What happens when car people and the rest of the world crash into one another
After moving to California a few years ago, my ex-girlfriend and I were looking for something fun to do one afternoon. She was a fashionable Wellesley grad from the D.C. area whereas I’m a UMaine alumnus fond of L.L. Bean flannel shirts. Still, we found common ground, and on this day it led us to Dave & Buster’s, an establishment at the local outdoor mall that offered food, adult beverages, and a host of arcade games. Off to the side of the main room was a photo booth, but this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill oversized Polaroid. No, we were stepping into a contraption that, after snapping our individual face shots, would provide a picture of our yet-to-be-conceived (or even considered) first-born child.
Yikes. This kid was definitely going to need personality. Lots of it. And smarts. Hopefully intelligence comes from the mother’s side. To her credit, she had the twinkle of my ex’s eyes and some combination of our smiles. But, good golly she was an ugly child.
Thankfully, after much therapy and heavy drinking that little girl was expunged from my memory…until the announcement that the Indian company Tata would be buying Jaguar, the Ford-owned British marque. Immediately, the thought of the world’s most inexpensive new car, the $2,500 Tata Nano, having a one-night stand with the all-new $49,975 Jaguar XF had me reaching for the bottle. Those images of a sly Tata that refused to practice safe driving and a desperate Jaguar that was crying for attention were too much to bear. I had to see what would come from this union, and with assistance from our photography department, this is what we came up with:
It’s not easy to look at, but clearly proves that although opposites may attract, the resulting offspring can be an abomination of nature. Let this be a lesson for us all.
--Thom Blackett Photo courtesy of Oliver Bentley, Jaguar, and Tata
Once upon a time many years ago, a young nerd named Bill Gates sat down in the Boca Raton, Fl., offices of IBM and convinced that company to use Microsoft’s MS-DOS for IBM’s new line of desktop PCs. IBM, thinking the money was in hardware, accepted the deal, and didn’t even object when Gates asked, “Hey, you won’t mind if we sell this DOS thing to some other guys too, will you?”
Maybe they should have objected, because now Microsoft is a behemoth, and IBM’s PC business is long gone.
Fast forward to today, and suddenly Ford is in the IBM chair, wondering if it should have pushed for a longer exclusive agreement for Sync, powered by on Microsoft Auto 3.0 operating system. Sync, to bring you up to speed, is an in-car electronics integration system that lets you voice-activate items like your cell phone, iPod, or even a USB thumb-drive even if those items don’t have voice control built in. It’s clean, simple, elegant and most of all, it works beautifully for the most part.
Sync’s been a hit for Ford, with the company saying buyers are seeking out Fords specifically for the system. Ford says it helped move 30,000 cars in 2007 – it had only been on sale for a short time last year – and hopes for 1 million cars with it by early 2009 by expanding it across the entire model range from the 12 different Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles where it’s currently available.
So what’s the problem? Bill Gates just asked, “Hey, you won’t mind if we sell this to some other guys, will you?”
Here’s the problem Ford has, and fans of the Blue Oval will want to skip to the next paragraph, because the truth stings a little. Ford’s current U.S. product lineup is uncompetitive in a lot of ways, and bright spots like the Edge, Fusion and Mustang can’t make up for the fact that many of its other vehicles can’t match the competition. Put Sync in the mix though, and suddenly you have a compelling reason to pick that new Focus over a similarly priced Toyota Corolla, despite the little Ford’s flaws.
Exactly who will be the next Microsoft customer is a bit of a mystery, and while it’d be fun to speculate (GM? Chrysler? Not Toyota fercrissakes!), in a lot of ways it doesn’t even matter. What’s more important is that Ford won’t be the only place to get it. This will invariably hurt, since it’s impossible to make the fundamental changes needed to make its cars competitive without Sync by the end of the year. We’re not saying it’s the beginning of the end for Ford, but opting for a two-year plan probably sounds pretty good in retrospect about now.
With Cupid’s arrow now firmly behind us and no longer firmly in our behinds, we can show you a clip from the kick off of the 2008 NHRA drag racing season at the Winternationals in Pomona on February 11. Defending Funny Car Champion Tony Pedregon was running his nitro-burning Q Horsepower Chevy Impala against former team-owner John Force’s in his Ford Mustang during the first round of racing when Tony blew his top. Most likely not the way Pedregon wanted to start the season, but he has to be happy that he still has a season ahead of him and will be able to return for s'more racing this year. Please pass the marshmallows.