Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Future of Transportation

So I just finished watching the third part of Discovery's FutureCar series, "Fuel" (had it on DVR), and I found it quite interesting...until they introduced the theoretical car of the future: a perpetual motion machine.

This car is propelled by compressed air, which is pretty cool, as it produces no emissions other than cold air. Of course energy has to be used to compress the air in the first place, a point to which the show's producers readily concede. But then they quickly jump the shark, declaring that maybe that energy could be produced using the compressed air-powered generator that the car's inventors have created. Okay, so the car creates power using compressed air, power which in turn would supposedly be used to create...compressed air!!! And voila, perpetual motion. Okay, so where in there does the power to create the actual motion of the car come in?

The series has been quite interesting thus far, but the show's producers have decided they want to get the audience really excited by discarding the laws of physics and then declaring that all our energy problems could be solved in the near future. Allow me to point out that at no time did the inventors of the compressed air car jump to this ridiculous conclusion. They are real scientists, who understand real science. For the Discovery Channel to air such an assertion warrants a major loss of credibility.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Driver Darkly II

Okay, Michiganders. When the moon is the single greatest source of light in the sky, and the fog is London-esque, it's time to turn on your lights!!! I was amazed at how many drivers were still dark on my way home from work today. I've marvelled at these Midwesterners' cajones since I got here, since it seems the sun must be well on its way past China before many Michigan drivers will turn the switch. But I figured surely these people would be smarter with a cloud sitting on top of their heads. I was so wrong.

Shout Out II

In my second shout out to the Nee clan (they're pitching a shutout), I'd like to thank Michelle's brother Markus, whose blog is now my single biggest source of hits. You can find his blog at mcniadh.livejournal.com. I'll also leave a link in my list on the right side of the page. Thanks for the hearty welcome to the blogger community.

A-Snob out!!!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Merger of Equals

Just thought I'd point out the irony of last night's Wall Street Journal home page. XM and Sirius are trying to embark upon a "merger of equals" while another company, which was cast as such 9 years ago, is trying to unload what is definitely its more unequal "half".

When the DCX tie-up was called a "merger of equals", investors cried bloody murder, due to the obviousness of the misnomer. In another irony, Chrysler has grown even more unequal to the Daimler portion, having watched its value shrink from $35 billion to $5 billion since the "merger".

This latest situation, though, is much different. Here we have a potential tie-up of two companies that have yet to turn a profit. Neither one is dominant, and in fact this transaction could have real benefit for consumers. Satellite radio does have a true competitor in free, commercial-supported radio. And given that the competition has apparently overwhelmed both satellite companies, there should be no regulatory obstacle to the merger.

Also consider this: if XM and Sirius were to join forces, never again would my mom have to choose which set of stations she would receive--and this is completely true--based on which color Audi she purchased.

Friday, February 16, 2007

My life in the public eye...

Automotive News seems to be very curious about what I'm up to; due to the phenomenal success of my blog, they're now following me around with a camera. They managed to get a shot of me checking out the Pontiac G8 in Chicago, and I'm featured prominently on page 6 of this week's edition. You can also check out the article online, or click on the picture above for a larger view. In a nod to my privacy, they've elected not to mention my name. I appreciate the restraint.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Mighty Wind

Well, I blew through the Windy City for the Chicago Auto Show, and it's finally on its way...the R32. I've waited with bated breath for its arrival, and I actually got to experience the car in person, in all its glory. There was one snag, however. VW will only offer one transmission option, and it ain't the 6-speed manual that I know and love. No, the R32 will be DSG only. When I heard the news, I could've dropped to my knews and wept. My dreams of ownership seemed to slip away like dust in the wind.

To be fair, though, I've not yet driven a DSG-equipped car, and I've been assured that the experience will reverse my stubborn, backwards, 20th century purist thinking. I even made a new best friend at VW who will give me access to such an experience. I can't wait.

So what else was big in Chi-town? Well, the consensus settled on GM's "new" Pontiac G8. This is a rebadged Holden Commodore, but as NBC used to say, "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!" For years, Pontiac has been trying to brand itself as BMW on the cheap, right down to the twin kidney grille. But for the first time (at least in my life) GM has actually landed a shot in the same ballpark. (The Solstice doesn't count, since the essence of BMW is the sports sedan.) This is a great looking car, and maybe it'll prove once and for all that the RWD Chrysler 300 wasn't just a flash in the giant US FWD pan.

The Saturn Astra's another strong showing from the General, but it does have a few chinks in its armor. The driver's seat was quite narrow, and I'm smaller than the average American, revealing one of the likely reasons that you can't just grab a Euro vehicle an slap it onto US roads. The car also reinforced my impression that while Saturn's interiors have elevated their standards of design, many of the materials used are not up to that standard. Still, coming from the interior of a VW, I do appreciate the little luxo touches, such as the Astra's illuminated sunroof switches that are quite rare for this price point.

The Toyota Highlander struck many of us as an overgrown RAV4. You've gotta ask yourself, though, is this a bad thing? From the rear it looks a bit Hyundai-ish, and as I've said before, this is not a compliment. But the whole of the vehicle is polished, slightly bland, and slightly aggressive looking. This is a formula that works for Toyota, as it allows people to feel like they're stylish, without actually taking the risk of being so. And risk aversion is what Toyota buyers are all about (not a criticism, just a fact). Look for the Highlander to continue its success within the medium crossover segment.

As for the new Taurus/Taurus X/Sable, let me just say these are
great vehicles, worthy of those names. The roomiest and safest cars in the world--literally!!!--now have a great powertrain and the element of style to back them up. This move by Ford may be a bit of a punch-line due to the rental car rep of the outgoing models, but I can only hope that the publicity of the name change will cause people to give these cars a second look. They deserve it.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pet My Ride

So I'm picking my friend Roben's brain, asking him what he really wants in a car, and we start talking about his pets. He's got 2 sizeable dogs, and is desperate for a vehicle with which to transport them. The amazing part is that there are so few options available for such a task. He previously had an F-150 pickup with a bed cap, but gas ain't cheap. He also had climate control issues...imagine driving through Arizona with your dogs in the back, the cap acting as a convection oven.

Which begs the question, why is it so hard to find a vehicle that can accomodate pets? Really all that's needed is the simple ability to create a flat, covered, stain resistant surface. Sure, the Honda Element's great, but that only covers a fraction of the market. Why aren't there more vehicles with plastic/rubber/vinyl-covered seatbacks and trunk surfaces, especially 2-box vehicles like SUVs?

The Lincoln Blackwood (a rebadged F-150) was a complete failure. One of the major reasons for this was its carpet-lined bed. If pickups demand weatherproof cargo storage, why can't that apply to more domesticated vehicles? Surely this extends beyond pet owners. Most of us have felt the need to throw messy stuff in the back (cleats, wet umbrellas, beach towels, etc.). Our cargo does not demand the luxury of a carpeted resting place.

Perhaps there's an issue of sound deadening. There must be a way around this, as SUTs, such as Chevy Avalanche, have non-carpeted cargo areas without many complaints of an echo-chamber effect.
One suggestion รก la Roben is the Pet Package. Maybe weatherproofing could be an option, with the addition of a gate installed over the seats to divide the cabin between human and pet space. Roben also would love a built-in, spill-proof doggy dish holder, but I told him that's a bit much to ask for. Pet owners could well represent a serious untapped market segment, and the auto industry is always looking for unique ways to meet customer needs...and wouldn't it be fun to walk into a dealer and say, "I'd like my new Ford Edge 'doggy style'"?

Monday, February 5, 2007

The Ad Bowl

I just have to vent right now, because of a trend that I know is at least as old as my literacy: bashing the Super Bowl ads. Once again, this year's crop of ads has been declared "disappointing". Maybe you agree with this assessment. If so, just ask yourself this question: When was the last year in which you were actually impressed with the Super Bowl ads? Let me rephrase that: When was the last year in which you said you were impressed with them? Did all your most recent watercooler conversations on the subject sound something like this...

Someone else: "Those Super Bowl ads were pretty lame, eh?"
You: "Yes, I agree with your assessment so as not to seem culturally out of touch."
Someone else: "Totally."

This is not necessarily your fault. The media, which is in fact neither liberally nor conservatively biased, is, on occasion, idiotically biased. The Wall Street Journal, which I consider to have the best news coverage around (of the stuff which they actually cover), has their typically prompt evaluation of the night's fare posted, and we're treated to verdicts like, "Despite the standouts, this year's Super Bowl ads overall didn't live up to the hype surrounding them." Fair enough, but what does this sentence actually say? To my point, have the ads ever actually bested their hype? Of course not. That's why they call it hype. Because it's hyperdemanding.

Later in the article we get treated to this gem: "But the biggest fumble of the night came from Flomax, the prostate drug from Boehringer Ingelheim Corp. The spot, which described the drug's side effects as including a 'decrease in semen,' showed men competing in a bike race. Ad executives questioned whether such ads should run during the Super Bowl. 'Call me a prude but there are kids watching the game,' says Mr. Feakins."

The article goes on to explain that they decided to run it late in the rotation to avoid kids, with nary a mention of the GoDaddy.com spot with the marketing dept. full of half-naked models that ran early in the rotation. People are getting bent out of shape on account of the word "semen", a clinical word which our children who are old enough to watch most Bud Light ads actually should be exposed to in health class. Those people are idiots.

Okay, so this is an auto blog, so I should probably say something about the automotive ads that ran. I work for Ford, but if I were to deny that GM stood out I'd lose all credibility. The amateur-based HHR car wash ad was good, but the robot spot was an absolute gem. This is an ad that'll get a lot of play on YouTube, and GM will be getting more than its money's worth spreading their quality message. In fact, in a stroke of brilliance, if you search for the ad on YouTube right now, you get a preview spot that tells you to go to GM.com to see the actual ad.

I think the only danger with this ad is the message being received as "Now that we have a decent warranty, we realized we actually have to think about quality." We'll see. But this ad may pay off for the General in sheer good will, further breaking down the stodginess of its image.

The Ford Super Duty ads were quite polished, and I did like how they built towards the actual intro ad where you got to see the full vehicle. But there should be more done in preperation for the traffic that these ads would drive. Many people, no doubt, went to Ford.com, which has nothing on it about these ads. And the FordVehicles.com homepage doesn't have a prominent link to Super Duty info.

The Jeep ad was clever, yet forgetable. "What Jeep ad?" you say? See what I mean.

I guess the overall point of this post is, think for yourself. Don't be so quick to say "This year's ads fell kinda flat," especially when you get such a familiar feeling as the words leave your mouth. The fact is, you can't even remember last year's ads well enough to compare them. Am I right, or am I right?