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Chrysler Offers Live TV

29th October 2009

Chrysler announced today that by the end of the year, they will offer live TV in select vehicles as a dealer-installed option.  It will also be offered as a retrofit on some vehicles.

The service, from FLO TV, seems to overcome some of the other limitations of other systems presently available – high price, need for a satellite dish on the roof or very limited channel selection.  The system will be priced at $629, plus installation.  The price includes 1 year of service. The normal price for a subscription is $119 a year or $299 for three years.

The system has a capacity to offer up to 20 channels.  Chrysler has announced that it will include CBS Mobile, CNBC, Comedy Central, FOX News, MSNBC, MTV, NBC 2Go, Nickelodeon and others not yet announced.  Up to 20 channels will be available in late December when the feature is available for dealer installation. By the end of 2009, the FLO TV service should be available in more than 100 major markets and many interstate driving corridors. The FLO TV service is not available in some rural areas.

The entertainment package will be available as a dealer-installed option on the following 2008-2010 model year vehicles with factory DVD entertainment systems: Chrysler Town & Country, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Commander, Dodge Grand Caravan, Dodge Journey, Dodge Nitro, Ram 1500 and Ram 2500/3500.

The service also can be added to select 2008-2010 model-year vehicles when new Mopar headrest or seat-top DVD entertainment systems are purchased.

Chrysler deserves a lot of credit for offering this innovation.  Like Sync on Ford products before it, this has the potential to change the way customers view their vehicles.  No longer an appliance to get from A to B, your car can now read your text messages, play your music based on voice command and let you watch your favorite programs.  This may, in fact, be the answer to the credit/housing crisis gripping the nation for the last 1-2 years.  Maybe your vehicle will become your home.  Just needs a refrigerator (which you can get on the Ford Flex) and a microwave.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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Today, Chevrolet announced a contest to name one of the colors of the upcoming Chevy Volt.  The color, which is to be the signature color of the car, is described as “silver exterior with an emerald hue”.  There will also be other colors for the Volt when it is introduced in a year, including Black, Silver Ice Metallic, Cyber Gray Metallic, Crystal Red Metallic and a premium White Diamond Tri-Coat.  The to-be-named color will be exclusive to the Volt.

“We want to invite consumers into the development process of the Chevy Volt and give people an opportunity to be part of our program,” said Maria Rohrer, director, global Volt and global marketing operations at Chevrolet. “We’re looking for a color name that captures the innovation and spirit of the Volt.”

The contest will award three finalists and a guest roundtrip airfare to Los Angeles, two nights standard hotel accommodations, a $400 gift card and admission to the LA Auto Show on December 2, 2009. The winner will be announced by Chevy on December 1 and be given the opportunity to test-drive the pre-production Volt.

Entrants can submit their color name at www.chevroletvoltage.com through 8:00 a.m. ET on November 4. Chevrolet will choose three finalists among all the entries, based equally on originality, creativity, and the ability to capture the innovation and spirit of the Volt. The finalists will advance to a second round, where consumers will vote for the entries on www.chevroletvoltage.com, starting 8:00 a.m. ET on November 16 and concluding at 8:00 a.m. ET on December 1. Consumers are limited to one vote per person and per internet protocol address during the voting period.

I am stating the obvious here, but this is a cheap publicity stunt.  There exists out there a group of people who are really geeked about the Volt.  Giving them the opportunity to “help” with the introduction of the car will really get them fired up.  In another group, there are some others who are interested in the Volt and its new technology and are looking forward to see how it does.  I place myself in this group.  The third group, by far the largest, doesn’t know what a Volt is and doesn’t care.  Many of them don’t even know or are barely aware of what a Chevy is or what they sell.  Anybody reading this is likely not in that 3rd group, but believe me, they exist and I’ve spoken to them.  It’s a humbling experience.

This contest seeks to fire up group #1, in the hopes that their enthusiasm will somehow rub off onto group #2 and maybe even to group #3 eventually.  Awareness is the holy grail of marketing – automotive and other.  If somebody is not aware of your product, they certainly are not going to buy it.  Most people couldn’t care less what the name of their car’s color is, much less want a say in that name.  However, if Chevy can continue to play this game of keeping the Volt in the public consciousness for ANOTHER year, they will have accomplished a PR feat.  The risk, of course, is that the public will be sick of hearing about the Volt before they can even buy one.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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Driving in the Rain

19th October 2009

I received the following e-mail today, and it made me wonder how many have gotten it and actually believe it to be true:

Driving in the Rain
I wonder how many people know about this ~   
A 36 year old female had an accident several weeks ago and totaled her car.  A resident of Kilgore, Texas, she was traveling between Gladewater & Kilgore.  It was raining, though not excessively, when her car suddenly began to hydroplane and literally flew through the air.  She was not seriously injured but very stunned at the sudden occurrence!  

When she explained to the highway patrolman what had happened he told her something that every driver should know – NEVER DRIVE IN THE RAIN WITH YOUR CRUISE CONTROL ON.  She thought she was being cautious by setting the cruise control and maintaining a safe consistent speed in the rain.  

But the highway patrolman told her that if the cruise control is on when your car begins to hydroplane and your tires lose contact with the pavement, your car will accelerate to a higher rate of speed making you take off like an airplane.   She told the patrolman that was exactly what had occurred.   

The patrolman said this warning should be listed, on the driver’s seat sun-visor – NEVER USE THE CRUISE CONTROL WHEN THE PAVEMENT IS WET OR ICY, along with the airbag warning.  We tell our teenagers to set the cruise control and drive a safe speed – but we don’t tell them to use the cruise control only when the pavement is dry. 

The only person the accident victim found, who knew this (besides the patrolman), was a man who had had a similar accident, totaled his car and sustained severe injuries. 

NOTE: Some vehicles (like the Toyota Sienna Limited XLE) will not allow you to set the cruise control when the windshield wipers are on.  

If you send this to 15 people and only one of them doesn’t know about this, then it was all worth it.  You might have saved a life.

First, the basic lesson of the note is true – you should not use your cruise control in slippery or icy conditions.  It reduces your reaction time to changing and hazardous conditions.  Also, to disengage cruise control you press the brake pedal, which is the WORST REACTION if your car begins to slip in the rain (it’s actually a bad move on slippery roads period). Pressing the brake when your wheels begin to lose traction will cause you to lose control.  If that happened to the lady in the story (assuming it’s not a complete myth), it may have felt like “flying”, but it was just an uncontrolled spin/skid.

The rest of the note is utterly false.  Your car CANNOT speed up if it is hydroplaning.  Hydroplaning occurs when the tires are riding on the plane of water and not on the road surface.  In order for your vehicle to gain speed, the tires must be in contact with the road surface.  The car might “think” it is speeding up, as the tires might well begin to gain speed as they rotate faster in a hydroplane situation, but the vehicle will not be gaining speed.

Even if the car were to suddenly gain speed, your car cannot “literally” fly through the air – unless you drive off a cliff or up a ramp a la Evel Knievel.  I consulted an expert in aerodynamics and jet engine design, who has multiple degrees in aerospace engineering.  He said (and this is an actual quote), “That’s a funny email…Duhhh… cars can’t take off like an airplane.  Should be self-explanatory.  No wings to generate lift, too heavy, etc.  And again, the tires aren’t grabbing the road this scenario (slippery), so how can you accelerate??  The only force acting on the car is air resistance, which is slowing it down.”

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Chrysler Creates Ram Brand

5th October 2009

As rumored, Chrysler has split the Dodge brand into 2 parts – Dodge Car and Dodge RAM.  In an announcement today, Chrysler made official the rumor that started last week.  Dodge cars will continue to be marketed as Dodge, while the trucks will add the RAM name.

Some believe this is being done to isolate the valuable parts of Chrysler (Jeep and Dodge trucks) from the no so valuable parts (Chrysler and Dodge cars) for an eventual sale or discontinuation.  Assuming that FIAT plans to keep all of the parts, there are some pros and cons to this move.

Pro: Dodge trucks have enjoyed a positive position in the market, especially since they gave the RAM truck its own tough look and image with the Mack Truck redesign in the 1992 model year.  Like Ford and Chevrolet, Dodge’s image is confusing to the public.  They have a good tough truck image for the trucks, while their cars are seen as commodities.  Ford and Chevrolet have worked very hard over many years to shed this image.  Dodge doesn’t have many years. Separating the 2 will allow them to craft an entirely new image for Dodge cars.  Hopefully, they will develop some cars that fit that new image.  As stated here previously, Dodge needs to stand for sporty and affordable fun transportation.  The “Dodge Trucks are Ram Tough” doesn’t work with that.  Ford and Chevy are likely going to be very interested in how well this works.  Neither of them have a ready-made sub-brand like RAM, but this is a copycat business.  If the RAM brand is a success, look for Ford and/or Chevrolet to try something similar.

Con: the flip side of allowing the cars and trucks to have separate images to the customers is that the change will likely confuse those same customers.  With so many nameplates out there, the last thing you should do is confuse your customers.  However, with good communication, this will be lessened.  Dodge needs to make sure it doesn’t think that customers will make any effort to understand what they’re doing.  They may just go elsewhere.  Keeping the Dodge name, along with the RAM name, will help.  The plan is apparently to keep the Dodge name while adding the RAM moniker, so it will be Dodge RAM pickup, Dodge RAM Dakota, etc.  The other potential hurdle is that the RAM truck brand will be diluted to include (potentially) many other vehicles.  RAM is probably Chrysler’s strongest brand, behind Jeep, and the potential harm they could do to it (and therefore, to the company) by including other vehicle types cannot be ignored or overstated.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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GM announced today that it will save the G8 and start selling a Chevrolet Caprice.  This was widely reported, confirmed by GM and then denied by GM recently.  The catch here is that the Caprice will be a Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV) only – at least for now.  When GM publicly stated that they were not going to keep the G8 in the US market as a Chevrolet, it was because they couldn’t make a business case for it.  However, the Caprice that they are now going to sell in the US isn’t even the same car as the G8, though they both come from Holden – GM’s operation down under.

Among many other nameplates, Holden sells a model called the Commodore, which comes in many configurations.  It is the Commodore that spawned the G8 which Pontiac sells.  The Commodore/G8 is based on a platform that GM calls its global rear drive platform, otherwise known as Zeta.  This platform also underpins the new Chevrolet Camaro.  That platform also includes the Holden Caprice, which is a slightly larger version (the wheelbase is stretched 3.7″ and it is 10.4″ longer than the Commodore) of the Commodore/G8.  The Caprice is sold as a luxury car in Australia.

So GM can’t make a case for retail sales of the G8 as a Chevrolet, but they apparently can for the police-only Caprice?  The investment into making the Caprice a PPV has to be significantly more than giving the G8 a nose job to sell it as a Chevrolet.  Police cars require special equipment for their hard life chasing the bad guys that their more sedate retail cousins do not.  Specifically, GM has added the following equipment to the Caprice, in addition to a specially calibrated transmission:

  • High-output alternator
  • Engine oil, transmission and power steering coolers
  • Standard 18-inch steel wheels with bolt-on center caps
  • Large, four-wheel disc brakes with heavy-duty brake pads
  • Heavy-duty suspension components
  • Police-calibrated stability control system
  • Driver information center in the instrument cluster with selectable speed tracking feature

All this makes me think that GM still might sell the Commodore/G8 or the Caprice to the US retail market.  Why wouldn’t they?  Chevrolet dealerships will have to be trained and stocked to service the Caprice anyway; the incremental effort and investment of selling it to Joe the plumber is inconsequential.  Because the Commodore/G8 and Caprice are kissin’ cousins anyway, the Chevy nose job applied to the Caprice could likely be used to make the G8 into a Chevrolet for free.So will we see the Caprice in either version at your local Chevy dealer anytime soon?  Hard to say, but today’s announcement surely improves the chances.  For now, GM is using the fact that the Caprice is not available to retail customers to sell it to police departments, saying, “Unlike other police cars on the market, the Caprice PPV is not based on (an) existing “civilian” passenger-car model sold in North America.”  This wording was clearly designed by the legal and marketing staff to mislead, but not lie.  It is based on an existing civilian passenger-car model (but not sold in North America), and it is so closely related to the G8 that this borders on a lie, but doesn’t quite cross the line.  GM better hope that police departments don’t read The Slandy Report.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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Showing that they care much more about ratings and sensationalism that about actual facts, Fox “News” came out strongly criticizing the recent Department of Energy (DOE) loans to Fisker and Tesla.  Fisker was awarded $528 million and Tesla $465 million.  It is difficult to enumerate all of the false and misleading statements in the following video clips, but here is a sampling of the junk that they try to pass off as news:

  • Many times, the loans are derided as a handout to “foreign” companies “creating jobs in Finland” and “going to build a car in Finland for $89,000”.  In fact, both companies are American, based in California.  The confusion on the part of Fox and its guests is from the fact that presently, Tesla only produces one model, which is made in Great Britain. Fisker doesn’t produce anything yet, but its first model, the Karma, will be assembled in Finland. However, the loans are for the development and eventual manufacture of lower-priced models from both companies that will be made in the US.
  • Stating and strongly implying that the only reason that Fisker received the loan is because Al Gore is involved and was pulling the strings behind the scenes.  In fact, Al Gore is a partner in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a major investor in Fisker.  However, another partner is Colin Powell, who once considered running for president as a Republican.  Fox offers no evidence of tampering by Gore or KPCB.  It just throws out the implication.
  • They have David Williams of “Citizens Against Government Waste” to discuss.  He rails against the loans as wasteful.  Fine.  Disagree with the program if you want, but Fox also asks him about the cars and whether they are worthy of the loans.  This guy doesn’t know any more that the hosts when he says the money will not help the average American.  See first point.
  • At the end of the first segment, almost as an after thought, the host mentions that Fisker says the money will be used to fund another model, but it isn’t even designed yet.  Great job on doing your homework.  Even for the best car companies, it takes years and millions (sometimes billions) of dollars to design and develop a vehicle to sell.  Fisker (and Tesla) are going to use these low interest loans to fund that very development, so of course the new vehicles aren’t developed yet.
  • The 2nd segment includes a writer from the Wall Street Journal, who is no better.  Several times, he refers to Fisker as a “Finland company” and Tesla as a “British company”.  Then he says 3-4 times, “I don’t agree with this type of government largess, but if you’re going to do this, at least give the money to an American company.”  I almost expect this type of bluster from Fox, but not the Wall Street Journal.  They are supposed to at least be knowledgeable about business.  If they’re not, what value are they to anybody?  He even tries to equate this to the US contracting out the moon program of the 1960s to the Russians.  Unbelievable.
  • They conveniently leave out the fact that 1 truly foreign company has already received over $1 billion in DOE loans – Nissan.  Ford and Nissan received funds in the first installment of the DOE program earlier this year.  As a US taxpayer, I would much rather my tax $ go to Fisker and Tesla than Nissan.  Nissan’s profits and intellectual property are in Japan, where the good jobs truly are located.

By the way, Fisker has issued a press release disputing the reports about the loan and about the company. Tesla has also attempted to calm the storm and get the facts out.  You can read the Fisker release here, and the Tesla release here.

That’s what I think – how about you?  Please leave your comments below.

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