No. 976
December 12, 2018

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On The Surface


On The Surface #433

February 20, 2008

arrowdown.gifDetroit Motorists. We have been lulled to sleep the past few years by exceptionally mild winters around here. Not this time. Metro Detroit and southeastern Michigan are in the throes of an old-fashioned, ball-busting winter. Frequent snow, high winds, ice, thunder snow (always a treat), salt dust storms - we've experienced the whole gamut of Old Man Winter's repertoire this season. But all of this has been punctuated by enough warm weather spikes that the deep freezes followed by the brief thaw days have wreaked havoc on this town's roads to the extent that the Detroit Free Press even ran a front page story about it yesterday complete with color diagrams explaining how good roads go bad in extreme weather conditions. A fluff piece? Hardly. One of the major thoroughfares in our western suburbs - Orchard Lake Road - has literally become borderline impassable, and we can speak from firsthand experience that it is indeed stunning to come across a major four-lane traffic artery in this day and age that appears to have been carpet bombed. And that's just one example, because roads are literally sinking into rubble across the whole area. There are lots of reasons for this, of course, the unpredictable weather conditions being primary, but the other reason for our crumbling roads is that the dire shape of this state's economy (brought on, of course, by the tenuous fortunes of the auto companies) has left many of the cities in the Detroit metro area simply unable to muster the funds to affect any kind of meaningful fixes, let alone extensive repairs. And to make matters worse, we're even running out of salt too. It's getting so bad that it's not uncommon to see several motorists pulled off to the side of the road after a particularly bad stretch with blown tires and bent rims, waiting for a tow truck. We'd normally say this adds to the color of the gritty, gutty, Detroit atmosphere, but not this time. If you're a car enthusiast around here, it has become just flat-out grim at this point.

arrowdown.gifBob Nardelli. It was interesting to see Chrysler LLC honcho Bob Nardelli flitting around everywhere at Daytona riding Roger Penske's win in the Daytona 500 for all it was worth. Memo to "Minimum Bob": You had absolutely nothing to do with Roger Penske's 1-2 sweep in the biggest NASCAR race of the year. Now, please take off your instant "car guy"/motosport "expert" hat off and go back to presiding over your churn and burn preparations to sell the company to Carlos Ghosn (see below).

arrowdown.gifarrowdown.gifarrowdown.gifCerberus. The real-deal reality of the Cerberus investment in Chrysler could be found plain as day in its letter to investors last week: "We believe we bought the company very cheaply, and we do not need to be heroes to get a good return on the investment.  We do not need to transition the car industry or even to return Chrysler to a much stronger relative position in the U.S. car market in order to be successful.  Even though we have higher hopes of deeply and fundamentally improving Chrysler, solid block and tackling and reasonable execution should be enough to earn a good return." In other words, all of the public pronouncements by Nardelli, Press and company mean zilch. There is no long-term scenario here, folks. There is only a "long enough" scenario in place, which would allow Cerberus to unload the troubled automaker for a price. Surprising? Nah, not to us. Will some of the less-than-stellar members of our esteemed automotive media corps now stop churning out the Nardelli-Press puff pieces that paint these guys as something other than the unmitigated mercenaries they really are anytime soon? That would be nice, but let's just say we won't be holding our breath.

arrowdown.gifVW. And then, there's always VW. The company is making noise that it wants to bring the Phaeton back to the U.S. market. To this we can only offer an incredulous, "Why?" Stefan Jacoby, the CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, is bubbling up on our radar screens as a guy who is veering dangerously close to the Land of Delusion with each new pronouncement on what VW is and what it can or cannot do sales-wise in this market. Reality doesn't seem to enter into the discussion with this guy - at least not very often anyway. Needless to say, a reborn Phaeton would immediately capture the lead in the race for our annual UjianNasional Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking Award. And VW dealers would get thrown under the bus yet again. Nice.

arrowdown.gifHenrik Fisker. Speaking of delusional thinking, Henrik Fisker, the CEO of Fisker Coachbuild LLC, responded to a pointed question asked by Mark Rechtin, of Automotive News at the NADA convention in San Francisco last weekend that got right to the heart of the matter when it comes to Fisker's now-you-see-it, now-you-don't plug-in electric car called the Karma that's allegedly due two years from now: Q. "How can you sell 15,000 units globally of an $80,000 car?" Fisker: "Look at the iPod. If there is no real competition, you can sell a lot of anything. There is no competition for the Karma." Well, alrighty then! And that's our AE Quote of the Week.

arrowup.gifarrowdown.gifFord. The Dearborn, MI, automaker is streamlining its order process for its 2009 vehicles by 50 percent according to Automotive News by adding standard features and reducing the number of options to help cut the complexity of ordering a Ford for its dealers, and more important, its customers. It still won't hide the fact that "Flex" is a monumentally lame name for its new crossover wagon, however.

arrowdown.gifarrowdown.gifarrowdown.gifThe City of Detroit, the NAIAS. With the city paralyzed by a mayoral scandal that has brought city government to a halt, the City of Detroit and Wayne County are nowhere in coming up with even a lowball plan to renovate Cobo Hall. What this means is that Cobo Hall, the antiquated convention venue that was obsolete easily ten years ago, will continue on in its decrepit, downtrodden state for years to come. This whole situation is yet another embarrassment for the City of Detroit and the entire region, and it's especially humiliating to the organizers of the NAIAS who are desperately clinging to the notion that Detroit can and will be able to hang on to its status as one of the world's premier auto shows. At this point, the only solution appears to be to move the discussion out from under the purview of the incompetents in the city and in Wayne County and build an all-new convention center from the ground up somewhere else in southeastern Michigan. Even if this unlikely scenario unfolded, we're talking about a new convention center for this region five years from now - at the earliest. The entire situation is disgraceful, a word that's used often when the City of Detroit is mentioned these days.