A little help from my friends.

Thanks to all of you who made Day 1 of the Amazon store such a success. I earned $15.43! This is better than Google has done me in a single day, ever, and while I know it can’t last, I’m pleased to know how many of you are willing to do me this small favor.

I’m equally pleased to see my report from Amazon tells me what you bought. No names attached, alas, although some of you announced your purchases in comments. So I know Del is probably the one behind “The McCleers and the Birneys;: Irish immigrant families-into Michigan and the California gold fields, 1820-1893,” but I have no idea who might have picked up “Strip To It: Core Moves and Fantasies Sexy Striptease (exotic dancing)” on DVD. Although I have my ideas ::koff::BrianStouder::koff::. And truly, I am delighted, because it would seem to indicate we’re drawing a younger demographic. Money in the bank!

One of these days J.C. and I will put together a proper button for the sidebar, but for now click either the current On the Nightstand book or the link below. Oh, and Laura Lippman, if you’re reading this, we also sold a copy of “Life Sentences.” Onward to the bestseller list.

So. I haven’t said much about the General Motors situation, mainly because the more I read, the less I know about this company — or know that I know, anyway. I don’t want to be one of those pundits whose advice to the company boils down to “duh, make cars people want to drive,” as though running the largest industrial corporation in the world, with a few hundred thousand employees, plants all over the globe, a product line that takes years to develop and produce, that’s expensive and prone to the vagaries of commodity and labor prices, trends and a fickle public — all this is no more difficult than running a cupcake bakery somewhere.

Fortunately, in Detroit, there are lots of people who know more about this than I do. I e-mailed one and asked him his take on the Wagoner business. I don’t think he’d mind if I pasted his thoughts:

I think Wagoner got a raw deal. But I also think GM could use a little outside agitation. It’s a huge company. And huge companies are hard to turn around. Maybe a new face at the top will help. Certainly the government has the right to call some shots.

But two of the biggest problems of GM were created a long time ago – shitty cars and bloated union contracts. The third – healthcare costs – is out of their hands. Wagoner went a long way to turning quality around. (It’s ironic that he’s out a week after Buick officially ended Lexus’ 14-year run at the top of JD Powers “Most Dependable” list.) And he took a huge step in bringing union costs in line with the last contract. He certainly blew it when they decided not to build a Prius-like hybrid when Toyota did. But he’s admitted that mistake and GM is catching up. (And he gets no credit for the fact that GM was developing that technology as fast as Toyota and Honda. They just made the strategic mistake of not thinking the market was ready for it … a mistake that must be viewed in the context of the fact that GM struggles to make money with small cars under the weight of their staggering health care costs.)

True to Wagoner form, he didn’t stamp his feet and make a fuss. He is the rarest of birds – a CEO with very little ego. GM is in trouble, much of it by their own hand. But that trouble started a long time ago. Rick Wagoner was the guy turning it around … until a banking and credit crisis clipped him from behind.

…One more thought. I made this prediction late last year, and this latest news makes me think it’s more likely that this scenario will unfold: The government overseers will, with support from Nancy Pelosi et al, righteously force GM to shift its focus to smaller, more fuel efficient cars. Not much will be done about health care costs, of course. So these cars won’t make money. Toyota and Honda, meanwhile, continue to invest billions in their truck fleet, fighting for a spot in this sector. With Detroit money sucked away from truck development – Chevy’s new Silverado gets better gas mileage with its V8 than Toyota can get with its V6 – Toyota and Honda will rush in and seize this highly profitable high ground. And that, my friends, will be all she wrote.

I might add: While gas prices remain low, lots of Priuses are sitting on lots, too. And Toyota sales are down as much as the domestic companies’. When people are losing jobs and can’t get credit, a car that flies would be a tough sell, let alone a Volt. Although Toyota saw something in hybrids that GM didn’t, and was willing to carry the Prius for a good long time until it wormed its way into the zeitgeist. And now when people think of Toyota, they think Prius, not Sequoia, Highlander or Tundra. And GM will forever be the makers of the Suburban. (Which I still see a lot of on the streets, btw.)

A bit of bloggage before we depart? OK:

Detroitblog unearths another great story, about a old-time west-side schvitz patronized mainly by Russian geezers, but on weekends? It’s an orgy venue. More pix (nothing spicy) at the first link, easier-on-the-eyes black-on-white text here.

Oh, it’s so cute when newspapers have April Fool’s Day stories, isn’t it? I’m amazed they’re toying with subscription cancellations at a time like this, frankly.

I am stupid and law-abiding, because my first question, reading this, was, “Why not sell at a loss?” I know nothing.

But I have a lot of work to do. So off I go.

Posted at 8:58 am in Current events, Detroit life, Housekeeping |
 

56 responses to “A little help from my friends.”

  1. Connie said on April 1, 2009 at 9:46 am

    My BFF is a high level exec in an automotive supplier. They don’t work directly for the car company, they are two or three or four places down the contracted supply chain.

    She just told me this story. Her company was three steps down from Ford itself. Ford contracted for a transmission bundle from number one. Number one contracted some parts from number two. Number two contracted some parts painting from my girlfriend’s company. Then number two goes out of business a few weeks ago.

    So number one asks her company for new pricing. SHe says, I can’t give you a lower price, this contract is small and custom color. If you switch from this almost black to standard Ford ebony black I can do it quickly and cheaply as we run that color frequently. Number one rep says no way.

    After several days of back and forth she ends up with her rep from number one, and his Ford liaison person in her office. After much discussion of the issues, the Ford guys looks at the number one guy and says “wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to do standard Ford ebony black?”

    She says that’s typical of automotive supplier work. In recent months she has received numerous calls from suppliers who say, you know so and so has gone out of business, can you meet the contract price we had them? Usually the answer is no. Supplier says why not? Answer: because we need to cover our costs and would prefer not to go out of business ourselves.

    I do not have a positive attitude about April Fools. You’ve been warned.

  2. jeff borden said on April 1, 2009 at 10:09 am

    I’m inclined to agree with the author of the piece that Rick Wagoner took one for the team, but I’m also inclined to think that there needed to be a symbolic shakeup at the top. My biggest regret is that the s.o.b.’s who’ve run America’s banks and financial services sector into the ground are not suffering the same fate. Or, if they are being excused, are walking away with a lot of filthy lucre.

    Among the many puzzling aspects of the U.S. auto business is its inability to leverage overseas holdings. All three have substantial investments and holdings on other continents, yet they never seem to have the right vehicle in the right place at the right time.

    Case in point: Gasoline tops $3 a gallon and Toyota delivers the Yaris, Honda the Fit and Nissan the Versa seemingly within days. All quality subcompacts delivering high mileage at a reasonable retail price. Why didn’t the Big Three have something like that ready, considering they all do business in countries where gas is very expensive and roads are very narrow.

    The woes in Motown have many fathers. There’s a lot of blame to share and it goes well beyond nice union contracts or overcompensated executives. I hope this story has a happy, or at least bearable, ending but the odds seem long.

  3. Dexter said on April 1, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Keith Olbermann, who I always agree with, had a little segment about how we shouldn’t feel sorry for Rick Wagoner because , well, he did get that $23 million, doncha know?—but in this case I broke with Keith. When this broke, I was a-Tweeting and Facebooking and blogging at all the places I go about how this was wrong…this force-out of a CEO not by shareholders, but by Obama.
    I KNEW assholes like O’Reilly and Beck would be immediately calling out Obama to fire Ron Gettlefinger of the UAW, too.
    Whoever Nance’s contact is knows his stuff…everything posted today above rings true…all of it.
    It’s my opinion that only American Automotive-haters buy Tacoma trucks, when Ford and Chevy make far superior models, and of course hybrids have increased in appeal while funds to buy them, for the consumer, have dried up.
    I still can’t figure out the discrepancy between the 70% preferral factor European car-buyers extend towards the modern virtually odor-free small diesel cars compared to US drivers’ disdain for such vehicles. Hybrids wonthe war but are losing the battles as most would-be car buyers are putting off purchasing until the storm lifts.

  4. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 1, 2009 at 10:32 am

    This is a mild thread-jack, but i finally found a copy of William Ayers’ “A Kind and Just Parent,” his 1997 book on Juvenile Courts in general and the Chicago system in particular (the very idea of Juvenile Courts was born in Chicago and with Jane Addams in 1899, starting at Hull-House Settlement House).

    It is excellent writing and heart-wrenching reading and i commend it to anyone (particularly if you tag yourself through Nancy’s sidebar and then hunt a used copy at Amazon, since it is sadly out of print). He tells a story about himself early on in this book that suggests to me a step that constitutes the beginning of his road to radicalism, and it would make a certain sense — he and a class from Lake Forest Academy, an uber-prep school for Chicago’s wealthy, were invited downtown in the early 60s to attend juvenile court as a field trip, and they were awkwardly seated *behind* the judge, in their blue blazers and khakis, facing, over the judges shoulders, the frightened, angry, confused, sorrowful faces of one black young adult male after another, for what sounds like a very long (and inappropriate) morning.

    Ayers didn’t like what he saw reflected back at him that morning, wanted to find a way to get down off that platform standing behind the judge and gavel, and broke with that position as definitively as he could, even if counter-productively: but he has done some very meaningful and effective work since his sojourn into terrorism and self-rehabilitation at Bank Street School of Education. And if you have any interest in the juvenile justice system at all (because it isn’t a d*** bit different 12 years later), this book is a fast but unforgettable read — 200 wonderfully written pages. (Wish he wouldn’t wax rhapsodic in his more recent rhetoric about Chavez and Morales, but in Alex Haley’s words, “find the good and praise it.”)

  5. Dexter said on April 1, 2009 at 10:36 am

    as to Eric Sharp’s woeful tale of hunting…I left this comment at The Freep,”anybody seen nugent lately…hey! is HE behind this?”

  6. Dexter said on April 1, 2009 at 10:46 am

    OK…almost had me…but that story about the swingin’ bathhouse…that’s a great April Fools story…it IS a joke…right?

  7. brian stouder said on April 1, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Hah! While I confess that the exotic dancing book sounds intriguing (not to say ‘right up my alley!’), alas, it wasn’t me. (I’m known too well, here in nnc-land!) But I will say that yesterday at lunch, I caught an interview on MSNBC with a woman who was exceptionally well put-together – a top executive at Buick – which made me want to run right out and touch the curves of an Enclave!

    I’m still working through a backlog of books from Christmas/birthday, and then the LL books from Carmel…but after that, I’ll be haunting the Kickback Lounge (well named, by the way!). But I will get Michael Burlingame’s fairly massive (2000+ pages) new biography of Lincoln (even despite that I am prepared to be angered by his piggish views of Mary Todd Lincoln – an exceptional woman who has been smeared and villified by male historians in every generation since Lincoln’s assassination) – and THAT will be through the KBL

  8. Dorothy said on April 1, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Awww shit. Nancy found out what I got her for her birthday (albeit about 7 months early)

    Speaking of books I picked up one last night from our home shelves to read during my down times at play rehearsal. “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.” My son got it for me several Christmases ago. I will probably finish it today – it’s delightful and I’m home nursing a very bad case of poison ivy. Thank God for steroids – gel form and pill form.

  9. Dexter said on April 1, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Dorothy, I know poison ivy, too…I wish you a speedy recovery. The worst itchies I ever had was from scaling a cliff down to the Pacific shoreline near Big Sur…I had crawled through a lot of poison oak. It took weeks to dissipate.
    http://www.swobo.com/htatbl/archives/poison_oak.jpg

  10. ROgirl said on April 1, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Stunning news announcement…
    http://www.autoextremist.com/current/

  11. brian stouder said on April 1, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    RO – I was think “this can’t be!” for a good 15-20 seconds, and THEN it hit me!

  12. Catherine said on April 1, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    News about the new leadership at GM:
    http://www.cartalk.com/content/features/cnn/

    Dorothy, that is a lovely book, even if it took a bad case of poison ivy to get to it. My DH reacts badly to poison oak, which is rife around here. Once he patted a dog that had been running in the canyon. Then he went to the bathroom…you get the picture.

  13. beb said on April 1, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    ROGirl’s link is to a article that GM and Chrysler are being bought out by a couple of chinese cowboys named Fu and King. Togehter their new business will be Fu-King Motors. While I would not be surprised if the Chionese do buy out GM, I’mm pretty sure this is an April Fools joke.

    One reason for Wagoner’s departure according to a blog was that the bondholders for GM were dragging their feet on the restructuring. They still wanted their bonds paid off at full value.

    It’s easy for Japanese car companies to bring compact and sub-compacts to America becaise that’s about all they make for the home market. There’s even a government subsidy for extremely small sub-compacts. After testing out their models on the homeland and working out the bus there, they’re able to modsify them for US regulator standards and price them cheap becaue the development costs were borne in Japan.

    But it’s also true that GM has not tried to make a small car domestically in years. It’s like they gave up trying to compete there — rebranding models from Japan or Korea, and tryig to make their money *only* off trucks.

  14. alex said on April 1, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    It’s my opinion that only American Automotive-haters buy Tacoma trucks, when Ford and Chevy make far superior models

    Having driven a Tundra the last few years, Dex, I have to say you’re just plain wrong. Toyota doesn’t make diesels or duelies yet, so the American brands still own that corner, but I can assure you the Big Three do not build a superior truck any more than they build a superior car.

    And I have an ’07 GM car. I’m not an “American Automotive-hater.” Just call me unimpressed.

  15. ROgirl said on April 1, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Fu-king? It’s certainly plausible enough, or a scenario not so far removed from it.

  16. Jeff Borden said on April 1, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Alex,

    A friend of mine who works as a landscaper in North Carolina just had to say good-bye to his 1984 Toyota half-ton. It had logged almost 300,000 miles. The clutch and drive train had been repaired a few times, but that mightly little four-cylinder was original equipment. It was butt ugly, but it ran.

    My experience with American cars generally comes when we are renting one. The Buicks, Chevys, Pontiacs and Fords we have had recently have all been very nice cars –the Ford Focus was an especially bright surprise– which would seem to underscore the argument that these companies can produce a high-quality, pleasurable ride. I’m ready to give the U.S. industry another chance when our current ride dies, but it has only 94,000 miles, is paid for and likely will last another five years.

    I’m one of those boomers who was terribly disappointed in my early adult years by a Plymouth, which arrived new with so many flaws that my joy at having a cool-looking new car dissipated within a few months. In 1978, when I was looking for a small, fuel-efficient auto with stick shift, my choices of American models were incredibly thin, which led me to a Honda Accord and a succession of Hondas that followed. And that is how I fell away from the Big Three. I suspect a lot of other drivers can relate a similar experience.

  17. LA Mary said on April 1, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Jeff, I gave Chyrsler/Plymouth/Dodge two chances and I was very disappointed both times. The two Mitsubishi built Dodges we had were great, though.
    A few years ago we had a 1999 Ford Contour which was a really good car. Six cylinder, good gas mileage, cool handling and very peppy. Ugly as hell, but it ran great. It was hard to find those at dealerships, and we bought ours used from Hertz.

  18. mark said on April 1, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Nancy-

    I think your friend’s take is spot on. beb is correct about the bondholders dragging their feet, but why shouldn’t they? Same with the UAW. With more than half the government declaring we can’t let them go under, and with regular handouts to AIG and others of 5 times the amount with one-tenth the scrutiny, why not call the government’s bluff?

    Bondholders are being asked to take between 6 and 16 cents on the dollar and the UAW to give concessions that would render moot the reason for their existence. What do they have to lose by holding out for a better deal from the Obama money machine?

  19. Jeff Borden said on April 1, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    LA Mary,
    Chrysler still has a lot of quality control issues. One of my co-workers a few years ago spent a boatload of money on a top of the line Jeep Grand Cherokee with a V-8. The carpeting needed to be replaced twice because of leakage from the air conditioner and the electronic monitoring system was always signaling problems that did not exist. He gave up and bought a Highlander.

    In fairness, my pal across the street has a plain Jane 1995 Jeep Laredo with a six-cylinder engine and a manual transmission and it’s running like a top.

    Maybe his car was built on a Wednesday and the Grand Cherokee on a Monday??

  20. Peter said on April 1, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Dexter, you think that detroitblog story is an April Fool’s Joke? I sure hope it’s true – I could use a midweek steam every now and then…

  21. LA Mary said on April 1, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    Dodge number one, a 1972 Polara, had electrical issues that never got fixed. Brand new, it would stall at lights if you had the windsheile wipers, headlights and radio on at the same time. Power windows would not go back up most of the time, so you had to live with closed windows and hope your passengers didn’t open them. You could not run the AC with any other electrical thing going.
    Dodge number 2, a 1984 Charger, had non-factory AC installed at a truly nasty contractor’s shop. It did not fit under the hood, but the guy forced the hood to close, which bent it. The dealer fixed the hood and made the AC fit, but it never worked very well. Door handles used to fall off regularly. Reach for the handle to get into the car and it came off in your hand. We spent so many hours at the dealership with that car, we got to know everyone there.

  22. mark said on April 1, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    LA Mary-

    Your ’72 Polara was ahead of it’s time. Obama’s car panel has a long list of new safety redesigns, including automatic shut-off of the radio (or cd player, etc) whenever the lights and windshield wipers are operating together, as conditions are too dangerous for distraction by the radio.

  23. alex said on April 1, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Jeff B, my experience sounds a lot like yours. My first new American cars were as comically junky as those LA Mary just described. Once I tried Honda and Toyota I was hooked.

    My more recent experience with American cars is that they are indeed getting better, but they’re not quite there yet. And thank God Toyota trucks aren’t ugly as sin anymore because they really do beat the hell out of anything else.

  24. Jeff Borden said on April 1, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Alex,

    That’s the real issue for Detroit. How do you woo back buyers who have gone foreign for 20 or 30 years after a particularly bad experience with an American brand? This is the marketing equivalent of Everest.

  25. alex said on April 1, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Jeff, I’d say the answer to that is to let the foreign makers buy the American makers out of bankruptcy and run things their way.

  26. Connie said on April 1, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    Mark, what’s your source? Just curious.

    I am quite sure that I win the contest for ugliest car, as I once owned an AMC Matador. In HS I had a brand new white 1972 Chevy Nova, surely the coolest car in the senior class. (My Uncle was a big wig with GM and we got cars through him cheaply.)

    My husband is from Flint and we buy American if we buy new. I have put over 100,000 miles on a Chevette, a Pontiac, 2 Chevies, and just a few weeks ago on my Dodge Grand Caravan. The 93 Ford F150 is only at 90,000, and in fact is on its way to charity.

  27. Rana said on April 1, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Something you might consider, Nancy, when you next contemplate an updated configuration for the blog, is to include a link to the Amazon shop in your template for individual posts. Since I access your site through a feedreader, I almost never see the main page, only the individual posts, one at a time.

    —-
    Edited to add –

    On the experience of American cars versus foreign cars, here’s my breakdown: the family Mercedes (both bought used) = good cars, expensive parts; the Toyota 4-Runner – ran well for over 20 years; my first car, a VW Bug, which was cheap and easy to fix (but frequently needed it); my second car, my grandparents’ Chevy Corsica, which was crap on wheels (first repair was due to an o-ring bursting right over the electronic controller, to the tune of $800; second repair was the bracket holding the driver’s seat in place, which broke due to metal fatigue – I swapped out that seat with the passenger’s and used it as an office chair as an impoverished grad student); my current car, a 13-year-old Honda civic with nearly 100,000 miles on it, all but 15 of which were my butt in the seat, and it still runs like a dream.

    So, in my experience, Hondas and Toyotas win – expensive to buy, but cheap to run, and durable as all hell. The Honda’s ergonomics are superior too – Toyotas seem designed for people with narrow behinds, and all the American rentals I’ve driven have horrible controls and placement of switches.

  28. jeff borden said on April 1, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Alex,

    I’m not enough of a financial wizard or industrial thinker to know how that might work. What would a Toyota or a Honda get out of it? I understood why Daimler wanted to get into bed with Chrysler, because it wanted a larger platform in the North American market, but the big Japanese firms already have those platforms.

    One other thought: The area roughly between Detroit and Pittsburgh (including Toledo, Cleveland, Youngstown) was called the “Ruhr Valley” of America and the arsenal of democracy during World War II. Perhaps there will never again be a need to convert factories into war machines, but if not, is there a strategic need to keep large-scale auto manufacturing in the U.S.?? I was quite surprised that those who opposed the rightwing politicians who wanted to stick it to Detroit last year never discussed the destruction of the car companies as a national defense issue.

  29. Dexter said on April 1, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    A few more comments on cars: I won’t buy another Chrysler minivan because I have had terrible luck with axles breaking…and really…Ford 150 is the best truck, and you may love your Tundra, Alex, but the 150 is the standard of the industry…Toyota is still grasping to find a gimmick to best Ford. Toyota mileage per gallon is rather a disgrace.
    And…I have a 1969 VW Microbus that I have had a couple decades and have poured thousands into just to keep it running, so I know how love for a vehicle obscures the costs of operating one.

  30. jcburns said on April 1, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Good idea Rana (see the bottom of the page.)

  31. Rana said on April 1, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Awesome, JC! Thanks!

  32. Dexter said on April 1, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Rana…I know what you mean about expensive foreign parts for cars.
    My Volvo wagon was a great car…but geez…$650 to have a master cylinder replaced? A good mechanic will fix one on an American car for maybe $150 or so.
    I sold the Volvo (with a disclaimer-warning) the next day. I had just spent $1400 for some engine repair, and the bleeding had to stop somewhere. But gawd…I loved that Volvo. 🙁

  33. Sue said on April 1, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Right from the start, I think you should keep a running profit tally. It would be interesting to see where you are in a year, if you get a bump during major holidays, etc.

  34. MichaelG said on April 1, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I have a 2003 Ford Taurus. I bought it in 2006 as a lease return. It had 22,000 miles, the optional four cam engine, mag wheels, sunroof, leather — you name it. I paid $9,000 even for it. A comparable Camry or Accord (either of which I would rather have had – I’ve driven both) would have been more than double the 9 Gs I paid for the Ford. It’s called bang for the buck but it speaks volumes about American cars. In fairness, the Ford has, to my surprise, turned out to be an excellent car. I’ve been very pleased. No service problems to date.

    Wanna know what the shouting’s about? Test drive a Honda Civic and then go test drive a Chevy Cobalt. It’s still all about product and the General still has a hill to climb even though Lutz (not Wagoner) has done or did yeoman service in leading GM out of the product wilderness. The car biz should also have been as diligent as the finance people at hiring lobbyists and infiltrating their people into g’ment agencies.

  35. Nash said on April 1, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    N, the Columbus Dispatch is laying off some 40 workers at the end of this week, including decades-long film critic Frank Gabrenya.

  36. LA Mary said on April 1, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    I bought a laptop through amazon last year. Too bad you were not set up then. I don’t see any more laptop purchases in the near future, but likely an Ipod and a few books, maybe a coffee grinder, a water filter for my fridge and another for the coffee maker, and a waffle maker. This is between now and the end of June.
    My friend Gerald Kolpan’s book came out last week. I have not read it. It’s his imagined biography of Etta Place, the female companion of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I’ll buy my copy through your website and benefit two folks I know in one shot.

  37. jcburns said on April 1, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Rented a GM car in January: some sort of Pontiac Minivan thing, I don’t even know its name. Absolute worst UI design I could ever imagine. I operate technical stuff for a living, and I couldn’t find the power window controls. The doors lock unbidden and finding the unlock when you get out is a challenge. The radio, if you ‘poke’ the power button—mutes. You have to hold the power button to turn off the power. Looked for an ‘AM/FM’ designation, finally figured out that was ‘band.’

    Rented a Chevy Aveo over the weekend: much the same experience. Honestly, it’s not about US- vs foreign-made…but who the heck is doing GM’s user experience stuff?

  38. jeff borden said on April 1, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    JC,
    Eloquent as always and an excellent point. One reason the Japanese compacts bested the other offerings in the late 1970s and early 1980s was simply the way they FELT. My first Accord was crude by today’s standards, yet it was not simply dependable, but a blast to operate and drive. I considered a Rabbit or a Jetta back then, but the Honda seemed a warmer, more welcoming car. I still think my 1980 Accord was the finest car I’ve ever owned.

  39. LA Mary said on April 1, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    My 1984 Honda Civic Wagon was a great car until someone rear ended it at 45 mph. It didn’t last long, but it was wonderful. My current car, a 2002 VW new beetle is very lovable. Other than routine maintenance, no trips to the mechanic, and it gets good mileage. It sounds neat too. A little throaty/old VW-ish when you accelerate.

  40. Scout said on April 1, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    Back in my early car buying years (70’s and 80’s) the quality difference between American and Japanese makes was quite pronounced. I had 2 American clunkers before buying my first Celica. Then I discovered the joy of German cars. After driving a Merc and a BMr and loving them both but not the cost of parts, I settled on VW. My Golf is 11 years old with 140k, paid off, and when she does need work I have an excellent shop who keeps her running without dinging me. When it’s time, I’ll probably replace her with another just like her, only new. But yeah, once you’ve driven a few lemons, you’re definitely dis-inclined to go Detroit again.

  41. jeff borden said on April 1, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Scout,
    It’s hard to walk away from products that have treated you well, particularly when it’s a high-ticket item and you’re likely to keep it for a very long time. Why wouldn’t you buy another VW?
    That said, I’m hopeful that when the time for another vehicle draws near –Please God, give me another five years out of the current car– there will be a variety of American cars to pique my interest.

  42. alex said on April 1, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Jeff B, I’ve heard it discussed that what the foreign makers would get on the cheap are the American makers’ assets—facilities, etc., as well as a work force with a voided union contract. And when demand returns to the normal 16 million units per year, they’ll own the market. What they’d be buying are brands that still carry a lot of cachet with the American public. The American makers are also ripe pickin’s for the Chinese makers, who would love to get a foothold in our market, and that’s something other “American” makers such as Toyota and Honda want to stave off.

  43. Scout said on April 1, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Jeff B – Oh I will definitely buy another VW and likely another Golf. (Rabbit now?) It is the perfect car – front wheel drive, hatchback with seats that fold down to turn it into a mini station wagon. People can never believe the amount of stuff I can load in that car – it’s kind of like a clown car!

  44. kayak woman said on April 1, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    I’m late to this and haven’t had time to read the comments. My brother was a GM/Delphi engineer. He had a chronic illness that killed him in 2005. In the last few years of his career, after years of buying big GM trucks, etc., he started buying Hondas. In 2001, I was looking to replace my lemonish Chrysler minivan with a smaller vee-hickle and he suggested the Honda Accord. We own three Hondas now and they are wonderful and reliable. Including the 2001 Accord, which now has 124K on it. I have to add that two of our Hondas were manufactured in the USA.

  45. coozledad said on April 1, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    We really enjoyed our old Saturn, and it outlived its odometer (300,000 plus). We gave it to the guy who sold us our mules, mostly because he had the trailer to haul it away. He had to replace the fuel tank and filter, but he was amazed how clean the engine was. We only let it go because we live in bumfuck Egypt, and the erg valve kept fucking with the lights on the dashboard. Too scary. If I ever give my asshole up to a man, I want it to be consensual, not because the engine seized up out by the county farm.

  46. brian stouder said on April 1, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Cooz – that’s just wrong on so MANY levels!! I admit – you got me laughing – but still…wrong wrong wrong!!!

    Anyway – we own an 11 year old Olds 88 with 170,000 miles…or maybe it’s 180,000 – who knows?

    But she starts every morning, and there’s not one lick of rust on it, and everything pretty much still works in it. We can fit myself and three kiddos (of various sizes) into it every morning for a trip to the bus stop, and then off to work I go. I think we rack up 12 or 14 miles a day, assuming I drive home for lunch

    Someday the ol’ Olds will give up the ghost – and from what I’ve read, a car like the Chevy Volt would fit our needs like a glove…so we shall see.

  47. alex said on April 1, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Someday cooz will give up the ghost, Brian. And don’t look underneath the plastic cladding on your 88 or you’ll see it’s ate up just like a Ford.

  48. brian stouder said on April 1, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Alex – You’re almost certainly right about that plastic cladding on the lower fenders and bumpers; indeed – the car is doing one thing I’ve noticed on other GMs, which is shedding paint off the top of one of the front fenders (right by the edge of the engine hood). I have seen other GMs that have lost most or all of the paint off their engine hood…mine isn’t so bad yet – and the exposed metal isn’t rusting – so I remain happy.

    Here’s a Fort Wayne digression, regarding the Omnibus Lecture Series at IPFW (a very great favorite of mine)

    Depending how you count them (see http://www.supremecourtus.gov/about/members.pdf ), there has only been 115 people who have ever served as a Justice (Chief Justice or Associate Justice) on the Supreme Court of the United States…just 115 people from the beginning, in 1789, up to the current day.

    And of that number, there is exactly one living retired Justice, and she will speak at IPFW’s Rhinehart Music Center Thursday, April 23, 2009….and the event is free and open to the public.

    But be aware – this event requires a ticket; you have to stop out at Rhinehart (they’re open between 12:30 and 6:30 pm weekdays) – or call them at 481-6555 and they’ll hold tix for you.

    http://www.omnibuslectures.org/

    The title of her lecture is “Advancing the Rights of Humanity” – and, as for me, I’ve already snapped up 4 tickets for the event (Pam and Grant and Shelby and I – Chloe is on her own that night!*) – because, leaving aside the chance to see such an exceptionally rare bit of United States history in the flesh, I’ve seen Ms O’Connor speak on C-SPAN before, and she’s quite a lively speaker, very thought provoking and funny!

    And did I mention that it’s FREE?!

    *actually, Aunt Deb will probably take charge of Miss Chloe at the appointed hour…

  49. joodyb said on April 1, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    If I may:
    While it is still April 1 in my time zone, I hereby raise a glass in memory of Ashley Morris. Don’t know why I remember. I just do. Because it was April 1 and not April 2.

  50. coozledad said on April 2, 2009 at 12:29 am

    Alex: my wife has consistently proved man enough for me. It’s our anniversary tonight. I hope she’ll be a good sport and let me play with her noodle. But she might already be passed out. Gotta love middle age.

  51. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 2, 2009 at 6:09 am

    Somebody help Frank G. set up one of these sites; he’s a good writer and a great guy. I haven’t seen him for three years, but hate to hear he’s the latest thrown under the bus.

    To keep my job (well, one of them), i have to spend the next two loooong days experiencing Domestic Violence training. I’d be more respectful of the topic and all, but i’ve had it twice in the last ten years, and have to do it again because they were in the wrong state or supervised by the wrong agency. No one doubts that the content will be the same, but i won’t be legal for common pleas court purposes without having the right two days of role plays in my mental tool kit.

    But i promise to share any new, unique insights i may glean from this marathon of man’s inhumanity to women (with the obligatory proviso that women do, in fact, abuse men, but not so often that we have to swap the dialogue for the role plays).

  52. alex said on April 2, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Hey, just found out Fort Wayne has its own local chapter of the Rick Santelli fan club:

    http://www.fortwayne.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/SE/20090402/NEWS/904020313

    Seems they’d like us to re-fashion America after Boston in the 1770s, where government had no place except in the bedroom.

  53. basset said on April 2, 2009 at 8:15 am

    About the hunting story… it’s legal to hunt deer with a spear in Alabama, or at least it was the last time I looked. Here in Tennessee, I finally got tired of buying extra sub-licenses for trout fishing, hunting on state preserves and so forth and finally got the all-in-one “sportsman” license this year and I am now legal to shoot wild boar. Says so right on it.

    Here at the Basset house, we drive a Subaru (built in Lafayette, Indiana) and a Toyota (made in Georgetown, Kentucky). Didn’t even consider an American-company car when we got the Toyota in 05; might have when we bought the Subaru last year but I wanted a small wagon and the only US version of that is the Ford Escort, after a really bad experience with a new F150 a few years ago I am through buying Fords.

    In all fairness, though, the Subaru did replace a Dodge pickup which was still running fine when I sold it at 140K… unless you count the new torque converter (in other words, major transmission repair) under warranty when it was new.

    One product the US car industry doesn’t have, one which I would buy tomorrow, is a small, plain, no-frills pickup with decent gas mileage. Much like, say, the diesel Tacoma you can get in Canada. No fancy interior, rollup windows, cheap to run, basically a rolling appliance… kinda like this:
    http://jalopnik.com/355025/mahindra-appalachian-info-updated-now-with-smack-talk

    although the price looks way high and they want to use an interior “designed for the American market.” Good comment at 1:59, too…

    or maybe one of these, from the same company which makes that $2000 car:

    http://www.motoring.co.za/index.php?fSectionId=754&fArticleId=2179305

    if I entered everything into the currency converter correctly, the base 4×2 model lists at $10,799 US.

  54. Dexter said on April 2, 2009 at 8:38 am

    basset, axles and transmissions are the bane of Chryslers, and not necessarily older ones…a group of fellas drove out to Omaha a few years ago for the dedication of a veterans park , honoring the Vietnam vets. There were enough men to fill two vans and a car. We rented two new Chrysler vans and I drove my car. One of the vans developed a grinding, whining noise, and it got horribly worse as the trip progressed. The damn fool driving it refused my suggestion to drop it off at a rental place and get another van…or do something…but he pushed on…we made it back home and all hell broke loose…the drivetrain was toast, ruined, kaput.
    I remember all the quality issues coming out of Dana Spicer Axle plant on State in FWA, too…major supplier of Chrysler axles.

  55. Halloween Jack said on April 2, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    A brief note: Jalopnik has a write-up on the Euro-type Ford Fiesta coming to the U.S., and notes that car buffs have been begging Ford to bring these to the States for ages.

  56. baldheadeddork said on April 5, 2009 at 1:37 am

    Hey guys – I’ve missed the site for a month or so. The new design looks great, Nance.

    I don’t set out to be an asshole every time I post here, but this might give some ongoing reasons to wonder. I think these eulogies for Rick Wagoner are the Himalayas of bullshit.

    Let’s dissect what Nancy’s friend wrote. Wagoner got a raw deal because GM’s major problems were making shitty cars. What could Wagoner have had to do with that? After all, he was just the CEO for nine years and president of North American ops for three years before that. Just because the CEO has to sign off on every model before it’s approved for production doesn’t mean he had anything to do with the car side of the business in that time, right?

    Not that it matters because the “shitty cars” indictment is the Everest of bullshit. To hear people like this commentator tell it, GM is as popular with buyers as Yugo or Daewoo. But the last I checked, the #1 automaker in the US market and a very close #2 in global production was General Motors. That’s a neat trick considering that GM supposedly only makes cars that buyers don’t want.

    And GM is in trouble because of the UAW contracts? How is it that the labor costs are destroying GM and Chrysler, but Ford has the same contract, has seen their sales fall by the same amount – but is surviving well enough to not even ask for loan guarantees?

    The same is true for health care costs. How are they killing GM but not Ford? But what really pisses me off about this piece of hack work is how supposedly intelligent commentators totally miss the story. US automakers do pay more in health care than transplants even for active employees – because three decades of layoffs and callbacks have left the US automakers with a much older workforce. I used to work for a Tier 1 supplier for domestics and transplants, and the difference in the age of a typical assembly worker was huge. The workforce at a Toyota or Honda transplant is close to reflecting the population as a whole. At a GM plant you have to look hard to find anyone on the line who is under the age of 40, and I’d guesstimate that the median age has to be close to 50. That means you’ve got a workforce that’s closer to the top of the pay scale and it costs a hell of a lot more to give them health insurance. This isn’t because of the UAW contract. If Marysville or Georgetown had been through the same cycle of layoff and recall as Ford’s Lorraine plant or the Jeep plants in Toledo, Honda and Toyota would have close to the same employee demographics and costs.

    But explaining the difference in health care costs isn’t the missing story. It’s how the cost of buyer incentives used by all of the US automakers cost them far more than the difference in employee and pension costs. With the rarest of exceptions, every model produced by the domestics will have at least a thousand dollars in discounts hung on the nose of the car just to get the buyer on the lot, and it’s often multiples of that. It comes in rebates, holdbacks, financing incentives and sometimes all three. It’s self-destructive behavior for the automakers and the buyers (all of those incentives on new cars kneecap the resale value of the car you got a rebate on five years ago) but after 30 years of almost endless rebates the customers of Ford, GM and Chrysler have come to expect them. Forget the UAW, the addiction to incentives is the greatest threat to the long-term survival of the domestic auto industry.

    Back to Wagoner…How in the name of God can you talk about GM under Wagoner’s tenure and not talk about the disastrous forays into finance? Making GMAC into a major subprime and Alt A mortgage lender was Wagoner’s call. So was buying Ditech at the peak of the bubble. And let’s not forget about the absolute goatscrew that is Delphi. Spinning off the supplier side of the company was actually a good idea, but Wagoner mismanaged it so badly that it ended up costing GM billions.

    These three screwups – all Wagoner’s from start to finish – is what bled GM of its cash reserves and made it impossible to borrow. Every major automaker, even Saint Honda, are seeing sales fall by 40-50%. But only GM and Chrysler have been pushed to the brink of oblivion because of really dumb deals that had little or nothing to do with making cars.

    GM is fucked because Rick Wagoner wanted to be Jack Welch when he grew up. He wanted to make GM into a multifaceted conglomerate that happened to make cars the way GE happens to make lightbulbs, and like GE he wanted the heart of the new company to be in finance. He FUBAR’ed it and probably destroyed the company in the process. If Wagoner is truly the rarest of birds – a CEO without an ego – it damn well better be because he has nothing to be proud of.

    Dexter:

    It’s my opinion that only American Automotive-haters buy Tacoma trucks, when Ford and Chevy make far superior models

    My 2005 Toyota Tacoma was made by UAW workers in Fremont, California. I made sure it was built in Fremont before I bought it.

    GM and Ford are far superior? Have you actually driven a Chevy Colorado? It was hands-down the worst vehicle I’ve ever driven. I actually like the Ford Ranger a lot, especially with the four-cylinder and five speed, but Ford’s heavy use of incentives over the years have destroyed the resale value of Rangers. If you pushed a Ranger out of a cargo plane and plotted its descent to earth it would probably be a little less steep than the depreciation curve.

    My Tacoma gets 25 highway and 20 in town, cost me just over $14K new and has depreciated about $3000 in the last four years. Show me another American-made truck that can beat all of that and I’ll buy it.