Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Michigan Sno*Drift Rally 2007

A friend invited me and the lad to the annual Sno-Drift rally in Altlanta, Michigan. Naturally we accepted. The event took place yesterday.

We left our cozy homes at 7am (original plan was 5 am; 7 was much better) and set out into the frigid Michigan air with the 250 mile trip ahead of us. We did see a massive amount of trucks towing snowmobile trailers - this first decent snow of the winter had all these boys out and heading north.

No issues on the road; a steady 70 - 80 mph the whole way to Gaylord. We stopped there; had a Burger King breakfast - the boys hat tater tots and there were many Napolean Dynamite references fryin around. The fun took the nastiness of my so-called food away. We then ventured into Normans - The place in Northern Michigan for outerwear, where we spent a tiny amount of cash on heavy duty socks and a coat for the lad. Anyways, enough of all that, we went up there for a rally. So on we goes to Atlanta - 33 miles of the most un-crow-like distance; but we got there. Atlanta is a small little town - seems like a regular nice up north kinda place. As my buddy commented, if ya lived up there, you'd have to really love yer wife. ok ok enuff.

We initially went to a hall where a friend of my friend was taking lunch - he was one of the organizers, and a marshal so we got some pretty good tips on where to watch. After stocking up on cocoa and snax, we headed out to the stage, bloody miles away. Beautiful snowy countryside, but I was drivin so there were few pix. Well none worth takin. What i did see was a heck of a lot of crazy snowmobilers putting all sorts of dangers on themselves and others.

Well anyways, Travis Pastrana was driving and driving pretty well at that. He was the overall winner of the rally. As many of the top drivers (and others), and many of the spectators, he was in a Subaru WRX. Are there any other rally cars out there competing? Yep a few Mitsubishi Evos, a Hyundai Triburon, but outside of that, that was it as far as competing was concerned. There was a Porshe 911 in there somewhere but not far up the ranking, and of course a load of also-rans (seen a couple of Focuses)

So we mosied onto our stage, had a swift beer, and found a good spot, on the down side of a 50-degree turn. Then we waited.. The boys played in the deep snow, then we all stood and got snowed on, then we had some hot chocolate and took it as easy as ya could in below freezin temps. The zero-cars came around, then the rally started. Our spot was nice for watchin the cars approach ya and then manoever into the corner; it was interesting watching the different techniques. No one hit the bank too hard, but there was a lot of snow flyin. That was all good until we noticed the ambulance moving and police activity ans so on.. after some inquiries we learned that there was an "incident" and the stage was on hold. Apparently one of these many snowmobilers had "wandered onto the closed road" and caused a rally car to hit a tree and nearly kill the occupants. I got a pic of the car involved getting trailered in - below somewhere - when i post it.

Look how far this guy is from the corner while turning already

We moved on at that point and decided to hit the school - which was the pit- we were told it was the elementary, middle, and high school all in one. That was a hive of activity; we got there just in time to see the cars coming in. Pastrana, of course was first, followed by many other Subaru WRX's. Blue ones. Imagine that? Pics of Pastrana and Comie-Picard coming in....

We also got to see the the left-overs of car that swerved off to avoid the crazy snow mobiler. Messy....

It always amazes me the speed these guys work at!

See the amount of snow under the wheel arches. These cars are tuned to carry as little weight as possible - how heavy is all that snow??

From there we went to what we thought was the next stage - but we wondered why all the people were leaving. So we pulled over and asked someone what was happening - amazingly he recognized me!! I had no clue who he was, but he knew my name. Seems I worked with him about 8 years ago 3500 miles east of here! Dang!!! Anyways, the stage we were trying to go to had been brought forward as the previous stage had been canceled, not just held up, and they went on the next stage ahead of schedule. Oh well.

So, onwards to the final stage of the day. Here again we got there, had a beer, found an awesome spot on the approach to a hairpin, and relaxed. No blizzard this time. The boys again had fun, egged on by the marshal in the center of the hairpin who started a snowfight with the boys which turned out to be a snowfight with half the spectators. The TV people were there, ESPN I'm told. I wonder if we got on there? The rally began just as it got dark, which was nice but kinda killed my photography chances. Thoroughly enjoyable! The first 10 cars kicked butt and the rest slowed down and cornered cautiously. Time to go.

So that was rally day, fun, snow, fast cars, snow, beer, cold, fun, snow and Subaru's. By the bucketload. I think I know what my next car will be.

The trip home was a bit more challenging than the trip up there. The roads were covered in snow, which meant slowing right down. We drove to Gaylord, felt hungry, and stopped at a Mexican, La Senorita I believe, for a somewhat average dinner. Then onto the road.

I-75. i would have thought it would have been clear. Nope. One lane was passable, and that was it. 5 hours later we got home.

600 or so miles total. 18 hours out. Snow. Rally cars. All great fun, We will be there next year!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The (Un) Official Review of the Detroit Auto Show! Illustriously Illustrated!

And what a messy day it was, but good fun was had. It was cold and dry when we got there and cold and snowy when we left.

There's a bit of local knowledge that pays off when going to the auto show or anywhere else in the area; I have never not been able to park on Cobo Roof. I think a lot of people don't even know that parking lot exists; granted there were very few signs up. What got me was the small parking lots that were 1/2 a mile from Cobo who were charging $4-$6 more than Cobo. Choice: Pay more in a less secure (maybe..) lot and walk through the rain to the show or park on the roof of the building where the show is, pay less and take the elevator.

In addition, I'd fully recommend getting there at 9am or even a wee bit earlier. You beat all the crowds, and you don't have to line up to get in. Also, ticket purchases. I paid via credit card, which you do using an ATM-type machine. Pretty cool and fast. Another way to avoid lines. Why did I not buy the tickets online before hand? Well because I had the young lad with me and online, you can only buy adult-priced tickets. I'm sure this is a money-making technique - you can get your kid's tickets on the web but you have to pay adult prices(= $6 extra). Plus then you have to line up to pick them up at the will-call booth.

The show itself was somewhat disappointing - i wasn't there last year, but comparing it to other years, it seemed much smaller. other years had a lot of focus on more than just cars - this year was comparatively boring. Sure there were some interesting concept cars, but over all it was a more bland affair. The Lamborghini's were nice, and the blond broad standing beside them was also .. hmm interesting. Glad to see at least one Auto company is sticking to the age-old proven method of selling cars with pretty girls!

I went to the Lamborghini area when there was no girl and I took the Murcielago photo with ease.
When girl returned, I had problems getting near the display.. hence the less sharp (but pretty good) pic!

Chrysler seemed to be the only one of the big 3 who made an effort to attract people to more than cars (apart form Lamborghini heheheh)- they had some pretty cool simulators. As ever, the line was big and not worth the wait. So on we went. .. but stayed with Chrysler - or more specific, Jeep. The new Jeep Wrangler looks the same .. just a wee bit bigger- the "waterfall" display was as good as ever - the same as ever too. The Mercedes-Benz had their display on a load of ice, with real ice towers around. Why? I guess Mercedes are getting "cool"!

The Smart ForTwo was an interesting little car - some forward-thinking by Chrysler - I like the look of it but I hope it doesn't fall flat on its face - or under the front wheel of a Hummer. Nice idea - may work in California, but not yet in Michigan. I've seen snow drifts bigger than that car. But with weather and thought evolution, who knows?

Volkswagen's display seemed to focus more on how the car's audio systems sounded than what was new with the cars. Yep, they had a concept SUV (The Tiguan), but it was a concept. I was pleased to see it had a "clean turbo diesel as an option. Good! About time that technology reached these shores. They also tell me the Toe-Rag (or Toureg) had changed but I couldn't see where. One disappointment at the VW area was the lack of injection-moulded gifts - in the past they had a contraption which took plastic pellets in one end and produced a small car out the other. This year it was replaced by a boring conveyor belt - no gifts. Darn cos cutting!

The Mini area seemed the same as any other year. I really could not see any difference.

Ford. Ford, Ford FORD! What are ya dooin? The new Focus was so bland I did not even bother wasting photo space on my memory card. Maybe I could photo a brick and be more interested. Why change a car that has recognizable image to look a late 80's regular escort? Automotive suicide! They were also still pushing hard on the "don't worry about the MPG, just look at the size of this truckI It's HUGE!. Ford, get with 2007. The did, however, have the Airstream concept. Real useful if Austin Powers is in town and needs a van.

Groovy Baby!
Ford - From Big to Daft!

GM got truck and car of the year. Yep, you told us once. Now I was pleased to see them getting more adventurous with hybrid technology. The Volt was good too. And a nice old car as well that I need to find out what it was....
Not sure what this is but looks sweet!

Here's some other bits and bobs we seen down there....

Rolls Royce were still displaying cars people can't afford.

The new Lexus Coupe. Nice. Excuse me, why are you wearing sunglasses on your head? Your eyes are on your face, and anyway, you're indoors, it is snowing outdoors, this is January, and you're in Detroit!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

New Automotive Initiaive - Me Style - Just in time for the Detoit Auto Show - - or should I say NAIAS

The Auto Show started here in Detroit in the Cobo Arena today. Otherwise known as the North American Auto Show. See.. I can do links! How cool is me!

Anyways, recently I had 2 conversations about the North American auto industry. One with a colleague, and one with a friend via email - parts of which are copied here. this is my thinking on how the auto industry is here and how it is going to go over the foreseeable future. And how it will affect both the USA and Michigan, which to me means Detroit. An opinion... At least in the eyes of this poor sinner....

The US Auto industry is in a fair degree of trouble. At least from my all-over-the-place view.

Let's start with suppliers...

Local ones. Things are getting better. The herd has been thinned; only the fittest are surviving. And those who were ailing will continue to ail or go away. Those who, a few years ago, were willing to take a few wild chances and invest in forward-thinking are still doing well.

New competition....

China Auto is just about here - they are allegedly showing a mini SUV at the auto show (personal opinions will be here after I go there meself) . Quality? apparently better than US vehicles. Reliability: apparently better than US vehicles. Price: A damn sight cheaper than domestic. Why? 3 reasons as far as I can see: Cheaper labor, harder working/less bitchin workforce, and cheaper raw materials.

How to fix: Get rid of the UAW. Reduce wages in some areas of production, and make a lot of tasks target/bonus related - you do a good job, you reap the rewards, you don't, you don't. Look at where you are getting your materials from and source at origin - cut out the middle men.

More government assistance is needed, but I think a lot of the issues are with the UAW - they have been getting away with doing the bare minimum for too long - that apparently is not the original Detroit spirit where autoworkers had pride in their products - the quality and
reliability of US vehicles is perceived as way less than imports. Why?

Cos over the last 20 years, that has been the case. Poor design with shoddy workmanship. Granted it is improving but it's hard to shake the reputations. Some blame also lies with the boring designs that US automakers are coming out with but that is getting better.

There is also another factor - career engineers who allow poor work (and therefore under-par quality) to pass through- those who do not have the gonads to inform their bosses that the work that is being approved by them is over-engineered (and therefore heavier - need more gas in that tank to drag that over-engineered part and its friends), or worse, does not meet standards at all. The way the US Auto industry is structured now; the mindset is all about self-preservation. Right down to the guy doing the drawings, to the guy signing it off to the boss who approves the design. To the guy who QA's a part with a bad weld. With everyone looking up with fear, in case they are seen to no "produce". Where producing means 100% pass-thru, not 99% perfection. / ok maybe that's a bit of a rant.

America .. apart from the earlier points .... How to fix...

A wild idea - get help from Japan on a consultancy basis - like it or lump it, we are in a global economy, and these guys are our competitors, and doing a dang good job of it. These guys operate with a 50-yr business plan. US Auto : they are now looking at 15 years (well, at least one)

Currently, domestic auto companies are telling us that we are paying X amount more per vehicle to pay for over-inflated past and current employee benefits (health and benefits etc). My answer to this.. why should we, as consumers pay for poor executive decisions of the past? Cut executive salaries until car prices are competitive again...

Also, slow down on gas guzzlers. Make smaller good quality cars (lighter = cheaper = more economical), which you can export. America making cars only for Americans does not work anymore - the market is diluted and besides, most Americans cant afford to buy or put gas into too many new American cars.

2008 - The Ford/[insert Asian Automaker here] partnership will be getting more marketshare.
Wait and see...

Maybe I am off-center. yep
Anti-American - not in the slightest... I want this place to get huge again!
Forward-thinking - dam well hope so, but I hope the bean counters are too.