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The Launch of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

On: Wed, Jun 23, 2010 at 9:57AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

The Launch of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee test 1-1

Everyone knows that Chrysler Corporation has had no picnic recently; in the past three years, the company has seen three different owners. The Chrysler line-up has become outdated and there has been very little activity, as far as announcements of new products, until now.

The 2011 Grand Cherokee is about to change all of that with new models that will soon be filling the show rooms. Initial development of the Grand Cherokee started as far back as 2006, when Chrysler was still tied up with Daimler-Benz (the parent company of Mercedes-Benz). So, although the new owner of Chrysler is now the Italian Fiat Company, the newest Jeep shares many features with the Mercedes-Benz ML.

The styling is purely Jeep. "It's our other icon," says Mark Allen, head of Jeep design, referring to the difference between the Grand Cherokee and the Wrangler. The 2011 model keeps the familiar Grand Cherokee appearance on the exterior, but it has been described as having “a more athletic sculpting and softer edges, the new Grand Cherokee is better dressed to mingle with the soft-roader crossovers in the suburbs.”

Strikes Are Contagious in China; Toyota Is Now Involved

On: Wed, Jun 23, 2010 at 9:40AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

Strikes Are Contagious in China; Toyota Is Now Involved  test 1-1

It seems that on going labor strike at a Honda auto parts manufacturing plants in China has become all the rage among the media recently, and the latest news is that Toyota is now being affected by the strikes in China as well.

 In the past few weeks strikes have broken out in several of Honda Motor Company’s auto parts manufacturing plants in China, and now Toyota is being plagued by a rash of auto workers going on strike as well.  In fact last week Toyota was forced to shut down operations at their southern China plants as a result of labor unrest.

Walkouts are spreading throughout the Southern China region where last month Honda was forced to raise wages for workers in 3 different auto parts factories in order to end the labor strikes; a sign of China’s diminishing cheap labor force.

The 2011 Mustang RTR Package

On: Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 12:28PM | By: Sherry Christiansen

The 2011 Mustang RTR Package test 1-1

The 2011 Ford Mustang has arrived with the great looks and performance you would expect from Mustang, but now Ford is announcing a new RTR dealer-installed package from Vaughn Gittin Jr. (driver of the No. 25 Falken Tire 2011 Ford Mustang).

In an interview with Mustang News.com Gittin is quoted as saying, “I have been getting ready for the launch of Mustang RTR, which is a project I have taken on as my vision for a new generation of Mustang to get some new eyes on the car. It is a dealer-installed package that has Ford Racing parts on it. Other than that, I have been working on some really big things that we are going to announce soon, including a really big sponsor coming on board shortly. I am out in Charlotte testing my brand new 2011 Mustang.”

The introduction of Mustang RTR enhances the notoriety and success that Gittin has seen in  the Formula Drift, with a significant lead in the championship point standings. Gittin took first place while driving the Falken Tire 2011 Ford Mustang GT at the opening competition in Long Beach. He also took second place in the more recent "Road Atllanta."

Some of the upgrades include in the package:  Mustang RTR 19x9.5-inch wheels, Ford Racing mufflers, and Ford Racing handling pack (performance-tuned dampers and springs).

Mustang RTR transforms an already great looking Mustang into a real head-turner with exclusive styling, accentuated by a chin spoiler with splitter and supports, rocker splitters, a rear diffuser and aluminum rear spoiler. A distinct Mustang RTR stripe scheme adds even more character. The interior upgrades include RTR-exclusive floor mats, shifter knob, and emblems.

When Vaughn Gitten Jr. was asked what he liked most about the new Mustang, he replied, “It is unbelievable. It is a Ford Racing 5.0L V-8 and we are testing a new tire as well. Between the grip of the new tire and the extra horsepower we have, it is just an unbelievable car. It is a lot faster and I just cannot wait to compete with it.”

The RTR package was created in partnership with Classic Design Concepts, a Michigan company with a great reputation for high quality and stylish flair. The Mustang RTR package is available at select dealerships for the 2011 Mustang GT. A Mustang V-6 package will be available in late 2010. Visit the website at www.mustangrtr.com for more information.

Substandard Features

On: Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 10:38AM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Substandard Features test 1-1

One of the theories that physicists tell us about the universe is that it is a constant cycle of expansion and contraction. The red tint that glows around distant stars is empirical evidence that those celestial bodies are, in fact, headed far off into uncharted space. Those same scientists tell us that one day the expansion will cease and that the light around those stars will begin to have a blue tint to it, indicating that the universe is heading back inward, and that the contraction has begun.  

It seems that the financial cycles of the United States are not much different from the cycles of the universe. The Roaring 20s were a time of great celebration and expansion, while the 30s brought on the biggest contraction in US history, only to be followed by he booming expansion of WWII. This cycle of cycles has continued until the market crash of 2008 signaled the beginning of another contraction. As we’ve seen, major car manufacturers are not immune to the ways of the universe, with two of the big three needing bailouts from the federal government. Although those debts are all but paid off, it does not mean that the automotive industry is out of hot water by any means. Perhaps instead of fighting the Big Crunch, as it’s called in the scientific world (the antithesis of the Big Bang), car makers and consumers should start to change their attitudes towards embracing the coming contraction. How so?  Well, it seems that in times of crisis, all but the very essentials are deemed unnecessary. The superfluous extras that are expendable are well, expunged, and the bare necessities rise from sub-standard to the standard.  

In a country where people are losing their houses, jobs, and shirts at an alarming rate, a quality car is almost a luxury. But the fact of the matter is people like owning new cars. So how can car manufacturers find an acceptable compromise between the need or want for a new car and that fact that many people have had to make concessions and work jobs that will earn them less compensation? Easy, change the standard!  

For the last twenty years or so, car companies have competed with each other on the premise that more is more. More gadgets, more gizmos, more ‘packages’, more paint schemes, and more gimmicks will lure the potential buyer to their product. Anyone remember the Wide Track Grand Prix? How about the ‘Cab Forward’ Dodge Intrepid? Or maybe even more gimmicky ads like the Dodge Neon that always said, “Hi!” Or perhaps you remember Cadillac Catera: “The Caddy that zigs!” These were all goofy marketing ploys to suggest that those cars were different or better, when in reality they were just average cars with nothing all that special about them. But up until the late 20th century, options like power steering and power brakes were just that—options. Maybe it’s time to stop trying to push onward, and understand that car manufacturing, and the country, may have to take a step or two backwards before it can move forward. 


New California Bill May Allow For Electronic Ads on License Plates

On: Tue, Jun 22, 2010 at 10:00AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

New California Bill May Allow For Electronic Ads on License Plates test 1-1

In the past, electronic flashing billboards on major roadways were illegal in many states, for obvious safety reasons, as the glitz of bright colored lights can be extremely distracting and potentially hazardous to motorists, particularly at night.

But times are changing, as California legislators are preparing to consider allowing electronic advertisements on license plates, as if drivers are not already distracted enough with all of the electronic toys inside their automobiles these days! The decision would be aimed at taking a bite out of the $19 billion deficit the State of California  now faces. Yes, advertisers would pay the state to relay their light-up subliminal messages on a newly-discovered, untapped canvas.

The electronic advertising device would allow for the license plate to appear as a standard plate when the vehicle was traveling down the road, but when stopped for a period of more than 4 seconds, such as in heavy grid-locked traffic jams and traffic lights, the digital message for the advertisement would appear. The automobile’s license plate number would remain visible in some part of the plate at all times, even when the ad was being displayed. Emergency traffic information, special alerts, and road conditions could also be displayed on the license plates.

There is no data yet on how much the state would charge or an estimate on the amount of revenue that the state would expect to bring in, but it has been reported that would-be advertisers would contract directly with the DMV in California to request their ad space.

The Great Mini-Van Wars Of Aught Ten

On: Mon, Jun 21, 2010 at 4:58PM | By: John Welch

The Great Mini-Van Wars Of Aught Ten test 1-1

Over the decades there has been many a bloody struggle for supremacy over one segment of the car industry or another. In the late sixties, as we have all been told, Ford and Chevy were at each other’s throats over these "muscle car" thingees. Then we had the war to make the worst car possible. That one lasted through three decades, from '72 until '98 or so. The arms race for the dual-clutch 8-speed transmission is a current hot bed of automaker blood thirst. Bigger wheels, more rows of seating, fancier badges, higher fuel economy, the most towing power, the least drag coefficient. Many things can set a war off, and once the fuse is lit, almost nothing can stop it. Sheesh, the last Mini-Van War went for years; beginning in 1984 with the release of the first Chrysler Mini-Vans. This conflict involved almost every major automaker, and ended only when the SUV swooped in and extinguished all use anyone had for Mini-Vans in general.

Here we are again, on the battlefield of the most recent Auto-Conflict, the war to produce the sweetest Mini-Van. The players are fewer this time around; not because Mini-Vans aren't made by more companies, but because those vans are all garbage afterthoughts thrown together for the sole purpose of filling a hole in a line-up. The newest Chryslers have interesting seating, but otherwise are total crap. Does Ford make the Windstar anymore? How about GM and the awful Venture/Transpost? The Ford Flex and Chevy Traverse/GMC Acadia/ Buick Enclave have taken the place of those less-than-celebrated bread boxes. The Hyundai Entourage and Kia Sedona are outdated. The VW Routan? Give me a break.

There are more vehicles that could be considered Mini-Vans but really aren't. Box-mobiles like the Scion xB and Kia Soul come to mind. Along with the Kia Rondo and Mazda 5, these vehicles are just to small to be considered "vans", even if they fit the "mini" part nicely. The Ford TransitConnect is all work and no DVD screens, and the Mercedes R-Class is way out of this price league.

That leaves us with the major participants in this particular marketing/motor/innovative seating scuffle, Honda, Toyota and soon to be Nissan. We have covered the new Toyota Sienna in this blog before, finding it's styling to be fresh and its options plentiful. Read that report here. The Nissan Quest is several months away from its introduction, but from the looks of its teaser photos it may be stimulating in a "FordFlexGiantBox" sort of way. Drew hates the grill though, and I don't find the "yards of chrome" treatment to be all that appealing. We will reserve judgment until the vehicle is actually released.

. . . Bringing us to the perennial Mini Van favorite, the Honda Odyssey. In recent years the Honda has led the pack in horsepower, handling and overall people-moving ability. The problem has always been the existence of the SUV and the American ego. Fortunately for the Odyssey, Americans are also gullible, and sometimes we will use that gullibility to warp the sensibility of our ego's. No longer is it gay to be seen in a Mini-Van, mostly because it is pure evil to be seen in a full size SUV. Considering the space limitations of cross-over’s, and the fact that most of them are no more useful than a Mini-Van off road, SUV customers who can no longer stomach the fuel bill but still need space for ply-wood and kiddies are left with few options that don't sound like "Gini-Tan". Or "Winnie-Can". Or "Vinnie-Span".

Being the newest offering for the Mini-Van fracas, the Honda Odyssey has received several weird and wonderful design updates that we need to take a closer look at . . .

UAW New Hires Make 20% Less Than Average American

On: Mon, Jun 21, 2010 at 9:27AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

UAW New Hires Make 20% Less Than Average American test 1-1

In the latest news from Detroit, new union autoworkers are sadly receiving only about $14.00 per hour vs seasoned employees who are getting paid twice that. Statistics in 2006 showed that UAW’s wages were 74% above the average individual’s salary in the United States. Some workers reportedly took home wages in the six figures when their overtime pay was included. Today, that number has decreased to BELOW 20% of the average worker’s income.

In the past, the Federal Reserve kept a close eye on the UAW’s salary rates as a strong indicator of wages in the United States. Long gone are the days when other industries would adopt the UAW pay and benefits in order to compete for new employees they needed to hire—competitors such as "Toyota would match their pay.”

According to Steve Barnas, union bargaining chairman at GM's Enclave plant near Lansing, Michigan, "It's difficult to look across the line at someone getting paid more for doing the same job you're doing,"

Donde Esta La Fiesta?

On: Fri, Jun 18, 2010 at 2:30PM | By: John Welch

Donde Esta La Fiesta? test 1-1

"Summer Release" is rather arbitrary phrasing. Here in Florida, the word "Summer" could refer to July; it could also mean March or September. Ford unleashed a doozie of a marketing campaign on Americans last year, doing anything it could to get publicity for the upcoming "Summer 2010" release of the US-ified Fiesta. Ford tried everything from grinding a Fiesta into dust to straight up giving them to hoity-toity post-grad movers and shakers. It worked. We all know what the Fiesta is and plenty of us want one. Now where in the eff are they?

According to Ford, they are right on schedule. Ford began shipping the cars this week from an assembly plant in Mexico. On Ford's Fiesta Facebook page, some customers awaiting their pre-ordered car vented about it being at least two weeks late. One complained of Ford's lack of communication about the holdup. Ford insists both accusations are inaccurate.

“We've been very transparent with our customers who've made pre-orders,” said Angie Kozleski, a Ford spokeswoman. “We have a reservations call center and a reservations hotline. In the case of this vehicle, there's been a lot of communication with them.”

Ford has approximately 2,000 early orders for the car. Ford's Kozleski said those are orders from customers who put cold, hard cash down to buy the Fiesta.

UPDATE! Proposed Issa Bill Would Prohibit GM and Chrysler from Lobbying

On: Fri, Jun 18, 2010 at 11:36AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

UPDATE! Proposed Issa Bill Would Prohibit GM and Chrysler from Lobbying test 1-1

Representative Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the Government Reform Committee, plans to initiate a proposal that would prohibit General Motors and Chrysler Corporation (as well as any other bailout company, such as Ally Financial and AIG) from being able to lobby as long as they are owned by the government. In other words, until the bailout funds are completely paid back to the tax payers.

The new amendment, if approved, would broaden the current limitations on lobbying by government-controlled institutions, such as Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, federally funded mortgage conglomerates. This amendment would prohibit lobbying for any corporation of which the federal government owns five percent or more.

A Fannie Mae spokesperson reported that the company was banned from lobbying in 2008 after the corporation was placed in "federal conservatorship." 

According to Kurt Bardella, press secretary  to ranking member Darrell Issa, “Any company that has borrowed taxpayer dollars should not be allowed to hire a lobbyist until the taxpayers have been repaid in full. There is no justification for allowing a company subsidized by taxpayer dollars to hire a lobbyist so they can try to influence the very government that owns the company.”

UPDATE: The Issa Bill was squashed this morning by the financial services conference committee. In a 9-13 vote the bill was put to rest, re-opening Lobby-Season for tax-payer owned entities. Woot?

Gulf Oil Disaster; Deja Vu All Over Again

On: Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 3:39PM | By: Clay Ritchings

Gulf Oil Clean-up test 2

It amazes me that in today’s day and age, with all the technology that we possess, we can’t cap the well to stem the onslaught of crude from poisoning the gulf waters. It all sounds pretty easy to us armchair well drillers—just screw the cap on and call it a day. But, in reality, it is not that easy; in fact, the company responsible for this disaster should be well aware of just how hard the task is because they had to deal with the same scenario in 1979. Only back then the company was called Sedco, before it became Transocean, the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor.

The Ixtoc drilling platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on June 13th, 1979 spewing 30,000 barrels of oil into the water every day because of a malfunctioning blow-out preventer. Sedco used planes to drop chemical dispersants and utilized “containment teams” to deploy long booms and “oil skimming vessels” to help control the spill, all with little success. Concerns about underwater plumes of oil and the spill reaching Florida’s beaches were growing every day. Does any of this sound familiar?

Toyota Bringing 2,000 Jobs To Mississippi

On: Thu, Jun 17, 2010 at 3:08PM | By: John Welch

Toyota Bringing 2,000 Jobs To Mississippi test 1-1

An area hard-hit by natural disaster over the last several year, the state of Mississippi could use some good news. How does "job growth" sound?

Needing to boost its public image and save money, Toyota will resume construction on a dormant production facility it began building in 2007. The plant was nearly completed, but Toyota became distracted in 2008, and has not actively worked on the building since.

“We first needed to fully utilize our existing facilities as the economy slowed,” Yoshimi Inaba, president of Toyota Motor North America, said in a statement today. Inaba went on to say that the automaker would take on 2,000 employees, "soon."