28th February 2010

Manufacturing Troubles Remain a Drag on Recovery, Trade & Jobs

via The Seattle Times

by Jon Talton

Top of the News: The Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index seems consistent with recovery, coming in at 53.6 for November; any number above 50 signifies expansion in the sector. Unfortunately, the reading sagged from 55.7 the month before, tripping up what economists had hoped would be a steady climb out of recession.

A deeper look shows that the index provides no relief for the biggest immediate problem facing Americans, unemployment. Only six of 18 manufacturing industries reported growth in employment. Only 11.7 million Americans worked manufacturing as of October. That compares with 17.3 million in October 1999.

Not only do manufacturing jobs pay better than their counterparts in service industries, they tend to add real value to economic activity (as opposed to selling mortgage swindles). They are also twined with our trade issues. Even fewer manufacturing jobs are now in industries that export, a key part of our huge manufacturing trade deficit.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon was happening even before the Great Recession. A report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that manufacturing employment between 1965 and 2000 never dipped below 16.5 million. This even as manufacturing shrank as a share of the economy (take out Boeing and it would be much smaller). This changed as imports surged after China joined the WTO and other Asian factory centers upped their game. By 2004, the number was lower than any time since 1950.

“It is often claimed that declines in manufacturing employment stem entirely from productivity growth,” according to EPI economist L. Josh Bivens. “However, rapid productivity growth is the norm, not the exception, in manufacturing. What is new about the manufacturing job crisis of the last four years is the sharp downturn in the ratio of domestic production to demand.”

Indeed, American steelmakers are shrinking yet again.

The Back Story: The official unemployment rate including discouraged workers and part-timers seeking full-time work is 17.5 percent. But Shadow Government Statistics, a provocative and reliable site, argues even this underestimates the problem. Try…22 percent.

Complete Article

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28th February 2010

1968 Plymouth Road Runner

Hot on the heels of our¬†Camaro¬†muscle-fest¬†I went back and pulled this post out of the “Pending” box and decided to finally finish it. When I hear the word ‘muscle car’ the ’68 Road Runner is the first car that leaps to mind. The Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro probably get the lion’s share of attention these days given,¬† as Rob noted, the abundance of aftermarket parts and experience out there such that just about anyone with a modicum of mechanical aptitude can get a decent, great-looking street machine going. And, truth be told, those cars have a certain fascination; they captured the cultural zeitgeist of the mid-late ’60s youth culture perfectly and that nostalgia for lost youth is probably the major driver (pun intended) behind the huge market for those two models.

That and they were serious street racers. Big engines. Cool names. Camaro! Mustang! And heck, throw in Corvette! as well.

Then along comes a car from Plymouth named after a cartoon character with that bird’s signature Beep! Beep! for a horn. Hello?¬†

Although many came before and after, the Road Runner–and I really include only the ’68 in this–is, to my mind, as close as you get to the bare essence of what American muscle was all about: a cheap, stripped-down, mid-size coupe, bereft of nearly anything that didn’t contribute to its getting down a quarter-mile strip of street or track in as little time as possible. Nearly anyone could afford to buy one and commence doing whatever modifications it took to take on anything else on the road.¬†

Up until 1964 there were two ways to get a high-performance American car–you either bought a higher-end luxury model complete with (heavy) options providing the comfort and convenience that people who could afford them were used to, or you could order the cheapest, most basic model with the biggest engine that a dealer was willing to put in it. Dealers didn’t really like this latter idea–options increased profit, after all–but as long as only a few racers and bootleggers were ordering them, no harm, no foul, and winning some races on Sunday just might generate more sales on Monday. That all changed in 1963 when Pontiac introduced the GTO: an option package on the 1964 Tempest that gave the buyer a bigger engine, better suspension, and a sporty look, all without spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on extra comfort-and-convenience doodads. It was affordable speed and it changed the landscape.

Trouble was, as soon as the concept started to take off, manufacturers smelled profit and in short order the only way to get the really good performance equipment was to buy an  entire performance package, which not only cost extra dough, but tended to lard the cars up with the weight of those extra all-show no-go options. The higher price also bumped the cars up and out of range of many younger buyers, the prime market niche for muscle cars.

The story goes that Brock Yates, a writer at Car and Driver, sent a memo to Bob Anderson, then-general manager at Chrysler, describing an idea for a basic street racer that could be purchased for a song and be able to compete on the strip right out of the box. Despite reservations from upper management, Mopar went ahead and decided to make it as iconic as possible by tying it in with the Warner Brother’ avian road racer. And thus was born the Road Runner.¬†

¬†Management was rightly concerned with the entire concept of naming the car after a cartoon¬† character–that involved licensing fees which would just add to the cost, especially worrisome when the whole point of the car was to make it cheap. And on top of that, would any serious street racer want to be seen driving a cartoon bird with a funny little Beep! Beep! horn?

Well, whoever thought it would work was right: Plymouth sold nearly 50,000 of them that first year. In essence, the Road Runner was a Belvedere two-door pillared sedan with a heavier suspension usually reserved for commercial applications such as police cars and taxis. The base engine was a 383 (6.3-liter) 4-barrel that put out 335 horsepower and 425 ft-lbs of torque; it was obviously pretty good to begin with, and a little tuning could make it into a real fire-breather. You could also order the legendary 426 Hemi which bumped up the horsepower to 425 and 490 on the torque.¬†I’d take the 383, just because it seems more at home in a smaller, cheaper car and typifies the bang-for-the-buck nature of the car, but that’s just me.¬†

Now, you could lard it up with options, and who could blame you? For the base model, you got vinyl  bench seats, plastic mats instead of carpet and a limited selection of colors. This brought the base price down to $2,896 which was only about $300 less than the 1967 Plymouth GTX; of course, now that the low end was taken up by the Road Runner, Chrysler could afford to jack up the price of the somewhat more upscale GTX to over $3,300 for 1968 (price data from HowStuffWorks.com)

Of course, they started ruining it the very next year (heck, even by the end of 1968), adding bucket seats, carpet, a convertible, and other hedonistic frivolities, and by 1971 the clean lines gave way to the chromed-out behemoths of the 1970s, not to mention the vaguely obscene Superbird in 1970. Yeah, yeah, they¬†had bigger engines, were faster and meaner-looking, all seeming “improvements” over the plain-jane ’68. But they were also fatter and more expensive, and that, in my view, took away from what made the original ’68 such a jewel–it was simple and fast.¬†

This all shouldn’t be taken as an implicit criticism of other cars of that era though. I would kill for a¬†Boss 302¬†and maybe maim for¬†The Judge, but I think if you put a gun to my head and demanded I state my favorite pure 1960s muscle car, the ’68 Road Runner would be it, plain blue paint, bench seats and all. It was just that good.

Credits: Photos come from CarBodyDesign.com (top), HowStuffWorks.com (interior), and AdClassix.com for the print ad.

–Anthony Cagle

[edits made for corrections and added links]

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28th February 2010

Subaru Changed Their Head Gasket For The 2010 2.5L

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I wanted to post a few pictures and let everyone know that Subaru has finally changed the head gasket design for the 2010 models 2.5L N/A (Naturally Aspirated) models.

The gasket pictured below resembles the Head Gasket used in the Turbo models, the Tribeca, as well as the 2nd generation 2.2l and the updated gasket for the 1st generation 2.5L (I know there’s a lot to follow there).

The new gasket is not interchangeable with the older model 2.5L engines.   But it proves what I have been stating all along, a MLS (Multi Layer Shim) gasket is what is needed!

Thanks for reading


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27th February 2010

Honda CR-Z Priced in Japan From $25,500

TOKYO ‚ÄĒ The all-new Honda CR-Z hybrid went on sale Friday in Japan, priced from $25,000. Meanwhile, the Euro-spec edition will be unveiled early next week at the 2010 Geneva Auto Show.

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27th February 2010

FIAT Abarth 500C

Italian car tuning studio, Fiat’s official tuning brand, has unveiled its latest work based on the FIAT 500C before of the italian convertible’s world debut at upcoming Geneva Motor Show. The FIAT Abarth 500C benefits from a more powerful turbocharged engine as well as chassis upgrades and a full suite of aero tweaks to reduce drag and improve high-speed stability over the standard Fiat 500C.

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27th February 2010

NHTSA to Test Lexus Vehicle, Investigate Electronics for All Automakers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration purchased a 2006 Lexus ES 350 attached to a sudden acceleration complaint in order to test the vehicle. The Lexus was once owned by Rhonda and Eddie Smith of Tennessee, who testified before Congress that in a harrowing incident the vehicle accelerated suddenly on the freeway for six minutes before Rhonda Smith regained control.

NHTSA will study the vehicle at its Vehicle Research and Test Center in East Liberty, Ohio.

Additionally, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that electronic throttles ‚ÄĒ which have come under scrutiny in the sudden acceleration investigation ‚ÄĒ will come under review by U.S. safety officials. This applies not just to Toyota, but all automakers. The purpose will be to see if electromagnetic interference (for instance, from power lines) could affect vehicles‚Äô computer systems.

NHTSA Will Test Runaway Toyota Vehicle (Detroit News)

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