This blog will expand on themes and topics first mentioned in my book, "The Automobile and American Life." I hope to comment on recent developments in the automobile industry, reviews of my readings on the history of the automobile, drafts of my new work, contributions from friends, descriptions of the museums and car shows I attend and anything else relevant to those interested in automobiles and auto history. Copyright 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 , 2016 by the author.
This is a photo of another Gullwing crash, taking place in Mexico.
The elite sports car, one of only 1400, was "completely destroyed" with estimated damages of more than $830,000.
The 26-year-old and his 19-year-old apprentice from Mechatronics — a high-profile Mercedes workshop — were unharmed after their joyride north of Stuttgart went sour.
Police said the speed limit of about 55 mph "was not observed, obviously," and the two seat car with 4-speed manual transmission went off the side of the road and rolled over.
The 300 SL was unveiled in February 1954 at the International Motor Sports Show in New York and was voted “Sports car of the Century” in 1999. The distinctive gull wing version was only available from March 1955 to 1957.
The car is best known for being the first to inject fuel directly into the cylinders, making it the world's fastest production car of its time.
Der Spiegel notes that the owner of the 300 SL remained calm when informed. Both the car and the garage are insured against such cases, and GTspirit notes that the vehicle has a chance to be restored
Battery power is still said to be the coming thing, although not just yet. Critical mass for electric cars may be less than five years away, say some experts, when economies of scale will make the product cheap enough to stand on its own feet without government subsidy.
Others say that by cutting weight out of vehicles and adding so-called range-extenders, viable electric cars will soon be a success, even though they may look more like frogs on steroids than normal cars.
In Europe and perhaps in America too, another looming obstacle to electric cars — on top of the fact that they are probably twice as expensive as they should be with half the needed range — is the fear that government regulation to clean up electricity generation and close down dirty coal-fired power stations may cut supply to dangerous levels just when the public will be seeking to plug in their new electric cars to the national grid.
The Renault-Nissan alliance, the electric car's biggest proselytizer, is now pulling away from its claim that global sales of battery only vehicles would hit 10 percent by 2020. The U.S. has backed off from a target of one million zero emission vehicles by 2015. According to Automotive Industry Data, 1,746 electric vehicles took to Western European roads in January for a market share of 0.2 percent.
Sales of battery-only electric cars have stalled on takeoff in Europe and the U.S., and climate change realist Bjorn Lomborg, author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist" and "Cool It," had some harsh truths for their supporters. The fact that they are actually not very "green" probably hit home hardest. In an article in the Wall Street Journal and an appearance on Fox News, Lomborg pointed out that a regular battery car like the Nissan Leaf already had a virtual 80,000 miles on the CO2 clock while sitting in the showroom, mainly because of the energy intensive methods used to produce the battery.
This compares with under 40,000 miles worth of CO2 for a comparable car with an internal combustion engine (ICE). During its lifetime, a battery-only car may start to narrow the gap with ICE cars, but this will be slowed if the electricity is generated by coal, oil or even natural gas. Nuclear, hydro or renewable electricity generation is required for green targets to be achieved, and that only really happens in France, with its high proportion of nuclear generation, Switzerland's hydro output and Denmark's wind power.
Power loss with age
End of life recycling of batteries and other components is another huge penalty for the so-called "green" solution. Lomborg said for electric cars to win the "green" race they need to clock high mileage, but another inconvenient fact stands in the way: Batteries lose power with age, and a Leaf's range will be cut from the 73-mile U.S. rated initial capacity to about 55 miles after five years.
Peter Fuss, a partner at the Ernst & Young consultancy's Global Automotive Center in Frankfurt, Germany, insists that despite this sputtering start, electric cars will have their day in the sun. Fuss concedes that battery-only cars have yet to achieve a significant advantage over conventional cars, and that this has been made more difficult by the huge improvements made over the last 10 years or so which have seen ICE cars increase their efficiency by about 30 percent, while weight has been taken out too.
"The latest Range Rover is about 400 kilograms (880 lbs.) lighter than the previous model," Fuss said.
Fuss expects European and Chinese governments to continue to push car manufacturers to produce electric cars to avoid dependence on imported fuels. He said the U.S. has much more time to do this because of recent new supply discoveries.
"Manufacturers now have a big incentive too because they've spent a lot of money. Vehicles like the BMW i3 and i8 and Chevrolet Volt represent a huge investment," Fuss said.
The BMW i3 is a battery-only city car made with high-cost, low-weight materials which goes on sale later this year. BMW has said it will also be available with a range-extender option — a small gasoline engine which takes over for an empty battery. The BMW i8 is a plug-in hybrid sports car. The Chevrolet Volt is also an electric range-extended vehicle.
Fuss said costs of electric vehicles will soon benefit from increased economies of scale, and that will give demand a shot in the arm.
"In a short time we will see costs start to come down. By after 2016 or 2017 we will see economies of scale with a positive impact on price reduction. Improvements in battery range will come after 2020, but range is not a major issue because of range-extenders," Fuss said.
Nicolas Meilhan, analyst with Frost & Sullivan in Paris, said current electric cars fail to make a compelling case for buyers, but if manufacturers design lighter vehicles to make allowances for battery limitations and use range-extenders, the public will pay attention.
"People will buy either because a car performs better for the same price or because it is cheaper. But they won't buy if it doesn't perform as well or is more expensive. People won't pay for reduced performance. If you add a range extender there starts to be a business case, and that's why the Chevrolet Volt is selling three times more than the (Nissan) Leaf in the U.S., even if it is $5,000 more expensive. It's as simple as that," Meilhan said.
Cutting weight is the key to successful electric cars, and Peugeot-Citroen, in which General Motors has a 7 percent stake and an alliance agreement, has a concept car incorporating some key elements.
"The Peugeot BB1 is an example of the car of the future. It is a micro car with range extender, and it is cheap and versatile. It is well suited to the city, but such micro-cars are also popular in rural areas of France," Meilhan said.
The BB1 has four seats with electric motors in the wheels to save space. Rather than offer a big, heavy battery with a range of about 150 miles, Meilhan said, better to slash its size and weight by about three quarters for a 40 mile range, and add a range extender.
Dr. Peter Wells of the Centre of Automotive Industry Research at the Cardiff Business School agrees that the environmental case for electric cars has been undermined by the energy cost of mineral extraction to make battery packs.
"It makes no sense to have electric cars running around when electricity is generated by coal, petroleum or gas, to be honest," Wells said.
Wells said electric cars would make a huge contribution to local air quality, and their long-term role in reducing CO2 and climate change shouldn't be overlooked, but there is a more imminent problem which must be solved if electric cars are to succeed: power generation.
"The power generation infrastructure is causing growing concern. There's a gap emerging between demand and supply as dirty power stations are closed down, and within five years there's a crunch point coming. Just as electric vehicles start to become popular, there won't be the power available unless this is managed. People will be coming home, plugging their cars in just when everyone else is plugging in their kettles and putting the TV and dinner on. This needs to be tackled by governments. Germany is now building coal-fired power stations again," Wells said.
He said electric car sales have languished, and there doesn't seem much likelihood of acceleration soon.
"There have been some significant niche applications, but we are a long way off approaching critical mass or even five percent of (global) sales and unless some very dramatic new technology is deployed I can't see this changing quickly. We're looking at a 10 to 15 year ramp-up period and that looks too slow for the industry and for climate issues," Wells said.
Although Lomborg, using data from a report from the Journal of Industrial Ecology, pointed out big shortcomings, he hasn't consigned electric cars to the waste bin just yet. Their time may yet come.
"The electric car might be great in a couple of decades but as a way to tackle global warming now it does virtually nothing. The real challenge is to get green energy that is cheaper than fossil fuels. That requires heavy investment in green research and development. Spending instead on subsidizing electric cars is putting the cart before the horse, and an inconvenient and expensive cart at that."
Hi folks -- just reading an old post on a Mercedes forum about a guy who bought an old 380sl that bled him dry, so to speak. Every time he had something fixed another thing broke, and he kept on going to dealers to fix the car. One can become so path dependent that you just keep throwing money at the car, or as in this case, you throw up your hands and sell the car at a loss. Well, this particular guy wanted a good looking ride but came in with deluded expectations. The whole experience is a challenge -- where to I get the parts way below dealer and market prices? Where do I take to car for repairs when I can't do it? What can I learn as I repair the car myself? Remember, you are working on yourself as much as the car!
Do I believe some cars are possessed by evil spirits. Yes, by all means! They are not simply mechanical devices. They can come off the assembly line bad, just as some people are born "bad to the bone." If you have one of these, get rid of it now!
What follows was posted on another blog. Very interesting: 'Anaconda/Evil Spirit' Honda Accord 2009 When this Honda came out last year, people were alarmed because it had one heck of a scary look when you first came across it, and it was BIG compared to its past models. It got its nickname from the look of its headlamps which look as menacing as the notorious Anaconda snake of the amazon jungle. The evil look of the headlamps also gained it a second nickname of ‘Evil Spirit’.
Thanks to student Scott Adolfi for making me aware of this ad. The Honda is a car that works. But does it have a soul? And that is the real issue. What Toyota and Honda have done is reshape American automobile culture dramatically, as the automobile is no longer an object of obsession fro most Americans, but an appliance. And with it the love affair with the automobile is no more. But isn't it sick that we can love an Ipad?
From Paul Lashbrook:
I believe the attached photograph is from 1939, when Boyle Racing Headquarters owned the winning Maserati race car driven by Wilbur Shaw who was the second person to win the Indianapolis 500 three times, and the first to win twice in a row. His car number was 2. There are two cars numbered 2, so apparently one was a backup car. Car number 4 was probably for a team mate. The 2 car on the ground is sleeker. None of this will help identify the truck.
Audis Trump China Patriotism as Local Brands Falter
China is pressuring bureaucrats to buy locally branded cars to help domestic automakers and cut lavish spending of taxpayers’ money. That’s unless you are a high-level government official with an Audi A6L. At Beijing’s Great Hall of the People yesterday, where Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was addressing a crowd of almost 3,000 delegates, only those senior enough could park in the nearby north gate and southern courtyard. The scene: dozens of gleaming black Audi sedans waiting for their VIP occupants to emerge from the National People’s Congress (see attached photo).
While civil servants in the U.S., Japan and South Korea typically ride in local cars, Chinese senior leaders stand out in their preference toward foreign brands, namely the German Audi.
“We should try to use Chinese cars when possible and actively advocate our officials to use them,” Guo Gengmao, governor of central Henan province, said yesterday when asked whether he will swap his Audi for a local brand. “But we should do so in a practical way and switch cars when we need to replace the old ones. Otherwise, it’s a big waste to replace cars when they’re still good to use.”
That’s not helping Chinese automakers, whose combined market share of domestic sales has declined to a four-year low.
Audi has benefited from its image as the car of choice for China’s political elite by targeting state-owned company bosses and business executives. That’s helped the automaker cement its position as the top premium brand in the world’s largest vehicle market. “If the top leaders started to switch to Chinese brand cars, junior officials and bosses of state-owned companies would follow overnight and that would be a great push for state-owned automakers,” said Chi Yifeng, head of the Beijing Asian Games Village Automobile Exchange, a vehicle dealer in the capital. “People have been waiting for detailed policies of promoting domestic brands for the government fleet.” Audi dominated the premium vehicle segment in China with a 29.6 percent share last year, followed by Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Mercedes-Benz at 23.6 percent and 20.6 percent, respectively, according to estimates at researcher IHS Global Insight. Luxury car sales in China are forecast to surpass the U.S. as early as 2016 and equal that of Western Europe by 2020, driven by rising incomes, McKinsey & Co. said in a report this week. Audi is stepping up efforts to transform its image as a brand for Chinese bureaucrats, a task that has taken on added urgency as Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping pushes to reduce government expenditure.
Audi says its association with the government is limited. Private individuals now account for nine out of every 10 customers in China, Luca de Meo, member of the management board at Audi, said in Beijing in January. The Ingolstadt, Germany-based automaker last month opened its first interactive digital showroom in Asia in a Beijing shopping mall to reach out to younger consumers, and has introduced sport-utility vehicles and sports cars like the TT and R8 to expand its offerings beyond the A6 sedan. Regardless of their influence over total sales, some Chinese officials have gone ahead to use local brands, mostly by automakers headquartered in their respective jurisdictions. Wang Rong, Communist Party secretary of the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, started using BYD Co. (1211)’s e6 electric cars last year.
His counterparts in Beijing, municipal party secretary Guo Jinlong and mayor Wang Anshun, have expressed interest in replacing their Audi sedans with BAIC Motor Corp.’s Senova cars when they become available in the second quarter, according to BAIC Vice President Dong Haiyang. The local communist party committee in Gansu province asked its senior cadres to “gradually” switch to use indigenous- brand cars, according to a Gansu Daily report carried on the government’s website. Ningxia, Hunan and Xinjiang are among other provinces that have issued similar directives. “To make the Chinese auto brands more competitive, the industry needs support from the whole society, especially the government officials, who should be role models and use local- brand cars,” said Cheng Xiaodong, head of vehicle-price monitoring at the National Development and Reform Commission, the nation’s top economic planner. Chinese automakers from FAW to SAIC Motor Corp. have stepped up development of premium models in anticipation the government will lend more support to help them revamp an image as producers of cheap, utilitarian cars.
FAW is completing a $280 million revamp for its Red Flag -- or Hongqi in Chinese -- first produced for Chairman Mao Zedong and discontinued in 1981 because of its high fuel consumption. Local governments in more than 10 provinces and cities have put in orders for Red Flag’s H7 sedan since its introduction in July last year, according to FAW’s website. Still, local brands remain weak and mostly deal in low- priced cars, FAW Chairman Xu Jianyi said at the Congress today. SAIC’s Roewe 950 sedan, whose prices start from 149,800 yuan ($24,065), was selected as the official car for the annual meeting of Sichuan province’s local political advisory body in January, the Shanghai-based company said on its website. The central government issued guidelines in November 2011 lowering the budget for cars used for routine official business by 28 percent to 180,000 yuan. The Audi A6L, the best-selling luxury car in China, starts at 287,300 yuan. The industry ministry followed three months later with a proposed list of 412 models approved for purchase by state agencies that excluded foreign brands.
The fine print: Those regulations don’t apply to cars used by senior government and Party officials. Detailed rules will probably be issued after the Congress meeting this month, providing a big boost to FAW, SAIC and other local automakers, the Beijing Times reported on Feb. 28, without saying where it got the information. “For a country with such a gigantic capacity also in terms of their own industry, they are always proud to promote their own brands,” Pan Qing, head of China region sales at Audi China, said on Jan. 31 in Beijing. “That is something that everybody can anticipate because if you look at those mature markets like Germany, Japan, Korea and the U.S, all the governments always use their own brands.”
Thanks to Arthur Jones, Kit Foster, and Bob Casey for taking the time to deal with my puzzling question concerning the photo shown in the previous post. More than likely that car is a Briscoe, made in Jackson, Michigan. Here are a few other images concerning this "unrecognizable" vehicle.
Hi folks -- at dinner the other night an acquaintance of mine shared this family photograph -- taken in 1928 probably -- in Michigan (looks like a 1928 license plate). The key piece of evidence may be the mark on the radiator, which is difficult to make out. Let me know if you have an answer!
The story of Tenvoorde Motor Co., the oldest continuously owned and family-operated Ford dealership, has the makings for a classic American rags-to-riches tale: Pioneer goes west and settles a new town. His son, an adventurous bicycle-shop owner with a passion for wheels, falls in love with the automobile and establishes the nation's second Ford dealership. Business flourishes against the worst odds but then nearly falls into the hands of strangers. Current generation of family members expands the business and looks forward to 21st century.
The roots for the Tenvoorde dynasty were planted when John Tenvoorde led a group of German Dutch settlers from Pennsylvania to Indiana and, then, to St. Cloud, Minn. A merchant, Tenvoorde was one of the founders of St. Cloud.
His son, Steve Tenvoorde, and his buddy, P.R. Thielman, nicknamed 'The Daredevils,' accomplished the feat of driving a Milwaukee Steamer 70 miles over a rough oxen trail from Minneapolis to St. Cloud to bring the first automobile to their home town in 1899.
An inventive blacksmith and bicycle shop owner, Steve Tenvoorde was hooked on this new invention. In 1901, he began selling cars from his bicycle shop in downtown St. Cloud. He signed the second Ford franchise on March 21, 1903, before Ford Motor Co. was incorporated that June.
William Hughson, founder of Hughson Ford Sales in San Francisco, signed the first Ford franchise only a month earlier, in February 1903. That business no longer is operated by the family.
The Tenvoorde name has been associated with autos in St. Cloud since 1901. It was a beginning without an ending in sight in 2013..
Indeed, the automobile proved a tough sell in that first year as a Ford franchisee. Steve Tenvoorde sold only a single Ford car that year. Today, the Tenvoorde dealership typically sells 350 new and used retail vehicles per month, said Jack Tenvoorde.
Steve Tenvoorde viewed the automobile and driving as an adventure. One of the many newspaper clippings Jack Tenvoorde has from his grandfather Steve's day describes the first 'Sociability Run,' made in 1912, when 21 cars drove from one town to another for a three-day adventure. Steve Tenvoorde led the way in his Ford. With his love for bicycle racing and inventive skills, he designed a way for the St. Cloud Band members to carry their instruments on their bicycles and accompany the motorists.
Each driver in the caravan was given rules to follow over the rough roads. The speed limit was set at an average of 15 mph with no car to run any faster than 25 mph at any given time. Even if they could have driven faster, there were problems to deal with that would have slowed them down, mostly tire punctures, wet carburetors and getting stuck in the mud.
In addition to changes in vehicles and price hikes, the evolution of the industry and the Tenvoorde family business is evident through old photographs that Jack Tenvoorde has. The dealership itself has changed dramatically.
Seven years after receiving the first shipment of Model A Fords, Steve Tenvoorde erected his first sales outlet, a one-story brick building in downtown St. Cloud. In 1916, he remodeled and added a two-story addition to include a five-car showroom and service area on the lower level and a combination engine-component and body repair shop upstairs.
His son and Jack Tenvoorde's father, Cy Tenvoorde, started working at the dealership when he was 12 and became an official member of the company when he kept the company's books in June 1921.
'My father went through eighth grade and two years of business college,' recalls Jack, the oldest son. 'He pulled the dealership through the Depression as a teenager. When he came home after 18 hours of work, he would break down in tears.'
Cy Tenvoorde and his two brothers became the second generation to take ownership of the dealership when Steve Tenvoorde died in 1943. It was not an opportune time. The dealership, like those across the nation, had no new cars to sell because factories were converted to producing military equipment like planes and tanks for World War II.
Cy Tenvoorde was forced to lay off all of his salesmen, except one. The dealership concentrated on repairing carburetors, fuel pumps, generators, ignitions, distributors, transmissions, crankshafts and re-building engines. Used cars were repaired and put on sale. It sold service by encouraging people, through advertising, to keep their cars in good repair. The purchase of a crankshaft grinder that cost a shocking $8,000 at the time eventually paid for itself through repairs.
'Dad made more at that business than he did selling cars,' said Jack Tenvoorde. 'When the war was over, Ford put in its own official factory machine to rebuild engines, and put him out of that business.'
Still, the business flourished. The dealership built a larger facility on a 3/4-quarter-acre lot in downtown St. Cloud in 1951. 'My dad paid cash for it,' recalled Jack Tenvoorde. 'He didn't believe in credit.'
Jack Tenvoorde laughed describing his uncle, who was his dad's brother and partner at that time. 'He didn't like trucks. Can you imagine? They would only stock one or two at a time. When they sold a truck, my uncle would complain, 'Damn it, now we've got to order another one.' Today trucks are the major part of new-vehicle business. The Explorer and the Expedition are our big sellers.'
A transition in ownership occurred in 1966, and the dealership nearly fell into the hands of non-family members. 'Dad had two brothers and a sister with stock in the company. They wanted to sell out. My dad bought out his brothers and sisters and became the principal owner. That's why we are here today. God willing, we will have as smooth a transition to the next generation.'
Trouble for the dealership came again in 1977 when it spewed red ink month-after-month; the dealership had not experienced an unprofitable year since Cy Tenvoorde had acquired it. Still, sales kept growing, and another expansion was in the works. On June 16, 1977, ground was broken for a new facility on 10 acres of farmland Cy Tenvoorde had plowed at age 12, to demonstrate the versatility of Ford tractors sold at the dealership.
Cy Tenvoorde was reluctant to expand, as it would require using credit, which he didn't believe in. 'Dad told us, 'I ain't signing nothing. You sign the mortgage on this one',' Jack Tenvoorde recalled. 'But life doesn't operate that way anymore. It was a good signing. We had 30 employees in 1977; now we have 110.'
The new dealership opened on St. Patrick's Day 1978, the year Ford Motor Co. and Tenvoorde Motor Co. celebrated their 75th anniversaries With the state's governor and senators along with St. Cloud's mayor on hand for the event, the groundbreaking captured headlines in national newspapers and Automotive News. The dealership must have been blessed that day; it was one of the few winter days it didn't snow in St. Cloud, recalled Jack Tenvoorde.
Since that day, the dealership, which includes one building with 45,000 square feet of floor space on 10 acres, has been remodeled four times to stay fresh with the times.
Active in the dealership daily until 1992, Cy Tenvoorde died in 1995, two days shy of his 90th birthday. Today, the dealership is operated by Jack Tenvoorde and his two younger brothers, Paul and Dave, who have worked together in the dealership for 35 years. Three of Jack's four children are in the business, and are making their mark.
Tenvoorde's daughter, Debbie, is kicking off the fourth generation as the customer service manager. 'Last year we were in last place in the Twin City region in customer service, the same place we've been for six years since the CSI came out. We gave her the job and one year later, we moved to third place in the region. We have won the North American Customer Excellence award,' said Jack Tenvoorde. 'We attribute our dealership's longevity to customer service.'
Jack Tenvoorde sees repeat customers who come back for good service as being the foundation for the future. 'Our success is based on the way we treat our customers. We give them respect. We recognize that without them we have no business.'
Son Michael has been a salesman at the dealership for the past two years since finishing college. He was the dealership's fourth top salesperson last year. He recently attended the National Automobile Dealers Association Academy in McLean, Va.
Trailing behind in the Tenvoorde lineage is the youngest son, Brian, who is still in school and works part-time in the dealership's prep center.
It will be this fourth generation of Tenvoordes who eventually take over the dealership. 'Our family has been here since its beginning and expects to be for many years to come,' Jack Tenvoorde said.
'And,' Jack Tenvoorde said, 'I hope there are more generations of Tenvoorde owners to come.