27 July 2007

GM 'Tactically Targets' Their Customers- 0% Financing On Trucks

On July 9th, we read this-

GM sales manager Paul Ballew said last week that the auto maker would evaluate its discounts on trucks after a down June and competitors "flailing away" on incentive spending. Toyota was offering 0% financing for 60 months or more than $3,000 in discounts on its new Tundra pickup truck.

Despite the adjustment, GM said it will stick to its incentive strategy and use targeted, tactical deals.
Now, just 2 weeks later, it looks like GM is on the verge of unveiling their 'targeted, tactical deals'- 0% financing over 60 months until the end of August.

Well, that certainly sounds targeted. Targeted to the entire population of truck buyers in North America. And it's certainly a change of tactics from the usual, umm, 0% financing over 60 months, that they usually go with.

So, with about $3600 bucks on the hood of every Silverado and Sierra, GM is going to add 0% financing. Which will put them right around what Toyota is doing- about $4000 on the hood, and 0% financing over 60 months.

Dig a little deeper though, and you'll realize that Toyota is laughing all the way to the bank with this decision from GM. First and most importantly, it means that GM is going to go to war with them on price. That probably doesn't sound too good on the surface, but Toyota at present time has far deeper pockets than GM, so they can afford to take less profit on each truck, while GM can't. Second, the incentives picture is more muddy that it first looks- much of the Tundra incentives are on the hoods of base model stripper pickups- which were overpriced to begin with. So in essence, Toyota has applied big rebates to models that could absorb them, while continuing to sell their top end profit heavy models with far less in terms of customer give back. Lastly, the GMT900s are the bread and butter of the GM lineup- any profit taken off the table of these vehicles is a huge hit to GM- by forcing their hand, Toyota has succeeded, even if it results in a rebound in sales for the trucks.

There were worries before the launch of the Tundra that Toyota was going to price themselves out of the picture with their new truck. Instead, it seems like the spider has set a perfect web- one that they have all the resources in the world to entangle their prey in.

26 July 2007

Chrysler Announces Lifetime Powertrain Warranty

Chrysler announced today that it is expanding its existing 3 year/36,000 mile basic limited warranty to a lifetime limited warranty on powertrain components on "most" new Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge vehicles purchased from dealer inventory and delivered on or after July 26, 2007.

I applaud this move - it's likely to get the company noticed by buyers and alleviate many of the quality concerns they may have had. It also can work as an olive branch from Chrysler to its frustrated dealer body, who are still smarting from having sales bank inventory shoved down their throats over the past few years. The company also expects that the better warranty coverage could allow it to reduce its incentive spending, which is among the highest in the industry today.

The details are:
  • The warranty covers all parts and labor needed to repair covered powertrain components - engine, transmission, and drive system.
  • It applies only to the original owner or retail lessee.
  • To continue warranty coverage, the owner must have a powertrain inspection performed by an authorized dealer once every 5 years, within 60 days of each 5 year anniversary of the warranty start date.
  • Diesel vehicles and SRT vehicles are excluded from the lifetime powertrain warranty plan.
One key detail isn't clear. Chrysler's press release specifically says that the warranty applies to most new Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge vehicles purchased from dealer inventory. So, what isn't clear is whether the improved warranty coverage also applies to units ordered, and not purchased from dealer stock.

While the move certainly shows a lot of confidence on Chrysler's part in its products, the move could backfire, because there will probably be some die-hards who kept their 2008 Sebring until 2048 and need a part, which may be nearly impossible to find or repair at that point. As long as the powertrains prove to be reliable and durable, and enough original owners sell or trade in their cars before problems arise, it should be a successful program and possibly inspire competitors to improve their coverage. If Chrysler's 2006 and newer powertrains do have problems in coming years, the company is going to be stuck with a huge bill.

25 July 2007

The 10 Best Simpsons Vehicles

The Simpsons Movie is almost upon us, and while we all await certain dissatisfaction with the end result of said endeavor, here's a list of some memorable cars from The Simpsons over the years....

The Family Car

Homer, Homer Simpson
He's the greatest guy in history
From the, town of Springfield
He's about to hit a chestnut tree
The Simpsons family-mobile has taken quite a few lumps over the years- being dumped into a lake, falling through ice, or even having Homer use a pickaxe to put speed holes in it. Through it all, it's taken a licking and kept on ticking. And the paint has been splendid since day one. Where is Marge's car? It's a station wagon. That should be explanation enough.

DeLorean- Troy McClure

"Hi there, I'm a DeLorean. You might remember me from such roles as Time Travelling Device in Back To The Future I, II and III, and as the 20 Years Out Of Style Sports Car Owned By Troy McClure in The Simpsons."

Was there ever a more perfect choice for a vehicle for Troy McClure than the DeLorean? Just a brilliant piece of 'casting'.

Mr. Plow- Homer Simpson

Call Mr. Plow, that's my name
The name again, is Mr. Plow
The creme de la creme of snow removal services in Springfield. Able to clear driveways and streets of snow effortlessly, with a jingle that can't be beat...

The Plow King- Barney Gumble

Until Barney shows up with The Plow King. Apparently Mr. Plow isn't immune to gunshots to the tires, and the Plow King has the services of Linda Ronstadt.


Can you name the truck with four wheel drive,
smells like a steak and seats thirty-five..

Canyonero! Canyonero!

Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down,
It's the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown!

Canyonero! (Yah!) Canyonero!
[Krusty:] Hey Hey

The Federal Highway comission has ruled the
Canyonero unsafe for highway or city driving.


12 yards long, 2 lanes wide,
65 tons of American Pride!

Canyonero! Canyonero!

Top of the line in utility sports,
Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!

Canyonero! Canyonero! (Yah!)

She blinds everybody with her super high beams,
She's a squirrel crushing, deer smacking, driving machine!

Canyonero!-oh woah, Canyonero! (Yah!)

Drive Canyonero!

Woah Canyonero!

Rolls Royce (various)- Mr. Burns

Would you expect anything else for the richest man in Springfield? Notable for the one time when Mr. Burns attempted to drive on his own-

I thought, uh, I thought I'd chauffeur myself this evening. yes, that's what I thought. How difficult could it be? I'm sure the manual will indicate which level is the velocitator and which the decleratrix, hmm?
Mercedes SL- Baron von Wortzenberger

Ja, ja, ja, mach schnell mit der art things, huh? I must get back to Dancecentrum in Stuttgart in time to see Kraftwerk. Hey, und dummkopf! Watch out for the CD changer in my trunk eh? Idiot.
Another inspired car choice.

The Bus- Otto Mann

The jump off point for a ton of episodes, and the scene of many a great comedic moment, including the infamous apple/banana race. Just watch out for those pesky gremlins.

Hail to the bus driver man indeed.

The Tractor- Groundskeeper Willie

Well duh. How else would he groundskeep?

The Homer

A perfect example of why the focus group isn't always right. What did Homer want for his car? Separated children pods, a little ball on the aerial, tail fins, a big motor, huge cupholders, shag carpeting, a Rolls grille, and a horn that played the Cucaracha. The tagline? Powerful like a gorilla, yet soft and yielding like a Nerf ball...it's amazing that it didn't sell like hotcakes. Oh yeah, the sticker was $82,000. On the plus side, the failure led to the bankruptcy of Herb Powell, which ultimately led to him coming back to Homer for money help and a reappearance of the drinking bird in a later episode. So it was all worth it.

Any I've missed?

Thanks to the Simpsons Archive for the quotes.

You'll Have 273 Reasons To Check Out The New Accord When It Drops

SuperHonda.com has some interesting tidbits of information regarding the next generation Honda Accord sedan and coupe-

  • The sedan will be available on September 12th, with the coupe entering showrooms later in the month.
  • There will be two 4 cylinder models in the lineup, with the LX getting a 180 HP 4 banger, while the uplevel EX edition will get, presumably, the 200 HP variant also found in the current TSX.
  • The big brother V6 will get an appreciable increase over the current edition engine, coming in a 273 horsepower.
  • The car is big enough to be classified as a full size sedan.
What to make of all of this?

Well first, that is one impressive lineup of engines- the base I4 in the Accord lineup was always the smoothest out of the mainstream offerings, and the power increase to put it ahead of basically everyone out there is a welcome addition. Adding in the 200 HP variant is a fantastic move- they'll be able to keep the fuel economy numbers looking good for those sorts of buyers, while offering more power- and that should be a winning combination, and something not found in other brands right now. Of course, the biggest news is the new V6, which if those power numbers hold true, will lead the class in power. It's interesting seeing the progression in engine power for the midsize segment at this point though- the Altima blew the doors off of everyone in 2002, and since then, everyone has only equaled or just barely surpassed it. I think it's probably because any more power would encroach on the entry level luxury brands of most of these companies.

The fullsize designation is also a bit eyebrow raising- the traditionally smaller Accord seems to be moving up in the world.

All in all, the new Accord is looking like it will keep going from where the last one left off.

Nobody Wants to Buy Chrysler's Debt

Chrysler Group, which has been acquired by Cerberus Capital Management, is trying to tap debt markets for $20 billion to fund the new company's automotive operations and its finance unit after the transaction between Cerberus and DaimlerChrysler closes on August 3. The company's bankers have been trying to convince investors to purchase $12 billion in loans for the auto business and $8 billion for Chrysler Financial.

So far, the $8 billion loan sale for Chrysler Financial appears to be on track to be sold by the end of this week, but today, the bankers decided to postpone the sale of the $12 billion loan sale for the auto business due to a lack of buyer interest. Instead, they will fund the bulk of that debt - $10 billion - from their own pockets. If these banks (J.P. Morgan, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns and Morgan Stanley) don't eventually find buyers for the loans, and if Chrysler has trouble repaying them, these banks would bear the first losses (investors who bought the rest of the loans would be given priority over Chrysler's assets if the company was in default).

Chrysler isn't the only auto company experiencing this problem. GM's sale of its Allison Transmission unit ran into similar financing problems this week. Wall Street firms put off a $3.1 billion sale of loans that would have funded the buyout of Allison by private-equity firms. Like the Chrysler-Cerberus transaction, the Allison sale is likely to still proceed.

The root of the problem is that debt investors have gotten nervous lately about the huge amounts of debt being underwritten to fund buyouts. On top of that, bonds tied to the subprime mortgage debt market have suffered in the past several months, making debt financing - a favorite tool for both the auto industry and for private equity - more difficult to use.

In the Chrysler and Allison situations, the lack of an interested market for the debt offerings probably won't be a deal-killer, but this development in the debt market may not be welcome news for companies that are in a compromised state and need access to as much capital as they can get to fund their restructurings.

24 July 2007

Black Ink for Maserati After 17 Years

Today, Maserati announced that it has earned an operating profit for the second quarter of 2007 (before one-time items) of approximately €1 million. This is the first time that Maserati has turned a profit since it was acquired by Fiat in 1990. Last year in the same period, Maserati reported a loss of €7 million. The company also broke even for the first half of 2007, while it had a €26 million loss in the first half of 2006.

The company attributes its newfound financial success to the highly-regarded Quattroporte automatic, which boosted Quattroporte sales by almost 40% over the first five months of its availability. Previously, the Quattroporte's transmission was a rear-mounted Duo-Select semiautomatic transmission which was relatively unrefined (according to reviews) and wasn't happy loping around town. It might have been acceptable in a no-holds-barred performance vehicle such as a Ferrari, but not in a car that competes with other $100,000 luxury sedans.

After much criticism, Maserati re-engineered the floorpan of the Quattroporte and equipped it with a ZF-sourced six-speed automatic transmission mounted in the front of the car to create the Quattroporte Automatica. The new transmission basically addressed nearly all of the complaints that owners and reviewers had about the Duo-Select one, and proved to be a wise move for the Italian automaker.

Maserati expects further success for the rest of 2007; in fact, with the upcoming launch of the Granturismo four-seat premium coupe, Maserati expects to earn a profit for the full year and to sell 35% more vehicles than it did in 2006 (7,600 versus 5,600), and even more in 2008.

Germany's Road Sign Deforestation

Germans tend to feel more comfortable when they are given precise, unambiguous rules. To that end, their roads are absolutely covered in road signs - to the tune of over 20 million signs. There is an average of one road sign every 28 meters, or 36 signs per kilometer. Many German drivers now feel that their country's road sign proliferation is so bad that that the sheer quantity of them has become a safety hazard. In fact, 75% of all German drivers in a recent survey conducted by Germany's ADAC automobile club believed their country had too many road signs.

Now, the country is doing something about it. With the encouragement of the German Transport Ministry, local authorities in some towns have been cruising around while having frank discussions about the necessity of some signs, such as a "pedestrians only" sign on a walkway too narrow for even a bicycle, or a "toad crossing" sign at another location. The goal of the sign-reduction project is to get rid of as many as half of Germany's road sign population.

When a sign is identified as potentially unnecessary, it is covered by a plastic yellow hood that advises of the sign's condemnation. If nobody complains after a few weeks of the sign being covered, it is removed permanently. Some of the removed signs are sold for scrap, while others are kept in storage "in case they're needed later."

The small Dutch town of Drachten also suffered from an excess of road signs and traffic lights, so its leadership took the radical step of removing ALL signs and signals, and installing a children's playground in the middle of a road to encourage drivers to slow down. The result was that traffic moved more "safely," but no longer flowed as smoothly. The German town of Bohmte would like to attempt a similar experiment.

Though I would love to have the pleasure of driving a performance car on an unrestricted stretch of open Autobahn, driving through cities and towns in Germany would probably be less enjoyable. I'm all for reducing roadside clutter and driver distractions (in this case, external distractions), but without a navigation system, I'd imagine that it's very difficult to find one's way through a town with no signs.

22 July 2007

Seeing These Things On Cars Makes My Blood Boil

Dealer decals are the scorn of beautiful cars everywhere. Got a nice Cadillac? Let's chintz it up by sticking 'Jim Bob Cadillac' on the rear bumper just so everyone knows that you're a Jim Bob kind of guy. Want to spice up the rear end of your Camry? John Doe Toyota/Lexus is more than happy to oblige with not so discrete vinyl adhesive flair for your vehicle. Feeling that your brand new Dodge just doesn't have enough masculinity to get you through the day? Here's a set of ram horns and a big pentastar from your good friends at Randomberg Chrysler/Dodge. And the list goes on and on and on.

A few dealers don't do this. I don't know whether this is done because they're smart or because the vinyl decals cost too much, and quite frankly, I don't care. What they do instead is install the license plate holder of doom. You've seen those too- license plate frames emblazoned with 'Anytown Nissan' across the back, ensuring that everyone will know you're-

a)from out of town
b)probably easy pickings for car thieves
c)probably packing a lot of valuables in your trunk

While less obnoxious than the vinyl decal for the simple reason that you don't have to do much work to remove them, the license plate frame is still an offender in the bad taste wars.

So why the hell do dealerships do this? Ostensibly, it's to increase awareness of their dealership, especially in larger cities where they may be competing against their own company. But is that a valid reason to deface a vehicle? Especially since you've already spent a lot of money with them in the first place? It reminds me of vehicles that have incessant badging INSIDE the vehicle, a common trait among many cars from the 80s, where it was apparently very hard to remember what vehicle you were currently driving. 'Honey, let's go take a look at those new Buick Regals right there... oh wait, we're ALREADY driving a Buick Regal! Thank God this fake chrome Regal badge was on the glovebox!'

Probably the biggest sin in all of this is that it's done on the down low- the dealer does it without asking. You've got to specifically ask them NOT to mark their territory, and even then, they push back. It's quite amazing to see in action- 'You DON'T want our sticker on your otherwise new vehicle? Why not?!?!?!'. Well for one, I don't want to look like your dealership courtesy shuttle. The mixture of amazement, puzzlement and just under the surface seething is hard to quantify, but it's there.

The Nicest Dealership You'll Ever See

Are you actually surprised that it's a Lexus? Lexus Bellevue to be exact. I'm officially a little bit depressed that their customer waiting lounge(s) have far nicer furniture than anything in my home. Not to mention multiple flat screen televisions. Oh, and a garage that I didn't even have the capacity to dream about until today. Did I mention the escalators? Or the hotel lobby thing? Just amazing.

Original link from The Car Lounge, with pictures from Car Domain (lots more pictures at the Car Domain link):

Did I Say VW Was On A Death March? I Meant They're Almost At The Finish Line

From Motor Authority:

Volkswagen’s joint-venture with China’s Shanghai Auto will spawn a new car that will eventually go on sale in North America. The new model will mark the first time that VW’s Chinese partner will help develop a vehicle targeted at a global market, Reuters Reports.

A brand that for the past 10 years has been dealing with quality issues has decided to outsource production of a vehicle to China.

Perhaps they saw a video of the Brilliance BS6 and decided they wanted such materials and craftmanship in their own vehicles.

On what level does this make sense? To save money? Perhaps. But doesn't this fly in the face of VW moving upmarket with their brand in terms of perception and price?


I was bumbling around Digg.com yesterday and came upon THIS article. To quote:

Did you know that the FBI can listen in to any and all of your conversations through your cell phone even when you’re not actually speaking on the phone?
Yeah, it all sounds pretty tin-foil hattish to me too. But what is known is that current cell phone technology can be tracked via triangulation, on OR off. So, if this is true, what's to stop the FBI or any other law enforcement type group from tracking anyone who has an Onstar unit in their vehicle?

I doubt it would require activation- when you pay for Onstar, you're essentially paying GM to give you the information they are probably already gathering about your vehicle. Its whereabouts. The average speed you've been driving. Your top speed. How many panic stops you've made. If the above article referenced is correct, theoretically it could be used to listen in on conversations too.

The most interesting part about all of this is how ubiquitous Onstar has become for GM- the module is standard in the large majority of their vehicles, with future plans to put it in everything. And GM has always touted it as the 'do everything' device, to the detriment of other technologies that they've failed to implement (Bluetooth, navigation, etc.). So what does GM have to say about Onstar privacy?

Well, GM does have a whole page of legalese that deals with the technology-


The first question in their FAQ deals with tracking:

Q: Does OnStar continuously monitor my car's location?
A: No, OnStar does not continuously or routinely monitor, update or otherwise track the location of OnStar-equipped cars. OnStar only knows the location of a car when a user initiates a request for service, there is an Air Bag Deployment, an Advanced Automatic Crash Notification occurs, your OnStar equipment calls OnStar with data updates or when required to locate a car by a valid court order in criminal procedures or under exigent circumstances. OnStar requires police involvement for Stolen Vehicle Location Assistance and missing person requests.
Another question deals with monitoring:

Q: If I'm not talking with an OnStar Advisor, or an Advisor and a third party conferenced in at my request, does OnStar monitor conversations in my car?
A: It is not possible for OnStar advisors to monitor car occupant conversations without notice to the occupants. When an advisor calls into your vehicle, a light flashes, there is a ring, and the radio mutes. Even if requested, it is not possible for OnStar to override this functionality. In addition, calls through the OnStar system are normally audible through the stereo speakers, and cars programmed with text display capabilities can see an indicator of a connection to OnStar on the driver's instrument panel. Moreover, OnStar's policy requires Advisors to announce their presence immediately upon establishing a call with the vehicle.
So it appears that all is fine and dandy, and that GM has covered their ample behinds on this issue. Right?

Well, maybe not really.

Earlier on we get these tidbits:

Should you choose to use Hands-Free Calling to dial 911 in an emergency situation rather than contacting OnStar, and your car contains certain OnStar equipment, the location of your car at the time the call was made may be provided to the public safety or dispatch personnel who answered your call.

OnStar only knows where your car is when a user initiates a request for service, there is an Air Bag Deployment, an Advanced Automatic Crash Notification occurs, your OnStar equipment calls OnStar with data updates or OnStar is required to locate the car by a valid court order in criminal procedures.
and finally

OnStar may use your information to:....(h) comply with legal requirements, valid court orders and exigent circumstances; (i) protect the rights, property, or safety of you or others;
All emphasis and bolding is my own. So it would seem that the idea of sharing this information and the accessibility of this information is still pretty nebulous right? So if the FBI/CIA/Insert Your Own Agency Here goes to GM with one of their 'listening lists', will GM provide the information to them? Looks like they would. It's not that GM CAN'T use the technology to do so- it's that they're telling you they won't. There's a very real difference there methinks.

For another view of Onstar, look at www.onstarprivacy.com . I originally thought it was a site FOR Onstar. How wrong I was. Instead, it points out some very obvious discrepancies in the privacy statements of GM.


  • THIS LINK , taken from the NY Times, describing a 'wire tap' scenario for something like Onstar.
  • Insurance companies may require that you permit them to examine your data as a condition of insurance.
And that's the tip of the iceberg. Go check out that site, it's really quite enlightening.

This will probably be seen as a slam against Onstar- it isn't. It's more of a question as to why this technology has been adapted so quickly and with so little questioning by the public at large. How long before Onstar technology is used to control speeding? How long before GM starts to deny warranty claims because of 'improper use' gleaned from Onstar (if this hasn't happened already). And so on and so forth. Although they aren't what they used to be in terms of marketshare, GM is still the big boy on the block in North America, and the fact that their halo technology has gotten a free ride thus far as a 'life saver' and 'invaluable' is sort of disconcerting in light of these privacy issues don't you think?