Ex-Car Czar Bob Lutz has made the jump to hyperspace, joining New GM as . . . Car Czar. Of course, Bob can’t quite leave the Old School behind. More specifically, in keeping with CEO Fritz Henderson’s obsession with speed, he’s pre-pared excuses for failure on the forecourt. “There will have to be some form of economic recovery before any automobile company can hope to be profitable,” Lutz tells NPR. Perception gap much? Of course. All things considered, where’s the reinvention here?
Category: Editorial Podcasts
After our characteristically snarky blog on the launch of ecodrivingUSA.com website, The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers reached out to TTAC to defend its PR campaign. Like every professional spinmeister I've ever met, AAM's Senior Director of Communications proved to be an affable, sensible, persuasive guy. And how can you argue against saving gas? So I let the not-so-sibilant Charlie Territo make his case, then explored other mpg-related issues: federal fuel economy regs, state's rights in the matter and suchlike. TTAC encourages any newsmaker (or their rep) to contact us about any published story to make their case on the site, including, should they desire, unedited editorial space for their reply. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In our ongoing campaign to put TTAC at the forefront of automotive journalism, we've decided to go behind the headlines, to provide the kind of insight and perspective that you can't get elsewhere, if only because no one else could be bothered. That's because we know many of our Best and Brightest are just as geeky and OCD as we are. More charitably, what miserly or environmentally conscious pistonhead wouldn't want to know about thermal seat management? After all, as the DOE discovered, if you use less AC, you save mpgs! In any case, here's my interview with Dan Coker, President and CEO of Amerigon, the world's premier supplier of heated and cooled seat technology. For those of you who aren't podcast-compatible, the bottom line: the cool-your-butt business is booming. Amerigon's up to $75m turnover this year. It's an American success story, human ingenuity at its finest, coming to a Sealy Posturpedic near you soon.
First of all, the National Labor Committee says that less than 15 percent of its money comes from labor unions. So this is not a United Auto Workers' front organization. Second, in a phone call [below] Director Charles Kernaghan was clear that Toyota's Japanese factories adhere to the country's labor laws (even though you may be surprised to learn that ToMoCo's been on a two-tier wage system for decades). Kernaghan's beef is with the automaker's suppliers. "Toyota's much admired 'Just in Time' auto parts supply chain is riddled with sweatshop abuse," he insists. "Including the trafficking of foreign guest workers, mostly from China and Vietnam to Japan. They're stripped of their passports and often forced to work– including at subcontract plants supplying Toyota– 16 hours a day, seven days a week, while being paid less than half the legal minimum wage. Guest workers who complain about abusive conditions are deported." The organization's report is low on stats, big on anecdotes and focused on pious Prius celebs. And yet, it's a point we've brought up before. International automakers'– and their customers'– willingness to turn a blind eye to their suppliers' working conditions is a black eye for the business– albeit one cleverly covered by makeup.
That's the headline on the press release sent by EPIC, the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council. Apparently, "Motorists are frustrated and angry about high gas prices. Everyone is feeling the pinch at the pump, which really underscores our need for biofuels," claims Toni Nuernberg, EPIC's exec director. "As gas prices continue to skyrocket, we must continue the push for the only current transportation energy option we have today-biofuels." Yes, well, by their own admission, EPIC's Royal "we" represents little more than the ethanol industry and wishful thinking. In a not-so-epic EPIC survey on gas prices, only 11 percent of 1004 online (opt in) respondents said they were "taking action to use and support [emphasis added] non-oil based energy." Some 47 percent they'd "like to" and a whopping 43 percent "no, I have not considered this." Anyway, I called Robert White, EPIC's Deputy Director, to ask how soaring gas prices worked in his members' favor. I was surprised to discover EPIC disagrees with the AAA; E85 is cheaper than regular gas! But wait, there's more…
As well it might, what with the price of gas at the $4 a gallon mark (apologies to our foreign readers for our pump shock). A quick digression… I love salesmen. Yes, they invented the word oleaginous. Yes, they are, in the main, morally compromised individuals. But there are very few other members of our society who're paid to be optimistic– especially in the face of disaster. That scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, where loser salesman Del Griffith sells plastic curtain rings to passengers at the bus terminal, is a perfect illustration how a salesmen can go from zero to hero in a heartbeat. Now, when I got a press release "RV Rental Firm Takes the 'Bummer' Out of Summer with Gas Rebate Promotion," I sensed the hand of a master. So I called Rob Tischler, President of Allstar Coaches, and stuck it to him. The resulting interview explains why Death of a Salesman is a comedy in Russia. If you know what I mean. [apologies for the audio quality]
What a race. Ninety cars started the event. I have no idea how many cars finished the race, but it was a lot fewer than that. Due to inexperience and a poor game plan, we were in 47th position on Saturday when sadly and quite horribly, another driver — Cort Summerfield — died of a heart attack behind the wheel. The CHP determined there was no mechanical failure and that Cort was dead before he hit the wall. I know I speak for all the teams when I report that what followed was a very long, emotional and mostly sleepless night. We all wanted to race, but it was hard to see the point during the wee hours of Saturday night. After a touching memorial given by LeMons organizer Jay Lamm, we fired up our engines at 9:30 am Sunday morning after Cort's teammates assured us that's what he would have wanted. I was first up, 47 places down on brand new, cold tires. Gulp. After some not-too-shabby driving (if I do say so myself), I moved us from 47th to 35th. Then I lost the power steering belt and had to pit. The crew fixed the belt and Jack Baruth hopped in. For the next two hours and 42 minutes no one passed the V8olvo. And Jack passed everybody. He even managed to pop off the fourth fastest lap time of the day, bringing us to a respectable 20th place. My teammates John (Evil Genius of Evil Genius Racing), Wayne and Jesse managed to pick up the baton and hammer down just as hard. We finished in 15th place, climbing 29 positions on the day. You can expect both a full report from me, as well as Team Black Metal V8olvo finishing a bit higher in December at Thunderhill. Oh yes, we're doing it again.
Settle down people. Autoextremist Peter DeLorenzo isn't creating original content for TTAC. The no-holds-barred Motown pundit has agreed to double post (DP?) on his recently redesigned website and the soon-to-be-redesigned TTAC. DeLorenzo's latest rant will go live on AE and TTAC every Wednesday morning. As TTAC's Best and Brightest surely realize, this arrangement provides our readers with a unique opportunity to bat around DeLorenzo's combative ideas in a forum-like thingie. To get the ball rolling, I submit the following podcast. I apologize for the abrupt intro (guess the subject). My high-tech digital recorder suffered a loose connection; Frank had to lop off the first minute or so. And the levels are over the place. Still, it's worth it. Welcome to Sweet Pete!
TTAC is an industry watchdog. We balance the cheerleading and spinmongery performed by the majority of the automotive media. As publisher, I don't feel an obligation to temper "bad" news with "good." That said, since we began this cybernetic journey, readers have upbraided us for failing to run the occasional positive story (as in any). While I don't consider fulfilling this request part of our core remit, a particularly testy email from Ford flackmeister Alan Hall got me thinking. Perhaps it is time to feature the odd ray of sunshine– other than positive car reviews (which come when they come). So when I received a press release about, of all things, Ford seats, I decided to dig a little deeper. Sure enough, FoMoCo has ditched the complexity chronicled by Bob Elton in Ford Death Watch 23, moving from 28 seat assemblies to two, from "here ya go" subcontracting to a partnership. So I called Jerry Brown, Ford's Chief Engineer for Seats and Restraints, to explore the possibility of a sea change behind the scenes. Better seats and reduced engineering complexity won't save Ford, but let's call it Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 1.
After Rob Diel read a Detroit Free Press article about the automaker's Indian outsourcing, the Chrysler contract information technology worker posted CEO Bob Nardelli's telephone number and email address in the comments section. It wasn't long before the suits descended on Diel's desk. "They said unlock your laptop and come with us," Diel told TTAC. "When they show up doing that, it's not a good thing." Today's Free Press says "Diel, who expected to lose his job at the end of May, said he made several postings on the Web site under the name 'Chryslerworker,' including: 'Boycott Chrysler. If Chrysler is going to screw all the American workers, than (sic) it is only fair that America screws Chrysler. E-mail Nardelli and tell him what a great job he is doing.'" The Freep has since removed Nardelli's information. Meanwhile, Diel says Chrysler's Indian IT operators wouldn't know how to respond effectively to a glitch in the company's production computers, increasing the likelihood of delays. Diel also says morale in his former department is "just horrible… Nobody cares about doing anything. People are just wandering around; they just go for walks and stuff 'cause it's just so depressing." BTW: you can contact Mr. Diel at email@example.com. [apologies for the low audio levels]
Would Rosa Parks have been able to hop a bus and escape New Orleans ahead of Hurricane Katrina if she'd been in town in 2005? It’s a pretty convoluted way to start a rant, but The Black Commentator guest columnist Meizhu Lui says Hurricane Katrina exposed the "internal combustion engine" divide. Forgetting the fact that Amtrak was deadheading [empty] trains out of town and that New Orleans had lots full of [empty] school buses, Lui flags the “alarming disparity in car ownership that literally was the difference between life and death for many Gulf Coast residents." The author then cites a “recent report” claiming that 24 percent of black households don’t own a car– as opposed to seven percent of white and 17 percent of Latino households. Rather than calling for expanded car ownership, Lui says there’s a better alternative. “Hurricane Katrina not only dramatically revealed the grotesque racial and class divisions in our country, but also pointed to some obvious causes, such as our car dependent economy. An inclusive and dependable public transportation system should be at the top of the list.”
One of my favorite TV ads of all time was for Q-Tips. This scruffy looking guy in a plaid bathrobe walks up to the camera and asks "Don't you hate everybody telling you how to clean things?" Bang! I'm his. Yeah! I DO hate it, all those stupid ads about cleaning stuff! I'm OCD enough without hundreds of graphic lessons in how to annihilate [previously unimagined] germs. And then the guys says "Well I'm going to show you how to clean your ears." And bang! I'm his again. OK, show me how to clean my ears! Well, this is a bit like that. Don't you hate all those morning-after Detroit Auto Show roundups? Well Jonny Lieberman's going to tell you like it was. And here's a bit of goss: it seems Loverman will once again bless us with his literary talents. Hearing the news is like a tsunami having breakfast with a sinkhole. Or something like that.
I read a disturbing comment over at Jalopnik today. It was underneath a post by former TTAC'er Jonny Lieberman on the stress of covering the North American International Auto Show. RLJ676 accused me of wishing for our domestic automakers' downfall, and then attacked TTAC's posting policy. "Further, he runs the place like a fascist and bans for disagreeing with him under the guise that it was a 'flame.' That's what leads to (nearly) everyone on that site agreeing, coincidentally, with all of his articles, etc. Like I said, there's very little 'truth' to be had." I am well aware of TTAC's rep for dwelling on Detroit's dark side. And I know plenty of people see our no-flaming policy as thinly-veiled editorial censorship. When I contemplate these issues, I sometimes wonder if TTAC is not just a lone voice in the wilderness, but an unimportant one. We are so far out of the mainstream we barely get our feet wet. Is it worth it? What's the point? All I can say is that my high school's motto was "For the honor of truth." Not the popularity of truth, or the rich financial rewards of truth. The honor. OK, it's also fun to be the asshole sometimes. But as long as there is ONE visitor who shares the site's crusade for honesty and integrity in an industry that we love– yes, love– then WTH, we'll keep at it. For now, it's time to rest. Perchance to dream. Aye, there's the rub.
It's day two of the North American International Auto Show pressstravaganza, and our man Montgomery is up with the angels, beating all those hung-over scribes to the showroom floor for a sneak peak of the new Corvette ZR1. Surprisingly, the vehicle code-named the Blue Devil– named after GM CEO Rick Wagoner's beloved alma mater's Blue Devils basketball team– is now slate gray. With blue brake calipers. Enjoy Bill's shots as we prepare our assault on the suits who put this kind of stuff, and the less palatable fare, on your plate. Click through to hear our man express suitable podcasted reverence.
[Reported by William C. Montgomery]
Kelley Blue Book is one of the good guys; the organization that led the way towards pricing transparency for consumers. So it's no surprise that their Western Sales Manager Jay Campbell thinks car dealers' websites would benefit from some user generated content. Writing for Dealer Marketing Magazine, Jay uses the term CGC (Consumer Generated Content) while making his case for e-Glasnost. "Today, consumers turn to auto enthusiast sites, online forums and message boards, question and answer sites, and blogs to post their feelings. Imagine how large and untapped this opportunity is for your dealer Website?" The misplaced question mark tells the tale; the idea that car dealers would open themselves up to potentially negative comments from the great unwashed requires a leap of imagination that Evil Knieval wouldn't have attempted in his [fall into the] heyday. Although Jay's heart is in the right place (gold star from TTAC), I felt compelled to call him and see if he lives anywhere near planet Earth.
[Apologies for the low audio levels.]