I was on a roll- First the TDI “on loan” from VW makes it back from Florida with all 4 tires wearing evenly and slowly. Then I get serious about tractor shopping, and the Deere dealer that wanted list last year for a loaded tractor is now happy to supply the economy model and knocks 10% off the price before the negotiating even begins. I hint that Kubotas are still cheaper and he knocks another thousand off, getting down into the price range normally reserved for government buying pool bids. So I signed on the dotted line, and in a couple weeks shipping time my tractor should appear at the local Deere dealer.

Of course, solutions always create… More problems. I go to move the Ranger ’bout a week ago and am greeted by a suspiciously soft brake pedal. Turns out a rusty front brake line has decided to fail. The POS little trailer Roger saved from the dead a few years back ain’t up to the job, sagged rather badly when I put a Mini atop it and the Deere is damn near as heavy. The big trailer can handle the weight, but it’s own weight is pushing my luck hooked to the old TDI.

So I gotta fix the Ranger… Attempting extrication of the rusted old break lines, I suspect the “Jaws of Life” is the proper tool… Looks like Ford installed the lines in the chassis, then plopped the engine atop. Had to cut one line into 3 pieces to get it out. Unlike VW, Ford lists no proper factory fit brake lines for a mere 2 decade old Ranger, suggesting they be “fabricated” from lengths of brake tubing. Gee Ford, I though “fabricating” was your job? This means I journey over to the small town internet free auto parts emporium where the old Ford partsman holds court… This is the guy that found the missing link to connect the Rangers english rear brakes with it’s metric front brakes a few years back. This time his young apprentice of the female persuasion found the parts quite efficiently and for only $17 for 3 lines and a union.

Of course Ford was not about to let it be so simple- Get a line all bent up and squirelled in place and turns out Ford is mixing british and really old british threads again. I’d specced one line too long too, so back to the parts store. And did I mention that the front wheels are rusted to the hubs too? Decide to knock off early, and resolve to retire the Ranger out back when I get the brakes fixed and buy a new small trailer. Knocked off early and had a long lunch and coffee while I mourned what is probably the end of the Ranger’s working life.

After moping around a while, figure I might as well work on the R80ST in the living room, the shop being rather drafty. Been hanging bits back onto the frame and decided it was time for the forks to rejoin the frame. Had just dug out the little plastic cups at the top of the fork lowers the other day and fitted fresh felts in them. Put ’em on, damn they stick with the uppers when I move them… Are the felts too thick? Take out the felts and they still won’t stay in place, probably worn out. Had another one and some old felts, where’d I put them? I give up, I’m veggin’ out front ‘O the TV rest of the day!

Maybe I need some motorvation to finish the ST rebuild… Maybe take it to north Florida Tech Daze?

And not by intent.

First I got waylayed by politics, came back to Minnesota to fight the re-election of our democratic party “machine”. Put that in parenthesis because they’re amateurs by Chicago standards, but I was tiring of their financial success while losing elections. Lost that battle saturday, so was hoping for more time to get back to gearheadin’.

In the meantime GM, noting that France may be about to leave the EU along with Britain while the US is about to leave everybody, up and sold their Euro operations AKA Opel & Vauxhall to PSA, FKA Peugeot & Citroen. And here I was trying to get away from politics! I’m sure the decision wasn’t exactly political though, more so an admission that GM can’t compete for the favor of the world’s most critical drivers in Europe. And while GM claims it’s North American product line won’t be much affected, a lot of GM’s best cars and especially some of the Buicks and Cadillacs have Opel roots.

Then while waiting for that news to distill, GM’s telecom vendor AT&T drops the price of UNLIMITED data via OnStar to $20 a month! I’ve shopped the recent unlimited wireless price war and found AT&T wanting, best they’re offering me with union discount is $85 a month but no “tethering” with the cell phone as a “hotspot”. I ended up switching to T-Mobile and will be saving around a hundred bucks a month with my heavy usage, but the thought of living in a new 50+ MPG Cruze diesel with all you can eat data for $20 a month on top of it sounds irresistible.  And as a concerned Ford stockholder, $20 a month mobile communications could steal a lot of our sales…

But there had to be a dark side to this deal… GM would love to know where there cars are and whether you’re overloading or overspeeding or overdoing something or other with them, but that can’t be worth that deep data discount. Then I shopped AT&T’s site, wondering if any similar deal was available for Fords, etc.. Turns out that AT&T has a cell modem that fits other brands too, but no $20 a month deals. But the “hotspot” plugs not into the “cigarette lighter” plug, but the OBD plug! These hotspots are just dumbed down cellphones and about the only connection they need is 5 volts DC at a few milliamps for power. So why risk wrecking that expensive and legally mandated OBD plug that was never designed to have things hanging from it for long? Sure, maybe a few fleets want that data to track vehicles and drivers, but most mobile hotspot sales ain’t to fleets. But somebody must be willing to forego a lot of revenue for all that data and control… Hacking of GM and FCA vehicles via wireless has already been demonstrated.

Then the new Secretary of Transportation answered my question, or at least provided more queries. Unlike most of Trump’s picks, Elaine Chao was actually confirmed without much drama because she’s an old school republican and a straight shooter. And shoot off she did, ‘fessin’ up that Trump and the GOP’s infrastructure plan was pretty much privatization, which means toll roads. And how do you collect tolls with no toll booths on 99% of our highways? A little dumbed down cell phone with government mandated GPS that lives at the end of your OBD plug! It’s startin’ to make sense…

On a brighter note, after GM ‘fessed up that they can’t compete in Europe, Ford announced that the Mustang is outselling the Porsche 911 in Germany, and they have no plans to leave the world market!

 

 

dsc_5668Mostway through February, and the Naples boosters have yet to make their usual breathless announcement of how great January’s tourism biz was. Given that December 2016 was a let down from previous Decembers, I think this means that January was really slow, and they’re hoping for a better februrary or the rest of the year so things average out and then they can announce breathless record tourist biz for the winter season or year or some time or other announcement.

Half of Florida tourism’s problem is exhibited above… The lake is at 42 degrees north in Minnesota and the temp is just north of 60 degrees, and what remains of that ice may not be long for the world. We’ve already had ice out on some of the ponds, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see ice out on a shallow lake or three tomorrow. Kinda blows the incentive to travel to Florida… But talk of global warming is pretty much forbidden amongst the Florida tourism boosters, so they’ll have to come up with more “creative” explanations for the sagging tourism numbers.

Florida tourism’s other problem is equally unmentionable… No PR flack employed by the boosters of one of America’s reddist counties is going to admit that the spectre of a President Trump is scaring off foreign tourists. But the analytics don’t lie (though some of the analysts do), and web searches from several foreign countries on Florida tourist websites are down by double digit percentages. No surprise that I heard fewer foreign language conversations and even English english in Florida this winter, and traffic seemed a bit less but still too slow. Heck, even the Canadians seemed to disappear for a few days around the inauguration. And if the Brits and even Canadians and tourists from a bunch of other countries not on Trump’s list of “Moslem” countries are staying away, I doubt many wealthy Arabs will grace us with their presence and tourist dollars either.

But Florida tourism boosters, don’t give up hope yet…

Winter storm watch for hereabouts on thursday and friday. So I might come back for a few weeks and spend a few bucks at Micky D’s supper clubs and I can’t make it to Naples and back without buying a least a tankful of Florida taxed fuel. So ya, I might drop a whole $20 to the state of Florida in taxes on my next visit.

But I’ll try to drop more in the donation jar at the next Florida Airhead Tech Day… Worth every cent!

Since the first of the year we’ve been hit with news that Mack’s Titan heavy hauler, EBR’s sport bikes, and Victory’s cruisers were being discontinued. Volvo’s sacrifice of the Mack Titan was seen as yet another cut into the heart of the Bulldog, until Volvo sacrificed their own VTX heavy hauler, further swelling the body count. EBR’s current owners looked to be just assembling a few bikes from parts so no big deal, except they announced the factory’s tooling and machinery would be up for sale. Given that Polaris’ Indian brand has Harley on the run in a shrinking market, it may not have made sense to keep building in house competitor Victory. OK, almost makes sense.

Then the real felony level assault came on the 20th, with failed businessman and reality TV show host Trump exploiting a legacy vulnerability in the constitution to become president, despite having lost the election. Trump’s reality TV show moved to a new set in the White House, and kicked off their season with a flurry of orders, none well thought out. Amongst these edicts was one ordering the building of a wall along the Mexican border, billed to Mexico. Mexico promptly refused the charge, forcing Trump to substitute a 20% surcharge on Mexican imports to the U.S., charged to the importing company and of course passed on to the consumer. Trump has been whining about imports from China, Europe, and even Canada as well as Mexico, and threatening even higher tariffs in the 35% to 45% range.

Now a president has the power to create “emergency” tariffs all by himself, and “emergency” is not well defined. So we can full well expect some tariffs, and it isn’t just Trump that’s been afflicted by this epidemic of tariff fever- Republican congress members have been throwing around the 20% number too. Twenty percent… “That ain’t much, I’ll just buy American”, you say. If only it were so- The highest domestic content on any new car or light truck is around 80%, which means Trump and his GOP chorus get to add 4% to the price of your “Made in America” car or truck. That’s another thousand or three dollars price increase. Looking at a new GM or Fiat Chrysler pickup? There only around 50% domestic content, at a 20% duty figure on a $3k to $7k price increase. Looking for a new VW Golf or Jetta to replace your TDI? Zilch domestic content, so figure on a $5k price increase, guess we’ll keep our dirty diesels instead. Are you an environmentalist, looking at a hybrid or electric? Almost all of them have near zero domestic content, thus adding thousands in tariffs that could eat up any electric/plug in hybrid tax credits.

It gets worse… American made motorcycles are pretty much cruisers, forcing the other half of us riders to buy imports. When Trump and his GOP add 20% to the price of a BMW or Gold Wing or metric cruiser, silent factories that once built  EBRs and Victories could be busy again. Same in the truck biz, where market leader Daimler and International too are building a lot of their trucks in Mexico. Volvo builds engines and transmissions here, and assembles most all their trucks for the American market here too… That might come in handy.

But I’m just engaging in wistful thinkin’, in reality even a 20% duty on imports would be a disaster. Australia, Brazil, and a few other South American countries tried that… And were stuck with Falcons for half a century and aircooled VW engined motorcycles. For the U.S., 20% tariffs would force carmakers to discontinue economy models that working families rely on, restricted options on everything else, and wholesale layoffs through the whole automotive, truck, and motorcycle biz as sales drop in response to tariff driven price increases.

And that most American of motoring icons, Harley-Davidson? Maybe bankruptcy liquidation…

 

 

“Drivers Wanted” has been replaced by “Drivers Wandering Away” at VW USA. As reported to the court supervising the TDI buyback and “fix”, about 10,000 drivers a week are turning in their TDIs at VW dealerships. That’s about 40,000 a month, and VW can only wish they could sell that many cars a month these days. VW’s U.S. sales for 2016 were a hair over 322,000, picking up only slightly in December. December was also the month where the TDI buyback finally got going after initiating the week of thanksgiving. Drilling down in the data, around 40,000 TDIs were returned in december and VW’s sales went up by a paltry 6,000 odd cars. If we assumed those 6,000 sales were to the newly ex-TDI drivers, which I wouldn’t by and of itself, that’s a 15% owner loyalty rate. But given that an online VW forum survey found that only 15% of TDI owners would stick with VW and the december increases tended to be of models like the Golfs popular with TDI owners, that 15% may be close to the real loyalty rate.

Meanwhile Ford, GM, and Toyota sold around three million cars each, and about tow thirds of them to repeat buyers. That meant that two thirds of their sales were “in the bag”, repeat buyers who only needed to be treated decently and reminded of the new models occasionally. Thus while enjoying the revenue from 3 million or so sales a year, they only had to spend money to bring in a million or so new customers a year. Used to be like that for VW with the TDI buyers, an reliable army that consumed a hundred thousand TDIs a year with little need for advertising or rebates.

For VW, the situation is grave… The most loyal chunk of their customer base will have dropped off their TDIs and picked up their buyback checks at VW dealers in a mere year or so, and a mere 15% or so will spend those checks on another VW. No surprise, a lot of us TDI drivers would have stuck with VW even after the TDI scandal, but throw in VW’s dropping Consumer Reports reliability scores and indifferent dealers, and we’ve had it. Before the TDI scandal, VW talked of a reaching a million U.S. sales a year. That’s about the number of new sales Ford, GM, and Toyota have to make here every year, and they’ve got 10 times the volume to afford the advertising and incentives to do it. VW USA? The death spiral may only be just beginning…

Today our new unelected president was sworn in, rather boring event. I was more interested in his inauguration speech, and Trump went full nationalist. Hitler and Mussolini would have been proud, and both managed to leave their country’s industry, auto and otherwise, in ruins. In the worst tradition of those fascist dictators Trump promised “America First”, with “Hire American” and “Buy American” policies. I’ll put aside the “Hire American” threat for now, suffice to say with our ‘Merican economy at full employment, we’ll need some new americans to hire if Trump’s Tariffs actually work.

Trump has been ranting threats of 35% tariffs for months against Mexican, German, and now even Canadian built cars. Yet the automakers haven’t announced a single new American auto plant as a result. For good reason- An auto plant is a multi-billion dollar investment that will take at least a presidential term to build and bring online, and decades to pay off. And while you’d think the companies with the most plants and production capacity here would welcome Trump’s offer to disadvantage their more foreign made competitors, none have welcomed Trump’s tariffs.

Why?

Well for a start, there’s no such thing as an “American” car, or even truck. Ford is building pickups in Kansas City and Kentucky with engines made in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S.. Same with hundreds and even thousands of other parts. GM and FIAT-Chrysler build many of their pickups in Mexico with engines from the U.S.. I’m currently in the market for a new vehicle and choosing between the Ford Fusion built in Mexico, the Escape built in Michigan, and the Transit Connect built in Spain… And depending which model and drivetrain I choose, those parts make come from Great Britain, Spain, or the U.S.. The automakers decisions of what to build where are driven by economics- It costs a billion dollars or more to develop and tool up for a new model, and they need a volume of 200,000 units a year to make a popular priced vehicle profitably. Thus Ford builds models that sell in low volumes here like the Transit Connect in Spain where the added volume of the Euro market makes it profitable, while building high volume models like the big Transit and F150 in the U.S.. The Fiesta, probably Ford’s lowest margin car, is built in Mexico while the the slightly more profitable Focus is built in Michigan. Conversely, the pickups are largely a North American market only product, with the exception of small but profitable export markets like the mideast oil producing countries, while an older model Super Duty is produced in Brazil in response to tariffs there. GM, FIAT-Chrysler, Toyota etc. follow similar strategies.

So despite most of our auto plants here running at capacity, Trump turns loose his threatened 35% tariffs. BMW, Mercedes, and the other luxury brands privately laugh, using the tariffs as an excuse to further inflate prices and profits on cars that in some cases are already built here anyways. Ford, for example, is in a pickle though- Without a huge profit margin, they’ll have to increase prices on U.S. built vehicles to cover the tariffs on imported parts going into those vehicles. Sales on the U.S. built pickups, Transit, Focus, Taurus, and SUVs fall. Once prices rise to cover Trump’s 35% tariffs, not enough low volume models like the Transit Connect sell to be worth the bother, and a Mexican built Fiesta costs more than a bigger Focus. Ford drops the Fiesta from the U.S. lineup and maybe the Focus too, and imported powertrain options like the PowerStroke diesel are dropped after 35% tariffs make them unmarketable. The more profitable Bronco and Ranger that were going to keep autoworkers employed in Michigan are cancelled because they require a lot of imported parts that are too low volume to build here, and with Focus sales falling Ford is forced to close that very same Michigan plant he made such a fuss about “saving”. Same at GM, FIAT-Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, etc… prices rise as imported content is hit by Trump’s tariffs, sales drop, and plants are closed.

The process is repeated in most every industry like construction equipment, machinery, aircraft, etc. that the U.S. is still competitive in thanks to international parts sourcing. And that’s just the first order consequences of Trump’s tariffs… Next we’ll see retaliatory tariffs destroy family farming in a way we haven’t seen since the depression. But I’ll save that discussion for a future post…

 

dsc_5558I’ve made something of a career of postmortems of rallies that didn’t go well, especially BMWMOA’s. But the North East Florida BMW riders have made my job near impossible… I can’t find much to complain about. Sure, the traffic between south and north Florida makes for a long grueling day of riding through the 700 mile long suburb better known as Florida. The winter rally makes up for it by letting us arrive thursday, so we miss none of the friday events and get two full days in GearHead heaven before we face Florida traffic again. This is the Winter Rally, and even in north Florida it can get below freezing. Not to worry, highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s. The site is a military base in the middle of nowhere, but the club provides ample sustenance, supplemented by a couple on base restaurants and a well stocked PX, just in case you lost some required uniform bits on leave. The campgrounds are huge, or join the club and get cheap “billeting” on base. The only down side I see is that unless your active duty or a vet, you have to leave when the rally ends on sunday…

dsc_5564

‘Course, every self respecting BMW rally has an airhead encampment, and we did the Winter Rally proud. My hack’d R65LS needed but a sip of oil, but the electricals of the bike on the left allowed some essential electrons to turn to smoke, and we made repairs at least as good as the already disreputable wiring harness. Got the bike running, and haven’t heard of it breaking down on the way home to Tampa. Oh, and see that substantial woodpile behind the Prius? The airheads also build an impressive bonfire as well as keep the campers cafinated via the airhead cafe’ under the canopy.

So BMW  clubs and especially the MOA, kindly follow the Northeast Florida Club’s example and put on a great rally!