By Jim Taylor, Editor MACS ACtion Magazine
It’s not news that our industry is full of puzzles and contradictions, and what an observer believes or thinks they know may come down to the last item read or who shouted the loudest. A few items can always be sorted out by close examination of the details and understanding both sides of the story. Others, however, often leave us scratching our heads. For instance…
Poke any local politician or state cop and you’ll get an immediate screed about eliminating or at least reducing distracted driving, texting, cell phoning, tweeting, twitting or whatever else the “yoof” of today might be doing instead of driving the car.
And yet, what should we think when it was recently revealed that at least three famous name vehicle manufacturers each chartered jets to fly reporters round-trip from the Detroit auto show (NAIAS) to the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas so stories could be written about the OEM’s latest in vehicle connectivity, telematics, “infotainment,” voice recognition, glam-nav and other in car digital shenannigans. Who’s distracting whom?
By any account, 2011 was a better year for new car and light truck sales in the U.S. than 2010; that’s not really saying much because ’10 was such a sales stinker, but it’s still a good sign. According to mostly final statistics, all the domestic companies were up: Ford overall, +9%; Chrysler Group, +26% and GM overall, +13%. And yet, the stocks of both Ford and GM finished the year well below where they started in Jan, 2010. Usually, stock prices climb with a company’s sales successes, and Ford even paid a dividend for the first time in years. What will it take to get these stocks back to their former “must have” status?
In another stock related item, many aftermarket groups and companies keep beating the drum of “zillions of dollars in unperformed maintenance is out there.” That’s probably true, although perhaps not to the numerical extremes presented. People just naturally either forget or postpone unpleasant or expensive repairs whether they are automotive, dental or residential. (“Yes, dear, I’ll fix the leak this weekend….”) And yet, stock prices for several of the national auto parts chains increased significantly by the end of the year, and some were up by huge amounts from Jan, 2011. With that growth, it’s obvious that the chains are selling parts to somebody and that some problems are getting fixed.
Finally, if you were in or around the auto biz in the late 1970s and early ’80s, you may remember the great import car scare, during which the likes of Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru and others went on a sales tear that put a noticeable dent in the domestic side’s numbers. Cars imported from Asia caused no end of hand wringing, import limits, and federal scrutiny. And yet, would you ever have thought that years later North America would become an export site for Japanese marques?
Toyota is now shipping cars and trucks from the U.S, Canada and Mexico to South Korea, and they say they’re saving money doing so. The company recently said that its N.A. plants will become the base for expanded exports to countries around the world to offset the rising cost of production in Japan. Honda and Nissan are also moving some production outside the home country to keep costs down. To see some true global economic wackiness at work, consult a world map and notice how close Japan is to its Asian neighbors.
May you live in interesting times…
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