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BACK SEAT DRIVING - FEBRUARY 2009

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Feb 5, 2009

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

HOT WIRES For hot and tender news wires on the car culture, see LA Car's Hot Wires Think GM, Ford and Chrysler have it bad? The City of Detroit is in worse shape The auto industry is not the banking industry. Stop comparing them The cars cops love to ticket Can Inspector Clouseau sell the smart car?  

 

 

BT JUSTICE: BACK SEAT DRIVING THINK GM, FORD AND CHRYSLER HAVE IT BAD? THE CITY OF DETROIT IS IN WORSE SHAPE Detroit is like a war-torn, third-world country. Its children don't have a chance. FEBRUARY 15th--We read about Detroit in the national news nearly every day because of the plight of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. Tuesday, GM and Chrysler are due to submit their restructuring plans to the federal government, which will decide whether the two companies can keep the money Washington loaned them December - $13.4 billion for GM and $4 billion for Chrysler. Southeast Michigan has been devastated by job losses. Thousands of people have lost their paychecks, homes, families and dignity. Local governments have been hit by tax losses and increasing demand for services. But look through all of the bad news, and group perhaps worst off are the children in the city of Detroit. On Friday, the Detroit News quoted U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan saying, "I am extraordinarily concerned about the poor quality of education, quite frankly, the children of Detroit are receiving." Duncan singled out Detroit's schools as the worst in the nation and said reform of the city's schools will be a "huge focus" for him personally, adding, "I lose sleep over that one. And I think the dropout rate there is devastating." Two-thirds to three-quarters of incoming ninth-graders in the Detroit Public Schools never earn a diploma. That's mind blowing. I asked a friend from Detroit about the situation. He said a big part of the problem is a culture that doesn't value education. For generations, illiterates could work in auto plants and earn a good living. They could afford not only a house but also a "cabin up north," a second or third car, several annual vacations, a boat, snowmobile, and other trappings of a good, middle-class life. You can't be illiterate and work in an auto plant anymore, but the old autoworker culture endures. The ingrained attitude is you get ahead only through brute confrontation - the mindset of workers and management constantly fighting each other. In that dynamic, no benefit is seen in education. In blue collar neighborhoods, career aspiration meant you wanted to be a foreman on the line. And thus we have today's situation in Detroit. There's no pride in receiving an education, no sense of personal gain coming from increased efficiency or innovation. The problem is compounded by the city's school system, which is woefully inefficient and horribly corrupt. The current budget of $1.2 billion includes a $408 million deficit, and an audit last year found 611 teachers on the payroll but not included in the budget. It's a tragedy. The economy is crumbing. Employment prospects are dim to non-existent. Education funds are squandered. There are few role models. And it's dangerous out on the streets The kids in Detroit don't have a chance. - BT Justice    

 

 

 

 

© Detroit News

BT JUSTICE: BACK SEAT DRIVING The auto industry is not the banking industry. Stop comparing them     Talk of providing federal funds to the Beg Three automakers has gotten tiring. People in the rust belt, in particular in Detroit, are asking Washington for bailout money to save their beloved General Motors and Chrysler, and likely Ford before long. They're right that the bankruptcy of one or more of the Beg Three could result in thousands of people losing jobs, resulting in a horrible human toll. But they're wrong in thinking a bailout will save the companies and lead to long-term prosperity. A case in point is an article in Monday's Detroit News comparing bailout money given to the nation's banks with money sent to the Detroit-based automakers, Bailout breakdown: Banks vs. the automakers. The subheadline summarizes the story from Detroit's point of view: Automakers get eight percent of federal aid, but it comes with more conditions. A common lament in Detroit is GM and Chrysler have been given a fraction of the billions of dollars sent to the banks, and all the banks had to do was ask while the automakers must to handstands and make promises the banks don't. The feeling in Detroit is their auto companies deserve - yes, they say deserve - whatever the banks receive. Comparing the banks to auto companies is apples to oranges, but the bellyachers don't understand that. Let's step back for a moment, take a breath, and look at what's going on in both industries. The banks' problem is assets whose value has plummeted. This is similar to individuals seeing the value of their house or stock portfolio fall. But the banks' operations are fundamentally efficient and profitable. Cash fixes their problem. In contrast, the problems of the Beg Three are their operations, which are inefficient and unprofitable. The Detroit automakers have been losing money for years, and this has destroyed their balance sheets. Cash doesn't fix their problems, such as bloated bureaucracies and paying above-market wages. In accounting terms, the banks' income statements are healthy, and the weakness of their balance sheets was caused by temporary, external forces. Give the banks capital, and they'll use it to make a profit. The Beg Three's income statements are diseased, and the weakness of their balance sheets was caused by systemic, internal forces. Give the Detroit automakers capital, and they'll destroy it. The auto industry is no different from any other. Some companies are efficient, and some are not. Some create value, and some destroy it. Our prosperity as a nation is based on rewarding efficient companies and penalizing inefficient ones. Let's not screw up that winning formula. Damon Runyon said, "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet." As investors and as taxpayers, we should put our money on the swift and the strong, not the nags from Detroit. So please, let's not hear any more that GM and Chrysler should be given the same deal as the banks. Their problems are different. The solutions are different. The sooner Detroit deals with reality, the better off for everyone. - BT Justice    

 

 

 

 

© Photo by Harvey Schwartz

NAKANO: BACK SEAT DRIVING Cars Cops Love to Ticket     The Hummer has been taking a thrashing as of late. First, it was the tree huggers. Second, it was the gas crisis. Then General Motors made it public that its considering selling the division. Now, traffic cops have entered the ring. According to ISO Quality Planning, a San Francisco company that studied the records of 1.7 million drivers, Hummer owners are 4.63 times more likely to get a traffic ticket than the average driver. That's the conclusion of a yearlong study the company that helps insurers identify risks. Also making the list: Well-to-do owners of the Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG and CLK63 AMG, young owners of the relatively inexpensive Scion tC, xB and xA, the Audi A4 sports sedan, and (surprisingly) owners of the Subaru Outback and the Toyota Camry Solara and Matrix. Making the list of least-ticketed owners: The Jaguar XJ, the Mazda6(?), Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban (virtually identical mechanically to their General Motors sibling Hummer), and a few other GM offerings. "If $4 gas didn't convince you to trade in that big H2 for a Mini Cooper, perhaps your friendly neighborhood police officer will, says Jamie Page Deaton of US News & World Report. Here's the complete lists of the 10 cars most likely to be dinged with a ticket, and the 10 least likely: 10 Most Ticketed Cars 1. Hummer H2 2. Scion tC 3. Scion xB 4. Mercedes Benz CLK63 AMG 5. Toyota Solara Coupe 6. Mercedes Benz CLS63 AMG 7. Scion xA 8. Subaru Outback 9. Audi A4 10. Toyota Matrix 10 Least Ticketed Cars 1. Jaguar XJ 2. Chevrolet Suburban 3. Chevrolet Tahoe 4. Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and 3500 5. Buick Park Avenue 6. Mazda6 7. Buick Rainier 8. Oldsmobile Silhouette 9. Buick Lucerne 10. GMC Sierra 1500 All the bad press the Hummer has been getting is taking a toll on its resale value. If there's a silver lining in all of this, it's making the Hummer one incredible buy on the used car market. If you're thinking the same thing, here's a tip: Unless you plan to do most of your driving off-road, go with the H3 - it's cheaper, and a helluva lot easier to live with than the H2.    

 

 

 

 

Jean Reno, smart fortwo, and Steve Martin

NAKANO: BACK SEAT DRIVING A SHOT IN THE DARK Can Inspector Clouseu Sell the Smart Car?     Ben Braddock swooned Elaine Robinson with an Alfa Romeo Spider. Ferris Beuller took his day off in a Ferrari California. Frank Bullitt hit the streets of San Francisco in a Mustang GT. Kowalski reached the vanishing point in a Challenger R/T. All examples of exemplary product placement - even before the term was invented. These roles just didn't sell cars. They spawned automotive action figures.  So now comes Daimler with its smart fortwo, driven by none other than Steve Martin in his role as Inspector Jacques Clouseau in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures'/Columbia Pictures' new comedy The Pink Panther 2. As product placement goes, it may strike some as a proverbial shot in the dark. Upon closer inspection, this product placement may be smarter than we think. Yes, Inspector Clouseau is back to his bumbling ways. And yes, the tiny smart fortwo seems to be a complimentary match for the goofy French police detective. But Steve Martin's Clouseau is quite different from the character originally portrayed by Peter Sellers. Martin's Clouseau is smarter than he appears - and he always wins in the end. Thus, this Clousaeu has a touch of Columbo in him. The car that Clouseau tools around also delivers more than meets the eye. A staple in Europe, the smart fortwo has gaining an interesting foothold in the American market. Volatile fuel prices, increased urban congestion, and a mindset of environmental responsibility have made this smallest and shortest car in the United States an ideal vehicle choice. It's also one of the most economical cars on the road. It's the most fuel efficient all-gas-powered vehicle, averaging 41 MPG on the highway. The car also delivers a high level of comfort, agility, safety, and ecology. What once may have been considered silly is now spot on. About the Movie The Pink Panther 2, the sequel to the 2006 hit, stars Steve Martin as he reprises the role of intrepid-if-bumbling French police detective, Inspector Jacques Clouseau. When legendary treasures from around the world are stolen, including the priceless Pink Panther Diamond, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (John Cleese) is forced to assign Clouseau to a team of international detectives and experts charged with catching the thief and retrieving the stolen artifacts. Martin is joined by his co-stars Jean Reno (as Ponton, his partner) and Emily Mortimer (as Nicole, the object of his awkward affections). The investigative dream team is played by Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina, Yuki Matsuzaki (Letters from Iwo Jima) and Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Lily Tomlin also stars. The story is set in Paris and Rome. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures present a Robert Simonds production, The Pink Panther 2. The film stars Steve Martin, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, Emily Mortimer, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and Andy Garcia, with Lily Tomlin and John Cleese. Directed by Harald Zwart. Produced by Robert Simonds. Screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber and Steve Martin. Story by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber. Based on the Pink Panther films of Blake Edwards. Based on characters created by Maurice Richlin & Blake Edwards. Executive Producers are Ira Shuman and Shawn Levy. Director of Photography is Denis Crossan, BSC. Production Designer is Rusty Smith. Editor is Julia Wong. Costume Designer is Joseph G. Aulisi. Music is by Christophe Beck. The Pink Panther 2 is rated PG for some suggestive humor, brief mild language, and action. The film is now released in theaters nationwide.    

 

 

 

A JOURNAL OF LOS ANGELES & ITS CAR CULTURE

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That was LA Car's subtitle when it started back in 1997. It's original website address was about five times the size of lacar.com. Since then, La Car became LA Car. Its subtitle became Reporting From Car Culture Ground Zero, then From The Heart of Car Culture, to today's The Cars and Culture of Southern California. At all times, however, we aimed to chronicle the Southland's automotive spirit - much like one's own journal or diary. LA Car has always been a great source to come back to from week-to-week, to see what articles and reviews have been added to our rather staggering database. With Back Seat Driving, a.k.a. BSD (note the similarity to two well-worn abbreviations, BS and BFD) and Hot Wires - Hot & Tender News From the Car Culture (co-located with Back Seat Driving, and updated at least daily), we give you some reasons to come back more often (all opinions, by the way, are those of the respective author). So, go ahead and bookmark www.lacar.com. We'll be sure to always provide a link to Hot Wires and the latest Back Seat Driving blog entry. In the meantime, welcome to the journal and journey from the heart of the car culture. - Roy Nakano 

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