Friday, June 22, 2007

E-85 Bargain? Environmental Savior? ran a head-to-head test of E-85 ethanol and gasoline and came to some interesting conclusions. They drove a flex-fuel Chevrolet Tahoe from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back first on E-85 (85% ethanol) and then on conventional gasoline. The Tahoe averaged 18.3 mpg on the gasoline and 13.5 mpg on the E-85. The gasoline cost $3.42 per gallon, and the E-85 cost $3.09. In summary, it cost 22% more to drive the Tahoe on E-85 than on gasoline. When figuring carbon emissions, it was a statistical tie.

If, as some critics claim, there is more carbon dioxide emitted refining and delivering ethanol than gasoline, then gasoline is actually the cleaner fuel.

What about performance? The Tahoe was a half second quicker 0-60 on gasoline. In theory, the vehicle should be faster on the E-85 due to the higher octane in the E-85, the engine can run at a higher compression before knocking. However, to realize the benefits of the higher octane, the engine has to be tuned for it. Clearly the Tahoe is not tuned for optimal performance under E-85.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Delphi Deal Closer, Closer, Closer . ..

Yesterday, I reported that a deal between Delphi and the UAW could come very soon. the latest word is that the Union wants to have the deal in front of the members for a vote before the regular July 1 two-week shutdown.
Sicko Review Link

David Corn of The Nation gives Michael Moore's new film, Sicko, a thumbs up rating. Link is here. The film starts in selective release this Friday and opens nationally next Friday.

Three Rows, No Waiting

At a friend's request, I put together a comparison of three 3-row crossover SUVs that we can drive to work, the Ford Taurus X (formerly the Freestyle), the Chrysler Pacifica, and the Saturn Outlook. This time last year, there wasn't a single domestic 3-row crossover with a 250 (or more) horsepower engine, 6-speed automatic transmission and real world 20+ highway MPG, by summer's end (when the Ford is available), there will be 5 including the Outlook's sisters, the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia. Any of these would be a good replacement for a gas-guzzling full-sized SUV.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Delphi Settlement Pending?

It looks like the UAW may be getting ready to clear the deck in preparation of fall's bargaining season with the automakers. According to the Detroit News, there are only about 4,000 UAW workers left at Delphi. The reported deal would include cash-payouts for these workers in exchange for accepting lower hourly wages in the range of $14-18 per hour. This hourly range is higher than the figures that Delphi chief Steve (pomatus of bankruptcy) Miller tried to mandate at the outset of the bankruptcy.

More than 12,000 Delphi workers took a buyout last year; and most were replaced with new workers hired in at a "second tier" $14.00/hr. wage rate. General Motors has disclosed that it expects to absorb $7 billion in costs related to the Delphi plan. General Motors has taken an accounting charge for this cost.

If the deal goes through, it looks like all the parties involved can look back and said they did the best they could. The UAW fought a rear-guard action, preserving wages for its workers for the better part of 2 years, giving just about everybody a chunk of cash to at least partially make up for a diminished stream of wages. General Motors took a big hit but avoided a disasterous shutdown that would likely have meant the end of the company. Delphi itself will have a wage structure that makes it more competitive on the global scene.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Youtube video of the Day:
Man Jumps in Popemobile

I missed this clip when it first made the news over a week ago. A guy jumped in the open-topped popemobile in Italy, whereupon members of His Holiness's Secret Service wrestled the freerider to the ground and stwuk him wuffly. Apparently the penance for jumping in the Pope's car is five Hail Mary's and a can of whoopass. I don't know what the deal is with the techno music at the end of the clip.

What most people don't know is that one of the pope's aides asked the Pontiff questioned the use of the open-topped car that morning. He asked the Pope if he'd rather take the car with the bubbletop. in response, the Pope said, "no, let Bush take his own car."

Monday, June 18, 2007

2008 Cadillac STS
Autoweek gives it a Thumbs-up

Since I knock GM from time to time (no, really), I thought I'd balance things out with some praise. In its most-recent issue, Autoweek magazine checked out the updated 2008 Cadillac STS. In its previous go around, Autoweek and most other reviewers said the car was good, but maybe not good enough in the face of some really tough competition, in the over $40,000 luxury car market. For 2008, the STS gets its base 3.6 liter engine updated with direct gasoline injection, now yielding 302 horsepower, putting it in the same league as old applications of the top-of-the-line Northstar V-8, and also putting it right in the ballpark with highly rated v-6s from Toyota and BMW. The STS also gets the new GM 6-speed automatic transmission.

The combination of new engine, new transmission, and tweaks all-around makes the STS a car that Autoweek gave an unqualified positive review. Best of all, this 4,000 car with 6 second 0-60 times returned an overall mpg of 24 in the hands of Autoweek's lead-footed testers.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

FB3 (Formerly "Big 3") Shooting for 33% UAW Wage Reductions
Tough Times ahead for UAW Workers

UAW contracts with Chrysler, Ford and General Motors expire this fall. Though the automakers' situation didn't look good at the time of the last contract, now things look positively bleak. (Positively bleak? isn't that like "jumbo shrimp" or "the fashion store at Sears"?) Chrysler is in the process of being sold to a private equity fund, an equity fund that may have ideas of a piecemeal selloff. Ford has hocked all of its assets for working capital to survive two years. General Motors may be bankrupt on paper, has sold most of its marketable assets, and only has enough cash for two or three months if the income spigot gets shut down. Since the last contract, Toyota has become the largest automaker in the world, and may yet be #2 in the US. Passenger cars built by "transplant" automakers make up more than half of the market in the US. Near record gas prices threaten the truck market, the only profitable market niche remaining for the FB3.

News articles, including this one at the CNN Money site report that FB3 labor costs are $70-75 per hours vs. 40-45% per hour at the transplant factories. The manufacturers' goal in the forthcoming labor negotiations will be to reduce labor expenses by about a third to match the costs of the transplant firms.

As my fellow UAW-LSP lawyers are aware, the average autoworker doesn't have a third of his/her paycheck left when the next one comes. We're keeping plenty busy with bankruptcy cases, foreclosures and car repossessions as is. A rank & file autoworker may be inclined to think: "To hell with GM being bankrupt in a year without pay cuts, I won't last a month." UAW President, Ron Gettelfinger, will have his hands full trying to negotiate a contract that garners enough union member votes while still giving the automakers enough relief to make a difference. The one thing he has going for him is that buyouts over the last two years have resulted in the retirement of a lot of the crusty old hands that stood in the way of concessions in the past. The younger workers are more likely to realize that there are no other gravy train jobs out there if the FB3 go bust, and that $18/hr with health insurance is better than $7 and no health insurance at Walmart.

Where does all this put UAW Legal Services? It's too early to tell. The one thing we have going for us is that we are very cheap. On the other hand, we provide a benefit that most workers do without completely. Ultimately, Ron G and company know that when times are tough, that's when the legal services benefit is the most useful. Times are bound to be tough after the next contract, one way or another.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Arbitration

The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee is having a hearing today on arbitration in consumer contracts. There is finally some movement afoot to amend the Federal Arbitration Act to restrict its applicability in the consumer context. Leading the way for the good guys (the consumers and employees) is the very able Paul Bland of Public Justice (formerly Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.) Paul, Paul, he's our man, if he can't do it no one can.
Ford Solicits Jag Offer
Jaguar and Land Rover to be Sold Soon?

Apparently Ford is in discussion with private equity firms about selling Land Rover & Jaguar. I am at a loss to understand how any private equity firm could run these companies at a profit under any scenario. Take all of Ford's US problems, and multiply them by two, and you'll have some idea of the problems facing Ford's Premier Automotive Group. According to the Businessweek article linked, Ford claims Land Rover is making money due to strong sales of its high-line Range Rover Sport. Apparently there is a market for unsuitable vehicles aimed at those who find Hummers too practical.

I would be surprised to see Ford sell Volvo. Volvo engineering is at the heart of many Ford models, European, American, and other. We'll have to wait & see what happens.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Prius Sales Explode
Other Hybrids Languishing

According to
, in May, Toyota reported selling 24,000 examples of its Prius hybrid sedan. That figure is double last year's best month. Prius sales benefited from high gas prices, increased production and availablity, and Toyota's first ever incentives on this model, including a $219/month lease deal. At May's rate of sales, the Prius would be the 6th highest selling model in the United States.

Sales of other hybrids are not so good. Most are selling in low 4 figures per month. Honda announced that it is discontinuing its Accord hybrid.

It's beginning to look like hybrid buyers are looking for the whole, highly integrated package for total efficiency, rather than a tacked on BSA (belt/starter alternater) mild hybrid system.

The Prius is set for its next major redo in the fall of 2008 as a 2009 model. Toyota's target is better performance with a 20% efficiency gain. As I wrote years ago, the experience curve is crucial to viably producing hybrid cars. Toyota appears to be a generation ahead of everybody esle (sorry Ford), and Toyota's lead is widening.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Jumbo Schrempp Payoff for Chrysler Sale
Juergen Schrempp to receive $134 million from Cerburus Sale?

The Detroit Free Press reports that whatever happens to everybody else connected to Chrysler, former DCX CEO Jurgen Shrempp will come out just fine, thank you very much. He is set to receive 100 million Euros and some change in exchange for his stock options. That's equivalent to the 1340 times the annual $100,000 compensation of the "overpaid" UAW workers, and over 2000 times the annual salary of a typical UAW-LSP attorney. I hope he's paying German income tax rates on that money.

Thanks to Ken W. for the tip.

Friday, June 01, 2007

May Auto Sales - Mostly Good News

All those automakers whose sales rose in May take one step forward - Not so fast Ford.

Almost every automaker posted a year-over-year sales gain for May. Toyota was up 14%, GM almost posted a double digit gain with a rise of 9.6%. Chrysler rode strong Jeep sales to a 3.9% gain. Ford was a notable exception. Ford sales dropped 6.8%, led by a 12% sales drop in its F-150 truck line. More info is here.
NCTD Reviews 2008 Saturn Vue
Good but Overweight

The new Opel-based Saturn Vue is starting to make its way to dealerships, and the reviews are coming in. Like most recent General Motors products, the reviews are favorable, but there are some troubling trends. In particular, the XR AWD model they tested has a listed curb weight as 4325 lbs, about the same as a loaded Toyota Sienna minivan. (The Sienna has more room, more horsepower and gets better mileage. The Sienna is also available with all-wheel-drive, and even with 4 wheels doing the pushing should match the Vue in the performance and economy department.) The 2008 Vue is more than 500 lbs more than a similarly equipped 2007 Saturn Vue, and it's almost 600 lbs more than the larger 2007 Pontiac Torrent, which rides on stretched version of the Vue's previous platform. I haven't seen such weight creep since the Jeep Liberty replaced the old Cherokee.

The new Vue has GM's high feature 3.6 liter engine and the new 6-speed transmission, but weight and the new-for-2008 EPA rating formula keeps the MPG down to 16 city and 22 highway, and there probably will be no performance gains over the Honda V6 from the old model. The Vue competes directly with the Ford Edge, a vehicle with very similar dimensions, strengths and weaknesses.

Personally, I don't agree with the automakers' strategy to churn out hundreds of thousands of these crossovers and target them to the mainstream public. These crossovers don't really do anything that a 1000 lb. lighter sedan can do, and they get 20% worse mileage.

Finally take note: the previous Vue was built in Tennessee. The new one is built in Mexico, so the odds are it won't be on the plan-approved vehicles for driving to work.
True or False: You Can Unlock your Car with a Cellphone

Wouldn't it be great if you locked your keys in your car, if you could just call home on your cell, and have your spouse play his/her remote signal into the phone, and then via your phone unlock your car? Some people say this works. A video posted at supposedly proves it works.

No no no, says myth-debunking site Snopes insists that it's false. Read Snopes' take here.

Until I see it for myself, I'm inclined to believe snopes. The higher frequency that you transmit, the more bandwidth you use up. Cellphones have a low-pass filter that block out sounds above 4,000 Hertz. In addition, the analog to digital converter used to digitize the soud on your cellphone probably has a sampling rate below 10,000 hertz. The remote signal is transmitted in the RF, 300 megahertz band. According to the Nyquist-Shannon Sampling Therom, a an analog signal cannot be accurately replicated through digital sampling unless the sampling frequency is twice the signal bandwidth. Oops, my nerd is showing.

Here's a practical reason why this shouldn't work. If you can transmit the signal by cellphone, in theory, you can intercept and record the signal and use it to steal just about any car.