Posts By: Frank Williams

By on June 17, 2009

What is a clunker? Various dictionaries I consulted used terms like “a decrepit machine, especially an old car” or “an old or badly working piece of machinery” or “a noisy, dilapidated automobile.” Apparently there’s a new definition, courtesy of Congress: “any vehicle rated at 18 mpg or less.” The Detroit News has a link to a database to let you find out if your car would qualify for the “Cash for Clunkers” program that has passed the House and is headed for the Senate. The first thing you notice: the database has nothing to do with the condition of the vehicle in question.

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By on June 16, 2009

If it walks like a lame duck, talks like a lame duck . . . . During an interview with Fritz Henderson, the New York Times asked the GM CEO if the bankrupt automaker needed someone from outside GM to inject a little fresh blood. Fritz didn’t care for the insinuation. “Carlos Ghosn was no outsider [when he turned around Nissan]. Lee Iacocca wasn’t an industry outsider when he took over at Chrysler.” That’s right, Fritz, but neither of them had spent their entire working life sipping the corporate Kool-Aid at the company they saved. You, on the other hand, have never tasted any flavor but GM Grape. As former GM Director and current behind-the-scenes talent spotter Jerry York points out, “Fritz might be 20 percent better than Wagoner, or maybe 50 percent better, but the question is, is that good enough?” Talk about damned by faint praise . . . What’s the bet that the new, government-appointed BOD’s answers “no” after they “evaluate whether Mr. Henderson deserves to hold his job more permanently”? Place your wagers on Henderson’s defenestration date below.

By on June 16, 2009

The Monroe (Louisiana) News Star proclaims, “A deal has been signed that will bring about 1,400 jobs” to an abandoned plant in Ouachita Parish. Whatta deal! But wait—just what company is the area’s economic salvation? It’s a “startup company [which] will assemble new autos in the plant.” The official announcement isn’t until tomorrow, but the deal “known as Project Liberty, involves famed Silicon Valley venture capitalists Ray Lane and John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.” The AP cites Monroe City Council member Arthur Gilmore as saying the plant will build “fuel-efficient vehicles.” Nothing more was given about the company except to say it’s “relatively young” and “has a very unique business model and product.” OK . . . here’s where we have to make the obligatory comparison to Tucker and DeLorean. Oh yeah, and let’s toss in a reference to New Mexico and Tesla’s WhiteStar project. More to come following Gov. Bobby Jindal’s announcement about the deal tomorrow.

By on June 15, 2009

When Jay Shoemaker reviewed the 2010 Prius, he castigated it for its dead-feeling controls, strange operating procedures and total lack of soul. He concluded: “But I have a feeling that one day soon we will be able to drive something that gets outstanding mileage while stimulating its operator in the process.” Mr. Shoemaker, your car has arrived. May I present the Volkswagen Jetta TDI?

By on June 13, 2009

We’ve been quite vocal in our opinion of “Car of the Year” awards such as those sold handed out every year by Motor Trend. Even worse are those picked by non-automotive rags, where a COTY announcement ranks right up there with their pronouncements of the years trendiest sunglasses or the best place for the killer mojitos Yet, for whatever reason, Esquire has decided the world needs yet another of these useless (to everyone but their advertising department) awards.

By on May 21, 2009

How many Mercedes owners change their own oil to save a few bucks? The latest “Meet the Volkswagens” TV ad doesn’t just insult Benz owners— and everyone else’s—intelligence. It’s also racially insensitive. By depicting a middle class white guy with his face blackened with oil, it raises the specter of 19th century minstrel shows. OK, that’s a stretch. But so is VW’s supposition that reminding customers of their over-familiarity with their local dealer’s service department is a good thing. And what does a Microbus sliding out of a nearby garage have to do with anything, Amigo? Wait . . . cue-up the Routan commercial . . .

By on May 18, 2009

Anyone who’s spent any time around preschoolers knows they can ask some really hard questions. Fortunately, even questions like “why is the sky blue” or “where do babies come from” can be answered to their satisfaction with a little thought and careful wording. Questions from gearheads are a bit tougher and aren’t as easily answered. Here are nine questions I’d love for someone to answer. That is, if there really are answers to be had.

By on April 29, 2009

It’s been a while since we gazed into the crystal ball to see what’s beyond the horizon on the automotive landscape. A lot has happened in the intervening eighteen months or so: GM and Chrysler are closer to bankruptcy, Ford is the only American auto company likely to survive the decade relatively unscathed, the market for hybrids peaked then bottomed out as gas prices did the same, and the only thing flowing out of Washington D.C. faster than bailout money is political BS. Join us as we check the tarot cards to see where it’ll all lead. Here are the headlines of the future.

By on April 27, 2009

First impressions can be misleading. Maybe it’s the new car smell. Or the hallucinatory effects of automotive anticipation. But there are times when a thrilling first date can turn into the marriage from hell. That’s why I’m all in favor of pre-purchase rentals and. . . press cars. Yes, carmakers’ fleetmobiles are often pampered ringers. But a week with a car is an excellent way to decide if it deserves a major portion of your/my hard-earned money and ongoing patronage. Quite often, I’ll find that my initial perceptions weren’t quite on target. After sojourning with a Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, I can report that first impressions last.

By on April 14, 2009

Marketing to a particular demographic is a tricky business–just ask Honda or Toyota. Honda introduced the Element in 2003. Toyota brought us the Scion xB in 2004. Both machines were designed as funky vehicles to fit the twenty-something lifestyle. Needless to say, their room and versatility immediately found favor with the quintagenarian crowd. Now Kia’s taking a shot with the Soul. Our own Eddie Niedermeyer, squarely in the demographic Kia’s aiming for, liked it. But then there are us pesky demographic-bustin’ Boomers. Will we see more Souls parked at the old farts’ home than on college campuses?

By on March 29, 2009

There’s a big brouhaha brewing between an organization called Think Progress (TP) and Fox News Analyst Bill O’Reilly. After Billy Boyz ambushed ThinkProgress.org Managing Editor Amanda Terkel, TP is urging advertisers to pull their ads from Billy’s show. Here’s a response from a Ford spokesman who wasn’t spoking on behalf of Ford, but felt free to use FoMoCo’s imprimatur:

Thanks for the heads up. And while I agree with you about the rantings of the hopelessly pig-headed Mr. O’Reilly, recognize that I am just an innocent bystander in this email letter silliness. I work at Ford and support Ford, but have no idea how the decisions are made on where we advertise. Frankly, as a mainstream company, we advertise everywhere there are good ratings. That is not an endorsement of the show — that is recognition that people are watching the show. Don’t know why they watch that mindless ranting. But they watch in droves. Welcome to America, I guess.

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By on March 23, 2009

I’ll come right out and say it: It’s my parents’ fault. You see, my mom’s just a couple of inches over five feet tall and my dad’s only a bit taller than she is. But for some reason they passed genes to me resulting in me growing to 6’3″. It makes for interesting family portraits but when it comes to cars, it sucks. I grew up riding with my knees shoved in the dashboard of whatever bench-seat-equipped sedan they happened to own at the time. And now I’m given a Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring to review. Genetics is a bitch.

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