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Tesla Introduces Cybertruck

22nd November 2019

Tesla introduced its Cybertruck on Thursday, to mixed reviews.

Tesla has a cadre of fanboys and girls that will fall over themselves over anything the company does. Its products thus far (the original Roadster, Model S, Model X, Model 3) have great features and (mostly) attractive packages. The upcoming Model Y seems to continue this. Further ahead, Tesla will (someday, one can presume) begin producing and selling the new Roadster and the Semi. Every one of these products has an attractive, distinctive design inside and out, long-range batteries, amazing acceleration and have garnered a cult-like following. A version of the Model 3 is the most efficient vehicle you can buy in the United States, getting a rating of 141 MPGe from the US EPA. Clearly, the company has a lot going for it.

Thursday, Tesla seemed to consciously put all of that on the line with the introduction of the Cybertruck. With a design that can be generously described as “unique”, Tesla seemed to say, “Let’s see how ugly we can make a vehicle and have people still fawn all over it.” This seemed like a joke. One might be excused if they were waiting for the punchline at the end. Surely, they would show the real Cybertruck soon, right? Nope. If there is a punchline, it wasn’t revealed yet.

The design is made up of entirely flat panels – there are no compound curves, no rounded surfaces. Frankly, I think an 8-year old drew this in art class, and Musk decided to make it as a joke. Besides being a (cough…cough) distinctive design, the only good reason to design a vehicle like this is to save tooling cost. When a typical exterior panel has the kind of surfaces you’re used to seeing, the part must go through multiple steps of stamping. The different tools required to do this are quite expensive and can really add up to many millions of dollars. This design requires none of that multi-step process and is certainly a big part in keeping the starting price less than $40,000.

One “feature” in particular has made a lot of news: the supposed armored glass windows. Musk described them as being like a transparent steel. To demonstrate this, well, just watch:

So much for “unbreakable” glass!

What do you think? Will this be a success? Do you like it? Am I being too harsh? I’d love to hear your opinions!

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2019 Chopping Block

26th December 2018

This is the time of year when some automotive publications tell us about all the vehicles that are on the chopping block, that are either done with production or about to be done.

USA Today has just published a list (see this link). In some cases, the list reeks of missed opportunity, where the car in question was a truly good/great car but was in the wrong place at the wrong time or was a victim of gross negligence on the part of its owner/steward.

Their Time was Up
Ford Taurus – Ford lost its way with Taurus when it made it a bigger car in order to use an existing Volvo platform. Classic case of trying to hammer a square peg into that damn round hole. Taurus’s days were numbered for years.

Chevy Impala – similar to the Taurus, but Impala was more just a victim of changing tastes in the market. Customers just aren’t buying cars, especially big cars, anymore.

VW Beetle – the Beetle was a fashion play from the beginning of its resurrection and fashions simply don’t last. I’m surprised it lasted this long, frankly.

Cadillac XTS – see Chevy Impala. Same deal here.

Who Gives a Shit? (or, “They Still Sell That?”)
VW Touareg – this vehicle, from the day it went on sale, violated Marketing 101 by having a name that NOBODY can pronounce. It’s hard to want a product that you can’t say. How do you ask for it? VW has been particularly guilty of this over the years. Full disclosure: I do know how to pronounce it, but it took a lot of practice to get it right.

Hyundai Azera – nobody really wanted a luxury Hyundai, and eventually Hyundai agreed when they introduced their new Genesis brand

Honda CR-Z – I actually liked this car a lot, but I learned a long time ago that my taste is NOT representative of most Americans’. This was a sporty hybrid with an available manual tranny! Yeah, nobody else knew that either.

Nissan Juke – this was the fugliest car since the Pontiac Aztec, and that’s saying a lot. It was quirky just for the sake of being quirky. Never a good idea.

Just a Victim of Circumstance
Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze, Chevy Volt, Ford C-Max, Toyota Prius V – all of these are victims of the trend “You can sell anything in this market, as long as it’s an SUV”. The subtitle of the trend is “If its main reason for being is that it gets good fuel economy, Americans don’t want it!” These are all good/great cars, but with fuel an an inflation-adjusted price of almost zero, Americans have reverted back to “bigger is better, and it better be an SUV”.

Bad Management
Cadillac CT6 & ATS – both of these 2 are truly great/world class cars, and part of their demise is that they are cars (see above). However, there are still plenty of cars out there that are NOT being cancelled, so the fact that Cadillac can’t sell them is more an indictment of Cadillac management than of the cars themselves.

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2014 Detroit Auto Show

18th January 2014

{cue the Sanford & Son theme song} Welcome to Detroit, where everything is for sale! Belle Isle…already sold to the state! Priceless art at the Detroit Institute of Arts…make an offer! You want a building downtown? Sorry, they’ve all been sold to Dan Gilbert! Oh, you want a car? Well, we’ve got those too! Thousands of them, just waiting to be adopted by a nice family…or you. Read on for the bios of the best of these lovely children just looking for a good home (or yours).

2015 F-150: new look with LED lamps, bold new grille. New engine 2.7L EcoBoost with start/stop. HP and torque are TBD officially, but expect about 325 horsepower and 350 torques. New features: 360-degree camera view, Integrated loading ramps, Remote tailgate, 8-inch LCD “productivity screen”, inflatable seatbelts for rear passengers, curve control, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping and blind spot warning. A first in the segment, F-150 will now have an aluminum body. Seeking to cutoff criticism of aluminum at the knees, Ford calls it “High-strength, military-grade, aluminum alloys – already used in aerospace, commercial transportation, energy and many other rugged industries”

2015 Mustang: first in-person look at the new Pony car, revealed late last year. The new ‘stang is instantly recognizable as a Mustang, but it’s all new at the same time. This is exactly what Ford needed to do with an icon like Mustang. The design is no longer retro, except for some of the switches inside. The 3.7L V6 and the 5.0L V8 carry on and are now joined by a 2.3L EcoBoost making over 300HP and 300 torques.

Ford Edge Concept: previewing the next-generation Edge, this crossover is larger than the current model, and really nice looking. It’s full of advanced technology, but who knows how much of it will make it to production?

2015 Lincoln MKC: we saw the concept last year. Now it’s time for the real deal. Maybe not quite as striking as the concept (but then when are any cars?), the MKC is still quite the looker. Available this summer.

Transit Connect: this homely commercial van is homely no longer. It’s actually downright beautiful compared to its predecessor. It’s also more powerful. Also new for 2014 is a passenger version. Ford is back in the minivan segment.

FT-1 Concept: this concept’s “audacious” styling is very aggressive and a far cry from Toyota’s usual offerings. It is, however, a concept. While no specs are given, other than “front engine, rear drive”, if you squint, the shape evokes the Scion FR-S. Did the FT-1 start out like as the Scion? Not sure, but it certainly looks like it might have. Either way, it’s very cool and worth a look.

2015 Lexus RC F: high-performance version of the RC Coupe, already shown at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show late last year. The base RC, a rear-drive 4-passenger coupe, is based on the GS platform, and will come with either a 3.5L V6 (RC 350) or a 2.5L Hybrid powertrain (RC 300h). The “F” ups the ante with a 5.0L 32-valve V8, making “more than 450” hp and “more than 383” torques. Its styling is also amped up, giving it a much more aggressive look than its tamer sibling.

Toyota FCV Concept: really cool looking car, and it runs on hydrogen. Don’t look for it at a dealer anytime soon, as fuel cells are still a ways off from being commercially viable. The research continues though, and it’s nice to look at.

Chrysler 200: redesigned inside and out. LED lamps (especially in the back) give the new 200 an Audi-esque look, and that’s a good thing. This is quite an upgrade from the present 200. Better in every way. Looks great inside and out. It has carryover engines, though now matched with a segment-first 9-speed tranny. The dirty parts are derived from the same place as the Dodge Dart. If you know what to look for, the 200 shares some styling / parts with the Dart. AWD is a new addition, and it completely disconnects from the rear wheels when not in use to save gas. Strange that in the unveiling, Chrysler brand CEO Al Gardner called the 200 Chrysler’s flagship. Don’t tell the 300. It might get angry, and you wouldn’t like it when it’s angry.

Corvette Z06: menacing new looks with improved aerodynamics and “unprecedented” downforce, supercharged 6.2L V8, with 625 horsepower and 635 torques. Automatic tranny will be available, meaning that the 3-pedal-challenged among you can attain stupid speeds and risk your lives too. Three cheers for equality!

2015 GMC Canyon: the GMC twin of the Chevy Colorado already seen. Looks like a Sierra that shrunk in the wash. Available in extended cab and crew cab, 2 box lengths and 2 engines (2.5L I4 and 3.6L V6) at launch. A 2.8L Diesel engine will be available for 2016.

2015 ATS Coupe: looks pretty much exactly as you would expect, which is very good. The 2.5L I4 base engine from the sedan is not available with the coupe, making the excellent 2.0L Turbo (272HP / 295 torques) the base engine. The 3.6L V6 (321 / 275) is optional. A true, 3-pedal manual is available, but only with the turbo. The truly big news here is that the 2015 ATS Coupe will be the first appearance of Cadillac’s new…wait for it…badge! Honestly, if you make that big of a deal about a badge, you need more to do. And frankly, we don’t need no stinking badges.

2015 C-Class: redesigned for 2015, the C moves up in size and price to make sure the CLA (See below) has room to maneuver. The C300 sports a 235 HP, 273-torques 2.0-liter turbo. The C400 has a 329 HP, 354-torques 3.0-liter turbo. AWD will be standard, though RWD is expected later. Much better looking inside and out. Production moves to the U.S. for this new model.

S-Class Coupe: why an S-Class Coupe? Why not? Mercedes, like its friends at BMW and Audi, continues to explore and fill niches that we never knew existed (and neither did they).

CLA: see niche comment above. New smaller sedan, starting at $30,000. Inexpensive is not the problem. The problem is that the CLA looks and feels cheap. That might fly in Europe, where M-B product spans a much wider range. Here in the U.S., they are taking a big risk with this product. The AMG model is way better and nicer.

GLA: see niche comment above. This is a small crossover version of the CLA. Only the AMG version is shown.

2015 Genesis: engines are the same, but that’s about all. The new Genesis moves up in styling and luxury, gets a new ZF 8-Speed tranny and AWD is now available.

Kia GT4 Stinger Concept: very stylish 2+2 coupe. The general shape seems to be channeling the Jaguar E-Type. Powered by a 2L turbo with 315HP.

Kia K900: Kia’s first entry in the large premium segment, following cousin Hyundai Equus. The K900 will be available early next year.

Kia Soul: minor update to the best-selling subcompact. Already on sale.

2015 Fit: fairly major freshening. It’s smaller on the outside and roomier on the inside. More power and better fuel economy (estimated to be 33 city / 41 city). Goes into production next month at a new plant in Mexico, marking the first time the Fit will be made in North America.

2015 Acura TLX: TLX replaces the TL and TSX in Acura’s lineup, and it goes on sale mid year. The TLX is a nice-looking car, despite retaining the ugly, guillotine grille that all Acuras have had for the last few years. 2 powertrains will be offered: a 2.4L I4 with an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission and Precision All-Wheel Steer™ (P-AWS) or a 3.5L V6 with a 9-speed auto and either P-AWS or Super-Handling All Wheel Drive™ (SH-AWD™). I feel like a broken record, but Acura really needs to fire Wylie Coyote from their marketing department.

Sport Sedan Concept: really cool looking car, stupid name. Maybe Nissan can hire Wylie Coyote? Though it looks more like Volvo’s current design language, this car is beautiful and Nissan says they expect to build it. Maybe the next-gen Maxima or Altima?

Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge Concept: a high performance version of the new Q50 sedan. I’ve never heard words like this used for a car introduction, “If we built this car I would expect it to feature over 500hp and 600 lb-ft torque.” Anyway, it looks great, but maybe Infiniti needs to hire Wylie Coyote too? He likely would have consulted before deciding on the name.

Infiniti Q30 Concept: already shown in LA, the Q30 shows where Infiniti is headed next – into the compact luxury utility segment, along with…well…everybody.

M3 & M4: the new M is here…the new M is here!! 425 HP/406 torques, 3.0L twin-turbo I6, 0-60 in 3.9 seconds. What’s not to love?

2-Series: continues BMW’s new model designations, which move the coupes and convertibles to even numbers and leaves the sedans as odd numbers. The 2-Series is larger than the 1-Series coupe it replaces, and will offered as a 228i ($33,025 base price) and M235i ($44,025). On sale any minute now.

2014 Mini Cooper: the Mini Hardtop is new inside and out (but you wouldn’t notice it unless you really know what to look for). The base model now comes with a turbo 3-cylinder engine that makes more HP than the prior 4-cylinder engine (134 vs. 121). The Cooper S engine is bumped up from 1.6L to 2.0L, increasing power to 189 from 181. Mini expects 25% improvement in fuel economy from the base, which would make its combined number 36-37. Fuel economy on the Cooper S is TBD, but considering its displacement increase only results in 8 HP and a LOSS of 33 torques, fuel econ should be going up significantly as well.

Audi A8/S8: mild freshening of Audi’s flagship sedan. Revised front and rear design, new technology and more horsepower for the 4.0L V8 (435 from 420). On sale this summer.

Audi allroad shooting brake Concept: a look at the upcoming 2015 TT? This looks like the offspring of an Audi TT and a Volvo C30 coupe, and foreshadows the design of the new TT, though the TT will not be a shooting brake/crossover/electric. Take the front design and the rear design and give it the old TT’s middle, and there you have the new TT. Capisce?

2015 Audi A3/S3: already shown in LA, the new A3 family includes the A3 sedan, S3 sedan, A3 cabriolet and A3 Sportback e-tron® gasoline electric plug-in hybrid. The A3 looks very much like a small, premium sedan – inside and out. Engines include 1.8L turbo, 2.0L turbo, 2.0L Diesel, 1.4L Turbo with the plug-in and a high output 2.0L turbo on the S3. Sales begin in the spring.

Porsche 911 Targa: just like legendary 911 Targa of yore, the new models feature the distinctive Targa roof bar, a movable front roof section, and a wraparound rear window. But unlike those classics, the roof segment can be opened and closed at the push of a button. The fully automatic roof system stows the Targa top behind the rear seats. Cool, yes? The Targa will be offered only as AWD models: Targa 4 and Targa 4S. The 911 Targa 4 will have an MSRP of $101,600, while the 911 Targa 4S model will have an MSRP of $116,200.

Porsche Macan: introduced at the LA Auto Show in November, the Macan is the “mini-me” to the Cayenne SUV. The Macan S comes with a 3.0L twin turbo V6, making 340HP / 339 torques and a 7-speed PDK transmission. 0-60 is achieved in 5.2 seconds. It has a base price of $49,900. The Macan Turbo has a 3.6L twin turbo with the same tranny. It makes 400 / 406, goes to 60 in 4.4 seconds and costs $72,300. While these stats are certainly awesome, and Porsche is likely to sell many of these, at what point does Porsche go too far with its product line breadth? When will customers forget what “Porsche” means and why it is so desirable? In other words, when will Porsche cease being Porsche? I’m not smart enough to know the answers to these questions. I just hope that Porsche management is asking them.

Mazda3: introduced last summer and already on sale, the Mazda3 goes all SKYACTIV on us. It has SKYACTIV manufacturing, SKYACTIV engines and SKYACTIV transmissions. I’ve said it before, SKYACTIV might be the greatest thing since sliced roast beef, but it means nothing to customers. It’s just a word (sort of) that only confuses. Just give us the performance and fuel economy and leave it at that. All that said, the new 3 is a really nice car: it has great looks (like a smaller CX-5), performance and economy.

2015 Subaru WRX STI: the hot car from Subaru gets an update to a new platform, which promises even better handling for its 305HP. AWD helps too.

Volvo XC Coupe Concept: winner of the Eyes on Design award for best concept car, the XC looks a bit like a stretched C30 coupe, but with a radically different front end.

Jaguar C-X17: Jaguar keeps threatening to make a SUV or crossover, and now maybe they will. The C-X17 (great name, BTW) bears more than a passing resemblance to the Land Rover Evoque. This is not likely a coincidence, as they are part of the same company. Damn gorgeous though!

Jaguar F-Type Coupe: hardtop version of the beautiful F-Type. Already shown in Tokyo and LA, the coupe shares all of its mechanicals with its topless friend.

The 2014 Slandy Awards®

Slandy Best in Show: Corvette Stingray Z06
SBIS Honorable Mention: F-150, Mustang, Chrysler 200, Hyundai genesis, Nissan Sport Sedan Concept, BMW M3/M4, Jaguar C-X17
WATT: Mercedes-Benz CLA. Inexpensive is fine; cheap is not.
Bet the Farm: Ford F-150. The F-150 pays all the bills in Dearborn, so any large change better be right.
Oops!: CLA (see above)
Uh-Oh!: Kia K900. Kia enters yet another new segment, causing executives on several continents to up their dose of Mylanta.
Most Annoying Trend: the touchy-feely, pointless naming on some brands/cars. These are internal initiatives for these companies. They are not the type of thing that should be branded on the cars. Some MBAs needed more to do. These include the following, along with the companies’ own definitions of these initiatives in parenthesis:
• Mazda’s “SKYACTIV Technology” (SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY is a blanket term for Mazda’s innovative new-generation technologies that are being developed under the company’s long-term vision for technology development, Sustainable Zoom-Zoom. The SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY name is intended to reflect Mazda’s desire to provide driving pleasure as well as outstanding environmental and safety performance in its vehicles. To achieve this goal, Mazda has implemented an internal Building Block Strategy to be completed by 2015. This ambitious strategy involves the comprehensive optimization of Mazda’s base technologies, which determine the core performance of its vehicles, and the progressive introduction of electric devices such as regenerative braking and a hybrid system. All the technologies that are developed based on the Building Block Strategy will fall under the SKYACTIV TECHNOLOGY umbrella)
• Honda’s “Earth Dreams Technology” (“Earth Dreams Technology” is a next generation set of technological advancements which greatly enhance both driving performance and fuel efficiency at a high level, using as its base advanced environmental technologies to pursue the joy of driving unique to Honda. It is a series of measures in which efficiency of internal combustion components including engine, and transmission, as well as electric-powered motor technology, is further improved)
• Nissan’s “Pure Drive” (“PURE DRIVE” is our action to improve fuel economy of engine-powered vehicles. A combination of advanced technology measures are prepared, from the comprehensive energy loss reduction from within the power train, the reduction of needless energy usage through idling stop, to the recovering of the wasted energy using hybrid vehicles. All of this advanced technology is being prepared in order to provide all our customers with good fuel economy vehicles)

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Chevrolet introduced the upcoming Camaro ZL1 at the Chicago Auto Show today. All you really need to know is that it has a 6.2L Supercharged V8 making 550HP and 550 lb-ft of torque. It will only be available with a 6-speed manual transmission. It has a revised suspension and a dual-mode exhaust system, which alters the sound level and character in response to engine rpm. First used on the legendary Corvette, and specifically tuned for Camaro ZL1, the dual-mode exhaust will give the car a signature sound.

The ZL1 name is derived from the all-aluminum racing engine of the same name, which was developed in the late 1960s and installed into a handful of regular-production 1969 Camaros. Only 69 were built with the engine, but they’ve achieved mythical status among enthusiasts, as they represented the pinnacle in Camaro performance – until now.

Camaro ZL1’s design communicates and supports its performance mission. Rather than using decorative elements, ZL1 is visually differentiated from other current Camaro models with elements vital to the car’s elevated capabilities.

“Everything about the ZL1’s design is directly related to its technology and serious performance, especially aerodynamics,” said Ed Welburn, vice president, Global Design. “Our designers’ goal was to execute that function-oriented design with beautifully sculpted forms, creating an imposing, powerful persona. Function becomes the aesthetic. The intent is a car that delivers on the attitude it projects.”

Major elements of the ZL1’s design are a new front fascia and hood with air extractors, designed in tandem to create aerodynamic downforce to aid handling. The car’s hood includes a signature center section constructed of carbon fiber and rendered in satin black finish. New rocker panels, wide tires, 20-inch wheels and exhaust tips portray the car’s handling and power. The ZL1 badge appears on the grille, hood and the brake calipers, all key areas portraying the technology within.

2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
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Toyota and Tesla jointly announced a new joint venture to develop and build electric vehicles (EVs). As part of the deal, Toyota will invest $50 million in Tesla, and Tesla buys the New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI) factory in California. The NUMMI plant was previously a joint venture of Toyota and General Motors. The NUMMI plant, in Freemont, California, began production in 1984 after being a “regular” GM plant from 1962-1982. As a NUMMI plant, it produced vehicles such as the Chevrolet Nova, Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Tacoma and Toyota Corolla. Tesla plans to produce the Model S, which Tesla expects to be the world’s first all-electric sedan, at the plant in 2012. They also said other future Tesla vehicles would be produced there.

The announcement was short on details, with the usual fluffery where Toyota said how great Tesla is and vice versa. The full text of the joint announcement is below.

Tesla Motors, Inc. (Tesla) and Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) today announced that they intend to cooperate on the development of electric vehicles, parts, and production system and engineering support.
The two companies intend to form a team of specialists to further those efforts. TMC has agreed to purchase $50 million of Tesla’s common stock issued in a private placement to close immediately subsequent to the closing of Tesla’s currently planned initial public offering.
“I sensed the great potential of Tesla’s technology and was impressed by its dedication tomonozukuri (Toyota’s approach to manufacturing),” said TMC President Akio Toyoda. “Through this partnership, by working together with a venture business such as Tesla, Toyota would like to learn from the challenging spirit, quick decision-making, and flexibility that Tesla has. Decades ago, Toyota was also born as a venture business.  By partnering with Tesla, my hope is that all Toyota employees will recall that ‘venture business spirit,’ and take on the challenges of the future.”
“Toyota is a company founded on innovation, quality, and commitment to sustainable mobility. It is an honor and a powerful endorsement of our technology that Toyota would choose to invest in and partner with Tesla,” said Tesla CEO and cofounder Elon Musk. “We look forward to learning and benefiting from Toyota’s legendary engineering, manufacturing, and production expertise.”
TMC has, since its foundation in 1937, operated under the philosophy of “contributing to the society through the manufacture of automobiles,” and made cars that satisfy its many customers around the world. TMC introduced the first-generation Prius hybrid vehicle in 1997, and produced approximately 2.5 million hybrids in the twelve years since. Late last year, TMC started lease of Prius Plug-in Hybrids, which can be charged using an external power source such as a household electric outlet. The company also plans to introduce EVs into the market by 2012.
Tesla’s goal is to produce increasingly affordable electric cars to mainstream buyers – relentlessly driving down the cost of EVs. Palo Alto, CA-based Tesla has delivered more than 1000 Roadsters to customers in North America, Europe and Asia. Tesla designs and manufactures EVs and EV powertrain components. It is currently the only automaker in the U.S. that builds and sells highway-capable EVs in serial production. The Tesla Roadster accelerates faster than most sports cars yet produces no emissions. Tesla service rangers make house calls to service Roadsters.
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Bloomberg is reporting today that Ford plans to kill the Mercury brand – again. At least twice in the last decade, Mercury was on the chopping block, only to be given a stay of execution. The Ford family, specifically Elena Ford, has vetoed efforts by management to kill off the brand in the past.

Mercury was created in 1939 by Edsel Ford as a bridge between the mainstream Ford brand and the luxury Lincoln brand. Mercury products have lately been nothing more than Fords with more features and (slightly) fancier styling. Mercury’s present lineup shows this: Milan (Fusion twin), Mariner (Escape), Mountaineer (Explorer) and Grand Marquis (Crown Victoria). The last time Mercury had a unique vehicle (not shared with a Ford) was in 2002, when Mercury last sold the Cougar and the Villager minivan (though the Villager was engineered by, and shared with, Nissan).

1967 Mercury Cougar

1967 Mercury Cougar

In 1999, Ford planned to kill the Mercury brand by phasing out the lineup and eventually “encouraging” Mazda dealers and Lincoln dealers to dual with the other brand. They saw Mercury sales dwindling and Mazda sales going in the opposite direction. The plan was set, and the future product (“cycle”) plan was modified to reflect Mercury’s demise. Then the company got cold feet. A powerful combination of the Ford family and Lincoln Mercury dealers killed the plan before it really got going. The Ford family opposed it due to sentimental reasons (the tragic story of Edsel and Mercury being his creation was a big part), while the dealers didn’t like the idea of selling Japanese cars.

1982 Mercury Capri RS

1982 Mercury Capri RS

Many at Ford had already mentally written off the Mercury brand, and the reversal left Mercury without a plan for future products. Instead of taking the opportunity to “reboot” the brand into something other than fancy Fords, the company went back to the old ways and hastily threw some money at Fords with different lights and grilles. It was a self-fulfilling, defeatist attitude that went something like this, “Mercury sales suck, so let’s not spend too much money on Mercury products. That way, we won’t have to sell too many to get a return on the money.” Of course, spending very little on badge-engineering ensured the sales would suck, and the geniuses who made the decision patted themselves on the back for not spending the money (“See, I told you the sales would suck – aren’t you glad we didn’t spend the money?”).

Ford missed an opportunity to have its cake and eat it too. Ford had (and still does have) wonderful products in overseas markets around the world that it could have used to give Mercury unique products without the cost of developing a stand-alone product for Mercury. Ford could have assembled a collection of Ford’s European and Asian products, including some vehicles that Mazda sold in Japan, but not in North America. There would have been costs associated with homologation and importation, but nowhere near the costs of engineering a new product from scratch.

1955 Mercury Montclair

1955 Mercury Montclair

Again in 2005, Ford looked at eliminating Mercury. Detailed analyses of sales volume and profit & loss were presented to senior management, but again, the idea was crushed. There were fears of Lincoln Mercury dealer profits and the heavy hand of the Ford family was in the middle somewhere.

Since Alan Mulally showed up, Mercury has seen its lineup shrink to the present 4 vehicles mentioned above. And now Ford is apparently going through the same exercise again. So what’s different this time? Mulally and the cash situation are the major ones. Mulally isn’t so tied to the past and will make the decision that is best for the company, regardless of sentiment. Also, while Ford is doing better than just about anybody in the industry right now (though that isn’t saying much), they still have a tremendous amount of debt to consider, and cash is tight.

1971 Mercury Cyclone GT

1971 Mercury Cyclone GT

What about the dealers? The Lincoln Mercury dealers have made the argument in the past that they wouldn’t have enough volume to survive if Ford pulled the plug on Mercury. Is that still true? Lincoln has, arguably, its best lineup ever right now, but is it enough to keep the dealer body healthy? They have 6 vehicles for sale (MKZ, MKX, MKS, MKT, Navigator and Town Car), but the Town Car goes away completely after the 2011 model year. That leaves 5 mostly alphabet soup names and a giant SUV. For the dealers’ sake, I hope that the pipeline is full of new Lincolns and freshenings of existing models.

Even assuming that Ford can keep the dealers happy and profitable with just Lincoln, does Mercury really need to go the way of Plymouth, Saturn, Pontiac, et al? I have the same argument against pulling the Mercury plug as I did with Pontiac. Why pull it? Mercury could remain as a niche product, with maybe 2-3 vehicles. If Ford really does have a plan for Lincoln, the dealers wouldn’t be reliant on the Mercury volume, so there would be no need to have a full lineup of Mercurys. Engineering/R&D are only approved for programs that can pay back the investment anyway, so that wouldn’t be an issue. There is already a distribution network, so that’s OK too. Assembly plant capacity could be an issue, but if Ford can utilize existing platforms for Mercury (without relying on badge engineering), it should be able to use existing plant capacity as well. The only other consideration is advertising. In the auto industry, most advertising is for vehicles, not brands. There would only need to be advertising for the vehicles that you are offering, and everybody knows what a Mercury is already, so no cost to “launch” the brand.

1963 Mercury Marauder

1963 Mercury Marauder

I know this isn’t a strong argument for why Ford should keep Mercury, but an argument for why they shouldn’t feel the need to kill it. The Mercury brand has survived 70+ years. It would be a shame to allow it to die now for the wrong reasons.

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

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Tesla Files for IPO

31st January 2010

As was expected, Tesla Motors, Inc. filed its registration statement of its intent to sell stock to the public. It intends to raise as much as $100 million in the offering. No expected date was given for the offering. Stay tuned. If you’ve never read a Form S-1, try it sometime. Because it constitutes a legal document which could form the basis of a shareholder lawsuit someday, companies are brutally honest in the document. This is so they can say in court, “We told you so” if needed to fend off a fraud or other claim down the road. So it can indeed be an interesting read.

Here’s a tidbit from Tesla’s S-1 that anybody who follows the auto industry would find interesting. It is in the “Risk Factors” section of the S-1:

We anticipate that we will experience a decrease in revenues and increase in losses prior to the launch of the Model S.

Prior to the launch of our Model S, we anticipate our automotive sales may decline, potentially significantly as we do not plan to sell our current generation Tesla Roadster after 2011 due to planned tooling changes at a supplier for the Tesla Roadster, and we do not currently plan to begin selling our next generation Tesla Roadster until at least one year after the launch of the Model S, which is not expected to be in production until 2012…As a result, we anticipate that we will generate limited, if any, revenue from selling electric vehicles after 2011 until the launch of our Model S. The launch of our Model S could be delayed for a number of reasons and any such delays may be significant and would extend the period in which we would generate limited, if any, revenues from sales of our electric vehicles. The expected decrease in revenues for the periods prior to the launch of the Model S may be significant and could materially and adversely affect our business, prospects, operating results and financial condition and our ability to fund operating losses could seriously constrain our growth.

So Tesla will be essentially out of business for some period beginning sometime next year for at least a few months, and that assumes the Model S arrives on time. Because the Model S is Tesla’s first vehicle that they are designing from the ground up, it is reasonable to assume that they will have some delays and/or other problems. In fact, it is unreasonable to assume that they will NOT have any delays. The major auto companies, with decades of experience, regularly encounter problems or delays that they can not foresee. In fact, given the nature of the S-1, Tesla has enumerated the potential risks of successfully launching the Model S:

Our production model for the non-powertrain portion of the Model S is unproven, still evolving and is very different from the non-powertrain portion of the production model for the Tesla Roadster.

Our future business depends in large part on our ability to execute on our plans to develop, manufacture, market and sell our planned Model S electric vehicle. To date our revenues have been principally derived from the sales of our Tesla Roadster. The Tesla Roadster has only been produced in low volume quantities and the body is assembled by Lotus Cars Limited in the United Kingdom, with the final assembly by us at our facility in Menlo Park, California for sales destined in the United States. We plan to manufacture the Model S in higher volumes than our present production capabilities in our planned manufacturing facility. As a result, the non-powertrain portion of the production model for the Model S will be substantially different and significantly more complex than the non-powertrain portion of the production model for the Tesla Roadster. In addition, we plan to introduce a number of new manufacturing technologies and techniques, such as a new painting process and aluminum spot welding systems, which have not been widely adopted in the automotive industry. Our Model S production model will require significant investments of cash and management resources and we may experience unexpected delays or difficulties that could postpone our ability to launch or achieve full manufacturing capacity for the Model S, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, operating results and financial condition.

Our production model for the Model S is based on many key assumptions, which may turn out to be incorrect, including:
• that we will be able to identify and secure an appropriate facility for the manufacturing of our Model S;
• that we will be able to secure the funding necessary to build out and equip the manufacturing facilities in a timely manner, including meeting milestones and other conditions necessary to draw down funds under our loan facility with the DOE;
• that we will able to develop and equip the manufacturing facilities for the Model S without exceeding our projected costs and on our projected timeline;
• that the equipment we select will be able to accurately manufacture the vehicle within specified design tolerances;
• that our computer aided design process can reduce the product development time by accurately predicting the performance of our vehicle for passing relevant safety standards, including standards that can only be met through expensive crash testing;
• that we will be able to obtain the necessary permits and approvals, including those under the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as building and air quality permits, to comply with local zoning, environmental and similar regulations to operate our manufacturing facilities and our business on our projected timeline;
• that we will be able to engage suppliers for the necessary components on terms and conditions acceptable to us and that we will be able to obtain components on a timely basis and in the necessary quantities;
• that we will be able to deliver final component designs to our suppliers in a timely manner;
• that we will be able to attract, recruit, hire and train skilled employees, including employees on the production line, to operate our Model S manufacturing facility;
• that we will be able to maintain high quality controls as we transition to an in-house manufacturing process; and
• that we will not experience any significant delays or disruptions in our supply chain.

If one or more of the foregoing assumptions turns out to be incorrect, our ability to successfully launch the Model S on time and on budget if at all, and our business prospects, operating results and financial condition may be materially and adversely impacted.

We have no experience to date in high volume manufacturing of our electric vehicles. We do not know whether we will be able to develop efficient, automated, low-cost manufacturing capability and processes, and reliable sources of component supply, that will enable us to meet the quality, price, engineering, design and production standards, as well as the production volumes required to successfully mass market the Model S. Even if we are successful in developing our high volume manufacturing capability and processes and reliable sources of component supply, we do not know whether we will be able to do so in a manner that avoids significant delays and cost overruns, including as a result of factors beyond our control such as problems with suppliers and vendors, or in time to meet our vehicle commercialization schedules or to satisfy the requirements of customers. Any failure to develop such manufacturing processes and capabilities within our projected costs and timelines could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, operating results and financial condition.

Given this, and because Tesla has not made any money yet, could a significant delay in the launch of the Model S spell the end of Tesla? Will Elon Musk be willing to continue to fund the operations from his petty cash account? Of course, Tesla was awarded a $465 million loan to develop the Model S by the US government. If they go out of business, will Musk be asked for the taxpayers’ money back? If so, will he use PayPal?

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

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Out to make all the other cars green with envy, Chevrolet introduced a new special version of the hot-selling Camaro this week. Dubbed the Camaro Synergy Special Edition, the new Camaro is a 1LT (V6) with a fancy paint job. Along with the fancy green paint job come racing stripes and a special interior, with Synergy Green instrument panel and door inserts. Synergy Green stitching also accents the Jet Black cloth seats, steering wheel, shift knob and center console.

The Special Edition also includes the Camaro Convenience and Connectivity Package, with Bluetooth phone connectivity, USB port for MP3 players, and remote vehicle start for models equipped with an automatic transmission.

“The Synergy Special Edition package is designed for customers who want a unique performance car at an attainable price,” says Camaro marketing manager John Fitzpatrick. “For under $27,000, Camaro Synergy Special Edition offers standout styling, modern technologies like Bluetooth, and 304 horsepower under the hood.”

This class of car has always been about more than muscle (although muscle is a vital part); it’s been about fashion as well. That’s why Camaros, Mustangs, Challengers and others are among the most customized vehicles. Everybody wants one that is different from everybody else’s. Manufacturers have gotten in on the act, catering to those who have no interest in doing the customizing themselves, but still want the unique look. This is just the latest example. Ford tried to institutionalize this with their Vehicle Personalization division, which met with mixed success.

Back to this car, which is a great looking addition to the already hot Camaro lineup. Synergy will be produced in limited quantities from February to May only, so get yours today!

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below. Just click on “Comments.” It’s so easy, even you can do it. But not a caveman.

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Ford has the Magic Touch

19th January 2010

For the 3rd year in a row, Ford took advanatge of the platform given by the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las vegas to announce a major new product.  Ford is announcing major enhancements to its in-car electronics.  SYNC was the first major electronic feature, and now Ford is taking it another giant leap further.  Called MyTouch, or MyFord Touch in Ford vehicles and MyLincoln Touch in the Lincolns. What this amounts to is a major redesign of the vehicle interior, and a complete redesign of the way information is presented to the driver and how he/she interacts with the vehicle.

MyFord includes an 8″ display in the center stack area that can be customized in three ways, reflecting that some customers are less techno-savvy than others and would be confused by all of the choices. “Quiet” is the setting that has the least information, which is nested in the 4 corners of the display. The majority of the display is devoted to a driver-selected “wallpaper” image. “Smart Corners” has a set of predetermined buttons with the most popular top-level functions. The “Shortcuts” display is fully customized by the customer.

The interface also includes dual 4″ LCD displays on either side of the speedometer which show various vehicle personalization options. The displays are controlled by a 5-way button located on either side of the steering wheel.

Left Side MyFord display

Left Side MyFord display

The left side display shows driver assist settings (on/off choices for traction control, front or rear park assist, etc.), vehicle settings (autolamp delay in seconds, door lock settings, remote start climate control settings, fuel economy, distance to empty, etc.), English/metric settings, and gauge settings (tachometer, tach/fuel, or tach/fuel/water temp).

The right side display contains infotainment information, including audio settings, climate control, phone communications and navigation menus.

MyFord Touch and MyLincoln Touch also include an array of touch-sensitive switches for those that might get freaked out by the touch screens. They are not true switches, but touch-sensitive “areas” that confirm that you’ve activated it by a beep or a light. One of these is the “MyTemp” function, which automatically sets the temperature to your pre-programmed favorite temperature. This is a bit of a gimmick, but would be useful if somebody else has borrowed your car and changed it.

You might be wondering if you can use all of this cool electronics with a glove on your hand. I asked the

MyLincoln Touch

MyLincoln Touch

Ford engineer and yes, you can use a glove, just not a real thick one. More on this after I get a chance for a full review.

Along with the personalization, MyFord and My Lincoln also afford portability to all of your settings. Selected user settings can be programmed to individual vehicle keys – this part isn’t new or unique. However, the settings can also be downloaded to a USB drive and exported to another MyFord-equipped vehicle, instantly transferring the driver’s preferences. This also might be a bit of a gimmick, but think if you were to rent a car and can instantly tell the car what temperature you like, and all of the other settings discussed above.

Another advantage of this system is it allows navigation to be an inexpensive upgrade, because the large touchscreen is already in the car. The upgrade is in the form of an SD card with the maps and software on it. Just plug it in and go!

The MyTouch innovation has the potential to really elevate Ford’s reputation – and sales. This is true innovation. Time will tell if the customers agree and appreciate it. I think it is a game-changer, and will likely be copied by other manufacturers as soon as they can.

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

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Chevy and OnStar announced today the availability of an app for the upcoming Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle (EREV).  Called OnStar Experience, the app will allow consumers to view and control certain aspects of the Volt’s unique functions.

OnStar’s Mobile Application allows drivers to communicate with their Volt from Droid by Motorola, Apple iPhone and Blackberry Storm smartphones. It uses a real-time data connection to perform tasks from setting the charge time to unlocking the doors.  The application:

  • displays charge status – plugged in or not, and voltage (120V or 240V)
  • provides flexibility to “Charge Now” or schedule charge timing
  • displays percentage of battery charge level, electric and total ranges
  • allows owner to manually set grid-friendly charge mode for off-peak times when electricity rates are lowest
  • sends text or email notifications for charge reminders, interruptions and full charge
  • displays miles per gallon, electric only miles, and odometer readings
  • shows miles per gallon, EV miles and miles driven for last trip and lifetime
  • remotely start the vehicle to pre-condition the interior temperature, but only when plugged in
  • enables traditional OnStar features, such as locking/unlocking and remote horn and lights – which have typically been accessible only through a call into the OnStar call center – will now be available via the application
  • The mobile application will be available for the Apple iPhone, Blackberry Storm and Motorola Droid smartphones.  Volt’s OnStar mobile application will also be available on a mobile browser for other internet-capable phones. Volt drivers will also be able to view and manage vehicle systems and commands from the vehicle, the internet or through a monthly OnStar Vehicle Diagnostics e-mail.

    Early Volt buyers will be those known to marketers as “early adopters,” so providing this surprise cool feature will certainly appeal to those buyers.  Volt buyers will want to show off their smart purchase and being able to show friends their charge status, etc. will only make them feel even more special for having forked over the expected 40 large for the Volt.  Announcing this new feature also keeps the Volt in the consumers’ minds, which Chevrolet will have to keep up until late this year, when deliveries are expected to begin.  By then, it will have been almost 4 years since Chevrolet introduced the Volt to the public.

    What Chevy/GM/OnStar need to do now is develop an app that will work with all of their other cars & trucks.  Let me start the car (if equipped with remorte start), check my tire pressure, schedule service with my local dealer, and all of the other vehicle diagnostics that OnStar provides on a monthly basis with a subscription.  The cat’s out of the bag, GM!  Now I want all of this when I want it – immediately.  I don’t want to wait a month for OnStar to send me an e-mail!

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

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