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Tapscotts Behind the Wheel
Mark Tapscott has been reviewing new cars and trucks since 1985. His "Behind the Wheel" reviews reach nearly 1 million readers every week, appearing every Friday in The Washington Examiner, The Baltimore Examiner and Examiner.com. Marcus MacFarland Tapscott's "Fast Forward" reviews appear in the Patuxent Publications weeklies in the Baltimore suburbs, reaching more than a quarter of a million readers.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Next Behind the Wheel Carnival of Cars Link Love Will Be Jan. 6, 2006
LINK LOVE: A Carnival of Cars Drive Around the Auto Blog Block for 2005's Last Time
It's time for those end-of-the-year roundups of significant events of the year past and making of predictions about the year ahead. At Auto Extremist, Peter DiLorenzo is calling "all aboard The Oblivion Express - the follies and foibles, the shining stars and the relentlessly clueless of 2005. "
Among much else, Peter sees 2005's highs and lows being followed by an even more eventful 2006 in which "the next 12 months will not only determine the very future of the domestic automobile industry as we know it, but Detroit will become the lightning rod for the most pressing issues facing this country - health care costs, pension reform, global competition (and corresponding trade issues) and its threat to the industrial foundation of America."
AutoMuse is way ahead of the pack on the soon-to-be-Supreme Court case involved in Avery v State Farm Mutual Insurance of Illinois. The case has been ginning around in Illinois state courts for quite a while, but the plaintiffs have now filed a writ of certiori asking the High Court to accept the case for review.
AutoBlog's Erin Mays has the scoop on Ford's latest Fusion sales tactic, which is a viral marketing campaign centered on a Norwegian band, Hurra Torpedo. I doubt it will sell many Fusion's but it will certainly be fun to watch.
You will have to go here to learn why CarPundit chose the Grim Reaper to illustrate his posting on GM's stock prices.
CarScoop says Nissan's Urge features motorcycle-inspired styling. I think it's just plain inspired.
Have you seen Audi's latest addition to its lineup? Consumers Hero has some info here.
Boxing Day drags Down Under were capped by Scott Kalita's 4.788 et at 298.21 mph pass for the win, according to Fast Machines.
Quite a bit slower was the Ford Five Hundred tested by Jalopnik. He was not impressed with what he called an "automotive blancmange." Don't you just love it when he talks like that!
Across the pond, Jonathan Fry hasn't had much to write about recently but checking his web cam this morning finds him and his lovely wife busily engaged in the affairs of the day.
What's the most gorgeous part of a car? At Just-Auto.com, editor Dave Leggett spent some time on Jag's Prefer Gorgeous web site and decided it's the body that does it for him. So do most of the folks going to the site so far. Oh yes, there is some info about the new Jag XK there, too!
It's a particularly juicy day at Left Lane News where there are multiple spy shots of Lincoln's D3 concept and a great roundup of the latest news and alleged news on GM's return to the pony car war with Mustang.
Jalopnik isn't the only auto blogging reviewer with strong words for something from Detroit. Can you guess which 2006 offering is the object of Daniel Pund's fusilade over at MPH Blog? He says it looks like "any Car you might see in a car-insurance or oil-company advertisement. You know the one: clumsily cladded up with an ill-fitting grille, severely rectangular headlamps, and a mystery badge." Here's a hint - It's a loose urn but it's not rolling art.
It's bye-bye to MV Augusta from Proton, according to Paul Tan.
The entry deadline for getting into the latest edition of Dennis Cowhey's "Personal Stories Behind Vanity License Plates" is Feb. 28, 2006, according to QT Auto News.
Lots of tuning tips over at The Car Blog.
Have you noticed the increasing number of two-door coupe offerings from luxury and econocar marques? Bob Elton has at The Truth About Cars and he thinks the consumer move back to cars from trucks will eventually mean more coupes for more folks: "The success of upmarket hardtop drop-tops will eventually lead to equally successful, lower-priced versions." Let us hope!
Checking in at The View Through the Windshield we find Joe Sherlock rather pessimistic about GM's prospects: "I seriously wonder if General Motors can be saved. It seems to be pinning its hopes on the next-generation big SUVs, at a time when demand for such vehicles is waning."
Joe has much more to say about all the automakers, including those in China.
And finally, as this drive around the auto blog block concludes, we must ask if you ever driven down Farfrompoopen Road? It appears The Car Connection has.
Have a great week, ya'll!
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Computer Animation of Shelby GR-1 Shows Ford Virtual Design
Ford designers are using a new software tool called Bunkspeed that allows them to create vehicles virtually and then place them into a variety of environments to see how they interact. The modelling software also allows numerous changes in things like wheel size, colors and shapes to test a variety of design possibilities.
Go here for the Ford Media animation. The GR-1 looks rather impressive, too!
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
DO NOT MISS THIS! Chicago Sun-Times Reviewer On "Learning to Sprawl"
Kevin Nance, architecture critic for the Chicago Sun-Times reviews Robert Bruegmann's "Sprawl" and finds much wisdom in it. On the urban planners' oft-repeated and widely accepted myth about energy consumption being driven by suburban sprawl, Nance approvingly quotes Bruegmann:
"Sprawl leads to excessive energy consumption caused by long commutes: 'The problem isn't private transportation,' Bruegmann insists. 'The problem is that we have an old-fashioned 19th-century technology, the internal combustion engine using fossil fuels.
"'Let's solve that problem - maybe by creating small, fuel-efficient vehicles - and stop talking about putting the city back into its 19th-century state to make mass transit work. Instead, let's see what people want to do, then see how the city can be built around them.'"
Nance notes the hot reaction among conventional urban planners to Bruegmann's work and the Sun-Times critic isn't quite an unreserved enthusiast, either, but it is clear "Sprawl" is generating some much-needed discussion in the professional planning and architectural communities.
I bought Bruegmann and Joel Plotkin's "The City: A Global History" late last week and am trying to carve out sufficient time during this in-between holiday week to make progress in both works.
Reflections on "Cars and Their Enemies"
Robert Phillipson at Troopship Berlin reminds of James Q. Wilson's superb essay in the July 1997 issue of Commentary entitled "Cars and their enemies." Wilson's basic point is that "even if we do all the things that can be done to limit the social costs of cars, the campaign against them will not stop."
And why is that? "It will not stop because so many of the critics dislike everything the car stands for and everything that society constructs to serve the needs of its occupants," Wilson argued.
In essence, what critics of the car hate is not the vehicle itself, but rather the freedom it embodies for the individual to move about as he or she pleases whenever and without sufferance of anybody else.
Put another way, cars represent the antithesis of the regimented, face-less, color-less and life-less collectivist society favorably envisioned by the many statists of our day. The Commentary piece requires a registration charge but is well worth it.
Friday, December 23, 2005
What is About the Saab 9-3 Arc That Makes it Fit Me So Perfectly?
That's the question I've been asking myself for several days now. The 9-3 Arc has been here by accident, literally, as the week was scheduled to include a Chevrolet Impala SS. The switch was made when the Impala was involved in an accident while being driven by another automotive journalist.
Anyway, the black 9-3 seems to fit me rather well. Every so often in the auto review business, you run into a car or truck that just works for you immediately. It's the right size, the control layout falls readily to hand, the steering talks to you and the powertrain delivers the muscle when needed. Driving is a genuine pleasure, rather than a chore.
I'll have to work the Saab into my review schedule now. The Swedish company is having some hard times these days and the 9-3 isn't the most sophisticated, best handling or highest powered sport sedan on the market. But it fits me just fine. More later.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Chinese Tycoon's Delphi Interest Sparks Trade, National Security, IPR Policy Worries
A trade industry weekly's report that a Chinese industrialist is dickering to buy Delphi assets is generating worries in the nation's capitol where an international relations expert sees possible trouble ahead for the U.S. if the reported deal results in an asset transfer.
"Lu Guanqiu, the ambitious chairman of Wanxiang Group, says he is negotiating with Delphi Corp. to acquire some of the financially troubled company's assets in the United States," according to Automotive News' current issue (subscription only). The Chinese company name is pronounced "wahn-shong."
"Lu is unlike most Chinese suppliers, who are content to stay home and increase their overseas business with exports. He wants to become a Tier 1 supplier to the major U.S. auto manufacturers with products made in America," Automotive News said in its report.
Wanxiang is a major international firm, with worldwide revenues last year of $2.6 billion. The company employs more than 31,000 people worldwide and makes universal joints, brake disks, bearings, driveshafts and other products, according to Automotive News.
Delphi is the largest U.S. auto parts supplier and recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It appears Lu is seeking to purchase some Delphi assets, but other officials with the Chinese company declined to provide Automotive News with additional details of the particular assets under consideration.
Following its October bankruptcy filing, Delphi created the Automotive Holdings Group, which includes plants and related operations that could be on the auction block. "The group posted operating losses of $957 million on sales of $1.86 billion during the first nine months of the year," according to Automotive News.
John Tkacik, a Senior Research Fellow in Asian Studies at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C. think tank that pays substantial attention to national security, economic and political developments across the Pacific, sees some serious potential problems in the Wainxiang Group/Delphi talks.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: While my profession is newspaper journalism, for the past six years, I have been Director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at Heritage, teaching fellow journalists how to do Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting, and working on issues such as Freedom of Information Act reform.)
"I think Wanxiang may be seeking to purchase the DELPHI brand name as well, so that they can produce in China," Tkacik, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, told Tapscott Behind the Wheel. He worries that once Delphi assets were purchased, the Chinese company would "box them up" and transfer them to China.
"There are innumerable industries which the U.S. simply doesn't have anymore because the production lines are now in China," Tkacik said. "China underprices, the U.S. production-lines simply shut down and purchase units from the Chinese supplier."
Tkacik noted that "hand tools are a good example of one of the first to go, consumer electronics, lap-top computers, and now even fiber-optic cable production are leaking away from the U.S. to China." He cited JDS Uniphase as an example in fiber-optic cable field.
"Chinese competition and Chinese IPR piracy is one of the reasons Delphi has been losing competitiveness," Tkacik also noted. IPR stands for "intellectual property rights" and is of particular concern in international commerce regarding trademarks, copyrights, commerical trade secrets and patents.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
LINK LOVE: A Drive Around the Blog Block
AutoBlog says Jaguar's first production XK coming off the line is evidence of the hallowed Brit marque's return to prominence among luxury automakers.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg should read Car Pundit. If he had yesterday, he would have found the solution to avoiding the transit strike that virtually paralyzed Gotham today. I modestly add that the Mayor could also have taken his cue from President Ronald Reagan who had a similar problem with PATCO in 1981.
Over at Cars!Cars!Cars!, Brooklyn Bob Schulties would like for you to check out a new car blog they are behind, 4Drivers Only. Back home at C!C!C!, there is some interesting stuff about GM's latest message for Isuzu.
Fast Machines says the end of the Powerade drag racing series' season by no means competitors are going into hibernation. Go here for a great roundup of who's doing what while they count the days till the green flag falls on the 2006 season.
The GM guys at FastLane are exulting about MPH Mag naming the Z06 its favorite review ride. Can you imagine that? If you're podcasting, FastLane has the feed you won't want to miss, including mag editor Eddie Alterman explaining his assessment that the Z06 is absolutely, positively, no doubt about it, the finest piece of automotive engineering ever.
It's Bah Humbug! with Jalopnik, thanks to Honda's decision to keep its Type R edition of the new Civic out of the states, at least for now. Maybe Honda figures being the sole engine supplier to the IRL will make up for it?
Did you know there is a "world truck" concept much like that of the "world car" that has spoiled more than a few careers in Dearborn and elsewhere in the automotive world. At Just-Auto.com, you have to become a subscriber to get the scoop on the DC's Andreas Renschler take on the current and future status of the world truck. But there's lots of worthwhile news for the taking here.
Want the latest on what NHTSA is saying about its 35 mph head-on crash tests? Left Lane News has the details.
Meanwhile, Motor Alley's David Wassermann is soooo confused.
Speaking of Eddie and MPH, check out "The Big Board of Dreams."
And at My Honest Mechanic, folks all over the place are finding answers to perplexing gremlins, puzzling dilemmas and perverse problems.
Would you like to put your foot into 229 lb-ft of torque in a diesel-powered Dodge Caliber? The Auto Prophet would too but the economics aren't adding up for him.
Bill Ford would do well to spend some time pondering The Car Blog and Elizabeth Walling's explanation for why she and her husband simply cannot live without their F-150.
Ouch! Robert Farago at The Truth About Cars was out and about recently in the all-new Lexus IS350 and encountered an M3. It wasn't the Bimmer that "helmed," "leaned," "rolled" and "jiggled." Farago was not ... impressed.
Joe Sherlock has lots of great links and all you have to do to enjoy them is take a gander at The View Through the Windshield. DO NOT MISS the 50 Studie with the javelin nosejob. :-)
And finally, TheCarConnection.com's odd street names compilation is certain to put a smile on your face, no matter how much Christmas shopping you have left.
Monday, December 19, 2005
New Histories Show Suburban Sprawl Didn't Begin With "America's Love Affair With Cars"
Pick at random an urban planner, environmental activist or mainstream media journalist, then ask him or her what is the most significant cause of suburban sprawl and odds are excellent that the answer will include the automobile.
Cars give people freedom to move about at will and one of the first things they do is get in their autos to flee the central city's congestion, pollution, noise and alienation.
Where do they end up? Living in a suburban development, of course, with a yard to mow, flowers, a backyard for the kids to play in, privacy from nosy neighbors, two cars in the garage and all the rest of the usual features of a typical home. It's the American Dream, right?
According to our modern day "experts, however, suburban sprawl naturally follows because all those people who fled the central city to live in the suburbs still have to have services provided by grocery stores, schools for the kids , churches for the family, bowling alleys, restraunts and, sooner or later, offices to work in, plus roads to get there.
The end result is traffic gridlock, despoilation of the natural environment, the breakdown of social, political and economic networks, loss of traditional ways of life like farming, destruction of historical landmarks and the growth of isolation and alienation as a result of the loss of the rootedness of city neighborhoods.
So it's all Henry Ford's fault for inventing that darn Model T that put America on wheels! And Ike for building those horrible interstates!! And McDonalds for putting a fast-food palace on every corner!!! And Wal-Mart for having the lowest prices at the biggest box stores, always!!!!
Actually, no, at least according to a couple of new histories just published and described by U.S. News & World Report's Michael Barone on his blog. The books are Robert Bruegmann's "Sprawl: A Compact History" and Joel Kotkin's "The City: A Global History."
Turns out what we now call sprawl in Houston, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles has been around since at least the days of Rome's golden oldies and people have long moved to the suburbs because suburbs have always served individual needs better than crowded cities.
Barone quotes Kotkin:
"The needs and preferences of individuals, families, and businesses matter most. To attempt to understand sprawl from this perspective, of course, flies in the face of most academic 'urban theory' as well as the collected wisdom of most planners, architects, and the media."
Put another way, most of what is taken for granted by the mainstream media and throughout the vaunted precincts of America's "enlightened opinon-makers" - sprawl can only be "solved" with more publicly financed mass transit, stricter land use controls by all levels of government, more centralization of population and commerce - is based on myths, historical ignorance and ideological blinders.
Barone is far from alone in noting these two important books. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.com fame reviewed Bruegmann a couple of weeks ago in his TechCentralStation.com column.
Also, The Planning Report, which bills itself as "the insider's guide to managed growth," has an interview with Kotkin that focuses primarily on Los Angeles and that provides him with lots of illustrations of how to deal with the city that perhaps more than any other epitomizes the alleged sins of suburban sprawl.
So why do we keep listening to these pseudo-sophisticates and the preening politicians who dole out billions of tax dollars to support "solutions" that never work? And why does the mainstream media keep quoting them, usually at the exclusion of all others?
Cross-posted at Tapscott's Copy Desk.
Can Hyundai Hit the High, Hard Inside Fastball?
Aspiring major leaguers have to be able to hit the high, hard inside fastball. In the mid-size family sedan segment of the auto market, nobody throw’s harder or closer to rivals’ ears than Toyota with its Camry and Honda with its Accord.
That’s what Hyundai took on when the South Korean company decided to remake its bread-and-butter Sonata into a Camry and Accord challenger. The result has been a bit of a mixed success, though not on the product side of the ledger.
Sales of the 2005 Sonata were up a little more than six percent, compared to the previous year, which is an excellent increase. But somehow I expected a bit more spectacular first-year performance for the new Sonata. Maybe I was overly optimistic about what this most impressive Hyundai could do against the bad boys from Japan.
One thing is certain – the redesigned for 2005 Sonata is a sharp, well-designed and nicely performing family sedan offered at a price that is very tough to beat. My Steel Gray XL tester arrived with the usual assortment of standard features, plus Hyundai’s 2.4 liter four cylinder power plant rather than the more desirable 3.3 liter V-6.
The V-6 can be had with a five-speed automatic and will do 0-60 mph a full second or so faster than the four-speed transmissioned four-cylinder, but the two extra cylinders also add more than $2,000 to the Sonata’s sticker and you have to go to GLS model.
The GL keeps the sticker under $20,000 but still provides decent acceleration for daily driving despite sounding and feeling a bit more like an econocar. Fuel economy is mid-twenties for around-town motoring but is likely to be lower for those who are frustrated by an 8.4 second 0-60 mph time.
The interior is well appointed for the price, with quality materials used throughout and with switchgear and instrumentation well-located and ergonomically designed. There is more than enough room for four adults, with rear seat passengers being especially well-treated.
The Sonata’s body structure feels solid and quiet. This is definitely the most quality feeling Hyundai sedan ever. Handling displays some body lean but the brakes and steering are positive and responsive.
The problem for Hyundai is that a four-cylinder Accord or Camry is smoother, gets at least competitive, if not better, fuel economy and isn’t that much more costly. The V-6 Sonata is definitely ready for the majors, but the four-cylinder could use another season in the minors.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Revised Miata Better, But Still the Same
Has the Mazda Miata really been on the road for a decade and a half? The answer is yes and 2006 brings us the third generation of an instant classic from Japan that captured and refined so much of what made old British two-seaters like the MG-B so memorable.
For 2006, there is a new exterior shape, a decidedly more refined interior and a significant boost of horsepower under the hood. Even with the changes, however, the Miata remains what it has always been – an affordable two-seater with a delightful balance of power and handling that makes the driver and car feel as one.
Let’s start on the outside with the new look, which moves away from the coke bottle shape of the first and second generation, replacing it with a bit of an edgier approach that features distinctive wheel arches in the fenders, a prominent oval front air inlet and a rear-end that has more presence.
You still know instantly the first time you see it that the 2006 model is a Miata but it is a more striking shape now than before. I love the way the 16-inch wheels and tires fill the arches, yet the overall shape retains the close-coupled feel of the previous generations.
Under the hood Mazda has boosted power output from the previous generation’s 142 horses coming from a 1.8 liter four cylinder to 170 horses from a new 2.0 liter four cylinder that can be hooked to either a slick-shifting five-speed stick or a six-speed automatic.
The stick’s shift linkage remains among the best in the world, providing quick, short throws, exceptionally sharp engagement and just the right feel. With the added power, there is less of a need to shift, but I still found myself rowing my Miata tester up and down the gears for the simple joy of working with the tranny and shifter.
There is another aspect of the new engine that is worthy of mention and that is its positioning. Mazda moved the engine back in the chassis five inches and that change along had the effect of evening the weight distribution to a perfect 50/50, front and rear.
Talk about engineering harmony! With the increased power and the slight improvement in weight distribution, the Miata is even more the addictive tool for seeing how close you can come to a classic four-wheel-drift in a corner.
The interior features an upgraded feel that is a function of both the use of higher quality materials and crisper appearances for the various gauges. Mazda has also accomplished the impossible by making the one-hand-only folding convertible top even easier to put up and down.
Mazda has seen its ups and downs over the years, but the one consistent high note since 1989 has been the Miata, which has created and sustained a large and loyal following who almost unanimously love their automotive icon.
That’s quite an accomplishment and explains why “zoom-zoom” is precisely the right expression of what a great car company should be all about in its heart.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Ford Caves, Will Advertise in Gay Publications, Risk Heterosexual, Traditional Families Boycott
Two weeks of vociferous criticism from homosexual activists not only succeeded in backing Ford away from its recent decision to restrict advertising some of its products from gay publications but forced the automaker into expanding such marketing efforts and all but begging for forgiveness for being politically incorrect on the issue.
The cave could not be more complete, according to this description in The New York Times:
"Ford's announcement, which gay advocates immediately praised, also included other steps to broaden the automaker's relations with gay consumers and repair damage from the initial decision to stop advertising.
"In a letter Wednesday to gay advocacy groups, Ford said that in addition to its current advertising campaigns in gay media, it would expand the ads to encompass all eight Ford brands.
"Previously, only Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo ran ads in gay publications. Now, the company has said it will advertise its Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda and Aston Martin brands in the gay press.
"'It is my hope that this will remove any ambiguity about Ford's desire to advertise to all important audiences and put this particular issue behind us,' Ford's vice president for corporate human resources, Joe W. Laymon, said in the letter."
Ford's decision two weeks ago to restrict the advertising was widely perceived to be a response to a threatened boycott by the American Family Association, which claims to represent the interests of traditional, heterosexual families. The Times was unable to obtain comment from AFA.
Ford, like numerous Fortune 500 firms in the past decade, set itself up for the present no-win situation, thanks to its past decisions noted by the Times going back more than a decade to provide extensive corporate financial and other support for homosexual advocacy groups and causes.
"It was Ford's support of gay causes that led the American Family Association to call for a boycott. The association cited what it called Ford's 'extensive promotion of homosexuality,' including the company's training in tolerance of gays and ads designed specifically for gay audiences," reported the Times.
Having originally offered support for gay advocacy, Ford took a position bound to antagonize significant elements of the much larger community. But given the politically correct mainstream media's broad and usually unquestioning support of gay causes, it was inevitable that Ford would suffer a massive public relations backlash from trying to retreat from its original decision to back those causes.
All of which just demonstrates yet again that it is folly to market any general consumer market product on the basis of anything other than its intrinsic merits in satisfying customer needs. Adding a political factor to the marketing of non-political products is asking for just such a public relations disaster as Ford is now suffering.
Jalopnik thinks I overstated Ford's reaction and praises Ford "for doing what they should be doing, which is making amends for listening to fascist nutjobs who would love nothing more than to stamp out any trace of queerness in the culture."
As expected by anybody familiar with the course of political theatre, the American Family Association responded to Ford's switcheroo on advertising in gay publications with a renewal of a threatened boycott of Dearborn products.
Given the rest of its problems, a fight with AFA is among the last things Ford needs at this time. The organization trumpets its support of traditional families and can generate significant activity in a boycott over an extended period of time if it chooses to do so. Much of AFA's organizational strength is in the South, which also happens to be a strong region for Ford sales.
Skeptics of AFA's ability to have an impact with its boycotts need only check with former Disney honcho Michael Eisner who became the focus of a battle with the group in 1996. Despite widespread derision in the mainstream media, AFA stuck with its Disney boycott for nearly a decade and claims - plausibly in some respects - to have produced tangible results, most notably in the popular movie now in theatres, "The Lion, The Witch and the Winter."
Predictions? Jalopnik, tonque firmly planted in cheek, says "somebody's defnitely going to lose an eye in this here barroom" brawl between Ford and AFA. If AFA follows through on its boycott threat, however, don't assume the blood that will be on the floor won't be mostly from Ford and especially its dealers.
In a society as politically and culturally polarized as ours, corporations that take sides guarantee losing customers one way or the other, no matter whether they are on the side of the angels or the devils.
Automotive News Executive Editor Edward Lapham offers this observation, which mirrors my own:
"There's always a chance that the whole matter is perfectly innocent. It could be that ad execs for Jaguar and Land Rover determined that ads in gay publications weren't moving the sales needle. And it could be that Ford execs decided corporate ads featuring all of the company's brands in gay publications might generate business. But it sure seems as if Ford caved in to both sides."
And Lapham notes that other political groups across the ideological spectrum are probably watching the Ford/Gays/AFA brouhaha and thinking of how they can make the boycott threat work for them.
Go here for a temporary link to the full Lapham column, provided courtesy of the good folks at Automotive News for this post only.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Will Toyota Take Over GM?
Things must be getting chilly in Hades because there is talk in some surprising quarters of the Blogosphere that Toyota may be considering a buyout or takeover of ailing General Motors. Karen DeCoster at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute blog lays out the situation:
"Rumor has long been that Toyota will/may acquire the GM behemoth. That is unlikely to happen in any straight sort of business sense. Perhaps GM has two options for survival: a bailout by the Feds, which Leviathan likely couldn't afford, or, an acquisition by a foreign company such as Toyota.
"But why would Toyota, with its masterful financial outlook and its vastly different culture, want to acquire an inefficient, union-laden abnormality with $300 billion in debt? It wouldn't, unless of course, the acquisition was bankrolled by the US government, which would be far less costly than a total bailout.
"Bankruptcy is one way in which Big Guv could subsidize a merger/acquisition, but a dangerous move for an auto manufacturer that relies on brand loyalty."
DeCoster's comments drew a number of rather interesting comments. Check them out here. If nothing else, her post and the comments it inspired demonstrates that the Toyota/GM topic is generating serious commentary among economically literate people on the Right, where it would not be expected.
What struck me about the DeCoster analysis was less its substance than where it appeared. The Mises Institute is devoted to the application of the economic principles and perspectives of the famous Austrian economist. These folks are traditionalists and generally associated with the conservative wing of American politics.
Heretofore, much of the speculation and commentary regarding Toyota and GM was found on the other side of the political spectrum among folks such as New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who thinks (requires free registration) the environment would be better off if the Japanese firm took over the General.
Peter Brown thoroughly dissassembled Friedman's take while noting that "his argument is a pure expression of anti-American, pro-Anybody Else nonsense. It's a romantic fantasy that 'those others' are on the side of the angels, while our guys are a bunch of dunderheads."
There has also been talk of a Renault take-over or "alliance" with GM, or perhaps Ford.
Here at Tapscott Behind the Wheel, I continue to think GM will avoid bankruptcy (or takeover) for the reasons described here. That doesn't preclude the possibility that one or more of the plants GM is closing won't end up being bought by Toyota or, more likely, another foreign company looking for an opportunity to enhance its North American production capability.
But for GM the process of working out of its current predicament is going to be painful, like nothing the giant corporation has before experienced and getting back to health will require multiple major surgeries to remove foreign growths, marketing malfunctions and efficiency blockages. Look for a long recovery period.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Chrysler Crossfires Available on Overstock.com
Yes, it's a little strange looking from some angles, thanks to that too-severely cropped tail, and it is a kind of corporate mongrel within the DaimlerChrysler lineup. Even so, Chrysler's Crossfire is still a strikingly shaped and spirited-driving vehicle. So why can't Chrysler sell the thing?
Automotive News' Mary Connelly reports Overstock.com is listing Crossfires at firesale discounts. No wonder, with dealers having to find ways of getting rid of a huge over-supply estimated at 200+ days.
"Shoppers at Overstock.com, an online outlet shopping site, are being offered discount coupons for the Crossfire coupe and roadster. '2005 Chrysler Crossfire Special offer - up to $8,900 off MSRP,' the site says.
"Coupons must be redeemed at a dealership. The deal expires Jan. 3. Crossfires sat on dealership lots 230 days before selling in November, according to the Power Information Network. The industry average in November was 55 days."
Automotive News is available only by subscription, so I can't provide a link to Connelly's story, but you could email her at email@example.com and tell her you saw this cite of her work on Tapscott Behind the Wheel blog.
Jeep Creates Own Mobil Telephone Channel, Buying Lots of Spots on MobiTV
Would you watch TV on a screen in your cell phone? Jeep is betting not only that you will but that you will do it frequently enough to justify the DaimlerChrysler division's spending some major money on television spots on 18 of the 24 channels currently available on MobiTV.
But wait, there's more, according to AdAge.com!
"The automotive marketer is running ads once an hour per channel on 18 of the 24 available MobiTV cellphone channels, but will also have its own Jeep-branded channel. The channel, starting today, will continuously loop the existing four episodes of 'The Mudds,' short films now running online that show an adventurous, outdoor-loving - and mud-splattered - family that drives a Jeep Commander. The episodes will also continue to run on the Web at wearethemudds.com."
For what it's worth, my prediction is the Jeep-branded channel will be short-lived, given the microscopic attention spans of many cell phone users. But the spots on the other channels may well work, at least in terms of generating market buzz for Jeep products, so at the very least this is an interesting experiment that bears watching.
Go here for the full details from AdAge.com (Note: A free registration is required).
Saturday, December 10, 2005
LINK LOVE: A Drive Around the Blog Block
Wonder what's going to debut at the Detroit Auto Show next month? The Car Connection has lots of info, including photos and spy shots of the Dodge Challenger (being worked on by a shadetree mechanic, so to speak!) and the Calibre, which looks an awful lot like a Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe.
Methanol Boy graces AutoExtremist.com with some wonderful photography from the 2005 racing season. The cockpit shot of Danica Patrick is outstanding, as is the shot of the spare tire cover with one fan's philosophical disquisition on the comparative physical attributes required to be successful in stickball sports versus motorsports.
Maybe Kirk Kerkorian's guy won't be joining the GM board after all. Autoblog has the latest details on the talks that are ongoing.
Up in Bahstan, CarPundit's wife's vehicle was in a contreteps and now needs some body shop time. If you know of an honest shop in Beantown, CarPundit would sure like to hear from you.
Confused about biodiesel? Cars!Cars!Cars! is and they want some friggin' answers, ya know?
Meanwhile, the GMPA has released its technical changes for Formula One and FastMachines is shaking its editorial head in disbelief: "Next thing you know they will be adding fenders, bumpers and decals of head light/tail light assemblies ala NASCAR! Mercedes, BMW, and even Toyota and Honda cannot be pleased with these latest developments." More here.
Lutz sees more reasons to smile GM's future in the Buick Lucerne's early success.
Jalopnik links to a Guardian story and photo about "Dumb, Dumber and Dumbest," three teenage car theives across the pond who really merit the title.
More to Come Later (Wifey is Vigorously Suggesting There Are Other Things I Should be Doing with my Time this a.m.!):
Is Ford selling Jaguar? Or is Renault buying Jaguar? Dave Leggett at Just.Auto.com says the impetus for the rumored deal is from the French for reasons that make sense to me. Of course, if I had spent as much on Jaguar as Ford has without a profit, I would be shopping the marque, too.
MPH Blog is looking for turbolag with the MazdaSpeed6 but not finding it.
Paul Tan has some spy shots of an upcoming Proton model for the Asian markets.
John at The Car Blog has spent some time behind the wheel of the 500 horsepower BMW M5. Oh, man, I cannot wait!
Robert Farago at The Truth About Cars says nothing else matters regarding GM's future except whether the UAW decides to strike over the Delphi job cuts. Here's why:
"This January, the UAW's leadership may tell Delphi Prez CallMeSteve Miller to shred his salary and benefit-reducing proposal and flush it down the toilet of his Gulfstream Challenger. Miller will then ask a federal bankruptcy judge to terminate the UAW's contract.
"The UAW will retaliate with a strike that will starve GM of parts. GM's assembly lines will close. Should the UAW strike last more than a couple of months, The General will burn through its multi-billion dollar cash reserves. The world's largest automaker will be forced to file the world's largest Chapter 11."
Sounds right on target to me. Though I would add such a scenario has an additional chapter - the way Washington panics and bails out GM, for now.Don't miss the rest of Robert's observations.
Joe Sherlock is thinking about moving to Nebraska. What is it he sees in The View Through the Windshield that would make him want to move to the prairie? Find out here. As a motorcyclist and a car fanatic, it makes me think the same thing.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Ford Releases Design Rendering of Upcoming Edge
Ford is circulating this design rendering of its upcoming Edge Crossover-Utility-Vehicle in anticipation of its public debut next month at the Detroit Auto Show. Here's how Ford describes it:
"The Ford Edge crossover utility vehicle is expected to be one of the stars of the 2006 North American International Auto Show in January. Edge's bold, American design will turn heads in the CUV market - the fastest-growing vehicle segment - in a year that CUV sales are expected to surpass traditional SUVs.
"'Much like Fusion has done for the mid-size sedan, the new Ford Edge will inject a healthy dose of American design and personality into the hot crossover market,' says Peter Horbury, Ford's executive director of North America Design.
"Edge is powered by Ford's new 3.5-liter V-6 engine and new 6-speed automatic transmission - which help deliver a dynamic driving character and impressive fuel economy. Edge goes on sale in the fourth quarter 2006."
Glenn Reynolds Explains How GM, Ford Are Like Schlitz Beer
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
EARTH MOVES! Kerkorian's Jerry York Reported Set to Join General Motors' Board of Directors
That's what Automotive News is reporting, quoting an unnamed "insider." York would be billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian's representative on the GM board. Kerkorian owns 9.9 percent of GM's stock.
Kerkorian has been interested in Detroit firms for some time, most notably in association with former Chrysler honcho Lee Iacocca in an unsuccessful 1995 takeover bid of Chrysler.
If York does indeed join the GM board, he will not be the automaker's first experience with a corporate outsider with an agenda. Remember Ross Perot and the EDS experiment during the Reagan years?
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Why Bill Ford (And Detroit in General) Has It Exactly Wrong on the Big Two's Problems
Detroit can't compete with Japan, Inc. because the Japanese government protects and subsidizes its automakers, which gives them an insurmountable advantage over their U.S. and European competitors, right?
That line has long been the Holy Grail in Detroit and among Detroit's Washington, D.C. allies for why General Motors and Ford have been losing market share for two decades. And for two decades the Holy Grail has been wrong. Even so, Bill Ford repeated the meme last month during a speech to the National Press Club.
James Womack explained how Ford got it wrong in The Washington Post this past Sunday. Womack is co-author of "The Machine That Changed the World." More recently, he has been President and Founder of The Lean Institute, a Brookline, Massachusetts non-profit that studies and explains lean manufacturing concepts and applications.
Womack argues that it's not Japan, Inc. that Detroit can't compete against effectively but Toyota and Honda (and to a lesser extent by other Japanese automakers):
"What makes this claim so extraordinary is that Japanese companies, led by Toyota Motor Corp., are thrashing Ford by building vehicles in North American factories with North American-made parts and North American workers, who receive American-style wages and health benefits. And increasingly, these Japanese brand vehicles are engineered in America by Americans."
So if Toyota can do it in America, why can't GM and Ford, asks Womack. His answer is simple: Detroit has never adjusted to the fact lost its monopoly on the American market years ago and thus could no longer guarantee things like the defined-benefit pensions and generous healthcare coverage. It's like an Olympic marathoner competing while carrying a belt of lead around his waist.
Womack's op-ed is especially important in view of the coming demands from politicians and domestic auto executives for measures such as government subsidies for sales of hybrid vehicles, trade restrictions on imports and federal tax credts and support for research and development of new technologies.
UPDATE: "Me, Too!" Says GM's Wagoner
The campaign for a federal bailout gets another boost today, this one on the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal from GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner. Wagoner denies that he is advocating a bailout of the domestic automakers from the lengthy list of woes enumerated by the GM chief.
But Wagoner offered nothing beyond the familiar Detroit cliche that "all we want is a level playing field" as a solution. In other words, don't expect a deviation from Detroit's traditional united front on government policies toward import competitors.
In the meantime, Wagoner reiterates the familiar figures about spiralling pension and healthcare costs that are the legacy of Detroit's golden era of monopoly on the U.S. market:
"So what are the fundamental challenges facing American manufacturing? One is the spiraling cost of health care in the United States. Last year, GM spent $5.2 billion on health care for its U.S. employees, retirees and dependents - a staggering $1,525 for every car and truck we produced. And the figure is going up again this year.
"Foreign auto makers have just a fraction of these costs, because they have few, if any, U.S. retirees, and in their home countries their governments fund a much greater portion of employee and retiree health-care costs.
"Some argue that we have no one but ourselves to blame for our disproportionately high health-care 'legacy costs.' That kind of observation reminds me of the saying that no good deed going unpunished.
"That argument, while appealing to some, ignores the fact that American auto makers and other traditional manufacturing companies created a social contract with government and labor that raised America's standard of living and provided much of the economic growth of the 20th century.
"American manufacturers were once held up as good corporate citizens for providing these benefits. Today, we are maligned for our poor judgment in 'giving away' such benefits 40 years ago."
Go here for the full Wagoner.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
AutoBlog Has Shots of 07 Audi TT
Is this a cool looking coupe or what? AutoBlog's Spanish edition got the shot and you can get the details here on AutoBlog's U.S. edition. Follow the links and you'll also find shots and info on the revived VW Sirrocco that will share the new TT's platform and mechanicals.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Some Analysts Doubt Ford Cuts, Closures Will be Enough; Are Federal Bailout Calls Next?
Five Ford plants are expected to be closed, including the Atlanta facility that made the Taurus and that has in recent years been the company's highest rated for quality.
William Clay Ford, Jr., Ford's chief executive, is expected to announce the plan next month.
Ford has been a prominent media figure in recent weeks as a result of his starring in a series of television spots stressing the company's commitment to innovation. The photo accompanying this post is from the innovation spots.
But without major wage, healthcare benefit and pension concessions from the United Auto Workers and a resurgence in U.S. market share, the plant closures won't be enough to save America's most storied auto company, according to some analysts.
"Whether longer term that actually makes a difference, I have questions about that," Argus Research group analyst Kevin Tynan told Reuters. "If you line up Ford with Toyota , let's say, even if you put them at the same capacity in the U.S., it's still costing Ford more to build here because of the compensation package," Tynan said.
Ford, like GM, has seen its U.S. market share plummet in recent years as Japanese imports, especially Toyota, Honda and Nissan, have introduced numerous popular vehicles and grabbed sales from Detroit.
GM announced plans to close nine plants and eliminate 30,000 jobs earlier this year. Both of the U.S. companies have been steadily reducing their workforces and trimming production capacity as a result.
The trend has been accelerated in the past year by high gas prices that reduced sport-utility vehicle sales, a paucity of innovative products and inability to cut core costs like pensions and healthcare.
GM and Ford problems are also reflected in major U.S. suppliers, including Delphi, which is now working on a bankruptcy restructuring plan that includes eliminating thousands of jobs and cutting wages and benefits for those that remain on the payroll. Delphi was spun off from GM in 1999. Ford's Visteon has been going through similar struggles.
Detroit's problems are generating new demands among politicians for a federal bailout of the auto companies that would likely be more costly than the Chrysler loan guarantees of 1979. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has all but called for a federal bailout, as well as trade policy reforms aimed at foreign competitors, in a news release on her re-election campaign web site:
"Granholm said she was not calling for a government-sponsored bailout of GM or Ford. But she said Michigan alone had lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs over the last five years and that a bipartisan consensus was urgently needed to get Bush to help shore up America's industrial backbone.
"'The president needs to understand how critical it is, not just for Michigan, but for all these manufacturing states,' she said."
Translation: This is the setup for bailout proposals that will be forthcoming early next year after Granholm and like-minded politicos announce something along the lines of "just like he didn't understand Katrina, Bush doesn't understand how serious this crisis is, so we must act."
The Chrysler bailout consisted of $250 million in federal loan guarantees, which were subsequently repaid ahead of schedule by the company. Proposals for a new bailout would almost certainly go far beyond loan guarantees and could include federal assumption of large portions of Ford and GM's pension and healthcare costs.
Meanwhile, November sales reports show continued slides at GM and Ford, while Toyota and other Japanese imports reported significant sales increases, according to The CarConnection's Joseph Szczesny:
"Car and pickup truck sales staged a very modest comeback in November while sales of sport-utility vehicles continued to tumble, cutting overall industry sales by 6 percent.
"The annualized rate of 16 million units, however, was better than the 15.4 million rate posted in October and offered automakers hope that sales would finish the year with a bang.
"Meanwhile, Toyota continued to gain market share on its American rivals by posting a 5-percent sales increase.
"GM's total sales dropped 11 percent, including a 3-percent drop in cars and weak sales of sport-utility vehicles, which dropped 16 percent. Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands fell 18 percent and Chrysler fell 7 percent. The decline in Chrysler's sales ended an 18-month run of sales increases by the group."
Friday, December 02, 2005
LINK LOVE: A Drive Around the Blog Block
Lots of stuff happening in the automotive sector of the Blogosphere today. Let's take a drive!
Over at AutoExtremist, Peter Delorenzo is getting a head start on the end-of-the-year automotive media stories about what to expect in the New Year. "At no time in automotive history has more been on the line than what's shaping up for the coming year," he notes.
Likely biggest story of the year? DeLorenzo points to GM's future and observes: "It can't be a question of GM's survival, because GM must survive for the sake of the country. There's just too much riding on it, too many lives and families at stake and too much of this country's industrial fabric on the line for it to turn out any other way."
State Farm Insurance may need all the lawyers it can hire if Auto Muse is right in its assessement of a Pittsburgh man's suit claiming the insurer failed to properly disclose that it was selling salvage vehicles.
From the very good news department comes word via Autoblog that Nissan has developed a self-healing paint! "The primary purpose of Scratch Guard is resisting fine scratches from automated car wash machines. Nissan says its scratch resistant properties are good for about three years," Autoblog reports.
Ah, the joys of lasting love. Carpundit is feeling it for the Mercedes Benz 280SL, sparked by his sighting of a lovely example sitting in the rain in a Boston alley. He's got pictures and more here.
Cars!Cars!Cars! sees drunks at GM, incompetent Canadians behind the wheel and other puzzling visions here.
FastMachines has the great news that Champ Car is headed back to Road America for 2006.
Not quite so fast was GM's Extreme Gravity Racer (in the photo above), which hit the astounding velocity of 52 mph and spun out. I kid you not. I know, you don't believe me, so go here for the first-hand account on FastLane.
Are we there yet, Daddy?
You've got an auto enthusiast of some sort somewhere on your Christmas gift list, but you have absolutely no clue what to get him or her, right? May I suggest a perusal of AUTOart, courtesy of BTGmotoring, as recommended by 'HotWheels' Blog? Note: This is not a paid ad ... unfortunately.
Moving right along, Jalopnik has spy shots and snarky remarks about the next generation Chrysler Sebring convertibles. MPH does, too, plus a tidbit about the next Sebring being cloned from a Lancer platform.
Did you know Audi has its own TV channel? At least in the UK. I didn't either, but Just-auto has the details here.
Paul Tan says ItalDesign is responsible for the interesting lines exhibited by Suzuki's upcoming SX4. I like the lines of my Suzuki Bandit 600S, but that's just me ...
Christmas must be closer than I thought because Sara at The Car Blog is singing a carol about the redesigned Honda Civic. I liked it a lot, too, Sara, but have you really been good enough for Claus to leave it in your driveway with a gold bow on it?
If you want The Truth About Cars, Paul Farago has one for you regarding the Ford Fusion: "Why would anyone buy an automobile that’s had any hint of personality professionally removed by a crack squad of cost-conscious engineers?" He said it, not me, though I might after I finish my week in the Fusion.
Sounding similarly skeptical is Joe Sherlock as he gazes at The View Through the Windshield and wonders what comes after GM's Red Tag Sale. Believe me, Joe, you ain't the only one wondering what's next for GM.
TheCarConnection has the latest on November car sales.
Wow! There really is a lot going on. Nice drive, huh.
Sidebar Fixed ....I think
As you can see to the right, sidebar is back up where it is supposed to be. Choosing a new template did the trick. But when you choose a new template in Blogger, you lose stuff like your Site Meter counter and the google ads.
Now we're trying to get those back. :-)
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Any Suggestions on Why My Sidebar Sank? Blogger Doesn't Seem to Care
Maybe it's something I did, but I doubt it, since I haven't even looked at the template on this blog for weeks until tonight when I thought perhaps republishing the whole thing might bring the sidebar back to the top. No luck, as you can see.
So, the problem continues, now into a week. It's been several days since I went through the Blogger help pages and, finding no answers, emailed them seeking assistance. This experience is beginning to remind me of the misery and frustration one typically encountered (and still do sometimes) in the "Customer Service" area of a new car dealership. I wonder if Jeff Jarvis's problems with Dell started like this?
Anybody have any suggestions?
Diggin' the Honda Ridgeline, Lookin' at Pontiac Torrent
That's what's in the driveway this week, along with a Pontiac Torrent. Should be an interesting comparison. I've already noted how convenient are the grab bars that surround the door handle pulls of the Ridgeline. More power than I expected, though in unloaded driving, I should note.
The Torrent looks rather striking in its copper-gold shade, but I've not yet had a chance to get behind the wheel. Still looks very much like a Chevy Equinox, which is not encouraging. More to come on both vehicles later.