Wednesday’s Words: Purist Bull$hit and the Porsche 718 Cayman S

2017 Porsche 718 Cayman S

Maybe it’s a British thing, maybe it’s a nostalgia thing, perhaps it’s just purist bullshit.

The fact that the new Porsche Boxster and Cayman are arriving with turbo flat fours and no longer naturally aspirated flat sixes has caused a bit of an outrage with the Chairborne Warriors and Blood Purity Tests fanatics.  Their outrage comes not from having driven the vehicles, but from a look at press releases, and spec sheets.

That Porsche have run turbocharged race cars since the 1970’s, that Porsche dare put a turbo on a 911 in the mid 70’s, that Porsche had an inline four cylinder front engine car, then a V8 powered front engine car that offered, wait for the earth to stop spinning, an automatic transmission, and all this long before they decided to print money by building an SUV.,

But now, the latest (false) outrage is that the Cayman and Boxster have turbo fours.  The fact that everyone who has actually driven the latest generation says that they ride better, handle better, steer better, and, wait for it, drive better, is irrelevant to this crowd.

First it was Alex Goy from Carfection/RoadShow going on about the new Cayman, how it was better except for one thing, the noise, and even though this generation of Cayman was better in every way than the old Cayman, he’d not buy the new Cayman, he’d go for the last generation because of, the exhaust note.  Yes, he’d have the worse car because he prefers it’s noise.

Less than a week later Steve Sutcliffe from Auto Express puts out a video, coming to, for all intense purposes, the same exact conclusion!  It’s almost as if they were reading off the same script.

The new Cayman drove better, the turbo four-cylinder had far more torque making it much more drivable, the electric steering was better, the handling was a bit sharper, but, he too would rather have the old generation because the turbo four doesn’t sound as good as the N/A six.

So, let’s put this a different way, you are given two tacos to eat.  One is from a street vendor, the other is from Celebrity Chef Rick Bayliss.  In a blind test you like the street vendor taco just fine, it’s quite good, but the one from Bayliss is just that little bit better.  Now once you find out that the one you like better was the Celebrity Chef and not the street vendor, you declare, I’d not eat the better taco, because it’s “not authentic”

Just how much better is the new Cayman in the semi-reality that is the Nurburgring?  How about 16 seconds faster than the old model Cayman S and within 2 seconds of the Cayman GT4.  If it was 2, 3 or even 4 seconds you could say, driver, tires and or conditions render the difference mute on that long of a track, but 16 seconds is a HUGE difference and for all intense purposes a statistical tie with the GT4.

In daily driving, all reports are that the additional 70+ foot pounds of torque make for a much better daily driver and back road driver.  It’s not only the increase in torque but the shape of the torque curve that make it much better.

So you have to ask yourself what’s more important to you if you are dropping $65,000-$90,000 on a Boxster/Cayman, it’s it a better all around car, or is it noise.  Now maybe if the Cayman/Boxster is your fourth to seventh car in your fleet, and you have the luxury of being ultra finicky, then OK, I can see the test case where you would choose the lesser car because it has more perceived “character”.  For 98% of the rest of the Cayman/Boxster buyers, this is either their primary or secondary car, and 99.44% of the time I can Gare Un TEE you, they will choose better over “character”.

I was wondering if I was out here on the island of rationality, when none other than Pulitzer Prize-winning auto journalist, in fact, the only auto journo to ever with the Pulitzer, Dan Neil said in the Wall Street Journal, “The 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster S turbo offers a new, quieter sound. But even purists should note: This version is vastly superior to its showier predecessor.”

For those of you out there who lament the onslaught of turbocharged engines and naturally aspirated rapidly disappearing, get used to it.  Global Governments insist on imposing more restrictive fuel economy and emissions regulations, often times those Governments are voted in by the same journos crying about N/A motors going away (cue the Alanis Morrisette music).

I get that sometimes better isn’t better, but saying the new Cayman and Boxster are brilliant but you wouldn’t have it because of the engine note is past absurd.

Jeremy Clarkson And Top Gear Solutions

Jeremy Clarkson broke the internet earlier this week when he was effectively sacked by the BBC, canceling the final three shows of the current production and putting the future of the show in doubt.

We’ve come up with a couple ideas, not only for the show Top Gear, but for how Clarkson, Hammond and May can continue on with some version of the show.  Have a look.


Ford’s Missed Opportunity With The Focus RS

Ford Motor Company has done a great job with launching the Focus RS today, watching the enthusiast press and gear heads on Facebook, Twitter & G+ go on about it has been interesting. Here are the three things almost no one is addressing.

#1 You won’t be able to buy this for 14-17 months most likely, and I base that off of Ford’s history of showing off a new model or version of a current model, and it’s time frame to come to market. If the car is as good as it looks people want to buy it now, but they can’t. In the mean timeVolkswagen USA is happy to sell them a Golf R and Subaru of America, Inc. an STI and has quite a bit of time to convince those potential buyers to scratch that itch.

The lead time on the Focus RS is WAY to long, a two to four month lead time, sure, however, you make people wait 12-18 months, (a) they will purchase something else in the interim, (b) keeping peoples interest that long isn’t going to happen in the back half of the 2010’s, (c) if it fails to live up to expectations the fallout will be 10X worse BECAUSE you forced people to wait.

Look at Ford’s F150 and Mustang launches this year. Yes were well received, and they are good vehicles, however, there is an air of disappointment about both vehicles. The F150, for all of the tech involved, when real world tests are conducted, isn’t that much of a leap forward, and the weight reduction merely gets to down to the weight of the competition or there abouts. For the Mustang, the car once again gains weight and size when every Mustang fan that I’ve spoken to in the last three or four years, be it drag race, road race or daily driving enthusiast, wanted something smaller and most importantly, 200-500 LIGHTER. These two vehicles are the Crown Jewels of the Ford empire and while they will sell well, they are covered with disappointment.

#2 This ties in a little bit with the point number one and the lead time, and it’s about the lack of details. Oh yes, the PR people will tell this gives us time to spread out the information, horsepower and torque, weight, performance, fuel economy, etc., keep up the interest and such. Again, if this was 2003, perhaps. In watching what Ford did with F150 and Mustang, the initial launches had the splash they wanted, but as the information dripped out, the reaction of the general public, was, “get on with it already”.

Over the next 12 months we will find out that the “315+ horsepower” will end up around 330, the weight close to 3,400 lbs (OUCH!!) fuel economy about 3-4 less than the ST, 0-60 in 5 seconds and the quarter mile in 13.7-14.0 seconds, and the price, by the time you add destination, $40,000. While I’m sure there are some calibration details still going on, if, this close to launch those numbers aren’t nailed down, oh boy!

#3 It’s the price. Now, at $40,000 that’s not out of line with the Golf R, or the Subaru STI, but really are there really that many people who are making the $70,000+ to afford that payment? Lets not kid ourselves, 75% of the buyers are going to be financing most of that purchase, so, say to finance $35,000 over 6 years, because that is now the norm, and money is still cheap, so a 4.9% interest rate, you are at $562/mo, and that is before insurance, so toss another $200-$400/mo on for that. So, $750 a month all in? That is a HELL of a proposition, no matter how good the car is.

You know who got this right? Chrysler of all people. I’m not a huge fan of the Charger and Challenger, they are both far to large and heavy, but with the Hellcat they got it right, from announcement, to press drives to available for sale in under 6 months! They still got all buzz, all the run, and because of the shorter time frame, the lather they built up didn’t get old, it was just enough so that as it was beginning to fade, the cars were on sale, and then, the new news cycle for them began.

People far smarter and or far more educated can give me the reasons why I’m wrong about all the above, but now, after watching the industry for 30 years, you are going to have a tough time convincing me differently.

Wednesday’s Words: Thoughts on the “New” Lincoln

 

Lincoln is at the beginning of rebooting it’s brand, and with that the opportunity to position itself to stand out among all the other “premium” car brands.

It would appear that Lincoln is positioning itself to compete against brands like Volvo, Lexus, Acura, and Audi.  We think, to quote Don Adams, the original Maxwell Smart, they are missing it by that much.

“Premium Luxury” is the new black, everyone is doing it.  To stand out in that very crowded demographic, you have to do something different, and what Lincoln is bringing to market isn’t different enough.

Rather than compete against such a crowded field, we believe that Lincoln needs to look further up market, to take on former Premier Auto Group members Jaguar and Land Rover, the reasons are several.  

Number one, there is less to compete against. When there are few competitiors to draw your attention away, it’s much easier to be the point of focus.

Number two, pricing separation.  As it sits right now, Lincoln will continue to have the issue it has had for a number of years, and that is, it’s just a gussied up Ford.  Look at the Ford Fusion in Titanium trim, out the door it’s going to sell for between $34,000 and $36,000.  The new Lincoln MKZ starts at $37,000 and can go out the door, similarly equipped to the Fusion for about $42,000.  That’s not much of a premium.  The same goes across the board when you look at Edge vs. MKX, Taurus vs MKS and Flex vs. MKT.

While there is now more of a difference in both interior and exterior design, it doesn’t take much of a discerning eye to tell they share a common platform.

Number three, in moving further up market, you have much more pricing power and hence profitability, with the added benefit of having the ability to bring unique looks to both the exterior and interior of the vehicles.  The ability to use much higher quality materials in a more top shelf brand also would help distinguish it from it’s parent brand.

Lastly, in reaching to a higher demographic, Lincoln would have the opportunity to truly be an aspirational brand, rather than just another “premium luxury” brand.  They could redefine what an “American Luxury Brand” is.  Rather than some cliche’ from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, American Luxury doesn’t have to be “boulevard smooth” nor does it have to be the the latest in consumer electronics, rather than “custom” it should be “bespoke”  Most anyone can have “custom” few can have “bespoke”.

Lincoln should not get carried away with “gimmick” interiors that are all about the latest in technology.  As we are beginning to see, most interiors that but a focus on the latest in consumer electronics of the moment, are (a) 9-24 months behind the curve to begin with, and (b) don’t age well, both from looks and from function.  Classic and timeless should be the focus when it comes to interiors at Lincoln.  Simplicity is it’s own luxury.

If Lincoln is to be successful in it’s reboot, it will have to be something different than it’s competitors.  Pretty advertising is great for getting people in the door, but the product must, not match expectations, but far exceed them.  In rebooting the brand, Lincoln HAS the opportunity to place itself where it wants, as they try to start with a clean sheet, the question is, are they positioning themselves for success, or just to get lost in the crowd once again.

State Of The Series: AMA Superbike

When you take a quick glance at the AMA Superbike series, you have to smile and think that all is good with the featured attraction. On the surface, you’d be correct. You have a stacked plate of talent for display. Everything from the up and coming young guns such as Nick Hayden and Eric Bostrom to the establish talent with World Championship credentials (Mladin, Chandler, Slight and Russell) to name a few. There is also a solid core of talent in the mid level that has a chance to win every weekend as well, Yates, Rapp and Hacking immediately come to mind. But as you dig down into it, there’s not a lot below the surface. AMA Superbike is nothing but a house of cards waiting for one tsunami to come through and destroy ten years worth of work to make this series one worthy of world class talent.

The biggest problem the Superbike series has is that it’s propped up completely by the factories. There have been several attempts for outside teams to put together top quality efforts, but the bikes and support are not made available to these teams. The closest thing that has come to a top level private team is the Competition Accessories effort. While they didn’t have the same level of equipment as the Vance & Hines team, Ducati has at least made the effort to support a non factory team, and for that they should be applauded. The Japanese factories would never do that. They demand complete and total control. If the series is to grow and flourish one of the things that will be necessary is legitiment competition for non factory teams. In every other form of motorsports, even motocross of late, there have been non factory teams and riders/drivers who can and do run up front. If your whole series is based on the factory teams, what happens when there is a downturn in the economy and the factories need to cut back? One of the first places they will go to is the race budget. Racing is something that they like to do and want to do, but don’t ‘need’ to do.

There has been a recession going on in Japan for the last seven or eight years. In fact the latest data released by the Japanese government shows that their economy shrunk by six tenths of a percent in the last quarter alone. That means companies are losing money and laying off people, who then have no money to by luxury goods like motorcycles. Lest you think this is just a Japanese problem, pick up the newspaper or turn on Fox News Channel and you’ll see that there are tremors in the force here in the US. DaimlerChrysler is laying off or giving early retirement packages to 26,000 people, WorldCom is laying off 10,000 people, Lucent 10,000 people, Motorola 4,000 people. You get where I’m going here. The economy worldwide, while not in the tank, certainly is on the edge, and depending on which way the wind blows over the next six to twelve months, we could either be OK or in the crapper. Merlin The Sorcerer (also know as Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan), European Central Bank monetary policy, OPEC and general public confidence will determine that. Now I know you didn’t come here to discuss macro economic, and if you did you are a sick individual, we need to talk. Care to discuss Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom”? The point I want to make here is this. Given this somewhat shaky backdrop, what happens if things do go south and the factories pull back their efforts? Who is left to pick up the pieces? In CART or NASCAR or Formula 1 if the factories pull back their direct involvement there are other teams and suppliers to pick up the slack. When Honda pulled out of F1 they still had a presence via the Judd motors, Renault still supplied engines when they pulled out. If Ford were to pull out of NASCAR do you think that Robert Yates or Roger Penske are going to feel much of an impact?

So what happens when Kawasaki, whose revenue comes from shipping, robotics and heavy industry mostly, decides to pull out of the AMA series because they can’t afford it? Who is positioned to take up the Team Green flag? Well back when Rob Muzzy ran the team he still had a parts business to help fund the effort. Vance and Hines or Ferracci Ducati also had business that could help to fund the team if the factory couldn’t flip the whole bill any more. A note here, part of the reason that HMC and Comp Acc do have the US Ducati efforts is that they were willing to pick up more of the bill than Terry Vance. Ducati is a small company, and they could not continue to fund both their efforts in World Superbikes and the US series, even though the US is their largest market. You will notice that they pulled their effort from the British series as well. They are focusing on the world stage where they hope to get a better return on their dollar. Ducati are also one of the few Superbike teams to actively seek outside sponsorship to fund their efforts. Hold that thought because I want to come back to it

Another issue of no outside teams is the lack of development. Again with other motorsports you have some mad genius off in his shop coming up with new motor parts, suspension, aero packages, etc. Where I ask you are the modern day Pops Yoshimura, Rob Muzzy, Eraldo Ferracci or Smokey Yunicks? Men who could be given a machine and almost magically improve it. With the motorcycle industry all you have are the factory supplied parts. If they don’t work, oh well too bad deal with it. In the GP world people like ROC and Harris were able to improve on the Yamaha chassis to the point that the factory team, Kenny Sr.’s, ran it in several races. TSR has improved on the Honda RS chassis. In Superbikes you can’t do that, however, there are other areas of the bike that can be improved. Erion Racing is a good example. Being a satellite team they can do some of their own thing. A big area for them is suspension. Erion runs Ohlins components, while the factory team are required to run Showa. Well what if Showa can’t make a set of forks or a rear shock as good as Ohlins? You did notice that Nicky Hayden didn’t run real well in 600’s last year after being the man on the Erion bike the year before. Well if you’re Erion you can try different things, like checking out the Showa stuff. If you’re factory Honda, who own Showa, you’re stuck with what you have and hope that you can work around it.

OK lets go back now and talk about outside sponsorship. One of the biggest things holding back AMA teams from gaining big outside sponsors is the lack of a good TV contract. It is only in the last few months that Speedvision is in enough homes nationwide that they qualify for Nielson ratings. It’s these ratings that corporate America cares about. If you are on TV, but cannot get TV ratings, why would I want to give you money? It certainly wouldn’t be for the two or three hundred thousand people who come to the races. They can do direct mailing for the same exposure for much less money. Besides, if you have a television contract with a broadcaster who can’t even qualify for ratings, well then you must be some backwater series and I don’t want to associate with that. Trust me on this, I used to work for American Express, I know how these people think. One of the questions now will be how many people watch motorcycle racing? If last year’s indications of the Pocono FUSA race on CBS are any indication, they could be good. That event drew a 1.4 Nielson rating, which means about 1.3 million people watched the race. Now you do have to factor in that it had a lead in of some other major sporting event, I don’t remember what it was, sorry, and some of that may have been the mind set of “lets see what these crazy idiots are doing and see of anyone gets killed.” Sad but true.

To add to this the factories, at least in the AMA series, don’t want outside advertisers. Honda had Camel/R.J. Reynolds tobacco as a main sponsor for a number of years. However, when the contract came up they didn’t work real hard to keep it. And once they were gone they didn’t exactly knock the door down to get someone to replace them. There was a big announcement this year about how Universal Studios was coming on board for the next couple years with the Honda team. Well if you saw how much space they have on the bike you’d laugh! You have to look hard to see the stickers. It takes up all of about four square inches on the bike. And then it’s only a Woody Woodpecker sticker. No name of the company, no tag line. If you didn’t know any better you would assume that the rider put it on there because he liked the cartoon. OK, hands up how many of you knew that the Woody Woodpecker cartoon and image are owned by Universal? Me neither. Now that is strategy worthy of someone with an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. What I believe is that Universal signed up for the Supercross Team and Honda threw in the road race team as a bonus. There are twice as many races with three times the attendance per race and better merchandising as well. Even Jeremy McGrath is doing prime time commercials for Mazda trucks and 1-800-COLLECT.

None of the four Japanese teams have outside sponsorship, save Honda and that’s just barely. Even the Ducati teams in the US don’t. Both the HMC and Comp Accessories teams are funded by the business running the team. While Castrol doesn’t pay Honda enough money to cover Colin Edwards salary for the year for the naming rites to the World Superbike and Supersport efforts, at least it has the appearance. Ducati has aggressively gone after outside sponsors for their World Superbike efforts. They have now signed a unit of Philip Morris to go along with InfoStrada, who do sports marketing, to help defer the high costs of racing. It takes over $10 million a year to run a World Superbike team and about $2.5 million to run an AMA Superbike team. You would think that teams would want to put the cost of racing on someone elseÕs checkbook, but their desire to control the image of what their bikes look like might just force them out of the series.

If that is the mind set that will continue to prevail, then you will never see the series become more than what it is today. The thinking is too small minded, too limited pie mentality (there is only a limited amount to slice up) versus big picture mentality . The big picture says that there are 275 million people in this country and maybe one million of them know about motorcycle racing. That means there are 274 million people I can go after. The limited pie theory says that of that one million I have to fight for my five or ten percent because it will never be any larger than that.

In 1978 there was this regional sporting series that most people in the world had no idea about. It had a fan base of maybe one million people. Funny thing is, they had a few people with some vision and some determination. Twenty two years later they sold the TV rights for $1 Billion, yes that’s billion with a capital B, dollars and now out draw the National Football League on attendance. Yes that little series of former moonshine runners from the backwaters of the American Southeast, NASCAR. Who would have ever thought that watching cars drive around in circles for three and four hours would be such a big deal. Today though, the who’s who of corporate America adorn these machines. Everything from DuPont paint and Miller Beer, to Kellogg’s cereal and Viagra.

What the series is in dire need of is a good flushing. A serious revolution to overthrow the current regimes. The current system is too entrenched for any meaningful change to occur. There are too many people who have much to lose if things change. The mindset of most people in the industry is that they are happy to have what they do, don’t complain, don’t rock the boat. This was illustrated in an IMAX like quality to me during the ’99 Mid Ohio race. Larry Meiers was up in the media area talking about how things used to be. What he said, and this is burned into my memory, though maybe not the exact quote, was this: We should be happy with what we have. (Talking about TV coverage) Fifteen years ago there was no motorcycle racing on TV and now there is, what are you complaining about? Well Larry, and everyone else out there, what I, and many others complain about is that it’s “THIS” mentality that will hold us back. It’s not just TV, it’s everything. People in the industry are so afraid to upset what they have for fear of losing it that they will lose it for lack of progress. A wise man once told me you are either going forward or you are moving backwards, there is no neutral gear in the universe. If you are not making progress then the world will pass you by.

While we many not need someone to lead this revolution with the charisma and iron will passion of a Che Guevara, someone like the Octagon group would be sufficient. It wouldn’t be that difficult. The AMA could still put their stamp on it to satisfy their ego, but there would be someone with the knowledge and skill to advance the series in the US. This wouldn’t be unprecedented, the Supercross series is an AMA series, but SFX (you know, the people who own PACE and the FUSA series) run and promote it. I’m not saying that it’s “THE” answer, but it would be better than what we have.

More than anything I want to see the US series grow and flourish. I want it to be the series by which all others are judged. To accomplish this though will not be easy. Wow now THAT is a major understatement. It might be easier to document cold fusion in the next ten years than turn the AMA series around. The one thing that will not help this happen is silence. Only by demanding more and better quality products and production for the series will it ever become something that the general public will know or care about. Otherwise, and mark my words here, five or six years down the road this series will be a shadow of itself and be about as relevant as a single grain of sand on the beaches of Daytona.