Thursday, December 18, 2008

Changing General Motors

I am having a difficult time understanding the proposals General Motors is considering to ensure its future viability as America's leading auto manufacturer.  Right now, GM has the following brands available in the US:  Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, HUMMER, Pontiac, Saturn, and Saab.  The corporation is teetering on the brink of collapse and needs government assistance to survive.  The proposal put forth by the corporate "big wigs" includes streamlining operations through a reduction of brands.

That's a good idea.  What I question are the brands they want to cut.  Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner presented a plan that focuses on Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC.  Saturn and Saab would be sold.  GM has been looking to sell HUMMER for months, but who wants to buy a division of overpriced gas guzzlers in this economy? All things considered, I think the focus is misdirected.  I think GM should focus on Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac, and HUMMER.

Chevrolet is GM's bread and butter brand.  There is a model to meet every price point and every need within Chevy.  But, dump the Aveo and replace with the Saturn Astra.

Cadillac offers executive style luxury fit for the President of the United States, with nice flair appealing to an active, middle aged demographic.  Caddy can take in the Saturn Sky and offer it as a more affordable roadster.  Think Mercedes-Benz SL and SLK.  The GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook could become the SRX, putting Caddy's crossover offering on the same platform as the Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave.

Buick offers luxury with less flair, great for the older demographic.  But, they need to bring back the classic Century, Regal, and Park Avenue nameplates.  The Saturn Aura could become the Century.

Pontiac should be the niche sports car division that GM Vice Chairman for Global Product Development Bob Lutz envisions.  The G8 is "Gr8!"  So is the Solstice.  The G5 is an unnecessary Chevy Cobalt clone.  Dump it.  The G6 is a decent car, but doesn't fit the Pontiac mold.  The upcoming G3 really doesn't fit the mold.  Buick-Pontiac-GMC vice president Susan Docherty calls the G3 a short-term bridge product.  I call it a tremendous waste of resources.  It's not attractive and it's not sporty.  The Torrent can go to HUMMER as its entry-level offering.  

GM won't be able to sell HUMMER so the iconic brand should replace GMC as the niche truck division, minus the luxury vehicle marketing.  Let's face it-- who spends that kind of money to possibly destroy their vehicle in the back woods?  Lower the price points, develop the Hx concept as a Jeep Wrangler competitor and take in the Pontiac Torrent as the entry-level HUMMER.

With Saturn models spread to other divisions, GM's "new kind of car company" which became just another kind of car company, would become a former car company.  

Saab should just go away.  The models are unattractive and don't sell well anyway.  Maybe someone in Sweden can buy it back.

Consider these model recommendations:

Chevrolet
Astra (from Saturn)
Cobalt
Malibu
Impala
Camaro
Corvette
Traverse
Equinox
Tahoe
Suburban
Colorado
Silverado
Avalanche

Cadillac
CTS
STS
DTS
Escalade
Escalade ESV
Escalade EXT
XLR
ZLR (from Saturn Sky)

Buick
Century (from Saturn Aura)
Regal (current Lacrosse)
Park Avenue (current Lucerne)
Enclave

Pontiac
G8
G8 ST
GTO
Solstice

HUMMER
H2 (special order only)
H3
H3T
H4 (based on Hx concept)
H5 (from Pontiac Torrent)

This would reduce the number of GM nameplates to 32 from 48, spread across five brands with much less duplication.  A big wrinkle will develop over what to do about current Saturn dealers.  I don't have a suggestion for that one.

Oh, Good Evening!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Simpson Sentenced

I’m not criticizing anyone’s opinion, but comments from various people on television, radio and elsewhere have me wondering why some folks want to feel “sorry” for people who clearly
do stupid, criminal things and expect that those individuals should not face
justice for those mistakes?  I’ve heard several people call the O. J. Simpson sentence, “excessive.” But, the judge-- while
known for tough sentences-- was only following Nevada law which requires a
mandatory minimum 15-year sentence for two of the charges for which Simpson was
convicted. Is the sentence excessive for the crime or is it just excessive because it applies to OJ Simpson?

I've also heard people say O. J. couldn't get a fair trial anywhere in America based on what happened in his 1994 double murder trial in which he was accused of butchering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.  Certainly, everyone in America knows who O. J. is and has an opinion about the trial 14 years ago, but what was unfair about this most recent armed robbery and kidnapping trial?  It’s hard to think he was treated unfairly this time around when so much of the evidence against him included recordings of his voice planning the “raid”-- for lack
of a better word-- and images of him and his co-defendants carrying out those plans.  Members of the jury have said they felt prosecutors had a weak case until the incriminating audio and video tapes were presented.  The recordings compelled the jurors to convict, according to those who spoke with reporters.  So, what was so unfair?

I would appear that O. J. Simpson got what he had coming to him based on the crime committed.

Oh, Good Evening!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Clueless Coach

This will be short and to the point.  The Detroit Lions should fire head coach Rod Marinelli IMMEDIATELY and the rest of the coaching staff at season's end.  The Lions are 0-11 after blowing a 17-point early lead and losing to the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 38-20.  After taking a 17-0 lead, Detroit proceeded to give up 21 unanswered points giving the Bucs the halftime lead.  

When FOX Sports sideline reporter Carissa Thompson asked Marinelli why the Lions weren't throwing more balls to top wide receiver Calvin Johnson, she told the viewing audience the coach "didn't really have an answer for me."  Thompson then reported that Marinelli kept saying, "we just have to play better football."  Uh, DUH!!!!  Tell me something I don't already know.  If that's the best Marinelli can come up with as a response to THE question everybody was asking, it's time for him to go. He clearly has no clue.  Cut him loose, NOW!!!!

Oh, Good Evening!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Losing Patience... Finally!

My first posting about the Detroit Lions comes after Week 8 when the Lions are a dismal 0-7.  Watching the games each week, I can only say they look like bantha poodoo.  This, after going 4-0 in the preseason.  Do you think they cut the wrong players?

Matt Millen is gone-- 5 years too late.  Roy Williams is the latest of Millen's high profile first round draft picks to be dismissed or shipped off to another team, joining Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, Kevin Jones, and Teddy Lehman.  Jon Kitna is on injured reserve, out for the season with a back ailment.  I think he's played his last game in a Lions uniform. 

This season was over when it started 0-4.  In that initial run, Detroit lost to Atlanta and Green Bay, both fielding actual or virtual rookie quarterbacks against what was supposed to be a much improved Lions defense.  

Yesterday, when the Redskins came to town, I was in my car when the game started so I was listening on satellite radio.  Dan Miller, the Lions play-by-play guy, mentioned something that I had not heard in quite some time-- the game did not sellout and was therefore not being televised in the Detroit, Lansing, Saginaw and Toledo home markets.  When I got home and turned on the game, I saw what appeared to be a half empty Ford Field.  I checked the Lions website and found the news release announcing the non-sellout.  It stated that 5,000 tickets remained available as of 1:00 PM on Friday.  A sellout for football at Ford Field is 65,000.   According to the official post-game stat sheet, less than 55,000 showed up.  

Finally, the sponsors are frustrated enough with team management not buy up the remaining block to ensure the sellout and the fans are fed up enough not to show up.   Maybe this will finally get William Clay Ford, Sr. to come out of his coma and let his son, William Clay Ford, Jr. take the necessary steps to start moving the Lions in a positive direction.  Step One-- dump Rod Marinelli and staff and get some real coaches in there.  Step Two-- get some real players in there who know and understand football and who really want to play on this level and WIN.  What I saw yesterday was a bunch of guys just there to collect a paycheck.  The Lions need to do what 49ers interim coach Mike Singletary did and single slackers out and tell them to hit the showers early.  Consider what columnist Ann Killion wrote in the San Jose Mercury News:

On Sunday Singletary, in order: 1. benched J.T. O’Sullivan, who was having another disastrous performance. 2. sent Vernon Davis off the field for acting like an idiot. 3. apologized for the team’s performance.

In an embarrassing, potentially season-finishing 34-13 loss to awful Seattle, Singletary showed that he is not going to just sit back and spout platitudes and clich├ęs. That he’s not going to pretend everything is fine while his team is collapsing around him. That he’s not going to blame the players and absolve himself.


Rod Marinelli should take the same approach with his players.  If he doesn't, newly appointed general manager Martin Mayhew should take the Singletary approach with Marinelli.

Oh, Good Evening!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Will the Big 3 Survive?

I know little to nothing about big business or big finance.  What little I do know, I have picked up over the last month of watching CNBC, almost constantly, since this major financial breakdown started last month.  It is truly scary to watch what has been happening on Wall Street and elsewhere and the various negative effects on the credit markets.  The fallout has touched everyone in some way.  I made the mistake of checking my 401(k) last week-- after saying I would not-- and my heart sank.

That said, the $700-billion bailout-- now referred to as a rescue-- by all accounts, was necessary to prevent an all-out financial meltdown.  Will it work?  That remains to be seen.  But, if lawmakers were willing to approve that kind of bailout for Wall Street, surely they should consider a similar plan to help the ailing U.S. automotive industry which, if it goes under, will destroy the U.S. economy.

General Motors, The Ford Motor Company and Chrysler, LLC are all struggling to survive.  They have each shut down plants putting hundreds of thousands of blue collar people out of work.  They have each downsized their head counts offering attractive, but certainly not lucrative, buyout packages to employees willing to accept them.  Nothing is working.  Now, this morning, comes news that Chrysler will trim its white collar workforce by 25-percent.  25-percent.  That is roughly 15,000 people.  How will those folks feed their families and pay their mortgages and car notes?  

Yesterday, I taped an interview with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.  While chatting after the session, he asked where my hometown was and I told him, Detroit.  I expressed my concerns about the domestic auto industry and asked if lawmakers had been approached about coming up with a rescue package.  He looked me in the eyes and said, "we already gave them $25-billion," referring to a previously approved loan package, not tied to the big economic bailout, to help GM, Ford and Chrysler develop new technologies.  Graham also said it would be difficult to keep offering money to Detroit automakers while not doing the same for, say, BMW, which has a plant in Greer, South Carolina.

Unfortunately, it was neither the time nor the place to engage him in a debate over the issue, but my initial thought was this-- the last time I checked, GM, Ford and Chrysler are all American companies which provide the industrial backbone of the nation.  BMW is German.  

Granted, throwing money at a problem may not be the best solution but if we can throw $700-billion to bailout the mistakes of greedy speculators and others who didn't have the wisdom to see that offering loans to people who clearly could not afford them, then certainly we can do something to help the industry that accounts for millions of hard working Americans' jobs.

Now, I realize, the domestic car companies are not without blame in this.  All three were very short-sighted in succumbing to the consumer demand for gas guzzling trucks and SUVs, fueled by cheap oil and subsequently, cheap gasoline.  I must admit, I love HUMMERS.  I drove an H2 for three years and when the lease expired, I got an H3.  But, the demand for those types of vehicles is way down with gas prices spiking to more than $4 per gallon this year.  The new focus must be on more fuel efficient vehicles that can run on alternative energy.

Also sharing in the blame-- the United Auto Workers.  I'm all for people being paid a fair wage for their work, but the UAW continues to demand compensation for its members that is way out of line with how the industry is doing.  Labor costs are killing the Big 3 and will continue to do so until union leaders wake up and realize they had better agree to some major concessions.  Making less money is better than making no money in this climate.

Oh, Good Evening!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Let the Healing Begin

After eight long months of scandal emanating from the mayor's office, the City of Detroit can finally begin to heal and move forward. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has accepted a plea deal in his perjury and felony assault cases and as a result, has submitted his resignation from office effective in two weeks. To paraphrase the late former President Gerald R. Ford, my fellow Detroiters, our long municipal nightmare is over.

Make no mistake, I do not revel in this outcome. It is a sad day in the history of my beloved hometown. But, this is a day long overdue in light of all the evidence of misdeeds that surfaced against Kilpatrick; evidence ultimately related to a whistle blower trial in which the mayor and his then chief of staff, Christine Beatty, both lied under oath about an extramarital affair in which they were engaged. The whole episode cost the city more than $8 million dollars in a cash settlement with three former police officers, and much more than money in reputation.

Kwame Kilpatrick was a rising star on the political scene. The son of two politically connected parents-- his father was the longtime chief of staff to a former Wayne County commissioner and his mother is current Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick-- Kwame was one of, if not, the youngest lawmakers elected to the Michigan Legislature; he led the state Democratic Caucus; then got elected as the youngest mayor in the history of Detroit. Randye Bullock, a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and a friend of mine, wrote the following about Kilpatrick to the organization's listserv:

"I worked for the mayor for a couple of years. Detroiters knew they were taking a chance when they voted Kilpatrick in. They knew he was young and a little cocky. But he was intelligent (obviously not smart) and showed a lot of promise... He had a vision of a renewed Detroit. At one time during his administration, because of his tenacity, the city was thriving. But what happened? I think that he got "caught up." Instead of being a little cocky, his head got bigger and bigger. He became really arrogant. I saw his transformation. Before that, the corporate types liked him. Most people liked him. He could have been around for a long time. "

Maybe he can bounce back after paying his debt to society. If so, let us pray that he has learned, from this experience, that no man is above the law. I also pray that Detroit, it's leaders and citizens, can rebound from this nightmare. Heal and move forward. That's what must happen. And, knowing Detroiters as I do, that's what will happen.

Oh, Good Evening!
Photo Credit: www.freep.com

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

Yesterday (August 15), I celebrated my 44th birthday and I'm telling the world! I remember 14 years ago, I turned 30 and I didn't want anyone to know. I was determined to remain 29 forever because I didn't give up my "youth," something I equated with my 20s. Now, considering where I am today, what I have modestly achieved in my career, and the many personal joys I share with family and friends, I have come realize that the best in life is almost always in the years ahead. Each day on this earth is a blessing from God. I accept, acknowledge, and celebrate that fact. I hope you do, too.

Oh, Good Evening.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Catching Up

In the months since my last blog entry, oil prices have skyrocketed above $147 a barrel, then retreated back to $122. Gasoline prices have also jumped, hitting marks above $4 per gallon. I said farewell to my Mercedes Benz CLK320 after finding one of my dream cars, a Mercedes Benz SL500, and buying it at a dream price. About three weeks later, I turned in my beloved HUMMER H2 three months early and leased a HUMMER H3 Alpha. I bought a new table and chairs set and got rid of what was left of the old set. I replaced my 17-year old washer and dryer set with a fancy new front-loading set. I replaced my PC with an iMac and my Windows Mobile-based smartphone with an iPhone 3G. I bought my mother a digital HD television. I've been back to Detroit to emcee a luncheon and visit family. And, I've been back to Chicago, this time for the UNITY: Journalists of Color convention. I'm sure I'm leaving something out, but as you can tell, I've been on a ridiculous spending spree despite the difficult economy and I still want more, including an Apple Mac Book laptop computer and a Canon zoom lens with image stablizing technology. I think I need to hit the lottery!

Oh, Good Evening!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

2008 NAIAS: Automotive Heaven

When it comes to auto shows, Detroit's North American International Auto Show is the show! I managed to squeeze my annual trip home for the show in between two weeks of whirlwind political coverage in South Carolina where the Republican and Democratic parties held presidential debates and primaries in successive weeks. While I normally plan my trip to Detroit around the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, I had to modify the itinerary for 2008 arriving in Motown the day after Dr. King's day.

This change allowed me to do something I haven't done in past years-- attend the auto show on a weekday instead of a weekend day. Boy, what a difference! No huge crowds and very few small children running around made my nearly six hours on the show floor a much more enjoyable experience than past visits.

This year's show was noticably scaled back in terms of elaborate displays and giveaways. Not surprising considering the stuggles most auto companies are going through. But don't get me wrong, the Cobo Convention Center halls were filled with beautiful displays showcasing the best in interanational automotive technology.

I love cars in general, so I go to see just about everything. But, the big draw for many are the various concept vehicles, unveiled to give everyone a glimpse of what we might drive in the future. Most of the vehicles don't make it to production in their concept form, but you often find many production cars and trucks incorporating aspects of concepts. For instance, many of the design cues on Cadillacs come from previous concepts like the Evoq and Sixteen. There are some concepts that do make it to production pretty much intact. The HUMMER H2 and upcoming Chevy Camaro come to mind.

Because of my longtime connection to General Motors-- my mother is a GM retiree, having worked for the corporation for decades-- I write about GM vehicles more often than others and spent more time in what I like to call "GM World" than any other section at the auto show. Here are the vehicles that got my blood pumping:

Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon/Cadillac Escalade Hybrids: GM is aggressively marketing its efforts to go "from gas friendly to gas free" as it puts more alternative fuel vehicles in dealer showrooms. The 2008 Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon two-mode hybrid models, now on sale, are the first full-sized hybrid SUVs in the world. The Cadillac Escalade hybrid goes on sale later this year as a 2009 model. The hybrid system, developed jointly with BMW and then-DaimlerChyrsler, is mated with a 6.0 liter V8 engine to provide the same power for hauling SUV owners want with 25%* better fuel efficiency. The only problem is you pay a roughly 12% premium, up front, for the technology so the actual savings to your wallet are delayed by about 10-to-15 years. But, you'll be helping the planet. The Tahoe and Yukon hybrids start around $50,000. I would expect the Escalade hybrid to start around $70,000. OUCH!

Chevy Volt: As we all grow more fuel concious with each passing day, I love the idea of a road practicle alternative fuel vehicle that also looks good. The Chevy Volt fits that bill. GM must really be working to make this a reality. This concept was originally unveiled at the 2007 NAIAS and it's back in 2008. I must admit, the notion of an electric car that could get me to and from work without using a drop of gasoline and recharges when you simply plug it in to a regular electric power outlet is exciting. Now, if they can only make it affordable.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thou Shalt Not Lie

It's in the Good Book. Moses climbed the mountain, stood upon holy ground and received the commandment, "thou shalt not lie," along with nine others from God himself. In our law-governed society, that commandment is particularly sacred in the justice system. Breaking it in court, while on a witness stand, under oath can send you to prison.

I just returned from my annual trip home to Detroit for the North American International Auto Show during which another controversy involving Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick dominated the news cycle on television and in print. "Mayor Kilpatrick, chief of staff lied under oath, text messages show," was the headline in the Detroit Free Press on Thursday, January 24th. The Free Press obtained transcripts of 14,000 text messages sent by Kilpatrick and Beatty to each other on their city-issued SkyTel pagers. The night before, Freep news partner WXYZ-TV was the first television news operation able to share some of the messages with viewers in advance of Thursday morning's paper. And, it's juicy stuff.

The city's collective jaw dropped upon hearing and reading the messages. The man, dubbed Detroit's "hip-hop" mayor caught in another scandalous and possibly criminal situation. This, after narrowly winning re-election to a second term and promising to do better, to not embarrass the great Motor City. Hmmm. I would say he has failed.

Now, don't get me wrong. I really don't care what what the mayor and his chief of staff do with each other behind closed doors. Both were married when this affair apparently happened, but Kilpatrick says he and his wife were going through difficult times and have since reconciled and put this painful chapter in the past. Beatty is now divorced.

The real issue here isn't the affair. The real issue is blatant disregard for truth and the law. Many people in Detroit seem to be missing or discounting that. Kwame Kilpatrick is a lawyer and the elected chief executive officer of America's 11th largest city. Christine Beatty is said to be a law student. I'm sure they know about perjury and its consequences. They should know better than to lie on the witness stand. And, why would they think communicating on city-issued text messaging devices would not leave a paper trail that could come back to bite them? This is yet another demonstration of a lack of judgement on the part of the mayor and a key staffer.

Kilpatrick has weathered several controversies including rumors of a wild party with strippers at the mayor's official residence and a luxury SUV leased for his wife and paid for with city funds. This latest situation is tied a whistleblower trial in which two fired Detroit police officers sued Kilpatrick and the city claiming their dismissals were tied to their involvment in investigating the Kilpatrick-Beatty affair. They won the trial costing the city nearly $9 million.

I don't live in Detroit anymore, but it's still my hometown. I'm tired of seeing the city bruised and battered by its own mayor as it tries desperately to rebound and rise to new heights. I appreciate all of the good things-- downtown development, Super Bowl XL, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, neighborhood revitalization and more-- that Kwame Kilpatrick has been able to do during his time in the mayor's office. But, for the City of Detroit's future, I think this latest transgression warrants Kwame Kilpatrick's resignation.

Oh, Good Evening!

Photos from The Detroit Free Press

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year 2008

If 2008 is to be better than 2007 for me, then I will view my waking up to a view of 4 inches of white precipitation, better known as snow, as a sign that I must embrace doing a few things outside of my normal comfort zone.
No, we did not get even a millimeter of snow in Columbia.  I am ringing in the new year with one of my best friends in the city that gave us the Jackson 5-- Gary, Indiana.  My boy Rudy invited me up to attend a New Year's Eve Party in Chicago and despite my dislike of snow and the potential for it to fall in significant amounts at this time of year in the Midwest, I bought a plane ticket and came anyway.  I'm so glad... (sing the old hymn!)

There is nothing like spending time with good friends, particularly those you don't get to see often, to celebrate life, love, and the joy of good liquor.  (I was just looking for another good "L" word and the Kahlua in my coffee made my type "liquor."

Anyway, for the first time in a looonnnggg time, I have actually awakened to the sight of snow and said, "how pretty!"  We left the party at 3 AM and it was cold as hell--- yes, I know hell is really hot, but the cliche fit!--- and I didn't seem to mind.  Don't get me wrong, I couldn't get to Rudy's Land Rover quick enough to get some heat cranking, but the Chicago wind and all that snow didn't seem to bother me.  I wonder what this means, because those who know me well know I had my fill of snow growing up in Detroit.  Hmmm.  My mother would love it if I someday moved back to Detroit, or at least closer.  Maybe there's hope for her wish.

Oh, Good Evening!