Thursday, January 31, 2008

Youtube Video Of the Day
Chrysler K-Car Pushme Pullyou

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Is THIS the Face of Jesus?

I heard a radio commercial this morning that the play Jesus Christ Superstar is coming to Indianapolis, with actor Ted Neeley reprising the role of Jesus. I've got nothing against Jesus Christ Superstar. I've enjoyed it since I was 12, and I'm 46 now. I've got nothing against Ted Neeley, he was wonderful in the movie version of JCS. Here's the thing: Ted, you're 63 years old! Give it a rest, man. Part of the tragedy of Jesus was that he died before his natural time. The Passion of Christ loses its power if when he dies people say, "it's a shame, but he was bound to go soon anyway."

If you go to the play, here's a tip: buy tickets in the back, way back, and enjoy the show.

Photo credit:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Buyout Time at Chrysler again
Almost all Michigan Workers to get $100,000 offers

Chrysler announced that it is offering $100,000 buyout to all of its Michigan assembly workers who have at least 1 year seniority. Chrysler will offer the buyout to about 14,000 wokers with a goal of cutting 10,000 unionized workers. Also, about 4,600 workers will be getting early retirement offers. Chrysler spins this as being the implementation of the buyout plan announced with the new UAW contract in November. Source: Reuters

Monday, January 28, 2008

Tesla Uncoiled

The press embargo has been lifted on driving reports on the Tesla Roadster electric sportscar. Most of the auto-websites have reports. Here's a link to the Autoweek coverage. The insert is the Autoblog Green coverage via

I've held back in commenting on the Tesla over the past year, not wanting to waste time on a car that could end up being vaporware. It's highly possible that the first owners may actually take delivery of their steeds in the (now) promised March/April time frame. The car even passed its crash test. It's a cool car, and I'll take one if they want to give me one.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ford Cuts Quarterly Loss in Half
Also to Offer Buyouts to ALL UAW Workers
Product line could use an Ecoboost

Ford Motor Company announced that its 4th quarter loss for 2007 was $2.75 billion, much less than the $5.63 billion in 2006. Ford predicted continued losses in 2008 with a return to profitability in 2009.

Ford also announced that it was going to offer buyouts to its remaining 54,000 United Auto Workers employees. It is unknown (after previous buy-outs) how many of the workers would be likely to accept the buyouts. Many of the workers would be replaced by new, lower-paid workers under the two-tier contract that Ford negotiated with the UAW last fall.

Primary Source: Routers

One technology that Ford is counting on to help it with the turnaround is the new EcoBoost engine family. EcoBoost is a new family of twin-turbo-charged, direct-injection gasoline engines. The EcoBoost engine is set to debut on the Lincoln MKS sedan in 2009. The new engines are touted as being clean, efficient and powerful. Ford claims 275 horsepower for the2.0 liter version. This is 75 more than Volkswagen/Audi's current 2.0 liter turbo-di engine, one of Ward Automotive's 10 Best Engines. Ford plans to couple these transmissions with a computer-shifted manual transmission (similar to Volkswagen's DSG) for economy gains exceeding 20%. Ford is planning on installing the Ecoboost engine in 500,000 cars per year by 2012. (For background information on gasoline direct injection, click this link to the Wikipedia article on the subject.)

It will be interesting to see if Ford's new engines are docile enough, durable enough and reliable enough from the get go to make tech-phobic Ford-owners happy. Historically, many people have refused to buy turbocharged cars for fear that a turbo failure will ruin the entire engine. It should be noted that the ecoboost design relies not on one, but two turbos. Secondly, turbochargers tend to increase an engine's optimal octane requirement. That's a natural byproduct of the turbo's purpose of cramming more air into less space. The higher pressure causes engine knocking. Octane is an indirect measurement of a fuel's resistance to knocking. If Ford says the horsepower ratings that it has published are based upon regular fuel, then in theory, with higher octane fuel, or even e-85 or methanol, hotrodders should have a field-day with these engines, perhaps even doubling their output.

Here's a Youtube Video of Ford's technical presentation on the Ecoboost engine.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Fred Thompson Pulls Out of Race

Republican candidate Fred Thompson announced yesterday that he was pulling out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Now, all his hard work pursuing the nomination has all come to naught. There's 4 hours that he'll never see again.

Friday, January 18, 2008

GM to Offer Buyouts to Most Hourly WorkersAccording to the Detroit News, General Motors is putting together a plan to offer buyouts to most of its 72,000 hourly workers. Included in the plan is an early-retirement offer to 46,000 workers. Some of these workers would be replaced with new, lower-paid workers under the two-tier wage system that was installed under the new UAW contract last fall. Nevertheless, the final outcome could be a larger net loss than the 36,000 worker buyout that GM undertook in 2005.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The VW Minivan Gets a Name

According to, the upcoming VW minivan, a reskinned Dodge Grand Caravan, now has a name. THe name is Rotten. I mean Rotund. I mean Routan. Yeah, the last one.

Okay, quick, what's the name of the thing? I didn't think you'd remember. Apparently Volkswagen found a product name genius that couldn't hold a job at Lincoln by coming up with names at least as good as MKT or MKX.

Still no pics yet. Smart money bets that they keep the Chrysler powertrains. It's cheaper that way.

Monday, January 14, 2008

From the "You Can't Make This Stuff Up" File:
Fake Jessica Simpson Rattles Romo

The New York Post planted a fake Jessica Simpson in the third row for the Dallas Cowboys/New York Giants game. The hope was that seeing Simpson would rattle Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, Simpson's boyfriend, into having a bad game.

The plan may have worked, because the underdog Giants defeated the Cowboys 21-17, thanks in part to a late interception thrown by Romo.

(I refuse to make any quips about "fake" Jessica Simpson being redundant. It's just not going to happen.)

Photo and Story - via ABC NEWS at this link.
Chrysler is Bullish on the Detroit Auto Show

To show off it's restyled Dodge Ram pick-up, Chrysler drove a herd of cattle through downtown Detroit. Apparently there's 10% more bullsh** at the autoshow this year than last.
Where Do the Candidates Get their Health Insurance?

Reporter Julie Rovner of NPR had a great story this morning. She asked the presidential candidates where they got their health insurance. The answers highlighted the weakness of the standard Republican position that private insurance companies will solve America's health care financing problem. None of the major candidates disclosed that he/she received health insurance through individual plans.

The candidates who are sitting congressional representatives get health insurance through the FEHC plan, the standard plan for governmental employees. John Edwards indicated that he and his wife (who has cancer) are covered under an employer's plan as employees of his presidential campaign. John McCain indicated that he is covered under FEHC as a senator, under VA as a veteran, Medicare due to his age, and on a supplemental basis, under his wife's plan. I don't know that anybody pointed out to him, that coordinating benefits between multiple payers is a big source of the overhead that cripples the American system. McCain is covered by three separate Federal government systems and one private (presumably) group policy, there's not an individual plan in there.

Romney, Huckabee, Thompson and Giuliani either declined to state where their coverage came from or did not respond to NPR's repeated inquiries. All are in favor of increased reliance on private individual policies. Giuliani and Thompson have each survived bouts with cancer, and they would likely be uninsurable on an individual basis.

That leads me back to Edwards. Of all the candidates still in the race, except for Dennis Kucinich, Edwards' healthcare plan has the clearest path to universal coverage. Still, after not winning any of the first three primaries, there's pressure on Edwards to quit the race. It appears that if he quit the race and folded his campaign, his wife would then be uninsured and uninsurable. Perhaps a couple million of the Edwards' money would have to go to pay for her cancer treatment. Maybe it's better to stay in the race a bit longer . . .

Friday, January 11, 2008

Is Chrysler/Getrag DSG DOA?
Work Halted on Dual Clutch Transmission Site

For a couple years, Chrysler's pitch has been that its products will be more competitive when they get a new generation of V-6 engines, the Phoenix engine, and a new dual-clutch automatic transmission. Volkswagen/Audi already has a version of a dual-clutch transmission which was engineered with Borg Warner, the VW trans is called the DSG, and it's supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. I've written about it before here. In 2006 Chrysler announced a partnership with German transmission maker Getrag for a new dual clutch transmission to be built in a brand new Getrag plant in Tipton, Indiana, not far from Chrysler's transmission plants in Kokomo.

Now word comes from Tipton that work on the Getrag plant has been indefinitely halted. The site has been prepared, the foundation has be laid, and work on the main structure has started, but the plant won't meet its targeted 2009 start-date unless work resumes soon. Apparently, Getrag agreed to build the plant under assurances of a certain number of transmission orders at a certain price from Chrysler. With recent cutbacks in models and production schedules by Chrysler, Getrag no longer believes it has adequate assurances from Chrysler of enough orders to run the plant profitably. According to the Kokomo Tribune, Getrag officials will soon be meeting with Chrysler officials to work out their differences.

It wouldn't be the first time that a new transmission joint venture failed due to lagging demand. A few years ago, Ford had high hopes for a new CVT transmission that it developed with ZF. Together they built a new plant at Batavia, Ohio to build the transmission. The transmission actually did what it was supposed to do, it gave the Ford 500 and Ford Freestyle's 3.0 liter engine the performance of a 3.5 liter, with better fuel economy than a traditional transmission. Many customers didn't like the high-reving nature of the transmission, and production was cut back. Ford had to buy out its partner when orders weren't forthcoming, and last year, Ford shut down the factory completely as the new Taurus and Taurus X don't use the CVT transmission. In a recent Consumer Reports test, the new Taurus delivered inferior fuel economy as compared to the CVT equipped Five Hundred, yet the Taurus, with a bigger 3.5 liter engine and advanced 6-speed automatic transmission did not deliver a correspondingly higher increase in performance.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

$2,500 Automobile is Coming
And Al Gore must be Pissed

What will $5,000 buy these days? A pair of Tatas, Tata automobiles that is. India's Tata Motors will soon introduce a car designed for India's growing middle class that is intended to seat four and sell for about $2,500.00. The New York Times (free registration required) has posted the most detailed story on the new "peoples' car". For $2,500 there's a lot you don't get. There's no radio. There's only one windshield wiper. The car only has a 600cc, 35-horsepower engine, and it isn't designed for sustained speeds over 45 mph.

Right now, India only has 8 cars for every 1000 people. An affordable car targeted at India's growing middle class could result in an explosion in the number of vehicles on the (already congested) roads. India isn't known for enforcing current emission laws, and even though Tata claims the new care will be among the cleanest emissions in the world, the cars will probably get dirtier as they age. The new Tata will likely be exported all over the developing world.

Although he hasn't commented on it, it's likely that Al Gore is not happy about all of this. Every new car added in a 2nd or 3rd world country adds to the carbon loading of the planet. Growth outside of the US can easily exceed U.S. consumers' ability and/or willingness to cut consumption. And yet, it's hard to criticize Indian consumers, when all they want is a fraction of the comforts that we take for granted.

There are lots of other players going for this same market, and combined they will be ready, willing and able to expand auto production in India by millions of units per year. The first is Bajaj, India's second largest motorcycle maker. Bajaj is teaming with Renault/Nissan to to build its own sub $3000 car. Ford announced plans to invest $875 million in a new assembly plant in India. (Where it will get the money is anybody's guess.) Finally, Volkswagen is planning on selling 110,000 more cars per year in India as well.

The next time you see an automaker brag about its plans to cut emissions of its vehicles by 20% over 20 years, ask them how many additional cars they expect to sell overseas. If they don't cut their emissions sufficiently to make up for product growth, then they aren't really serious about global warming. And yes, Toyota, I'm talking about you too.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Hyundai's Genesis Project

Hyundai will officially unveil its secret Genesis project this week at the Detroit Auto Show. Here's a video of it from

Actually, it could have more to do with a rear-wheel-drive luxury car.

The Genesis should go head-to-head with the Chrysler 300 series and Pontiac's new G8, a high-powered RWD sedan sourced from Holden in Australia. The competition never lets up in the auto business.
Paradigms are Shifting

As I look at topics upon which to post in this new year, I want to spotlight some stories of trends that will shape us in the coming year and beyond. The first story is about the demise of the V-8 engine.

V-8s are Endangered Species at Ford and GM.

Last week, General Motors announced that it was cancelling its plans for an advanced technology V-8 engine. The new V-8 was to replace the Northstar engine in Cadillacs and a few Buicks. This announcement was no doubt a disappointment for workers in the plant in Tonawanda, New York that was slated for $300 million in upgrades to build the new engine. From a technical standpoint, the decision is understandable. When George Bush signed the energy bill in December that called for higher corporate average fuel economy, it pretty much sealed the fate of V-8 engines for mainstream cars. The truth be told, there's not much need for eight-cylinder powerplants anymore in passenger cars. The direct-injection 3.6 liter V-6 in the Cadillac delivers 306 horsepower, just 14 less than the 320 horsepower the 4.6 liter Northstar V-6 lays down. It would be a simple matter to match the Northstar by either a cylinder displacement increase, higher octane fuel tuning (including E-85); and turbocharging or supercharging.

In fact, Ford just announced that it will soon be introducing a turbocharged, direct-injected version of its 3.5 liter V-6, called the Ecoboost, that delivers 340 horsepower, up from 265 in the non-turbocharged version. The new engine will be about as fuel efficient as the lower-powered engine. This new engine will be initially targeted at the Lincoln line.

V-8 engines will still be needed for trucks, and no doubt some performance cars will carry V-8 engines for years to come, but for high volume cars, it looks like the V-8 will soon be history.

Since the Northstar engine made its debut on the Cadillac Allante. I thought I'd include a link to something else that got its debut with the Cadillac Allante, the Bundy Bounce. (I couldn't find "The New . . . Kelly!" clip.)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Auto Sales Numbers are in
For December and 2007 has posted some sales numbers by automaker for December and for 2007 as a whole. As expected, the traditionally domestic automakers all posted losses. Most of the imports were up. Mazda, surprisingly, did the best with sales up 9.8% for the year. Ford was down almost 12%, but Ford-owned Jaguar took the overall honors for yearly plungitude. (I made up that word. Nice, isn't it.) Jaguar was down over 24%. I suspect ford can't wait to say "ta-ta" to Jaguar, sending it to Tata.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Dennis Kucinich and the UFOs

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article that provides details on presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich's UFO sighting. In a Democratic candidates' debate in October, Rep. Kucinich acknowledged having seen a UFO, however he declined to provide details.

The now Rupert Murdoch led Wall Street Journal included an interview with Paul Costanzo, an eye-witness who was with Kucinich that evening. At the time of the sighting, 25 years ago, Paul, Paul's girlfriend, and Dennis Kucinich, were staying at the residence of actress Shirley MacLaine in rural Washington State, in the shadow of Mount Rainier. Costanzo was MacLaine's assistant/personal trainer. The three witnesses saw some strange lights in the distance. They watched them through a telescope as they got closer, and they coalesced into three gray, triangular-shaped craft, each the size of a large van. They approached to about 200yards away, emitting a throbbing sound. They hovered for about a minute, then sped away.

Dennis Kucinich has been reluctant to talk about the sighting. I don't know whether he's afraid for voters to know that he saw a UFO or that he he once lived at Shirley MacLaine's house.

Personally, I'm glad for some quasi-political news other than bogus Iowa polls that don't agree with each other. I agree with many of Kucinich's policies. I agree that we should have single payer health coverage. I agree that every short, nerdy 60-year-old man should have a hot wife. I'm not really on board with the plan to build a full-scale model of Devil's Tower out of mashed potatoes, but I have to admit that Bush has had sillier ideas.