The dead end of an era

There are supposedly no irreplaceable people in the work world.

There are, however, people in the media world who are so identified with their work that they really cannot be replaced. Paul Harvey was one. Heaven help the eventual replacement for the Dodgers’ Vin Scully.

And now there is Jeremy Clarkson, “sacked,” to use the British term, by the BBC (“the Beeb,” as it’s known across the pond) from “Top Gear”:

Jeremy Clarkson’s contract will not be renewed after an “unprovoked physical attack” on a Top Gear producer, the BBC’s director general has confirmed.

Tony Hall said he had “not taken this decision lightly” and recognised it would “divide opinion”.

However, he added “a line has been crossed” and he “cannot condone what has happened on this occasion”.

Clarkson was suspended on 10 March, following what was called a “fracas” with Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon.

The row, which took place in a Yorkshire hotel, was said to have occurred because no hot food was provided following a day’s filming.

An internal investigation began last week, led by Ken MacQuarrie, the director of BBC Scotland.

It found that Mr Tymon took himself to hospital after he was subject to an “unprovoked physical and verbal attack”.

“During the physical attack Oisin Tymon was struck, resulting in swelling and bleeding to his lip.”

It lasted “around 30 seconds and was halted by the intervention of a witness,” Mr MacQuarrie noted in his report.

“The verbal abuse was sustained over a longer period” and “contained the strongest expletives and threats to sack” Mr Tymon, who believed he had lost his job.

Mr Tymon did not file a formal complaint and it is understood Clarkson reported himself to BBC bosses following the incident.

After that, the BBC’s director of television, Danny Cohen, felt he had no choice but to suspend the presenter pending an investigation. …

Jeremy Clarkson took a slightly dull and failing car programme and turned it in to the biggest factual TV show in the world.

But this sacking has nothing to do with style, opinions, popularity – or even his language on the show.

It’s about what stars are allowed to get away with off screen, a topic that’s been top of the agenda for the BBC in recent months.

The corporation has had to overhaul all of its policies and attitudes towards bullying and harassment, and a long verbal tirade and a physical assault would have crossed the line for any member of staff.

Clarkson may be popular with the audience, and the BBC really did not want to lose him, but this was a star who admitted he was on his final warning and a corporation that was under intense scrutiny over what its top talent can and cannot get away with.

Top Gear, which is one of BBC Two’s most popular programmes, will continue without Clarkson, who will now become the subject of a bidding war by other broadcasters.

The magazine show is one of the BBC’s biggest properties, with overseas sales worth an estimated £50m a year for the corporation’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide. …

Whether Clarkson’s co-presenters James May and Richard Hammond will remain on the show has yet to be confirmed.

All three had their contracts up for renewal this year, with Clarkson’s due to expire at the end of March.

Hammond tweeted: “Gutted at such a sad end to an era. We’re all three of us idiots in our different ways but it’s been an incredible ride together.”

May also updated his Twitter profile to say: “Former TV presenter”.

This is most likely the end of the original Top Gear as we know it. (Though Clarkson and his colleagues may well end up on another British channel on another show, as a Facebook friend predicted Wednesday.)

The considerable irony here is that had Clarkson been an American media figure he probably would not have been fired. We Americans are the supposed prudes, and yet for decades people in the entertainment world have gotten away with actions far worse than this (see Polanski, Roman) and maintained their jobs. Notice that after “misremembering” his exploits in Iraq NBC hasn’t fired Brian Williams … yet. Keith Olbermann is, to use the name of one of his segments, apparently The Worst Person in the World to work with, and yet he moves from one employer to another.

On the other hand, some of the things Clarkson has said over the years probably would have gotten him fired here. Clarkson fits the British definition of “politically incorrect,” and once called former British prime minister Gordon Brown … a term that will certainly not be reprinted here. (No, it doesn’t start with the letter F. It’s worse.) That’s a bit ironic given that the U.S. has the First Amendment and Britain has no counterpart, but on this side of the Atlantic free speech is not unlimited, particularly when it offends the chronically offended.

Facebook Friend Larry L. Tebo compares Clarkson with the great American car writers:

Love him or otherwise, Jeremy Clarkson stands apart from every other living automotive journalist simply due to the fact that he has so much STYLE. I’ve loved great automotive journalists since I was a boy first reading Ken Purdy’s prose and even the pedestrian-but-informative output of Floyd Clymer. I loved Brock Yates gonzo style and incisiveness, and David E. Davis’ intelligence, wit, and again…..STYLE led an entire generation of car guys to the promised land of “no boring cars”, and indeed, no boring stories. Charles Fox wrote about cars with a feeling of beauty in his words. Jean Shepherd wrote about everything, but when he wrote about automobiles, as he did for quite some time as a monthly columnist in Car and Driver, he brought the human spirit of warmth along with his incomparable humor to the subject, making cars much more than just machines. That’s what all these writers did with cars, and that is what makes them so special. Clarkson is almost like a distillation of all of these greats, IMO, into one very cranky, very funny, very irritating, yet a very ingratiating person who commands attention because he is so damned GOOD at what he does.

Why is Clarkson so important in the car world? Jalopnik explains:

The third biggest loser in this sad saga of Top Gear is the wider car media, and the business that surrounds it. Of course the first is the vast fan base that has followed the show for many years. The second, assuming the brand struggles to survive, is the team who work on it – and I can’t imagine how they feel right now. But sitting here it strikes me that so many people also engaged in this business of writing or making films about cars haven’t stopped to understand just what Top Gear did for all us ordinary folk. Nor what it did for the car industry in general.

Top Gear has acted like some vast, entirely free marketing service for all of us. I have always viewed it as the primary sales funnel for my videos, and the analytics support the theory: 350 million people watch the three boys doing their thing on a Sunday night and a very small percentage think they might want to know a bit more about the car featured that week, and so they type the car’s name into YouTube and they might just happen across one of our low-budget productions. A very small percentage of 350 million is still a very large number.

I’m like that little, nagging fish constantly nibbling a whale shark’s barnacles. I’m a TG parasite, and it’s worked bloody well for me up to now.

More importantly Jeremy, James and Richard have not just maintained the public’s love affair with the motor car, they’ve grown it – a feat I’d have thought impossible ten years ago in the face of political and environmental pressures. The conventional car print media – the one I have always been a part of – has failed in many ways with dwindling circulations and diminished influence, but its biggest crime is a total failure to connect with a younger audience. Thankfully for all of us, Top Gear’s role as compulsory Sunday night family viewing has excited a whole new generation of youngsters to not only be interested in cars, but to love cars. And for that I think it has already shaped the car industry as we currently know it, and how it will be in the future.

I suspect Clarkson and his colleagues will reappear elsewhere. Clarkson is the indispensable man of “Top Gear.” (The lack of him is why the U.S. “Top Gear” is severely lacking.)

Is Top Gear running out of gas?

While (or perhaps I should say “whilst”) I have been in the midst of postseason basketball, a controversy has erupted across the pond, the London Evening Standard reports:

James May and Richard Hammond have turned down an offer to continue as presenters of Top Gear without their co-host Jeremy Clarkson.

The pair said they “didn’t want to do it without Jeremy” despite being given the chance to present the rest of the series while Clarkson is suspended, a BBC executive reportedly said.

Clarkson has been temporarily removed as presenter after allegedly punching producer Oisin Tymon during a row over a steak dinner on set.

It is believed both men have now both given their evidence to the BBC’s inquiry into the “fracas”.

A BBC spokesman refused to comment on any developments, saying: “As we said last week we have an investigation ongoing and we won’t comment further until that is concluded.”

The last episodes of the series have been postponed, causing the BBC to lose millions of viewers and receive thousands of complaints. Top Gear is estimated to earn the corporation about £300million annually. …

The trio are due to host four live Top Gear shows in Norway on March 27 and 28. Their BBC contracts are due to expire three days later, which could render any disciplinary hearings redundant.

A petition to reinstate Clarkson had today attracted about 970,000 supporters.

For those who haven’t seen the original: Clarkson is 6-foot-5 with a massive head, five years older than I am, not exactly photogenic, but opinionated, controversial and therefore funny. So was David E. Davis Jr., but he never did TV, and he seemed cultured enough to, for instance, not claim that truck drivers murder prostitutes as part of their daily schedule.

Imagine, if you will, a Wisconsin conservative saying this during the Act 10 debate:

The millionaire presenter caused outrage when he told shocked The One Show presenters striking public sector workers should be shot dead “in front of their families”.

He said: “I’d have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean how dare they go on strike when they’ve got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living.”

I would have a hard time finding anyone in American media that was really comparable to Clarkson. And the list of controversies in which he’s been involved (insult an entire country?) makes it hard to imagine an American channel would take the unfiltered Clarkson. (Even though we have the First Amendment and Britain does not, these days Americans look for reasons to be offended.)

The U.S. version of Top Gear pales in comparison to the original, because the U.S. version doesn’t have Clarkson …

… and therefore the American version isn’t nearly as funny as the original:

Among other things, Clarkson doesn’t like Corvettes despite their amazing performance …

… or Americans generally:

For many years, I’ve argued that the heart of the average American motorist beats approximately once every 15 minutes. Technically, they’re in a coma.

But, sadly, this is wrong. Nowadays, the American motorist drives at the same speed we do, 80 or 85. And he’s the most aggressive creature on earth.

If you wish to change lanes on the freeway, because, say, your turn-off is approaching, you can indicate all you like, but no one will slow down to let you in. They won’t speed up, either. They’ll just sit there until you remember you’re in a rental car and make the move anyway. Then you’ll get a selection of hand gestures that you never knew existed.

I know of no country in the world where motorists are so intolerant of one another. The slightest mistake causes at the very least a great deal of horn blowing and, at worst, a three-second burst from some kind of powerful automatic weapon.

On the other hand, he also hates environmentalists and mass transit, so he’s got that going for him.

Clarkson has been blamed, believe it or don’t, for causing the demise of a car company, Rover. The always-accurate Wikipedia explains:

One of Clarkson’s most infamous dislikes was of the British car brand Rover, the last major British owned and built car manufacturer. This view stretched back to the company’s time as part of British Leyland. Describing the history of the company up to its last flagship model, the Rover 75, he paraphrased Winston Churchill and stated “Never in the field of human endeavour has so much been done, so badly, by so many,” citing issues with the rack and pinion steering system. In the latter years of the company Clarkson blamed the “uncool” brand image as being more of a hindrance to sales than any faults with the cars. On its demise, Clarkson stated “I cannot even get teary and emotional about the demise of the company itself – though I do feel sorry for the workforce.” …

Clarkson’s comments about Rover prompted workers to hang an “Anti-Clarkson Campaign” banner outside the defunct Longbridge plant in its last days.

Clarkson’s colleagues want him to say, including the current mysterious (as in head covered by a full-face motorcycle helmet) Stig:

‘The Stig’ has delivered a petition with nearly one million signatures to the BBC in a bid to get Clarkson reinstated following his ‘fracas’ with a producer.

Someone dressed as Top Gear’s tame racing driver caused scenes in London today by posing on top of a moving tank, as it took to the streets of Central London.

At the time of writing, the petition, set up by political blogger Guido Fawkes, is just over 8,000 signatures short of the one million mark.

It comes after Clarkson reportedly alleged that he’d been sacked, and told his charity gala audience that Top Gear used to be great, but ‘bosses had f***** it up’.

When “new” doesn’t necessarily mean “better”

Eric Peters has a history lesson for those wanting the next innovation from their favorite carmaker:

It’s the “bells and whistles” that get the headlines – and grab your attention. But they might also grab your wallet once the warranty runs out. A classic example from long ago is the aluminum block four-cylinder engine GM trotted out back in the mid-1970s. It was a revolutionary design based on a high-silicon alloy that eliminated the need for pressed-in cylinder liners. It was also very lightweight, which promised to improve both the fuel economy and the handling of the car it was built for – the Chevy Vega. Stop me if you know where this is going…


Well, the problem wasn’t the alloy block. It was the cast iron cylinder head bolted to it. And the unbalanced pistons within, which shook like a shivery dog on deliberately loose motor mounts (a Band Aid for the shivery shaking, to mask it from the car’s owner) until either the head bolts loosened up or the block warped just enough to let coolant slip past the head gasket into the unsleeved cylinders.

Hello, ‘Frisco!

Few of these atrocities ever made it to 30,000 miles without a catastrophic engine failure.

Such epic debacles are less common today. But modern cars are far from foolproof. Here’s a roster of some designs – and features – you might want to think twice about:

* AC and audio controlled by touchscreen input –

The iPad Culture craves flat screens – including in their cars. Here’s the problem. When your touchscreen LCD croaks, your AC and audio system (as well as anything else controlled via the touchscreen) will no longer work. Or rather, you won’t be able to turn these accessories on (or perhaps, off). Mechanically speaking, there may be nothing wrong with your AC. The compressor, condenser and so on all working properly. But with a dead flat screen – or one no longer responsive to your touch – you’re looking at a big repair bill regardless. A replacement repair bill, actually. Because you don’t repair dead LCD displays. You pull them – and toss them. How much does a new iPad cost? Physical buttons and knobs, meanwhile, are pretty dependable and more important, individual. One knob or switch or button controls one thing. If the little knob you rotate to adjust the radio’s volume goes out, you won’t be able to adjust the volume… but your AC will still work. If the LCD touchscreen craps out, nothing works.

You’ve been warned.

* 20 inch (and larger) wheels –

This ghetto inspired trend has reached the apotheosis of stupidity. Everyone seems to want their car – or SUV – to look like a Suge Knight Special. Leaving aside the aesthetics, these oversized “rims” dramatically increase rolling resistance, which dramatically hurts gas mileage. They also dramatically increase wear and tear on front end components – which you’ll find out about around 30,000 miles down the road from new. They muck up ride quality – which the car industry crutches via elaborate (read: expensive) suspension systems in order to make the cars livable. “Twennies” mounted on 4WD SUVs are the absolute height (depth?) of idiocy. The last thing you want on a 4WD are short/stiff sidewall tires and a steamroller tread that rides up on rather than cuts through the snow.


*Cars with poor rearward visibility (due to sloped rooflines/small glass).

This is now a common problem in new cars. Caused – ironically – by the government’s “safety” edicts and crutched (rather than fixed) with Band Aid technologies such as back-up cameras and blind spot warning systems. Washington issued an edict requiring all new cars be fitted from the factory with “anti-whiplash” headrests, which are very tall. The car companies make the problem worse by steeply sloping the roofline as it descends to the ass end of the car – which (thanks to government’s bumper impact mandates) now sits way high in the air. In many new cars, the rear glass is both tiny and only a few degrees from being horizontal – which, along with those too-tall headrests – makes it damned hard to see anything behind you. You can reduce the danger – and the aggravation – by choosing a car with decent rear glass area that’s not mounted so flat that you can only see up. And by removing the backseat “anti-whiplash” headrests and laying the buggers on the floor. Most can be popped out (and back in) without tools. If no one’s riding back there, why not? You’ll be better able to see where you’re going – which is a helluva lot “safer” than depending on two-dimensional cameras – and blinking lights and buzzers.

* Auto-stop/start –

Gas (even when it was $4 a gallon) is comparatively inexpensive… compared with an engine replacement. Or even a starter/battery replacement. Which is why the automatic stop/start technology being fitted to a growing number of new cars is arguably a terrible idea. Roll to a stop at a red light and the car’s computer peremptorily shuts off the engine. When the light goes green, and you take your foot off the brake (and press the accelerator) it spins a super high-torque starter to kick it back to life, so you can move. The object is to save the minuscule quantity of fuel that would be burned while “idling.” But here’s the problem: When the engine’s off, the oil’s no longer circulating – and even though a film of oil will still be protecting your engine’s internals, it’s not the same as circulating oil under pressure. Instead of just one start cycle on your trip to work, your engine may endure a dozen start-stop cycles. And most engine wear occurs guess when? During start-up. The frequent starts (and the high torque starters required for near instantaneous re-starts) also require higher-performance batteries and these will inevitably live shorter lives due to the many-times-multiplied start/stop (and discharge-recharge) cycling. Also, engine-powered accessories such as your air conditioner will not work when the engine isn’t running. When your engine auto-stops at a light on a 95 degree day, so does the cool air.

Avoid auto-stop/start if possible – and don’t buy a car that has it if you can’t turn the damned thing off.

* A new car that doesn’t come with at least three “e” keys –

Gone are the days when – if you lost your spare set of car keys – you could take the one you still had down to the hardware store and have them cut you a duplicate set for $5. Somehow, the car industry has gulled the buying public into believing they just have to have electronic keys. Which just happen to cost many orders of magnitude more than a simple metal key (and which, unlike metal keys, are absolutely going to stop working at some point down the road). Which is why it’s so critically important to get as many of them as you possibly can if the new car you’re about to buy comes with them. Insist they be included as part of the deal – or there will be no deal. Remember: The one and only time you have any leverage is before you sign the paperwork. You are well-advised to demand at least three “e” keys be provided with the car before you do sign. Go for four, actually. The more the merrier.

Because you’ll be a lot merrier if you don’t find yourself having to fork over $300 for a new “e” key four years from now – after losing your only other set. Don’t forget: Your car will be 3,400 pounds of useless metal without that $300 “e” key.

Get as many of them as you can up front … for free.

I’m not sure I entirely agree with the point about headrests, having been rear-ended three times (the first time in a car with no rear headrests), though if no one ever rides in the back seat I suppose you don’t need them. The aforementioned rear-view cameras are useful (but not entirely useful) when backing up. As far as rear visibility is concerned, the side view mirrors are more useful if correctly adjusted. Most drivers have them angled too close to the car, so that they see an edge of the car, which is useless; they should be angled outward farther so that the driver can see the complete lane on either side of the car.

Peters could have mentioned many other examples of technology introduced before it was ready merely from General Motors. GM was the first to introduce a catalytic converter, which generally failed about a year after introduction. GM also introduced Computer Command Control, which featured an electronic carburetor and the infamous Check Engine light. I can personally attest that CCC was a bunch of CRAP in at least its first iteration, and possibly beyond that. GM’s first electronic fuel injected engines worked fine when in proper running condition, which wasn’t often. The entire design of the Chevy Citation and its X-body cousins was a rolling (sometimes) example of Not Ready for Prime Time.

For these and other reasons, car-buyers should be skeptical of such less-than-proven technology as certain hybrids and particularly the Chevy Volt. Wait until we know how long they last, and the replacement cost (and lifetime) of such key expenses as batteries, before you become another Detroit sucker.



From Pontiac to Dodge

Automotive News has an interesting observation:

General Motors CEO Mary Barra, at the recent Automotive News World Congress, said the company doesn’t miss any of the brands that were discontinued during the company’s 2008-09 bankruptcy and restructuring — Saturn, Saab, Hummer and Pontiac.

You can take that to mean that none will ever be revived by GM, at least while Barra is in power.

But that doesn’t mean displaced customers of two of the brands — Hummer and Pontiac — have nowhere to go.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is building a lineup that would be a natural home for displaced Hummer and Pontiac customers.

Looking at Jeep’s staggering global growth and the worldwide explosion in popularity of SUVs and crossovers, you have to think a Hummer customer’s first choice would be a Jeep. (Don’t forget the two brands shared the same basic seven-slot grille.) GM no longer has a dedicated brand of rugged off-road vehicles.

But I see the biggest migration of GM customers to coming from Pontiac — and going to Dodge.

“Dodge is the American performance brand,” Tim Kuniskis boasted during a presentation of Fiat Chrysler’s new five-year plan in May.

Kuniskis, CEO of Dodge, is trimming and recasting the brand’s lineup to focus on performance — putting its tires squarely on the turf that transformed Pontiac into a performance powerhouse in the 1960s.

Pontiac’s performance image, spawned by such cars as the GTO, Firebird, Super Duty Trans Am and others, lasted well into the 1980s. It was in the midst of being reborn when GM killed the brand in 2009.

Dodge’s Grand Caravan minivan is about to join the midsize Avenger sedan in automotive history books. And by 2018, Kuniskis says, Dodge will have seven performance-oriented nameplates. That plan is already in motion with the outrageous new 707-hp Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcat muscle cars, and the V-10 Viper sports car.

I asked Kuniskis if Dodge will actively pursue Pontiac fans with direct mail appeals, discounts and other tactics, since GM no longer has a brand dedicated to performance vehicles.

“The Dodge brand is open to any buyer who is looking for performance,” he said. “Every Dodge vehicle is designed to deliver that visceral feel that reminds buyers why they fell in love with driving in the first place, and we’re open to any buyer who is looking for that feeling, regardless of the brand they’ve previously driven.”

I don’t want to give you the impression that GM no longer cares about performance cars and Pontiac customers. Cadillac is largely about luxury and tire-shredding performance. At the North American International Auto Show, Cadillac showcased the new CTS-V, a 640-hp road rocket.

And Chevrolet has some interesting cars, such as the SS, which is a new version of the discontinued Pontiac G8 sports sedan, and the Corvette and Camaro. But GM has no mainstream brand purely devoted to performance or even with a strong performance image.

Even if Dodge does capture a good share of Pontiac buyers, success is not guaranteed, says AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan.

For one thing, GM won’t give up Pontiac customers easily.

GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney says GM consistently communicates with Pontiac customers, alerting them of new GM models and offering loyalty incentives to stay with GM. The company won’t disclose or quantify how successful it has been at retaining Pontiac customers, Carney said.

U.S. buyers have many performance vehicles from which to choose.

“When you look at other performance models — the Ford Focus ST, the Raptor, BMW’s M series, Audi’s S and RS models — none of those automakers dedicate a whole brand to performance,” Sullivan says. “There is a limited market for go-fast stuff. Look how many Accords, Camrys and Altimas sold last year.”

Readers fired away immediately:

The U.S. has several performance cars, but it doesn’t have a “performance brand”, least of all Dodge which is best known for being the least expensive Chrysler. Ironically, Pontiac received one of the few true performance cars pre-failed GM produced, but GM never bothered to package G8 for North American success, so it languished into obscurity with the rest of Pontiac as merely not being the lowest rung on GM’s brand ladder.

Dodge is the least expensive Chrysler because Plymouth is no more.

Some of the problem with GM is. Is that it has abandoned the “average” American buyer who doesn’t have the income to buy a Camaro that doesn’t have a V6, which isn’t cheap to begin with anymore, or any of their other performance vehicles, which price wise escalate quite quickly from there on up. Where is the direct(quality mind you)competitor to the Fiesta ST, and the Focus ST in GM’s lineup? I’m sorry GM but a Sonic RS just isn’t it! Until then GM has a lot to do to keep customers in my mind.

that´s the point, fella. Congratulations .Oldsmobile could be what Cadillac no longer is: soft american upscale luxury, beside Buick. And Pontiac, one step down, a budget performance brand. That´s not the role of Chevy. You see? There is a clear gap betweven Mercedes and BMW and Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, for example. That gap could perfectly be filled by Olds and Pontiac. The same could be sad about Plymouth and Mercury. Where are the american automotive pride without all those brands?

Basically GM has “turned their back” on the performance enthusiast who: A. Doesn’t want a Camaro or B. Can’t afford $40K+ for a new ride. To me, it’s a total failure on the part of Barra, Reuss, etc… Once a you’ve lost a customer to Dodge, Ford or whomever, they most likely aren’t ever coming back.

Pontiac‘s problem was that too many of its cars were minimally upgraded Chevrolets. Pontiac had a similar problem to Mercury (upgraded Ford, or downgraded Lincoln?) and Oldsmobile (which was supposed to fit between Pontiac below and Buick above), in that GM and Ford didn’t sufficiently differentiate those brands, so they ultimately had little reason for existence. (Plymouth was a separate issue, basically Chrysler’s deciding it didn’t want a Chevrolet.)


Change ≠ progress, Automotive Performance Division

Horsepower Kings asks:

Can you imagine a Mustang GT with no V8? Can you imagine Ford announcing a 2018 Mustang GT, ‘powered by Ecoboost V6?’ We can’t either, and frankly, it makes us sick to even think about. That is why the following information is disturbing on so many levels.

We spent the better part of the day on the ground floor at the COBO Center attending the NAIAS. We are back here at the MGM Grand in Detroit, and what we took away from today was all the buzz surrounding the freshly-debuted Ford GT and 2017 F-150 Raptor. Unsurprisingly, much of that buzz is in regards to the lack of a V8 in these two high profile Ford vehicles.

The lack of a V8 is concerning, especially when discussing such a high profile halo car as the new Ford GT. After all, the entire history of this car revolves around it’s V8 powerplant. Some would argue that it’s the heart and soul of the Ford GT/GT40 legacy, and we would agree.

Regardless, when Ford finally debuted the next-gen Ford GT, powered by a 3.5L Ecoboost V6, our hearts started palpitating. You see, it’s not just the fact that this Ford supercar is powered by a V6 – what is most alarming is that Ford is showing us a very clear picture of the future of their Performance Division. …

Troubled by these horrible thoughts, we were able to have a quick chat with one of the many Ford reps here at the show. You see, if you attend enough Auto Shows, you start to build professional and personal relationships with the same manufacturer representatives over the years. And while our source certainly isn’t the end-all of Ford’s future plans, the information he provided us apparently echoes the larger opinion and direction of the executives at Ford. Our source has also been pretty reliable over the years, specifically in regards to Mustangs. If you aren’t sitting down right now, please take a seat – this news might be hard to take:

“Ford is definitely phasing out the V8 motor altogether”, he said – word for word. “CAFE and EPA are working very hard discreetly to make sure of that. There is quite a bit going on at Ford that the public is in the dark about. The impression that I am getting is that Ford wants to continue it’s V8 program, but things have (rather recently) taken a new direction, presumably from CAFE/EPA pressure in mid to late 2013. Ford has invested quite a bit of money into the ‘Coyote’ program over the years, and even had plans of going DI (Direct Injection). The future development budget for the 5.2L FPC motor has dwindled, and there is talk that this motor may continue it’s life exclusively in the form of sanctioned racing series, not on the street. The next big thing for Ford at this point is weight savings. They are trying to lighten these Mustangs to get high performance numbers out of the EcoBoost, and whether we like it or not, that is the (near) future. It’s not Ford’s fault, and you can thank the Gov’t for this – not the consumer”.

Our source later went on to explain that “The rebranding/reshuffling of the Ford Performance Division is all a result of this added EPA pressure. Ford wasn’t going to fund a performance program unless it’s primary focus was on the smaller EcoBoost motors, so SVT and Ford Racing were dissolved into this new Performance Division. And unfortunately, it would be foolish to expect to see any new V8 cars coming out of this new Performance Division. Ford Performance is going to be cranking out some very fast cars for some time, but even if the new Shelby GT500 gets the green light, it will likely be the last gasoline V8 that Ford will ever produce.”

A performance Mustang without a V-8? Actually, I can visualize that …

… though to call the V-6-powered 1974 Mustang II Mach 1 a “performance Mustang” is a huge stretch. For that matter, the 1975 Mustang, which did get a 302 V-8, could hardly be called a “performance Mustang” either given that it was equipped only with an automatic transmission to harness its 140 horsepower (the engine had a two-barrel carburetor and single exhaust). Buyers of the same-size Chevrolet Monza had one of two V-8s depending on where they were purchased. California buyers and those in high-altitude areas (because of different emissions requirements) got a 350 V-8 with all of 125 horsepower, while those outside those areas got a 262 V-8 with all of 110 horsepower.

This is similar to the slow death of the manual transmission, as well as the supposed next-generation Corvette. Those of us who prefer sticks, as well as those of us who prefer V-8s to smaller engines, are derided as opposing progress. (Conservatives should favor sticks, because (1) it’s something not everyone can do and (2) they are reminiscent of William F. Buckley’s statement about National Review magazine as standing “athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”) They fail to realize that V-8s and manuals are about the driving experience as much as performance. No engine sounds like a V-8 (except a V-twin motorcycle engine), and nothing ever will. Whether an automated manual can shift faster than a human is not the point, and except for professional racers has never been the point.


Undeserved credit, but what else is new?

The YG Network reported one week ago:

President Obama [Thursday] kicks off a three-day campaign-style tour, during which he’s expected to claim victory on the central issue of his presidency: the economy. If this type of fly-about sounds familiar, that’s because, as the Associated Press notes, it “has long been the Obama White House’s go-to strategy” during “tough stretches of his presidency.”

But if you think it’s just conservatives who are taking note of the president’s unearned “victory lap,” think again. As Karen Tumulty reports today in the Washington Post, “[a]t a moment when President Obama is seeking to convince Americans that the economy is finally back on track,” even some of his most liberal supporters — in this case left-wing Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — are undermining his claims, publicly acknowledging that middle-class families are getting a raw deal.

As Warren put it today, “America’s middle class is in deep trouble,” a statement “the timing (of which) turned out to be awkward,” Tumulty writes, given President Obama’s high-profile attempts this week to convince Americans otherwise.

But while Warren and other Washington liberals stubbornly want to double down on the same big-government ideology that has failed working families under Obama, conservative reformers are offering a new way forward — one that addresses head-on the urgent challenges of stagnant earnings and skyrocketing price tags for top household priorities like healthcare and higher education.

Rather than trying desperately to convince working Americans that the economy is “back on track,” President Obama and his liberal allies should come to the table and work with the new, conservative-led Congress to implement this forward-looking vision for a thriving middle class.

The only thing that is better for the middle class right now is gas prices, the low level of which Obama hates and has done nothing to make happen. Obama and his environmentalist toadies favor high energy prices (remember “Electricity prices will necessarily skyrocket”?) in order to force us plebeians into his approved lifestyle choices.

So it takes some nerve for the Democratic National Committee to compile this list of Republican statements about the Government Motors bailout …

  • Rand Paul said he thought the country would “absolutely” be better off if car companies had been allowed to fail.

  • Marco Rubio stated “the jobs will be gone and we’ll still owe the money. Washington should just get out of the way,” while Ted Cruz attacked the rescue package.

  • Scott Walker said “we wasted a lot of money” on rescuing the auto industry and Mike Pence suggested “we’ve got to put the interest of taxpayers first and automotive workers second”.

  • Rick Perry not only criticized Republicans for voting in favor of the auto rescue, but he also suggested that it was a step “…in a very dangerous direction.”

  • Jeb Bush opposed the auto rescue and sided with Mitt Romney saying we should have let General Motors go bankrupt.

… because these are all correct statements. Carol Roth explains why:

Those that try to tout the bailouts’ success usually begin with a declaration along the lines of “If the government didn’t step in … then GM and Chrysler would have ‘gone bankrupt.'”

First, going into bankruptcy does not equate to going out of business. American Airlines went into bankruptcy and still kept planes flying in the sky, emerging Monday with even former shareholders getting some shares in the post-bankruptcy entity. So, going through a bankruptcy process would not mean that GM or Chrysler would have had to cease operations.

Second, a common refrain is that there were no private-equity or other firms that expressed interest in taking a stake in either company before the government had to step in. Well, that’s because the bankruptcy process wasn’t allowed to play out. The auto companies had out-of-whack balance sheets that included unreasonable liabilities, including union liabilities. No private-equity firm was going to let the UAW have any type of preferred status (although the government ultimately did, see below). However, by not going directly into a bankruptcy proceeding where these liabilities could be renegotiated, there was never a true process to solicit and evaluate interest from financial or strategic partners. That’s what the bankruptcy process was designed to do, but it never had the chance.

The reality is that GM and Chrysler had significantly valuable brands and other intellectual property, manufacturing equipment, a loyal customer base, a skilled workforce and more. There was substantial demand for their products. These were financial mismanagement bankruptcies stemming from noncompetitive labor costs and liabilities, not ones brought on by a lack of interest in the core businesses. To think that no financial or strategic buyer would ultimately have had an interest in these acquiring the assets of these companies is preposterous. Even if you could make that unreasonable and highly unlikely argument, consumer demand for automobiles would still be in place, which means that other manufacturers, like Ford, would have benefited and grown to absorb that demand, and of course a good portion of the related workforce and ecosystem.

To say that the government was the only white knight here ignores basic market principles. Does anyone really believe that the entire auto industry would have gone away or have any precedent for that happening?

Additionally, both GM and Chrysler did go bankrupt. Yes, the government took both companies through the process, using taxpayer money to sustain the companies while they moved the interests of the major union above that of the other creditors (including those that manage the retirement plans of many Americans) and only once this chicanery had been completed then went through the same process that the companies should have been in to begin with.

However, the outcome was pricey in multiple ways, even beyond the creditors losing preference to the UAW and its various interests.

On Chrysler, the taxpayers lost more than $1 billion and the company ended up in majority control of a non-US company (Fiat, an Italian company) and minority controlled by a trust for the benefit of retired auto workers. An IPO for Chrysler is planned for 2014, but the taxpayers still will record a loss and America also records the loss of ownership of an iconic brand.

On GM, the taxpayers lost more than $10 billion and now have no participation in future upside of that company.

Ultimately, we spent more than six figures per job to “save” them from a mythical end and end up with billions won’t be recouped.

What about the small businesses? Many argue that the bailout was about saving the small suppliers. But if this was about helping small business, there are many ways that they could have been helped directly. Perhaps the banks that were also bailed out by taxpayers could have been asked to extend credit to the small suppliers in the automotive ecosystem.

I have had enough with the bailouts. Our government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers and deciding what companies should receive taxpayer assistance and which shouldn’t. Moreover, they shouldn’t be prioritizing certain groups’ interests over others and shouldn’t be touting successes that aren’t real.

Let’s not pretend that this bailout is more than what it was: A mere wealth transfer that helped the unions at the expense of all taxpayers. When that type of cronyism happens, America loses.

That doesn’t include Yossi Gestetner‘s measures:

  • GM sold fewer vehicles in the U.S. in 2014 than in 2008.
  • GM had about 17.6% of the U.S. market in 2014, down from about 21.9% in 2008.
  • GM bailout had a net loss of $10.4 billion (bank bailouts a net gain of $24.3 billion).
  • GM’s 2013 profit was $3.8 billion; Ford, without a bailout, $7.2 billion.

The economy is now 8% larger than late 2007, right before the recession started, but total U.S. auto sales in 2014 were only 1.5% higher than 2007.

The only thing needed to be “saved” in late 2008 was GM (and Chrysler), whose finances had been run into the ground due to union contracts, not the weak economy. The auto industry at large had a rough ride just like everyone else, but the industry came out from the crisis depths without being bailed out. But auto sales growth is still lagging the rest of the economy, and GM is actually a drag on those numbers. Basically, the part of the industry that Obama did not “save” is actually doing better than the part he “saved.”

As for Chrysler … it was sold to an Italian company by the same president who complained in 2012 that Romney’s Bain is betting against America.

Gestetner’s numbers are low. This country lost at least $11.2 billion from the GM bailout. And for what? Thanks to our still crappy economy, millions of Americans will never be able to buy a new car. Ever.


The then-new New Chevrolet

In the fall of 1976, General Motors did something revolutionary for the day. They replaced their enormous (I speak from experience) B- and C-body cars …

… with smaller, more efficiently packaged cars:

The redesign worked so well (at least from the perspective of GM’s accountants) that it took 13 years for Chevrolet to redesign the Caprice.

This is a reasonable facsimile of my in-laws’ 1991 Caprice, which was a restyling, though not really redesign, of the 1977–90 Caprice. I liked it so much I wish, two decades later, that we had purchased it from them. (Even though the cars we had at the time were perfectly fine, unlike the previous, and quite possibly last, Chevrolet I owned, a 1988 Beretta, un pezzo di merda.) Like my 1975 Caprice, it was roomy, had adequate acceleration, handled well for a large car, and got decent fuel economy. (Which cannot be said about the 1975 Caprice, EPA-rated at 13 city and 18 highway mpg.)

Autos of Interest interviewed Dick Ruzzin, who as chief designer of Chevrolet designed the last Caprice:

All in all, the Caprice was a very successful car and used for many personal and commercial applications. Once I told a group of police that I was responsible for the design and they could not stop the adulation. Basically, they really enjoyed working with a car that was really neat looking, the best looking police car ever, which was their opinion. It looked fast and aggressive in police trim.

I still see some Caprices and in spite of all the cultural changes in design, over twenty five years later, they are still intriguing and stand up very well. The flush side glass and futuristic headlights for the time helped push its character into the future.

The design effort was a fun time; we had a lot of great people working in the studio and did a lot of work. The Caprice followed the design of the Cavalier, Celebrity and Eurosport, and Lumina Sedan and APV, as well as a small car program to replace the Chevette that was cancelled after it was released. We also had design responsibility for all three Japanese small cars sold by Chevrolet from Isuzu, Suzuki and Toyota, as well as the Chevette. That meant a lot of responsibility and effort on everyone’s part. The quality of the people shows through in the quality and reach that our designs had as we see them now, so many years later. …

We decided to challenge the Chevrolet engineers. Since the car was done over an existing platform our Studio Engineer, Dick Olsze, suggested a goal for them: reduce the size of all the structural criteria by 10 percent—not the strength but the size—giving us an advantage over the old car. In some areas they were able to achieve that. The biggest challenge was the small block V8 distributor that sat right under the base of the windshield. It had to be redesigned with a two-piece distributor shaft.

When the model was blocked in and in color we took it outside for the first time to participate in a large show. It included a number of cars from other studios so that our management could get a good idea of what was being done and to also see strengths and weaknesses of each program. The Caprice looked like a moon rocket compared to the others.

It was the first time in many years that a car was being done that was not being downsized. Everyone loved it; it was the newest design in the show. The further we went the more the design was cemented into place because we added a lot of detail with sophisticated surfaces that made it look like we had worked on it a lot longer. When Chevrolet saw it they loved it.

The engineer in charge of the project was so enthusiastic that Chevrolet built a running car to demonstrate the concept to the GM Board of Directors. The car was all released for production, although we were still making small changes when he drove it over one Saturday morning. We all took it for a ride and it looked incredible; it was our favorite color, dark red metallic like our fiberglass model, with a light tan interior. It was a real hit.

About a year later, I was in Cadillac Studio and we then did the Cadillac version, called the Fleetwood. I just saw a maroon one today in excellent condition. We also did the Presidential Limousine. Two years later I was in Chicago on a beautiful sunny day walking out of Bloomingdales and there parked in front of the store was the regular limousine that we also designed. Those cars were all done on the side while we were really pushing hard on the Seville and Eldorado.

Last spring I was in Detroit and there parked at a gas station were two black Fleetwoods in absolutely pristine condition. They looked great. The design for those cars, the Caprice and the Fleetwoods were done a long time ago, about thirty years.

They did look terrific.

The thing about the Caprice was that, because it was over a very old platform, the design expectations were low. The studio that had responsibility for the Caprice was Chevrolet #1. It was a shock to me when we were given the assignment but we were really doing a lot of great work at the time and were very well respected by Chevrolet Engineering for how we did things, how we helped them do their job. We had sold the Celebrity Eurosport program to Chevrolet and that was something that they really admired, that is, how we accomplished it.

The Caprice profile was like no car ever done at design to that point because it broke fifty years of tradition. The car was taller than it had to be. We did that to have a smooth flowing line from the bottom of the windshield, over the passengers and to the bottom of the back-lite. Our VP, Irv Rybicki, asked me about that; our internal engineers had found out and told him. I explained why we did it and he accepted it without a problem. …

Autos of Interest: What was the target clientele for the new Caprice?

Ruzzin: Caprice customers. They had to see it as their car, it had to have some touches that identified it as the new Caprice. We could not make it smaller due to the carry-over platform but we did everything possible to make it “look” smaller. Interior space was huge.

Autos of Interest: Did other GM divisions (or law enforcement) have input relative to their needs?

Ruzzin: The car originally was going to be a Chevrolet only at 300,000 cars a year. When Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac saw it they lobbied to get it also which resulted in a lot more production, some of it hard to sell.

There was no law enforcement involvement but I do know that when the car went out of production, Chevrolet had 90,000 police car orders in hand for the future; they wanted to continue building them in Mexico and the UAW stopped it. They did make great looking police cars, aggressive and dynamic. …

Autos of Interest: Was the wagon a definite model from the start and why did it debut later?

Ruzzin: It was a model to be executed from the beginning but the geometry of the sedan design had to be developed, first, before you could do the wagon. The plan view of the doors had to be capable of extension to the rear to make a wagon. It also had to enclose the carryover rear tailgate hinges. Also, for Chevrolet, as the sedan moved along they could then shift manpower to the wagon.

Autos of Interest: Was a coupe considered, or toyed with? Even in concept?

Ruzzin: No coupe was ever considered. Coupes were on a sales down-slide at that time.

There were a few changes in the last five years of the Caprice, most notably the rear wheelwells …

… due in large part to the creation of the 1994–96 Impala SS:

To me, the 1991–93 Caprice looks better. The rear wheelwells emulate fender skirts, which Caprices had, either as options or standard, until the 1977 downsizing. That design, however, resulted in a narrow rear wheel track on sedans, though apparently not on wagons, which had a different rear suspension.

On the other hand, the 1994–96 Caprice had the Corvette’s LT1 350 V-8, which developed 260 horsepower. The Buick Roadmaster sedan …

… and wagon …

… and the Cadillac Fleetwood of those three years had the same V-8.

The observant will notice one major difference between the Roadmaster Estate and the Caprice Estate: the second-row skylight, which was meant to remind buyers of the former Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser:

The 1991–93 Olds Custom Cruiser had one too …

… which is a bit ironic since the original Custom Cruiser wagon, like all the big GM wagons, didn’t have a vista roof.

As I’ve written here before, big wagons died because of EPA fuel economy regulations and resulting buyer interest in sport utility vehicles and minivans instead of station wagons. Which is too bad, because I at least would like to have one of these.