They’ve been on a wild ride at Ford lately, sorta like when your teenage kid tries to come up with a clever story to explain the fresh dent and engine knock in the family car after you let them solo with it. First version of the story was that Ford was diving deep into electrification and autonomous cars to get a head start on the future. What actually happened was that Ford added diesel options for the F150 and Transit Connect and dropped the Focus electric and C-Max hybrids, then paid way too much for an abandoned train station and other dilapidated real estate in Detroit. This failed to provide the desired jump in stock value to benefit the close to retirement Ford execs with stock options, and in fact the stock has been on a slow slide downward.

So Ford top management decided that what the world really wanted was hatchbacks on tippy toes called SUVs and kicked the Focus outa their U.S. lineup and put the Fiesta and Fusion on notice… Despite the fact that buyers with late 20s median ages and six figure median incomes lined up and laid down deposits to buy every $40k Focus RS they could build. And with Ford finances hemorrhaging to pay for development of all these electric and autonomous vehicles that not much of anyone seems interested in buying, Wall Street got worried, so after buying up all that future office space Ford announces layoffs of thousands of white collar workers.

But despite top management inattention, Ford’s business of actually building vehicles has been going pretty well- Ford has best in class vehicles in many segments like pickups and full size vans and it’s new world market F-Max heavy tractor just won the International Truck of the Year Award. Ford never much mentioned these accomplishments and the F-Max is darn near a corporate secret here in North America, so the stock slide continued.

When all else fails, blame the ad agency… So Ford brought in a new agency and gave the old one a consolation prize. New agency has to do something “impressive”, so this weekend they’ll debut the new “Ford Proud” ad campaign. But in the last few days the “collaboration” being discussed between Ford and VW Group was rumored to be something more, like a merger. Unlike a lot of mergers a lot of the press thought this marriage made sense, but Ford promptly walked the merger rumor back. Here was chance to merge two great automotive and institutional traditions with complementary strengths… But Ford was too “Ford Proud” to even consider it.

 

 

 

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‘Case you’ve been wondering what I been up to…

Been blogging since 2012 on auto, motorcycle, and logistics issues over at my Gearhead Grrrl blog. Cut my teach in political writing over at the old democrats.com then moved over to Kos for the Dean campaign and have been their ever since. Used to make the “rec page” regularly, but by 2016 the Bernie and Hillary camps and who knows how many troll farms and their ‘bots had hacked the system, and my upgrades to the “rec list” became rare. Since then us indy bloggers have Kos’ own growing staff of writers to compete with too. ‘Bout a year ago I started cranking out a monthly “Outreach Officers Report” about rural democrat’s issues, which succeeded in riling up some big city Democrats despite being appreciated by a few readers. Kicked outa the MN DFL party for supporting the candidate who ultimately got the most votes in the primary my writing was censored. ‘Bout that time I also figured out that I could accomplish more to elect democrats and move the country in a progressive direction from outside the democratic party than within, so I decided not to run for re-election as a party official and start this “Sassy Democrat” blog to bring my “wisdom” to a wider audience.

I had visions of invigorating coverage of the midterms followed by chasing the presidential candidates ’round Iowa and down the campaign trail to the conventions. But the reality has been different- Despite rare new content the “Gearhead Grrrl” blog usually gets more views than “Sassy Democrat”. My political writing ain’t the only one starving for lack of views- Other day a professional writer for a political blog noted the consolidation in the online news industry was about to put him out of a job. He partly blamed Facebook for this, with viral spread of their stories squelched amid Facebook’s crackdown on politics. Even political advertisers seem no longer welcome at Facebook- A friend, definitely a real live human and not a ‘bot, is having difficulty convincing Facebook that she’s a real advertiser with money to spend.

No surprise… I suspect Facebook and other social media at least tolerated politics to attract eyeballs, but now that online ads are passing TV ad spending Facebook can be choosy. And while political ad spending is outa control it”s still only about a percent or three of total ad spending every other year… Facebook can bring in more reliable revenue from car ads with less hassle than dealing with political campaigns. And I have to admit the consumers of my gearhead writings are a better audience… They can understand and appreciate a reasoned and logical discussion, while a political article usually dies if it doesn’t have the issue de jour like Kavanaugh has been for the past weeks in the title.

So with the current level of disinterest I’ll probably let this political blog die after the election and return to writing about old motorcycles and whether anyone is actually in charge at Ford these days. But then again, you readers might change my mind…

While there was no advertised airhead presence at the recent BMWMOA national rally in Des Moines, apparently a group of local airheads didn’t get the memo and put together a pretty decent “airhead central” anyways. And as usual, they outdid the MOA, attracting some of the bands to after performance jams and inventing some new “rally games” with an airhead twist. Seems the airheads found some rolling office chairs and there was a convenient paved downhill available and “racing” ensued. Always concerned about safety, the airheads noted a dangerous curb and protected the riders from it with some “borrowed” folding tables laid on their side. This must have miffed MOA even more, so they dispatched a rent-a-cop to shut the fun down. Said rent-a-cop was later seen joining the fun. Further miffed, MOA shut “airhead central” down for the final night of the rally. MOA, given the rate you’re losing members, maybe you’d better cut the airheads a little slack…

For some time I’ve been dreamin’ of an upmarket high performance car… On my more reasonable days it the ultimate hot hatch Golf R mit darn near 300 turboed HP driving all four wheels. Good for 13 second quarter miles, 1 G cornering, and still managing 20s MPG and the hatch will swallow as much as any Golf. On my less reasonable days it’s the Golf’s platform cousin the Audi RS3, a Golf in sedan drag with another cylinder dropping the quarter mile times to around 12 flat and the MPGs down a few too. On my really crazy days I covet a Porsche 918, their mid engined like a Porsche should be price leader, a bit faster than the Golf R but my hack’d Yamaha is more suited to Costco runs.

Now when I was a poor working stiff I simply settled for a new Golf TDI every decade or so and made do. These days I look at my stock holdings with the market peaking at the end of an overextended rise and wonder “why not”? Then Trump makes an auto trade deal with the lame duck president of Mexico while threatening hefty tariffs on European made cars. I hear talk of a 25% tariff, and that’s $10k atop the Golf R’s already hefty (in my cheapskate eyes) $40k price. So if you’re cravin’ a Euro sports car or sedan, might wanna make your move soon.

Tried to get started on the hack’d Yamaha’s 48k mile service this morning and got waylayed by various writing assignments ’til noon. After my usual leisurely lengthy lunch fortunately the service went quickly, and by late afternoon I was writing again for my political blog, Sassy Democrat. It gets worse- The local USDA Rural Development office tells me I’m the only person to make it through the USDA’s new online grant application writing process… Which means I’ll probably be writing a whole bunch of applications for other small towns. Here I could be happy in my shop rebuilding old bikes and two decade old Ford Rangers, but instead I gotta suffer here in my easy chair in a climate controlled living room within reach of the fridge. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it…

The BMWMOA rally bombed again- Official attendance was 4000 odd souls, which means after deducting the thousand plus unissued and comp’d free tickets the real attendance was 3000 or so. Climate change can take some credit, as the triple digit heat indexes also dropped attendance at the Iowa Guzzi Rally 100+ miles north and a couple degrees cooler. A few days later climate change cancelled a Corvette gathering in Sioux Falls too.

But that’s just the beginning of what ails motorcycling… Let’s dig in the data a bit. Governments gather all kinds of obscure data, and democracies even make that data public. Thus our Census and Labor Department have been asking citizens what they do with their time, especially in the area of when we work for a few decades now. Just scratching the surface of that deep vein of data reveals that a third of us are working on peak rally days AKA weekends. That’s up from a quarter working weekends as recently as 15 years ago and probably even more from the heyday of motorcycle rallies in the 70s and 80s when their was no Home Depot and the lumberyard closed at noon saturday. Focus on the stats for the young riders motorcycling needs and they’re even more likely to be stuck working weekends.

It gets worse… It’s common knowledge that today’s young folks don’t make as much money as us seniors did in the 50s through the 70s. I took my data mining pick and shovel over to another vein in the Labor Department’s rich range of data and scraped up a few gems… Young folks today are spending about 5% less of their total income on transportation than we seniors did a few decades ago. So where did that 5% of their income go? Well, they’re spending 4% more of their income on education than we did a few decades ago!

While BMW will survive on the spending power of their well heeled car buyers, the motorcycle biz is suffering here with heavily discounted bikes lingering on showroom floors for years. And while the Iowa Guzzi Rally will do just fine thanks to the support of the volunteers and the good folks of Elkader, BMWMOA has gotten used to having it’s rallies in mega fairgrounds where a long weekend’s rent runs into six figures. With only 3000 or so paid admissions and many of them at early bird rates of $45 or so, there’s barely enough ticket revenue to cover the overhead. Another major revenue source, vendor fees that often run in the thousands for a decent indoor booth, will dry up as vendors figure out that 3000 or so mostly retired cheapskates ain’t worth it. BMWMOA, your about to go down the fiscal drain…

The solutions? Regional rallies spread around the country that hang around for a whole week. Less than ten buck a day admission with camping included. Free rider training with cheap “try before you buy” rentals. And instead of a throwaway beginner bike, a versatile and adaptable bike that will last a lifetime for under $10,000!

Fat chance any of that will happen. Motorcycling, please prove me wrong…

Good thing I went to the Iowa Guzzi Rally in shady Elkader instead of the MOA National Rally, we’ve a “mere” 94 degree heat index instead of the 101 the MOA fanboys are suffering under in DesMoine’s concrete and asphalt fairgrounds. A couple hours east on the unforgiving asphalt of the Worlds Largest Truckstop’s annual show in Walcott down I-80 the air temperature heat index is 103, and you can probably fry just about anything on that asphalt if such seasoning is to your liking.

So a lot of us Guzzi lovers and tolerators are hanging out in the library, various eateries, and Cabelas just up the road. And despite the MOA Rally’s shrinking patronage, I suspect the air conditioned exhibit halls are crowded as bored Beemer fans drool over the farkles they already have three of. I’ve been to the Walcott truck show on days like this, and was damn near deserted, but for the paid staffers… Learned my lesson and I’m not in that sauna today!

With new high temperature records set daily and fairgrounds flooding seems like everywhere, looks like the only safe place left to hold a summer gearhead event is next to Lake Superior, and hope the winds stay out of the north.

Which reminds me of my late gearhead friend Stephanie Smith and her response when I mentioned riding somewhere… Why? Once she discovered 40+ MPG diesel cars with heat and AC, in her logical mind motorcycling didn’t make sense anymore. That said, she did have the hots for a big block Guzzi, but sadly passed before she could add one to her collection of cars, trucks, and even railroad machinery.

Got a point there… Down in south Florida where 100+ degree heat indexes occupy most of the summer days, many riders put on more miles in the winter than the summer. Being of Medicare age like many of us and having a heat aggravated  malady (MS), I don’t ride or work when the heat indexes climb into the triple digits. You can’t argue with the brutal thermodynamics… When the heat index rises over body temperature, the wind don’t cool you, only makes matters worse.

So after barely being able to stagger around after yesterday’s “heat soak”, I cooled off overnight and walked to the library and then lunch. Got brave when the heat peaked slower then expected and headed back to the campground, then retreated back to the library. There’s a storm predicted for later, wonder if I should hang here at the library or trust the campground’s storm shelter…

“Critical Mass” is when you get enough people together that the world starts taking notice and tries to cater too if not eliminate you. Given the falling attendance at this year’s grassroots moto events, I fear we may be sliding into that abyss.

First up, the now one day Naples tech day was down to 20 at best attendance and only a day’s duration. The Florida winter rally met it’s 500 attendance limit per usual, but as about the only rally left in a state of 20 million plus a few million more “snowbirds”, not much of a challenge. In a my Buffalo Ridge back yard the annual “Off Road Poker Run” was delayed due to a snow covered course and then forgotten. But the “Best Rally by Dam Site” was back to about 20 campers and even survived a ride leader who tried to keep everyone to an iron butt schedule to reach what turned out to be an abandoned restaurant down a muddy cratered dirt road on time for lunch.

Then the Bonzai Run got cancelled, though the host hotel’s inhospitably can take part of the blame. Last weekend I had no parades on the schedule and thus made my as regular as possible pilgrimage to the Iowa BMW Rally. The club put on a great event for around a mere 150 attendees, leaving one to wonder how close they’re to the break even point financially. And while I expected heavy promotion of the BMWMOA rally in Des Moines next month, it was barely mentioned. Many riders I quired aren’t going due to the $65 for next to nothing cost, and the Iowa Guzzi rally the same weekend is a far better deal.

Now one would think that a weekend of riding, camping, too much food, and comradship with fellow gearheads would be irresistible for the two wheeled masses. But motorcycle rallies seem to be down to a small core of enthusiastic riders and the guys in pickups who just came for the party. Rare exceptions are the kid who rode a Grom to the Land of Oz rally a couple years back and had a great time.

Maybe we need to listen to the kids on the Groms and scooters and bikes they dragged out of the shed and brought back to life. While British sports cars dominated Sports Car Club of America events in the 50s, fortunately they didn’t name them selves the BCCA and now their membership is growing, despite refusing to accommodate the burgeoning hordes of SUVs and trucks. BMWMOA, maybe you need to lose the “BMW” and the “tude” too!

Half a century ago, ’bout this time every spring, you could hear them sing… High pitched Honda singles. Laughing two strokes. And the occasional baritone Trumpet, BSA twin, Norton, an old man on a /2, or a just plain old and outa rhythm Harley.  Like bird spotters we learned to tell a Yamaha from a Suzuki from a block away, and as soon as we saved up the money and conned mom or dad into signing we proudly rode our Japanese solo cylinder twiddlers. As soon as our savings would allow we traded up to polyphonic twins, triples, fours, and even the lusty and rare six.

Then most of us grew up, started families, and our savings went into houses and other utilitarian needs. The 80s recession didn’t help either, and while the song of motorcycles never went silent, a lot of motorcycles quietly sat stacked floor to ceiling in warehouses. Harley flirted with bankruptcy, Ford gave Yamaha a lifeline to keep their source for a high performance engine alive, and the all powerful Japanese banks told Bridgestone to stick to tires.

Then the kids grew up and we started to doubt our virility, and like old bucks in rut crashing into each others horns and “coyotes” that were probably aged beyond reproducing anyway we needed to at least nurture fantasies otherwise. For a decade around the turn of the millennia the loud bass of the Harley drowned out near all else on two or increasingly three wheels.Then our knees got weak and our home equities crashed and the boom was over.

In an environment of adequate resources the biggest animals dominate and squeeze out the smaller… Thus Harley sucked up most of the motorcyclist’s dollars. Now with resources like new riders and and surplus income in short supply, the smaller creatures should have the evolutionary advantage. But Harley, having adopted Buell and birthed first the V-Rod and modern 500/750 twins have eaten their own Buell and V-Rod and banished the 500/750 to India with the closure of their Kansas City hog farm.

With much of the world’s population migrating to places with year round riding weather, scarce parking, and inadequate wages to support cars the environment is right for small affordable two and three wheelers. Unfortunately most of the the makers of the world’s motorcycles are still waiting for the market for literbikes and bigger to recover to figure that out.

Extinction is forever… Somebody in the motorcycle business, please channel Soichiro…