Saturday, August 27, 2011

Grand Theft Auto: Its History and Cultural Significance

Particularly after 1970, Film and literature lionized the auto thief in a manner that painted the act as largely victimless, harmless to human health, and at times actually comedic. Electronic gaming, which in terms of profits far outstripped film by the early 21st century, took auto banditry to far darker and more violent levels. Both forms of media brought the viewer or participant into imaginary worlds of entertainment, but the latter was far more intense, emotional, and controversial.

In 1997, Car theft entered the digital world in a significant way with the introduction of Grand Theft Auto (GTA) video games. In the first decade of the twenty-first century GTA was the best-selling and among the most technologically sophisticated games in the competitive video game industry. “In its ambition, fearlessness, style, and production quality” one reviewer wrote in 2009, “it stands apart from every other franchise.”[1] Take-Two interactive and Rockstar games have sold over 80 million units of GTA and its spin-offs.[2] The action and the scope of the digital map, along with driving and gunplay, have given the GTA series a strong appeal with consumers. Between the introductions of GTA I and the release of GTA III in 2002, Rock star transformed the games from a structured set of missions with a top-down bird’s eye view of the car into a non-linear, sandbox playground, giving the GTA player the freedom to pursue organized crime or, with weapon and automobile, create mayhem.[3] With GTA III, subsequently refined with the release of GTA IV in 2008, the digital landscape was converted into what the video game world calls a “sandbox:” gamers could, at their discretion, follow GTA’s narrative, or drive their stolen automobile around the open digital city. In this digital world, driving is essential to the player’s criminal success and car theft became a necessary prelude to other criminal tasks.

To complete GTA’s narrative, the gamer must accomplish a series of criminal underworld missions. In Vice City, for example, to complete the mission “Life’s a Beach,” the player must win a dance contest, then steal the “Sound Van” from a local DJ and successfully transport it to a local parking garage.[4] The virtual universe of GTA’s ‘urban action’ game revolutionized the video game industry. Importantly, automobile theft and automobile-related violence is, in almost all sequences, the pivotal and most thrilling dimension of the GTA experience. With GTA, car thieves became one of the most popular avatars in the video game industry. Unlike games with hero-avatars who eliminate bad guys for a self-proclaimed righteous cause, the GTA player controls criminal-avatars who carry out illegal tasks or, if the player chooses, effectuates random violence on innocent bystanders and pedestrians. Players assume the criminal’s identity; they see the game’s digital world through his eyes. The digital criminals can -- at the player’s discretion -- assume one of the automobile thief’s many personas: the youthful joy rider; the professional thief; the carjacker; the reckless escapist; the drive-by shooter; the placid cruiser; or the savvy criminal who, in a stolen car, commits murders, deals drugs, or kidnappings.

Each version of GTA has a particular criminal ethos, intimately connected to automobile theft. Vice City (2002) is set in a fictional Miami and the criminal-avatar is a Tony Montanya-like Italian-American Mafioso named Tommy Vercetti; San Andreas (2004) is set in a west coast city and the avatar-criminal is an African-American gangsta’ named Carl Johnson, modeled off a character from the 1991 movie Boyz in the Hood; GTA IV’s (2008) Liberty City is a replica of New York and the digital lawbreaker is Eastern European immigrant Niko Bellic – a Godfather prototype. What the gamer does with the stolen automobile is a matter of choice, but violence and chaos seem unavoidable. As in real life, the automobile is itself a weapon, a force for violence and destruction. Digital cars, set aflame by assault rifle fire or Molotov cocktail, explode with drivers still inside; pedestrians are run over -- some bounce of the car’s grill, others fly over the hood. When a driver hits a random motorcyclist, however, the resulting crash is particularly catastrophic: the motorcyclist is sent flying long and high distances before death a la cement trauma. In GTA, it’s also important to note, the automobile can serve more banal and logistical purposes: it can be used to go to a fast food joint, a place to have sex with a prostitute, or to complete illegal errands. In GTA, the automobile serves many purposes, but theft, violence, crime, and destruction are at the heart of the game’s digital automobility.

Stealing a car in GTA’s digital world is a discommodious combination of reality and fantasy. Car theft in GTA is undemanding and nearly always without consequence. With a player’s click of a consul button, the thief-avatar casually opens the door to an unmanned car or tosses the driver out of an already-occupied car, and motors away. Unencumbered by drivers, locks, The Club, alarms, On Star, security cameras, or any other theft prevention system – automobile theft in GTA is effortlessly accomplished. The thief’s deed therefore becomes an everyday activity. [5] “You will,” as one review writer counseled, “steal thousands of cars in the course of the game, driving each until you have destroyed it or until you see one you like better.”[6]

The automobile is strangely disposable in this world, and the thief is incorrigible. Even if the car thief were apprehended, he faces no court system and prison time: the criminal-avatar, whether arrested or killed, regenerates in a designated place on the digital map. The digital map, the more authentic component of GTA, is an immense and open-ended arena built to mirror major American cities. The thief-avatar navigates the freeways, manufacturing districts, slums, and urban neighborhoods of a faux New York or Los Angeles in a range of digital car makes and models that mimic the models on the streets. In Vice City Stories you can steal the Patriot (Hummer), in San Andreas you can steal the Elegant (BMW), and in GTA: IV you can steal the Infernus (Lamborghini).[7] Also at the gamer’s disposal are motorcycles, tractors, forklifts, trucks, busses, helicopters, and airplanes. The stolen cars and vehicles perform, in some crucial respects, like cars on the street. The digital cars leave skid marks on the road after a sharp turn; they incur broken windows and lose fenders after accidents; and car radios play stations with commercials and popular music.[8] The incredible details of the game, coupled with the freedom made possible with the ease of car theft, make GTA a digital terrain of geographic reality and mayhem-based fantasy.

In the decade-or-so after the release of GTA III in 2002, the games have been a lightning rod for controversy. At the center of the controversy are incidents of “real world” violence. In 2002, two teens and man in his twenties from Grand Rapids, Michigan, spent a night drinking beer and running down digital pedestrians with stolen automobiles in GTA III, and then went out on a real drive and ran down a 38-year old man on a bicycle, stomped on him and punched him, finally returning home to play the game.[9] The automobile, whether used as a weapon or the innocent victim’s conveyance, was the fulcrum of violence in “real world” GTA incidents. GTA automobile theft entered reality when, in 2003, Devin Moore, 18 years old at the time and inspired by GTA IV, killed three men in a police precinct and then, in classic GTA fashion, fled the scene in a stolen squad car.[10] Some politicians, fearing the affects of GTA on children, reacted to the seemingly GTA-inspired murder sprees by calling for a new video game rating system that would prevent adolesecents from purchasing the game. The adolescent mind, reform-legislators argued, was not able to separate reality from fantasy. In 2002 Joe Baca, a Democrat from Southern California, introduced the Protect Children from Video Game Sex and Violence Act of 2002, by asking legislators, “Do you really want your kids assuming the role of a mass murderer or a carjacker while you are away at work?”[11] A game of mayhem intended for adults’ enjoyment, it seemed, often ended up in the hands of adolescents and teenagers. GTA, they believed, threatened the mental health of American children. In a Today Show interview in 2004, famous activist-lawyer Jack Thompson called GTA a “murder and carjacking simulator.”[12] Critics like Thompson also cite the sexualized aspect of GTA: the ability of the criminal-avatar, in a stolen car, to have sex with digital prostitutes. Critics were handed a smoking gun in 2005 when a secret sex scene, dubbed Hot Coffee, was discovered in GTA: San Andreas. The code allowed the clothed CJ, after courtship, to have sex with a naked female-avatar. That year, New York Senator Hilary Clinton launched a campaign on the national level to change GTA’s rating from M (Mature) to AO (Adults only) with hopes that parents could more effectively protect their children.[13] Clinton, singling out GTA as the nation’s most dangerous game, told the Kaiser Family Foundation that video games were a public health issue and that “it is a little frustrating when we have this data that demonstrates there is a clear public health connection between exposure to violence [in video games] and increased aggression that we have been as society unable to come up with any adequate public response.”[14] Despite the criticism from politicians and lawyers, GTA continued to sell hundreds of thousands of copies at $50-$60 a unit – a considerable amount of which were probably played by adolescents. Advocates for GTA, while admitting that these games were not intended for children, contended that the majority of gamers are adult men in their twenties and thirties, and therefore perfectly capable of separating fantasy and reality. They also point out that GTA is appealing because of actual game play and the expansive urban-action environment – not just violence. GTA, a game with automobile theft and automobile-inspired violence at its center, was defended as an adult stress-reliever.

Politicians and the game’s apologists can’t turn to academics, cultural critics, or technologists for straightforward answers because, unsurprisingly, they too disagree on the meaning of GTA. Journalist Steve Johnson and University of Wisconsin education theorist Paul Gee argue that games like GTA can be effective educational tools and also provide players with alternative social models of the good. Johnson believes that gamers, motivated by rewards, learn how to perform complicated digital tasks – and therefore, decide, choose, and prioritize. “It’s not what you’re thinking about when you play the game,” he writes, “it’s the way you’re thinking that matters.”[15] Being a successful digital criminal is an effective learning exercise. Games like GTA can, for the better, challenge any singular definition of goodness. In a video game’s world, Paul Gee writes, “what counts as being or doing good is determined by a character’s own goals, purposes, or values, as these are shred with a particular social group to which he or she belongs.”[16] The automobile thief and criminal in GTA, therefore, subscribe to the values of his community and acts on them. Performing the tasks necessary to win the game and learning the values of another community, Gee and Johnson believe, are effective pedagogy.

But writer Damon Brown, in his Porn & Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider, and Other Sexy Games Changed our Culture (2008), sees a darker side to the role GTA plays in American culture: the game, he argues, played the crucial role in desensitizing American media to digital porn and violence.[17] Brown believes that in the past twenty years videos games went from mirroring popular culture to setting important cultural trends; GTA -- with the Hot Coffee incident and high volume sales even in the face of severe criticism-- was the[18] Engineer and ethicist Simon Penny, in a popular essay, argues that video games with gunplay, because they have embodied aspects of violent game play, teach players to blur reality and simulation. Therefore, games have “potential to build behaviors that can exist without or separate from, and possibly contrary to, rational argument or ideology.”[19] Penny suggests that games like GTA can train killers. The academic debate, like the political and moral one, is conflicted. But Rockstar continues to sell millions of units of Grand Theft Auto. hinge in this process of cultural transformation. Brown’s argument is provocative, but he supports it with conveniently drawn conclusions. But, to Brown’s credit, numerous scholars make the case that, despite Rockstar’s design of this game as a critique of American violence and commercialism, GTA reinforces and promotes violence, racism, and sexism.

With very few exceptions, culture in America has characterized auto theft was a crime not terribly serious or important. That is, unless violence accompanies the act, or enables its perpetrators to commit other crimes. Essentially, the car is disposable. It is mass produced, made of uniform parts and in large numbers to effect economies of scale. If one is damaged or lost, it is easily replaced by another, perhaps even better than the previous model. And there lies the incongruity with parallel main currents in American life. For if Americans identify with their automobiles, and have a love affair with a thing that evokes status and well being, how can this object be seen in another light as something that can be easily replaced? If we are attached to this machine that has become a part of the family, how can we so easily say goodbye to it with no emotional remorse? Auto theft, then, can only be seen as a long-standing paradox in American life not so easily resolved.

[1] Seth Schiesel, “Grand Theft Auto: The Story Continues, as Gritty as Ever,” The New York Times, February 28, 2009. GTA III was the best selling video game of 2001, and Vice City was the best selling game of 2002. When Grand Theft Auto IV was released in 2008 it took in over $500 million dollars in its first week. For details and arguments on GTA’s cultural impact see Irene Chien, “Moving Violations,” Film Quarterly 62 (2008): 80-81; Sorya Murray, “High Art/Low Life: The Art of Playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 27 (2005): 91-98; Kiri Miller, “Grove Street Grim: Grand Theft Auto and digital folklore,” Journal of American Folklore 121 (2008): 255-285; The Meaning and Culture of Grand Theft Auto: Critical Essays, ed. Nate Garrelts (Jefferson City, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2005).

[2] See John Leland, “Bigger, Bolder, Faster, Weirder,” The New York Times, October 27, 2002; Matt Richtel, “For Gamers Craving Won’t Quit,” The New York Times, April 29, 2008; “Grand Theft Auto Sales Top $500 Million,” The New York Times, May 7, 2008. GTA III was published in 2002, GTA: Vice City was published in 2003, GTA: Liberty City Stories was published in 2005, GTA IV was published in 2008, and The Ballad of Gay Tony, The Lost and the Damned, were published in 2009.

[3] For a brief history and details of the game see Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton, Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time (Burlington, MA: Focal Press, 2009): 105-122.

[4] Tim Bogenn and Rick Babra, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas: Official Strategy Guide, Signature Series (Brady Games: 2003), 44-45.

[5] See Timothy J. Welsh, “Everyday Play: Cruising for Leisure in San Andreas,” in The Meaning and Culture of Grand Theft Auto: Critical Essays ed. Nate Garrelts, (Jefferson City, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2005), 138. Welsh, with insight, writes, “Carjacking is so unremarkable that the extensive list of statistics, which includes everything from number of girls dated to legitimate kills, does not include a state for number of cars stolen. All of the excitement, challenge and freedom is not in stealing cars, but in what one does with them afterwards. Stealing cars in GTA is as everyday in Sand Andreas as opening a car door is in the lived world.”

[6] Charles Herold, “Game Theory: Stealing Cars and Telling Stories,” The New York Times, January 10, 2002

[7] For the makes and models of GTA cars see Tim Bogenn, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories Official Strategy Guide (Brady Games, 2005), 16-22; Tim Bogenn, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories Official Strategy Guide (Brady Games, 2002), 15-25.

[8] On the radio in Grand Theft Auto see Kiri Miller, “Jacking the Dial: Radio, Race, and Place in ‘Grand Theft Auto’” Ethnomusicology 51 (2007): 402-438. Music is central to the digital car theft experience. One of Miller’s interviewees told her that, “Country music is more appropriate for a stolen pickup truck, or hardcore rap for a low-rider. And some of the more relaxing stations are better suited for long dives in the country, while others may be better suit for, y’know, doing a drive-by.”

[9] For details on Grand Rapids see David G. Myers, Exploring Psychology (New York: Worth Publishing, 2005), 565. See Shira Chess, “Playing the Bad Guy: Grand Theft Auto in the Panopticon,” in Digital Gameplay: Essays on the Nexus of Game and Gamer ed. Nate Garrelts (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Inc., 2005): **-**. The year after, two boys who claimed to be copying GTA, shot at vehicles on a highway near their Newport, Tennessee, home and killed a forty-five year old driver. On Newport, see Maxine Frith, “’Grand Theft Auto’ Makers Sued Over Teenage Killing,” The Independent, September 18, 2003.

[10] Rebecca Leung, “Can A Video Game Lead to Murder?” CBS News, February 11, 2009. (accessed 9 July 2011). In 2004, a group of young criminals from Oakland, California, went on a string of carjackings, murders, and robberies. One of the arrested youth told the police “we played the game by day and lived the game by night.” Kim Worthy, “How violent video games can cultivate real youth violence; Prosecutor says Grand Theft Auto-Sand Andreas and other games have dramatic impact on young players,” Michigan Chronicle, Sept 28-October 4, 69 (2005): A1.

[11] Quoted in David Kushner, “The Road to Ruin: How Grand Theft Auto Hit the Skids,” Wired Magazine , March 9, 2007. Accessed online (accessed 23 May 2011).

[12] A number of individuals and organizations have criticized Grand Theft Auto as a threat to children. In 2004 California Assemblyman Leeland Yee, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill that restricted the sale of video games to minors. When the bill encountered resistance in the state legislature, Yee said: “Here we have children playing these violent video games for long periods of time – shooting, burning, maiming – all of these heinous acts. I thought it was a slam-dunk bill…but all of a side, people are hesitant, wondering what is wrong with the current system. “See “Violent video games under fire in Assembly, Bill Banning Minors from buy M-rated volumes has its foes,” Sacramento Chronicle, April 5, 2004. In 2008, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) asked the Entertainment Software Ratings Board to reclassify GTA IV as “Adults Only” because the game included a drunk driving sequence. See “MADD attacks ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’” The Associated Press, May 1, 2008. Michael Bloomberg said that GTA IV “doesn’t exactly teach the kind of things that you’d want to teach your kids…[it teaches] children to kill.” See “Rants Begin Against Grand Theft Auto IV,” GamePro, May 3, 2008. In 2005, governor of Michigan Jennifer Granholm said that “we should all be disturbed by the availability of these games…it wasn’t just a problem in one store or one county, and it wasn’t just a problem in large cities or rural communities. Children across the state have access to games that depict graphic violence and sexual exploitation.” See “How violent video games can cultivate real youth violence; Prosecutor says Grand Theft Auto-Sand Andreas.”

[13] “Clinton Urges Inquiry into Hidden Sex in Grand Theft Auto Game, The New York Times, July 14, 2005.

[14] “Clinton Seeks Uniform Ratings in Entertainment for Children,” The New York Times, March 10, 2005.

[15] Steve Johnson, Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005), 41.

[16] Paul Gee, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003), 141-142. See also Lawrence Kutner and Cherly M. Olson, Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games, (New York: Simon and Shuster, 2008).

[17] Damon Brown, Porn and Pong: How Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider, and Other Sexy Games Changed our Culture (Port Townsend, WA: Feral House Publishing, 2008).

[18] See, for example, David Leonard, “Virtual Gangstas Coming to a Suburban House Near You: Demonization, Commodification, and Policing Blackness,” and Dennis Redmond, “Grand Theft Video: Running and Gunning for the U.S. Empire,” and Laurie N. Taylor, “From Stompin’ Mushrooms to Bustin Heads: Grand Theft Auto III as paradigm Shift,” in The Meaning and Culture of Grand Theft Auto: Critical Essays ed. Nate Garrelts, (Jefferson City, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2005): 49-69, 104-114, 115-126.

[19] Simon Penny, “Representation, Enaction, and the Ethics of Simulation,” in First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2004), 81.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Targa Top Almost Done!!

Hi folks -- well, as the above photos attest, the targa top project is almost done. Yesterday I refitted the interior headliner -- the early version using perforated vinyl is so elegant with its rods, affixed in place with no glue at all. So what is left is trimming some of the rubber off the side seals to get it to fit right. When clamping it down yesterday I noticed just how tight the top is, how there is no flex whatsoever, how the edges fit right where they are supposed to be, and how the rigidity of the car changes with the top in place. Quite different from the other top. That top -- in use over the past 16+ years and probably far more -- that will also be redone in the future now that I know the basics of top restoration.

The cost was far more than $50, however. When one adds you the price for two clamps, a skin, webbing, screws, glue, burlap, felt, it comes out to about $700. And the time -- who knows how much went into this -- hours and hours!

So not for the faint of heart or cash-strapped.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Kaye Comes to the Rescue -- Porsche 911 Targa Top VI -- Skin is Now On

Hi folks -- well, yesterday was an ordeal! Thanks to Kaye's careful cutting of the trim around the top skin, the insistence on quality construction rather than muddling through, and work until after dark the skin is now in place, although we still have to glue down the two sides where the top is attached to the gutters. If you decide to do this project, look and then look again at the way the old top was glued to the frame -- note it is only around the edges and in tabs up past the top clips. Use plenty of masking tape to make sure that holes for the clips and adjacent areas do not get glue on them. Take your time -- far more time than most want to spend to get it done right and aesthetically pleasing. This is no job for the faint at heart. Use lots of steel clips as you glue. Use contact cement, as that is the only adhesive that will hold. At crucial times, read as much as you can from the experiences of others, expecially on the Pelican Parts Tech articles.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Future of GM II -- Reduced Number of Platforms and Engines

GM to halve vehicle platforms, build Cadillacs 'in volume' in China

Christina Rogers/ The Detroit News

General Motors Co.'s restructuring continues.

Two years out of bankruptcy, the Detroit-based automaker wants to further streamline how it designs and builds vehicles around the world. The effort, GM's top executives told some 200 Wall Street investors and financial analysts at GM's Warren Tech Center on Tuesday, will lead to industry-leading profit margins in the long run.

While it has shed jobs, brands and debt during bankruptcy, GM's executives admit the automaker continues to have an inefficient manufacturing network, weak supplier relations and too many variations in the types of engines and vehicle underpinnings it uses to build cars and trucks globally. .

In attempts to boost profitability, GM wants to cut the number of vehicle platforms by half over the next decade and consolidate the number of engines.

That will help get products to the market faster, and reduce duplicate engineering and design for cars sold across the globe, said Mary Barra, GM's product chief.

By 2018, she told the Wall Street analysts at the annual briefing, GM hopes to build 90 percent of its vehicles on 14 platforms — half the number now — and boost manufacturing efficiency by 40 percent. About one-third of its globally sold vehicles now share the same underpinnings.

Within the same timeframe, GM wants to cut the number of engine varieties by half.

"It's the course a lot of manufacturers are taking," said Michelle Krebs, a senior editor of Santa Monica-based, an online automotive research and analysis site.

"Everyone is trying to get to greater economies of scale."

GM wants greater flexibility in its plants worldwide, so each factory can build more types of vehicles.

The automaker's profit margin still lags its rivals, company execs say.

J.P. Morgan analysts project GM will earn about 5 percent on its operations this year, versus the 10 percent that competitors Hyundai Motor Co. and BMW AG will make.

"We're doing OK, but not great," said GM's Chief Financial Officer Dan Ammann.

Ammann described GM's profit margins as only "middle of the pack" and said the company in the past wasted up to $1 billion a year by delaying or abandoning vehicle development programs when times got bad.

GM has since stabilized its development budgets for new cars and trucks.

The automaker is on better footing now. It exceeded Wall Street expectations last week when it reported a $2.5 billion second-quarter profit — its sixth consecutive quarter in the black since emerging from bankruptcy in 2009 — and turned a pre-tax and interest profit in all four global markets. But financial market turmoil is beginning to tamp down the industry's outlook for 2011; some analysts are trimming their sales forecasts.

GM CEO Dan Akerson reiterated company projections that the industry would sell 13 million to 13.5 million vehicles this year, although he added they could come in at the lower end of that range.

"There's a lot of turmoil in the business and turmoil means uncertainty, so we're a little unsure of these numbers," Akerson said.

Krebs, of, agrees GM still has work to do.

"I got the distinct impression that this was a report card, and they're nowhere near to scoring an A+," she said.

The carmaker has big hopes for its high-volume Chevrolet brand and expects Chevy will account for 65 percent of GM's global sales by 2018. That's up from 61 percent last year.

Chevy soon will finish updates to its entire lineup.

The 2013 Malibu goes on sale early next year. A new full-size Impala is expected soon thereafter. And Chevrolet's new micro car, the Spark, goes on sale in the first-quarter 2011 in Europe, with launches in the United States and other markets to follow, Barra said.

Cadillac, which GM is pumping up as its second global brand, accounts for only 3 percent of its global sales — a figure the automaker expects to remain flat until 2016.

In the third quarter of 2012, GM plans to start manufacturing Cadillacs in China, where buyers are giving the brand a strong look. Almost as many people are willing to consider buying a Cadillac as a Mercedes, Audi or BMW in China, said GM marketing chief Joel Ewanick.

In Europe, historically a trouble spot for GM, the company hopes to take its German Adam Opel GmbB brand slightly upscale, to compete with Volkswagen AG, and differentiate it from Chevrolet in this regional market, Ewanick said.

After years of losing money, GM earned a $100 million pre-tax profit in Europe in the second-quarter 2011.

Akerson also added that building Chevrolets in Europe is on the company's strategic to-do list.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Targa Top Restoration V -- Felt Pad Glued in Place

Hi folks-- since this was an early 911/912 targa top, it did not have a foam pad that was spread over the entire top, but rather two felt pads glued on either side of the top (See photo from Targa Top Restoration II). So two felt pieces were glued, as the original, although their thickness is not quite up to the original spec. We'll see soon if this worked or not!

Monday, August 8, 2011

GM, Shanghai Automotive Industry, Inc., Wuling -- the Emerging Market Family Car

What follows is an excellent article written by Christine Tierney of The Detroit News on GM activities in China and India. This is a must read for anyone trying to peek into the future of the global industry.

August 8, 2011
GM’s Wuling venture reaches for the masses in ChinaCHRISTINE TIERNEY/ The Detroit News
Liuzhou, China
The sprawling Wuling factory in this provincial town isn't one of the most advanced assembly plants that General Motors Co. and its venture partners operate in China, but it's among the busiest. Here, during three shifts a day, six days a week, workers turn out sturdy little vans and trucks priced as low as $4,300.
These Wuling-brand "minivehicles," as they're called, double as easy-to-load commercial vehicles by day and family haulers at night, fitting the needs and budgets of farmers and small businesses in China's hardscrabble interior.
These new customers, mostly first-time buyers climbing out of poverty, are part of a surge of tens of millions of people across Asia who are making just enough money to buy or think about buying a vehicle.
GM and its Chinese partner, Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp., are now drawing on Wuling to reach them. Using Wuling's vehicle "architecture," or underpinnings, GM and its partners are developing low-cost models for India — the next big automotive battleground.
The world's leading automakers — GM, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and their rivals — all are plowing investments into emerging markets and developing vehicles to attract these new customers, who will be the industry's main source of growth.
"Many markets are reaching the takeoff stage," said Joe Hinrichs, head of Ford's Asia-Pacific region.
By 2020, global auto sales are expected to rise to 110 million a year, an increase of 38 million vehicles from 2010 levels. Emerging markets will account for about 30 million of the additional sales, according to consulting firm IHS Automotive.
For U.S., Japanese and European automakers grappling with saturated or even shrinking home markets, the growth prospects offer a reprieve. Ford estimates there are 1.3 billion potential drivers in countries with per-capita incomes ranging between $5,000 and $15,000 — when car ownership starts to rise steeply.
The Dearborn automaker is building seven plants in Asia, including a $1 billion Indian car and engine factory complex. Nissan Motor Co. said last month it was doubling its production capacity in Indonesia and other southeast Asian countries.
Investing in emerging markets is risky and always has been because of the boom-and-bust cycles, political instability and changing rules. But automakers are assuming those risks.
"It's a bigger risk not to be there than to be there," says IHS analyst Michael Robinet. "That's where the growth is going to be."
The tricky part for automakers is to produce cars these new buyers can afford and still manage to turn a profit.
India is particularly challenging. Global automakers are competing against homegrown models, such as Tata Motors' Nano minicar starting at $3,150.
Ford estimates 70 percent of cars sold in India are priced under $8,500 — well below the entry level in the United States.
Automakers are pursuing various approaches to meet these customers' needs — and compete with new rivals, such as Chinese automakers turning up in Brazil, as Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat SpA and Chrysler Group LLC, noted last week.
Some automakers, such as GM, are working with smart local manufacturers, such as Wuling.
GM has done this before, selling low-cost vehicles designed and built by its Daewoo carmaker in South Korea in other countries, under other brands.
Similarly, Renault SA has teamed with Bajaj Auto of India to develop a minicar that would be priced below $3,000. Volkswagen AG has bought a stake in Suzuki Motor Corp., a Japanese producer of low-cost cars and a leading player in India.
Toyota has been designing vehicles for developing economies since the '70s and has rolled out the first in a series of "emerging market family cars" in India.
Ford, meanwhile, plans to sell Ford-brand vehicles with less content and technology — and a lower price — to compete "in the heart rather than at the top of these segments," said Chief Financial Officer Lewis Booth.
Hyundai Motor Co. has expanded rapidly in India, where it's pushing beyond the cities and into rural regions. In China, it sells the new Elantra Yuedong in large cities where consumers are more sensitive to trends, and an older Elantra in smaller cities.
China, India keep growing
Most automakers have product development and manufacturing plans in place in China, which is "far and away the tall pole in the tent," in the words of Tim Lee, president of GM International Operations.
China is the world's biggest market, with more than 18 million vehicle sales in 2010, and it's forecast to keep growing as wealth spreads to inland and border provinces, such as Guangxi, where Wuling Motors is based.
Customers from these regions turned Wuling into the top-selling brand in China of all of GM's ventures with Shanghai Automotive. Led by the popular Sunshine van starting at $4,600, Wuling outsold Chevrolet, Buick and the other brands combined last year.
Wuling keeps its costs low by building its commercial vehicles — more than 1 million a year — on shared underpinnings.
"We have one basic platform," which Wuling and its partners continually improve, said Matt Tsien, a GM executive assigned in 2009 to the Shanghai-GM-Wuling venture, where he is a vice president and oversees the Technical Development Center. (The venture is 50.1 percent owned by Shanghai Automotive; 44 percent owned by GM, and Wuling Motors has 5.9 percent.)
In India, by selling vans or other commercial vehicles using Wuling "architecture," GM will start competing in a segment that accounts for 40 percent of the market, said Karl Slym, president of GM India. GM doesn't offer anything in that segment now.
Over the past year, GM has slipped behind Toyota, Volkswagen AG and Ford in India, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Ford's sales surged after it brought the Ford Figo, an $8,000 minicar built on a previous generation Fiesta platform.
India is far smaller than China, with just more than 3 million cars and trucks sold in 2010. But GM expects the Indian market to become the world's third-largest.
Ford, sticking with its "One Ford" strategy of one global brand and model range, plans to sell "value-enabled" versions of Ford global models in emerging markets. They will cost between $1,000 and $2,000 less to produce than fully equipped cars sold in established markets.
But the differences wouldn't be jarring. Rear windows in a "value-enabled" model might have handles, for instance, rather than power controls, Booth said.
"It's still a Ford. It's still best in class at the things we want to be best in class at," he said.
Profit margins slim
Investors are concerned because these vehicles, which will account for an increasing percentage of Ford's sales, will have slimmer profit margins than vehicles sold in North America.
But Booth says the additional sales will pad the bottom line by increasing the economies of scale for the global platforms.
Ford executives told investors at a June presentation that even as the automaker expands in emerging markets, it expects operating earnings to rise from 6.1 percent of revenue in 2010 to between 8 percent and 9 percent toward the middle of the decade.
"This is an important stage in the company's development," Booth said.
"The only risk is if we don't do it."
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Additional Facts
Toyota’s emerging market car
Toyota has been designing platforms for low-cost models since the 1970s, when it produced multipurpose vehicles for Indonesia and other developing economies. It fields Daihatsu-brand cars in emerging markets, and in recent years, it has produced trucks, vans and SUVs on a platform designed for emerging markets and their rough roads. Toyota’s latest project is the "emerging-market family car," conceived from the ground up for customers of modest means. The cars are designed to be reliable and safe, and to meet the needs of emerging-market customers — roomy interiors to transport families, and affordable repairs. Toyota launched the first model in the series, the Etios sedan, costing $10,500, in India in December. It rolled out the Etios Liva hatchback, priced at $8,900, in June. Toyota engineers examined all parts and features to cut costs. "Usually a vehicle has a separate filament for the condenser, the air conditioner and other related parts," said Toyota spokesman Dion Corbett. "For the Etios, Toyota developed a combined system that allowed only one filament to be used for four parts." Toyota hasn’t said where it will sell the Etios next, but analysts say it will be sold next year in Brazil, Thailand and China. Toyota’s rival Honda Motor Co. is launching the Brio — a car one size below the Fit subcompact — in India and in Thailand this year.
© Copyright 2011 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Google's Robot Controled Car -- the Future?

Hi folks -- so there are times we need to look into the future at the Automobile and American Life. And it seems that much of the really creative new technology in the U.S. is coming out of California. The Google Prius robot car was recently involved in an accident, but it happened while it was being manually driven. Intelligent Vehicle Systems -- just around the corner? Can the car still be seen as a freedom machine when a robot is doing the driving?

a report of the recent accident:

At Google, don't blame the technology when something goes wrong -- blame the person behind the technology.

That's exactly -- and literally -- what the Mountain View-based tech giant did when one of its robot-controlled cars got into a minor fender-bender this week.

Google said the car that caused the crash was actually being controlled by a human when it bumped into another computer-controlled car.

“Safety is our top priority. One of our goals is to prevent fender-benders like this one, which occurred while a person was manually driving the car,” the company said in a statement, according to All Things D.

So rest easy. Computer-driven cars are not far off in Google's world -- or in ours. The crash occurred near Google's Mountain View campus and it involved two Toyota Priuses.

In fact, Google touts the safety record of its human-less cars. When humans stay out of the driver's seat, they have driven 160,000 miles without incident.

Porsche 911 Targa Top Restoration IV -- Burlap Glued!

Hi folks -- Targa top restoration update. And you thought I had given up! Burlap now glued firmly to the top frame. Burlap purchased at Hancock Fabrics. Very careful cutting and trimming done to get this to look just right. This step takes plenty of time. Glue on the top was set with spray 3M trim glue. Glue on sides was the contact cement used previously. Once rolled to put pressure on the bond edges clipped and drying took place overnight. Now on to glue padding on both sides of the top, prior to gluing final black skin.