First impressions last. Wrong. Psychologists say humans develop their strongest positive feelings to someone or something if they hated it at first. For instance, I once detested Hondas. After spending some time driving various Hondas, the brand earned my no-longer-grudging respect. The converse is also true: we reserve our most negative assessments for someone or something that we loved at first. The human psyche doesn't like to be disappointed. Sadly, the 2003 Ford Thunderbird falls into this latter category.
Posts By: William C Montgomery
“Hot enough to boil a monkey’s bum!” I don’t know exactly what that means, but it was that hot in North Texas the afternoon I picked up my 2008 Scion xB. How appropriate that the old Flying Circus reference should flash through my mind; the xB looks like something out of a twisted Terry Gilliam animation. Now that Graham Chapman resides in an urn, all of the Pythons could fit in the xB, although 6’4” tall John Cleese would be uncomfortable in any seat. But the newly redesigned boxy Scion is more than a surreal comic sketch. Or is it? And now for something completely different…
Growing up, I thought the Porsche 911 was hideous. Its bug eyes and lumpy lines made me wonder if the designer had accidentally knocked modeling clay off his drafting table and submitted the splatter. This notion persisted until I drove one. Some 130 mph later, I considered the 911 the most beautiful automotive form on earth. Driving the all-new 2009 Honda Pilot EX-L kinda sorta triggered the same type of perceptual realignment. Call it Zen and the art of "challenging" design.
Few things in this world are as dramatic as the start of a NASCAR race. War, for instance. Or the launch of a Saturn V rocket. The crowd rises from their seats in anticipation. The starter stands in his box with flag in hand as the bestickered phalanx of cars rounds turn four. After the pace car scurries from view into pit lane the violence of dozens of highly tuned V8 engines is unleashed in unison. You can sense the invisible force of the sound approaching. Like others, I reverently remove my radio headphones so that I can fully ingest the aural assault. I feel the high frequency vibration in the aluminum stadium seats beneath my feet. And then it hits – a sound so big I hear it with my entire body. You don’t get that on TV.
Commerzbank (Frankfurt, Germany) senior commodity analyst Eugen Weinberg joins the growing chorus of finance gurus predicting the popping of over-inflated oil prices. Weinberg sees oil dropping below $100 per barrel in 2009. His crystal ball also tells him that crude prices haven't yet quite hit their peak in this rally. He expects the price of oil futures contracts to collapse only after soaring to $150 and $170 in the next three months. Who's to blame? Weinberg say, "The trigger for this extremely fast-growing bubble is above all the poor performance of other investment classes, like stocks, bonds and property." (I swear, Herr Weinberg must read TTAC!) I guess this means that I'll keep my Jeep parked and drive the Honda until next spring. Over to you, Stein…
In response to my manifesto on The Truth About High Gas Prices, a couple of people close to me confidentially told me that they thought I was nuts for predicting sub-$80 per barrel oil “in the not too distant future.” According to an economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve, I should have gone lower with my prognostication. Stephen Brown observes that cheap Saudi Arabian oil costs just $4 a barrel to produce. The most expensive oil on the market today, and the oil that set’s the world price, known as the “final barrel” or equilibrium price, is just $50 per barrel. Shawn Tully, CNNMoney editor, concludes, “It's even possible that, a few years hence, we could see a sustained period of plentiful oil supplies and low prices, meaning $50 or below.” But that doesn’t mean that it won’t get worse before it gets better. Today, the oil futures bubble inflated to a new record high above $135 a barrel, before settling back down to $134.35.
Computer industry pundit, columnist, documentary film maker, small airplane pilot, classic car enthusiast and former international oil industry correspondent Robert X. Cringely is talking up SwiftFuel. Just in case the name isn't catchy enough (the fuel, not the author), Cringley calls sorghum-based go-juice “The Splenda of motor fuels." "It has an octane rating of 104 (higher than the 100 octane fuel it replaces) yet contains no lead or ethanol. SwiftFuel mixes with gasoline, can be stored in the same tanks as gasoline, and be shipped in the same pipelines as gasoline.” Swift Enterprises claims the sorghum brew yields six times as much fuel per acre as corn and delivers get up to 20 percent better gas mileage than… gas. They're currently selling the alt fuel as a replacement for leaded gasoline in small airplanes. Too good to be true? Cringely doesn’t address many of the problems associated with the whole agricultural feed-into-fuel deal: converting wilderness into farmland, fresh water consumption, the use of pesticides and fertilizers, energy required to convert the biomass into SwiftFuel, etc. Despite E85's rough ride (here and elsewhere), look for more of this outside-the-oil-well thinking as oil prices escalate.
Yesterday was Black Tuesday for the American auto industry. TTAC's bloggers worked their fingers to the bone trying to keep up with an abandoned airport's worth of bad news. And still we didn't get it all. Anyway, it’s official. For the first time in sixteen years (since December 1992), a car has outsold the ubiquitous Ford F-series pickup trucks. Make that, FOUR cars. Last month, [Edmund's] "seismic shift" sent buyers into Toyota and Honda dealerships seeking fuel efficient sedans, rather than gas guzzling pickup trucks and SUVs. The Toyotas Corolla and Camry, and Hondas Civic and Accord, each outsold Ford's venerable tpickup. Feebly trying to explain F-series’ fifth place finish, Ford’s head sales honcho Jim Farley said, “May was a watershed month. We are, as an industry, catching up with the breathtaking choices customers are now making.” Meanwhile, this simple pistonhead asks: how this could be such a big surprise to a FoMoCo executive?
Why is gasoline so damn expensive? The mainstream media has rounded up the usual suspects. They demonize oil companies (for excessive profits), lambaste environmentalists (for blocking domestic drilling and refining), and sock it to speculators (for fear mongering over supply). Simply put, the current crisis is a speculative bubble whose impact to American consumers is exacerbated by domestic economic conditions. I fully expect crude oil will trade below $80 a barrel in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, let’s tackle this one myth at a time.
One year ago [Chrysler Suicide Watch 12] I opined that Jeep was morphing from the world's most uniquely-American brand into a schizophrenic abyss of muddled models. Of course, this analysis hardly required the keen insights of branding guru Al Reis. Jeep had just introduced the unconvincing Compass and platform partner Patriot to the market. And they were preparing to launch a re-skinned Jeep Liberty. The Liberty was the reigning best selling small SUV on the market. So one year later, how has the brand progressed? As a Jeep owner and acolyte of [what's left of] the brand, I'm sorry to say that Jeep's crisis is far deeper than before.
As a child I loved to play on swings. Leaning back and kicking my legs forward, I could propel myself into momentary weightlessness. Of course, every good swing ended with an acrobatic dismount. At the point of greatest forward momentum, I would let go of the chains and launch myself off the seat. For a brief moment I would be flying. Like an astronaut on NASA’s vomit comet, I would arc across the back yard. The sensation was thrilling. But I wasn’t a bird. Gravity’s hand never failed to pull me back to earth. And so it is with General Motors.
My personal highlight of Last year’s Dallas Auto Show was watching Sajeev work his magic on GM’s regional marketing director. He’d met her at the Houston Auto Show some weeks earlier, where they’d had a productive conversation. Apparently the Powers That Be within GM didn’t think that was a good idea. She was talking gaily with other scribes when we approached her. When she turned to greet us, her face darkened the moment she recognized the dashing Mr. Mehta. Visibly agitated, she hissed, “I can’t talk to you,” spun on her heels and scurried away. After a moment of stunned silence I asked TTAC’s lonely lothario, “Do you have that effect on all women?”