Monday, December 15, 2008

The new car search and a man cave...

Well, not every car that I look at is for my use only. My wife and I recently found out that we are expecting twins sometime in April. This has lead to a new car search. My wife's Lexus IS300 isn't going to be big enough to haul two youngsters around and the MINI isn't exactly kid friendly either. Since my wife will be the primary driver of the new car I have let her lead the way on what she wanted. Everyone has been telling us to get a Minivan. Umm, that would be a no. At least my wife and I finally agree on something car related, neither of us wants a Minivan and we really are not too fond of SUVs either. After throwing out a few wagon and cross overs that I thought we should go look at it was decided that we go test drive a Volvo XC70. I like the XC70, heck I like most Volvo's (something about the funky chuckiness of them, that and they still make a good wagon and I am a wagon fan, owned a 240DL wagon, great car), and the car did not disappoint. Very comfortable, back seats are managable, tons of cargo room in the back. Kel really liked how it drove like a car (this was reinforced after we test drove a Nissan Murano later in the day and she commented that it felt like she was driving a dump truck) and was easy to see out of and maneuver. That pretty much settled it, so we are now in a hunt to find a nicely used XC70. We did look at one this weekend (a pretty base 2006) and I got the chance to drive it this time. Kel was dead on in her assesment, doesn't feel all that large, has good pick up once the turbo kicks in (has a turbo 5 pot under the hood), handles well. It is kind of funny in that it feels like a very nice car but you happen to be sitting up a bit (way different from the low slung cars I am used to), but this isn't a bad thing. Figure we will resume the hunt after the holidays. I'll post update on our hunt as thed develop.

And now for something completely different...

If anyone of my readers (all 6 of them....) have visited my beer blog (plug) then you may have seen the pictures of my basement bar. I will admit it is pretty awesome, big tv, beer on draft, pool table ect. makes it a great man cave. Well, I have now seen what I have to match when I build my Man Cave Auto Annex... Check this out:

Yep. This is a picture of the car cave of a good friends brothers house. Yes that is a Land Rover Series II in the back, sitting next to it is a Triumph GT6+ (that he literally stole he got such a good deal on it) and in the fore ground is his Triumph Spitfire race car. Drool.....

Maybe one day I'll be able to post a similar picture with my TR6 in the place of the spitfire, a Landy or Nissan Patrol in the Landy spot and a Bugeye Sprite in the GT6 spot (or a GT6 if I can find one for the same deal he got..)

That is it for now.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Reflections on the US Auto Bailout....

Ok, this is a car blog and I do have some thoughts on the impending bailout of the US Auto industry.

I guess I should start by saying I am against the current format of the bailout. I know you cannot let the US auto industry just collapse but I don't think throwing money at them is really a good idea. The government didn't bailout the airline industry when it was hit hard by skyrocketing fuel prices and decreased passenger loads after 9/11. Most of the struggling companies worked their way through filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy and have emerged in better shape. Why not force the Auto companies to go this same route before tossing billions of dollars at them? If they make it out of Chapter 11 and still need some help then maybe give them a loan.

Right now does it make any sense that any of them will some how completely turn around their declining sales trend? Each has been losing market share since the early 90's. They all staked their futures on the booming SUV market while letting their small car segments get destroyed by foreign competitors. Can anyone honestly name an American sedan that they would buy over it's foreign competitor? The US automakers have allowed themselves to be pushed out of every segment but Large SUVs and Trucks. This was fine when the fastest selling cars where SUVs but they had to know that sales wave would not last.

At this same time, several scrappy Korean car companies continued to improve their product using Honda as the benchmark. Base your business on small, extremely well built cars and then expand from there. You know that the Americans are in trouble when Kia's and Hyundias are looked at as being higher quality that Chevy or Ford.

The problem with the current domestic designs is they aren't the best in their segments. In economy cars the Japanese and Koreans make them better, cheaper, with more options and better looking than anything Ford, GM or Chrysler can offer. If someone gave you 15k to spend on an economy car would you buy a Chevy Aevo or a Honda Fit? Case closed. In cars a little larger it again comes down to quality and design. People buy Toyotas and Hondas because they are going to be bullet proof transportation. Start counting how many 15+ year old Honda Accords and Toyota Camry's you see driving around and compare that to how many Ford Escorts and Chevy Cavaliers you see.....

The Domestics again get killed in the luxury segment. The Euros all make cars that drive extremely well and always have great looking designs and the latest gadgets. The Japanese again rest there sales on build quality. The Americans? Do they even make a car that can compete with a Lexus or a BMW? Only Cadillac can come close and surprisingly it is about the only place that GM makes a profit.

I just think the Domestics lost there way in the late 70's. Way too many models, crazy contacts to the unions, lackadaisical designs are just a few of the many nails in the coffin. Does GM really need 4 versions of the same car? Every other car maker makes 1 (2 at the most if you count the Luxury brands) car for each segment. Does GM really need to keep pouring money into GMC, Pontiac and Buick? Why not downsize you line up and try to make some really good cars. Have Chevy and Cadillac, Ford and Lincoln, Chrysler...well they may need to just go away.

One really good stat kind of sums up the mess that is the US auto industry: Toyota has one supplier and one design for their cruise control system. Get in any Toyota or Lexus and it is the same controls. 1 part for every single model. They found a high quality part they like and stuck it in every car. Thus you get the same quality controller in your Toyota Corolla as you would find in a Lexus LS600. What does GM us for their cruise control? They have 20+ versions. 20+! Do you need more than 2?

Anyway, I can only see the current handling of the bailout ending badly. Throwing good money after bad never ends up well. Having government get involved in the auto industry usually ends badly. Anyone remember what happened to the British Auto Industry? Healey, MG, Aston Martin, Lotus, Triumph, Jaguar, Morris, Austin, Rover, Jenson, Land Rover, Mini, and others all used to build great cars. For a time in the 50's and 60's they built some of the worlds best sports cars. What happened? Shoddy build quality, terrible labor issues and labor contracts and a lack of updated designs all lead to big problems. Companies merged and consolidated products lines in a effort to save themselves but just couldn't. The British government Nationalized the industry in the 80's and ended up losing even more jobs and money. Most of the above companies are out of Business. The ones that have survived as independents (Aston Martin, Lotus, Morgan) have all done so by finding a niche that they can sell into and then making the best car for that niche. The others have all gone by the wayside or had their names gobbled up by other companies.

That is my rant.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Looked good from 20 feet....

Went and checked out a 1964 Land Rover Series IIa this past weekend. Here is a picture:

Looks ok right? Well the seller had told me it was not currently running because he had removed the radiator and the rear drive shaft but never got around to installing new bits. For the price he was asking I figured, I'll take a look and if it is in good order who knows. Well, from the outside the truck looks pretty good. Nice color combo, wheels look ok. Interior is so-so, bulkhead rust is there but not terrible. Then I go stick my head under the rear of the truck to check out the frame. Yikes! Both rear frame members are completely rusted through. I didn't even bother to look at the frame under the front of the car. I tried to be nice and ask a few other questions about the truck but I knew I wasn't going to hassle with it. Now, if I had someplace to store this thing for a few years and I could talk him down to about $500 (all the thing is worth really) then maybe I would think about pulling a full resto on it but I don't have that much time or money.....