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.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Automotive Reporter Biz News for Wk of 10-19-15

This is the week that Back to the Future arrives from the past.
October 21, 2015
—the date that lives in infamy in the futuristic genre.  Toyota is capitalizing on the theme with a series of “Back to the Future” television ads. One of them features a futures recap, starring “Doc Brown” and Marty McFly, a.k.a, Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox, discussing which technologies from their 1985 hit have actually come to pass.

For those of you keeping score, “Back to the Future-II” did get a few things right, although McFly is still waiting for self-tying sneakers. But video chats, large screen TV’s, fingerprint scanners, and wearable devices are in the here and now.  In an interesting exercise, a group of teens were asked to review some of the gadgets from the film, and rate how 2015 has kept up with expectations from 1985.

Toyota’s tease includes a promised reveal of a tricked-out Toyota Tacoma 4 x 4, Marty McFly’s truck of choice in the future. Watch for multiple sightings around the country on October 21, 2015.
Great Scott!

What’s that in your rear-view mirror? Red and blue flashing lights? Odds are, that’s a Ford Motor Company police pursuit vehicle that’s giving chase. Ford’s Interceptor sedans and utility vehicles are the best-selling cop cars on the market, with a staggering 61% share, as of the end of June. 
License and registration, please, and keep your hands on the wheel.

The saga of Volkswagen is still being written, but if someone doesn’t make a movie out of this, I’ll be surprised. The board of the beleaguered automaker continues to tweak its strategies on how best to move forward from the “diesel-gate” fiasco, even after replacing its CEO, and shuffling a few other execs.

The company is reorienting its diesel technology stratagem, and pushing for a more standardized electrical architecture for both passenger and light commercial vehicles. Look for a new iteration of the popular Phaeton series, as VW’s efficiency program is accelerated (no pun intended.)

Sales numbers are in for the first three Quarters of 2015. Volkswagen Group says it delivered 7.43-million vehicles to customers globally in the period. Of that number, 4.35-million were passenger cars. General Motors counted 7.2-million vehicles delivered.  BMW Group’s deliveries are up 7.5% for the first nine-months of the year, totaling more than 1.6-million units sold. 

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Automotive Reporter Biz News for Wk of 10-12-15

It’s show time.
Lexus says it will present 11 vehicles at the 44th Tokyo Motor Show, which opens October 29. My invitation seems to have been lost in the mail. 

The exhibition will mark the Japanese debut of two Lexii: the partially redesigned GS, and the GS F high-performance sports sedan, which is newest member of Lexus’ “F-Troupe.”

Lexus’ new RX premium crossover will also make its first appearance in public at the Tokyo Show.  Also making its world premiere is a new concept car which expresses Lexus’ future vision of progressive luxury. 

Lexus says we’ll have to wait for more details on that until the day before the Tokyo Show opens.

In the 1960’s and ‘70’s, McClaren became king on the Can-Am circuit with five consecutive championship wins, 1967-1971.
To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Can-Am’s launch, McClaren Special Operations is creating a very limited-edition 650S Can-Am, themed on the race cars from the period.

The 2016 650S features a 3.8-litre twin turbo V8 producing 641bhp and 500 lb ft of torque. Zero-to 60 is under three-seconds, and the car’s top speed is 204 mph. At least.

MSO Executive Director Paul MacKenzie says, “The 650S Can-Am is a modern day interpretation with a mixture of functional design features taken from the all-conquering models, combined with the lightest and most pioneering materials available, as was the case with the race cars.”
How limited is the limited-edition car? McClaren is building only 50-models of the commemorative 650S, priced at a paltry £255,850 ($393,177.49).

If you’re into tuner cars, you know the Blood Type Racing name. The Chicago based shop is legendary for wringing out every calorie of hp with its extreme take on Korean vehicles. Its latest creation is a knee-weakening rendition of Hyundai’s popular Veloster—a Turbo R-spec built specifically for next month’s SEMA show in Las Vegas.
Eau my…

What are you looking at? That’s a carbon fiber wide-body kit that gives the car a muscular, more aggressive stance. Front-mounted aero canards, front splitter and a rear deck spoiler provide down force at speed. Red accents on the custom SSR three-piece wheels, along with red projector “demon eye” headlamps add a final demonic touch to the vehicle’s exterior.

Under the hood, Veloster’s 1.6-liter “Gamma” four-cylinder engine gets new cylinder sleeves, a high-boost turbocharger from Garrett, and custom connecting rods and pistons.
With a retuned OEM ECU working in tandem with the strengthened engine internals, power output is now more than 500 horsepower, maintaining OEM drivability through use of Hyundai’s latest GDI technology. The interior is stripped, instead getting the full, race-spec treatment with the addition of a four-point roll cage, Sabelt bucket seats, harnesses and steering wheel, along with audio upgrades from Rockford Fosgate and Tanabe OLED Revel gauges. Me likey.

While Volkswagen continued its tortured laps around the media race track last week, it turns out they’re not the only car company making mea culpas over emission test results. Add to the pack Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Mazda and Mitsubishi, producing diesel cars known to emit significantly more pollution on the road than on the dyno-pad.

The Guardian quotes more realistic road test results showing some Honda models spewing six times the regulatory limit of NOx pollution. The Guardian says Renault, Nissanm Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo, and Jeep all blew past NOx limits in real-life road tests of their vehicles by the Emissions Analystics company. 

CEO/Founder Nick Molden told The Guardian, “The issue is a systemic one” across the industry. “The VW issue in the US was purely the trigger which threw light on a slightly different problem in the EU - widespread legal over-emissions,” he said.

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