Thursday, May 24, 2012

Those Who Live In Glass Houses...

Obama is attacking Romney over Bain Capital's unsuccessful run with a Michigan auto supplier, Cambridge Industries.  Obama should be careful, because Romney's supporters might start reminding everyone what happened under Car Czar Steven Rattner. 

A very "Private equity" like takeover of GM and Chrysler, under which plants, dealers, and many many jobs were cut, in order to re-organize the companies.  The only difference here is that Rattner was using taxpayer money instead of investor money to back the re-organization, but his goals were essentially the same as Bain's would have been: improve shareholder (taxpayer) value by re-structuring the operations into profitable enterprises. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

EPA's Hybrid Payback Calculator

The EPA has posted a very nice interactive hybrid vehicle payback calculator.  It lets you quickly adjust assumptions to see how long a hybrid or electric vehicle would pay for itself based on fuel savings.

For example, comparing a Chevrolet Malibu Eco to a base gasoline Malibu, 12,000mi/year, 60% city driving, gasoline at $3.75, the tool says that you would save a whopping $200/year on gasoline, and that the $550 MSRP difference would be paid off in 2.7 years.

Clearly, the Malibu Eco isn't an irresistibly good deal, because that $200/year in fuel savings is going to cost you several cubic feet of trunk space. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ethics of Manuals?

Over at, David Sirota asks if it is "ethical" to drive a manual transmission.  The reason for his question is recent news that more people are choosing manuals, and also, that automatics are now sometimes equal to or better than manuals in fuel economy.

I find it odd that he only considers fuel economy in his question. 

A more careful ethicist would also consider the resources going into the transmission.  For example, a manual will over its lifetime consume one or two clutches.  An automatic (unless it is one of those rare CVTs) will consume several changes of automatic transmission fluid, a.k.a. oil.

Also, consider that automatics usually cost about $1000 more than a manual.  Why is that?  Simply, omplexity.  The automatic has more parts, including electronic controls.  More parts means more manufacturing footprint to make it.

It seems to me that manuals are more "ethical" than automatics until such time as their fuel economy gains can overcome the manuals advantage in simplicity. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fireman's Lowrider Towncar

I spotted this wild Lincoln Towncar lowrider cruising Southfield today.  He had tiny red wheels, lots of chrome, red tinted windows, and a fire dept. sticker on the rear screen.  His rear axle was braced and chrome plated, as were many other suspension parts.

I found a video about the car on the Detroit Free Press site.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Anatomy Of A Scam: Nigerian Check Fraud

So you get an email from someone you have never met, offering you a "work from home job".  You get to keep a sizeable sum of money, in return for simply "processing payments" or some such thing.

If you bite, this is what will happen.

An blandly named fellow, such as "Mark Nelson", will arrange to send you a check, usually by FedEx or priority mail (to give it an air of urgency).

He will ask you to deposit the check, keep some money for yourself, and then split up the rest into smaller Western Union or Moneygram payments.

The reason they use Western Union is that it is not really traceable and can not be revoked. All they need is the Money Transfer Control Number and they have the cash, simple as that.

Then, your bank will sock you with fees and expect you to pay back the fictitious money.

Here we have an example where the package was apparently sent from Boise, ID.  However, using the tracking number on the label will show that it actually came from Pennsylvania!


April 30, 2012, 2:06 pm


Next, notice that the check supposedly was sent from one "Sarah Sparks", but it is signed by yet another character, "James J---" (it is hard to tell".  It is NOT signed by "Mark Nelson". And it was apparently purchased by "Tony Nguyen". 

The fake check itself is pretty good, however, you might notice small flaws.  For example, in this case, the ink used for the check account number, check #, signature, and other information was the same color of black and slightly raised (like a laser printer would produce).  There is no actual "water mark" on the check paper, when you hold it up to the light you only see printed ink.  Also, the "reflective ink" watermark that the front of the check claims is there is not in fact reflective, it is just yellow. 

Don't be fooled.   There is no such thing as a "work at home" job which pays $100's of dollars an hour for cashing checks and sending out Western Union payments.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Some Dart Thoughts

I haven't had a chance to drive a Dodge Dart yet (I'm not one of those big-time auto journalists, you know) but I did get a good look at them at the NAIAS, and also, I have been watching the launch publicity and early reviews.

Here are some thoughts.

The Dart appears to be Chrysler's first competitive compact/midsize vehicle since the Dodge Cirrus of years ago.  It has modern efficient powertrains, a nice interior, and nice gadgets.
It is a 100% improvement over the Caliber, which was, even after a refresh, a cheap rent-a-car.
Reviewers so far have been saying that the driving dynamics are quite good, and NVH is excellent.
Chrysler's weak spot now is quality and reliability.  They need to work hard to convince people that they aren't selling pretty junk.  Though, these days, even below-average quality new cars are quite a bit better than the average of just a decade ago.
I wouldn't buy a new Dart, yet, but I would not hesitate to lease one. 
The other part I'm not sold on is the front end styling.  It seems like a mish-mash of Dodge cross and more organic influences.  I actually like the basic monochrome version much better than the black bedecked Rallye trim.  The front overhang seems very long to me.
Still, this is the first car I have seen from Chrysler in a while that I could see myself owning.

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