Monday, November 09, 2015

Automotive Reporter Biz News for Wk of 11-9-15

This week’s column can be posted on your refrigerator as a hint for Santa this Christmas.
If you don’t get what you want this year, perhaps you can just print up a 3-D version of anything your heart desires.
It’s coming to that.

On display at the SEMA show in Las Vegas, the Local Motors’ LM3D Swim—which the company touts as the “latest rapid vehicle iteration leading to a fully homologated 3D-printed vehicle…”
Say what?

That’s a fancy way of saying the 3D-printed car will be approved for sale, and you can purchase one as early as next year. The LM3D-Swim is the first of a series of vehicles to be built using the Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) process, which includes 3D printing. 

The design for the car by Local Motors’ community member, Kevin Lo, was selected by a judging panel that included Jay Leno and SEMA VP of Vehicle Technology, John Waraniak. Local Motors is now entering the car into the testing phase, including trials for highway safety and federal crash tests.  The company is constructing a microfactory in Knoxville, Tennessee, to produce the vehicles starting next year. MRSP will be around $53,000.
Colored ink is optional.

A few months ago I wrote about a problem created by trying to put the wrong tires on my MX-5 Miata. I learned the chassis for the Mazda utilizes the same geometry and design as a Lotus, and was in fact told that the Mazda two-seater is essentially a Japanese Lotus.

Pretty sure Lotus doesn’t tell everyone it’s a British Miata, but the similarities in proportional performance still exist. Behold, Lotus is now offering the 2017 Evora 400, which boasts 55-hp more oomph, 92-pounds less weight, and a plethora of advancements.  The company produced this promotional
video to show how much fun you can buy for $91,375.

The newest Evora is fitted with a mid-mounted supercharged 400-hp 3.5-Litre V-6 on a new aluminum chassis wrapped in a composite body.
Are you reading this, Santa?

If yon’t have $91k to plunk down on a Lotus, there’s always the Mazda Miata or Toyota’s Scion FR-S. Evo’s “Deadly Rivals” series pits the pair on a racetrack with Dan Prosser at the controls. He’s partial to one car, but cannot deny the superiority of the other. The video tells the tale of the tape.
This clip is also great for sharing with Santa.

We teased this news last week on the Automotive Reporter Radio Show: Hyundai is creating a separate division with its ‘Genesis’ brand to compete with the world’s leading luxury car nameplates. The company’s press release touts “human-centered” luxury with a half-dozen new models. 

Genesis will change its model designations to an alpha system, combining “G” with the numbers 90, 80, 0r 70. In your face, M-Series.

Hyundai is also retooling the Genesis winged badge emblem to create a more luxurious look. Back atcha, Bentley

This makes perfect business sense.
For a long time I have believed the Genesis series of automobiles to be among the best values on the road, blending manufacturing excellence with sexy design cues, and backed by Hyundai’s nearly interminable 100,000k warranty.

Dodge SRT is adopting the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving as the “official” driving school of the brand. When you purchase a new 2015 or ’16 SRT model, you receive one full-day session of high-performance driving, including track time and professional instruction.
Hotel and airfare not included.

The entire fleet of Bondurant trainers is being converted to Dodge SRT’sChargers, Challengers, and Vipers.

Bondurant says he’s been waiting for the right circumstances to launch the school and capitalize on his racing championship legacy. “The Dodge/SRT muscle cars provide me the perfect platform needed to thoroughly teach road racing,” he says.

The classes combine advanced street driving skills with proven racing techniques, plus hours of track time for vital hands-on experience behind the wheel. The course includes skid control, accident avoidance, line technique and a lead-and-follow session.
This would make a great stocking stuffer. Just sayin...

Following the legacy of its founder, Ford Motor Company is sharing the intellectual wealth by licensing robotic vehicle testing technology to other car makers. Working with Autonomous Solutions Inc, Ford has developed a turnkey test kit available directly from ASI. The package can save time and spare human drivers from the tedium of driving over curbs and through potholes in automobile endurance testing. Or they could just slap a GoPro on some of the bluehair drivers in Houston for that test.

The robotically driven vehicles will perform repetitive tests on torturous surfaces with names like Silver Creek, Power Hop Hill and Curb Your Enthusiasm, compressing ten years of daily driving abuse into courses just a few hundred yards long. 

They should come tryout Houston’s Monroe Drive near the Hobby Airport.
Same thing.

Listen to the Automotive Reporter Radio Show every weekend on, or from our webpage.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Automotive Reporter Biz News for Wk of 11-2-15

Some days, I wished I worked for Mazda.
It would be so much easier to justify writing about their product line, extolling the virtues of their engineering, and praising the artistry of their designs.
By the way, I am still in search (cough, cough) of a full time job (ahem).

Over the weekend, the magicians from Mazda unveiled the new RX-7 Rotary Vision concept car at the Tokyo Motor Show. Think MX-5 with a sloping roofline and a zippy Skyactiv-R power plant. That's the code-name for Mazda's latest iteration of its famous rotary engine.
If this doesn’t make you go weak in the knees, you need your pulse checked.
Mazda’s mass-production of rotary engines is presently on hold, but this new design is evidence that one should never say, “never.”

Meanwhile, at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, MX-5 Miata fans are being treated to two conceptual versions of the Gen-4 edition of the world’s most popular two-seater. 
The 2016 MX-5 Spyder exudes the character of a vintage roadster, while the MX-5 Speedster rendition harkens back to the stripped-down racers of yesteryear—even shedding its full-size windshield for a minimalist windscreen.
(How can you tell when an MX-5 driver is happy? Count the bugs in his teeth.)

The MX-5 has always inspired experimentation. predicts the ND Miata will become The Most-tuned Production Car ever, to which Portuguese designer Hugo Silva responded with this heart-stopping version.
I’ve got to get in to see my cardiologist.

FCA is working on a 2018 Jeep Grand Wagoneer that will be introduced in late 2017.

The larger luxury SUV will be a bigger-better version of the Grand Cherokee, although earlier renderings looked more like a bedazzled Jeep Commander.

Sources reveal the new Wagoneer will attack the Range Rover and Mercedes SUV market share with the Jeep’s 3.0L Eco-diesel V-6 currently featured in the Grand Cherokee. 

The Wagoneer will also be Jeep’s first full-sized three-row seating vehicle since the demise of the Jeep Commander.  What we don’t know is what it will look like, but a retro Wagoneer Woody would be sooo cool.

While we're in retro-mode, Volkswagen is teasing the idea of bringing back its iconic VW Hippie Van as an EV. What could be more hippie-fied than an electric VW Bus? A VW Board member reportedly leaked that an electrified version of the popular camper van is in the development stages.

VW Development Chief, Hans-Jakob Neusser, is quoted by Autocar as describing the three components needed in the return of the iconic bus: “The wide, solid D-Pillar; the boxy design of the center section,” and “the front end must have a very short overhang.”

Volkswagen comes close in the T-6 version of its mini van, but I prefer what I see from the conceptual designers for the VW Bulli (that’s the German approximation for “VW Bus”), which promise a new micro van version by 2018.

The original VW busses were made in Germany in the ‘50’s.
They featured the air-cooled, horizontally-opposed rear-engine configuration, but were woefully underpowered. 

My father bought a ’60 model bus, and took our family on vacation in it to the Texas Hill Country one hot July 4th. The engine blew a cylinder before we got there. The dealer replaced the engine, but it blew up again within a few months. Dad sold that bus and bought something more dependable—a '61 VW Beetle.

Listen to the Automotive Reporter Radio Show every weekend on, or from our webpage.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Automotive Reporter Biz News for Wk of 10-26-15

Ford’s marketing geniuses continue to blend Mustang’s heritage with various speedsters to produce very appealing derivatives of the iconic muscle car. 

Petty’s Garage is being tapped to build a limited number of highly modified Mustang GTs – 243 King edition models, 43 King Premier and 14 King Premier convertibles.

What will the King-packages include? The already hot, 5.0-litre engine will be modified with a Ford Performance supercharger to boost horsepower to 670—with a three-year, 36k-mile warranty.

Petty’s Garage owner, the legendary Richard Petty, says the King Edition Mustangs are “pretty much the way I’d build my own.” To handle the extra power, the Petty shop also adds TrakPak Ford Performance halfshafts, three-way adjustable front and rear sway bars, and a rear axle upgrade. MSRP prices begin at $67,495—which is pretty affordable in this universe. Order yours from the Petty’s Garage website.

The OnStar network is amazeballs. With a push of a button, you can be connected to a real, live person in this country (who speaks flawless English), who will answer any question you have. If there’s an emergency, they’ll dispatch help—even before you ask, in some cases. Now OnStar is offering to read books to you while you drive along. Actually, they’re downloads of audio books, but you get the idea.  

Maritz Research finds that Buick owners are 30% more likely to read books as a leisure activity, and so GM and are offering two free downloads to 2016 Buick owners. I think they should add another volume to the list—the 2016 Buick Owners’ Manual.

The electrical evolution continues in the automotive realm.  Chevrolet has created a snappy EV-version of its Bolt sub-compact, which it says can go 200-miles on a single charge.  GM says the electrified model will go into production for the 2016 model year, assembled at its Orion Township, MI plant. 

The Bolt EV is a collaboration between Chevrolet and LG Corp, which has invested $250-million in a manufacturing facility in Korea that will gen-up some of the components for the car. LG Chem has been manufacturing batteries for GM’s first-generation Volt since 2010.

Last Wednesday the entire world celebrated “Back to the Future Day,” that moment in time to which Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled from 1985. Probably the best “moment” of the day occurred on Jimmy Kimmel Live, when Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd emerged—in character—from a smoke enshrouded DeLorean rolling onto the set. 

The pair bantered about how 2015 sucks, and Doc headed back to “fix a few things” at the end of the segment.  Special mention goes to Huey Lewis, who was planted in the audience, and jammed with the house band during the commercial break.

As promised, Toyota produced a special edition Tacoma 4 x 4, the ride of choice of McFly in the film series, and a BTTF-themed TV spot to capitalize on the theme.
It worked. 

Worst automotive ad campaigns ever:
3.) Art Grindle’s Saturday morning cartoon sponsorships: In what alternative universe is jumping up and down on top of cars while screaming low-price promises an effective venue for marketing? Oh, yeah—Houston in the 1960’s.

2.) Toyota’s Muppets TV spots. In what alternative universe is screaming puppet dialogue a suitable venue for marketing motorcars?

 1.) Honda’s singing owner Radio spots: There’s only one thing more obnoxious than a car dealer's jingle singers, and that’s car owners who CANNOT sing, attempting to voice the praises of their cars’ rear view camera, et al. 

I’d like to see an automotive derivation of M&M Mars’ series of candy bars ads, in which various “hangry” drivers are magically transformed with just a bite of a Snickers bar. Maybe that’s what the Houston Texans needed on Sunday—just a Snickers.

Listen to the Automotive Reporter Radio Show every weekend on, or from our webpage. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Going Postal

“A man’s gotta know his limitations.”
-Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

We manly men like to think of ourselves as capable of accomplishing anything. The more abilities we perfect, the more we can lay claim to the vaunted title of “Renaissance Man.” I could be the exception to that rule.

I recently enlisted as a Rural Carrier Associate with the United States Postal Service. After all, how hard could it be, roaming up and down neighborhood streets in those small but beefy mail delivery trucks? There are a dozen Postal Service workers in the chain of events getting your mail from here to there. Twelve persons receiving, collecting, sorting and sending, proofing and posting, servicing and serving, casing and carrying and finally, delivering letters and parcels, magazine and “advo’s”—advertising circulars—to your mailbox.

The Postal Service recently contracted with Amazon to deliver packages on Sundays. Fed-Ex and UPS also contract with USPS to deliver some parcels on routes that aren’t economically viable, since postal carriers do visit every address in America every day. Twice a week, the USPS is asked to place those light-reading materials known as advertising inserts into the mail stream, which effectively doubles the volume of mail to be delivered on those days. All of these extra functions must be performed without fail, within time constraints, and regardless of the weather.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” That’s not the official motto of the USPS, but the phrase is engraved on the front of the James Farley Post Office building in New York City. And it’s quite apropos, even though the Postal Service does indeed cancel deliveries from time to time on occasion of extreme weather conditions.

I mention all of these factoids to point out that the men and women of the USPS are among the ranks of modern day heroes for being able to perform as they do. Each one knows his route intimately enough to be able to catch nuances that would otherwise delay delivery of important items. Hundreds of mailboxes; hundreds of addresses; hundreds of names, all mentally compiled and adjusted daily, as old customers move on, and new customers move into the route.

So earlier this year I was invited to interview for a position as a Rural Carrier Associate. I was assigned to a West Houston post office station, where I tagged along with a veteran carrier for two weeks. She was spectacular, and the difference in the way men and women think was never more glaringly pronounced than when I tried to learn her “system” for running her mail route. 

Women are from Venus, men are from Mars.
Men are linear thinkers, and women’s brains are more like The Matrix, which is a helpful thing to have as a postal carrier.

We “cased” the mail together—preparing bundles of mail grouped by address for delivery. We drove the route together, delivering and picking up from regular customers, both individuals and businesses. I began to have a greater appreciation of what postal carriers do each day. Which brings us full-circle to the Dirty Harry quotation about knowing a man’s limitations.

I was essentially able to complete about half as much work as the regular mail carrier in about twice the time it normally takes. I was counseled by one well-meaning postal worker to sort the mail right-handedly, so the addresses would be right-side up for everyone else. I am acutely left-handed.

I consider myself a pretty well-organized guy—but trying to arrange and remember stop sequences and packages unfamiliar to me was a learning curve I barely climbed before the regular carrier left for a well-deserved vacation. My first day solo on the route was a disaster.

One of the sources of stress for postal workers is the deadline at the end of the day to get “raw mail” collected on each route ingested into the postal system for distribution and delivery. There’s a big truck that visits each neighborhood postal station every evening to gather all incoming letters, parcels and packages, and deposits them at Houston’s central mail processing facility. 

As a postal carrier, you cannot miss that truck.
I did.
More than once.

Remember the “advo’s” that are delivered on Monday’s and Tuesday’s?
My already slow delivery time was compounded by dealing with the unwieldy print pieces that were difficult to manipulate—right- or left-handed—and impossible to easily place in some mailboxes already over stuffed with weeks' worth of other mail.

And here we come to a sidebar: The Postal Service is phasing out curbside boxes. They’re going to the MBU—multiple box units—that carriers can fill by making one stop. It’s an efficiency thing…unless people are lazy about picking up their mail. 

Apartment dwellers are the worst. I pulled pounds of mail from some boxes because they were so solidly packed, not another ounce of mail could be placed inside. Dealing with over-stuffed boxes slows down the delivery process, too.
It was poison for me.

The routines and rhythms of postal work can be learned in time. When you’re up against the clock to learn a route so someone else can take vacation, however, is a different kind of pressure. I failed. I admit it. I had other postal workers helping me case the mail. Others were bailing me out by delivering mail to parts of the route I couldn’t complete before the mail truck deadline.
It was taking three people to do one route. 

On a Tuesday night, after returning to the postal station way past time, I was told to not come in the next day. “Take a rest,” they said. “Come back refreshed.”
I’m no dummy. I was creating more havoc than the system could handle.

I resigned as a Rural Carrier Associate that week.
The entry-level position I’d hoped to use as a foot in the door for other work more suited to my skill set was a rung on the ladder impossibly high to reach.
A man’s gotta know his limitations.
I do.

This essay is featured in the October 15 edition of Houston Woman Magazine.