ಗುರುವಾರ, ಜೂನ್ 25, 2009

Ford and Hyundai Jump on CARS Program, Others Dawdle

Ford has really jumped on the "cash-for-clunkers" news. Before Obama's ink was dry, Ford put up a web site (the impossible to type www.letfordrecycleyourride.com) which lets you input you car to check if it is eligible. Then the page shows you a list of Ford vehicles which would qualify for the voucher. Ford puts a happy green spin on the whole thing by offering to "recycle" your old car, which is much nicer than "scrap". It's very slick.

It surprises me that none of the other major car makers did the same thing. I checked the home pages of Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Chrysler, GM, Kia, BMW, VW, Mercedes, and Subaru. None of them had any CARS information.

The only other major automaker which has a CARS information site is Hyundai, here. Hyundai's site is not as slick as Ford's but it does give a list of Hyundai vehicles which are eligible for the government voucher.

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ಜೂನ್ 23, 2009



Why would the Department of Energy give half a billion dollars to Tesla?

I understand Ford. Ford has many projects, such as GTDI and electrification, that can be filed under CAFE compliance.

Nissan was moneyed to show that there is no favoritism to domestic brands, and to spread some joy down south, to soften the stance of the anti-union and anti-Detroit politicans.

But Tesla is puny, until recently a financial disaster. And what it is building now is a toy for the very rich. The Model S is projected to sell for a price around $57,000, which is certainly cheaper than the Tesla Roadster, but hardly affordable for the average person. Call it a toy for the slightly rich.

What Tesla has accomplished with the Roadster is impressive, but it is not revolutionary. Battery packaging, charging control, DC motors, these have been understood for a long time. What Tesla accomplished was to do a nice job integrating an electric powertrain into an already mature vehicle platform, the Lotus Elise. Chrysler can come along and replicate the achievement fairly quickly with their Dodge Circuit, using A123 battery systems. Magna can do the same with the hoary old NA Ford Focus.

With the Model S, Tesla is trying to step into the world of the big boys, developing a new mid-size vehicle platform. They will be responsible for tooling and assembly process, crash worthiness, NVH, durability, and the thousands of other requirements that go into building a car. It's a huge learning curve. The DOE would be better off giving the money to someone who already knows how to do it.

I suspect the real reason Tesla was given a loan was to throw some Obama love to California, with its rabidly green congress members.

I predict the taxpayers are going to get cleaned out on this particular deal.

ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ಜೂನ್ 16, 2009

The Bentley At Einstein's

This morning I stopped in at Einstein's for a $1 refill (bring your own mug), and I noticed a Bentley Continental had parked nearby, with Ontario plates.  I guess I didn't realize that there would be Canadians rich enough to flaunt a Bentley, but there isn't any reason to think there aren't.  Inside, it was immediately obvious who the driver was.  A trim, tanned woman, wearing workout shorts and a hoodie stood in line in front of me. She had chunky gold jewelry on her fingers, and a large designer purse.  From her face, you might think she was about 30, but from the less smooth skin on her hands, it was clear she was closer to 40.  The tag on her jacket was poking straight up from the back of her neck.

"You're tag is showing.", I told her.  I admit, I got a little rise out of correcting someone who was so obviously concerned about appearances and social status. 

I don't hate the rich.  Some of the most charitable people I know are rich.  But if you tool around in a Bentley, and flaunt gold and fancy purses, in a place like Metro Detroit where thousands of people are losing their jobs, you can go to hell.  At least have the decency to drive your au pair's Malibu or something.

ಗುರುವಾರ, ಜೂನ್ 11, 2009

ಭಾನುವಾರ, ಜೂನ್ 7, 2009

Tata Nano In The U.S.?

According to Automotive News, Tata says that it could bring the Nano to the U.S. as soon as 2011 or 2012. However, you can bet your bottom rupee that it won't cost $2000, won't weigh 1300lb, and probably won't get 61mpg.

Before Tata can sell the thing in the U.S., it must be fitted with "2.5mph" bumpers front and rear.
It will need ABS and stability control.
It will need front and side airbags.
It will need front, rear, and side impact crash structures so it will get a decent score on NHTSA's crash tests.
It will need properly formulated catalytic converters to meet tough emissions standards.
It will need an automatic transmission, since we Americans are forgetting how to shift our own gears.

When these and perhaps other features I have not thought about have been added, it will likely cost more than the $6000 or so that the Tata Europe is expected to cost.

Suppose it comes in at an industry leading price of $7,500. That's great for a new car, but in 2012 you could probably get a nice used compact or mid-sized car of the 2007-2009 vintage for that kind of money. Nothing exciting, but a solid reliable ride. With amenities such as power locks and windows, decent radios, an opening trunk, dual wipers, fold down seats, and so on.

Excerpts From GM Live Chat

Fritz Henderson did a live chat on GM's Fastlane Blog. Here are some interesting Q's and A's, excerpted form the whole chat. Red highlights are mine.

Fritz Henderson GM CEO, LIVE Webchat (06/04/2009)

[Comment From Bing ]
Mr. Henderson, If you were starting a "new" company, wouldn't you want it to be with folks that hadn't failed before?
Fritz Henderson: If I was starting a new company, which we are in fact, I would start with a blend of people that have been involved in winning businesses and outstanding people that learn from their failures. at least for me personally, I have been involved in both.

[Comment From Todd Lassa ]
How did a Chinese company with no prior history or experience in personal vehicle production snag the Hummer division? And can you comment on reports that the Opel-Magna deal isn't final?
Fritz Henderson: with regard to hummer, the potential buyer sichuan tenzhong offered the best overall alternative, and we did not have broad portfolio of other buyers!

[Comment From GMX206 ]
What do you think is the most important change that needs to be made in GM's corporate culture?
Fritz Henderson: we need to make some important changes in our culture. at least for me, we must drive home the following concepts and behaviours every day:
1. product and customers should dominate our activities and day to day lives.
2. speed. this is not sense of urgency, it is speed.
3. risk taking: we have great people. we need to allow them to take risks and coach them accordingly.
4. accountability: results count, period. consistent with a culture that encourages smart risk taking, with speed and delegation to act, we must all feel and live with a sense of accountability.

[Comment From Sumo ]
Mr. Henderson, the Asian carmakers have really taken away a lot of market share from the American carmakers? Will GM be able to challenge them in their home turfs?
Fritz Henderson: in china, we are rocking. in korea, we have gmdat with at or around 10% share, with good opportunities to grow. in japan, I have precisely ZERO interest.

[Comment From Michael Petrilla ]
What a great opportunity this is to speak directly with the CEO of a major corporation! I love the styling of the 2010 Buick LaCrosse and 2010 Cadillac SRX, both inside and outside. I was wondering if the Ecotec 4 cylinder/6 speed automatic combination will be made available at a future date for these two vehicles. The fuel mileage would be increased substantially and the performance would still be acceptable. I had a ride in a 2009 Saturn Vue (a dealer courtesy car) with the 4 cylinder/6 speed auto and it had plenty of power. Will the bankruptcy filing delay the introduction of these new vehicles? Also, I own a 2009 Saturn Sky Redline and naturally I am sad to see the Sky and Solstice discontinued. The demographics of Sky buyers seem to match those of the new LaCrosse and Solstice buyers seem to match up with Chevy buyers. A plan to make the Solstice a Chevy and the Sky a Buick made a lot of sense to a lot of people. And to build them at Bowling Green made sense as well. What was the deciding factor against the plan? Thank you.
Fritz Henderson: for lacrosse, subsequent to sop, we do have plans for a performance version of our 4cyl ecotec engine. srx will only have 6's, with great fuel economy and performance. on sky and solstice, we intend to complete production later this year and phase out as part of our brand actions on pontiac and saturn.

[Comment From Guest ]
Can you explain your rationale for keeping the GMC brand alive?
Fritz Henderson: profit. great and clear brand. passionate customers. profit can I be any clearer?

[Comment From Kathy Tomasik ]
I had a small amount of shares from the old GM. What has happened to them?
Fritz Henderson: unfortunately, the value of gm shares is expected to be zero.

[Comment From Jeff ]
I am what you might call a Volt skeptic. Can you say that they will find their hands into average people and not just limited to rich executives and celebrities (ala the Tesla roadster)?
Fritz Henderson: this will not be an inexpensive vehicle in its first generation, but it will be extremely affordable relative to a tesla. while we have not made final decisions on pricing, you should be thinking about $40k ish, with a $7500 available tax credit.

[Comment From John ]
Will the Corvette survive as athe V8 engined rear wheel drive icon we all love?
Fritz Henderson: yes. my wonderful baby is my 2005 corvette coupe. we have more in store for the future and this iconic brand will retain its powerful place within the new gm.

[Comment From One of the Faithful ]
GM has recently been behing the 8 ball on the release of its product. The Camaro was in concept form for 5 years before the vehicle actually hit the floor. The Mustang was on the ground WAY to long, and even though GM is selling every Camaro it can make right now the Mustang had to hurt Camaro sales. The same is with the HHR compared to the PT Cruiser. What are your plans to keep ahead of your competitors?
Fritz Henderson: with 34 nameplates to drive across 4 core brands, we have the right sized portfolio to maintain a fresh and exciting portfolio with the right launch cadence.

[Comment From Robert Tukes ]
Sent we all realize the camaro is a great hit. Will we make a electric Camaro ?
Fritz Henderson: not likely.

[Comment From Employee ]
Great news coverage on the G8 GXP today - any chance it will live on as a chevy or maybe an entry level caddy?
Fritz Henderson: no.

[Comment From Tony ]
What does it feel like being the CEO of a company with 60% government ownership? While the government won't be heavily involved, that must be an amazing responsibility to all Americans
Fritz Henderson: we do have this amazing responsibility and we all need to be immensely thankful for the support, which is not popular broadly. this means we have the responsibility to deliver.

by the way, a friend of mine sent me an email indicating that I am the ceo of a company that will have 300 million shareholders. actually, we will have 330 million shareholders, including the taxpayers of the US and Canada.

An Open Letter To GM

Dear GM,

Despite your decision that keeping Pontiac around is not a good business plan, I am asking you to consider saving some of Pontiac's product. Over the last few years, you started to build some Pontiacs that were actually exciting.

(Photos courtesy of Edmunds)

You should try to save the G8. This car is the best large sedan GM has sold in the U.S., outside of the Cadillacs, in a long time. Yes, it is expensive, and is being shipped from Australia. I think it would make an excellent top of the line Chevrolet--like an Impala with soul. It might make an interesting cop car, too, if you could work out the economics. Once people realized it was here to stay, sales would improve.

You should save the Solstice/Sky platform. This is a fun little car, and though it needs some qualty improvements and some refinement, it is one of the few cars you build that people actually fall in love with. I met a guy that got one from his wife as a 50th birthday present, and he acts like it is his mistress. Restyle this as a Buick, or perhaps as another Chevrolet, a "baby Corvette". The Solstice might also be an interesting platform for an all-electric sports car, something to compete with Tesla.

Finally, you should to do something with the Vibe. Not because it is that exciting of a product, but because it is a solid product with good quality numbers. Since Ford killed the 5-door Focus, this is one of the few domestic tall compact hatchbacks. It is much better than the Dodge Caliber. I'm not sure if the Vibe would make a good Chevrolet, as far as styling goes, but I do think it might make a decent Saturn. Maybe build the Vibe as a Saturn for Roger Penske, if you don't see it as a Chevrolet.

As for the G3, G5, G6, and Torrent, no tears shed here.



ಮಂಗಳವಾರ, ಜೂನ್ 2, 2009

How do these two brands survive?

In May, Mitsubishi sold 4,352 vehicles. Dying Saturn sold twice as many cars, and dying Pontiac three times as many. And Mitusbishi's sales were down by 58% over last year.

Suzuki sold only 2,585 vehicles in May, down a whopping 75% over last year.

The entire Suzuki line-up was outsold by Mini, which has a few variations of a single model.

How is it that Mitsubishi and Suzuki will survive in the U.S. market? What does Mitsubishi sell that is exciting, other than the Lancer? Does Suzuki sell anything exciting? I suspect they will go the way of Isuzu, fading out of public memory.

Props To Fritz

You have to give credit to GM... they have the fortitude to post difficult, pointed questions on their Fastlane Blog. Sample:

“Mr. Henderson, I have been a loyal GM owner until June 1, 2009. I will no longer purchase a GM car because owners of the 566 million shares of GM stock and the holders of 27B of bonds have been completely written off by you, the CEO and the US Government - e.g. President Obama.

Why would ANYONE invest in the new company? You just zeroed out the existing investors.

Because of this, I will not buy a new Cadillac CTS this year, but I will buy either a Lincoln or luxury transplant car but here in the USA. -JE”

We recognize our actions have a significant impact on many constituents, including stockholders, bondholders, employees, dealers, retirees and others. Bondholders will receive ownership in the new GM. We are committed to turning around the company to the benefit of all stakeholders in General Motors, and we plan to do that as quickly as possible.

Taking it on the chin, in public, is not something big corporations usually do. But GM is showing that they are serious about patching things up with the customers, and the new majority owners, the U.S. taxpayer.

Vista Problem: Filling My Hard Drive

I ran into my first major headache with Windows Vista. After I added a second internal hard drive to my system, it quickly began to fill up, to the point where it is now 99% full. But I am only storing about 40% worth of stuff on it!

At first, i was worried I had a virus or something, but then I remembered about Vista's Shadow Copy feature, which copies old versions of files so that if you make a change and you want to undo it, you can restore a previous version.

I found this article which explains how to dig into the settings for Volume Shadow Copy. It turns out that somehow, Vista decided that the shadow copy settings for my D: should be UNBOUNDED, which means, copy until the drive is full!

I was able to use VSSADMIN to fix it, following the directions of the posting. I simplay ran this command as an administrator:

vssadmin Resize ShadowStorage /On=D: /For=D: /MaxSize=50GB
Note to Microsoft: Volume Shadow Copy should default to a safe value, and not to UNBOUNDED!

Video: Amazing Rally Race Crash

Somehow I missed this when it first came out. Ford rally racers Jan-Matti Latvala and Mikka Antilla went over a railing and rolled down a hill, over and over again. It is a testament to the engineering that goes into these cars that they were not seriously injured. The hard roll cage structure in the cabin of the car remained intact, while outer body panels deformed to absorbe energy.