturday. Go Ducks!)
Later, I looked over the cars in Kendall's showroom - all were shiny and nice. I like the lines of the little IS 350 sedan but I'm not in the market for another car. There was a handsome IS 250 convertible on display as well.
The cost of the 10K service was very reasonable - less than $70 including a bottle of touch-up paint which I had ordered. And a thorough washing. I'll be back when the odometer rolls to 15,000.
All in all, it was a pleasant trip. No rain, little fog, no big traffic tie ups. It was, in fact, the only day of last week it didn't rain.
At 10,000 miles, I've had absolutely no problems with my LS 460. I love the way it drives and handles. It also rides like a dream and gets surprisingly good gas mileage - 20-24 mpg, typically. (permalink)
Car Sighting: We had a nice Sunday dinner at Bone's. As we were leaving, a Maserati Quattroporte was pulling in. In Battle Ground?! Must have been lost.
Derailed: U.S. taxpayers spent about $32 subsidizing the cost of the typical Amtrak passenger in 2008, according to Subsidyscope, an arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Forty-one of Amtrak's 44 routes lost money.
Leading the list was the Sunset Limited, has less than 72,000 riders per year, grosses $9.3 million in revenue and loses $31.4 million every year. It lost $462 per passenger. In order to break even, ticket prices would have to be increased more than three-fold.
The premium-priced, high-speed Acela train makes money as do other trains along the populous NE corridor. Such trains carry several million riders per year. But the ... (more >>>)
Sounds Good To Me. Charles G. Hill has proposed the 28th Amendment: "Congress shall make no law which exceeds the original Constitution in length."
Quote of the Day is from Bill Vaughan: "If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it's another nonconformist who doesn't conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity."