Chevy Malibu, the Future of GM?

Back in December, GM received a 13.4 billion life-line loan from the government; Chrysler, 4 billion.  As a condition for the loans, the companies had to submit detailed viability plans on February 17 to a task force headed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and economic advisor Lawrence Summers, co-car czars or chief car czarists, if you will.   I don’t know if this is a good idea, but I hope that two heads are better than one.

It comes as no surprise that the cornerstone of each plan is a request for  more money – GM needs 16.6 billion more and Chrysler, 5 billion.   In addition to an infusion of cash, both GM and Chrysler plan to cut more jobs, close plants and stop producing unpopular models (code for crappy cars).  GM and the the United Auto Workers (UAW) have made progress in negotiations regarding work rules, wages and a health care plan for retirees.  GM issued a press release announcing its viability plan.  The full 117 page text of GM’s restructuring plan is available here in a pdf file.

If I could give advice to this task force, I would say the following:

No more cash until GM eliminates most of its product line.   GM has a proven record of building horrible cars.   Only the Chevy Malibu, the Pontiac Vibe and the Saturn Auro received Consumer Reports highest rating for new cars.   Despite the Auro accolades, I would eliminate the Saturn line completely.  Saturn cars have been ok and the idea of no haggling sales has always appealed to me, but the brand never took off and failed to revolutionize GM as hoped.  All other GM models – all of them – the Astro, Aveo, Impala, Camaro, Lumina, Equinox, Cobalt, Traverse, even the Corvette should be discontinued.   I would also urge the task force to demand GM eliminate GMC, Pontiac and Buick as they do nothing more than duplicate the bad cars GM makes under a different name.   The evil twin concept.

I’d repackage the Pontiac Vibe, a Toyota Matrix clone, as a Chevy and keep it.  The car is produced at a joint Toyota-GM facility in California; this sort of collaboration should be encouraged.

And the Cadillac brand, why even bother – its glory days are long gone.   GM should only be allowed to produce three cars –  the Chevy Malibu, the Vibe and the electric Volt;  and one pickup truck –  the Chevy Avalanche;  nothing more.  Consumers who want a a cheap, reliable truck can buy a Toyota Tacoma;  those who need a family van should look to a Toyota Sienna;  and sports car enthusiasts should consider the Mazda Miata.

GM should be forced to sell all its other assets including SAAB,  Vauxhall, Opel, Daewoo, Holden and Hummer to the highest European or Asian bidder.   With all of this baggage, it’s no wonder GM cannot turn a profit.

Such a plan would mean a substantial number of layoffs as plants shutter and GM downsizes, but this may be the only way GM can survive and eventually thrive to employ a  future generation of workers.  GM already recognizes the need to become leaner by announcing the layoff of 47,000 workers as part of its viability plan.

GM’s ace in the whole may be the Chevrolet Volt, the plug-in battery powered car that is set to debut in 2010.  If the Volt proves a success, GM could become the leader in hybrid battery technology for the auto industry and remain viable for years to come.

Oh and Chrysler.  Sorry, it’s over.  No more money for you. If I could advise Chrysler, I would say go find Lee Iacocca.  And if I could advise Mr. Iacocca, I’d say, Lee, revive AMC – bring back the Gremlin and Pacer and make that Chrysler Diablo concept car a reality.

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WBW #54 – A Passion for Piedmont

I have to confess that I don’t drink a lot of Italian wine.  It’s not that I dislike it, I just typically look to other places for affordable wine –  Spain, Chile, Argentina, Australia.   The last Italian wine I bought was a quaffable primitivo,  but it’s been a while, and now, thanks to David McDuff who has issued the next Wine Blogging Wednesday challenge – WBW #54:  A Passion for Piedmont over at McDuff’s Food and Wine Trail,  I have a good reason to go back to the Italian isle of my local wine shop.   And I did.

What I know of Piedmont came from reading a book by ethnographer Shirley Brice Heath called Ways With Words.  This seminal work looked at language differences between residents of neighboring communities in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the Piedmont Carolinas, an area not esepcially known for winemaking.  However, North Carolina does have a growing wine industry, and one gaining in respect according to visitnc.com.

Knowing nothing about wines from the Piedmont region of Italy, I asked a consultant at the Wilogo1ne Emporium for a suggestion.  He pulled a couple of bottles, described them both and I chose the 2007 Ca’ del Baio Dolcetto d’ Alba because, and here I’ll let you in on a little secret to my wine selection process,  I liked the label.  The gold race horse logo looked like a winner to me.

dolcetto-alba-lodoli_small

The attendant said it was definitely a food wine and advised me to let it air out for a while.  When I got home, I uncorked it and as usual, butchered the cork – either I’m an incompetent extractor (most likely and why I prefer screw caps and synthetics) or I need to invest in a decent cork screw.  I let the wine breathe for a bit, but not for long – maybe 45 seconds because I was so excited.  And I was not disappointed.  A little sweetness on the nose which I expected from a a grape named Dolcetto – “little sweet one”.  Aromas of cherries and wild raspberries – fresh and fruity. A sip of this imperial Deep Purple colored light bodied dry Dolcetto revealed no sweetness – hey, what’s going on? Smoke and mirrors? Smoke on the Water? Deceptive to be sure, and lively too with a good bit of acidity, some tangy cherries, terse tannins and a dash of earth.  The finish is quick, clean and refreshing.  We’ll have no trouble finishing this one.

For lunch, we had steak with grilled peppers and onions and a plate load of steak fries.  With such fare, I’d normally go with a weightier wine, but the Dolcetto d’ Alba paired nicely – the tannins combined with the meat and pepper to bring out the fruitiness of the wine and the acidity sliced right through the fat.  Definitely a food wine.

Here’s what the winemaker had to say:

ruby red with violet hues; intense, fine and fruity; dry, good body, smooth, balanced, lightly tannic, sufficiently persistent; good with hors d’oeuvres, cold meats and salami, and first courses

And good with the main course too and maybe even with breakfast, but that was last month’s WBW theme.  This mighty fine wine is nicely balanced and  “sufficiently persistent” in that it seems to say “drink me, drink me”, which is exactly what we did.


Bear Gryll’s Tips – Could You Survive?

Every time I watch Bear Grylls on the Discovery series, Man vs. Wild, I’m never quite sure what to make of him.  Is he a foolish stuntman taking outlandish risks for ratings sake?  Is he sane?  Superhuman?  He was a member of a unit in the British special forces, so he has had the benefit of  rigorous training in extreme conditions.  Can he really believe that someone like me, a relatively inexperienced nature neophyte, or someone like you, whatever your experience level might be as a hiker, camper, hunter, or mountaineer, to be able to apply his survival tips, if lost, injured,  trapped, or threatened by wildlife in an inhospitable environment?  I might know what to do from watching the series, but just not be able to do it.

Unless I had a flint, matches and some lighter fluid, I don’t think I could get a fire going.  Seriously, I have a hard enough time lighting the Smoky Joe.  Smoky JoeSo I’d probably starve or freeze to death; die of thirst, or dengue fever, whichever came first; or be unable to send up smoke to signal for help.  Without fire, this means, of course, no cooked food and if you’ve ever watched Bear in action, you know what that means!

I couldn’t eat anything raw.  I can’t even stomach the best sushi, or the freshest oysters.   Bear advises viewers to load up on raw grubs, beetles, termites, spiders, sheep eyeballs, bone marrow from fresh kill, organs still dripping in blood and live salmon right out of the stream, all rich in protein for energy.

Nor could I replicate some of his survival feats of grandeur.  He’s chopped off the limb of a tree and used it to pole vault down a steep mountain in Oregon to save his knees.  He’s built a raft out of bamboo and sailed it over giant waves to a more hospitable island in the Caribbean.   He’s caught fish with a piece of string, a small hook and a flip flop as floatation device.   He’s scaled and descended waterfalls, braved the rapids of the Snake River using his backpack to cushion the blows from sharp rocks.   He’s extracted water from a root, flammable liquid from a particular tree, and practically walked on crocodile infested waters to get the lay of the land.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the show and Bear is the ultimate entertainer, but I don’t think I’d be able to apply any of his survival tips except maybe to stay away from the hippos.  I think I could do that.

Hippo

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish

box-jellyfish1

Photograph by David Doubilet in animals.nationalgeographic.com

Have you heard the news?  Jellyfish are taking over the world, well – maybe not the world…yet, but these menacing gelatinous predators are wreaking havoc on the oceans, and migrating toward shallow waters and beaches murdering fish and stinging swimmers along the way, sometimes to death.  An 8 mile wide pack of rogue jellyfish numbering in the billions invaded and destroyed a salmon farm in the Irish Sea stinging to death over 100,000 pelagia-nocticulafish, reported the UK based Telegraph. Called the mauve stinger (Pelagia Nocticula), this tiny jellyfish gives off a purplish glow and favors warmer waters of the box-jellyfishMediterranean where it is fond of stinging unsuspecting tourists.  In Australia, the box jellyfish with tentacles that can grow up to 8 feet long is so venomous that its sting can kill a human in a matter of seconds.

In a Boston Globe article, Jellyfish invasions hint at oceans’ decline, Elizabeth Rosenthal reports that the rapid growth of the jellyfish population is thought to be in part due to climate change, overfishing of their natural predators, polluted waters and, according to Paul Eccleston of the Telegraph in his article killer jellyfish population explosion warning, their alarming genetic survival mechanism to reproduce in much greater numbers when threatened.  Yet, unchecked, the jellyfish could destroy all marine life and turn our oceans into a giant bowl of toxic jello.   What to do?j-for-jellyfish1Eat them!  You can find hundreds of recipes on-line from Dried Jellyfish and Turnips to Salted Jellyfish.  And I have some deliciously simple culinary ideas:  Peanut Butter and Jellyfish.   Jellyfish Jello.   Jellyfish Roll-ups.   Jellyfish and Chips.  And of course the plain old goodness of the Jellyfish Sandwich.  Waiter:  I’ll have mine on toasted Rye.  And could I also have  the pickled seafood platter – yes, the sea cucumber, pickled plankton and fried pickled jellyfish.   And to drink, I’ll just have a glass of Muscadet – make that a bottle!muscadet

Kellog’s Unfit for a Champion

Kellog's Toucan Sam

Ok, Michael took a bong hit.  Who cares?  Kellog’s certainly does and quickly dropped its endorsement deal with Phelps.  Kellog’s says that his behavior is not consistent with the image of the company.  And I would have to agree.

Kellog’s is one of the world’s largest purveyors of junk food. When I think of Kellog’s, I think of Toucan Sam and Fruit Loops, Pop Tarts and Cheez-Its,  not Michael Phelps, arguably the fittest athlete in the world, and the greatest Olympian of all time.   Do elite athletes really load up on a diet rich in Kellog’s?

One cup of Fruit Loops contains 12.5 grams of sugar; a pair of Pop Tarts – 16 grams.   What a grand rush to start off the day.  And Cheez-Its;  those delicious morsels oozing with fat and sodium.  How about a Hydrox, a Kellog's brandhandful of Hydrox cookies as a reward for a long hard day of work?  Is this dietary behavior consistent with the image of a champion athlete?

And this business of role model – give him a break.  Michael Phelps is no role model.  He is freak of nature, an athlete like no other who has spent more time in the water than out of it the last 10 years.  He’s raised the bar too high for all those kids on the Kellog’s diet who aspire to his athletic feats.  The average kid would be better served hitting the books and eating a proper breakfast.  Life is more than a workout and a bowl of Corn Flakes.

Michael Phelps

Are Peanuts Safe?

on the recall lsit

Not yet, though the source of the Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak is limited to a single peanut processing plant in Georgia which has been shut down according to a recent FDA peanut recall fact sheet.

While major brands of peanut butter sold in supermarkets like Peter Pan, Skippy and Jif are safe to eat, some cookies, ice-cream, candy and snacks made with peanuts are not – as of April 18, 3912 products in all have been recalled.  And the number could increase as the FDA continues its investigation into the unclean practices of the Peanut Corporation of America  (PCA) plant in Blakely, Georgia.  So be careful!

trader-joes

Unclean indeed.  In April of 2008, Canada refused a shipment of peanuts from PCA found to contain metal shavings.  Yum – extra crunchy!

And reports have indicated that some lots of PCA product had initially tested positive for Salmonella, and then retested negative, and were shipped to companies and retailers anyway.  On learning of the negative retests, owner and president Stewart Parnell sent an email saying, “ok, let’s turn them loose”.   This statement and others in which Parnell complained about the costs associated with delayed shipments of peanuts has led to a criminal investigation of PCA.  When Parnell was called to testify before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on February 11, he refused to talk, citing his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination.  PCA has now filed for bankruptcy protection.

The  Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that 600 people have become ill since the fall and 9 deaths have been linked to the outbreak.

Companies that have purchased tainted PCA products have issued voluntary recalls and the FDA has asked retailers to pull its stock of PCA products on the recall list.  The FDA also urges consumers to discard any peanut butter products found on its searchable peanut product recall database.  It might be easier to just trash your stash of peanut based treats.

on the recall list

on the recall list

We love peanut butter at our house, but I’m not taking any chances and have already tossed out all the peanut butter we had around – including a jar of Extra Crunchy Jif.  We’ve chucked trail mix, peanut butter crackers, snack bars and cookies – even Rocky Road ice-cream which could contain a stray peanut or two – you never know.

Hey, if you have a dog and dog treats in the house, check the database – even doggy biscuits and doggy snacks containing peanuts could harbor Salmonella!  So wash your hands after handling any canine treats, just to be safe.

The horror of it all.  When will it end? googoo

Executive Compensation in Product, Not Stock

President Obama’s plan to limit the salary of an executive whose company takes federal bailout money to $500,000 does little to address the source of most CEO wealth – stock options.   “The average CEO doesn’t make more than $1 million in salary…they take the bulk of their compensation in stock,” said Jian Luc Clementi of the Stern Business School at NYU in an article in the Boston Metro.  Obama’s plan would require only that a CEO wait until the company pays back the bailed out money to the government to cash in or perhaps more appropriately, cash out in that golden parachute.  And there are no retroactive provisions to take back the “rescue” bonuses already paid out to the fattest cats of them all – executives at Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and AIG.

The same article highlights 6  CEOs and their salaries. One, Yum Brands CEO David Novak, earns $54.91 million including $12 million in “other” income.  Yum brands includes those bastions of fast food:  KFC, Taco Bell and Long John Silver who keep the citizens of our great planet comfortably plump.  Hungry?

The Metro entertained the idea that perhaps Mr. Novak’s “other” income    came from KFC or Pizza Hut gift certificates.  Give the gift that keeps on giving….pounds.  And why not?  Shouldn’t CEOs be paid in product instead of stock options?  Google’s Eric Schmidt made a cool $480,000 and acquired tons of Google stock.   I say give him his own personal search engine.   Actually, this could bring untold fortunes.  Imagine a tiny motorized robot that could find anything you’ve lost.  Misplaced your keys?  No problem, leave it to the search engine.

Proctor and Gamble CEO Alan Lafley earns $1.7 million and receives $4 million in bonuses.   Instead of a yearly bonus, why not give him a monthly tube of Crest (flavor of his choice), bountiless roles of Bounty (the quicker picker upper), a busload of Pringles, and a four year supply of Fusion razors.  I’d work for that.