Friday, September 29, 2006

Motor City gets a tune up as IRL and Le Mans come in 2007

After a 5 year absence, Grand Prix racing will return to Belle Isle.

Detroit Grand Prix coming back to Belle Isle

While not a big fan (or really a fan of any sort) of open wheel racing, I am way more excited to hear that the American Le Mans series will be joining the fray as well. While I don't follow this series either, it is much more up my alley, as at least they still look like cars and not jets with wheels on them. That being said, watching just about ANY motorsport live is great entertainment. I am looking forward to next year when myself and my gearhead friends catch some much overdue racing return to Detroit.

Monday, September 18, 2006

My perspective on the Big 3

It's a rough time for the auto industry, an especially rough time for the Big 3 (or 2.5 if you prefer). Let me start by saying that for the better half of my life I have had a passion for the automotive industry. By my early teenage years I was already picking up car magazines, intrigued by power and performance. When I was 15 my grandpa bought me one final gift prior to him unexpectedly passing of a heartattack at age 60. My gift was a 1989 Firebird with 305 engine and 5 speed, 10,000 miles, practically a new car. Little did I realize the impact that car would have, sometimes I wonder if it was for the worse.

Between that car and my friends 1969 Dodge pickup, I grew an even stronger passion towards cars. I continued to desire to learn more. By the time I signed up for college I knew I wanted to enter the auto industry, 11 years later I am seriously questioning that decision. I found out recently that I will be losing my job, either in a few weeks or a few months, I will be let go sooner or later. During my time in the industry I have been a designer, at all three of my employers over that 6.5 years I've learned that your work load is like a roller coaster. It's normal to sometimes go through long spells, sometimes lasting weeks, without any work to do whatsoever. When you do have work, you're often neck deep in it. It's discouraging to say the least. While it sounds pleasant to some, sitting around with nothing to do, the novelty wears of fast and some days you just about loose your mind staring at that computer screen.

I'd be lying if I said that passion hasn't died down some. Even putting myself under the microscope, I've had two muscle cars that have both sat for 5 years now, both of which were running prior to that. I have made significant progress on one of them, but for the past two years I haven't done a thing to it. I now even have my own garage, with my Camaro in it, and yet the most I have done is more disassembly of it, no progress really.

I work as a supplier to Ford, so perhaps you can understand my disgust. Among the Big 3, I probably rank Ford #3 in my popularity contest. I've been a GM fan all my life, own a 1970 Mopar, and like most all of both companies products these days. As for Ford, I never liked too many cars from their muscle car era, never understood the boxy Mustang GT fad of the 80's-90's, but thought the LX was kickass. Today, the GT is sweet....but I'd rather have a Vette (make mine a Z06 please). I'll give the F150 credit, it is probably the best truck out there. My dad has a last generation F150 and has had zero problems or complaints. Then there is the Mustang, where upon Ford hit a home run. Just like back in 1964 where upon the Mustang created a whole new battle, the next generation has began, as a new Camaro and Challenger are on their way, each with it's own twist on nostalgia. Yet aside from the F150 and Mustang, it's hard to get excited over many of Ford's other products. The Fusion is a cool little car, but based upon a Mazda design. The Ford there anything more bland than that car on the market today? It is even horrible by 1980's standards.

It's just very discouraging watching a company with so much history, with it's family ties, apparently lacking any sort of direction. It's like the other two companies, GM and Chrysler, both saw a shift to coming back to cars. They both forseen the rising gas prices and demand for better fuel economy, yet Ford still banked on their trucks and SUV's. Then there is their recent decision to kill the V8 off in their Lincoln brand. Who came up with this idea? When people think Lincoln and Cadillac, they think luxury, they think V8, they think power, king of the road status. You take away the V8 from this line and you have pretty much watered the brand down to just another rebadged Ford.

Sales over at GM and Chrysler both are taking a major hit right now as well. Yet in my eyes, both companies are offering lots of very exciting product. Both are heading in the direction of rear wheel drive, with V8's available in most of their midsize and up cars. Ford's refusal to head in this direction will have them playing catch up over the next 5-10 years. Pontiac is rumored to be heading in the direction where all of their vehicles will be rear wheel drive after 5 years, bringing back the "Pontiac Excitement" that has been lacking over the years.

I suppose I'm a bit of a sucker for American styling. While we went through a dry spell for many years, where there were very few models I cared for, I think those days are behind us. I think that GM and Chrysler are both once again producing the best looking cars I've seen in my life, rivaling those from the 1960's even, surpassing most in terms of power. If Ford could use the magic they put into the Mustang and apply it to the rest of the line up, they'd be right there too. It doesn't have to be nostalgic, just make it "American." The new Charger/300C/Magnum share very few body lines with their ancestors, and yet they all scream American styling. They look bold, powerful, and intimidating coming down the road. Their drivers look proud, having rediscovered a passion that they had forgot existed from driving a car. Yet there is very little nostalgic about any of them (aside from the hemi), and yet I think 20-30 years from now they will be the classics of the day. They have the staying power, the V8, the rear wheel drive, and all the makings of a fun car.

The Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice enters a market that the Brits (and most recently Mazda) have dominated for years, the two seat roadster at an affordable price, another classic years down the road. The GTO, while rather bland styling wise, at least has all the makings of a great/fun car. Lutz worked with what he had and did probably the best he could. Hopefully Pontiac gets a next generation version that builds upon the first, taking it to the next level.

As I come to this fork in the road, I'm not sure where my career path will take me. I'm not even sure where I'd like it to take me any more. As I head to my interview later this afternoon, I'm not even sure what to tell the recruiter I'm looking for. I suppose more than a job description, I'd like to tell her that I would like to rediscover the passion I once had. That drive that made what I was working on fun, not just another daily task. I'd like to be part of something special, though I'm afraid that maybe that job was outsourced over seas.

Here's a good article/insight on the industry/Detroit:

Business as usual is dead in Detroit