10 July 2007

Chrysler Headlights And Signal Lights Are Like Matter And Anti-Matter

It's been something that has bugged me for years, and I've never been given a good answer for it.

Have you ever noticed that EVERY Chrysler vehicle shuts off a headlight when a signal light is flashing? Picture it in your head- the Caravan above is driving around with its headlights on, and comes to a stop sign and wants to turn right. The driver signals the right turn, and the right headlamp goes off while the signal light flashes. Once the signal light shuts off, the headlight goes back on to normal. This happens with daytime running lights too. And it's not limited to vehicles that have both lights in one housing- it doesn't matter, and it happens to every single Chrysler vehicle- Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, you name it.

So, why does it do this?

Some have postulated that it has to do with minimum distances for lights in the law- but that doesn't hold weight, because lots of other cars have similar setups to Chrysler vehicles, and they don't exhibit the same behaviour.


The Emperor's New Clothes

Bear with me for a moment, and take a step into your childhood with this excerpt penned by Hans Christian Andersen:
All the people standing by and at the windows cheered and cried, "Oh, how splendid are the Emperor's new clothes. What a magnificent train! How well the clothes fit!" No one dared to admit that he couldn't see anything, for who would want it to be known that he was either stupid or unfit for his post?

None of the Emperor's clothes had ever met with such success.

But among the crowds a little child suddenly gasped out, "But he hasn't got anything on." And the people began to whisper to one another what the child had said. "He hasn't got anything on." "There's a little child saying he hasn't got anything on." Till everyone was saying, "But he hasn't got anything on." The Emperor himself had the uncomfortable feeling that what they were whispering was only too true. "But I will have to go through with the procession," he said to himself.

So he drew himself up and walked boldly on holding his head higher than before, and the courtiers held on to the train that wasn't there at all.
Keeping the above story in mind, I need to get something off my chest.

I don't buy into the hype about the Ford Flex.

It pains me to make that statement, because I really, really want to see Ford pull out of its tailspin and sell some awesome products that resonate with the US buying public. The Fusion has done pretty well in its early life, and the Edge appears to be pleasing its early customers, in spite of a need to diet and some lackluster magazine reviews.

Now Ford wants us to believe that the Flex will be the family hauler for the 21st century, the one that every father and mother has dreamed about as they retch at the thought of commuting in a traditional minivan, and all of the perceived social stigma that accompanies a minivan purchase.

I hope I'm wrong about this, but I think it looks a little too different from the norm. GM's new full-size crossovers (Enclave, Acadia, and Outlook) have similar dimensions to the Flex outside and inside (except height, where the GM vehicles are about five inches taller, apparently mostly in the ride height). The difference is, GM is trying to make their large crossovers look more or less like traditional SUVs, while Ford is trying to make theirs look different. The GM triplets hide some of their length by having a curved, arching roofline, while the Flex has one as flat as Kansas, and you can see every inch of the vehicle's length when viewing the profile. In fact, the orange body and white roof in the press photos make it look even lower and longer than it probably is. People who seem to like the Flex's style compare it to a Range Rover, which has famously squared off edges and a recognizable shape, but the profile and white roof remind many others (me among them) of a double-sized Mini Cooper. The Flex has an innovative interior and lots of space, but I can't get past the idea that it looks a little too much unlike anything else in its class. To me, it just seems too long and low, and I'm just not sure if minivan intenders (or minivan-phobes) are interested in something so different.

Ford has bet big before and hit grand slams (1986 Taurus/Sable, for example), so it's entirely possible they're right on the Flex as well. I'm not going to humor the emperor and say that it's anything but a boxy-shaped crossover, and not the second coming of the minivan. It's just not a great looking vehicle to me, and I'd be dishonest to say otherwise.

9 July 2007

Transformers Sucked

Well, it broke all records for the week, racking up $152.6 million for the week, and $67.6 million for the weekend. It even managed to get a somewhat decent Tomatometer review over at Rotten Tomatoes, a feat I find hard to believe in retrospect, considering a)it's a Michael Bay movie and b)the movie really sucked.

Why did it suck? Well, first of all, Michael Bay needs to be strung up by his testicles on a clothesline for coming up with such shitty character models for all of the Transformers. No, I'm not some sort of old geek who wanted everything to look like the cartoon I grew up with when I was a kid. I just wanted the freaking machines to be recognizable. Apart from Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, exactly which of them was memorable? And not only that, but Bumblebee was recognizable solely because he was all yellow. The rest of the Transformers looked to be a dully grey, with healthy dollops of black, and a few touches of colour here and there. Every action sequence looked like a car accident, and not in a good way. The Transformers fanboys bitching about everything not looking like the cartoon are right- but not for the reasons they think- the cartoon worked because when you saw Optimus Prime, you KNEW it was him. When you saw Starscream or Megatron, you KNEW it was them. In the movie? They looked like big Mech Assault action pieces. Not cool.

The second reason why the movie sucked is because it was essentially the American remake of Godzilla, but with better special effects. I understand there needs to be a 'human' backstory, but the reason why there ARE Transformers fanboys in the first place is because all of them had some sort of personality. In the movie? Well, Jazz certainly tried his best to be Jar Jar Binks. And um, yeah. That was about it. Optimus Prime was spot on, but Bay managed to muff up the easiest characters in the entire movie- Megatron and Starscream- instead we got a couple of throwaway lines, and that was that.

The third reason why it sucked is that this was basically an alien invasion movie, but with some big robots. No adherence to backstory, no reason other than some convoluted 'All Spark' BS as to why everything was happening. If all the Transformers were lizards, it could have been the same thing.

The movie does get an enthusiastic 2 thumbs up for Megan Fox however.

Turning to the cars- yes, GM played a huge role here. Yes, the Camaro looked pretty boss. Will this do anything at all to increase sales? Probably not. Not unless they actually do start transforming.

Mags Ebert signing off.

This Nissan Sunny Picture Predicted The Future Of The Altima

In news that may only interest me....

Carscoop says:

Nissan’s best selling 2007 US-model, the Altima is being recalled due to a problem with the air-filter that could result to a fire in the engine bay. More specifically, the recall affects 140.852 cars equipped with the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine.

How fantastic!

You know why?

They already HAD a massive recall on the last generation 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine. Remember, the one that fixed the manifolds that had a propensity for blowing up? I actually had one of those manifold eating engines- a 2005 if I remember right... but luckily it was before the recall- they did fix it under warranty, but they also were quite the pricks about it. And now this.

See, the Toyota recall of the Tundra engine was crappy, but at least it was an all new design, and it seemed to be an outsourced part that caused it. This on the other hand, is another problem on an engine that has been out in one form or another in the Altima for close to SIX years now.

Hey Nissan- pull your heads out of your asses.

Halfway To Zero

The first half of 2007 is behind us, and after some crunching of sales numbers, Automotive News reported today that the market share of the Big Three domestic manufacturers (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) has dipped to 50.2% of the US vehicle market in June, thanks in large part to GM's meltdown. Meanwhile, sales of Japanese branded vehicles in the US rose to 37.5%. Since the Domestics' share was 56.0% in June 2006 and the Japanese brands' share was 32.5% in June 2006, this means that almost one for one, every point of market share that Detroit gave up was snapped up by a Japanese brand. European and Korean brands took up the remaining 0.8 percentage points of market share.

What does this mean? Well, unlike an era a generation or two ago, when GM alone held more than 50% of the US auto market, three US-based companies together are likely to not be able to hold onto that share even together. GM has already said that they will not sit idly by while Ford, Chrysler, and even Toyota outspend them on incentives, so expect possibly a slight bump in July in domestic sales, but the long term writing has been on the wall for a while.

Not only has the US auto market become more fragmented - with more models, more brands, and even more countries of origin than ever before - but the domestic brands falling asleep at the wheel for a decade or two in the 1970s and 1980s certainly has harmed their current situation. For decades, their import competition steadily chugged along, improving their products in terms of comfort and reliability with each generation, convincing one buyer after another to switch brands, Detroit didn't do much about it. Now that this ship has left the harbor, and foreign competition has raised expectations and created a generation or two of satisfied customers, Detroit needs to come up with products and marketing that will convince satisfied import owners - or at least current domestic owners thinking of switching to the import side, that their products are worth buying. To do that, they'll need not only superior products, but substantially superior products. They need to look better (and in some cases, the domestic models actually do look better than their import competition), but also have better reliability, better fuel economy, a nicer interior, and be priced competitively. It's a tough hill to climb, and it pains me to say it, but I don't think we'll see Detroit at 50% market share again, ever.

By the way, the title of this post is not intended to imply that Detroit is on its way to zero market share (although the trend line does move in that direction). At some point, it will level off, but who knows when that will happen? The glass is definitely half empty at this point.

GM Two-Mode Hybrid To Cost Arm, Leg, Plus Body Part To Be Named Later

General Motors might absorb some costs of a Two Mode hybrid transmission in its
full-sized trucks to make the technology affordable to consumers, product chief
Bob Lutz says.The automaker plans to have at least three hybrid transmissions
and offer as many as a dozen hybrid models in the next few years. The Two Mode
system, which has two electric motors that assist the engine, would be the
premium system, Lutz said. The cost of that system is more than $10,000, sources
close to the program say.

That's not good.

Not good at all.

Note that it says AT LEAST $10k. Are you prepared to pay AT LEAST $35k US for an Aura? Or AT LEAST $32k US for a Malibu? What about smaller vehicles? If anything, this news means that GM is going to be stuck using the shitty BAS system for their low end vehicles for quite a while- at least until the economies of scale let them bring down the cost of their Two Mode system. The thought of GM subsidizing this system is ludicrous- using cash to subsidize the Two Mode would be suicide, especially since they're low on cash anyways, and much of their lineup is still in dire need of updates and revisions.

If you look at the Prius, it had 'premium' pricing for close to ten years before Toyota finally had the production capacity to make enough of them to drop the price. Does GM have 10 years? Or do they believe that using the Two Mode strictly in their $50k+ vehicles is a good strategy to persuade the general public that they are a green company? The whole thing is quickly becoming a joke- waiting for the vaporware that is the Volt, waiting for the Two Mode to become affordable, betting the farm on E85. And while they're touting upcoming technology, they continue to sell compact cars that are well behind everyone else in fuel economy, and utilize second rate 'hybrid' technology and trying to pass it off as filet mignon.

But it's all a conspiracy right Bob?

So to sum up- the Two Mode was supposed to be the silver bullet against the werewolf that is Toyota. And now it turns out that the werewolf can only be killed with silver bullets coated with diamonds. At a cost of more than $10,000 for the system, only the supremely stupid will bother with this system in anything less than a Cadillac- and that's not going to be enough for GM.

8 July 2007

Nitpicking Is Fun

I like the way the new Enclave looks, especially since it looks far better than the vehicle it ostensibly replaces, the Rendezvous. The other day, I saw an Enclave in the 'wild' for the first time, and something didn't look right. I tried to figure it out while I sat there looking at it in traffic, and it didn't click. And then I came home and started looking at pictures, and I figured it out-

Concept Enclave

2008 Enclave

Can you spot the difference?

First of all, GM needs to be commended for bringing this thing out so close to actual concept form.

But here's the nitpick.

Look at the C-pillar. The pillar right behind the rear door. On the concept, it flows right into the glass, and it has some brightwork design on it. On the actual model, they swept the pillar back some more, added in the triangle window portion right ahead of it, and the pillar now lacks the brightwork. It's not as noticeable on the dark grey example above, but in the colour that I saw it in (white), the pillar really stood out, and not in a good way- it looked almost tacked on.

Why did GM make such a small change that to me make a big difference in the way the back end of the vehicle looks? I have no idea. I just know that it looks different, and not necessarily better.

And so ends another session of nitpicking.