Sunday, June 28, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News for Wk of 6-29-15

Spencer Penrose graduated last in his class from Harvard in 1886.
That did not deter him from becoming an adventurer and developer of many of Colorado’s landmarks, including the Broadmoor Hotel and the Pikes Peak Highway.
In 1916, after widening the narrow carriage road to the 14,110-foot summit, Penrose established a competitive hill climb to promote the route to tourists. “The Race to the Clouds” was first run with open wheel class vehicles.
The 1916 winning time was 20-minutes, 55.6-seconds.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb now includes nearly every class of competitive automobile. The fastest time on the 7-mile course was established in June 2013 by Sebastien Loeb, at 8-minutes, 13.8-seconds, driving a 875-hp mid-engined Peugot 208 T16.

For the 93rd running of the race on Sunday (6/28) Honda Performance Development and Honda Research and Development associates fielded 13 vehicles in 11 different classes. Former Indy Lights Champion Alex Lloyd, and Japanese Super GT legend Tetsuya Tamano were tapped to pilot the Honda B-Fit spec and an all-electric vehicle on a CR-Z chassis, respectively.
Honda has had winning cars in at least one class-victory in each of the past 13-years.

But not this year.
The 2015 Penrose Cup winner is Rhys Millen with a run time of 9-minutes, 32.4-seconds…the first win by an electric vehicle. Millen drove a 1-megawatt eO PPOE developed in Latvia that produced 1,367-hp.
Batteries not included.
No, wait—they were.

Beginning next month, you can order a factory-prepped Dodge Challenger specifically intended for drag racing. The next-generation Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak will offer the option of a supercharged 354-cubic-inch Gen III HEMI engine or a naturally aspirated 426-cubic-inch Gen III HEMI engine. 

Where might one drive such a vehicle, you ask?

FCA says the dream machine is “designed for passionate Sportsman racers who compete in nationally sanctioned drag racing series, such as the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA).”

You can order your Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak “through authorized Dodge dealerships” starting July 23. The MSRP for the naturally aspirated 426 version of the Drag Pak is a “cubic inch appropriate” $99,426, with the 354 supercharged race car available for $109,354 MSRP. Apparently, size does matter.
Order two.

Imagine dropping a serious performance engine inside your favorite SUV, and than tweaking the package with some major attitude. Nissan did just that in 2011 with its JUKE-R crossover supercar. The 2015 JUKE-R 2.0 concept made its global dynamic debut at Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK on Thursday, and it was pretty impressive.

It looks as good as it tastes.
The front and rear bumpers are made from 100% carbon fiber, and the  nose has been retooled with larger vent intakes to cool the 600-hp NISMO engine.  The hood has bare carbon cooling ducts that have been repositioned for better efficiency.
The rear exhaust cowlings have been reshaped, and are made of high-temperature carbon fiber. LED
lights are used extensively, front and rear and in between, including turn signal repeaters in the side rear view mirrors.  The JUKE-R 2.0 rolls on the new GT-R wheels, and comes in your choice of colors, so long as you like Matte Black.

When the Mini Cooper hardtop first came on the scene in 2002, I was enthralled. I had to drive one. And it performed as expected, with snappy response from superior geometry with all four tires place essentially at the corners of the chassis. I thought, ‘there’s no way to improve on this.’ 

I was wrong, because the Mini Clubman appeared with just a little more cargo space tucked under its elongated top. Funny thing about that process…the Mini became less and less “mini” with each iteration. And the inevitable has occurred—the first Mini mini-van.

The new and improved 2016 MINI Clubman is 10.9 inches longer and 2.9 inches wider than its “little” brother, with a wheelbase that is 4 inches larger. The not-so-mini 17.5 cu ft luggage compartment can be extended to as much as 47.9 cu ft by folding down the rear backrest.

Fortunately, Mini has beefed up its power plants to handle the bigger, better Clubman. In addition to the standard 134 bhp 3-cylinder engine, the new MINI Cooper S Clubman also offers a 4-cylinder, 189hp engine. Mini also offers an 8-speed Steptronic transmission for the Mini Cooper S Clubman, but you’d miss all the fun in the standard 6-speed manual tranny.
One thing is clear: This is not your mama’s mini van.

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

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Going Back to My Old School

There are few things more terrifying for a "seasoned" citizen than going back to school.
The obvious reasons are that older students don't exactly blend-in with the rest of the student body, especially with our Dad- or Mom-bod appearance. The cat-like reflexes we once had as teenagers have long since departed. The issue of physical stamina is also called into question, and pulling an all-nighter to cram for an exam--after 6-decades of orbiting the sun--is out of the question.

Regardless, I have been investigating that very experiment--returning to college. I am reliving the frustrations and irritations of my youth in navigating obtuse websites, opaque clusters of instructions, and the eccentric personality that is Academia on the internet. 

Today I learned I may have to take an entrance exam to go back to school. Seriously?
I think I took the SAT when I was in High School. Many of my friends were crowing about their scores. As I recall, I was no rooster.

The Texas Success Initiative is being held over my head like some Damoclean sword (I'll bet that reference isn't on the test!) and frankly, I'm stumped by the very first math question:
"If 3t - 7 = 5t, what is 6t?" 

I believe this particular form of mental torture is called Algebra.
Kids, I have NEVER used a stick of Algebra in all the years of my semi-stellar professional career. 

The answer to this puzzle is -21, according to the test answers supplied by the College Board.
I think they have to provide the answers so people like me won't blow a mental o-ring and my head explode. I tried to Google the solution on-line, and some of the answers made Common Core look like an excerpt from Tip and Mitten (another arcane reference the students of today don't get).

That's the other frustration of being a senior Senior on campus--nobody gets your jokes.
The most-distant cultural reference these young pups might catch would be lines quoted from Napoleon Dynamite, or maybe, Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I'm not even going to try to keep up with their music.

I read inspiring stories of 80-year old's going back to school to earn their degrees, and they're the life of the party. They're campus celebrities, and at their commencement they deliver stirring addresses to motivate and encourage their 20-something classmates. And then they go home and die the following week.
I think I know why.
"What is 6t?"

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Job Search Blues

It's Monday.
In my email In-box is a notification that my pitch for a position as a media mogul for an international energy operation has been politely declined. At least they took their time to say so, and expended four carefully crafted paragraphs to wish me well in my future endeavors, blah-de-blah-blah-blahhh.

Last week I applied for a job through one of those mandatory computer filters and was rejected within less than 24-hours. Wham, bam, no thank you, ma'am. It's very easy to understand why people just give up looking for work. The humanity in the job search area has been totally leached from the system.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that in April, the Houston unemployment rate was estimated to have dropped from 4.2% to 4.0%. Those numbers can be misleading, because a drop in the number of jobless folks who are actively looking for work skews the mainline numbers downward. It's very easy to fall off the cart because you're just beaten down by too many rejections.

I used to boast that in my hometown of Houston there was no need to be jobless: You could find a job doing anything, and if I had to, I would drive a bread truck. Guess what--all the bakeries are run by the Big Conglomerates, and they use computer screeners to look for their bread truck drivers, too. Guess the joke is on me.

This morning I spent nearly 90-minutes very carefully following directions to complete an online application through another computer screening routine. The job application was a work of art. All the right answers, all the right experiences. Why, they should be sending over a Black Town Car at any moment to whisk me away to my new corner office. But a side-jog click of the mouse to research a question resulted in the total loss of the online application.
Cancel the Town Car, this moron can't fill out his application. 

I used to really look forward to weekends as a chance to decompress from the week's demands. Now, I see weekends as a two day interruption in my quest for full time employment. When Monday rolls around, that's my clarion call to charge forward and attack the hill, assault the ramparts, and post more job applications on line. And with the click of the mouse, all can be lost in an instant.

So I post this in frustration.
It doesn't get me any closer to the job I want.
It doesn't get me any closer to any job.
But it's a purging of the bile that's built up as I play the game, again.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News for Wk of 6-22-15

If you’ve waited until now to order your Porsche 918 Spyder, you may be out of luck. The last edition of the hybrid sportscar came off the assembly line last week at Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, after 21-months of continuous production. While the 918 Spyder built on Porsche’s rich legacy of finely crafted driving machines, the car established a benchmark upon which future automobiles will be based. Even the production techniques of the 918 Spyder revolutionized how cars are designed and built, with Porsche filing patents on myriad processes and specialized assembly tools.

The 918 Spyder was a study in high technology, generating a total of 887-hp from its propulsion systems. The car set a record 06:57 lap time on the North Loop of the Nurburgring for street-legal vehicles running on production tires—which still stands. Oh, and it got 67-mpg with its plug-in hybrid technology.

Automobile manufacturers are making great strides in demonstrating their ability to not only produce more energy efficient cars and trucks, but also more efficiently build their new vehicles. Nissan, in particular, is being recognized for increasing vehicle production while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions and improving sustainability for fiscal year 2014. The company says it has cut CO2 emissions 22.6% below 2005 levels, exceeding its corporate goal of 20% for the period.

The Nissan Leaf is the cornerstone of the company’s Nissan Green Program 2016, a four-pronged plan addressing zero-emission vehicle market penetration, expansion of fuel-efficient vehicles in its product line, minimization of its corporate carbon footprint, and minimization of new natural resource usage. 

The company says it achieved a 36.4% improvement in CAFE*2 fuel economy standards two years ahead of schedule, and has reduced its corporate carbon footprint by shifting to more rail transports for shipping.

The Diesel Trucking sector is also tooting its air horn over improved fuel mileage and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to newer technology investments. The Diesel Technology Forum is one of those industry advocacy groups tasked with spreading the gospel for its vested interests.

The DTF says more than 37% of all diesel medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks in the US are now equipped with newer technology diesel engines, with 22% operating with the cleanest technology available. 

Allen Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Forum, says, “Our newest analysis of the benefits of the new technology diesel engines conducted by the Martec Group from Detroit found in Classes 3-8 vehicles, that those on the road from 2007 -2014 saved 880 million gallons of diesel fuel, and nine million tons of CO2.” 

Schaeffer says the new technology diesel engines contributed substantially to the nation’s clean air progress, “by reducing 1.45 million tons of NOx from 2007-2014, and 39,500 tons of particulate matter.” Schaeffer says emissions from today’s diesel trucks are near zero, thanks to more efficient engines, better emission control technology, and the abundant availability of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel.

Never discourage your kids from playing video games. David Goss of Missouri, and Colton Miller from Indiana, were the finalists in Mazda’s MX-5 Challenge, co-hosted by Microsoft at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles last week. The competition was a bifurcated contest to push both the all-new Mazda MX-5 Miata, and Microsoft’s Forza Horizon 2 for its Xbox gaming console business.

Goss and Miller spent hours and hours behind the virtual wheel of the new Miata, training for the competition, which promised a new roadster—real, not virtual—for the winner. Goss defeated Colton, but Mazda wanted no one to go home empty handed, awarding both competitors with the keys to their own shiny, new Miata’s.

As a Miata driver, I can confirm there are few things more intimidating than seeing the grille of a large truck looming in the rear view mirror. FCA USA this week is launching production of it’s all new 2015 Ram 1500 Rebel at its Warren Truck Assembly Facility. 

Yeah, it’s pretty intimidating, with the blacked-out grille, billet silver “RAM” letter badge, and a higher ride height.
The Rebel boasts skid plates, tow hooks, 33-inch tires, and a manly interior, starting at under $43,000. 

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


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Taxation Without Representation Alive and Well in Texas

An open letter to my State Senator, Paul Bettencourt, and my State Representative, Allen Fletcher:


I just received my preliminary defacto no-fault property tax increase notice from Harris County. The Appraisal District estimates my home to have jumped in value by $15,900 in the past year.

I always wanted to live in a $200,000 home, and thanks to the convoluted way the State of Texas and its Counties impose property taxes, I have exceeded my wildest dreams.
More like nightmare.

It’s a defacto tax increase, because regardless of what the County says about “not raising taxes” each year, by jacking up the “value” of my home, and then applying the tax rate, voila: My taxes have just gone up.

It’s a “no-fault” tax increase because the County and the Legislature can look me in the eye and say, “we didn’t raise your taxes; we held the tax rate where it is,” meanwhile extorting more money from my household.

If the County is willing to write me a check for the $211,900 it says my house is now worth, bring it; I can be out by the end of the month. I fail to comprehend how the inflated price my neighbor received for his house last year is justification for the County to charge me more in taxes for my house this year. I cannot sustain annual increases of $100+ in my monthly mortgage payment, thanks to the escrow calculations being re-jiggered by hikes in my property taxes. I am essentially being priced-out of the home I thought I could afford when I bought it.

Fighting this confiscatory process is not easy for the “little guy.”
Sure, I can challenge this figure through arbitration with the County Appraisal District, but there’s a $500 filing fee to set this process in motion. I get the feeling the Legislature and its corroborative Counties don’t want too many people questioning the Appraisal District’s results and digging into its work, so they set a moderately high fee to control the traffic. This is truly taxation without representation, except for the financially flush, and it’s wrong.

Paul, we discussed this very issue many times on my Radio program, and I know my thoughts resonate with you. You're now my Senator in the Legislature. With a little less than two years until the next Legislative session, what will you gentlemen do to address this farce on behalf of your constituents?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Automotive Reporter/Biz News Wk of 6-15-15

Early voting is rolling in on the fourth generation 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Our brethren with the Southern Automotive Media Association (SAMA) have dubbed it “Best Small Convertible” at the 2015 Topless in Miami event.
Mazda North American Operations CEO/President, Jim O’Sullivan beamed. “The automotive press has been consistent in its lauding of MX-5’s performance, style and spirited driving dynamics through the years,” he said, calling the award “further affirmation that we’re building the cars people want to drive over and over again.”

The 2016 edition goes back to the taproot of the car, focused on “unadulterated driving pleasure.” The 2016 MX-5 goes on sale this summer starting at $24,915 plus all those other goofy fees.

My wife thinks the Nissan Juke should be named the “puke.” She’s not a big fan, but then, she’s never driven one. The quirky little sport-ute is about to get some serious sex appeal, thanks to a healthy injection from NISMO—the acronym stands for Nissan Motorsport International Limited—and the automaker will unveil the bug-eyed beast at the UK’s Goodwood Festival of Speed June 25th.
They're going to call it the Juke-R NISMO
I. Can’t. Wait.

From the “Putting Their Money Where Their Mouth Is” Dept., FCA US LLC is being recognized as a “Top Supporter” of Black engineering schools for a fourth consecutive year. U.S. Black Engineer & Information Technology (USBE&IT) magazine took into consideration input from the deans of the nation’s 14 accredited historically black colleges and universities, and from members of the corporate-academic alliance, Advancing Minorities' Interest in Engineering, in making the announcement.

FCA says it’s all about priming the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) education pipeline. “Identifying and recruiting diverse talent with world-class skills is imperative to our Company’s and our nation’s continued competitiveness and success,” said Georgette Borrego Dulworth, Head of Diversity – FCA US. 

The FCA Foundation has contributed more than $2.1-Million to support FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) robotics teams across the United States and Canada, part of the company’s ongoing commitment to education.

By now you know Porsche won the 2015 running of the 24-Hours of LeMans. In fact, Porsche was first and second this year. Congratulations, and  Ausgescheissnet!

Ford will return to Le Mans in 2016 with the all-new Ford GT supercar to compete in the LM GTE Pro class. The attempt will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ford’s 1966 overall victory. Oh, and they also won in '67, and '68.

Ford is touting the new race car as additional proof of the company’s innovative prowess. And yes, Ford will generate a race version and a production version of the car.

Can’t afford to buy a GT Supercar?
Meh—just print one up in 3-D.

Ford’s online 3D store,, will enable you to download digital images and printable files of the F-150 Raptor, Shelby GT350R, Focus ST and Fiesta ST

The company promises more models will become available later.
Online store is powered by, the leader in providing automotive digital imaging and 3D-printable files.
Juniper Research foresees sales of desktop 3D printers exceeding 1 million units by 2018. Not to be a Danny-downer, but the 3D-printed models available to order are 1/32nd plastic.

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