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Dream Cruising For Real

I wanted a nice car that didn’t require any obvious re-habbing because I’m a story-teller and a writer, not a mechanic.

by on Aug.15, 2009

Mike Davis and his 1965 Comet Cruising

It’s pretty obvious memory and dreams “drive” the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Is there a real male out there who doesn’t dream about the car he learned to drive in, or his first car, or the car he wanted but couldn’t afford or parents wouldn’t allow?

Vinsetta Garage, Woodward Avenue, Royal Oak, Mich. Len Katz photo, click to enlarge

A Cruise driver minds his business. It’s stop 'n go, idling, keeping an eye on gauges, traffic and crowds.

I think that’s the basis for the love of old cars, at least the ordinary survivors, not the ultra high-priced classics.

And it’s pretty obvious memory and dreams “drive” the Woodward Dream Cruise.

I’ve been “covering” the Dream  Cruise since its inception, easy since I live only a couple of blocks off of Woodward. But it was more than four years ago that my son, a Navy doctor, said to me upon his graduation from flight surgeon school at Pensacola, “Dad, I’ve been thinking about getting a ’65 Mustang. What do you think of that?”

So I responded, “I’ve got a better idea, let’s go in together and get a ‘65 Comet convertible, like the first convertible I ever had.”

It took me nearly a year to find a good one, thanks to help from Jerry Robbins, president of the International Mercury Owners Association, for which I have been a historical consultant. I wanted a nice car that didn’t require any obvious re-habbing because I’m a story-teller and a writer, not a mechanic.

Woodward Avenue Alive with Dream Cruisers

On the eve of Motor City’s celebration of automobility, the wheels are already rolling.

by on Aug.14, 2009

While the multi-millionaires are sipping champagne this weekend at Pebble Beach, a more democratic celebration of the automobile is taking place along a 16-mile stretch of Woodward Avenue in suburban Detroit.


Click on photo to enlarge! More than 40,000 cars – street rods, muscle cars, collector cars and wacky “one of a kind cars” – motor in and create the biggest celebration of automobility that I know of.

Pontiac model made famous by a song, 1965, 1965 and 1966.

Pontiacs famous in song, 1965, 1965 and 1966.

1967 Corvette 427

1967 Corvette 427.

This populist celebration draws an estimated 1 million visitors and more than 40,000 cars – street rods, muscle cars, collector cars and other wacky “one of a kind cars” that comprise the biggest celebration of automobility that I know of.

(Click on Photos to enlarge; send a photo not larger than 5 meg via e-mail, of your ride!)

Chamber of Commerce types estimate it’s worth $50 million to a local economy that was built on the automobile, which misses the point entirely.

What makes the third Saturday in August special is the do-it-yourself nature of the Dream Cruise.

It started decades ago when a bunch of teenage guys in their borrowed family cars went cruising on Woodward for a burger and a root beer, and — with luck — the car in the next lane over was filled with a bunch teenage girls, also in borrowed wheels. With even more luck the cars ended up parked next to each other a the Totem Pole or other such joint or drive in.

To greatly oversimplify a social phenomenon, from such a uniquely American courting ritual today’s Dream Cruise is made.


GM Planning Four-Mode Hybrid

Next-gen hybrids could yield big gains for big trucks.

by on Aug.14, 2009

GM's two-mode hybrid has yielded significant fuel economy gains in vehicles like the 2010 Cadillac Escalade, but a more advanced four-mode system is under development.

GM's two-mode hybrid has yielded significant fuel economy gains in vehicles like the 2010 Cadillac Escalade, but a more advanced four-mode system is under development.

If each new generation of computer processor is able to double the speed of the previous one, is it any surprise that GM’s next-generation gas-electric hybrid powertrain for its big pickups and SUVs will be four-mode instead of the current two-mode?

We first heard a four-mode hybrid powertrain was in the works in 2007, during a conversation  with then-vice-chairman and product czar Bob Lutz – now GM’s marketing chief. We’ve picked up a bit more information after our latest visit to GM earlier this week for a product and technology preview.

Good in any mode!

Good in any mode!

“It’s all about any hybrid system,” said John Turzewski, GM’s lead development engineer for full-size truck hybrids. “As you evolve and go through your next generation, it’s cost reduction, smaller, lighter and better packaging. There’s lots of improvement all along those lines.”


Politics Intervenes in Adam Opel Sale?

No surprise German Chancellor says publicly she prefers Opel.

by on Aug.14, 2009


Facing elections, German Chancellor Merkel has a clear preference for Russian-backed Magna's bid.

The head of the German government has now weighed in on the debate over what company General Motors sells its Adam Opel subsidiary to. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this morning in Russia that she had a clear preference for the Russian-backed bid of Magna to take over controlling interest in GM’s loss-making European arm. Merkel was meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The public statement confirmed media accounts that said the German government, facing elections next month, thought the Magna bid was the best way to preserve German jobs. In Europe more than half of Opel’s 50,000 employees work in Germany.

The Opel matter has devolved into two buyer choices: The Canadian auto conglomerate Magna, which has strong European and German ties, or an investment group know as RHJI.

It is by most accounts a complicated negotiation, as we have noted before, since it will require the agreement of labor unions, regional and federal governments, financial  institutions and regulators, among others, to broker a deal to save Opel. And GM needs to save Opel engineering if the reorganized company is to have a good shot at surviving.

The Merkel statement followed a blog post this morning by GM’s chief negotiator that once again said the Magna deal with Russian partner Sberbank was not a sure thing. So the communications battle continues.

“Yesterday was a pretty busy day in the media, with many outlets reporting that Magna/Sberbank and General Motors had reached an agreement regarding Opel.  At the risk of repeating myself, that’s just not the case,” said John Smith of General Motors.”


Surprises among July Sales: Winners & Sinners

Import brands mostly walked off with the bouquets based on their high fuel efficiency reputations. Trucks lost.

by on Aug.13, 2009


It looks like customers deserted Explorer in droves. Dealers were successful in keeping fleeing Explorer owners in the family

Generally, Detroiters have heaved sighs of relief from July sales reports, as they respond to hope of improved economy on one hand and the effect of Cash for Clunkers on the other.

But when you analyze the results carefully, especially by models, July sales compared to same month a year ago have been quite uneven, with some surprising winners and sinners. I count as winners any model whose July sales in 2009 improved over those of July 2008. That list, accordingly, is quite long, led by Ford Motor Company cars and a sprinkling of others.

There are a lot of factors that can influence why some are ahead and others behind that have little to do with their perceived year-to-year popularity, such things as inventory levels, factory and dealer incentives, contests, cash backs and astute advertising. One unusual promotion has been Hyundai’s offer of $1.50/gallon gas for a whole year. Toyota got out early with advertising it had 25 vehicle models for sale that were eligible for clunker trade-ins, and Pontiac’s good showing relative to Saturn and Saab, the other two newly orphaned GM brands, could be accounted for by traditional Pontiac fans who want to get them while they can.

Ford’s biggest car seller was Focus at 21,830, up from 15,200 units the year before, followed by Fusion at 17,610, up from 10,610 in July 2008. Surprisingly, Lincoln Town Car sales of 1,841 nearly doubled the year before number and even step-child Mercury Grand Marquis managed to squeeze out a gain, 2,667 over 2,569. Milan sales came to 2,934, up from 1,836.

On the truck side, of course Ford numbers were off in total, but there were some model gainers: Escape at 20,241 nearly doubled the year ago figure, Flex managed 3,631 against 2,200 and Ranger—another step-child—counted 7,695 deliveries, up from 4,677.


Watch Out For Clunker Scams

CARS program brings out identity thieves and scammers.

by on Aug.13, 2009

There are plenty of scammers and a few unscrupulous dealers hoping to take advantage of the Cash-for-Clunkers program - at your expense.

There are plenty of scammers and a few unscrupulous dealers hoping to take advantage of the Cash-for-Clunkers program - at your expense.

Jerry Milgram had long been hoping to get rid of his beat-up ’92 Ford Explorer, but with the money he was due on a trade-in, he couldn’t make the numbers work on a trade-in.

That all changed when the Cash-for-Clunker program was launched, last month.  Suddenly, the Chicago plumber saw the opportunity to get a compact crossover that would significantly lower his fuel costs but still provide enough room to carry his tools to the job.

A great deal!

A great deal!

At least, that’s what Milgram thought.  But when he visited a suburban Chicago dealer, he was told he’d have to sign a document requiring him to pay back the $4,500 government voucher if his old car somehow got rejected by the administrators of the Car Allowance Rebate System.


UAW Extends Toyota Talks Deadline

The fate of 5,000 NUMMI workers hangs in the balance.

by on Aug.12, 2009

The UAW is hoping to prevent the closure of the 26-year-old NUMMI venture, near San Francisco.

The UAW is hoping to prevent the closure of the 26-year-old NUMMI venture, near San Francisco.

The United Auto Workers has extended its deadline in talks with Toyota Motor Corporation over the fate of the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. in Fremont, California. The UAW’s existing contract with NUMMI expired at midnight August 9th, but the five-day extension, which could be extended again, was already in place, according to union sources familiar with the bargaining. “We’re still bargaining,” one source said.

The Fremont NUMMI plant employs 5,400 workers.

Jimmy Settles, the UAW vice president responsible for the negotiations, also has skipped the union board meeting in Northern Michigan to attend to the bargaining. Last year, Settles successfully negotiated a package of concessions that helped persuade Mitsubishi to keep open its plant in Normal, Illinois, which was then operating at less than 40% capacity.

Toyota’s new chief executive Akio Toyoda said last week during a visit to the US that the company had not made a decision on closing the Fremont plant, which it operated through a joint venture with General Motors Corporation.


GM Teases Next Two Years of Products

GM's turnaround will depend on their success, officials concede.

by on Aug.11, 2009

Fritz Henderson Makes Volt Announcement

Henderson’s business strategy is based on the assumption that gasoline will reach, if not actually exceed, $4 a gallon in the relative near-term.

It’s time to ban the word, “competitive,” from the General Motors vocabulary, says CEO Fritz Henderson.  That’s simply not good enough, he admits.  But can GM really “meet or exceed” the best competitors like Honda, Toyota, BMW and Mercedes-Benz can throw at it?

There’s no question the humbled U.S. maker can turn out some compelling offerings.  Its Chevrolet Malibu won the cherished North American Car of the Year honors, in 2008, for example, and its second-generation Cadillac CTS has won a bevy of awards, as well.  But while the automaker’s recent brush with bankruptcy may have reduced its crushing debt and structural costs, it has only increased the pressure on GM to deliver a solid hit with each new entry it brings to market.

Recognizing the skepticism it faces from the public and media alike, GM officials took the unusual step of briefly lifting the covers on 33 upcoming models, from entry hatchbacks, like the Chevy Spark, to the new luxury flagship, the Cadillac XTS4.

Here’s a look at some of the most significant of those offerings, most of which will reach market by 2012.

As the biggest GM brand, Chevrolet will continue to be the rock upon which the company’s fortunes live or die.  The division rolled out an assortment of 10 different products, from the compact, entry-level Spark, to the Corvette Grand Sport.

The display underscored GM CEO Fritz Henderson’s contention that fuel costs will continue to climb, despite the recent reprieve.  Henderson’s business strategy is based on the assumption that gasoline will reach, if not exceed $4 a gallon in the relative near-term, and lead to a shift in the products consumers demand.  That doesn’t necessarily mean a line-up of small cars alone, he cautioned.  But whatever they buy, motorists will want better mileage.

There are, however, a fair share of downsized models coming, at Chevrolet, starting with the Spark.  The goal, according to designer Dave Lyons, is to make it “an aspiration vehicle,” and not just sell it on price, like past Chevies.  Spark will debut in 2011, about the same time as the slightly larger, redesigned Aveo.  For the compact segment, Chevy is rolling out the Cruze, for 2010, which will deliver up to 40 mpg on the EPA’s Highway cycle.


Under the Covers: GM Reveals Product Plans

Automaker provides a peek at 33 upcoming products, broader product strategy.

by on Aug.11, 2009

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz sits in front of the Chevy Volt, which got a 230 mpg rating under a new government mileage standard.

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz sits in front of the Chevy Volt, which got a 230 mpg rating under a controversial proposed mileage standard.

“It’s all about product,” or so goes the old auto industry maxim.  But that’s no longer good enough, admits General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz.  To make its comeback, the post-bankruptcy automaker will have to produce vehicles that are no only better than its competitors but also convince consumers of that fact.

To help get that message across, the automaker has been staging an unusual series of meetings, this week, including a session that brought 100 American consumers out to its suburban Detroit proving grounds, and another giving scores of journalists a close-up look at an array of the products that will sustain GM’s surviving four North American brands over the next few years.

Free subscription!

Free subscription!

A total of 33 different Chevrolet, Buick GMC and Cadillac cars, trucks and crossovers were put on display, from the next Chevy small car to a planned Caddy sedan designed to go up against such tough competitors as the BMW 7-Series.


Mature Drivers Need to Consider Drug Side Effects

AAA study says most are unaware of dangerous combinations.

by on Aug.11, 2009

Courtesy of Peter Griffin

Awareness of possible harmful side effects drops as driver age and medication use rises.

A large majority of drivers over the age of 55 are taking one or more medications, yet most are unaware of the potential negative impact on driving performance that can be accompany their use, according to a study released today by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Ninety five percent of respondents 55 and older have had one or more medical conditions treated with drugs and 78% use one or more medications, but only 28% said they were aware problems that might be encountered while driving.

The AAA Foundation commissioned the University of Alabama at Birmingham to conduct a survey of 630 adults age 55 and older in Alabama. The age range in the study was from 56 to 93 years old, and the level of awareness of potentially driver impairing medications decreased with age, as the number of prescription medications people were taking increased. Of those surveyed, 69% currently use one or more prescriptions that are potentially driver impairing, and 10% currently use five or more prescriptions that might be harmful to operating a motor vehicle.

Few respondents (18%) had received a warning about potentially driver impairing medications (for example ACE inhibitors, sedatives, and beta blockers) from a healthcare professional. Further, the study found that such warnings do not increase with increasing numbers of medications or with increasing numbers of medical conditions.

Safe Choice!

Safe Choice!

Previous research indicates that use of a single potentially driver impairing medication as well as use of multiple medications increases the risk of being in an accident.

“Health care professionals need to educate patients about their potentially driver impairing medications to help them make safe driving decisions” said AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “One of our goals is to help older drivers stay mobile as long as safely possible; so, it is imperative that we do a better job of educating drivers on known risks, such as the side-effects of medications.”