Mustang Parts
   Carrying Saleen wheels and Bullitt wheels.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

GM Surrenders (Minivans)

The Detroit News reports that GM is fleeing the minivan market, to concentrate on crossovers, just as Ford is doing.

It seems like Ford and GM both made the same mistake--they brought a knife to a gun-fight, and got whacked by Honda and Toyota in the minivan segment. Both companies sold bland, underpowered, and unrefined vans, and must have made a conscious decision not to invest the money required to produce a world class product. Meanwhile, Toyota focused on quality and refinement, and Honda decided to make minivans a little sharper, and a lot quicker. Chrysler, the now (and future?) king of the segment, made sure to cover the market from cheap soccer wagons up to more elegant looking trim, and dropped some serious money on adding fold-in seats.

"We do believe it is a declining segment," GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz told The News on Tuesday. "Our new crossovers, Acadia, Outlook and Enclave with their three rows of seats and economical V-6 engines, can meet the same customer needs, minus the 'Soccer Mom' stigma.."

There is nothing wrong with using crossovers (tall wagons, or unibody SUVs, or whatever) to fill the"mommy wagon" niche, there will always be a market here. However, CUVs are not minivans--they don't have sliding doors, as a rule, which creates a real problem for many customers, who need the convenience. Power sliding doors allow parents to juggle more stuff while they wrestle the baby out of the second row.

Maybe the minivan market is shrinking, but the abject failure of Ford and GM hinges not on changing fashions--they just chose not to compete.

Spotted: Smart Fortwo

I stopped to buy some gas near my house today, and saw a guy fueling one of these, a dark blue and silver Smart Fortwo.

It is shocking how small these cars really are, compared to a typical mid-sized sedan. There is so little crush space from the front bumper to the driver, and at the rear, I don't think I could ever feel safe driving one. The tall greenhouse and small wheels pushed out to the corners make the thing look like a rollerskate.

The driver was a wiry, gray haired middle aged man, who I imagine was quite pleased with himself, as he filled his tiny gas tank and smugly thought about his 40mpg. Then again, he could have been an engineer or exec driving an evaluation unit--I didn't get a good look at the plate, other than to see that it was the white on dark blue of MI.

Friday, November 17, 2006


As you may have guessed from my occasional firearm-related posting, I am squarely in the pro-gun camp. Jalopnik reports that Ford took some jounalists, including bloggers, to a shooting range for some fun, as part of a James Bond themed day. (Aside: isn't Aston Martin the Bond brand? And in the last Bond movie, didn't the bad guys drive Fords and Lincolns?)

Color me jealous.

For any readers in SE MI, the range the event happened looks like it was Target Sports in Royal Oak, guessing from the photos. This is a first class indoor pistol range, and they will rent you a full-auto gun (MP5, Colt SMG) if you are ready to pay the (hefty) rental fee. I go there occasionally to shoot.

After the shooting event, the journalists were driven to a martini making class.

Lincoln on Amazon

The Detroit news is reporting that Lincoln is advertising some of its products on They are displayed as a normal order-able Amazon item, except that instead of a "buy it" link there is a "Reserve" link, which takes you to
See The Lincoln MKX on Amazon
I think this is a silly tactic, and one that has a real danger of back-firing. In general, Amazon allows customers to post negative reviews of products if they are reasonably written. Like any other item, it appears that users can comment on the Lincoln vehicles and give them star ratings. You can't really order a Lincoln from Amazon, and you don't save any money, which is Amazon's big draw. You also can't cross-shop other cars.

People are not going to go and email each other, "hey, did you see that new Lincoln on Amazon? $25 shipping!".

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Buick O' Truth

Ever wonder how a real car would stand up to being shot from a real pistol or rifle? The answer is, "hot knife through butter". A policeman who seeks cover behind an un-armored car door, for example, has very little protection. The only part of a car that will effectively stop a bullet is the engine block.

The Buick O' Truth

Another "Shoot the car" Video

I'm jealous.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Detroit and the New Democrat Congress

I'm disappointed (understatement!) in the results of the mid-term elections, but I can't say I am surprised. The Republicans worked hard to screw up their party, and now have been taught a harsh lesson.

A Democrat controlled Congress will have some definite effects on the auto industry, some good and some bad. I have to play arm-chair economist for a while, here are a few examples I have thought of:

Consumer Spending--The Democrats are likely to raise taxes to pay for more generous social programs. They are also likely to raise the minimum wage, which will increase the prices of some goods and services. I expect this to put pressure on new car sales, as the general economy slows down. The stock market seems to be reflecting this already, but maybe I'm jumping the gun. Bad for the industry.
Oil/Fuel--It is likely that the Democrats will suppress new exploration and drilling offshore and in Alaska, as part of their environmental policy. It is also possible that they will raise taxes on oil companies, which will have various chilling effects on that industry, from reduced production to a pass-through of the tax to consumers. They may or may not support increasing refining capacity, depending on who is talking. The new Congress will also likely support taxpayer subsidized ethanol production and distribution. I expect that the price of oil and gasoline will increase, and the oil futures seem to be headed that way. Bad for the industry.
Labor Policy--The Democrats are the party of organized labor. I expect them to take union friendly stands when the opportunity arises. It may become harder for the unionized auto makers (the Big 2.5) to reduce their union labor costs, which is a needed step to become competitive with the imports and transplants, if Congress gets involved. Bad for the industry.
Trade Policy--The Democrats have said that they support fair trade, and will energetically pursue trade deals that remove barriers to U.S. goods, and reduce the advantages that countries like China and Korea give their domestic industries, such as undervalued currency. If they can manage to open up markets without engaging in a trade war, this could help export sales. Maybe good for the industry.
Environmental/CAFE--There are two schools of thought in the Democratic party on automotive fuel economy and environmental regulation. One side is the California greenie side, exemplified by Nancy Pelosi, who voted to raise CAFE to 33mpg. On the other side is Rep. John Dingell, expected to chair the energy committee, who represents a heavily UAW district, and tends to be much more friendly to the Big 2.5 on CAFE issues. CAFE has both good and bad effects on the industry. On one hand, it increases the barrier to entry for new competitors such as the Chinese. On the other it tends to make vehicles more expensive to buy, due to the additional technology necessary to meet the new requirements; it may reduce safety if it forces more people into small cars. If Dingell can hold off the California wing, then the damage may be modest. Maybe bad for the industry.
Safety Regulations--More stringent safety regulations have similar effects as CAFE, but with a more positive tilt, I think. They increase the barrier to entry for competitors, and may also increase vehicle cost somewhat, hurting sales; however, many safety advances do not have a very high cost associated with them, such as stability control or additional airbags, compared with the major powertrain changes that may be required to meet higher CAFE standards. Maybe good for the industry.
Healthcare Costs--The Big 2.5 have been hammering on healthcare costs for some time, suggesting that the federal government may be able to help. The question is, what form will this help take? Modest improvements such as beating up the drug companies won't be a game changer, but major changes such as a socialized government medical insurance system will be so expensive in taxes they they will be destructive to the broader economy. I don't think the Democrats will be able to enact socialized medicine any time soon, so I guess I'd call this one Maybe good for the industry.
Tort Reform--is now dead. The Democrats are long time clients of the trial lawyers, and fight tort reform ferociously. Auto companies will not see further relief from outrageous product liability awards. Bad for the industry.

Re-reading my list, I suppose I am pessimistic. I expect a more aggressive regulatory environment, higher taxes, a slower economy, and more expensive fuel and vehicles, which will translate directly into slower sales for the auto companies. On the more positive side, the automakers may get some healthcare cost relief, albeit at the expense of the taxpayer's wallet, and may get some help with foreign trade.

I hope that the now opposition party Republicans and now lame-duck President will grow some cojones, and fight off as much bad economic policy as possible. President Bush needs to buy a shiny new red veto pen. It is bad enough in Detroit as it is.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Auto Recycling, Clarkson Style

Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear decides to do some skeet shooting--with old cars. Unhappy with his over-under, he moves to a SPAS-12, then a .30 cal machine gun, then an anti-tank gun. I thought the British weren't allowed to touch guns?