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Brandon Seiler's Blog on Cars

Archive for March 2009

The worst day of Rick Wagoner’s life

What does it feel like to be asked by the leader of the free world to step down from the most prestigious position in the U.S. auto industry after your leadership has left your company in shambles? Ask Rick Wagoner, it happened to him. 

In a statement released to the public, Wagoner said,
“On Friday I was in Washington for a meeting with Administration officials. In the course of that meeting, they requested that I ‘step aside’ as CEO of GM, and so I have.”

We can only suppose what will happen to old Rick now, taking into consideration the wrap that he managed to accumulate during his tenure as CEO of GM. Considering specifically that GM lost close to $82 billion since 2004 under his command, while it’s market share dropped like a prom dress.

According to critics, the losses were not entirely attributable to the current recession.

“(It would be a) disaster to leave this firm (GM) into its own leadership with public money going in,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management. “The board has been a disaster for decades. This was not a situation that was really precipitated by the global financial crisis. This is a company that made extraordinarily bad decisions.” 

Along with Rick’s forced resignation, GM’s board of directors also lost their jobs. These are the same guys that thought it would be a good idea to lease a private jet to fly Rick to Washington DC, so he could ask lawmakers for public funds to bailout GM while Hummers were collecting dust on dealers’ lots, and jet fuel, just like auto fuel, was still quite expensive. 

It was indicative of other bad decisions Rick made, like focusing on promoting fuel guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks while Toyota, Honda and Ford developed hybrid and electric cars to better position themselves for the changing industry in the tumultuous years to come. 

By the time the Obama administration finally stepped in to end Rick’s reign of terror, GM had lost its title as the world’s largest automaker to Toyota, after holding the heavyweight title for 77 years. 

Now, GM is facing the very real possibility of bankruptcy in the coming months if they can’t manage to scrape together a plan to pull themselves off their lips under the leadership of Rick’s successor, Fritz Henderson, GM’s former president. 

“Fritz Henderson is an excellent choice to be the next CEO of GM,” Rick said in his statement, “I wish him well, and I stand ready to support him, and interim nonexecutive Chairman Kent Kresa, in every way possible.” 

This is how Rick Wagoner’s legacy with GM is coming to an end. It begs the question: What was Rick’s first day after GM like?

I’d like to speculate:

7:00am - Wakes up where he passed out, on the sales desk of a Chevy dealership in Detroit; the only place he can find some privacy.

8:00am – Wets himself in the back of a cab on the way home, it’s a scary new form of transportation, and a Ford. 

9:00am – Stumbles out of the cab and into a McDonalds where he applies for a management position. He’s turned down for a lack of quality references, and the pee smell. 

10:00am – Sits with his phone in the play area waiting to hear from Henderson and Kresna. They don’t call but the pee smell is less noticeable here. 

11:00am – Rides the tube slide to cheer up, but he’s crying by the time he appears at the bottom. 

12:00pm – Wanders out to the drive through and catches a much needed buzz huffing the exhaust fumes off an idling H2.

12:06pm – Pukes, passes out, and is arrested for vagrancy.

1:00pm – Wakes up in the back of a cop car. It’s a Ford. He pukes again.

2:00pm – Dropped off at his mansion smelling of puke, urine, exhaust fumes and fast food. It’s a Saturday afternoon so his wife doesn’t question it. 

3:00pm – Splits a half-gallon of Potters whiskey with his former board of directors in the den. Once he’s sauced, they hold him down, take turns tea bagging him, and sell the pictures via email to every major news outlet in the country. 

4:00pm – His phone is ringing. He’s crying again. 

5:00pm – His wife watches the news.

5:14 – His wife divorces him.

9:48pm - Drunk dials the answering machine at GM’s main desk from a Motel 6. Says he wants to get back together and, “don’t not call.” 

9:53pm - Passes out for the day.

10:23pm – Dreams the 400,000 industry workers who lost their jobs are chasing him down a Detroit street. 

They’re driving Toyotas. 

Sources:

http://www.autoweek.com/article/20090329/CARNEWS/903309997

http://www.reuters.com/article/GCA-autos/idUKTRE52T0AI20090330?virtualBrandChannel=10112&pageNumber=1

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29959799/page/2/

Little Red Jeep

Instead of Ritalin, my parents bought me my first car at the age of five: A 1990 Jeep power wheel. Cherry red, two gears (fast AND slow), a roll bar that stopped just below my head and a storage compartment nestled beneath the Trans-am inspired eagle decal on the hood perfect for storing a peanut butter sandwich. 

I stood next to my new ride for roughly half a day gritting my teeth to powder while it sat in the garage and charged, then promptly drove it into a ditch and rolled it over on top of myself, like you’re supposed to do in a Jeep.

It was a particularly bad mess for several reasons, the first being my father had gone inside to do whatever a dad does on Saturday morning when his small child is criss-crossing the street in his dream ride for the first time. I’ll just presume from experience he was taking a crap and reading Hemmings Motor News, smelling the sweet aroma of my “dinosaur” shaped pancakes wafting up from the kitchen grill. Point being, he was usually indisposed during his Saturday morning man time anywhere from 1-3 hours. In his blissful cocoon he had no idea his tiny son would soon be fighting for his life in a ditch out front of the house. 

This was no ordinary ditch mind you, mainly because our derelict neighbors made a habit of throwing their massive dogs’ campfire sized droppings in it up stream from our home. Adding to the horror, it had rained the previous day and the waters were still flowing like a sewage pipe. 

The ditch was not on my Dad’s mind as he lumbered up to the throne and gave me the go ahead to unplug the Jeep from the garage wall and embark on my first solo driving experience. I hopped behind the wheel of the greatest 4x4 the world had ever known with the intention of pushing her to the limits. I had seen the four Duracell batteries beneath the muscular hood and each was roughly the size of my head; oh yeah, this thing could run. 

With one hand clutching a creamy peanut butter sandwich and the other gripping the plastic steering wheel I mashed the accelerator to the floor and started down the driveway. It went without saying that everyone in the neighborhood was watching me through their front windows, green with envy at my good fortune. That’s when our ditch caught my cocky eye. Brown clumpy water was flowing along its terrible bed, but the sidewall was demanding I transverse it’s rocky terrain in mocking defiance of the poo stream below. 

I stopped, took a bite from my peanut butter sandwich and laid two plastic tires into the ditch with the confidence of a kid who had been spanked but wasn’t afraid to face the hand’s wrath again. 

We flipped.

Splash! 

Oh God! Oh No! What’s happening?! 

Instantly the massive weight of the Jeep collapsed the collapsible windshield and pinned my doughy body in the waste river’s current. There was no sunlight in this horrible stinky place. 

The evil stream tore the sandwich from my hand and cackled at me as I watched it disappear upside down into the black hole of the pipe that ran beneath our driveway. The river had eaten my sandwich, and next it was going to eat me and turn me into poop. My parents would have to scoop me up with a shovel and throw me in the compost pile in the back yard, like good neighbors did. 

Where were my parents? I began to scream and mashed the accelerator with my foot again; this was a Jeep and Jeeps could go anywhere god dammit! 

It worked.

The Jeep righted itself, and daylight streamed in on my soggy trembling body. 

“What the hell are you doing?! A voice boomed. 

Ah, it was dad, in his underwear, holding the Jeep like a matchbox car as the tires spun to a stop. All of a sudden the river’s black hole seemed like a friendly place, but I was safe and my legs could move out of their pretzeled contortion again. I was allowed to drive the Jeep back up to the garage and plug it in to charge for another day of learning experiences. 

I learned two lessons that day: Jeeps will flip over on you, and never take a hill sideways when you’re off roading, it’s too easy to lose your sandwich that way.

With Nano coming to U.S., could Cash for Clunkers make it free?

If the proposed “Cash for Clunkers” plan were to pass, it sure seems possible that Americans could potentially trade their clunker straight across for the 55 mpg Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car. 

All they would have to do is receive little more than $2,000 of the rebate Cash for Clunkers would provide to acquire the Nano, which is now being redesigned to meet U.S. emission and crash test standards for stateside release in roughly three years. 

The clunkers plan, now being referred to as the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save bill, or CARS act, would offer up to $5,000 in rebates to people willing to trade in a car at least eight-years old for a new vehicle priced under $35,000 that gets better than 24 mpg. 

Under this premise, the Nano, priced well under three grand could be purchased for no cost to clunker owners that qualify for up to a $5,000 rebate. That is of course, if the CARS act passes. 

While there is an added $1,000 incentive to buy a domestic car versus an import in the current version of the CARS act, I don’t believe it is a requirement to purchase an American made car with the rebate just yet. 

I keep thinking there must be some stipulation in the bill to make such a wondrous transaction impossible; it just seems too good to be true.

Also, because it seems too potentially damaging to the U.S. auto industry; if the CARS act passes as it is, American auto makers could take a major hit if people had the option to receive a free Nano versus a domestic car, or even opted to buy any other imported car with their clunker rebate. 

The CARS act has come under fire because of this and could be shot done because of it. We'll have to wait and see. For now, it would seem that many of us could be qualified for a free ultra-efficient car in a couple of years.

What do you think? Am I missing something here?

Sources:

http://www.leftlanenews.com/revised-cash-for-clunkers-bill-gaining-support-on-capitol-hill.html

http://www.autobloggreen.com/2009/03/18/cars-act-revives-cash-for-clunkers-scrapping-plan-in-u-s/

The Seattle Times, Tuesday, March 24, 2009. “World’s Cheapest New Car.” Business A8.

Mixed Memories of Driver’s Training

My nephew is beginning his driver’s training this month and I couldn’t help but begin to reflect on what an odd and wonderful experience it was when I had to do it. There probably hasn’t ever been a normal driver’s training instructor, so it was almost a cruel joke of sorts that mine was named Mr. Normile. 

He was a nice man, a retired math teacher. He always had powdered donuts caked on his lips, he looked like a catfish. His daughter, who had definitely been left to play in the family gene pool while the lifeguard was off duty, bore a striking resemblance to her dear old dad. Mr. Normile made a point to remind me what a nice girl she was during our test-drives about the neighborhood. 

“I wouldn’t be tellin’ ya that if I didn’t think you were a nice guy too,” he said between spastic pumps of his passenger side brake when I began to approach the underside of the speed limit. 

Back at the windowless driver’s training class room, just around the way from a popular street corner for human advertisements to dance the sales up in giant hot dog suits, our class of high school Americana sat through two and a half hour classes of Mr. Normile’s custom brand of educational entertainment. 

One of our favorite games to play was, “Mr. Normile asks a question from the book, repeatedly, and receives no response from the class.” Mr. Normile was enthralled by it; once the silent tension was drawn taught he would meticulously pick out students he suspected were paying attention, like he was deciding whether to cut the green or red wire to defuse a bomb. 

More often than not he would mistake the effects of a student’s early flirtations with marijuana as a match to his own beef jerky-dry personality and call on them. 

BOOM! 

But it didn’t faze our commander in car safety education. His default back up plan after the initial mishap was to call on one of the Asian foreign exchange kids in the front. Their English was taped together like a nerd’s glasses, but the old cliché that they were more studious than the average American had left an indelible mark on Mr. Normile’s psyche and he would always look to them for a quick bailout when the rest of the class was stonewalling him. 

It was during one of these desperate times that the most terrible joke our class had had ever been subjected to spontaneously took place. Mr. Normile had reverted to badgering a quiet student by the name of Cho for an answer to a multiple-choice question. The answer was “B, pass,” as in, “to pass a car on the highway.” But Cho informed Mr. Normile after giving several incorrect responses that that he wanted to “pass,” or pass on trying to answer the question anymore. 

Mr. Normile’s eyes lit up, his body began to gyrate with the giddy quivers of a chuckle that he could not entirely suppress. 

“Well, huh, huh, actually Cho, huh, huh, that IS the right answer!”

Cho stared ahead blankly, wordless and motionless behind his glasses. 

“Get it Cho?” Mr. Normile prodded, “The answer is B, PASS the car, and YOU said PASS!”

Cho did his best to placate what very well may have been the most comical moment of Mr. Normile’s educational career. 

“Oh,” Cho said, “I get it, huh huh.” 

The only other person in the room who was getting a kick out the situation was my friend, David. We had gone to the same schools since we were little, but I hadn’t seen him much before we discovered ourselves in the same driver’s training class. I had no idea that somewhere along the way he had developed a mental tick that made him laugh hysterically after everything he said and sometimes what others said, whether it was funny or not. In many ways, it was like the humorous affliction that haunted the kid on the original “Scared Straight,” who can’t stop laughing when the inmates are screaming in his face that they’re going to make him their bitch.

Mr. Normile’s play on words was far less threatening. David loved it and let out a wild shriek of laughter when the joke was explained to Cho. Mr. Normile’s head snapped like a Falcon from the foreign student in his classroom to locate the foreign noise. His gleaming eyes caught David’s beaming face and the two bonded instantly in their nerdy dementia. 

Mr. Normile let out another exploratory chuckle,“Huh, huh.” 

David responded with another adolescent shriek that couldn’t have better identified him as a late bloomer and the two instantaneously exploded with laughter, each looking at the other for inspiration to laugh harder and harder until Mr. Normile was rocking back and forth on the front desk like he had been shot in the stomach and David was nearly screaming with tears, pounding his notebook like his fist was a gavel and he was calling for more madness. 

That was about as eventful as it ever got in my driver’s training class. I passed with an 89 percent. Like most of what are supposed to be the defining moments of a person’s life, the whole experience seems much more colorful in retrospect. Here’s hoping that my nephew makes a few memories of his own during his driver’s training and can enjoy the simple pleasures that occur so infrequently during the extraordinarily trying time he’s about to pass through. Looking back on it, Mr. Normile was a master of that.

World’s First Underwater Car, seriously

 

Leave it to the Swiss, they’ve designed a zero emissions electric car inspired by a James Bond movie that can drive above and below water. 

“The ‘sQuba’ lets me be one with the elements and lets me immerse myself in a new and fascinating world - with Q factor,” said Rinspeed founder, Frank M. Rinderknecht, “It is our duty to protect this world in which we are guests to the best of our ability.” 

Once underwater, sQuba passengers are supplied with breathing air from an integrated tank of compressed air connected to scuba masks. To protect the aquatic environment, the sQuba uses biodegradable lubricants, so environmentalists can’t complain it’s a hazard to fish. 

Keeping it extra green/Bondsy, the sQuba is also is capable of autonomous driving on land using a laser sensor system; that means it can drive itself without a driver or passenger. “Ibeo LUX laser scanners represent the vehicle’s intelligent eyes and safely steer the vehicle through road traffic,” Rinspeed says. 

Built around a Lotus Elise, The sQuba runs on rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries and has a salt-water resistant interior and diamond-plated non-slip inlays. The high-tech VDO instrument cluster and controls “create a futuristic ambiance and allow controlling all vehicle functions even while submerged.” 

The important vehicle functions when underwater include current engine output, remaining operating time, diving depth and water temperature.

On land the sQuba is capable of roughly 70mph, above the water it can skim along at 22km/h, once below the surface the top speed drops to about 16km/h. She isn’t a speed demon so much as a real thrill to captain, or so a land loving driver would assume. 

Rinspeed claims “professional” divers can glide down as far as 40 meters, that would be assuming they can afford to dish out roughly $1 million dollars to pay for the ultimate James Bond ride. 

Be sure to check out the sQuba in action in New Videos and visit the Rinspeed site at www.rinspeed.com.

Buried in a ‘67 Chevy, by request

 

Albert Dancy Jr. of Sutton, West Virginia upped the ante for Chevy guys the world over when he was buried in the bed of his 1967 Chevrolet pickup, with his Old Timer pocketknife and Remington .243-caliber deer rifle. 

If the burial wasn’t culturally sound enough already, Dancy, 50, was shot and killed on February 15 in a domestic quarrel involving Dancy’s ex-wife and Robert Dodrill Jr., 44, of Summersville West Virginia. Dodrill is accused of forcing his way into Albert’s mobile home at the Pine Trailer Park and shooting him in the chest, State Police Sgt. R.D. Lilly said.

Upon Albert’s death, Adam Dancy, 24, decided his father’s long time requests to be buried in his beloved green General Motors truck was more than just one of the old man’s stories. 

“He said it always joking around, but he said it for so many years it was pretty much serious to me,” said Adam, “I always took him seriously. It was the last thing I could do for him.”

Adam’s uncle brought over a backhoe to their family’s land in Clay County and they went to work digging the 19ft long, nine foot wide vault/grave. 

“I started a family cemetery because most cemeteries don't let you bury a pick-up truck,” Adam said.

The truck was stripped of the motor, transmission, brake fluid and tires to make it safe for the environment and lowered into the ground. Dancy’s casket was then placed in the pickup’s bed and dirt was poured over the top until the deal was sealed. 

Dancy now rests eternally with his truck, pocketknife and rifle. He carried the knife with him everywhere, but the gun was a more recent edition to the more sentimental possessions of his life.

“It wasn't really his favorite gun but the year before last he killed a nice 10-point buck with it and got it mounted, so I figured I'd put it in there with him,” Adam said.

Although it might seem like Dancy is well prepared to go on one hell of a hunt in the afterlife, Adam said he has no illusions of how useful the vault and its contents might be to his father.

“We gave him a truck with no tires. We gave him a gun with no shells,” Adam said. “He'll be s-t out of luck.”

Perhaps not entirely: Dancy was buried wearing Realtree camoflauge. One can only assume the forests are lush in Chevrolet heaven. 

Swiss Gigolo Defrauds BMW Heiress, Elvis Impersonator Defrauds’71 Barracuda

First and foremost we begin in MUNICH – A dashing man that looks like a cross between James Bond and the Swiss Miss Girl was sentenced to six years in prison Monday for defrauding Germany’s richest women, BMW heiress Susanne Klatten, 46, of 7 million euros (about $9 million) and suavely trying to blackmail her for tens of millions more.

German media is calling the 44 – year – old convicted man, Helg Sgarbi, “the Swiss Gigolo,” after he told a Munich court that he approached Klatten at a spa near Innsbruck, Austria, in July 2007 and started a steamy affair. Sgarbi admitted he told BMW’s happily married money pot that he had secretly taped their forbidden romps and would go public with the footage if Klatten refused to pay him millions of euros to keep the secret a secret. 

The crafty Gigolo also admitted to using his charm to tug at Klatten’s automotive heartstrings, convincing her to pay him 7 million euros to help treat a girl that was paralyzed in a car crash with Sgarbi. Klatten eventually went to the police in January 2007. For his reckless dream boating, the Munich state court found Sgarbi guilty of fraud and attempted blackmail. 

Question: Why did Klatten wait so long to go to the police? Why did she agree to pay Sgarbi 7 million euros? Maybe the Swiss gigolo did manage to tape some damaging footage.

For the full story visit: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29594154/?GT1=43001. 

Moving on to TEXAS – A 1971 Plymouth Barracuda nearly went to auction in San Antonio under the premise that it was originally bought by Elvis Presley for one of his female friends. The Cuda had a title with a matching VIN listing Elvis Aaron Presley as the owner. Auctioneers were crestfallen when they noticed the title had to be fake because it had eight digits instead of nine. Oops. 

The official story is that a mechanic found the title between the carpet and the floor. Auction owners would not release the current car owner’s name. Shady. 

“We had done everything we could on our end… . We definitely don’t want to mislead anyone,” said Jennifer Tetley, a spokeswoman for the Dan Kruse-Leake Collector Car Show & Auction.

It would seem that the Cuda was an imposter amongst the other celebrity cars scheduled to be auctioned off at the Alamo Dome March 21st. The line up includes a General Lee (69 Charger) owned by John Shneider (Bo Duke) along with a 1936 Lincoln V12 K Model Boat Tail Speedster, custom built by Howard Hughes’ crazy ass to serve as his personal limo. 

Question: Since when is it acceptable to write off a potentially fraudulent car sale by saying that you found the title between the carpet and the floor? Is this Texas justice? 

Auto enthusiasts demand answers!

Cheerios Lego Racer!

It’s a cumbersome chore to create weekly ultra-informed blogs that attempt to stay on the cutting edge of automotive news. My hat goes off to anyone who can do it, but sometimes I feel like I try to make mine too, “smart.” So eat this: Cheerios Lego Racers! Collect all 6! Mix and match pieces to make over 200 combinations with custom stickers! 

On every specially marked box of Cheerios it’s your duty as a member of the Whole Grain Nation to locate your Lego Racer and make sure your very own race car wont go to waste, or be choked on. Clint Bowyer, driver of the # 33 Cheerios and Hamburger Helper Chevrolet Impala SS, endorses Lego Racers. That’s Hamburger, like the meat in what’s for dinner, and helper, like when mom lets you add the seasoning mix.

Clint likes Cheerios, Hamburger Helper, and RACE CARS! His car makes 825 hp @ 8,500 RPM. In his third year as a racer Clint earned his 1st berth in the Chase for the Cup, finishing 3rd in points. Clint has an All-American smile and a penchant for bronzer. 

Ask your parents to buy a specially marked box of Lego Racers Cheerios today! Don’t forget to remind them that Cheerios can Lower Dad’s Cholesterol long enough for his Medicaid to kick in, and a Ziploc bag full of them will keep you quiet through the homily at church! Also, if you eat Fruit Loops you’ll have nightmares about Tucan Sam pecking your eyes out. 

Some monsters are real. 

Cheerios come with a RACER!

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About this blog

Brandon Seiler is a bonafide car guy, member of the Northwest Auto Press Association and proud Washingtonian. He covers the latest auto news, technology, and pretty much anything having to do with car culture. You don't have to like cars to read his blogs, you just have to be able to read.

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