Saturday, December 31, 2005
(image courtesy of LeftLaneNews.com)
What jumped out at me was the grille design--notice that it is the vertical slat design of the current Lincolns, not the chromed grate of the Aviator concept. I personally like the current design much better than the retro Aviator face, which I find too bland and too "old-timer". Maybe Ford's new North American VP, Mark Fields, has shaken some sense into the Lincoln stylists?
Also note the Buick-like porthole and rear quarter line (in this photo, anyway).
The system consists of two shoulder belts, which you slip each arm through, and buckle together centered at your waist. The lower straps form a lap belt, with a slight arch upwards towards the buckle. The lower straps are attached to automatic tensioners, which prevent the buckle from riding up on your belly. This is key, because if the buckle is too high, you could slide under the belt ("submarine") in a severe accident. The upper straps have traditional springy tensioners, which allow you to twist left and right, or lean forward as needed.
The system was a little more work to get into, since you have to thread each arm through a loop, but once buckled in, it was quite comfortable. Having both shoulders covered gave a very secure feeling, and having the buckle centered at the waist made it very easy to find and release the belt. Driving did not require any significant amount of additional effort, even in a manual transmission car. I would buy a 4-point system if it was offered, without hesitation.
The engineer running the survey told me that NHTSA is very interested in 4-point belts, because they spread the deceleration loads more evenly and symmetrically over a person's torso. In order for any car maker to offer 4-point belts, the regulations of FMVSS 208 would have to be amended to allow the design.
A major concern is how consumers would perceive the 4-point belts. Some people would prefer them, because of the added safety and "racecar" image, but some people would be annoyed by the extra work in putting on the belt. Another question is how very large, or pregnant passengers would wear the belts.
Several automakers and suppliers are working on improved seat belt designs. Volvo has been experimenting with 4-point safety belt designs, including a crossover type which forms an X over an occupant's chest. Nissan has revealed a 4-point system in its Sport concept car. Ford recently announced an inflatable seatbelt concept, which would spread forces out over a wider area by inflating an airbag built into a 3-point belt.
Monday, December 26, 2005
In 1985, Hezoballah terrorists hijacked TWA flight 847. On board was an American navy diver named Robert Dean Stethem. They held the passengers hostage for 16 days, and they murdered Stethem. According to eyewitnesses, they tied Stethem's hands and feet, and beat him, kicking him until they had broken many of his bones. Then they beat him with the butt of a pistol, and finally shot him dumping his body onto the tarmac. The U.S. Navy honored later Stethem by naming an Aegis guided missile boat after him.
One of the terrorists was later caught in Germany. Mohammad Ali Hamadi was caught in Frankfurt with explosives in his luggage. Germany denied the U.S. request for extradition, on the usual grounds that Hamadi may be executed by us barbarous, backwards Yankees. Instead, Hamadi was tried in Germany and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Europeans have a history of refusing to execute men who have fully earned it. Three of the most famous examples are Napoleon, Hitler, and Lenin. What troubles could have been avoided if they had been hanged? How many lives saved?
Following this historic pattern, Germany has released Hamadi from prison, after serving 19 years of his life sentence. I suppose he helped out in the kitchen, or something, and was pronounced reformed.
President Bush, please close all U.S. military bases in Germany. Move our troops to locations where our allies treat us with respect. Poland, for example. Let the Germans defend their own country. Amerikaner heraus!
Saturday, December 24, 2005
As I have written before, I think that Ford made a big mistake buying Jaguar (and Land Rover). Jaguar has a distinct style and heritage, so brand identity is not really a problem, except for the disastrous down-market X-Type. The big question is, do consumers really want "British luxury", in the form of softly sprung powerful cars? The competition in the sport/luxury market is very tough, with Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, and Audi on the German front; Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura on the Japanese front; and Cadillac at home. Lincoln, unfortunately, is not much of a player.
What kind of great stuff could Ford have done with Lincoln, if it had invested the billions of dollars it used to buy and then (repeatedly) bail out Jaguar? Could Ford have done a Cadillac style transformation with Lincoln, moving it credibly up-market, and into a fuller line of vehicles?
Ford should sell Jaguar and Land Rover to the highest bidder, or spin them off as an independent company (how about "BMC"?).
I don't understand the portholes. They are popping up on all kinds of cars (Buick, Land Rover), but they are non-functional and therefore silly.
Another styling element that I don't agree with on the new GM large SUVs is the line of the D pillar. Notice that the A, B, and C pillars all have round corners, but the D pillar has sharp angular corners.
Image courtesy of Edmunds.com
Monday, December 12, 2005
Chrysler Group's CVT has been calibrated to delight customers with pleasing engine response, precise ratio control and an AutoStickÂ® feature that allowsThe whole point of a CVT is to optimize engine performance, smooth out torque delivery, and save gas by removing discrete gear ratios.
for manual control and the simulation of six stepped gears, said Ridenour.
If people really want to shift their own gears, they will buy the Caliber withavailablee manual transmission. Manu-matic type shifting makes a little bit of sense (not much) on a traditional geared automatic transmission, because you are just taking over the job of the ECU. On a CVT, it is just silly.
The Caliber Configurator seemed to be offering a 2.0L Turbodiesel engine option for the Caliber, at an eye-popping $5400 premium, but the press release makes it clear that this engine is only going to be offered (initially) outside of the U.S. Chrysler may have been fishing to see how many people would bite on the diesel option, and the large price may include the estimated cost of Tier II emissions control equipment.
At the moment, diesel fuel costs about 30% more than gasoline, so the economics of the diesel option for an American consumer would not work out. 229FT-LBs of torque does sound like it might be fun, though.
Friday, December 09, 2005
"Buy American" is a difficult position to explain nowadays, because there is no such thing as a purely American made car. Our "domestic" automotive companies are all multinational behemoths, with divisions, plants, suppliers, customers and shareholders scattered over the globe. For example...
- Is a Chevrolet Equinox an "American" car? The engine is made in China, and final assembly is in Canada by CAW organized labor.
- Is a Ford Fusion "American"? It is assembled in Mexico by non-UAW workers, and because it is a platform-mate of the Mazda6, probably has significant Asian parts content.
- Is a Mazda6 "American"? It is assembled in Flat Rock, MI alongside the Mustang from a mix if domestic and Asian parts. Since it is built by the UAW, UAW members are allowed to buy them. But 2/3 of the profit goes to Japan.
- A Saab is built from European sourced parts by Swedish unionized labor. Profit goes to GM. OK to buy, and still feel patriotic?
- Chrysler is now owned by Daimler, if you take home a 300, are you buying American or German?
I had convinced myself that the key was to follow the profits. For example, since GM is headquartered in Detroit, has (mostly) American shareholders, and pays taxes in the U.S., buying GM was the patriotic choice. The American companies support our communities directly. But then again, where does Honda buy all those domestically sourced parts from?
The domestic carmakers want the benefits of my patriotism without any sort of return commitment. A company can't wrap itself in the flag and shout "Buy American!", while at the same time offshoring as much business as possible, laying off blue and white collar workers. Ford closes plants in the U.S., while increasing capacity in Mexico. All of the big three lean on their suppliers to move production to China, to cut costs, or risk losing business. Or they refuse to pay fair prices, and drive their American suppliers into bankruptcy.
Who do they expect to buy their products if they help to decimate their customer base, the lower middle and middle middle class? Who will remain committed to their product?
As the global trend continues, the picture will get even more fuzzy. You will walk into your Chevy dealership, and be offered a compact car designed in Korea by GM Daewoo, built in Canada, from mostly Korean and Chinese parts. Or you may walk into a Lincoln dealership and buy a luxury car based on a Volvo platform, with a Japanese sourced engine, assembled in the US. Eventually, the new Chrysler you are interested in may be assembled in China from German and Chinese parts.
I am still rooting for Ford and GM over the foreign-headquartered competition. So much of Michigan's economy relies on their success, it is suicidal for me not to. But "Buy American" is becoming a harder case to make to anyone who lives outside the industrial midwest.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Kucinich said he would be meeting with union leaders and other officials to develop plans aimed at saving manufacturing jobs and letting Congress know about the need to do something.
"This is about our children and grandchildren," he said. "We have to get the word out - 'Buy American.' This is a matter of our allegiance to our own communities, our belief in each other, our commitment to each other."
While Ohio has about 16,000 workers building Honda automobiles, engines and transmissions, Kucinich later said he defined "American" as being made by a union. The UAW has failed in its effort to organize the Honda plants.
So all you "working people" who have chosen not to join a labor union, you're un-American. And you silly consumers, you may think that the 70% domestic parts content on that Honda Civic means you are supporting American jobs, but you aren't.
This is nothing new. Liberal black "leaders" don't consider people like Colin Powell, Condi Rice, or Clarence Thomas to be black because they don't toe the lefty political line.
Jessica Sandy Booth, 18, was arrested over the weekend and remains in jail with bond set at $1 million on four charges of attempted murder and four counts of soliciting a murder.
According to police, Booth was in the Memphis home of the four intended victims last week when she mistook a block of queso fresco cheese for cocaine Â inspiring the idea to hire someone to break into the home, take the drugs, and kill the men.
Read the story here.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
The California supreme court has refused to block the execution of Crips founder Tookie Williams. Nice. Now can we move on to Mumia?
(Yeah, yeah, I know... they're all really innocent, or they've reformed, or it is cheaper to keep them alive, etc.)
On one hand, working for a supplier gives you a certain amount of security, in that your customer base is diversified, and you have a better chance of surviving a big industry shake-out. According to surveys I have seen in trade journals, suppliers actually pay better than OEMs on average. But suppliers can be harder to advance in, and often do not have as wide a range of projects to work on.
GM and Ford are shaky. Ford is known for treating its engineers poorly, while GM is known for a plodding, indecisive corporate culture. But you can advance quickly at Ford, which values gunslingers; GM values engineering and supports engineers to do good work. DCX is the strongest of the Americans, but isn't that much better off, really. Chrysler was not (in the past) known for excellence in engineering--more "get it done quick and cheap". Now they are known for repackaging old Mercedes designs.
These reputations may no longer be accurate. If any of my few readers are in the business, let me know in the comments what your experience is.
Mitsubishi is on its way out, it seems, like Isuzu, and would be a very risky choice. Nissan is owned by the French, ugh. Hyundai/Kia is up and coming, but much of its engineering is done in Korea by Koreans, I suspect. And the cars, zzzzzzz.
In general, the idea of working for a foreign run company leaves me cold, as if I am switching sides in a cold war. Even though the "American" companies are all global behemoths, which crap on their workers and suppliers to save a nickel, all the while wrapping themselves in the American flag.
Or would you try to get out of the automotive industry all together? You like the work, but the constant contraction and endless stream of bad news doesn't bode well for your future.