Sunday, May 1, 2011
With the economy, the recent uptick in gas prices; as well as the Japanese car "supply issues," as a result of the earthquake/tsunami, well- there are a lot of variables that may prevent a "good deal." I'm contesting- in the great pearls of wisdom of Public Enemy "Don't Believe the Hype."
Ironically enough, in the last two weeks alone I've had a few friends come to me "Randy, I need a new car, I want a (insert a Japanese car maker here) and the dealer is not giving me a deal..." they then proceed to educate me- that because of the tsunami, they (the dealers) are not getting any cars. Supply is low, there are no incentives, etc, etc. That, and the world is coming to an end. That's what the salesmen told them as he blew-them-out the door.
I then proceed to ask- what color do you want?
Why? My point is- chances are, the dealers have the car you want- unless you want something specially ordered or especially out-of-the-ordinary, in other words- do they have the car you want? And are you willing to take it today?
If they do- I'm seeing a lot of Japanese cars still selling at a good discount, at or below dealer costs, depending on the car, rebates-to-dealer, incentives, etc, etc.
The "supply shortages" noted in the news like most any a metric say, with the Federal Reserve and monetary policy- there are lags and it takes time. It could take (in the car business' case, depending on supply chain) through the summer for the consumer to feel any real supply shortages as a result of auto plant closures around the world. By the time there are any real shortages felt in the supply chain- the said Japanese automaker's plant may be back online and vamping up production.
Many new car dealers (many of which that have a pretty ignorant, desperate front-line of salesmen motivated by fear and greed) will say "oh, well, ma'am we're not getting any new cars because Toyota closed its plants... do you watch the news?" as they proceed to reach for your... pants.
If you login to Truecar.com, (a great new car pricing database) you'll see, locally and nationally- there are still "deals" to be had on most Japanese (and domestic) cars. Dealer cash, factory rebates, incentives or not- cars are still selling at a discount- you just have to ask/insist and be ready to walk-out of the dealer if they riddle you a line of bullshit.
I'm painting some broad strokes here, but from what I know, as someone who has sat on both sides of the desk, times are tough. If a salesmen/dealership wants to make a buck, that's their right- it's their business, but its up to you to come in armed with knowledge and numbers in hand to get a fair price.
Don't get fooled by tricky sales tactics which include the addendum sticker - that funny little list of extras put on to the car at the dealership- marked-up a good 200% over cost. Some addendum lists may include: wheel locks, pinstriping, door-edge guards, interior protection and floormats for an additional $1500. Actual dealer cost? Maybe $500.
Watch-out for unusually high dealer "documentation" or "administrative" fees- which as I've heard- have risen with the profit margins decreasing at the dealer level. Anything over $350 is suspect in my opinion. Ask for these numbers in advance keep them in mind when negotiating a price. Also keep in mind- taxes!
Know your factory incentives and dealer cash allotments. If you walk-in and they give you, what you think is a really good deal, chances are- it's not your good looks or your savvy negotiating skills getting the great price- it's the incentives and at these prices- the dealer is basically still selling you the car at full-list!
A good, really general rule-of-thumb I like to use is- if you roll-up all the fees, taxes and costs associated with buying a new car- you should come-in at or around slightly higher or lower than the original MSRP. If you do, chances are, you got a really good deal, or at least you're not getting taken advantage of. Sales-tax alone can be say 7-8%- and the truth is- there isn't really that much more profit in a new car these days.
I will guaranty you this- you're not going to see "Honda's Year End Sale" or the "Toyotathon" late in the model year being wildly advertised if there is even a hint of supply chain delays- that's not to say there are no cars to sell at a discount. There just won't be an extravagant invitation.
I will also say this- if there's one Japanese car company really good at keeping their inventories just at the right level, it's Honda. I believe out of all the major Asian brands, this one may be the hardest to haggle with if there are real inventory issues. So, be prepared to shop around and accept the rules of supply and demand if need be.
Remember- new car dealerships are like casinos. They're in business to make money, it's their right- but keep in mind some important facts and variables and they won't be making all their money... from you.
Friday, April 29, 2011
A 21st birthday gift to Charles from the Queen herself- interestingly enough, this Aston has been re-fitted/converted to run on recycled English wine of all things. Yes, it's a bioethanol alternative fueled vehicle.
Reportedly, Prince Charles has converted other vehicles in his stable. Interesting. A Royal Wedding treat for The Car Guy. Capitalized, of course.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Just a few years back, you'd be hard-pressed to ride in any other kind of taxi besides a Ford Crown Victoria, but that all changed when the TLC started commissioning other kinds of vehicles, in a addition to hybrids and other alternative fuel vehicles to the fleet. Another small detail- the Ford Crown Victoria, the venerable "King of the New York Cabs" since the Checker Marathon, is no longer being produced with no real heir to the throne.
The Mercedes-Benz BlueTec technology is advanced. For the first time in years it's a 50-State EPA emissions compliant diesel- which was somewhat of a hurtle in the past. What makes the technology unique is AdBlue, an equine urea-based solution that reduces the harmful emissions diesel engines emit.
(Yes, horse piss makes it all better.) But it's a bit more complicated than that.
This solution is stored in the vehicle and gets used as the miles rack-up. At 100,000 miles it has to be replaced at roughly $1500 a shot- or think of it as a 1.5 cent surcharge-per-mile.
Pile this on to the $1500 increase in base MSRP over the similar gasoline-powered Mercedes-Benz E350, and you're looking at a 3-cent surcharge per mile for the diesel.
Is a sedan that lists for some $51,000 really a viable option these days for livery duties? I really don't know- but I will tell you- from a general consumers' standpoint, I don't think the diesel is a compelling choice as it once was.
The expensive initial price tag aside, the improved economy figures the E350 BlueTec promises, 24 city/34 highway miles-per-gallon, aren't exactly stellar given the costs. Especially these days, when all cars are getting better economy figures without going diesel.
Additionally, the TLC requires New York City cabs be retired or replaced every three-to-five years- not nearly enough time to recoup the high costs and the incremental higher costs of diesel fuel the Mercedes-Benz BlueTec racks-up.
Cabbies around the world bought Mercedes-Benz taxis because it was the only car able to rack-up hundreds of thousands of trouble-free miles; but I don't think this is the case so much as before. There are a lot of robust, cost-effective and efficient cars out there- and they don't cost $51,000. And $51,000 is a lot to depreciate over a scant three-to-five years.
The latest Ford Crown Victoria was so successful because it was simple, robust, cheap with a stellar support/supply chain of parts and service. I personally have been in Crown Vic taxis with half-a-million miles on them. I've also driven a Mercedes-Benz Diesel with hundreds of thousands of miles on the clock- and the costs of maintenance are considerable at these levels, trust me. The Ford Crown Vic is fool-proof at any price in comparison.
Will the city's cab fleets, many of which are independently owned and operated through the medallion system be willing to absorb the costs of a Mercedes-Benz?
Sadly, I don't think so.
About twelve years ago I was working in the city and had read that the TLC was willing to "try" other cab alternatives. Supposedly two Mercedes-Benz E300Ds from the late 1990's were painted yellow.
I personally saw one of these cars but have yet to have heard much anything about it since. But I did come across this old 1997 article by The New York Times here. The times, the Mercedes diesel, the prices and the rules have changed a bit since.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
One thing I am quite amused at (maybe it's callus to use the word amused) is the direct effect all this is having on the automobile industry. It's not funny, but as a former economics minor in my undergraduate studies, it's comforting to see the effects of simple supply and demand- still alive and well. At least easily understood, for me anyway.
With news of Honda, Toyota and others curtailing or halting production, and the very latest, a Japanese paint plant closing is causing glitches or ripples all across the automotive world, half-the-world away.
Supposedly, even Ford can't make black paint anymore- ironic, since it was Henry Ford who stated "you can have any color you'd like, so long it is black..." when he made his original Model Ts. Reds are a problem too. Also ironic- as Red is the Imperial Japanese color if there ever was one...
According to the CNN article- Ford's original Model T-era black was called "Japan Black," again, you can learn something new everyday, even in cars, if you read enough of the news. And you can't make this stuff up... Ironic to say the least.
But the economist/auto buff in me can't help but find all these supply-chain-management nightmares that are unfolding by the day, well, amusing since- you read how globally dependent everything is these days, especially the car business.
Just-In-Time (JIT) also known as the Toyota Production System, used worldwide in most every form of production, predicates- there aren't a whole lot of extra Japanese cars, parts, red and black paints in the pike to make the problems in Japan not felt on the world's doorsteps.
Is it a big deal? I don't know, maybe? There are snags, and will be more for sure.
Dare I say- the American Japanese car distribution networks will think of creative ways to stir demand- that's wise salesmanship. Or simply, basic supply and demand? But what a difference a year makes.
Last year, they couldn't give-away a Toyota at any cost or color, now, well- there might be none left for the big sales come this late summer- which are just around the corner.
Switching gears a bit- but not totally off-topic- a friend of mine linked to me an eBay auction for a very special 1972 Datsun 240Z for sale, the original Z-car. But this one has a big twist.
A 1972 240Z- beautifully listed and epically described. Built to the tune of something like over an eighth-of-a-million dollars (or $125,000 for you less dramatic number types) to discerning performance standards well beyond originally intended for any first-generation Z-car. It's a spectacular car, and a spectacular story. Do I think he'll get his reserve? Maybe, maybe not. He should have painted the car black or red, just to be safe in this market.
(There's a lot I can say for this very car and his efforts- but maybe I'll save them for another time. Regardless of the harsh realities- I give this guy and his '72 Z an A-for-effort!)
The car reminded me of when in the mid-to-late 1990's, around the very same time I was studying economics in college, when Nissan stopped making the Nizzan 300ZX. To appease the loyal USA enthusiasts (and in a bid to not lose the image of the Z in its most lucrative and largest market) Nissan commissioned a few hundred fully-restored and sorted vintage Zs by Pierre Perrot's PierreZ Car Inc, in California.
The cars were restored to A-1 condition. Everything either re-built or replaced to like-new condition, promoted and sold in select Nissan dealerships with limited warranties, the whole nine yards. It was a unique campaign.
The American automobile business was able to sell a demand, for a Japanese car that wasn't even being made anymore.
I could only imagine the sweet vat of lemonade that's being conjured up as of now, to placate the current Japanese automobile/parts/black and red paint situation as it stands. But we'll think of something. We always do.
Maybe American dealers will get another taste of the days when people would follow the auto transporters right to their doorsteps to get their Honda Accords, and Toyota Celicas- in any color, shape or form? And at any price.
It will be like 1980, all over again. But with less shades of red and black, of course.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Like most Americans who don't know squat about the sport of football, many watch it for the commercials... They admit it like people who read Playboy "for the articles," (which I will attest- before mainstream media getting all racy, snappy and jazzy, were actually quite good, if not better than you'd read elsewhere- and lets not forget about the nude women too.)
A few days back, a Facebook friend had leaked the VW Passat "The Force" commercial of the little kid dressed as Darth Vader, trying to play Jedi mind tricks on everything from his mother's elliptical machine to the family dog. And the question I posed to him was "It's not how many Passats they'll sell, but rather- how much did they have to pay George Lucas for that commercial."
"Gee, Randy. I never thought of that..." Well, no shit.
Because really, the Passat, no matter how good it can be or how good it's been will always be a second-tier choice by real middle-of-the-range car people who want a basic mid-sized sedan that... that works.
The Passat I'm afraid, is still very much rooted in its quirky European ways of the 1990's and while that's a flavor many can aspire to- it's just not what buyers in that segment can appreciate. Intertwined with problems and quality issues galore (or victim of just a bad reputation in general) the Passat will always be the hard choice against cars like the Camry, Accord, Legacy, etc, etc. They'll need "the force" to compete the Passat at any price.
However, the smaller Jetta is an outstanding choice and compromise in its class, and I feel it gives a much better value with the charming European feel you want- at any price. The Jetta is the Jedi Knight of the bunch, if you will.
(Notice how with a Passat it's a quirky European feel; but with a Jetta it's charming...)
Another commercial worth noting was the Chevy Cruze spot- with the young man checking a girl's Facebook status after a first date...
Only thing they left out was- the wall posting/status update was a day old; and actually, the whore was talking about the guy she went out with the night before... And he drove a Honda Civic.
Again, while I commend GM and America in general for how far they've come- the Cruze is a hard choice against the very, very popular in its class Honda Civic. But the Cruze car appears certainly better than the "C-is-for-Crappy" Cobalt and Cavalier it succeeds. It just has to buck that trend.
And finally- Chrysler's spot for the 200 featuring Detroit and their first son Marshall Mathers (Eminem) was absolutely the best Super Bowl commercial of this year...
While I thought the intent was spot-on (don't ever put this country or what it can do in a corner- we are the original Comeback Kids, it's WHAT WE DO) the car in reality is nothing more than a warmed-over Chrysler Sebring- made to look like a Jaguar XF (quite frankly another warmed-over outright piece of shit).
Now I sold Chryslers and know them very well. They've always been cars that try, maybe a little too hard, to be something they're clearly not. But I kinda like the 200 for what it is.
It's the same greasy look for a full third the price. Same execution- two-thirds-off!
Like finding an Ermenegildo Zegna suite at Marshalls. Now that's class. That's America. Looks good to me... (famous last words.)
But here's the interesting twist. Both the Jaguar XF and the Chrysler 200 are based largely on daring prototypes unveiled a few years ago- ironically both with the letter "C"- the 2007 Jaguar C-XF and the 2009 Chrysler 200C. C is for concept. Or crap?
While both cars are really watered-down realities of these initially snazzy concepts- both cars are actually based on older platforms of cars not known for their engineering goodness at all- the Jaguar S-Type and the Chrysler Sebring respectively- some real monumental pieces of crap.
Both cars being the victim of bad economies, bad upper management and lets face it- bankruptcy. If it weren't for the Indians and the Italians respectively- we wouldn't be talking about them...
(Another irony- first two "Cs" now two "Is;" the things that make you go Hmmm... And the designer of the Jaguar? Ian Callum...)
But I will say this- the Chrysler 200 strikes a chord with me. You're going to see this car, the people driving it and say- that's America.
Where the girls are pretty, the reading is good, and Goddammit that's a sharp car. Go US.
And with that winged-Chrysler logo re-styled to resemble that of an Aston Martin- well, "gee, is that an Ass-ton Maw-tin or a JagUwar?"
These are the questions WE as a people long to answer.
And we know a warmed-over piece of crap when we see one... and that's okay.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
While many of you know I obviously love cars, I also love horology. It's perhaps my avocation turned kinda-sorta vocation; I happen to know quite-well, a number of top horologists, watchmakers, dealers, collectors and self-proclaimed Indian Chiefs in their given niche of the watch business.
Suffice to say, knowing my bunch- you get to learn a lot about watches!
I stumbled across a very impressive blog/site today called Askmen.com, and while their site is impressive- their in-house watch guru "The Watch Snob" while quite crass in-style, makes some good points when it comes to watches. (I said SOME good points...)
Reading his advice on watches got me thinking of writing on watches- and while he'll tell you he knows more about watches than everyone else (I highly doubt it); I assure you I can certainly write about it in a nicer, kinder fashion than he does.
And he doesn't know more about watches than I do. There I said it.
Well, nice writes here. Being an complete asshole gets you hired and paid elsewhere- that's for sure. I don't know the Watch Snob's name or his exact Manhattan location (and if you wrote like he does- you'd keep that a secret too) but one thing is for certain- there are a lot of "watch snobs" out there; or you can call them assholes.
It's their thing... being an asshole. It's what makes them, well, extra special.
And watches are just one of my things. For most watch guys- it's their only thing (besides being an asshole) and it shows in conversation, manner, personality and... writing style.
Watches and horology, to the extent many watch snobs take them, is much like a sick sexual fetish best kept to yourself, trust me.
Lately the world of horology has me a little excited... Seiko is officially bringing their Grand Seiko line Stateside.
I've known about Grand Seikos now going on over a decade. My father, an avid watch collector, told me about these Seikos he'd read about during the early days of Timezone; which watch enthusiasts in the Japanese domestic market have known for decades- really high-end Seikos, Grand Seikos. That's what they're called.
Grand Seikos, they're like the Lexus LS to Seiko's Toyota- to put it in car speak.
Or even better- they're like a Lexus- if it were called a Grand Toyota.
"Randall, they're supposed to be like a Rolex," he told me in my early 20s- and coming from him- it was like hearing a Catholic high priest proclaim "you know, there was Jesus Christ and he was like a God..."
"Like a Rolex dad?" as I glanced at my stainless steel Datejust, the very watch he gave to me... (Did you catch the watch snob in me trying to impress you?)
Well, it took about a decade but I finally began to understand the complexity of the situation. And with watches- the definitions, propositions, notions and theories behind them, are... well, complex.
Seiko is by far noted for their quartz watch production. They're among the largest watch manufacturers in the world, and actually one of the very few to be called a true watch manufacture, i.e. making virtually every part of the watch- right down to the lubricants between the gears- all by themselves, subcontracting, outsourcing nothing.
In the late 1960's and through the 70's they built their reputation making cheap, accurate quartz wristwatches- what was then the timekeeping technology- quartz. So much so, Seiko almost put the Swiss watch business out-of-business- that's how successful they were.
They made so many cheap watches- what got them on the accurate timing map, Grand Seiko, was pretty-much cast aside.
Outside of the Asian horological markets, not much was known or revered when it came to anything Seiko. Truth is- they've been making watches for over a hundred years, decades before quartz technology even touched the world of watchmaking.
In December, 1960- Seiko unveiled the first Grand Seiko 26-Jewel Diashock- a simple strap watch built and engineered to go head-to-head with the finest chronometers from around the world- and it did.
While the Swiss and the rest of the watchmaking world subscribed to strict COSC standards of +6/-4 seconds a day for chronometer certification- a distinction badged on only about 3% of all Swiss wristwatch movement production; Seiko would print "Chronometer" on their first Grand Seikos to strut their achievements, only to remove it years later as the Japanese would create their own "higher" standard. The Grand Seiko Standard.
Elegant, simple, understated style. Super high-grade hand-finishing, clear legibility and supreme accuracy- these hallmarks would encompass a standard built to rival the best Swiss makers of any basic, everyday watch. Seiko would further elevate the bar by regulating their movements to an even tighter standard of timekeeping accuracy.
Modern Grand Seikos fitted with the mechanical caliber movements (as opposed to the quartz or Spring Drive models) are regulated to +5/-3 seconds a day in six positions; as opposed to COSC's five positions and +6/-4 benchmark.
According to Seiko PR:
"All Grand Seiko watches are subject to the famous Grand Seiko Standard, as it became known. This involved testing more stringent than that required by any Chronometer testing agency in the world including the COSC certifications usually awarded to esteemed brands such as Rolex. One of the key elements of this new standard is the requirement for each watch to be tested in 6 different positions, not the 5 used by others; the sixth position is upright, recognizing that many watches are left with the 12 o’clock position on top when not worn.
Every component of the Grand Seiko movements and exterior casing parts are manufactured according to Grand Seiko’s exacting standards. For example, all Grand Seiko cases are polished by the Zaratsu method to create the flattest and smoothest mirror-finish surfaces. Hands and hour-markers are designed with razor edges to deliver the best possible visibility and readability even in twilight. Even the materials used in Grand Seiko watches are special; the mainsprings in all the Grand Seiko mechanical calibers are made of SEIKO’s proprietary alloy, SPRON, which delivers maximum power reserve and durability."
Just last year, Seiko had began to market their Ananta line of high-end sport/mechanical watches "Finished in the Tradition of Katana" (Japanese sword making) and at the time, I had written quite enthusiastically "this was America's taste of the Grand Seiko."
Or perhaps it was just the Gyoza dumpling appetizer before the full-on Hibachi knife show?
Like the Toyota Cressida before the Lexus ES? There's a comparison for you!
In the last year, I will attest- you don't see too many Seiko Anantas. Dare I say- like 99.9% of all other Seikos lines sold- will the Ananta just be tossed in a pile with the rest of them, no matter how artfully they're finished? Probably.
But the Grand Seiko has a different pedigree. It's a very mild, traditional and basic Japanese watch. From 5-10 feet away- most Grand Seikos well, look like Rolex Datejusts on Oyster bracelets. Very plain and classically proportioned stainless steel, casual watches.
Up-close, however, they have the hallmark clues- this is a Japanese watch.
Opaline and metallic sunburst dials with subtle hints of "dazzle," multifaceted details- Dauphine/sword hands with hour-markers that are chamfered to capture and enhance even the dimmest of light. Heavily-beveled stainless-steel cases with thick, high-glossed lugs detailed with brushed-satin case sides. Bracelets with scissor-action, two push-button clasps and multi-piece, curved, brushed links with slight, high-mirror touches sandwiched in-between.
There are roughly a dozen or so different models being introduced (including divers, GMTs and chronographs) with three-distinct movement types- mechanical 9S Caliber (accurate to +5/-3 seconds a day), quartz 9F Caliber (+/- 10 seconds a year) and the 9R Caliber Spring Drive- Seiko's premier "hybrid" electro-mechanical movement technology, accurate to about a second-a-day.
My personal preference is leaning towards the extra-special Hi-Beat 36000 mechanical model which has a faster, higher-beat/frequency automatic movement for higher timing precision.
Harking back to the days when watchmakers would build these "hot rod" fast-beat, tuned movements to compete against each other for near-quartz-like accuracy, the 10-beat Seiko caliber 9S85 is the first all-new movement of its kind in some 40 years.
Advancements in design and materials make fast-beat movements like the 9S85 viable, practical and usable in an everyday high-grade wristwatch- which is what Seiko is aiming to re-introduce in one of the most impressionable, snobbish watch markets in the world- the United States.
So if you see a Seiko in the wild, on someones wrist- look closely. You may see the signature, gothicized "GS" badge on the dial- Grand Seiko.
That's when you know, you're looking at something extra special.
Extra special. Never mind the wrist, or the "watch expert" its attached to.
They're extra special too, or so their badges, er, watches and blogs say so.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
I'm not a hate monger- nor do I respect pundits who egg-on or speculate a bad situation. Nothing worse than something or someone who's never been down or in a similar situation- hoping for the misfortune of another; however, it's in the news- Toyota's recalling some 1.7 million vehicles for fuel leaks.
"The recalls are mostly in Japan, but include Lexus IS and GS luxury sedans sold in North America. That's where the world's No. 1 car company faces the biggest challenges in winning back customer trust.
U.S. dealers will inspect cars to see if loose fuel pressure sensors caused leaks. There were no accidents suspected of being caused by those problems, according to Toyota. The car maker has received 77 complaints overseas, 75 of them in North America, and more than 140 in Japan."
Aside from its aging platform fleet, it's tarnished North American image; getting beyond these recalls I'm afraid, is going to be easier said than done at Toyota.
As these cars age, their components and assemblies will- and if there's any hint of a problem, whatsoever, I'm afraid the media and consumer advocates will spotlight, well, another "recall."
I'm not saying there isn't a genuine problem or flaw with the design/quality of the parts in question- but anything less-than-perfect- if it's on a Toyota- it's going back as a recall.
It's just a shame- you spend thirty years building a reputation of unflappable durability and customer satisfaction (for the most part); now you're the butt of every joke told on a used car lot- and the topic for every blogging auto enthusiast who writes web content.