Steve Jobs 1955-2011

This evening, I posted this on my social media outlets:

A journalist's tools are vital to his or her success. The most prominent tool of this journalist was one forged from the ideas of a visionary. Thank you, Steve Jobs, for making the work of a lot of us in the working press – myself included – much easier today. Godspeed, Mr. Jobs.

The Heirloom's Dead End

"What's happening with The Heirloom?"

It's been a question that has popped up by non-readers of this site for a while. This is probably a chance to explain all of this contextually.

Since the early 2000s, one of my writing topics had been about sports. Baseball has been the primary sport of choice for most of my life, so I felt compelled to put my love for the game into words. Of those who read my work, they hoped it would be available on a larger stage for the world to see.

In 2008, Major League Baseball Advanced Media opened up their MLBlogs sites for no charge, as opposed to a per month rate. Not only did I migrate my earlier work onto the new site, I began writing volumes of new and relative material. The Heirloom was born. It became the bane of my existence while figuring out what to do with the rest of my written work.

This year alone saw a turn towards a different focus. Regular readers of V&R have witnessed this turn as I put more emphasis on the automotive work above my baseball writing. The growing readership along with the inroads made in this industry superseded what I was hoping to do with The Heirloom.

A Hybrid Balancing Act

2011 Lexus CT 200h 6

For the past ten years, I've struggled with the subject of hybrid automobiles.

It started when I drove my first Toyota Prius ten years ago at a Farmer's Market on Madison's Capitol Square. What surprised me about that Prius was how it drove like a normal small sedan, despite a few sonic differences. There was some initial resistance based on some quirkiness in the styling inside and out along with the concern about battery life and overall reliability of the system.

My summation at the time was that the combination of petrol and electric motors was a fantastic idea, if it meant to simply cut down emissions and optimize fuel economy. However, I questioned whether the general public was ready to pay a premium over regular automobiles for the sake of being "green."

Since then, I tried very hard to embrace this alternative method in vehicle propulsion. After driving a few of these samples as part of a local car-sharing program, I concluded that while the second generation Prius improved in various ways, it was quite dull to drive. Furthermore, I question whether being "green" meant sacrificing true automotive engagement from this five-door neo-futuristic (now iconic) appliance.

Being blatantly honest does have its price. Over the course of a decade, I had huge arguments over my stance on the Prius that friendships were actually put on the line. I needed to find alternatives.

After a series of turns in subsequent hybrids, namely the third generation Prius, the Honda Insight and the Ford Fusion Hybrid, my internal conflict worsened. I ultimately asked myself if there was a hybrid automobile out there that drove the way I liked.

Something with grip and traction. Something that I would take it into the corners and make it beg for mercy. Something I would not feel guilty about driving, as I gobbled up the miles towards destinations unknown. Something that was actually engaging, but spewed almost no carbon in the air and sipped fuel like it was a fine wine.

The Speculator: Lincoln's Future

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 3

"How do we solve a problem like Maria?"

If you've seen "The Sound of Music" a few times, you have to wonder why these nuns would have a problem with Julie Andrews in the first place! Then again, she would become the nanny for the Von Trapp family, have their children deal with their absentee father by becoming a world famous signing troupe, and then escape the Nazis out of Austria so they could live freely somewhere else.

Now that I can recite this concise story line from "The Sound of Music," I guess I could retain my Gay Card…

However, I see the line above as a metaphor. My camp side (which is not how I roll, BTW) gives me the permission to use this metaphor whenever I see an issue in the automotive industry. It helps me understand why there is such a problem and what kind of solution could I figure out if I had enough clout in the boardroom.

What's the problem now? Or, rather, who's the Maria this time around?

The Speculator: Dodge's New Compact

With the compact market climbing into prominence in the past year, there is still a feeling that something is still missing from the party. But, what would be missing here? Or, rather, who?

Back in November of 2009, Sergio Marchionne revealed how Chrysler will be able to get back to prominence by 2014 – with Fiat's help. Part of the plan was to develop a series of automobiles from then-new platform that would envelop about four automotive segments for both Fiat and Chrysler. Fiat's C-Evo platform was seen as Chrysler's savior…but it means a whole lot more.

The first product off of this platform was not a Chrysler. Rather, it was an Alfa Romeo – the Giulietta. This important compact was designed to face off against the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, Renault Megane, Opel/Vauxhall Astra…and so forth. The new Alfa was well received in Europe and is packed with the right stuff to battle in this segment on the other side of the pond.

Obviously, there will be more products coming off of the same platform in the years to come. One of which will be revealed in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. This product alone is perhaps the most important of anything either Fiat S.p.A. or Chrysler Group LLC would have coming down the line.

After "Auld Lang Sine" has died down for another New Year's, Dodge's new compact car will be revealed to the universe.

The Speculator: GM's Mid-Sized Global Pickup

We pundits think we know everything about the automobile industry to try to fix it.

It's not true. As much as we know about this industry, we can analyze, criticize, express opinions and make recommendations to the companies. Yet, we do not have the power to actually change anything.

Some of us can dream, though.

Part of dreaming about the industry is rooted in the reality of gathering news, discussing it with our counterparts and colleagues alike. Understanding the reasons behind a new release or hoping that a rumor is indeed fact (or fiction). Ultimately, we can express our thoughts with some grounding for you to understand what we're on about.

"Laser Tag and Guitar Hero"…with Cars!

Focus Target Hunt 20

The coordinators of this event described this experience as a combination of "laser tag and Guitar Hero." In this case, it involved cars. Real live cars

Now, who would allow such an experience to happen for people to test drive one of the big selling automobiles this year?

Ford decided that the best way to give the general public a chance to drive the 2012 Focus is to do a challenging drive course full of twists, turns and video game/laser tag inspired scoring. Sounds like fun, right?

While shopping at the Mall of America, I saw the promos and the people involved with this event…and, figured "why not."

Being not a video game person, I saw the challenge as a way to test my driving abilities. Ford called this the "Focus Target Hunt." The course was laid out with laser-read targets where scoring takes place. The twists and turns test the ability of driver and car to achieve several tasks, such as parking forth and back, cornering and evasive handling. When a score is made, the driver gets an aural notification that is also derived from video games – a four-point score gets a guitar riff a la Guitar Hero.

Considering that I lived in a crossover a week prior to this, I figured I needed a car to get back into driving shape.

Historiography: When the New Model Year Meant Something

About this time every year, the new model year would begin.

The past year's models should have been liquidated from the lots, if a dealership was lucky to do so. Instead, a new shipment of vehicles would arrive. Then, the showroom gets spruced up with new signage announcing the new model year and its products.

When the day arrives, you walk into the showroom and look at the new model year's products. You notice the changes in grille textures, interior patterns and other assorted details. In the center of the showroom was the newest model: The brand new product that would boost the fortunes of the brand.

A salesman talks to you about the new product. He or she would love to put you behind the wheel of it – to become the first on the block to have it. Of course you'd want to…it's quite tempting. That was before we were inundated with publications giving us consumer advice as to what to buy…or not.

Recently on Twitter, one of my mutual followers brought up how much fun it was to visit a car dealership in the past. I do agree that as a child, the internal car person is awake by the presence of these machines. You recall being as tall as the wheels themselves. Then, we play out the ultimate child fantasy of sitting behind the driver's seat and just holding on to the steering wheel. The fun only lasts until an actual customer wants to check out the car for a test drive.

I may have discussed this maybe a few times – if not in snippets. The car dealership experience was part of my youth. It was the first contact with the automobile I ever had. The new model introductions were part of my youth that fed into what you are reading today. It was my geek. In a sense, it still is.

Travelogue: How I Got Home From My Road Trip To Chicago…Seriously

Greyhound at the Loring Park Art Fair 3

Sure, getting there was half the fun. Going home is a different story.

This last road trip was, at best, interesting. I saw a friend in Madison and went around the place I once called home. Then, took in Chicago a day early to add a new experience on my way to close the baseball blog, The Heirloom.

The GMC Terrain paved the way for this trip to happen. However, I did not drive home. The vehicle was based in Chicago, so I dropped it off there. I ended up coming home a completely different way.

Normally, I would fly out of O'Hare. On a short notice, airfares were not in the offing for my budget…even out Midway. Amtrak was an alternative, but I had to be back on a contract site early the next morning. The late arrival of Amtrak into St. Paul would not work there, either.