Category Archives: Auto Industry

On the Way Up

By Lloyd Graff

June 3rd, and the world looks a lot different than just 30 days ago.
    GM finally did the dirty deed and filed, and the stock market reacted with relief. It appears suppliers are going to get paid from the Feds lending as the reorganization goes forward. BorgWarner stock is up 80 percent from its low and Johnson Controls has also bumped.
    All of the commodities are zooming with copper near $2.30 and ArcelorMittal stock more than double from its yearly low.
    Obviously, the markets are signaling a bottoming of the economy.
    One of the most encouraging aspects of what’s going on is the strength of the California home market. Sales have been improving for existing homes and the unsold overhang is shrinking. Home prices have actually been rising recently. California led us into the housing chaos and it appears to be leading us out. New homebuyers are appearing in Phoenix, Florida and Vegas where syndicates are coming in with speculative bids for cash on multiple units.
    In the real machining world we live in, the signs of a rebound are beginning to show. Hoff-Hilk’s Bystrom sale last week was a winner with Swiss CNC machines, and Gerry Mannion told me that his recent Bosch sale surprised big on the upside. On the other hand, Robert Levy of Hilco says that he remains very conservative after seeing the market for used twin grip Cincy centerless grinders grind to a halt. Presses and multi-spindle screw machines have no pulse right now, and gear equipment is languishing.
    Intrest rates are rising on 10 year U.S. government bonds, the dollar is weak, the big banks have floated $70 billion in stock and are begging to pay back the TARP. Huge money is leaving the sidelines for investments that appear to have upside. Put it all together and it smells like a recovery in the womb, if we can hang in there while inventories gradually rebuild.

Question: Do you feel more upbeat about business now that GM has finally filed?

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There is Life After Automotive

By Lloyd Graff   

    Over a dozen years ago I developed a wonderful business relationship with Ed LeClair, who used to be operations manager at Curtis Screw Company LLC., of Buffalo N.Y., one of the largest precision machining companies in the U.S.
    Among Ed’s many responsibilities at Curtis was buying used machinery, which put us on the opposite sides of the table, but we developed a great rapport even while we were negotiating like pit bulls on the price of Schüttes and Acmes.
    It came as a shock when Ed told me he was leaving Curtis in 2007 to buy a printing shop franchise in Raleigh, North Carolina, which he planned to run with his wife Carol.
    I knew that Ed had long had the dream of going into business for himself because he had queried me periodically about what job shops were on the market. But Ed and Carol were entrenched in Buffalo, and I doubted he would put it all on the nose to buy a screw shop in Detroit or L.A. But one day he and his wife, a long time teacher, found themselves rattling around in their big house, their youngest child now off at college, looking for one more big challenge before retirement. It was the right moment; the print shop opportunity popped out of the weeds and they grabbed it. Mild Raleigh winters sounded good, and the thought of absorbing the pressure of running an automotive supplier had lost some of its appeal. Ed regretted leaving his good friend and colleague Paul Hojnacki, the general manager of Curtis Screw, and the tremendous team of professionals he and Paul had shepherded in Buffalo, but as it turned out his timing was impeccable.
   The auto market tanked and the stock market imploded, but Ed managed to escape from both calamities with his move to Raleigh, a place where he found relative stability in job shop printing and a community heavy in colleges and drug companies.
    He and Carol have now been working together for more than 500 days, definitely an experiment, but Ed says they still love each other.
    Ed is a thorough and charismatic operations guy and he brought the rigor of automotive land to the AlphaGraphics franchise he bought. Business is prospering. He called me to ask if I knew of a good sales person in North Carolina he could hire. He told me he stays in touch with Paul Hojnacki at Curtis, but he is happy to have fled the misery of the car industry.
    Ed LeClair is living proof that there is life after automotive. He says he’s just a lucky guy. He bought Ford stock in February and it has tripled. Lucky, maybe, but smart enough to live out his dream before life runs away.

Ed LeClair, former operations manager of Curtis Screw Company LLC., Buffalo N.Y.

Ed LeClair, former operations manager of Curtis Screw Company LLC., Buffalo N.Y.

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GM's Elmer Fudd

By Lloyd Graff

The General Motors train is lumbering toward bankruptcy. Does it give you any comfort that Elmer Fudd in pinstripes, otherwise known as Fritz Henderson, is now running the show at GM? Henderson is another GM lifer who has been a successful bureaucrat politician at General Motors—not exactly a guy who looks like the next Lee Iacocca or Steve Jobs.
    What a mess the company has become. Alfred Sloan must be laughing or crying in his grave as he watches jokes like Rick Wagoner and Elmer Fudd, excuse me, Fritz Henderson, fumble toward bankruptcy.
    I felt like retching as I watched GM’s current TV advertising joke, “Put on your rally caps America. It’s time for a comeback.” The ad deftly admonishes the viewers. How incredibly corny and out of touch can you get? And then the announcer talks about the GM “total confidence” program. How can the people at GM and their ad agency think viewers are going to buy this kind of cynical condescending eyewash?
    But this is how GM got to where they are today. The company has become a joke, a Jay Leno one-liner, because the management continues to be laughable. The GM trucks and cars are not bad, but who wants “not bad” when you can buy Honda and Toyota for the same money and you know they’ll be around in five years?
    When GM guts the company, throws out the Elmer Fudds and talks to its customers as intelligent consumers, not stupid yahoos, I’ll consider buying a vehicle from them.

Also, don’t forget that today is your last chance to win the Gerstner toolbox and other prizes by posting on the TMW Shop Doc Forum! Join and post on the forum by going to www.shopdocforum.com.

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Rick Wagoner Should Remain GM's President For Life

I had always seen GM head, Rick Wagoner, as a figure like Leonid Brezhnev, the Russian Premier who just seemed like he would rule forever. When Wagoner was finally ousted from GM on March 30th, I was compelled make a video blog to reflect upon the man’s contributions to his company. If Wagoner did remain GM’s ruler for life, what would be the arguments to justify his reign?

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Need more info on Delphi's Sale to China

By Lloyd Graff

Just saw on the Internet that Delphi is selling its brakes and suspension businesses to two Chinese companies and the Chinese government. Sale is set to close in fourth quarter. Does anybody know exactly which plants will be affected. Any of you bloggers doing work for this part of Delphi?

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Is It all Wagoner's Fault?

By Noah Graff

Here’s what I keep asking. You all are asking it too I’m sure. Is GM’s plight almost entirely the fault of Wagoner. Would a different person, a super genius, an extraordinary motivator make the company thrive, or would anyone have fallen victim to our awful economy?

I think that it could have been somewhat different. After all, Toyota and Honda (although they are in tough times too) are not on the brink of bankruptcy. But was Wagoner handcuffed to begin with by crappy designs, terrible UAW agreements…etc.?

Could Apple’s Steve Jobs have made GM thrive?

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A Renaissance in Detroit

By Noah Graff

Last week I went to Detroit to shoot a video spot for an advertiser of Today’s Machining World. A melancholy vibe permeated the city that I can only compare with the one I felt when I was last in New Orleans. When I arrived there were only three taxies and two limos sitting outside. Five vehicles to serve the entire Detroit Metro airport? I decided to query the empty rental car buses driving by to see if they had any cars available. I asked Hertz, Avis, and Budget, and every driver claimed that there weren’t any cars. Evidently so few people are traveling to Detroit Metro that the rental car companies have transferred their fleets to other more bustling cities.

Yet amidst all of its depression and desperation, Detroit now has an unexpected grassroots movement, attempting to revitalize the city’s housing market. At this moment, artists from around the world are buying houses in the Detroit ghetto for a few hundred dollars each.

Four years ago, artists Mitch and Gina Cope, bought a broken down house on Detroit’s North side for $1900. The house had been ravaged by scrappers who stole everything from copper plumbing, radiators to electrical lines. But the Copes bought it anyway and decided to turn it into what Mitch Cope calls the “Power House Project.” “Our idea — instead of putting it all back and connecting to the grid, we wanted to keep it off the grid and get enough solar and wind turbines and batteries to power this house and power the next-door house,” Cope says.

He thinks he can make the whole place operate “off the grid” for around $60,000, a cost he hopes to help cover with grants. He plans for the first floor to be a neighborhood art center and the second floor to be a bedroom for traveling artists. Of course, his grand vision is for the entire neighborhood to transform itself into an artist community using dirt cheep real estate as a magnet for new settlers. Cope has already convinced around a dozen artists from countries around the world such as the Netherlands and Germany to buy houses. Jon Brumit, a prominent artist from Chicago just bought a house in the area for $100.

You may find this story uplifting yet then put your nose up when you remember only 12 homes have been bought. But maybe manufacturers can learn from what these artists are doing. The bottom line is that the real estate in Detroit is going for practically nothing, Michigan is going out of its way to give tax incentives for new development, and there is an abundance of laid-off, skilled workers who potentially would jump at the chance to work at a job shop, even for a modest wage. Sounds like an opportunity for some creative types.

Listen to a podcast of the story at NPR.org

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Is our economy a modern day version of "Atlas Shrugged"?

By Noah Graff

A recent column in the Wall Street Journal made a comparison of U.S. government policies in the present economy to those in the classic novel, Atlas Shrugged, written in 1957 by the anti-government, ultra capitalist Ayn Rand. Rand’s dogma which transcends all of her works has the fundamental principle that when government steps in to “bailout” incompetent businesses for the sake of the “common good” it causes a tumultuous domino effect.

Wall Street Journal Columnist Stephen Moore summarizes the book’s moral as the following: “Politicians invariably respond to crises — that in most cases they themselves created — by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs … and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.”

Sound kind of familiar? Tarp? Auto company bailouts? A bunch more “stimulus plans”? I know. It’s scary right now. Desperate times. And I believe the government must step in somehow to stop a catastrophic loss of jobs and halted workflow that a bankruptcy of the Big Three would entail. And yes, it has to create liquid for the banks. But just like in the book, large companies are getting a free pass on their incompetence in management and law breaking. A money infusion gives them an opportunity to change their ways, but there is a definite chance it could create a downward spiral just as Rand envisioned. Does GM have a plan for how to spend the new money, other than to survive the next few months? Do the banks know what to do with their new capital? All of a sudden they have to figure out new ways to lend it, because now we know that the ways they were using it — such as granting sub-prime mortgages and trading recklessly with high leverage won’t work. The economy can only stabilize when these companies get their act together, and then, when the people regain trust in them. I don’t see either one happening soon.

Question: Do you have faith that the U.S. government’s new stimulus plans are going to create economic change for the better in the near future, or will they exacerbate our problems by allowing incompetents and crooks to continue their ways?

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Custom Made Plugin Hyrid Car

It appears that U.S. gasoline prices are headed over $2 again, and before long, Americans will likely again be feeling the urgency for better fuel economy as they did in the summer of 2008. While GM is supposedly trying its damndest to début a saleable plug-in hybrid by 2010, many individuals with ingenuity around the globe have already produced their own custom made plug-in hybrids. Two college kids in Wheaton Illinois, Chris and Andrew Ewert, have constructed a plug-in hybrid by installing a lithium-ion battery in a stock Toyota Prius. The battery works in tandem with the car’s nickel-metal hydride battery already installed in the car.

Many of the established auto industry experts have dismissed car kits like the one created by the Ewerts as impractical solutions for mass production. You be the judge after watching the following video.

You can also read an interview with Chris and Andrew Ewert in the August 2008 issue of Today’s Machining World.

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