No. 938
March 21, 2018

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Sheer lunacy.

I can’t believe how short a memory those in this business have. Ford once again is taking their eye off the one and only thing that matters in this business. The PRODUCT. Connectivity, ride sharing, blah blah blah. Now comes rumor of buying the Michigan Central train depot. Haven’t these fools learned anything at all the past ten years? Bringing us a Ranger that’s already old news in the rest of the world, giving the car market to foreign automakers, and dumping money into non core business endeavors isn’t a “fitness” plan. It’s sheer lunacy. Its the same movie AGAIN and it ends badly every time.

Plymouth, Michigan 




Out There.

I think Ford’s playing a game which can’t end well by depending on the F-150 to mainstay its business. The success of any full-size pickup depends on the continued depressed price of fuel which is sure to change sooner or later. I’ve seen some predictions talking about a major rise in fuel costs this summer.

Sure, the new trucks are paragons of efficiency compared to only a few years ago but still cannot match the smaller vehicles and unless physics change, never will. Worse, a precipitous rise in fuel costs will beggar the values of these larger vehicles, pickups and others, creating a greater frequency of lease and straight financing defaults.

Nobody predicted the timing of the enormous price spikes of the recent past nor is anybody saying when it will recur but two years depending on low fuel prices so Ford can get to the promised land of new product strikes me as being way out there on the lever of chance.

Paul Cassel
Albuquerque, New Mexico


Ford's predicament.

So roughly a decade ago, Ford was in a similar predicament and sinking fast amidst skyrocketing gas prices and the Prius changing the world amidst cries of “Hybrid All The Things”. Tesla was the curious project of a tech billionaire saddling a lotus with heavy batteries, and smartphones were a year-old curiosity that hadn’t yet zombified the planet, and Android was a startup. Seeing their crosstown rivals whispering “bankruptcy” and “bailout”, Ford mortgaged both The Franchise and the Oval in one of the riskiest plays in recent history.

What they did was absolutely prescient given the environment and lauded at the time. Placing a long-term bet on efficiency and cars brought an all-new Fiesta, retooled Focus, and the C-max line from Europe. If they couldn’t Hyrbid-any-things beyond the Fusion and Escape, they turboed-all-the-things seeking efficiency gains. They retooled The Franchise for Aluminum. They leveraged their forward-thinking Sync system as an early car-tech standout feature. And looked the other way while rivals did their things, with their own hats in hand or otherwise.

Ten years ago, that was a defensible playbook poised to take the future head-on. So what happened?

  • Cars were The Thing To Have For The Great Recession… until gas went cheap again and Americans promptly went back to old habits. Bro-dozers unite!
  • Turboing-all-the-things gave mixed results at best, but the entire industry followed suit.
  • IPhone Zombies were born. Android Zombies followed. Sync what? Who cares! Smartphone all the things, autonomously please!
  • Europe craters big-time: fallback stability is no longer assured.
  • China emerges big-time: a rival’s experience dumping sur Buicks across the pacific for the previous decade parlays into the Smartest Move of the New Century.
  • Hybrids become passe as Tesla proves something in spite of itself
  • The Franchise still rules; the Mustang treads water; The Other Cars wilt and wither because…

…Baby Boomers can no longer defy aging, and creaky hips and knees have a much easier time with crossover ride heights. Cars? Who needs ‘em? It's a rush for CUV's and Ford is playing catch-up. Ford couldn't give the Freestyle away and changing its name to Taurus X didn't help, but changing that to Explorer did. Third time's the charm and consumers really are that stupid, apparently! But that still means playing catch-up once again… …and so on until here we are.

Few would have argued against Ford’s Hail Mary from ten years ago but if it has proven anything, it’s this: Nobody can predict the future, they can only prepare for perceived contingencies. The best laid plans can blow up in your face, sometimes through no fault of your own. Sometimes you just get lucky. And with all your competitors doing the same studies, making the same plans while copying yours and hedging their own, to market to swaths of fickle consumers in unequal economies, victory is far from assured. I don’t envy the task of any board in the least. But resorting to Hailing Mary every decade doesn’t seem to be a wise MO, and I wouldn't believe anyone's Confidence in The Future.

It seems to work for Tesla… (but then again, consumers are stupid).

Tony Lucio
Frankfort, Kentucky


Hacks be us.

The problem with all three of the formerly Big 3 is that they are all run by the same type of people. Political hacks that probably don't even like driving. Let me ask a question here. What does the coal industry, nuclear industry and automotive industry have in common? That's pretty simple but let me explain it like this. The coal industry is dead because 'management" insisted that engineering pollution controls was a “show stopper”. Too expensive, too labor intensive. Now they are a small industry. The nuclear industry kept fighting industry standards like weld inspections for example claiming that they were too expensive and time consuming. They also kept kicking the can down the road on what to do with the waste. The current management at the time didn't want to add those high costs of cleanup to their budget, so they let it go until the next overpaid CEO came around. Now they are a small industry. The Big 3 went the same route. They had the opportunity to move forward after every economic upheaval that they went through over the past four decades but it appears to me that the “financial geniuses” that passed through the CEO jobs never learned anything that the “employees” did. The 3 went from being concerned about mass and costs, to racing themselves, to bloviating about who builds the biggest and ugliest. Now it is a small industry. I would like to point something out to the geniuses that currently run the 3. You don't have a simple business plan for any of your new and overpriced technology. You don't know what battery will be used five years from now. You don't have any idea of who you are going to sell “self driving” cars too. You don't even have any idea of what a car that drives itself will even look like. But you are committing BILLIONS. All of you auto workers should keep bitching about how inefficient and bloated our government is but I have news for you: The organization that used to be the Big 3 makes them look like a model of efficiency. That's why the 3 will soon be owned by someone else...

Detroit, Michigan

A BOP Spectacle.

IMSA's BOP (Balance of Performance) hobbling of winners each year while assisting also rans has completely turned me off regarding Sebring and the rest of the series. I watched the start for five minutes before turning it off for the rest of the day. Who cares anymore? Like a friend advised, “Don't be upset. It's not a race anymore. It's a "spectacle”. How right he is.

Stingray Kid
Dearborn, Michigan


GM's new V8.

Someone has to say it first... Northstar II ?

Casey Raskob, Esq
Green Leafy Burbs, New York City


It's complicated.

After looking at the photo of the “new” GM V8... oh, my! Who would dare own that pile of parts? It would be great if your neighbor had one and he let you drive it once in a while or it you had it in your assigned evaluation car but no mortal man could afford to fix anything that might go wrong with it! It makes the BRM H-16 look like a model of simplicity!

Wilmington, North Carolina

Good night. And good luck.

I just can't believe Ford is walking away from automobiles. In 2005 Ford came to market with the 500. You simply stepped into and out of the car. Tall, roomy, comfortable, and safe. In a few years not only was the name changed to Taurus but the roof line was changed so you had to twist and bend to get in the car. Guess what, the people who were buying the car went to an SUV that you step into and out of. Good luck.

Dale T.
Atwater, Minnesota


Board of Enablers.

Elon Musk won a victory today by convincing his board to set a new, multi-Billion dollar (yes, Billions with a ‘B’) pay schedule for him based solely on financial measures like market cap (really? As if sycophants haven’t bid up the stock enough over the years), revenue growth and EBIDTA growth. Completely missing from the measures were production goals, quality measures and an improved supply chain (I guess repairing supplier parts is ok for the Tesla board). So, not only are they giving this guy a layup but they are grossly overpaying for these dumbed down goals. Instead of firing Musk like they should These Enabler Sell-outs Lost Again. Besides Musk, the only other winner here is The AutoExtremist who gets to rant on about Musk well into the future – about 2020 when the industry surpasses Tesla’s vehicles in numbers, quality, range and price forcing bankruptcy.

Holly Springs, North Carolina


More Favorite Racing Cars.

To me the Ford P68/F3L prototype of 1968 is one of the most beautiful race cars of that era. Built by Alan Mann and designed by Len Bailey. Unfortunately the project was horribly underfunded and the car hardly developed. It had diabolical handling (oversteer, I think) and unreliability as well; it cost Chris Irwin his career. It had a couple of qualifying runs that showed its potential. But it's automotive porn to me.

Rochester, New York

Editor-in-Chief's Note: Yes, that was a beautiful racing car. I have featured it in the past in our Fumes "Historic" section and also in my Twitter postings. -PMD


A True Believer weighs in.

As PMD suggested many moons ago, a s
tand-alone Corvette Performance Division makes so much sense now with the unveiling of the 4.2-liter Twin Turbo V8 and its upcoming derivatives. Is anyone in GM Detroit headquarters looking at the press and realizing the potential, or are they all deaf, dumb and blind corporate robots with no intelligence of their own? I had to vent what I am sure many “True Believers” feel.

Cleveland, Ohio


No push-rods in sight.

Could it be – a GM hi-performance V8 engine that's NOT a push-rod engine??? Holy smokes. I admit I'm not a GM guy, but I thought they only built push-rod engines. I'm in shock.

Dave G.
Calgary, Alberta, CANADA

Party animal.

GM's new, twin-turbo 4.2L V8, 550HP, 627lb ft torque, wait what? 'Bout choked on my coffee on that one. 627lb ft torque? Damn!!!!!!! Can't wait to experience that one, what a beast. Where have you been all my life, you non European domestic, not domesticated, 4.2L 627lb ft torque! party animal? Makes you proud to be American. Does me, anyway.

Indianapolis, Indiana

Just the beginning.

Well, we've had our first autonomous car pedestrian death and there's no shortage of contributing causes. We have a state eager to offer few restrictions on testing, a company whose practices have historically been somewhat dodgy, an inattentive safety driver who may well have been lulled by hours of boredom. But, in the final analysis, it came down to a set of sensors and software which was clearly not ready to be on the public roads. There's no excuse — NONE — for the brakes not being applied, even if it would have been too late. About the only possible good that will come of this might be to slow down Congress' headlong rush to make it even easier for companies to let more of this happen.

Matt Thul
Winter Haven, FLorida

He concurs.

I concur entirely with ‘Stingray Kid’ and his assessment of IMSA and BOP. But... a point of clarification: IMSA can/and, I think, does, make BOP adjustments for EVERY RACE. That differs from around ten years ago when BOP adjustments were allowed two times per year.

Steve R.
Ellsworth, Wisconsin

Circling the drain?

Please forgive me for continuing to beat a soon to be dead horse, but Lowe's is dropping its sponsorship of the Jimmy Johnson Chevrolet. He is only a 7-time NASCAR champion and Lowe's is not seeing enough of a ROI to continue. Then we hear that Jeff Gordon and Dale Jr. might commit to at least one more race. What will they do next to keep some of the excitement going? NASCAR is circling the drain...

Mercer, Pennsylvania