In The Future You Might Have To Drive The Car You Can Afford

Going the Way of the Dinosaur

I was reading in the Los Angeles Times where Chrysler would no longer be leasing cars through its in-house financial service. Wells Fargo, known for its auto leasing loans, among other things is also getting out of the auto leasing business. Ford took a write down on its auto leasing portfolio of over $2 Billion, which is a lot of money, even in this day and age.

The car makers who sell mostly trucks and SUV’s are being hit doubly hard as those that specialize in passenger cars, but with gas prices being what they are, coupled with the devaluation of leased cars, it is only a matter of time before other auto makers pick up their proverbial catcher’s mitts and trundle on out of the car leasing finance business. Tough break.

Once upon a time, the auto dealership could figure with some degree of accuracy the residual value of the car. That means at the inception of your lease the dealer would project the car would be worth a certain percentage of its initial value. Three year old cars in demand, Mercedes, BMW’s, Lexus, Hondas, Toyotas would be worth more, percentage wise, naturally, and the ones in less demand, Hyandai’s, Kias, stuff like that,would be worth less. This residual value was taken into consideration when they wrote up the terms of the lease. You would pay less per month for a car with more residual value, meaning it would be worth more at the end of the lease, and you would pay more per month for the car that nobody wanted.

Well, now every car dealership is getting killed on most lease returns. The Prius and a few others are the exceptions, but now the Blue Book Value, the estimated value of a car and the actual selling price are at odds. The car is worth less than the evaluation. Enough so that you see dealers who bought out the cars at lease closing now desperate to sell and offering the cars at thousands below Blue Book.

In fact, Santa Monica Lexus this weekend had its first ever “blow out” sale, offering its cars a thousands below the Blue Book value. I was struck by the number of Porsches listed in the ad. This is Southern California, after all, and at first glance one would think they were on the Autobahn what with all the German cars. A Porsche around here is like an entry level Lexus in a lot of other parts of the country. Nevertheless, there they were all models, all colors, just make an offer.

So what’s this all mean, besides the obvious? Well, have always been a country in love with its cars. We would joyride; we would watch movies in our cars, eat in them, have sex in them. They were an extension of our ego, a symbol of freedom and a measuring stick for our worth in society. Hundreds of sons were written about our cars and the things we did in our cars. We have auto shows, auto clubs, nostalgic reviews and television shows.

Once upon a time cars were affordable. Relatively speaking. You drove an American car and there were cool American cars and they didn’t empty your lungs just to buy one. And then as the world globalized we were introduced to the really sleek, cool, speedy, better handling foreign models. First they came from Europe, some vroomed and some sputtered, especially in the rain. Anyone who drove an English sports car in the sixties can tell you about his travails with the Jaguars and MG’s.

And then came the Japanese. First there were the cheap, tinny cars that no one wanted, unless you were too broke for the American car. But then the Japanese cars improved, and Toyota, Honda, Nissan, offered quality cars and premium vehicles with names like Infiniti, Accura and Lexus. As for the cheap part, well that went out the electric window.

So…to have your symbol of freedom and the status and sex appeal it would bring you, you had to spend bucks. Bucks you couldn’t afford. Enter car leasing. For a lot less bucks you could drive the car you couldn’t afford for several years and then turn it in for its residual value. The auto maker would sell it off, make some more money on it, over your initial leasing fee, and the auto makers were happy as clams.

But now it looks like they will soon be getting out of the leasing business. That symbol of freedom will have to be something you can actually afford. Because you will have to actually buy it. Reality will need a radical adjustment. Your symbol of freedom may lack the sex appeal of the car you once leased. Or it may be a lot older than that shiny new car you drove for three years, put on thirty thousand miles, and then turned it.

Your friends may not envy you as much. Women may not swoon. Few men can ask a woman if you wants to go for a ride in a base priced Kia. Okay, then can ask, but who is accepting? So there you are, no longer in dream city but bogged down in the reality of the times. As for joy riding, forget that at $5 bucks a gallon. You ain’t even going to the movies, half the time. Pay per view and a pizza ordered from the shop where the delivery kid has to pay for his gasoline.

Online dating may end up being more “virtual” than first anticipated. Fashion companies could be offering attire and accessories for weekend phone sex. Pajama parties may again become the rage. Why? Because everyone will stay over for days, since they can’t afford the gas to go home. I suppose it is a good thing after all that drive-in theaters have long gone the way of the rumble seat.

If there is a silver lining, take stock of the car you will be buying and not leasing. The reason many expensive cars were expensive, besides their performance, sex appeal, and a mark of your status, is because they are made well. They weren’t made initially to be leased for three years and turned back in. They were made to be driven for years and years. They were made to go hundreds of thousands of miles, before dying an honorable death.

So if you buy one and drive it for the five or ten years, like the Europeans usually do, then the price of the luxury vehicle still makes sense. You can enjoy it, retain your symbol of freedom, sex appeal, and status symbol, albeit a little threadbare over time. You can enjoy the better cars for what they were made for–quality and performance. Or you can buy a car you can afford, get rid of it when the loan is paid and buy another, maybe an electric car. In the future.

In any event, your car, after being driven awhile, like quality clothes made from quality fabric, will develop the one thing it doesn’t have now. Character.

Happy motoring.

Johnny Edwards, We Hardly Knew Ya

Okay, so by now unless you were living in a cave in Mynamar you would have read or heard about how the National Enquirer, cornered former Presidential Hopeful and Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, John Edwards in the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Apparently, the media gang from the Enquirer chased poor Johnny around the hotel in some modern version of an old Marx Brothers movie. From the different reports, the very bemused hotel guests watched the impromptu floor show.

John Edwards ran for his life, or, rather, for his career, while the Enquirer gang gave chase. They cornered him in a bathroom, where reports are the ever intimidating hotel security guards–you have seen them–allegedly threatened to break heads and cameras. The Enquirer reporters are said to have filed a criminal complaint with the Beverly Hills Police.

I mean you have to admit this is pretty funny. No matter what side of the aisle you rest your laurels, if you don’t look at this with humor and irony, mixed with the usual disgust and admonition, then you are lulling on the ice floes with respect to the cultural and political zeitgeist of the early 21st Century. When you are worth hundreds of millions and your are a very public figure, in fact one that is being considered for the Vice Presidential role, again, or as a cabinet member, you have to feel pretty stupid when you are cornered in the hotel bathroom by a horde of reporters. The only thing worse would be that while you held the door against the narrow shoulders of the reporters, you discover Senator Larry Craig is tapping his lascivious foot at you from inside a bathroom stall.

You have to be an idiot. I’m sorry, but whether or not you want to wax moral on this, and there is plenty of wax on this one to make enough candles to light a sensual sex scene, the morality to me is not the major issue. The issues is whether you are smart enough to run this country. If you can’t take care of your extramarital affairs without getting caught by the media, then how are you going to outfox the Russians, the Iranians the the lineup of “evil doers” you will be dealing with on a daily basis? I mean, how cool can you be.

All right, so up comes the name of one William Clinton. But with Clinton it was different. The women in one form or another ratted him out. He wasn’t caught near in flagrante as was John Edwards. His girlfriend of the moment either talked to the press or talked to her girlfriend who talked to the press, depending on what girl of the moment we were talking about.

Look, I’m sure there are good qualities about John Edwards. And I’m sure with his wife, Elizabeth, being so ill, there are pressures most of us can’t imagine. He has had his share of tragedy in his life. It is the kind of tragedy that no money nor political or social status will ever fully surmount. You can’t have a child die and a wife that is dying and not be in the need of some relief. Anywhere.

But not here. Not now. That is, if you really want to be considered for Vice President or  a cabinet position. If Edwards is on a secret self-destructive bent for one reason or another, then he is certainly in the groove. But I don’t think that’s the case with Edwards. He is far too ambitious to dwell in the world of secret self-denial and self-destruction.

Look, he is definitely an intelligent man, although I don’t care all that much for his personal style. Between the newscaster’s haircut, circa 1980, and the ersatz folksy, populists jingo he spouts from time to time, He is hard to embrace. I see him more as the calculating “Goober Boy,” than as a viable Presidential candidate. I made up my mind on this when asked during one of the oh so scintillating presidential debates what he considers his personal flaw. In fairness, Barack Obama was the only one who gave an ingenuous answer. The rest decided to shuck and jive. But in Edward’s case he “aw shucks” it for a moment and then announced his flaw was that he cared about America “too much.”

I would rather he would have told us he was haunted by unseen and indeterminate demons who, despite what I believe is his genuine love and concern for his wife, he is forced to go seeking solace in the arms of a Santa Barbara MILF where, together they have produced a love child as a result of their passions. Then I would have thought, okay, it’s an imperfect world and it least he isn’t trying to feed me the kind of line you feed the last drunk at closing time.

It least he wouldn’t be living in denial and forcing us to do the same.   He wouldn’t sound like Larry Craig.

Does This Painting Remind You of Anybody?

Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Besides conducting background checks and corporate research, I am still an author and am fairly versed in the arts. I had the fortune of seeing this painting on display in the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, known as LACMA around these parts. It is a most compelling work. It attracts your eye from way across the gallery. This piece was painted in the twenties by German Expressionist, Magnus Zeller. Germany was experiencing a few speed bumps at the time, following the debacle of the First World War, or “The War to End All Wars,” as it was called then. It is a term we view today with more than its share of irony, if not dark humor. But I digress.

Cast your eyes on the painting and think your thoughts. History does repeat itself, or as the French have been rumored to say, “The More Things Change, the More They Stay They Same.”

Should Disney Get Horny? Sexing up the Soaps to Boost Sagging TV Ratings

The venerable Ad Age reports that Disney’s ABC Television Network is launching a series of new campaigns to try and revitalize their flagging soap operas. To boost ratings a variety of actors and performers will do what we hope are humorous promos, urging viewers to tune back into their favorite and, arguably, venerable Soap Operas of the days gone by. The promos are cross platform, meaning they will run in print, on cable, and presumably the Internet.

Will they work? It’s hard to say, looking of the line up of promo celebrities, or whatever they are, I wouldn’t think so. Soaps need to be sexy and modern, sizzling and bristling with emotional tension. With some exception, this crew doesn’t look they could convey that all that easily. If it were my promotional campaign, I would be making different choices.

Soaps have fallen on tough times since the O.J. Simpson Trial. Real life was much to provocative and the same old same old was eschewed in favor of the bumbling courtroom administration of Judge Ito and the prosecution team. Viewers were compelled to wonder what hairstyle lead prosecutor, Marcia Clark, would favor that day and whether or not the jury could actually spell DNA. Then there was the matter of guessing whether the guilty man was innocent or guilty and whether justice would be served or merely served up lukewarm on an old drive-in burger stand tray. The Simpson trial was a soap opera and a circus all rolled into one. You can’t ask for more than that.

People did, and when the television networks wouldn’t give it to them in the soap operas, the viewers went somewhere else. No one is really sure where they went, actually, but they went somewhere. No longer was the hallowed family tradition of passing incomprehensible interest in these wooden characters passed down from mother to daughter. People bailed, maybe even to the telenovellas on the Spanish Language Channels.

Telenovellas are cool. Not cool, really, In fact they smolder. They are a product of Mexico, Central and South America. If you think people showed loyalty in watching the American Soaps, it was more like a passing interest when compared to the avid viewing of telenovellas. Telenovellas are something else, considering their origins are from largely Catholic based countries. I guess it takes a good sense of the holy spirit to better get a grip on sin and redemption and focus mainly on the sin, with the redemption part serving more like the berries on a rich parfait, rather than as the main attraction.

With telenovellas you get to see stuff and not just hear about it from characters who allegedly performed these sexy adventures off camera. Telenovellas can illustrate a more lasting impression of what heated passion is all about. Rather than hear about it from puppet mouths reciting tepid lines, in telenovellas you get to see why sex, sin, adultery, life and death and everything else in between can make people so crazy. You come away from watching telenovellas feeling that you gained something, maybe even learned something. You come away wanting more. And to better illustrate their effect, they can rampage your ruminations, even if you don’t know a word of Spanish.

So ABC and all the other networks should can the semi-cutesy promos and take a lesson from telenovellas. Stir up the emotions a little and give the public what they are craving. After all, if you are home in the middle of the afternoon lusting after invented people, you are looking for something in life that will supplement your…well…yearnings. So write the networks and tell them you want to see your soaps as telenovellas. Hey, if all the illegal immigrants can get more fun in their lives, then why can’t you?

Fuel Prices Send American Workers Below the Border

I noticed this article in the San Diego Union-Tribune about American drivers going down below the border to buy diesel fuel at half the price they can get it here.

Bus service may be halted today

June 19, 2008

TIJUANA – Truck and bus drivers experienced a day of chaos in Tijuana yesterday, as they chased a dwindling supply of diesel fuel. Today was shaping up to be even worse.

Pemex gas station manager Claudia Torres placed a sign yesterday to block the entrance to the diesel pumps after the Tijuana station ran out of the fuel.

For weeks, drivers from the United States have snapped up Mexican diesel, which is selling for about 50 percent less than in California.

That has resulted in a shortage of the fuel, and gas stations nearest the border crossings started halting or limiting sales last weekend.

By yesterday, diesel had started to run out at outlying stations, provoking delays or cancellations in public and private transportation. New supplies might not arrive until Monday.

Long lines of trucks and buses, their drivers desperate to buy diesel, formed at those stations still selling the fuel.

Public transportation officials announced that if they could not refuel their buses they would halt service today, a decision that affects at least 750,000 daily riders.

For the entire article go to San Diego Union.

It’s pretty amazing. Once upon a time people went south of the border to Mexico for romantic reasons. They were escaping the reach of the American law. They were getting married or getting divorced. They were young and restless, looking for a good time in the Tijuana night spots, drinking and cavorting. Looking for the fabled donkey show, or for the more romantic sort that special girl or boy who amid all the drinking still cared enough not to throw up on their sandals.

Stories abounded about kids getting a little too frisky and getting thrown into jail. Their parents or whomever who would have to shell out some cash to get them out. There were stories about the nasty stays in jail, known by most as life changing experiences. The Kingston Trio wrote a song about it, titled appropriately enough, “Tijuana Jail.” If you survived it all, and usually you did, it was a right of passage.

Then, even today there are the short hops from the California Border to Rosarito Beach and Ensenada for beer fests, partying and the occasional lobster meal. You could ride horses on the beach, cheaply. You could buy great Mexican tile by the truckload and save money on your home renovation. You could buy leather goods and switchblade knives. Cheap ones, but it was a five minute thrill to flick it open and closed a few dozen times.

Now you go south of the border to buy gasoline. More specifically, it’s diesel fuel you buy at half the price. You venture to Mexico for diesel fuel, prescription drugs and dental and medical work. It’s cheaper. There are chartered buses for the dental and medical work. For the diesel fuel, you need your car or truck.

So the lines form. Orderly lines, I’m sure. All while the Mexican drug cartels duel it out on the border town streets, killing each other in record numbers. While you buy diesel fuel.

Some world. Eh, Ese`?