Friday, December 30, 2011

Congratulations Drew Brees

My fellow ex-Purdue Boilermaker, Drew Brees, broke the NFL's single season passing record this week -- a record that Dan Marino held for 27 years. I've got a passing record too, but in my family, we've agreed to stop talking about it.

Report From the Indianapolis Auto Show

My buddy Bill and I made our (almost) annual outing to the Indianapolis Auto Show this week. The Indianapolis show isn't one of the big press events like the Detroit, New York or Los Angeles shows; rather, it's more representative of the rank and file shows that show up everywhere else.

I was impressed that all of the product representatives that we spoke to seemed to know their stuff. That was far from the case just a few years ago. I have some other "seat of the pants" impressions of cars that I had only read about in on the web and in magazines.

The cars that were better than expected:

The Chevrolet Sonic was only available in hands-on form in the sedan version. This is the lowest end Chevrolet that is sold here, but quite honestly, the majority of Americans could use this vehicle as their only car with very little inconvenience. It is decently roomy for four, front and rear. In fact of the A&B sized cars at the show, the Chevrolet seemed to be the most roomy overall, with the Toyota IQ matching it in front seat room. The Sonic also has a decent trunk and a very respectable 138 horsepower turbo 1.4 liter engine. Chevrolet is selling Sonics as fast as the plant can churn them out. The hatchback Sonic has been dubbed Chevy's "Tater Tot" by loving fans.

The Volkswagen Passat - From pictures, this car was purely unexciting, a generic box with a so-so engine and a downgraded interior. In person, what stands out is how roomy this car is. It has by far the best rear seat legroom in the midsized segment and a good trunk to boot. This is the car I would want to rent for my family and its luggage. This is what Chevrolet should be selling as the Impala.

The Chrysler 200 - I can't believe I'm saying this. The Sebring had one of the worst interiors in the car industry. The redesigned 200 has one of the best in its price range. It is better looking in person than in photos.

The cars that were the most disappointing:

The Toyota Prius V. They built a bigger Prius, but they forgot to give it a comfortable rear seat. The hard rear seat was fit for a penalty box.

The Fiat 500. They didn't build this for me. If you are little, you might give this a try. Just don't try to get anybody in the back while there is someone in the front.

The Lincoln Everythings - All of the Lincolns were vastly overpriced compared to more appealing competitors of many makes. This makes me sad because it wasn't too long ago that Lincolns were my aspirational vehicles.

The Buick Verano: This new compact from Buick is built on the same platform a the Chevrolet Cruze. I really like the Cruze, and I thought I'd like the Buick even more. The problem is that the Chevrolet Cruz has a rear seat that is just big enough. The Buick seems to have a lot less legroom in the back. I think this is because of a thicker front seat. The Buick Regal seems to have the same problem. The Lacrosse is great in the back. The trunk is pretty iffy in the 4-cylinder model with the eAssist helper motor though.

Most improved player: that would be Chrysler. With the 200, an updated (though pricey) 300, freshened Jeeps and the new 500, Chrysler rose from the near dead in the past year. I'm not into trucks, but I'd have to say that the Ram Sport on display for $26,xxx was head and shoulders better than the (now discontinued) Ford Ranger that was on display for $28,xxx. The Ranger had 4 wheel drive, but the Ram had a Hemi V-8, a full-sized body, but it still beat the Ranger in EPA economy ratings.

The brand with the most "incompletes": That would be Mazda. Mazda desperately needs to move its SkyActiv technology into its line if it wants to survive in the marketplace.

The two most important cars that I didn't get to try out: That honor would be shared between the 2013 Ford Escape and the 2012 Toyota Camry. There was a new Escape on a rotating display, but you couldn't get in it or even view it up close. I thought it looked pretty good, but I heard several people in attendance morning the passing of their old faithful boxy version. I was a little surprised at how commonly that feeling was expressed. Now, the Camry: I didn't check it out at all. I know it is usually the most popular car in the United States, but I didn't have enough interest in it to get around to looking at it, sorry. No, not really.

Now for a (more than) marginally related video. Indianapolis Reporter Kevin Rader interviewed the most important automotive analysts in the region for his report on the Indianapolis Auto Show. That guy interviewed at 1:25 in the video seems almost as handsome as he is astute.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Video of the Day -

For no particular reason.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Googleteer: Obvious Joke Alert - The Dog Particle

Last week, scientists at the supercollider at CERN found hints of the famous "god particle". That announcement brought our familiar searching superhero, The Googleteer to high alert, realizing that we would soon be deluged with reports of dyslexic scientists looking for the "dog particle".

the search

CERN dyslexic "dog particle"

Only 71 hits as of now. Only partially obvious, I guess.

Here's a better version of the joke: Scientists at Cern found hints of the famous Higgs Boson "god particle" by looking for tale-tale green streaks on their monitor. After these scientists were done, a group of dyslexic scientists took over looking for characteristic yellow streaks of the "dog particle".

A marginally relevant video perhaps? Doggone right.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's the deal with Santander Losing Payoff Checks?

When you pay off your car, either by the sweat of your brow, trading it in, or refinancing, you don't expect your old finance company to send its collection goons after you for more money. Yet that's exactly what's happening to a number of consumers with Santander auto loans. In two minutes, i was able to find three posted complaints, and I think that I could have spent half a day ferreting more out of internet complaints.;;

Message to car dealers, banks and credit unions: one of the worst customer relations problems that you can have is a consumer who is getting harassed because the check that you sent in didn't get handled properly by Santander. A customer should reasonably expect his/her car dealer or fiancial institution to give a damn that Santander is calling him/her several times a day. If it were me in that situation, I would go on Youtube and complain both about Santander and my financial institution. If you run across this posting and you are having a problem with Santander, please post in the comments. Thanks.

For a marginally relevant video, I couldn't find a good video on Santander, So I'll settle for Santana.

Tesla Model S - Almost Real Now

The Tesla Model S is one step closer to being ex-vaporware. According to the company, the car is just a year from production, and the company has set up its Model S configurator page.

The base model will have a 40kw/hour battery and will be rated for a 160 mile range for $57,400. That's "only" $49,900 after projected federal rebate. That's a lot of money, but there are a lot of mid-range "status" cars of every type that cost at least that much and won't draw nearly as much attention as the Tesla. I think it is a nice looking car, and I wouldn't mind if this is the "car of the future". It looks kind of Saabish to me - ironic since Saab has finally joined the ex-parrot club. Pricing and some info via For a marginally relevant video, I tried to see if there was a video of the Swedish Chef and a "cooked goose". No such luck. We'll have to settle for donuts. (That's the first and last time I've ever said or will ever say "settle for donuts.")

Monday, December 19, 2011

All I Want for Christmas . . .

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nissan Targeted by UAW? - Unfortunately, it's a Moving Target

The UAW has refused to name a particular transplant carmaker as the primary target for an organization drive, but there's a report at today that the UAW may be planning to target Nissan. Since the UAW has tried and failed to entice Nissan workers before, the odds aren't good. The odds are ridiculously low if another news report is true. is reporting that Nissan is planning on nearly doubling its production of cars in Mexico, increasing production by 600,000 vehicles per year. There will be three separate production lines each with the ability to produce 200,000 units per year. This expansion of the Mexican operations would exceed the capacity of Nissan's largest US plant in Smyrna, Tennessee (555,000 units.). Nissan has a smaller plant in Canton, Mississippi that can produce 400,000 units. In other words, in the near future, Nissan may be bringing on more new Mexican production capacity than either of the potential UAW target plants. I don't buy the notion that this capacity is targeted at North American market growth or that it is intended to replace production in high-cost Japan. Nissan's high-volume US models are already produced in North America. Bottom line: I'm pro-union, but given Nissan's expansion in Mexico, I'm not sure that I would sign a card if I were a Nissan worker in Mississippi or Tennessee right now.

A marginally related video? of course.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2012 Chevrolet Impala
300 Horsepower for $20,000?

I'm in the early stages of car shopping - dangerous for me. I'm mainly looking at small cars like the Chevrolet Cruze and the Ford Focus, but while I was looking at incentives on the Chevrolet Cruze (not much available), I saw shocking incentives on the 2012 Chevrolet Impala. The Impala is an old design, but this year it got a New engine, a 300 horsepower 3.6 liter V6, basically the same engine as the base Camaro. With the standard 6-speed automatic transmission, the Impala has EPA ratings of 19/29. As Adam Sandler would say, "not toooo shabby".

The Impala used to have many options, but they've cut it down to a 3 flavors deal with virtually no options. A reasonably equipped base LS model has a list price of around $25,000 or $26000 when you add the delivery etc. The incentives vary by area and trim level, but it appears that there is a $3500 general rebate and 3,000 in GM Employee Cash Allowance for the low trim levels (and $4000 GM employee cash for the LT and LTZ higher line models). These incentives can put a GM employee in the seat of a new Impala for around $20k, significantly cheaper than the price of a comparably equipped Cruze compact. If you are more into the Malibu, the Malibu looks to have 2-3k in incentives, but be advised, the redesigned 2013 Malibu is only a couple months away. The Eco version will debut in early 2012 with the remainder of the line set for a traditional late-summer introduction.

To check it out, go to

(Update: since I roughed this out, I talked to a salesman at a Chevy dealer who told me I was $1000 high on incentives for the $2012 Impala. GMFF's configurator confirms this, but GMFF's general incentive page tracks the $6500/$7500 total incentive figure that I provided in the post.)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Everything Old is New Again
- Return of the Home Organ

Home organs pretty much died in the United States by the early 1980s. They never died out in Japan but they died back. In Germany, home organs are enjoying something of a Renascence. Check out the crowd for Mambo Kurt

If you want to see the state of the art in German organs, check out the Wersi Scala doing the holiday classic Sleigh Ride.
They even stole Michael Iceberg's horse. If you want one of these, they MIGHT take your BMW 750 in an even trade.

Friday, December 09, 2011

RIP Ford Econoline
Hello Ford Transit

At the Chicago Auto Show, Ford is officially retiring the venerable Econoline and E-Series full-sized vans, and at the same time, the automaker will be introducing the Transit van to the United States. Ford already sells a smaller van, the Transit Connect, in the US. The Transit is a completely different vehicle, a full-sized van replacement. The Transit is said to get 25% better MPG than the Econoline. That means, if you are Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, Scooby and Fred, you can solve 25% more mysteries.

For a marginally-related video, how about this one from Top Gear Germany as Sabine Schmidt hauls a Ford Transit around the famous Nurburgring track

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Really Needs . . .
Billy Jack? Flying Car?
How about both?

Tom Laughlin, the "guy who played Billy Jack", is 80 years old now, and he's trying to make another Billy Jack movie. He wants to use Occupy Wall Street as a theme for the movie, and he wants to use the film as a platform to voice the call for a new bill of rights, economic rights. There's just one little problem: money. I'll let Tom tell you all about it.

Hey, I know, by know that Moller Skycar guy must have raised enough money to get the flying car thing going with money left over for an indy movie. Maybe these two guys can team up.

Billy Jack could be a natural for Occupy Wall Street. He did have a certain way of putting rich a-holes in their place.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

2013 Dodge Dart
The Compact makes a Comeback

Ever since the demise of the Neon, Dodge and Chrysler have been without a true compact car. The Fiat takeover deal includes a provision that Fiat gets an additional 5% of Chrysler if Fiat can bring a US-produced car capable of 40 MPG highway. They think they have that in the 2012 Dodge Dart which will be officially introduced at the Detroit Auto Show in a few weeks. This week the Dart was teased to the media. Once again, the mail carrier misplaced my invitation.

The Dart will be union-made in the USA at Chrysler's Belvidere, Illinois Plant, which will get an expansion for the project. This is the plant that has been making the slow-selling Dodge Caliber. The Dart will use Fiat technology and will be based on the Alfa Romeo Guilietta, though Chrysler says the Dart will be longer and wider than the Alfa upon which the Dart is based. It has been a long time since Alfa has been sold in the US. What do US car buyer have to look forward to? Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson is an Alfa Romeo fan, once stating:

You cannot be a true petrolhead until you've owned an Alfa ???- until you've experienced that rollercoaster of pain, disappointment, and agony for that brief moment when everything works and you're on a nice road"


Alfa's are designed to be the best a car can be.... briefly

The compact Dodge Dart will offer three engines to start in the US. It will have tweaked versions of the 2.0 and 2.4 engines that are now used in the Dodge Caliber, but the engine that has the attention of the car wonks is the Fiat 1.4 liter multi-air turbo engine. This engine, the same one as in the Fiat 500 Abarth, is expected to deliver around 150 to 160 hp in initial trim. Manual and dual-clutch automatic 6-speed transmissions will be initially available. An advanced automatic with more gears and a CVT might be available later.

The Chrysler fanboys at are so excited about the Dart that they started a new site dedicated to the Dart alone. The new site is

For a marginally-related video, I couldn't find any Top Gear roadtests of the Guilietta, but I did find one from Top Gear's poorer cousin, Fifth Gear.

I also found a video of Jay Leno's test of the Fiat 500 Abarth, which should be available in the US anytime now.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Average Home in Foreclosure is Delinquent By Almost 2 Years

Collections and Credit Risk reports that, according to Lenders Processing Service (a company that provides foreclosure-related services to lenders), the average home "in foreclosure" is delinquent 631 days. I put "in foreclosure" in quotes because the term is not used consistently, and it means different things to different people. For example it might mean 90 days delinquent or more or it could mean a case where a petition to foreclose has already been filed in court.

Banks are not going to find foreclosures any easier going forward, especially since more and more evidence is appearing of sloppy and corrupt practices at the mortgage companies and banks.

In a feature story last night on 60 Minutes titled Prosecuting Wall Street, a whistleblower at Countrywide (now part of Bank of America) said that Countrywide had recycling bins full of fragments of paper that included signatures cut off of forged documents. Another whistleblower, an examiner at Citibank explained how he had alerted upper management to irregularities in first 60 then 80% of the mortgages that Citibank held and processed through the secondary mortgage market.

This link will probably expire in a couple of weeks, but for now it's a more than marginally related video.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Aptera Not Apt Enough
Three-wheeler Maker Goes Bust

Aptera was going to revolutionize the car business with its three-wheeled car. It's not to be. The company didn't have the money to ride out the economic downturn and is filing for bankruptcy. Too bad, the vehicle looked pretty neat.

Image via

Friday, December 02, 2011

Meet Zach Wahls
You'll be seeing him again

This video has been circulating for about 9 months, but only recently has it taken off, with twelve million views on Youtube. Nineteen year-old college student Zach Wahls talks about his family and the absurdity of Iowa's proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Thanks to Frankie J. for the link.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Website of the day:

A big problem with the mortgage messis that on one hand, you can't trust the records, and on the other hand you can't tell how much you can't trust the records. One reason is that it has been hard to identify the scope of the fraud and cover-up of mortgage assignment irregularities. It is very time-consuming analyzing these records. The website was designed to make it easier to analyze these documents using the technique of crowdsourcing. Briefly, anybody can sign up to help work on the analysis of mortgage documents. The first set of data involves mortgages in Palm Beach County, Florida, and to put it bluntly, the questionable mortgages predominate. isn't perfect, but it shows promise and has the potential to get better with time. It's a website to watch.
Detroit 3's White Collar Wages to Exceed Blue Collar Wages in 2012 reports on a Center for Automotive Research study saying that next year GM, Chrysler and Ford's total bill for white-collar salaries will exceed the cost of UAW blue-collar wages for the first time.

Sixty-six thousand white collar workers made an average salary of $122,500. One hundred fifteen thousand blue collar workers made $69,000 each. I was frankly surprised by these figures. First, judging by the blue collar figure, it appears that these figures only account for salary/wages and not "total compensation". Secondly, while you could expect the automakers to have some very well paid executives and well paid engineers; you could also expect them to have larger numbers lower level salaried workers who are paid less than UAW wages.

It appears that despite restructuring, or because of it, stratification of the American workforce is alive and well at the formerly big 3.

Marginally related video time.