Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Duratec dream? If it's good enough for Cterham why not?

You know, it's easy to piss on the poor Focus, God knows I do it often enough. I complain how we don't get the new Euro Focus and when I was car shopping this year, I went and bought it's more sophisticated (Euro Focus based) Mazda 3 cousin. But the facts are that even our "old" Focus is a car to be reckoned with. It's got a lot of good bits in and under it. Don't forget the multilink independent rear supsension, as oposed to the McPherson struts that support the rears of many of the competition. And of course there are the 2.0 Zetec and 2.3 Duratec powerplants. World class in their own right. Now don't laugh, they really are world class powerplants and if you want proof of that, just look in the article linked in the title about Caterham exclusively using these Ford powerplants in their range of Seven Kit/Specialty cars.
Any car guy knows what a Seven is, even if he's not familiar with the history of the Lotus/Caterham Seven. They've been around for about 50 years and like the Shelby Cobra have been copied many times. We've seen many different powerplants in them from Toyota, Mazda (Rotary) and Rover in the UK, but during this 50 years, more often than not it was a Ford powerplant in the Seven, and it is again! These are highly recognizable cars, the "heavyweight" lightweight, the standard that others have been held up to for handling and power to weight ratios for decades.
And while it's hard to think of the lowly Focus as having real "Serious Street Cred" even if Ford says it has. It's not that difficult if you look into it. Think of it, the Focus challenged and for a while went head to head with the young "Tuner" crowd. They recognized the potential of the 2.0 Zetec and later 2.3 Duratec engines, the competent chassis and low cost of entry. Go to "Import" car shows or drag events and you'll see a very loyal group of followers.
Caterham's offerings for the US market are 2.0 Zetec, 2.3 Duratec and Cosworth tuned 2.3 ranging from 150 to 260 horsepower in a car weighing about 1100 pounds! Hell, my Mazda 3 weighs almost 3 times that and seems fairly quick with 161 hp.
I've always loved the idea of a Seven, I think we all do, but could I live with it on a regular basis? I don't know, it's low to the ground, very low, and it doesn't have "real" doors or windows, no trunk, not very comfortable. But, it's fast, and it handles like a slot car. Now in the US, it's sold as a Kit car, and not exactly cheap, but for between $30-45K you can have a unique sports car that will do 0-60 in under 5 seconds!

Now in my humble opinion I'd love to see a kit car of the Austin Healy 3000 powered by the 2.3 Duratec, especially that 260 hp Cosworth version. These cars had roll up windows and were more comfortable. I don't need 0-60 in 5 seconds, and I like the idea of having a 3 season sporty car. Just a thought. I've always had a soft spot for English cars and Kit cars based on them. I remember seeing a V-8 kit called the Saxon in the 80's, that was a Healy repica. I wouldn't mind seeing a version with the Duratec. That would be great, power and economy, with a trunk for weekend trips and a real top.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Driving Enthusiast dot Net, Jeff Fisher's new blog!

Jeff Fisher has recreated his blog and I'm finally getting around to updating the link. Jeff doesn't blog about Ford alone, although he does a great job of covering them. It's a new layout and Jeff is a great source for indepth analysis take a click on over and I'm adding the new link to the sidebar.

Interesting Internet Poll on forum.....

I found this interesting poll at a forum linked in title and thought it a good idea. What is your favorite Ford brand and why? Some of the answers given in the forum were interesting, and some of their "facts" were wrong, but interesting none the less.

Now it's got to be obvious that my favorite Ford brand is Ford itself, based on past, present and potential future models in the US and globally. But I will go further and give my top 5 in order.

1 Ford , the base of the pyramid, the strongest of the brands.

2 Mazda , even though it's only partially Ford owned, it's controlled by Ford and has been a real asset and money maker.

3 Lincoln , the once and future king of Ford's brands. While currently looking like a goldfish floating upside down, there is potential here for a comeback and profitability.

4 Volvo , with this brand there's no need for Mercury and the added benefit of the safety reputation and strong sales with potential for growth globally, make it a no brainer.

5 Range Rover , this one's where I'm a fence sitter, I see potential for expanding the brand by using the recently aquired Rover name, but could also see Range Rover sold to bolster the company ledger. It's a coin toss, but I have always been a fan of Land Rovers and Range Rovers. There's a certain cache to the brand and it's not as much of a money pit as Jaguar or Aston Martin.

These are the 5 brands I believe should be saved, that leaves 3 to either kill or sell. Mercury is a dead brand, but Jaguar and Aston Martin could be bundled and sold to aviod further losses and gain extra cash for a redevelopment war chest.

What do you think?

Monday, October 23, 2006

What may the future hold? What should it?

I've been disheartened as of late, with the state of Ford and their lack of interesting product for the US market. Much is being said about the new Ford Edge CUV, some good some bad. But it seems that every article I've read recently claims that this will be a make or break vehicle for Ford. But we've heard that before. The Fusion was supposed to be the car that revitalized the company. Don't get me wrong, the Fusion is a great car and while it doesn't seem that it's sales are stellar, they aren't tanking either. Recent advertisements have anounced the availabiltiy of All Wheel Drive for the Fusion/Milan twins, and of course it's also an option on the MKZ (Zephyr.) The biggest complaints I've read about the new Edge (which I haven't seen in person) are about the interior, especially the lack of a third row seat. Many journalists/bloggers are saying a redesign of the interior is needed. I've only seen photos, and like what I have seen, but if there is not third row seat, it seems like a major oversight on Ford's part. Even in the mini-SUV/CUV models there are third row seat models. The Toyota RAV4 and Suzuki XL7 are just 2.
But even Mazda's CX9 has a third row. So, what's the brain damage in Dearborn? Are they thinking that a third row Edge may cut into sales of the Freestyle? If there were sales to cut into that is. Is it concern about the Explorer? It's short sighted stupidity is what it is!

And what about Diesels? I've been reading about the availability of "Clean Diesel," the low sulphur blend that the Feds mandated. I've been saying for a long while, that Ford should have been in a position to take advantage of this change, with their range of Diesel powerplants from around the globe. And then there's "Dave" the "American" design initiative, with 3 bar grill bland styling! While Europe and the rest of the globe get "Kinetic" design with cues from the Iosis concept, we get Dave.

Ugh! I want the new Mondeo! And I want it with the 2.0 TDI ! With a six speed manual!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

With a redesign of the Sprinter, and possible expansion of the range, isn't it time for a new Econoline or the Transit?

Some products have a long life cycle and then there's the Ford Econoline. When was the last time this line was updated? It's got to be at least 12 years. But it's a staple of commercial fleets right. Who would want to upset the apple cart by making a dramatic change?
That's probably what Dodge thought alll those years. Look at this 1996 van here, you can see how little it's changed over say a 1977 version. New products cost, but Dodge learned the lesson of letting a product get stale, when they had to discount their full size vans heavilly, just to get them off the lots.
And so they made a dramatic change, they borrowed their new parent company's commercial van from overseas. Also sold as a Mercedes and a Freightliner, the "new" Dodge Sprinter is a leap from the old Tradesman van. A 5 cyl Diesel gives it far superior fuel economy, while not really loosing useful power. And the different chassis, wheelbase and payload options are almost limitless. No wonder Mercedes/Dodge sell so many of these around the world.
You would think they are the most popular commercial vehicle on the globe, but you'd be wrong, the Ford Transit is. There's even a documentary by the same name. So if Ford is really going to make some "Bold Moves" maybe this should be one of them. The Transit is now available with all wheel drive, combine that with it's flexible packaging and economical Diesel powertrains, it's a wonder customers haven't been clamoring for them.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Brands brands, who's got the brands? Thoughts on the latest edition of Autoline Detroit...

On Sunday morning while many are in church, and still others are watching the different current afairs discusions shows such as Face the Nation, I'm usually having my coffee watching Autoline Detroit the show "Of, By and For the Auto Industry" hosted by John McElroy. And luckily I Tivo it if I miss it. And this past Sunday's show was very interesting. Now if you don't already watch I strongly suggest you check your local listings for the SPEED Channel or visit the link in the title of this post.
This week, they talked to one of the authors of Branding Iron available through Amazon or B&N online. I'm going to order my copy today.
Charles Hughes, picture here with his then boss Mark Fields has been all over the auto industry in the US, including several Ford brands (Mazda and Land Rover) so it's assumed he knows what he's talking about. He didn't sound like an idiot or a fool, even if I didn't agree with 100% of what he was saying, I was impressed.
The Co-Author is William Jeanes formerly of Car and Driver. One of the few Car and Driver writers, besides Csaba Csere, that I liked. Another guy in the know.
And while the book doesn't focus on Ford alone, the comments on Sunday's show were. Mr Hughes thinks that Ford Globaly but most importantly in North America has too many brands. The way he sees it they only need 3 Ford ,Volvo and Jaguar. Now he never specifically mentioned Mazda as a "brand" to be discarded, and since FoMoCo doesn't actually "own" Mazda, but only a controlling interest, I assume he wasn't including Mazda in this discussion. So the brands that Mr Hughes sees as dead or dying are; Lincoln, Mercury, Land Rover and Aston Martin. So, of course here's my humble opinion on that situation.

Mercury is dead, it just doesn't know it, it's a brand that lost relevance from day one. as I said many times while some fans would miss Mercury FoMoCo will not. Some may disagree, but it's a sad truth.

Lincoln is dying, but there's enough meat on the bone to try and revive the brand. But is it worth it? Couldn't Lincoln be folded into Ford or revamped? It's going to take more effort than FoMoCo has shown. A new Town Car based on the Australian Ford Falcon and maybe a new CUV based on the Territory might help. But status quo won't hold off the grim reaper and the MKZ MKX and MKS aren't the answer, not even in the short term.

Jaguar? I'm still undecided here, without some new models I don't think so. Either sell it or rework it into a new company with Land Rover.

Land Rover? Well it's a natural thought to consolidate it into Jaguar in my opinion. But it's a brand that is global, and has a lot of cache. Probably better to sell it than fold it. Or keep it, but I'll follow up on this.

Aston Martin? Well, many enthusiasts will hate me for this, but kill it or sell it off quick. As far as I'm concerned they're just really expensive Jaguars anyway. Definitely not worth keeping, or spending any momey on, better to sell to the highest bidder.

Volvo, is a keeper, a premium European brand that pulls it's own weight and is the step up from Ford for customers in global markets. Don't mess with Volvo or dare to sell it off, no mater what Nissan/Renault offer. There's too much potential here to give up.

Mazda, well lets not be stupid, this is a brand that is doing well, and has potential to do much better. While Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are the shining stars of Asia, Mazda has been growing slowly and proven itself too valuable an asset to even think of altering. With so much engineering shared with Mazda, if anything Ford should increase their stake in Mazda, maybe buy it outright.

Ford brand is and always will be the crown jewel brand of FoMoCo. This is their bread and butter with the Trucks, SUVs and new CUVs, this is where the money was made to buy or create all the others. There's lots of potential here. Oh, and bring me my Reflex quick!

Now while I see killing Mercury and Possibly Lincoln, selling off Aston Martin and possibly Jaguar or Land Rover as options, I also see other oportunities. Here's one scenario, consolidate Jaguar, Range Rover into one company and bring the Rover name back. Ford recently exercised their option to buy the name, presumably to preserve the "good name" of Land Rover. Preventing the Chinese firm from using the name. A new Jaguar/Land Rover/Rover group could be streamlined in management and be an arm to enter new markets like China, Russia and Japan to European and Australian Ford based models. Or the whole package could be sold. In my opinion, the three give a broader range and help support each other. Ford should have learned when they brought out the Jaguar X-Type, that entry level luxury is a slippery slope. The same car badged as a Rover would have been a better sell. You could even fold Aston Martin into this group, and either sell it or try and make is work.

I could see Rover replacing Mercury in the US, being populated by European Fords like the Mondeo, S-Max, Ka and Fiesta.
I've said it before, Ford has some great brands and models world wide. It's been at the forefront on technology breakthroughs over the years. There's a reason they do so well globally, outside of Dearborn there is hope, people who know how to react to market changes. While the F-Series trucks paid for all the "jewelry" brands, FoMoCo needs to start thinking of what to do, sell the jewels or make them shine.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Are boycotts the answer? No, of course not, but they make us feel better

My last related post, was in support of a boycott of Citgo and Venezuelan oil. And don't get me wrong I still support it. But are boycotts the answer? No, don't be silly, they just make us feel better. If you've been following the Citgo situation, you've learned that Citgo was selling their retail operations off months ago, and that 7-11 stores were already seeking new partners for their retail fuel sales. Even if we in the US refused to buy Venezuelan Oil, don't think for a minute that it would actually hurt Chavez or the sale of the oil. There are enough buyers globally that every barrel would sell, and the only suffering would be short lived and local. The same goes for Iranian and Saudi Oil. Oil is like Heroin or Cocain, we and the rest of the world are hooked.
We can't hurt our "enemies" in the short term. It's going to take a generation to reduce our dependance on foreign oil. What we can do, is support alternative fuel initiatives and demand that our government and corporations accelerate the process. We need to push not only for Bio-Fuels, but the infrastructure and vehicles. It's not enough to have "Flex-Fuel" vehicles that can burn E-85. We need to have vehicles that burn e-85 more efficiently. 27% poorer efficiency is not acceptable.

If Ethanol, Bio Diesel or Hydrogen are going to be effective we need to demand real progress.

Ten Years later, killing in a small town

Way off topic, posted on my old blog, the story of a tragedy in a suburban town ten years ago.

Charles Campbell a 37 year old African American man, and father of one son, was shot by Richard DiGuglielmo 31, an off duty NYPD Officer, after a dispute between Campbell and the officer's father got way out of hand.

Life lost, others shattered for what?