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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…

 

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Um, never mind…

Hoping to enjoy Tesla’s unjustifiably lofty stock prices, for the last couple years Ford and just about every other auto manufacturer has been trying to channel Tesla with promises of soon to appear fleets of electric cars that would even drive themselves. The stock market didn’t budge.

Then GM quietly delivered on quiet promises to bring diesel powered versions of the Cruze compact sedan and even a compact crossover to market to complement the diesel midsize pickups. Heck, the Canyon/Colorado’s 4 cylinder diesel even found it way into the leftover from the last millennia full size vans. Topping that, they announced a 3 liter 6 cylinder diesel for the upcoming full size half ton pickup. Meanwhile, Volt sales have been dropping and the only thing keeping the all electric Volt assembly line barely moving is Tesla’s pretty much failure to supply their competing Model 3.

Eyeing these developments in the “Ren Cen” from their “glass tower” digs in Dearborn, Ford top management de jour was no doubt concerned. Ford stock neither taking flight nor crashing, they rolled in a new CEO who promised even more progress toward the holy grail of electrification and autonomy. Then they made major ripples by quietly announcing a diesel powered upgrade to the Transit Connect van at the Chicago Auto Show and Ford repeated that announcement with the panel van version at the Work Truck Show, and little else.

Again, Ford stock failed to fly from it’s undervalued slumber.

So looks like they anointed a committee to come up with a new plan, and today they presented it. And like any good committee, they came up with a plan to do everything: Hybrids available with everything, even more hybrids than Toyota. Electrification too, even an exclusive platform for electric pod cars or whatever. Same with automatic emergency braking, and future Fords will probably even stop and back up to pick up lost  pacifiers too.

But the key here is the platforms, or shortage of same. Now for a long while I’ve felt Ford had too many platforms, but this is going a bit far, here are the surviving platforms:

Front Wheel Drive Unibody: Yup, there will be just one FWD platform to carry the Fiesta/EcoSport, Focus, Fusion/Escape, Taurus/Explorer, Transit Connect, C-Max, and a few more I forgot too. Methinks this will be a bit of a stretch…

Rear Wheel Drive Unibody: Did I mention Ford says they’re going to reduce costs too? Good luck with that! The AU Falcon having been recently “laid down”, looks like the Mustang platform will be around for another half century, should be humorous to see them try to morph the Mustang into a sedan…

Van Unibody: At least the Transit, after Ford taking a half century to sponsor their green card to make it to America, ain’t gonna get trashed.

Body on Frame: The fugitive from the last millennia hack’d off Econolines get a stay of execution, and of course the F series has eternal life. But after finally making it home after a near decade’s exile abroad, looks like the Ranger and BOF Bronco/Everest will only be around ’til the next generation. Yup, the Ford PR machine is getting all fired up to launch the Ranger and Bronco  and they’ve already been End of Lifed… Maybe that explains the disappearance of the promised Ranger diesel.

Battery Electric Vehicles: Batteries make lousy structural members, this should be amusing. And given that it’s taken years for market leaders GM and Tesla to even approach 200,000 plug in cars, a massive wasted investment.

The market almost reacted, with Ford stock rising a whole 2% in the minutes after the announcement was made, then dropping at close to about where it began the day. Maybe the stock market ain’t that dumb- Ford just forgot that half their sales are in markets that would choke on an F150 and announced that 90% of their American sales would be trucks and SUVs. For our friends around the world that buy Fiestas and Focuses, Ford forgot you and thinks you’ll accept either an overweight Fiesta or an overloaded Explorer, cause they’ll both be built from the same underbody bits. And for the big truck lovers that were hoping that Ford would re-enter the big rig market, Ford promises collision avoidance on their “top o’ the line” F750 but forget about tandem axles or 10+ liter engines. Ford’s big truck specialists, the Koc family in Turkey, might want to start looking for a new partner after the better part of a century with Ford…

And me? My ride with Ford is over, guess it’s time to dump my half a Fiesta’s worth of Ford stock and forget about the orphaned before arrival new Ranger…

Couple years back I featured the uTube video Ford Trucks did for International Women’s Day. Ford Trucks is in fact headquartered in Turkey and working with local partners the Koc family they engineer Ford’s world market big trucks, and do a damn good job of it. Couple years back they produced a stereotype blowing video of a Moslem woman farmer driving her load of produce to market… But recent International Women’s Day celebrations in Turkey have been met with police repression and religious fundamentalists threaten Turkey’s government, Ford, and it’s values of equality. So not surprisingly, that outstanding video disappeared from uTube.

But a similar video is back, it’s not the same but appears to use some of the cuts. Here’s the link.

On New Years Day 1968 automotive evolution changed forever, some say it was more the beginning of devolution. On that day a short list of U.S. federal safety and emissions standards took effect, and auto engineering shifted from engineers to politicians and bureaucrats. It’s been a mixed bag of regulations since- While engines are both cleaner and make more power than ever, cars have become aerodynamic battering rams to meet crash test requirements. All but gone is the crispness and responsiveness of unassisted steering and brakes. Instead of the simple protection of shoulder harnesses and disc brakes, we’ve been overwhelmed by a horde of “safety” systems trying to second guess us in a quest to save us from ourselves.

The devolution was slow… 1968 saw the Mini’s green card pulled and a lot of high performance options disappeared. Within a few years battering ram bumpers ruined the handling and looks of most every car, while once mighty engines wheezed and coughed under smog controls. Within a decade automotive stars like the Lotus Europa and bit players like the Saab 96 and Spitfire went dark. The once mighty Corvettes and Mustangs slowly soldiered on while muscle cars became caricatures of themselves if available at all. By the 80s performance was such a “bad word” that GM tried to sell the mid engine Fiero sports car as an “economy car”, and Corvettes of that era are considered pretty much expendable.

Today you can buy a 21st century muscle cars like the Ford Focus RS or VW Golf R that will run rings around most any 60s muscle car. A plethora of 60s muscle and pony cars could be had new for $3000 or less, barely a few hundred bucks more than the price of a stripped sedan with a 6 and 3 on the tree… Today, that Focus RS or Golf R is over twice the price of a base model equivalent.

And they call that progress?

“bout motorcycles that scare you, cars you covet, trucks and bicycles and horses too!

Been darn near half a year since my last post. Yeah, I been writin’- Bout politics and water system grants and other boring stuff. Heck, I now even have a USDA security clearance, despite my extensive misdemeanor criminal record. Meanwhile my state has become a national scale political war zone, with not one but two U.S. Senate elections plus a governors race in 2018… Looks like I better write while I can!

Then again, I haven’t had a lot to write about lately- The hack’d Super Tenere uneventfully passed the 40k mile mark, the airhead GS soldiers on, and the Guzzi still suffers from “fuel infection” maladies. Even put the F800S’s charging system back together and put a hundred plus miles on it. In the 4 wheeler fleet, the new TDI made it’s first Florida trip and will be heading back tomorrow. The ’03 TDI just passed 140k, though now sporting a yellow “check engine light” to keep bugging me ’bout a failed glow plug that’s seized in the head. Not being in any rush to see the underside of the head, I’ll hopefully put off that repair ’til the 200k mile timing belt change. In the meantime, It’s waiting for Michelin to deliver the last of 4 winter tires ordered on Cyber Monday over 2 weeks ago!

Apple ain’t doing much better, after screwing up my first order then rushing the replacement order I had sent to the Naples Apple Store. Given our global warming induced long fall here, were it not for the inducement of the new Apple laptop I might not make it to Florida ’til January, maybe.

So tomorrow I’m off to Florida’s winter gearhead get togethers!

It’s all down the road from here…

DSC_5793Heading the “Hopeless Class”, we have this Harley big twin with Liberty ‘hack. Surprisingly stock with nary a single GPS to distract the three member family team. I’m no lover of Harleys, but I’m cheering for these folks- Trying to do a thousand miles a day at a cruise speed of maybe 65 MPH deserves our support! Unfortunately they missed a big bonus the first day and lost a buncha points.

DSC_5809Providing high speed mosquito control is this honest to goodness Suzuki GT750 2 stroke triple. Well prepared with a 2 stroke oil tank built into the auxiliary fuel tank!

DSC_5812If ya can’t afford a new ‘Wing… Drag a four decade old one outa the barn and rebuild it! Note the bash plate under the engine and cooling system for the rider, amongst many other clever touches.

DSC_5815Most of the other hundred odd riders spent $20k to $30k and more on BMWs, Gold Wings, and even Harleys and more on farkles, and this guy shows up again on a decade+ old 250 Ninja with 100K+ miles on the clock! No aux fuel tank because it gets 70 MPG, cheapo Chase Harper bags and nary a farkle, and he’ll probably rub it in by winning finisher status again just like he did in 2015!

DSC_5832Hittin’ the road! This was the start of the 11 day rally just outside Minneapolis monday morning, tonight their due at the first checkpoint near Dallas. Then they’ve got eight more days of this insanity…

Six weeks ago, in the shadow of largely “paper companies” like Tesla, real automaker Ford held it’s first attempt at a “virtual” annual meeting as Ford stock hovered at $11 and a couple pennies a share. Said “virtual” meeting was rather “buggy” amidst further announcements of Ford forays into ride sharing, autonomous vehicles, and all that other vaporware that plays well with hipster investors. Ford stock budged about two bits in the wrong direction.

“When in doubt, fire the figurehead CEO”… Which is exactly what Ford did about 10 days later. By then the stock was recovering past $11 again and in the euphoria of the firing made it all the way to $11 and a dime before sinking again.

Then Ford did the unthinkable at LeMans- 2nd place! Following the script from the “Total Performance” Era of the 60s Ford is supposed to enter 4 cars at LeMans and most likely finish 1-2-3, barring a bit of luck inserting a Ferrari or other interposer in that order. Granted, the Fords ran consistently like a fleet of Super Duties on a tight delivery schedule, but not fast enough… Aston Martin beat Ford and a only a late race mishap kept a rival ‘Vette from pushing the fastest Ford GT into 3rd place. And even with the “Vette waylayed, Ford was denied 3rd spot on the podium by a Porsche 911RSR. To make the defeat even more painful, the winning Aston Martin has an engine built in Ford’s Cologne plant, and there’s likely more Ford DNA in the winning Aston Martin from when Ford owned the company a few years back. Sorta like getting beat by your ex, whose racing is being funded by the divorce settlement…

It gets worse… In a rare moment of lucidity, Ford media dropped a little factoid that the buyers of high performance variants of the Fiesta and Focus have higher incomes and are younger than SUV buyers. So a couple weeks later, Ford up and decides to move North American market Focus production which is getting evicted from Michigan Assembly to Mexico even further away… To China! The Focus is usually the world’s 1st, 2nd, or 3rd best selling car and and ought not be treated like an orphan.

Fortunately the young Turks over at Ford Otosan aren’t entirely following orders from Dearborn, as they reintroduced Ford heavy trucks into the EU via the Eastern European back door, bringing the Cargo truck to another market besides the middle east and south america.

And after all these machinations, Ford stock closed a couple cents higher at $11.04 a share as of market close friday. And lest anyone get alarmed about Ford, GM and FIAT/Chrysler are even more f’d up…