Monday, January 31, 2005

Don't buy that big screen TV before you check out a projector

Don't spend big money on a television before you check out the current crop of video projectors. I'm talking about a table-top sized front projection unit. Unlike rear projection televisions, front projectors are light, about 7 lbs. They can also project clear images up to wall-sized. You don't need a fancy screen, just a blank wall or a big piece of white Parkland plastic or similar. At the 2005 CES, Optoma introduced a new unit that's interesting, the Movie Time DV10, this one is representative of a trend, to include the DVD player with the projector. That's very convenient. Although the Movie Time now lists for $1,495, the streat price will probably be lower, and these things are going down in price reasonably quickly. For about $1000 you can get the Radio Shack Cinego. The Cinego includes a widescreen projector, DVD player and surroundsound system (with speakers) in a portable package.

Optoma Projectors: Optoma MovieTime DV10 DLP projector
For the MILDLY Disgruntled Postal Worker - a Rubber Band Gun

Tom's Hardware Guide Games & Entertainment: Rubber Band Gun Office Politics - Introduction
SBC to Buy AT&T: What's my basis?

About a decade ago, I joined the millions of folks who are AT&T stockholders. What a mistake! Not because the stock hasn't done very well (and it hasn't), but because it's such a pain in the ass to sell. The problem:AT&T has done so many spin-offs & mergers, etc. that it is ridiculously difficult to figure out your basis for determining capital gains & loss. They've spun off Lucent. They've spun off AT&T Wireless. There was the original splitting of the baby bells. I'm going to wait until the price settles into a stable area over the SBC merger then sell it all just to be done with the damn thing. - SBC announces deal to buy AT&T

Friday, January 28, 2005

PM Owner's Survey - Lincoln LS

Ever since the Chrysler 300C series came out, the Lincoln LS has been out of the spotlight. It's a shame because this car is the best American sedan that I've ever driven. According to the Popular Mechanics Owner Survey linked below, the owners are happy with it. A large percentage 78% would buy it again.

PM Owners Report: Lincoln LS
"Chuckie" Clark inks deal with Feds over Groom Lake Sensors

For those of you who have been following the Groom Lake (aka "Area 51") drama over the years, here's an update. Chuck (aka "Chuckie") Clark entered into a pretrial diversion agreement with the government, thereby avoiding prosecution for interfering with radio sensors placed on public land surrounding the borders of the restricted area around Groom Lake, Nevada, an area known to UFO buffs as "Area 51". href="">Area 51 'hacker' charges dropped The Register

Mr. Clark was arrested in 2003 for picking up and investigating one (or more) of these sensors. Mr. Clark picked up on a similar effort made by Glenn Campbell (not the singer - he has one "n") in the mid-90s. Glenn has been out of the public eye for about a half dozen years now, and the last time I heard, he was living in domestic bliss somewhere in Las Vegas.
Here's the missing link from the last post - #1 Fan Site for Fresh XM Satellite Radio Info
The Chevy Blazer - the SUV that wouldn't die

GM Announced that it is going to delay scheduled layoffs in the Linden New Jersey plant that makes the Chevy Blazer. They have enough orders to last through April.

GM to delay mass layoffs at N.J. assembly plant - 01/27/05
XM and Sirius to Merge?

PC Magazine reports merger talks between XM Radio and it's primary competitor, Sirius. Naturally, there are antitrust concerns.

Is a Sirius, XM Merger in the Works?

I got a XM Roady2 receiver for Christmas. I haven't activated it yet. I mainly got it for long distance travel, and I haven't gone anywhere. What I like is that you can activate it with no long term commitments online for the $9.95 monthly fee.

If you are an XM Radio fan, you should check out this website

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Super Ringo?

From the So crazy it just might work department: Stan Lee is trying to turn Ringo Starr into an animated superhero. I wonder if bubblewrap will be involved . . .

Okay, I'm curious. Entertainment - Ringo Starr to become animated superhero
How much does a Lawyer make in Australia?

According to this site 40,910 Australian Dollars (AUD). At current exchange rates, that would be $31,752 USD

PayScale - Attorney / Lawyer Salary Survey, Salaries, Wages, Compensation: "40910"
Is the Moller Skycar about to take India by storm?

The company thinks it can sell 15 of these things a year in India at $1.5M (US) each. Deliveries starting two years from now. Yeah, right.

Deliveries have been two years away for a decade and a half now.

It's still a cool looking car/plane. It's about time to put it in the Smithsonian next to a Tucker and get on to something else.

Fly with me: Sky's the limit for luxury - The Economic Times
Some times Mortgage companies commit fraud. Sometimes they get defrauded. . .

As consumer attorneys, we frequently handle cases where mortgage lenders and brokers scam consumers. We call that "mortgage fraud".

The lenders use the term "mortgage fraud" to describe a type of scam where the lender is the victim. In short, the scammers identify properties in a depressed area. They want properties that, due to high square footage or proximity to pricier neighborhoods, will support at first blush a high valuation. They obtain the property. They get a straw buyer to apply for a loan to buy the property from them at an inflated price. They use a fraudulent appraisal to justify the loan. The lender loans the money. The scammers skip out, and the house is left a decrepit shell, blighting a neighborhood.

Below is a link to an indictment on this type of scam against mortgage companies. Notice that you have the full weight of the US Attorney's office going after these fly by night scammer, but when a multi-billion dollar company flips mortgages, issues deceptive loan documents etc. as corporate practice, thereby systematically taking the life savings or working men and women, the US Attorney's office is no where to be found.

3 cops indicted in mortgage scheme

Ironically, it is much easier for the mortgage company to avoid being scammed than the average person who is desprite for a home equity loan. Here's what they can do:
1) Pay attention to the history of the property. A large short term change in sales price should raise a red flag.
2) Check the identity of the people they are dealing with. Identity theft is a common problem in these scams
3) Follow certain minimum standards in appraisals. Bad appraisals result in bad loans.
4) Subscribe to a fraud prevention services. There are a couple of companies who have database products that are designed to catch these fraudulent transactions.

I'm biased, but I think the term "mortgage fraud" should only extend to the scams by folks in the mortgage industry. When the lenders get ripped off because they loan too much on a property on a sale to a straw buyer, that's "property flipping".

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

State Farm buys a Billion Dollar Insurance Policy for $50 Million
A wimpy settlement with state Attorneys General whitewashes 40,000 rebuilt wrecks

State Farm has entered into a settlement agreement with the state Attorneys General that may cost them $50 million. That's chicken feed for State Farm, a company that (for whatever reason) insures one out of five cars in this country. Even though it was caught laundering the title of rebuilt wrecks in Indiana in 1998, the practice apparently continued for another 6 years, affecting perhaps 40,000, and maybe more vehicles.

The most outspoken consumer advocate on this issue is a Kansas City attorney named Bernard Brown. I met Mr. Brown at a National Consumer Law Convention about a decade ago. He is an outstanding lawyer. In fact, if I had my pick of any consumer lawyer in the USA, my choice would probably be either Bernard Brown or Laura McDowall of Akron Ohio. But I digress. Attorney Brown is quoted below with some of the problems with the Attorneys General settlement. Here are some highlights:

--If the vehicle is in a junkyard, no one will get any money.

--If a consumer bought one of the vehicles, had trouble with it and sold or junked it, he or she would get nothing.

--Consumers who got rid of their cars would not even be notified that they had been driving a totaled vehicle.

Consumers will be paid based upon a percentage of the current estimated values of the aging vehicles – not the higher purchase prices that the owners paid, as laws in most states provide in such settlements. For example, State Farm will pay $1,400 to the owner of car with a book value of $6,000.

The settlement doesn't provide any money for anyone who might have been injured by one of the totaled vehicles. Neither State Farm nor the state attorneys general could say how many vehicles were involved in accidents after State Farm resold them, or how many people might have been injured.

The company could determine the number of injuries, using the same motor vehicle identification numbers it is using to track down the most recent owners. But the attorneys general signed the settlement without asking the company to provide that information.

As for State Farm, the settlement protects it against any additional actions by the attorneys general, the enforcers of their states' consumer fraud laws.

The settlement also goes a long way toward protecting the company against class-action lawsuits: To get the settlement money, consumers first must agree not to sue State Farm.
STLtoday - News - Illinois State News

If you are a consumer who receives an offer anywhere near the $1300 average for your rebuilt wreck, you should strongly consider turning down the offer, or at least don't accept it until you've had a thorough independent inspection of your vehicle. If you have any doubts, contact an attorney referred through the National Association of Consumer Advocates (

A second news story on the topic is below:

Martha Martha Martha, why is it always about Martha?

A class action suit was filed against Martha Stewart living for allegedly producing for KMart a line of cups that are labeled "microwave safe" but actually heat up to dangerous temperatures when placed in a microwave oven.

You can't help but kick an old lady when she's down, huh?


Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Another Walmart Union Certified in Canada, Walmart CEO invited to Pajama Party & More

A site called keeps good track of community efforts to put checks on that steamroller called Walmart. Here's one of the most interesting things posted:

It's not exactly like inviting a clown to your next children's party, but there are some similarities. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott has been invited to attend a kid's Pajama Party in Pittsfield, Michigan, where the retailer faces a battle over its store location. The invitation was extended by Pittsfield Community First, which issued the following press release: “A lot of parents are losing sleep over the prospect of a Wal-Mart supercenter being built right across from the elementary and high schools so we decided to have some fun with it,”

Sprawl-Busters ~ Newsflash Database

Rats are Leaving the Sinking Ship at Mitsubishi

Even though Mitsubishi Heavy Industries promised a capital inflow to Mitsubishi Motors, that's not stopping the rats from leaving the sinking ship as now top executives are abandoning the company. The way Mitsubishi is generating red ink, you'd think they'd be using Delta Airlines as a role model.

Yesterday I saw a Montero commercial where a young couple is in an otherwise deserted Mitsubishi dealership (at least they got that part right), and the hubbie is trying to talk his wife into a Montero. He talks about how safe it is. How it's the best backed car, with a great warranty. . . Tell that to all the folks who bought Daewoos a few years ago.

Sales were off 40% in December 2004 compared to December 2003, and sales in December 2003 weren't very good.

Mac Mini - First In-Depth Review (from has published the first in-depth review that I've seen on Apple's new Mac Mini. One of the design choices that I find interesting is that the primary video display connector is a DVI port. It attaches to a more-common VGA monitor via an adaptor. The DVI is used on about half of the LCD computer monitors out there, but it is also used on HD Televisions. It is pretty clear that Steve Jobs considers the Mini to be a sleeker, better-performing alternative to WEB-TV. Just stick it next to your big screen television. Buy the blue-tooth card (with a wireless keyboard & mouse), and you can surf the web and edit your family photos from the comfort of your couch.

Still, the entry level price of $499 is a bit deceptive, especially since, as Anandtech points out, the built-in $256 meg of RAM is plainly inadequate. A fully optioned system, with monitor, keyboard etc, costs about $1200, and that's getting in the same ballpark as the G5 iMac.

I think the Mac Mini is about a generation away from being a killer computer. If the next version ships with a faster video card, 512 Meg RAM, a faster hard drive, and an SD memory slot, it could be just the ticket. Right now, though I think most folks would be happier with an iBook, an iMac or even the eMac.

AnandTech: Apple's Mac mini - Tempting PC Users Everywhere

Friday, January 21, 2005

Ford Earns $3.9 Billion

Ford earned $3.9 billion in net profits in 2004. Of this, $2.9 billion came from financing operations. North American car & truck operations earned $1.9 billion.

Overall, it appears that Ford's recovery is well underway. The $2.9 billion in earnings will make up over half of the $6.4 billion in losses ford suffered in 2001 and 2002. Ford's pipeline of upcoming models is better than it has been in years, and some of the most recent models have yet to make their impact.

Legacy costs seem to be hurting Ford just like General Motors, but not to the same degree.

Ford's full-year profit up sevenfold from '03
Texas Dept. of Insurance Credit Scoring Study

At the request of the Texas legislature, the Texas Department of Insurance has compiled a study of credit scores as a predictor of insurance claims risk. The study concluded that credit scores correlate highly with claims risk. The use of credit scores to set insurance rates is controversial on at least two grounds. (1) Credit scores also correlate with race. (2) Low credit scores, a symptom of poverty, can result in effective uninsurability, and that doubles the burden of poverty.

I haven't studied this in great detail, but it seems like in the past few years, most legislatures have reacted to the increased use of credit scoring in insurance underwriting by allowing credit scores to be used as a factor when it can be shown to be a risk predictor, but limiting the weight that can be given to the credit scores either in the decision to underwrite, in setting the premiums, or both. This is an intelligent approach in my opinion.

TDI - Credit Scoring Study Synopsis
Automakers to give employees profit sharing checks.

Not big money, but worth cashing.

Automakers to pay more profit shares: "American Axle Manufacturing & Holdings Inc."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

How much does a house cost?

The table linked below on Coldwell Banker's annual Home Price Comparison Index (HPCI) shows how much a 2200 sq. ft 4 br 2 1/2 bath house costs in most of the major metropolitan areas of the US as of 2004. The differences are astounding. As a union with members scattered across the country, we should keep an eye on data like this as we make our decisions at contract time etc.

For example, in my area, Indianapolis, housing costs are well below average at $189,488, significantly below our neighbor, Cincinnati at $234,167. Minneapolis tips in at $354,175. Michael Moore may make a career out of describing how depressed Flint, Michigan is, but it doesn't show up when it's comparable home price is $237,466. Detroit metro is $282,480.

You better break out your millionaire checkbook if you want a 2200 sq. ft. house in Boston Mass, because it'll cost you a whopping $1,053,594. Honolulu HI is a comparative bargain at $614,750.

On this list, the lowest priced city in California is Fresno at $305,000. If you are buying a 2,200 sq. ft house in La Jolla, you better take some oxygen to the closing table to use when you write out that check for $1,708,333. But if you are lucky at playing California real estate arbitrage, maybe with a year's profits, you can buy outright a retirement house in Arlington Texas for $134,550.

CNN/Money: Most expensive housing markets

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Chevrolet HHR Pictures & Comments

Here are some good pictures of the HHR concept vehicle from Automobile magazine. The interior is handsome, but I still think the vehicle will be a flop. Here's why: It's too heavy. Chevy has not (to my knowledge) published the weight of the HHR, but it has to be heavy. The Dodge Neon weighs about 2700 lbs. The PT Cruiser based upon the Neon weighs 3100-3200 lbs, about the same as a Stratus. PT Cruiser owners report worse performance and fuel economy than the Stratus, probably because of poor aerodynamics. The HHR will probably have the same problems but even more so. The GM Delta platform is heavy, the base weight for a Chevrolet Cobalt appears to be about 2800, and an all-options version comes in at about 3100 lbs. If the HHR is 500 lbs heavier, you're looking at a curb weight of around 3600 lbs, or about the same as a Buick LaSabre, a short-wheelbase Chevrolet Venture or midsized Equinox SUV. The most powerful engine planned for the HHR is the 170 hp Ecotech four cylinder. Torque figures for the 170 hp engine arent' available, but I'm guessing it's around 150 This is about 25% shy of the 200 available in the base engines for both the Venture and the LaSabre. The bottom line is that the HHR will probably feel wheezy and underpowered. The HHR will probably have inferior performance and fuel economy to its showroom sibling, the Equinox.

2006 Chevrolet HHR - Automobile Magazine
Next Gen Honda Civic to be Unveiled in Chicago

Honda had announced that its eighth-generation Civic will be unveiled at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show on February 12th. Like usual, Honda has kept a firm lid on the looks an specs of the 2006 Civic. The current generation Civic has been criticized for being too soft and too boring.

Here's an excerpt from a news story published at, apparently from a press release:

The Civic, the eighth-generation of the popular small car, goes on sale in the fall, said Takeo Fukui, president and CEO of Honda Motor Co.

The new Civic will be offered with two, three, four and five doors and will be produced at Honda's six regional operations around the globe. In the US, the Civic will be equipped with all of the same standard safety features, including side curtain airbags and antilock brakes, as the current Accord.

Fukui said the Civic will come with four new global powerplants in its first year — an industry first. They include a higher fuel economy, lower-emission gasoline engine, a compressed natural gas engine that is made in Ohio, a gas-electric hybrid with significantly higher fuel economy and performance and, for Europe, a diesel engine.

The spy shot included with the Edmunds article, supposedly a shot of the European 2-door hatchback version, looks a lot like the old Renault Fuego.

Inside Line: 2006 Honda Civic set to debut at Chicago Auto Show -
In Car News: The President gets a new Cadillac and the Pope tries to score some Formula 1 tickets. reports today that the Presidential innauguration will feature the debut of a new Cadillac presidential limo.

More disturbingly to a Catholic like me, it reports that the Pope granted an audience to the Ferrari Formula One team. What's so bad about that? Here's what the Pope said:

"My compliments to you for the victory in the recent world championship,'' the AP reports. "The Church considers sporting activity, practiced in full respect of the rules, a valid educational instrument for the younger generations.''

Ferrari's primary sponsor is Marlboro cigarettes. It bugs me that the Pope publicly proclaims that a team that promotes the single largest cause of avoidable deaths is "a valid educational instrument for the younger generations." Maybe the Pope should get out more and perform last rights on a guy who's smoking through his trach. We've had to do home wills for folks like this, and let me tell you, it ain't pretty.

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]
AirBus unveiled its A-380 Super Jumbo - but don't believe everything you read

AirBus unveiled its A-380 superjumbo airliner today. At the ceremony, Richard Branson of Virgin airlines boasted how, instead of packing in 550 passengers like sardines, his airline would include such amenities as bars and double beds. He said: " . . . you'll have at least two ways of getting lucky on our flights."

All kidding aside, history tells us that all the talk of bars and lounges and beds will vanish once the planes are in mainstream service. There were similar announcements at the beginning of the Boeing 747's service. The bars and lounges didn't last long though. Even if the bars, gyms and lounges make their way to regular A-380 service, you can expect that for all practical purposes, they will be First-class only. Would you want to pay $100 to work out on a Virgin A-380? - Branson boasts of mile-high pleasures on Airbus superjumbos

Monday, January 17, 2005

AutoWeek - The Auto Enthusiast's Online Resource

Autoweek quotes GM Vice-Chairman Robert Lutz on the topic of whether the retro-styled HHR throwback mini-ute is too limited in maret and too late to the party to be successful:

"I swear to God some of your colleagues just don't understand this business, which doesn't prevent their busy fingers from moving over the keyboard. Read my lips, the HHR will be sensationally successful. I don't apologize for it."

"Read my lips?" Hmmm, didn't George H.W. Bush say "Read my lips, no new taxes" right before he raised taxes? Sorry, Bob, the HHR has loser written all over it.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

JVC Everio

The first mass market hard-drive based camcorder has been introduced. It blurs the lines even further between a camcorder and a digital camera. The $1000 JVC Everio's main recording medium is a 4 GB microdrive, a removable hard drive. You can record 2.1 mpixel stills or video to the microdrive or a removable SD memory card.

Given that you can buy an iPod Mini with a similar microdrive for under $300, it looks like camcorders like the JVC Everio are poised for a rapid introduction and a rapid price drop. Still, if SD memory cards continue their recent price plunge, I think it's plausable that consumer imaging will skip the hard drive phase altogether. Based on Moore's law, 18 months from now, a 2 GB SD memory card will cost about $60.00 and will give about 40 minutes of high resolution video. Four gigabyte cards will be available at a little over $100.00. With no moving parts, camcorders using solid state memory can be as small and light as current snapshot digital cameras.

Based on the review below, the Everio appears to be a transitional product geared toward early adopters. You would be better servedby buying a $300 4-5 Mpixel camera and a $350 minidv camcorder

Tom's Hardware Guide Video: JVC Everio GZ-MC200: An Hour of DVD with No Cassette! - Introduction

Friday, January 14, 2005

Saudis get lashings for protesting

It's nice to know we're defending these folks.

Welcome to! : Words
Did someone hijack Schnappi (snappy)?

This isn't the Schnappi das Kleine Krokodil that I heard the first time.

(warning, language)

Schnappi das kleine Krokodil | powered by Free Subdomains
The Nation | Article | Single-Payer: Good for Business | Morton Mintz
The Business Advantages of Single Payer Insurance

Here's a link to The Nation article mentioned in the last post.

The Nation | Article | Single-Payer: Good for Business | Morton Mintz
GM Profits down - Healthcare Costs up - by $1 BILLION

GM just announced that its profits will be down in the coming year. Some highlights: Profits from North American automobile manufacturing: $500 million. Healthcare costs: $5.5 BILLION, up $1 BILLION from last year. In other words, the cost of healthcare for GM rose by twice the total amount of its automaking profits (at least North American profits).

GM, as a matter of corporate policy has run hot & cold on the subject of a single payer healthcare system for the United States. According to an article from The Nation, that I read in the Public Citizen Health Letter, Daimler Chrysler is a public supporter of a single payer health plan.

In essence, the injustice is that our manufacturers, while facing stiff global competition, are subsidizing the healthcare of all of the family members of their employees. The beneficiary of these subsidies are free riders like Walmart that employ the spouses and children of the autoworkers and provide little if any heathcare coverage.

In other GM Earning news, GM disclosed that it expects to make $2.5 billion with its finance arm. How can it do that and sell cars at 0% interest? The quick answer is that when GM dealers sell a car at 0% interest, the automotive arm pays to the finance arm an amount meant to offset the market interest.

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Indiana Gov. Daniels to cut Medicaid.

On day 2 of his term, Governor Mitch Daniels unilaterally shut down public employee unions. On Day 3, it's reported that he's going to seek cuts in the Medicaid system that provides health care to the poor and the disabled.

Daniels will seek cuts in Medicaid

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

New Indiana Governor Daniels K-O's State Employee Union

Immediately upon taking office, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (a former Bush aide) busted the union contract of 25,000 state employees.

Gov. Daniels was elected with the support of thousands of Hoosier union members. Way to vote there guys.

Daniels ends union pacts for 25,000

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Introducing the Mac Mini

The Detroit Auto Show isn't the only tradeshow that's happening right now. The MacWorld conference is going on right now. Steve Jobs just delivered his keynote address. The big product intros, as expected, were the flash ipod and the "headless" mac which is called the Mac Mini. The Mac Mini is impressive - a 6.5 inch square foot print, only two inches tall, 1.25 or 1.4Mhz G4 processor, combo drive 40 or 80mb hard drive, and, a full set of ports to connect to your pc keyboard, monitor, etc., and most importantly, a $499 or $599 price tag. Throw in an updated iLife software suite, and this looks like another killer mac.

Steve Jobs has delivered again. What drives me crazy is that Apple has this knack for shipping its breakout products just after the Christmas or the back to school buying season. Same-o sameo.

Apple - Mac mini
David on David:

Here's the official link to everything Hass

Do the Germans miss David Hasselhoff?

This song, recorded by a 4 year-old girl, about Snappy the Crocodile, is the #1 song in Germany right now.

Monday, January 10, 2005

2006 Chevrolet HHR

Chevrolet calls this vehicle the HHR for "Heritage High Roof". It's styled after the 1949 Suburban, but built on the compact platform shared by the Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion.

I call this model "inventory" because I predict that it will sit on dealers' lots even longer than Chevy's retro-styled truck, the SSR. The last time I checked, the SSR had one of the highest "days inventory" of any vehicle.

The HHR was clearly planned during the heyday of the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Now Chrysler is struggling to keep the PT Cruiser viable, and it looks like Chevrolet is late to a party that's already ending.

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]
GM's Sequel Concept Vehicle - a practical Fuel Cell SUV?

GM has taken the wraps off a significant new concept vehicle. The Sequel is a crossover suv that runs on a hydrodgen fuel cell. GM reports a 300 mile range and 0-60 in about 10 seconds, both are practicality milestones that had not been reached in anything close to a practical car type fuel cell prototype.

The Sequel gets its name from being the sequel to the HyWire concept from a few years back. I wrote about that concept when it came out. The HyWire was distinctive because all of its mechanicals were based in a platform about a foot high, and the HyWire could be covered by different body styles depending upon the needs of the amarket. The Sequel takes the same approach. The mechanicals are in a module 11 inches high.

The Sequel is not cost-competitive with conventional cars in its current form, but it is conceivable that by 2010, the Sequel's sequel could show up in Cadillac showrooms as a niche vehicle.

Automotive News
More Detroit Auto Show Previews

2005 North American International Auto Show - Detroit
2006 Lincoln Zephyr

Next fall, Ford rolls out the 2006 Lincoln Zephyr midsize sedan. This model is built on the same platform as the upcoming Ford Fusion (think Taurus replacement). From the early pictures, it looks every bit a Lincoln. It looks handsome and upscae. It remains to be seen if another Ford model will be crippled by the lack of a competent V-6 engine bigger than 3.0 liters. Ford planned to have a new 3.5 liter engine available at launch, but the 3.5 has been delayed.

The delayed engine, combined with delays in the Ford-GM 6-speed transmission program really show in Ford's current and upcoming products. The Ford 500 and Freestyle are modern designs saddled with an engine that is short on torque for vehicles of their size. Ford has to buy the transmissions from outside suppliers because the in-house transmissions were not ready on time.

Ironically, in 1999 Ford was on a roll with its trucks and SUVs. At that time, it seriously considered buying Nissan. Nissan was struggling with a product line in serious need of updating. Ford declined to buy Nissan, reportedly due to underfunded pension obligations in Japan. Renault came in as Nissan's saviour, and Nissan's new product pipelines soon bore fruit with a great 3.5 liter V-6, a modern midsized platform that became the current Altima, Maxima, Murano and Quest minivan, an updated midsized pick-up and a brand new full-sized pick up. Of all the Nissan product introductions, the only one that Ford matched was the full-sized pick-up. Ford is at least 5 years behind where it should be on midsized sedans and, even more importantly, on new engines.

Zephyr aims to revive Lincoln's luxurious past - 01/10/05
2006 Saturn Aura

Saturn has used the Detroit Auto Show to preview its upcoming midsized car, the Saturn Aura. This car replaces the underachieving "L" series. Saturn discontinued the L series early, ceasing manufacturing in June, but leftovers will probably remain on dealer lots for the remainder of 2005. Saturn is getting the biggest top-to-bottom makeover of all the GM divisions, and well it should, sales were off 21% last year.

Even with the new Relay minivan, the sporty sky, and the new Aura, I predict that Saturn will have a hard time turning around its sales. The Chevrolet Cobalt compact, built on the same platform as the ION, blows the Ion away in terms of perceived quality, for the same price. The Aura, with a 3.6 twincam engine and a new six-speed automatic gearbox, as well as a deluxe interior, may be too pricey to generate high market share in a tough market.

I think GM should have merged Saturn and Oldsmobile a decade ago. What we are seeing now is the result of too many model programs for too long. GM is making some headway, but it's going to be tough.

Automotive News

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Wikipedia - the world's most up-to-date encyclopedia

I can remember as a kid having an encyclopedia at home that we bought second hand from a relative. Even though it was five years out of date when we got it, and a decade and a half out of date when I went to college, it was still useful, but the march of time made some listings seem irrelevant or perhaps even deceptively wrong.

The free collaberative encyclopedia on line, the wikipedia, is marvelously up to date. I looked up Aceh, the northern province of Sumatra that has been devastated by the December 26, 2004 tsunami, and lo and behold, less than two weeks after the disaster, the effects of the tsunami are well-incorporated into the listing. Kudos Kudos Kudos.

Aceh - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Walt Disney negotiating style:

Check out this article from the site about Disney's negotiating style.

In a 1990 negotiation between Jim Henson & Jeffery Katzenberg, the Disney VP, Katzenberg (allegedly) said:

"The Mouse works a lot like the Mossad (the infamous Israeli Intelligence Agency). For every one of our guys that you get, we take out five of yours. Fair doesn't factor into the equation, Jim."

Indianapolis Auto Show Impressions

Last week I went to the Indianapolis Auto Show. I didnt' get to see as much as I would have like, sheparding 3 kids but here are some general impressions, especally relevant to those of us whose living is tied directly or indirectly to the "Big 3" automakers.

1. The Chevrolet Cobalt is much improved over the Chevrolet Cavalier. The interior was head and shoulders above the Cavalier. It is also head & shoulders better than the Saturn Ion, whith which it shares the same platform. Whether it is good enough to take on the Civic and Corolla, only time will tell.

2. The Chrysler 300 is the real deal. I don't see how Lincoln Mercury can charge 10k more for the otherwise fine Lincoln LS in V-6 and V-8 trim.

3. The GM minivans, Chevrolet Uplander, Saturn Relay, Buick Terraza, have an improved feeling to their interior, but they also appear to have gained weight and become bloated with their quasi-SUV styling. Toyota, Honda, and Daimler Chrysler are all still well-ahead, and most of the sales of the GM vans will go to GM employees & die-hards plus rental fleets. In other words, expect high rebates and low resale values.

4. The 2005 Ford Mustang - is nice looking inside and out. Below is a review of the convertible:

The Car Connection [ The Web's Automotive Authority ]

5. The Buick LaCrosse: I haven't made my mind up about this car. I'll have to drive it.

6. Custom Vans are primed for a comeback. The kids fell all over the Explorer custom vans. First class seats, 20 inch LCD television with DVD and Surround Sound. For the price and fuel economy of a full-sized SUV like the Ford Expedition, you get much more luxury in all seating positions.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Mortgage Fraud Blog

An attorney named Rachel Dollar seems to have put a lot of work into this mortgage fraud blog. Needless to say, her bio says she works for creditors.

Mortgage Fraud Blog sponsored by Dollar & Graves LLP
Box Score: Capital One - Customer Zero
How Capital One could be undermining your credit score

It seems like the companies that market the most to customers with blemished credit go out of their way to undermine credit scores. Capital One has admitted that it makes a practice not to disclose credit limits to the credit bureaus. To make a long story short, this results in a reduction of the credit scores for the Capital One customers because the credit bureaus and credit scoring companies then have to use a proxy to determine percentage of credit used, a key component of credit scoring systems.

The less alternative credit available - the more onerous terms that Capital One can extract.

Credit Card Limits Often Unreported (