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   Carrying Saleen wheels and Bullitt wheels.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Leaked Lincoln D3 Photos

LeftLane News has some leaked photos of Lincoln's latest concept car. This car is probably based on the Volvo S80/Ford 500/Freestyle "D3" platform, and is expected to ship with the new 3.5L V6 and probably AWD. It also may get the Yamaha/Volvo 60 degree 4.4L V8.

(image courtesy of

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).

Four Point Belt Test Drive

I recently had the opportunity to try out a prototype 4-point seatbelt system intended for street vehicles. I was invited to try the system out on a short test drive, and take a survey afterwards. I won't divulge the company developing the system, I am sure they will come out when they are ready. The system was installed in a Ford Mustang GT, and was intended to be sold to the sports/enthusiast consumer.

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

Deutschland Geht Zur Holle [Politics]

That means, "Germany go to hell".

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

Ford Flushes More Money

I hope Ford knows what it is doing with Jaguar. Reuters reports that they are sending another $2 billion to Jag, which has not ever, as far as I know, actually made money for Ford. Jaguar has turned out to be quite an albatross.

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"?).

Merry Christmas!

To all of the Christians who read this blog, I wish you a Merry Christmas. May God bless you and yours.

2007 Escalade Spotted

I saw a 2007 Cadillac Escalade driving northbound on Woodward today. It looked good, overall; it was nicely understated, and was free of the tacky fender flares of the previous model. But it did not have much of Cadillac's "Arts and Sciences" theme in it, which is a mistake. I think the Cadillac may look too much like the Chevrolet and GMC versions.

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

Monday, December 12, 2005

Caliber CVT Stupidity, Diesel Tease

I was reading over the Dodge Caliber press release, and playing with Chrysler's vehicle configurator, when I saw this, and had to stop myself from slapping my forehead:

Chrysler Group's CVT has been calibrated to delight customers with pleasing engine response, precise ratio control and an AutoStick® feature that allows
for manual control and the simulation of six stepped gears, said Ridenour.
The whole point of a CVT is to optimize engine performance, smooth out torque delivery, and save gas by removing discrete gear ratios.

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

Rethinking "Buy American"

I have always been a "buy American" advocate. But I am seriously beginning to rethink this position. It is becoming hard to defend simply, and I hate convoluted explanations.

"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?
How about a Honda Civic? Assembled in the U.S., with 70% domestic parts content, but the company is headquartered in Japan, and the workers are non-Union. (Dennis Kucinich says "not American").

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: Non Union = Not American

Dennis Kucinich, Ohio's resident vegan leftie nut-job, who once drove Cleveland into bankruptcy when he refused to privatize the city owned power company, has defined what it is to be an American. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

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.

Cheesy Thug Wanna-Be [Culture]

In Memphis Tennessee, an 18 year old wanna-be gangsta girl tried to arrange a hit on a house because she thought she saw a huge pile of cocaine. Turns out, she was about to steal cheese.

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 — 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

Tookie Today, Mumia Tomorrow [Politics]

(Via Michelle Malkin)

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.)

Who Would You Join?

Suppose you were an automotive engineer, in Detroit, with a set of skills that was moderately in demand. Suppose that you were not sure if you wanted to stay at your current employer, who has not been treating its employees much better than cattle. You could jump ship and maybe work at one of these companies, who are hiring:

  • Bosch
  • Siemens
  • TRW

  • DaimlerChrysler
  • Ford
  • GM
  • Mitsubishi
  • Hyundai/Kia
  • Nissan
Who would you work for, and why?

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.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Progressive TripSense: Hackable?

A few bloggers have commented on Progressive Insurance' TripSense program, which pays you a bribe in return for driving your car with a data logger attached to the OBD-II port. I don't have a problem with the idea--people should be able to give up their privacy for cheaper insurance. I'd be curious what AutoMuse has to say on the subject.

I noticed that the unit appears to be identical to the CarChip data logger, which is a commercially available product.

This only makes sense--why would Progressive pay the development costs for a new data logger when off-the-shelf stuff is available?

So, the next question is: could a dishonest customer sign up for Progressive's monitoring program, and then use CarChip's software to delete records from the logger that have incriminating evidence? Like, say, drag racing at 3:00 am?

Not only does CarChip offer software, they even offer an SDK for programmers who would like to design their own software to interface to the logger.

Update: Progressive's web site states that this is a study only, and that invidually identifiable driving habits are not logged, and will not affect your rates. But, couldn't you just see a monitored discount program down the road?

GM: More Salaried Job Cuts

The focus of today's GM announcement was the plant closings and approximately 30,000 hourly job cuts.

However, during the Q&A session (which I listened to on the radio this morning), Rick Wagoner was also asked about salaried job cuts. He stated that they were planning on reducing about another 7% of their salaried workforce in 2006, to bring the reduction in salaried personnel to 40% since 2000.

That is a lot of jobs lost, many in Michigan.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Pirelli's Calendar

Bella! Pirelli has a web site which has photos from its calendar going back to the 1960's. Some of these are artistic, and some are just erotic, many are nudes. Most are not work safe.

Image courtesy of Yahoo!

Strangely, tires don't appear anywhere in the calendar.

I expect CarPundit to be all over these, he is an afficianado of photography.

Just Google It [Politics]

Here's a fun game you can play, especially if you believe the Democrat braying about "Bushes lies": Just Google It (or, if you prefer, Just Yahoo It).

Here's an example of the fun stuff you get:

Mr. LEVIN. Mr. President, today, along with Senators McCain, Lieberman, Hutchison and twenty-three other Senators, I am sending a letter to the President to express our concern over Iraq's actions and urging the President `after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraqi sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.'
What's that? Our own Senator Carl Levin calling for military strikes against Iraq? Was Levin a liar?

(HT: Michele Malkin)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Electric Shock Game

This is the perfect game to play with your out-of-town relatives on Thanksgiving!

(Actually I find it kind of disturbing...)

Monday, November 14, 2005

TurboTap: High Flow Beer Dispenser

It is amazing what a bunch of fluid mechanics engineers can come up with when offered beer.

The engineers at Laminar Technologies studied the way that beer comes out of a tap, and designed a nozzle which reduces the amount of foam that is formed, allowing for a faster pour. Throughput is claimed at four gallons per minute.

(Insert your own favorite Homer Simpson quote here)

Make Your Caravan A Viper!

The Vroombox is a digital audio player which is designed to make exciting car noises, like an engine revving or tires screeching. Says the official site:

Make your car sound like any car you want.

Let'’s face it: you'’re probably not going to get that souped up hot rod you always wanted. But at least your current car can sound like the muscle car of your dreams.

VroomBox utilizes a powerful microprocessor to digitally recreate the sound of 15 different cars and fantasy vehicles, and play them through speakers under the car. It even includes special effects such as screeching tires and turbo blow-off valves that trigger automatically. And you can download more cars and effects from the web. Sounds and effects are controlled from a small faceplate with a backlit display that fits neatly on or under the dash.
Now you don't even have to bother with the coffee can tailpipe.

(HT: Gizmodo)

Forbes' Turkey List

In time for Thanksgiving, Forbes has published its list of automotive turkeys: cars that are selling very poorly. These vehicles all have had sales declines of about 50% over last year. Here's condensed list:

  • Mercedes CL -- Expensive, getting old.
  • Audi TT -- Getting old
  • Mercury Monterey -- "upscale" twin of the Ford Wind, er, Freestar. Not competitive with Chrysler, Honda, Toyota minivans.
  • Mazda B-Series -- rebadged Ranger, who wants it?
  • Volvo C-70 -- expensive, getting old
  • Land Rover Freelander -- down-market Land Rover, competes with top end Mercury SUV, Escape Hybrid. Who needs it?
  • Jaguar X-Type -- down-market Jaguar.
  • VW Phaeton -- up-market VW
  • Mitsubishi Montero -- Too many body-on-frame SUVs out there, Nissan Pathfinder probably eating its lunch
  • Chevrolet Monte Carlo -- ugly NASCAR wannabe.

The Lincoln LS was not on the list because it is known to be going away, but it is also a turkey.

I see a few patterns here: upscale brands (Land Rover, Jaguar) going down-market fail. More mid-market brands (VW) going up-market fail. Re-badged mediocre products fail. And, expensive cars that don't get redesigned ot keep up with the brutal competition also fail.

It is disturbing that so many of these belong to Ford. Someone needs to go throw some rocks at The Glass House.

Phaeton Finale

VW is going to stop importation into the U.S. of the Phaeton luxury sedan, according to Bloomberg News:

Volkswagen will pull the Phaeton out of the world's largest market, where it never met sales targets, by September 2006, said Hans-Gerd Bode, a spokesman at the Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker. The model's 10-month U.S. sales totaled 686 cars. The original goal was to sell 10,000 Phaetons in the U.S. by 2004.
Automotive pundits and the enthusiast press were skeptical of the Phaeton from the beginning, and rightly so. Phaeton simply didn't meet the brand image of the VolksWagen, the "people's car". If they wanted to make an ultra-luxury large sedan, it should have had an Audi logo on the front of it.

Is the VW Touareg (pronounced "S-U-V") next?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Heh. [Politics]

Heh. From Dry Bones, a very good political cartoon from Israel.

Rep. Joe Schwarz, Selling Michigan Out

A Michigan Republican Congressman, Joe Schwarz, was a member of a group of "moderate" Republicans which managed to get the ANWR oil exploration authorization removed from the House version of a budget bill.

I am pissed. The quickest way to reduce our use of Saudi oil is to pump more of the stuff ourselves. That is also the quickest way to reduce oil prices. And this is Michigan--we live and die by the domestic auto industry. ANWR is a huge, harsh, desolate frozen wasteland. It's not like we're proposing to log out the entire Amazon rain forest, or dynamite the Grand Canyon.

Joe Schwarz put the interests of a herd of Caribou and a herd of greenies over the interests of his own consituents.

If you are from Michigan, and especially if you are from his district (the Battle Creek area), you should give Rep. Schwarz a call (202-225-6276) or drop him an email (click here) and let him know what you think.

PermaCap Revisited

I previously posted about my mishap with the Kleen Wheels PermaCap, a neat gadget (when it works) that replaces the fuel cap on some cars, and allows quick re-fueling without having to bother with unscrewing the fuel cap. It does this by proving a spring loaded door in the center of the fuel cap, which you push in with the fuel nozzle when you want to fill up.

Kleen Wheels sent me a replacement PermaCap, and I have been running with it for about two months. So far, no Check Engine lights, and no evaporative system leak codes.

I am not ready to endorse it, but if you are willing to give it a shot, and it works on your vehicle, it can be a very convenient thing. It is not a bad deal for about $17.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The B Word

The Detroit Free Press, the liberal leaning sister paper of the Detroit News, published a page 1 story about GM today with the word "bankruptcy" in the title.

GM is in danger, but I believe that this is premature, and a classic case of journalistic piling-on. One piece of evidence cited for GM's possible bankruptcy was the drastically diminished stock price--but in fact, the value of the stock has nothing to do with GM's profitability. Wall Street could sell GM down to $1 a share, it would not cause bankruptcy. No matter how many times The Freep, Wall Street analysts, or Robert Farrago warn of bankruptcy, it does not make it any closer.

Remember that GM is sitting on a huge pile of cash, about $20,000,000,000. Add to that the assets that GM could sell quickly, and you have about $45,000,o00,000. Even if GM lost $5 billion a year, it would take 4-10 years to become insolvent. And that $5 billion a year includes product development costs. All GM has to do is a little better than break-even, and it can operate nearly indefinitely. The stock analysts don't like that, since they are mostly focused on earnings growth.

GM's (and Ford's) job is to figure out how to be profitable businesses without gaining market share. This can be done. They need to reduce legacy costs by engaging the UAW, reduce product costs through platform sharing, and gain pricing power by building sexy cars. GM will never again have 60% of the U.S. market. And I agree with many pundits that huge changes at GM are necessary. But that doesn't mean GM is going away, either.

As the British conservative-writer-with-the-funny-name Theodore Dalyrimple wrote, "apocalypses have a habit of not happening". For all of its apparent mis-steps, a company as large as GM is not run by idiots. Guys like Rick "whipping boy" Wagoner and Bob "Uncle" Lutz did not get to the top of a multi-billion dollar company by being stupid. GM may change, but GM is not going away.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Know Thy Enemy

Thanks to Jalopnik, we have in Blogger-ville an excellent example of a car hating greenie with socialist tendencies and a fetish for bicycles*. From San Francisco, of course.

*Actually, I own a bicycle. I ride bicycles, some of my best friends have bicycles. But never speak to me of replacing my car with a bicycle! That, sir, would be talk of war!

Friday, November 04, 2005

France on Fire [Politics]

The French have finally been forced to confront their non-assimilating Muslim immigrant underclass. Unfortunately, the forum is the streets of towns surrounding Paris. Mobs are burning buses, terrorizing people, and shooting up trains. If this keeps up much longer, the French will have to ask the Germans to invade again, because it is not clear that they have the stomach to stop the rioting.

While I do not wish harm to anyone, I do feel a small twinge of schadenfreude. C'est la vie, non?

What happens next is very important. If France does not sort out the relationship between liberal-secular Europeans and the large population of non-assimilated Muslim immigrants, France is dead.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

419 Scam Fun

You know those annoying scam emails you get from places like Nigeria or Ivory Coast, promising you millions of dollars if you can just help some poor slob of a bank manager or oil minister fake some documents?

There is a whole sport called scam-baiting. What some guys do is pretend to be interested, and string the scammers along--for weeks. Sometimes they even get trophies, typically ridiculous photographs or fake documents.

Two of my favorite sites for this are 419 Eater and The Scam Baiter.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Dell Refurbished: Highly Recommended

As mentioned in my previous post, I just bought a Dell laptop.

I bought a refurbished machine from Dell's Outlet, and so far, I am thrilled. The laptop looks like it is new, with no obvious signs of previous use. The keyboard is clean, the screen is bright and clear, and everything seems to work well.

My laptop isn't the latest edition Dell has to offer, but it is plenty quick enough to do the basic stuff I want to do. And the savings were huge, compared to a brand new machine. I got a 40GB HD, a DVD/CDRW drive, 1.6 GHz Pentium M, Intel wireless network card, 512MB RAM, a Firewire port, and a 1 year warranty for about $700.

WinXP + SBC DSL BSOD Bug Fix [Computers]

I am posting this so that other people can find it easily.

I just bought a Dell laptop, running Windows XP SP2. After installing the SBC Yahoo! DSL software, my computer would no longer boot. My machine would stop at the dreaded blue screen of death (BSOD), with the cryptic message, "STOP 0x0000007E".

Apparently, there is an incompatabilty between a piece of software that SBC's DSL package installs and the Dell Windows XP load. The problem software is Visual IP Insight, and specifically, the driver file IPVNMON.SYS.

To fix the problem, I booted into safe mode (hit F8 when Windows starts starting) command prompt. I renamed the file C:\Windows\system32\drivers\ipvnmon.sys to

Dell has an article on this subject, here. There is also a thread about it here.

Jalopnik on Csere

Unexpectedly, Jalopnik posts a piece of literary criticism, on Csaba Csere's review of the Veyron.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Delphi's Steve Miller: "What Went Wrong"

A quote from Miller's speech, published in the Detroit News.


Steel, airlines, and autos. Different industries. Similar painful transformations.

What these three industries have in common is an implied social contract that has evolved over the past half century between oligopolistic competitors, in capital-intensive businesses, and fostered by workforces organized by strong centralized labor unions. With the enormous leverage inherent in the threat of prohibitively expensive work stoppages, unions in these industries were able to elevate their workforces above the standards enjoyed by most other Americans, while their employers passed along the costs to customers.

Elaborate defined benefit retirement programs, spurred on by favorable tax treatment, saddled future managers with growing burdens. Back in the days when you worked for one employer until age 65 and then died at age 70, and when health care was comparatively less sophisticated and inexpensive, the implied social contract inherent in these defined benefit programs perhaps made some economic sense. It no longer works in today's economy.

In the steel industry, we were being run off the road, not so much by imports, but by domestic competitors such as Nucor and Steel Dynamics. They paid equally good wages, but needed half the labor hours per ton to do the same job. You may have seen the fine article in last Saturday's NYTimes about Bethlehem Steel. Now part of Mittal Group, there are 8,000 well paid workers producing the same tonnage that 12,000 workers did just three years ago. How can that be? The elimination of antiquated work rules and job classifications is the biggest part of the answer.

In the airline industry, Delta and Northwest were shot down by Jet Blue and Southwest, not Air India or Air China. Worker productivity is a big part of the difference.

And in the auto industry, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda are competing from assembly plants in our back yard, but without the crippling work rules and social costs embedded in Big Three labor contracts. In each case, the old oligopoly has crumbled, not so much from globalization, but from upstart domestic competition.


In the midst of these trends, the unions in the traditional steel companies and the traditional auto companies successfully bargained for 'thirty-and-out'. The theory was, create more jobs by retiring people sooner. And isn't working thirty years in a factory enough? What this means is that people can start work at age 20, retire at age 50, and expect full pensions and health care until age 90 or so. In real terms, this idea says that you will enjoy the fruits of your labor for more years than you were actually at labor. As a society, somebody has to pay. And to the shock of the Big Three automakers, they've found that consumers won't pick up these costs when they have choices. As someone said, buy a Hyundai and get a satellite radio as an option. Buy a Chevy, and social welfare comes as standard equipment!

Read the whole thing, it is very interesting stuff.

The "Enclave"?

Suppose you are in the marketing department of a gigantic manufacturing company that is floundering under the weight of old products and sinking market share. Your engineers design new products, and you announce that you are ready to fight your way back to glory with them.

Do you name your new cross-over SUV's "Outlook", "Acadia", and "Enclave"?

Do some word association games. What comes to mind?

Buick Enclave. Ethnic enclaves. Srebrenica. Being surrounded. I imagine that GM was shooting for exclusivity with this name, but they tried too hard. I don't know if other people get a positive association from Enclave, I certainly don't. And the car doesn't look like an enclave, it looks like an overfed tiger, or a carnivorous jelly bean.

GMC Acadia. (blank...) Acacia? Trees? Some town in Pennsylvania? What does this have to do with GMC? Shouldn't a GMC have a tough name, like "Stumpmuncher" or "Towmaster"or something? Or something that evokes rugged wilderness, like Serengeti?

Saturn Outlook. Email. Microsoft. Weather forecast. This one is really dumb--most of the middle class and upper middle class GM is targeting with this vehicle will make the email association. Here's an idea: since the brand name is Saturn, how about using an astronomic name, like Io. Or Titan (oops). Pathfinder (nope). Transit... Galaxy... Rover... Explorer... Voyager... rats. Never mind.

If I was in charge, I would have named the Buick Acadia, and the GMC Chesapeake. The Saturn crossover could be called Endeavor* Apollo.

*Sorry, I don't know the names of all of Mitsubishi's products. I am impressed that anyone does.

What War Really Looks Like [Politics]

This photo shows what Dresden looked like after the U.S. and Great Britain bombed it in February of 1945.

It is shocking to look at. But it had to be done, in the eyes of the leaders back then, to defeat Germany.

In the 1940's we (the US) were willing to destroy cities to ensure victory. Today, we worry about offending Iraqi "detainees" (non-affiliated guerilla combatants = terrorist thugs*). God forbid we should rough them up a little. Or make them pose for embarrassing pictures.

Are we in this war to win, or have we become soft?

*According to the international conventions that the U.S. has accepted on the treatment of POWs, guys who don't wear a uniform, and run around blowing up civilians do not have any rights to be treated like POWs. They should be grateful they weren't shot on sight.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Burka Project [Culture]

I saw a link to this somewhere and had to look. The "Burka Project" is a series of photographs taken in Paris, and other locales, of three models wearing not much but colorful burkas, exposing their bodies but not their faces. The nearly nonsensical tagline for the series is

"The new freedom of woman by using the Burka as a means of showing all while hiding the essential."
I have a few problems with this "art", if you want to call it that.

I find the practice of forcing women to wear tent-like garments disturbing. But these photographs are also disturbing, because rather than counter-act the burka, they actually continue using the same cultural language.

The faces of the women are hidden, so they have no identity, but with their nude bodies showing, with heels and garters, they are pornographic objects. These photographs could be read by a Muslim as "see, this is why women have to wear burkas--they are whores underneath".

Freedom for women wearing burkas would not mean showing their shaved genitals. Freedom for women wearing burkas would mean showing their faces. Then, a burka clad woman would have a unique identity, which what the burka seems to deny them.

Truck Nuts

Apparently, driving a pickup truck is not manly enough for some guys; they need to advertise exactly how manly they are.

Today I saw a silver GMC sporting a pair of "truck nuts". A large pair of plastic red testicles, they swung back and forth as the truck drove.

Image courtesy of

This takes the cake. Previously, I thought the poor taste prize was taken by those ubiquitous "Pee on (other brand here)" stickers. Nothing says "I am civilized and intelligent" like a pair of truck nuts.

Anyone working on a truck johnson? Anyone? I ought to reserve that web address..

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Toyota May Overtake GM in 2006

News from Japan: A Japanese business paper estimates Toyota production in 2006 at 9,200,000 vehicles, when including Daihatsu and Hino; GM production is not thought to likely exceed the 2005 projection of 9,120,000, given that GM is closing plants.

If these numbers hold, GM will lose its title of largest auto manufacturer by volume in 2006, which is much earlier than the 2010 timeframe I have read about previously.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Turning Point

GM's recent deal with the UAW, and Delphi's looming battle may mark the turning point for unionized industrial labor in the U.S. This will be a turn towards the iceberg, not away from it.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, a high school graduate could go to a plant, and through luck or nepotism, get a union job on the assembly line. With little education, and few skills, that worker could make a nice middle class wage, with generous benefits, and excellent job security. A skilled worker, such as an electrician, could make as much money as an engineer or manager, with overtime.

The problem with this system is that it out-paced the labor market in general. In non-union factories, pay and benefits are lower than UAW plants. At automotive assembly plants, the wages are similar, but other aspects are dramatically different. For example, non-union assembly plants don't give their workers as much rest time each day. Non-union workers are paid through investment type retirement plans. Healthcare arrangements are much less generous. These differences alone amount to a huge pile of money.

But the biggest difference is flexibility for the employer. A non-union shop can shrink its workforce if it needs to at any time. A poorly performing worker can be fired, rather than just reprimanded. Strict work rules are not enforced, which require workers with certain classifications to perform only the tasks those trades have been assigned. (Just try to go into a UAW plant and re-solder a broken wire, if you are an engineer!)

Because of this flexibility, workers are highly motivated to keep their jobs, and absenteeism is low. In UAW plants, absent workers cost companies millions of dollars each year. In non-unionized plants, quality tends to be higher, or perhaps more easily attained, because of better motivation.

Like anything else in a market system, if a commodity becomes too dear, market forces rise to correct the imbalance. Except in the case of companies like GM, Ford, Delphi, and Visteon, the market forces don't operate on the UAW directly, instead they work to squash the company*.

What can the UAW do to maintain its position? Strike? If the employer goes bankrupt, the UAW has no bargaining position. Either the UAW gives concessions, or the UAW is forced to accept less. Either way, the days of milk and honey are over. The UAW will have to decide between protecting current workers, and protecting retirees. Between keeping more benefits for fewer workers, or keeping more jobs with fewer benefits.

Can the UAW rely on the U.S. Government to save them? So far, I have not heard of any likely plan that is bold enough, or any bold plan that is likely. The government won't raise tariffs, not as long as Republicans or centrist Democrats run the show. The government won't create socialized medicine, to remove the healthcare burden from the corporations. The government doesn't even appear to be willing to go to the mat with Japan and China for their currency policies.

Don't get me wrong, I do not wish any harm to the UAW workers. They are decent people who want to make a good living doing honest work. But I do think that reality has caught up to the UAW. That reality is that working class folks with a highschool education and no specialized skills are no longer valued at $23/hr, with full health coverage, 67 paid holidays, near-bulletproof job security, and a generous retirement plan. For comparison, a pest control tech (exterminator) makes about $13/hr, and this is not an unskilled profession.

As the UAW loses bargaining power, and its members lose buying power, Michigan's economy will slow down even further. Many workers will leave the Midwest for warmer economic climates. Real estate values will be hurt, local government tax revenues will be hurt, and the numerous small businesses that cater to the UAW workers will be hurt.

In this way, when the UAW loses, we all lose.

*Update: I don't mean to say that the American automakers are losing because of the UAW. If GM had maintained or increased its marketshare, the UAW benefits would not be such an issue. GM and Ford did it to themselves through poor strategy, poor quality, and timid design.

*Update: As BigFordFan points out, the 67 holidays are over 4 years; the UAW is actually getting ~17 paid holidays per year. However, this is still significantly more than the average 11 days per year that most people get.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Crown Vic Killer?

Chrysler is going after the police interceptor market with police versions of the Dodge Charger and Magnum.

Image courtesy of

Ford, the current king of this market, had better have a plan--no car maker can afford to lose share in a category they do well in now.

If you read the article, you will notice that Chrysler did not win any awards for fuel economy--this may be a good place for a counterpunch. Too bad Ford does not have cylinder de-activation (push-rods are "low tech", you see, most of Ford's engines are OHC).

The main factor that will save Ford, I think, is cost. Ford can probably sell the CVPI for much less than Chrysler $28,805 MSRP for the Hemi equipped Charger.

Don't Believe It

According to the Detroit News, GM's leaders are not considering bankruptcy.

Wagoner said unlike the airline industry, where some bankruptcy filings haven't had a big affect on business, even speculating about bankruptcy hurts the auto business.

"When you're buying a car it's a very different thing," Wagoner said. "It's a massive financial commitment. You expect to own it for a long time, and (bankruptcy) is something that's going to have an impact in the consumer's mind."

That's soothing BS. Any large organization, like any military or government, tries to look ahead and plan for possible scenarios. Somewhere in GM's most secret filing cabinet, at the very top of the Renaissance Center, is a stack of paper marked "bankruptcy Plan".

However, it is true that a bankruptcy from a company the size of GM would be devastating, economically, to many people, and to GM as well. Billions of dollars of investment would be wiped out, and numerous suppliers as well. The amount of goodwill that GM would lose would be enormous.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

How Not To Buy A New Car*

Everyone once in a while, when I am driving my car, I have a moment of infidelity. My eye wanders to the shiny new luxury/sports sedan passing me, and I look at my 100,000+ mile odometer, and I wonder if maybe I wouldn't be happier with a different car.

At times like these, I remind myself about how nice it is to not have a car payment. And how relatively cheap the insurance is, because book value has dropped to about $5,000.

Modern cars are fairly well built. If you take care of your car, chances are it will serve you well past 150,000 miles. Chances are you will tire of your car before it actually dies on you. Financially, it almost always makes more sense to fix your old car than buy a new one. Consider: a typical new car payment is around $300-400/month, or $3,600-4,800/year. Here is a list of common repairs that a well used car may need, with ballpark costs:
  • Shocks/struts $350
  • Ball joints $300
  • Tires $400
  • A/C compressor $400
  • Exhaust system $500
  • Clutch $700
  • Brake pads, rotors $400
  • Alternator $200
  • Battery $80
  • Timing belt $350
My point is that any of these repairs, and even a combination of several, are cheaper than several new car payments. Even if you car needs an engine re-build or new transmission ($2,000-$5,000), that is still only between 6 months and 1 year worth of new car payments.

So, here is a list of things you can do to renew your relationship with your trusty old car. I have tried some of these, and they work for me.
  • Clean it up. If it looks more like a new car, you'll get "the feeling" back.
    • Take it to a full-service wash (like Jax in Detroit) and have it cleaned and detailed inside and out. You'll be amazed at how much nicer your car is when it is brand-new clean. ~$130.
    • Have your faded Clinton/Gore bumper sticker removed.
    • Repair the little dings and paint chips that make the car look old. If your seats are ripped, buy a cover, or get them repaired. You may be able to find replacement seats for your car from a dismantler at a reasonable price.
  • Upgrade the ride. Cars get flabby over time as the suspension components wear.
    • Buy a new set of good tires. It's amazing what a new set of grippy, quiet tires can do for a car. ~$500.
    • Buy an upgraded shock/strut package. Tighten up the ride, get back the road feel. ~$500.
    • Get a new set of wheels. I personally like steel wheels on Michigan's nasty roads (they're easier to fix or cheap to replace) but some people really like a nice set of wheels. $600-$1000.
  • Upgrade the engine.
    • Put in a set of platinum spark plugs (long life) and a new set of ignition wires.
    • Put in a high-flow air filter such as K&N.
    • Take it to a tuner and put in an aftermarket supercharger or turbocharger. ~$5,000. Expensive, and somewhat risky, but you will notice a difference!
    • Get high-flow headers and exhaust. Less radical than a turbo, but no reliability problems.
  • Upgrade your interior. The parts you touch have big impact.
    • Get a real leather steering wheel cover and shift boot, such as WheelSkins. These are very nice, and don't cost much. ~$80.
    • Get a new shift knob, like a nice Momo.
    • Replace your worn out floor mats with new ones. ~$50.
    • Get a set of carbon fiber or fake wood trim pieces for your interior. Not my thing, but some people like them. $100.
  • Upgrade the audio. Who needs a new car to get new gadgets?
    • Get an aftermarket stereo head unit, perhaps with MP3 or XM capabilities. $150-$400. It's amazing what good sound can do.
    • Add an aux input for a portable MP3 player. Or an iPod interface. Or a CD changer.
    • Swap out your stock speakers for good aftermarket units. $300-500.
    • Mount a powered sub in your trunk, such as the Bazooka. $250.
The nice thing about driving and older car is that you can customize it gradually over time, without noticing that it is costing you money.

There are some reasons that you may want to spring for a newer car. My main reason would be safety--I would not drive a car older than about 10 years, because I would want more recent crash structures, ABS, airbags, etc. I especially would be careful about driving an older small car, such as a Chevy Canalier. As a car gets much older than 10 years, spare parts get harder to find and more expensive. And some cars are just ugly. If I was driving a rusty Ford Aerostar, for example, I would not keep it!

*What, am I nuts? People buying new cars keep me employed! Interestingly, many automotive engineers drive older cars.

Jail Bait

Ed Alterman of MPH writes about drag racing all comers on Woodward Ave in his loaner Corvette Z06. He feels high and might "like Zeus", until some tunerz with N20 ruin his evening.

A word of caution: I happen to live near Woodward Ave., and you don't want to be caught drag racing, especially not at speeds approaching Ed's 120mph. There have been several street racing accidents in metro-Detroit lately, with grisly outcomes, and the police are taking a dim view of the activity.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

F on Yahoo Finance

I was looking at some automotive stocks on Yahoo Finance, and I noticed that Ford's stock (F) is labelled "Ford Motor Credit", rather than "Ford Motor Company".

FORD MOTOR CREDIT (NYSE:F) Delayed quote dataEdit
Last Trade:8.75
Trade Time:1:14PM ET
Change:Up 0.04 (0.46%)
Prev Close:8.71
1y Target Est:10.33
Day's Range:8.65 - 8.84
52wk Range:8.70 - 15.00
Avg Vol (3m):11,142,800
Market Cap:16.21B
P/E (ttm):7.36
EPS (ttm):1.189
Div & Yield:0.40 (4.50%)
Does Yahoo know something?

(Probably just a clerical error)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Unicef: Smurf Killers [Politics]

UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, has produced a cartoon ad in Belgium dipicting Smurfs being blown to bits by a bombing raid. The point is to shock people into donating money to UNICEF:
It is intended as the keystone of a fund-raising drive by Unicef's Belgian arm, to raise £70,000 for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Burundi.
Now, I am all for blowing up Smurfs, and stuff, but let me ask one question:

If the UN is so concerned about children being killed, why aren't they doing anything about Darfur?

Eff the UN. Or, should I say, "Smurf the Smurfing United Nations".

Delphi: Out of S&P 500

As a reward for declaring bankrupcy, Delphi is being removed from the S&P 500 stock index, and replaced:
Delphi shares are scheduled to be removed from the S&P 500 Index after
the close of market trading today, and replaced by Patterson Companies Inc., a
distributor of dental products and veterinary supplies.

(From The Detroit News,

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Delphi--Bad Omens

As you probably have heard already, Delphi, the largest American automotive parts supplier, has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Delphi's cross-town rival Visteon, in a similar position, avoided bankruptcy when Ford took back plants and personnel.

I hope that Delphi will not live up to its name, and that this is not a portent more things to come.

I am not sure that GM can avoid the same fate. Saddled with massive legacy costs, and apparently not able to product-develop its way out of a steady market share slide, GM's future looks pretty grim to me.

GM's plan was to release new products that would halt its market share losses and firm up pricing. Unfortunately, this has not yet occurred. The Pontiac G6 is a decent seller, but not a hit, only selling about 100,000 cars annually so far. The Solstice is a hit, but is not a high-volume product. Buick seems to be sleeping. Buick annual sales are down, and I am troubled that I have not been seeing many new Buicks around metro Detroit. Buick used to be a huge brand.

Next, GM releasing a fleet of new fullsized SUVs and trucks. Many pundits criticize GM for investing in this segment, but they forget that trucks are a huge part of GMs business. To walk away from trucks would be a financial disaster for GM. However, the truck segment appears to be shrinking, and GM can at best defend its share, perhaps with some profitability gains. Large trucks will not save GM, but a failure in that segment would doom GM for sure.

Can GM tread water until enough completely new product shows up by 2008? I hope so, but I am not sure I would bet on it. If consumers continue to desert GM, and the UAW does not agree to severe benefit cutbacks, GM could easily go the way of Delphi.

A GM bankruptcy would completely change the playing field. A lean, unencumbered GM would be a world-class competitor, and would put massive pressure on Ford and DaimlerChrysler. Or it would be an attractive takeover target for someone (Ford? Honda? Hyundai? Starbucks?)

A GM bankruptcy would also be devastating to the UAW and to the US economy, hitting the taxpayers with huge pension obligations (like the collapse of Big Steel) and wiping out billions of dollars in investments. It would be the economic equivalent of a nuclear bomb.

May it not come to be.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

More Eye Pollution: Honda Element "Woody"

Remember the Silly Car Contest? I saw a strong contender the other day: a Honda Element with an aftermarket "Woody" kit. It looked very much like this:

Image courtesy of

Notice how the "wood" panels on the doors don't even follow the line of the door panels. Ugh.

You can buy all kinds of woody kits at, even for a Mini.

Your only limits are the limits of your poor taste.

Enough Cup Holders

I've had enough of cup holders. More precisely, I am sick of hearing about them in car reviews. Every review published by one of the Lienerts, and every review published by Consumer Reports discusses the number, location, sturdiness, and size of a vehicle's cupholders. And sometimes, they even bring in gynecological metaphors.

Cars were meant to be driven. They are not restaurants with wheels. A car needs precisely two cup holders--one for the driver, and one for the passenger. Rear seat passengers don't usually need cupholders, because there usually aren't any. If there are kids back there, chances are they will spill their drinks all over your nice clean car, so they don't deserve cupholders. Most people drive alone most of the time--which means that one cup holder is usually enough.

Any automaker that designs more than one cupholder per seating position is wasting interior space that could have been used to hold more beer cases (Car and Driver) , pullmans (Consumer Reports), or whatever unit of interior volume you prefer.

Cupholders don't need to be large enough to swallow a 72oz Mega Slurp. Think of it as automotive calorie control. Cupholders should be large enough to hold a large foam cup of coffee or a regular 12oz soda can. Most cupholders are used as loose change collectors, anyway, and some of them even do duty as ashtrays.

Cupholders that fold away, like delicate plastic origami (Volvo, Saab, Subaru...) are cool because they can get out of the way when you don't need them. So what if they are "flimsy"--don't try to put a 72oz Mega Slurp in them, and they will be fine.

Let's hear more about performance, sound, ride quality, material quality, and build quality. Enough about cupholders.


Welcome to a new (new to me, anyway) automotive blog, Racedriven. Written by one Brian Vermette, Racedriven is mostly focused on motorsports, but does occasionally veer in other directions. Check it out.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Comment Spam

I have been bombarded by spam in the comments areas lately. To try to stop the flood, I have turned on the word verification feature. I apologize for the inconvenience.

If this doesn't work, I will have to switch to registered users comment only.

Friday, September 30, 2005

CAFE Is A Farce

The CAFE rules (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) are a farce. I like to post on this subject, so this isn't the first and won't be the last.

CAFE attempts to control fuel consumption by regulating the fleet average fuel economy of a carmaker. CAFE says "all the cars you sell this year have to average out to X". Notice that it does not regulate the fuel economy of individual cars. And it does nothing to regulate consumer behavior--only car makers.

So what are the effects of CAFE? Automakers are forced to make small, cheap, fuel efficient cars whether anyone wants to buy them or not. These have to be cheap because that is the only way that they can be sold in volume. It is a cliche, and it is true, that the American automakers can not make a profit on small cars. To offset the incentives required to sell the small cars that Americans don't want, automakers increase profit margins on SUVs and other larger products. Basically, the large cars and light trucks are subsidizing the small ones.

Automakers can play some tricks to duck under CAFE. For example, the Chrysler PT Cruiser, which is based on the Dodge Neon platform, is classified as a "truck", and therefore lowers DaimlerChrysler's truck fuel economy number. Another trick is the Flex Fuel program, which gives automakers CAFE credits, whether people actually use ethanol or not.

The stated purpose of CAFE is to reduce gasoline consumption. There are much better ways to do this, which would be direct and effective. And honest.

First, gas taxes could be raised. Consumers will choose more fuel efficient vehicles out of economic necessity. To protect farmers (which may be America's most favored class of businessmen) and other commercial users, a business fuel tax deduction could be implemented.

Many people hate this solution, but because it will regulate consumer behavior. But at the same time, most people say they want CAFE to increase, and that the carmakers aren't doing enough to produce fuel efficient vehicles. Meanwhile, consumers demand more power, midsize sedans push 250HP, and even minivans now sprint 0-60mph in under 8s. Hybrids? Sure, but they have to perform as well as IC only cars, and we don't want to spend $4,000 extra for them.

Another way to increase fuel economy would be to write the rules to regulate it more directly, on a per-vehicle basis, rather than as a fleet average. For example, a rule could state that passenger cars with interior volume between 100 and 120 ft^3 and weighing between 3000lbs and 4000lbs must have an EPA average fuel economy of 29MPG, or a gas guzzler tax of $1000 would be levied. The rules could be subdivided for every vehicle class and weight range. The NHTSA recently moved in this direction, but not entirely.

Ford Charity Auction on EBay

The Big 3 have had a close relationship with the United Way charity organization for some time, so close that they have used high-pressure tactics to convince employees to give.

I personally don't mind, because I think that charity is important.

Thanks to a tip, I just discovered that Ford has set up a charity auction on EBay to benefit United Way, which appears to be open to the public--your blogger was able to cast a bid without any check for corporate affiliation.

There are some interesting items up for auction, such as books autographed by Bill Ford Jr. and J Mays. Or this Ford Focus model, which quite collectible, because it was made to be a give-away at the SEMA show.

The Ford items can be found by looking at the auctions of EBay ID FordUnitedWayAuction.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Jeremy Clarkson (Heh!)

I realize that I am late to the game, but thanks to MyFordDreams, I have discovered that Jeremy Clarkson (of the BBC's Top Gear auto show) is published on the web here.

If you want a good laugh, take some time and read his reviews. He has a great sense of humor, but be warned he is tough on American cars. For example, here is what he wrote about the interior of the Jeep Grand Cherokee:
So it’s uncomfortable, cramped and feels like it’s made entirely from melted Lego. And it costs more than £30,000. Admittedly, you get lots of standard equipment for that, including a heater that works like American foreign policy, blowing either very hot or very cold but incapable of getting the temperature just right. You also get three headrests for your deformed rear passengers, the middle one of which obliterates all traffic in the rear-view mirror.
Melted Lego! Heh.

Eye Pollution

A quick message to the guy who was driving in front of me on the way to work, the one in the black Ford 500 with huge chrome wheels, chrome trim, and a vinyl fake convertible roof:

Your car is effing ugly.

The 500 is not a very sexy car, but it does have clean, modern lines, albeit borrowed from VW's previous generation.

Vinyl roofs on any post-1970's car should be a ticketable offense. And car bras, too, especially when people put them on good looking cars.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Send Robots, Save Money, Save Lives

Not entirely an automotive post, but sort of an engineering post.

I recently read about NASA's plans to send astronauts back to the moon. I was floored.

The moon program is estimated to cost about $100 billion, which means that it will actually cost more like $200 billion--which is about how much the U.S. military spends a year on R&D, personnel, and procurement combined. It's a lot of money.

And what are we going to learn, by sending humans back to the moon, that is worth over $100 billion?

The highly successful Mars rover mission, by comparison, cost about $900 million. Not cheap, but only about 1/5th the cost of a nuclear aircraft carrier. You could pepper the solar system with robots for the cost of another moon landing.

We have gotten very good at building robots. NASA should stop wasting money and human lives on glorious but risky missions. There would be much more bang for the buck in robotic missions, space telescopes, and fundamental research down here on earth.

The manned space program has become something of a pork project. It is sexy to send people up in a shuttle, so they can live in a space station. But most of the science that is being done is focused on improving or developing man's ability to survive in space. When was the last time you heard about an amazing find aboard the ISS? The ISS is basically welfare for Russian scientists, to keep them from moving to Iran and building bombs. It eats $1.6 billion a year--one and a half Mars rover missions. Why not contract some of the robots out to Russia, instead?

Think of what kind of work could be done with $100 billion. For example, how much improvement in hydrogen fuel cell efficiency, or hydrogen generation and storage could we buy for $100 billion?

Or deep sea exploration? Particle accelerators? Cancer genetics? Applied zymurgy...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Wanted: In-Car Bluetooth MP3 Interfaces

I would like to see automakers and their electronics suppliers join with the MP3 makers and the Bluetooth consortium to develop a standardized automotive interface for personal MP3 players.

I want to be able to get into my car, power up my MP3 player, and have it look like a CD changer to my radio, without needing wires or expensive adapters. I want the MP3 player to stream music to my radio digitally, so that sound quality is preserved, without the static that comes with an FM modulator. The MP3 ID tags should be displayed on the radio as if I was playing an MP3 disc, and I should be able to navigate by folders, songs, artists, etc. Playlists should be supported.

I think that people would be willing to pay little extra for that kind of convenience--I know that I would.

(Steve Jobs is missing the point, when he says people wouldn't want a bluetooth enabled iPod. It wouldn't be for wireless headphones, it would be for streaming your music!)

Monday, September 19, 2005

VW Irrelevant?

Pete DeLorenzo at Auto Extremist says that VW has become irrelevant in the U.S. market.

I agree with him. VW has poor quality, high prices, and perhaps the biggest sin of all--bland styling. They are neither a premium brand, nor a performance brand, nor an economy brand.

2.70 And Falling

Regular gasoline prices in the Metro Detroit area have drifted down over the last week, from about $3.00/gal to pre-Katrina prices in the neighborhood of $2.60/gal.

What I found amazing was that even when gasoline was selling for $3.15/gal, I still saw lots of people driving their Dodge Durangos, Ford Expeditions, and Chevrolet Avalanches. With no passengers. At 80mph, get the hell out of the way.

For all of the whining that people were doing on the evening news, about how they weren't going to be able to buy as many Christmas presents this year, no one seemed to change their driving habits much. Just slowing down from 75mph to 65mph can give a 10% boost in fuel economy, I have heard*, but people refused to do even that.

Consider: at 65mph, a 15 mile trip will take ~14 minutes. At 75mph, the 15 miles takes 12 minutes.

Would you notice if your drive to work was 2 minutes longer? Most people wouldn't. There is probably at least that much variation day to day based on irregular traffic flow, and variations in when you reach traffic signals.

On the other hand, getting 10% better fuel economy on your morning commute probably isn't that impressive for most people. Assuming 15mpg (the average full-size SUV or maybe a late 90's Chevrolet Impala SS), the difference between 75mph and 65mph might be 0.10 gal, or $0.32 (@ $3.15/gal). Two trips a day for a work-week, and you save one gallon of gas.

20 minutes a week, or $3.15? Which would you rather have?

*Wind resistance increases exponentially with speed.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Details About Volvo ETM Failures

Don Wilson, a retired metallurgical engineer, has posted a detailed analysis of the failures of 1999-2001 Volvo ETMs (Electronic Throttle Modules) at his web site, VexedVolvo. He has photos of a disassembled unit, clearly showing how the resistance film potentiometers wore through, and the wiper contacts picked up debris.

Image courtesy of

Don's conclusion:
The construction of this potentiometer is obviously not suitable for the application. Considering that in the life of the car there will be multiple millions of cycles of the throttle, the action of the hard metallic finger tips riding on the soft thick film carbon resistor element is a designed-in shortcoming that will result in an estimated 100% or more, failure rate in the life of the Volvo automobile.
I am glad that I drive a throttle-by-cable car!

(HT: Autoblog)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Zeta Confusion

Some time ago, GM announced it was stopping work on the Zeta mid-size-to-fullsize RWD platform, to focus resources on releasing upcoming truck and SUV products.

Then, GM announced that Zeta was coming, after all.

Now, Bob Lutz tells TheCarConnection (near the bottom of the page) that Zeta is looking too expensive to import into the US from Australia.
GM's vice chairman set out to set the record straight on a variety of issues following the Opel reveal on Tuesday. For one thing, he told reporters, the automaker's new rear-drive Zeta platform "is not dead or cancelled." Well, not exactly. The original version was, indeed, scrapped a few months back because "we did a lot of not-smart things…that didn't make business sense. We accepted the delay." As originally planned, GM's Australian subsidiary, Holden, will play the lead in developing the revised Zeta platform. But it is less and less likely that it will be able to export cars based on Zeta, at least to the United States. The Australian dollar's gain on the U.S. dollar "pretty much cancels your profits margin," Lutz lamented, so "exports to the U.S. don't look real promising at this point." But there will still be opportunities for Holden to ship product to other markets, such as the Middle East .

What interested me about this quote is that there is no mention of whether a version of Zeta would be built in North America for the US market. The implication is that Zeta will not be built in N.A., which of course leads to a question.

What about the Camaro?

I have read on AutoBlog that GM is looking at using one of its other RWD platforms for a Camaro, such as Sigma (Cadillac CTS) or Kappa (Solstice). Kappa doesn't seem likely, as it would have to grow substantially to be a mid-size muscle car. Sigma is said to be expensive.

Monday, September 12, 2005

New Jeeps in Frankfurt

Two of the guys behind Autoblog are in Frankfurt, Germany, snapping pictures of the auto show. One of the more interesting photos they grabbed was this image of the Jeep display, showing two new products, the Compass and Patriot.

Image courtesy of AutoBlog

The Patriot is a small SUV which looks very much like a resurrected and refined Cherokee, except that it is apparently build on a car based unibody platform. According to Edmunds, both are built on the same platform as the forthcoming Dodge Caliber, which was a joint development with Mitsubishi to replace the aging Neon. So the Patriot is likely to be front wheel drive/all wheel drive, with independent suspension, very much unlike the solid axles of the old Cherokee. I would be surprised if it came with a low-gear transfer case. I think it looks pretty good, and will be a nice competitor to the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CRV. I also like the name.

With the Compass, however, Jeep has lost its way. It looks like Jeep took a Subaru WRX stud, bred it with a Toyota Matrix mare, and grafted on the nose from a Liberty. In other words, the thing is ugly, and looks much meaner than it will likely actually be, unless Jeep puts a turbo on the 2.0/2.4L engines planned for this platform. I really dislike the way that the Jeep front end looks on a vehicle with tall wagon proportions.

Image courtesy of AutoBlog

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Diesel Cars in the US

I regularly hear and read claims that there is some industry conspiracy against bringing diesel cars to the US, or that Americans won't buy diesels because of the bad taste left behind by the terrible diesel products of the late 70's.

Both claims are, to use an old fashioned word, bunk. Here is a short explanation of why I think diesels are not being introduced yet.

The most significant engineering problem with using diesel engines in light duty vehicles, at this point, is the EPA and the California Air Resource Board (CARB). The EPA has mandated that light duty vehicles meet very stringent emissions standards, called Tier II. Because of their inherently high NOX emissions, diesels can not (cheaply) meet these emissions standards. Diesels can be made to meet these standards with a few tricks. CARB's rules are even more stringent than EPA's--diesel passenger cars have not been certified for sale in California since 2003.

First, clean diesel fuel is necessary, with low sulfur levels, so that catalysts can be used to change the NOX into N2 and O2. Without low-sulfur diesel, the catalysts get "poisoned" by the sulfur in the fuel, and can not do their job. Cleaner diesel fuel should start showing up at the pumps in 2006.

An alternative to using a precious metals based catalyst for NOX controls is to use urea injection, where the chemical is injected in the hot exhaust stream. GM is proposing to use this system for its pickup trucks, but EPA has not approved it yet, as the system would require the driver to keep a urea tank filled.

The other major diesel emissions issue is particulate emissions, or soot. The current solution is to capture the particulates in a particulate trap oxidation catalyst at lower temperatures, and burn the particulate at high temperatures.

As to the noisiness and hard-to-start legend of diesel passenger cars, the myth would be dispelled the moment that modern diesel engine cars from Europe would be demonstrated here. American's aren't stupid, and we don't have a very long memory (not necessarily a good thing). The real consumer objection to diesel performance is that they are low horsepower, high torque engines. Diesel engines don't like to spin fast (peak power might be at 4000RPM, dropping dramatically at higher speeds). In order to get performance closer to a gasoline engine, diesel engines need to be turbocharged (like the VW TDI), and also may need an intercooler.

Diesel engines, because of their higher internal pressures, and high torque output, need to have much stronger internals then a corresponding gasoline engine. A diesel engine may have a compression ratio of 20:1, compared to a gasoline compression ratio of 10:1. A diesel engine will tend to be heavier than a comparable gas engine.

The problem with diesel engines for light duty passenger vehicles boils down to basically one thing: cost. To have a diesel engine that meets EPA and CARB requirements, you need to have a complicated and expensive dual catalyst or urea injection + catalyst system. You need to have a turbocharger and intercooler. You need a much stronger engine block, crank, pistons, connecting rods, valves, and head. You may wind up with an engine that costs several thousand dollars more than a comparable gasoline engine. At which point, the added cost of the powertrain outweighs the short term fuel savings (like HEVs), and the average consumer has no great incentive to buy a diesel powered car.

If the "value equation" isn't right, there is no way that automakers are going to invest heavily in passenger car diesels.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Buyers Be Wary

AutoMuse predicts a flood of flood damaged used cars on the used car market, due to Katrina. She goes on to analyze the legal background of salvage and flood titles. It is possible that some cars will make it onto the market without being clearly marked as being flood damaged.

There is, however, an answer. Carfax. Don't buy a used car that has been registered in the Hurricane ravaged states unless you know its history.

Massive Ford Recall (Ouch)

The Reuters news service reports that Ford is recalling 4,000,000 trucks, built between 1994 and 2002 to repair the cruise control deactivation switch. This switch is under NHTSA investigation for underhood fires. The theory for the switch failure is that the brake fluid may be ignited by the switch, which his always hot, if the internal seal fails.

I applaud Ford for doing the right thing, but you can almost hear Ford's investors, dealers, and customers collectively wince, "here we go again".

Monday, September 05, 2005

New NRA President [Politics]

The new president of the NRA (my favorite political organization), Sandra Froman, is a woman. A Jewish woman.


Gas Tax Economics 201

If any of my (few) readers are knowledgeable about economics, and the economics of gas prices in particular, please chime in.

In support of my earlier post, calling for a temporary suspension of gas taxes, I wanted to explain why I though this would work. I have read a counter-argument that because gasoline is a commodity, it will rise to the pre-tax cut price.

My (admittedly limited) understanding of gas price economics goes like this: There is an international market for oil, price X. Refiners refine the oil into a finished product such as gasoline (or diesel), blend it as necessary, and sell it to retailers at some price, which is X+margin+fuel tax. Retailers get the gasoline, mark it up for retail, and sell it at (x+margin+fuel tax) + retail margin. The core price, X, is set by international demand and market economics, such as speculation. The refined fuel price is set also by refining capacity. The gas pump price is changed mostly by local effects, such as local runs or local competition.

I have heard that the gas station business is a low margin business, and the real money is all made on beer, cigarettes, coffee, and junk food. The primary price mechanism happens at the distributor level.

So my prediction is, that if the federal and state fuel tax applied to the refined product was dropped, the price of gas at the pump would drop by about that amount, unless increased demand caused the refiners to increase the price to the retailers.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Wasted Buses [Politics]

This photo shows a yard full of school buses in New Orleans, neatly parked in rows, partly submerged.

Courtesy of Yahoo!

This text is from the City of New Orleans own web page, from the "Comprehensive Plans: Hurricanes" section.

The City of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas. Those evacuated will be directed to temporary sheltering and feeding facilities as needed. When specific routes of progress are required, evacuees will be directed to those routes. Special arrangements will be made to evacuate persons unable to transport themselves or who require specific life saving assistance. Additional personnel will be recruited to assist in evacuation procedures as needed.

Slow developing weather conditions (primarily hurricane) will create increased readiness culminating in an evacuation order 24 hours (12 daylight hours) prior to predicted landfall. Disabled vehicles and debris will be removed from highways so as not to impede evacuation. In local evacuations involving more than fifty (50) families (i.e. 50 single dwelling units), staging areas may be established at the closest available public area outside the threatened area. Upon arrival at the staging area, evacuees will be directed to the appropriate shelter facility. Evacuees will be encouraged to stay with friends or relatives in non-threatened areas whenever possible. Security measures will be employed to protect the evacuated area(s) in accordance with established procedures and situations.

The use of travel-trailers, campers, motorcycles, bicycles, etc., during the evacuation will be allowed so long as the situation permits it. Public information broadcasts will include any prohibitions on their use. Transportation will be provided to those persons requiring public transportation from the area. (See Special Needs Transportation, ESF-1). An orderly return to the evacuated areas will be provided after the Mayor determines the threat to be terminated. Transportation back to the evacuated area after threat termination will be provided as available.
The mayor of New Orleans is ranting that George Bush, FEMA, and the military didn't do enough. But according to his own plan, New Orleans officials were supposed to arrange for emergency transportation for "special needs" persons--such as hospital patients, the mentally ill, and the elderly.

Why are those school buses parked in the city bus yard? Why weren't they used before Katrina hit to get the poor and the sick out of New Orleans?

FEMA may have reacted slowly. But the first line of defense for the people of New Orleans was the city government, and it wasn't ready or wasn't able to meet the challenge.

(HT: JunkYardBlog)

Friday, September 02, 2005

Suspend Gas Taxes

One solution to the (temporarily) out of control gasoline prices: Congress and the state legislatures should immediately pass bills suspending taxes on gasoline. The lost revenue should be categorized as disaster relief spending.

For example, in Louisiana, the state gas tax is 20c/gal. The federal tax is 18.4 c/gal, for a total of 38.4c/gal. (Source:

Update: The IRS has reduced the tax on diesel ful, by allowing commercial uses to buy "duty free" diesel intended for farmers and government vehicles. Story here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


There's a new automotive blog online, eMercedesbenz. Carpundit is suspicious that they may be a plant from DaimlerChrysler, on account of the blog's very professional design, and press-quality photos of Mercedes cars. On the other hand, they may just be very passionate about Mercedes.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Dumbest Mod Ever

I usually save my bile for the huge wings that some TuNeRz put on the back of cars like the Kia Rio. As if the glued on contraption is going to give them downforce at the 45MPH they drive in the suburbs.

But this toy, the Turbo SoundFX, dear reader, takes the effing cake. Why pay $3,500 for a real turbo, when you can stuff this whistle up the tail of your exhaust system, and make your car sound like you have one?

I wonder how many HP you are giving up due to the increased restriction in the exhaust?