Saturday, April 10, 2010

Project sponsorship and the corporate jungle

Take a look at just about any automotive magazine, or how-to television show and you will see lots of really nice vehicles, and manufactures tend to throw lots of money or product at these things. Now just for shits-and-giggles, have you ever bought anything just because you saw it on television or in a build story? Didn’t think you have, and from talking to literally hundreds of people I haven’t found even one person who has bought anything they have seem in print or on the screen.
On the same topic, when was the last time you saw something that was actually original?
Not that all the shows are bad, there are a couple who actually try something new, sort of, once in a while. People watching just can’t seem to relate however, these TV shops have every tool imaginable, all the latest ‘stuff’, whereas the homebuilder has to make due with what they have or can borrow. A hand up, who has bought a plasma cutter in the last while because they saw it on TV, better to ask who has the spare cash?
Even if people had the cash to buy something to make their passion easier to follow in their home shop, they buy what they see their contemporise using, if someone you know uses whatever, you can at least ask their impression.
Let’s look at the actual parts of a project, just like the tools, these shows and magazine vehicles always seem to have all the latest and greatest, whereas the enthusiast has to save and make do with what they can afford, that is why some of these home builds take five to ten years.
Enough griping, did anyone know that television networks don’t pay for content from these shows? All those cool tools and parts you see are there because companies have to pay big money to get the parts there, and in some cases supply staff to actually do the work, rather than the talking heads on the screen. The production company then buys time to air the show. It is big business with a large number of people who do nothing but see the idea of getting companies this and that on the screen or in a magazine.
Hope I haven’t spoiled anyone view of a television hero!

So what if you come up with a really unique idea for a project, start to save your pennies, because there is NO HELP out there for you. Doesn’t matter that your project will be seem by hundreds or thousands of people who are into the same thing you are, the real customers, who might actually buy something because they see it being used.
Don’t even think of going after any of the Detroit three, they make it almost impossible for anyone to find the person to talk to, and even if you get lucky enough to find the correct person, you will find they have a manager who is an accountant, not a car person, and that is the end of that, no support is available.

Point in case, and I risk repercussions for even mentioning this, but then again I wouldn’t be a rebel without a clue if I let things alone 8-)

A few years ago at a media breakfast at the SEMA show I spoke to a management type from GM, not yet Government Motors then, but heading that way. I digress.
I explained an idea for a project I had, and I was pleasantly surprised how excited he became. He even told me to get in touch after the show and promised to help out because he thought the idea was very cool and original. What transpired next was very enlightening. We exchanged e-mails for a while, and I thought we had become more or less friends, my mistake. You see I mentioned I thought GM was making a slight mistake with the direction they were heading and might be going in the wrong direction that would lead to very bad endings.
OOPS! I next get an email that more of less told me to piss-off, and when I enquired why the abrupt change in direction I got a call back from GM security telling me not to contact the said manager any more. Nice guys, and guess what? I was correct in my gazing into my crystal ball, General Motors becomes Government Motors, and some times I hate it when I am right.

Ford and Chrysler are not much better as far as trying to get support, but at least they don’t send the security dogs after you. I have found the European and Japanese manufactures are very polite, they listen at least, however they too are stuck in the same rut, the small builder or home builder who will actually be able to show off their products just do not seem to count.

I have come to discover that large companies are a lot like government, totally out of touch with their market, too big and secretive, and too many accountants how are not car people. Anything that is truly different scares them; this is because they think they know better, they have been doing their thing their way for years. Oh wait, didn’t many of these guys end up in Chapter 11 because they were not listening to what people wanted, and spent gross amounts of money on thing like NASCAR sponsorships, and television shows. At one time this actually worked, win on the weekend sell next week was the rule, but then again, the cars looked different then, not now, strip off that wrap and line them up, and try and tell them apart.

Will these big manufactures ever learn? Not until they start to look beyond the next quarter, and start to pay attention to the small players who will do a far better job of supporting the product through their social networks and actually being out there with their creations with people of a like mind.

Have a great weekend, and get out there and play.

Friday, April 2, 2010

California, No Longer Relevant?

California, arguably the birthplace of the car culture, and at one time the place to be if you wanted to produce anything for the aftermarket, or simply live the culture, but that was then, this unfortunatly is now, and things have sadly changed.

California was at one time a major world market, what California wanted, California got. For decades it has dictated to the rest of North America the standards for everything environmental. This has been the legacy handed down to everyone by a bunch of spineless government official who have caved into the numerous fringe tree huggers who have nothing better to do than make the life of the car culture miserable.
These groups gather members who do not fit into society in any other spot, people who essentially don’t have a life. Why else would someone want to support closing hundreds of square miles of land to everything but hikers, how could they ever expect anyone to be able to get to the remote corners, not that that is ever a consideration, they just want to be able to say they a have saved the area from some imagined harm.
This attitude has expanded into every facet of the automotive hobby, short-sighted smog regulations, with really no consideration for the effects of the lobby, beyond another victory for their group. Current diesel inspections for example; any modification to a California vehicle will result in a failed inspection, however, no thought was given to the fact that there is no test to determine that said modification is actually helping the vehicle to burn cleaner, it simply is not allowed. You see the fringe knows better.
Fact is that they have managed to make it unlawful to make any modification to any vehicle beyond how it rolled out of the factory. Before you freak out, check the regulation, the rules are there, simply not enforced.
California enacted a rule requiring all diesel-powered vehicles (highway trucks) to have catalytic converters and catalyst injection systems, retrofitting is far to costly so all the farmers and any other owner for that matter has been forced to purchase new vehicles. This has the effect of driving many out of business, and those who do survive, passing the cost along to consumers, not only food, but everything moved by transport.

Totally ridicules making the continent follow their misguided view of how things should be. Voters rule, and these groups claim millions of members, weather they actually vote is another question, but those who depend on getting re-elected to boost their egos will always bend to this lobby. Any company who wants to sell any vehicles in California has been forced to bend to the imposed regulations, and for a long time it made good financial policy to do that because that is where the market was. I saw ‘was’ because that is no longer a truthful statement is the grand scheme of the marketplace.

Some interesting facts gleaned form various government web sites, and being government they do tend to sugar coat things, and not provide the whole story.
Unemployment in California is reported to be 12.5%, however this number only reflects those receiving benefits, it fails to include those who are no longer eligible, or illegal immigrants, or those who had no work before the current financial issues. A more accurate number would be closer to double that number, 25% is indeed something to think about.
Foreclosures in California is at one in 195 homes for January, and quite frankly I have no idea how many empty houses there are in California, the number is far to big to consider.
Bankrupted company, and personal filings for 2009 where 210,000, that is up 58% from 2008, this would explain some of the foreclosures and unemployment numbers.
Something else to look at is the various Ponzy Schemes that seem to have targeted California residents, taking some 100 Billion out of the national economy, rather redistributed that wealth, sort of. Still a couple of California municipalities which were former enclaves of the rich and famous are now on very hard times indeed; Palm Springs being one of the hardest hit.
Silicone Valley once a powerhouse has been shrinking since the telecom bubble burst, and many of the major players have moved off shore, or only have a presence as a head office, all their production farmed out to someplace else.

What does all this mean? A massive reduction in the state spending power; to the point of no longer having any relevance in the grand scheme of things. Not only is the State in debt to the point of possible never getting out, but the population has taken a massive hit to their discretionary spending with more and more families looking to the essentials before toys.

For those of us in the Car Culture are at a point that we need to unite into a voice as loud as the environmental fringe. The Automotive aftermarket has been quoted to be worth near 100 billion, add to that the repair industry, and the OEM sector and the mind boggles that they even notice California exists any longer. We are at a time when we need to stand up and shout, ‘no more, we are out of here’. Some have actually voted with their corporate feet and left California, but the market leadership is still taking a passive approach. I was recently told that being so big makes the aftermarket to easy a target, if it is so big, and it is, why not use the size to dictate policy, rather than always giving in and behaving like that poor kid sent to the principals office, you know, looking at the floor, shuffling of feet, teary eyed, droopy shoulders, just waiting for a scolding for something rather than standing up for your position.

California is no longer relevant, and probably has not been for some time, so why on earth do we continue to let them dictate the rules of a game they are no longer in?

Do you want change? Make your voice heard, call your favourite manufacturer of aftermarket parts and express your support. Call SEMA and tell them it is past time to stand up and fight back.
It is time to take back our hobby and say no to those who are trying to regulate it out of existence.