NADA Chief Economist Steven Szakaly Full View Photography

NADA Chief Economist Steven Szakaly.

Reporter Notebook: Keeping It Simple

WardsAuto writers pass along the buzz at this week’s Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, MI.

Economists live by charts.

But Steven Szakaly, chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Assn., shows one chart at an MBS session on Tuesday that leans toward the overly simplistic.

It is shaped like a half-circle with wealth on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal line. The word “Boomers” is displayed on top.

Szakaly admits it is a pretty basic slide, but he includes it in his presentation “just in case there are some engineers” in the audience.

The Wisdom of Forrest McConnell, III

Perhaps the funniest speech in years is given at Tuesday's MBS. Alabama-based Honda dealer Forrest McConnell has the crowd at the fuel-economy session in stitches with his lively missive that focuses, strangely, on food (you had to be there). He also has some non-culinary-related observations:

  • “Maybe I need to put a $25 incentive on you to eat this broccoli, and I'm going to propose the way we get it is, I think, we ought to take a dollar from every person standing in that Charlie’s Donut line to pay it.”
  • “I built my business on selling fuel-efficient Hondas, but recently the value of hybrid vehicles have been melting like an ice cube in a Phoenix parking lot.”
  • “Most of you look like Ritz-Carlton people.”
  • “As much chance of you growing your hair back. A simple no would have been fine."
  • “As a Honda dealer, and I have a delicate inner child, that is hurtful.”
  • “I’m from Alabama. I’ve never seen a billion dollars. But I’m pretty sure Diarmuid (O'Connell of Tesla) could tell you what one looks like, though.”
  • “(AutoNation's) Mike Jackson came up with the donut analogy, but he didn’t write my speech.”

Hands-Off Policy?

Most conference sessions include speakers from rival companies or representatives of competing interests. It’s all usually quite cordial, of course, even when there are obvious differences of opinion.

So the crowd attending Tuesday’s “Developing Powertrain Diversity” session enjoys a chuckle when Justin Ward, Toyota’s soft-spoken general manager-powertrain systems and control, seemingly can’t resist a subtle dig at General Motors.

Toyota had rolled a Mirai fuel-cell vehicle into the conference room for the crowd to ogle. Parked next to it was a preproduction version of GM’s Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle. The Bolt, however, was discreetly but resolutely roped off to keep attendees at a distance.

When someone in the crowd asked whether the Mirai is available for sale, Toyota’s Ward affirms it is, adding, “There’s one right over there. Feel free to touch it.” 

Car As Mobile Office: Beware of Bolsters

As you may have heard, a storm blew through northern Michigan on Sunday afternoon, knocking out power to the Grand Traverse Resort. What’s an auto journalist with deadlines and editors breathing down her neck to do?

Why, look to her car, of course! Today’s modern vehicles usually have at least one USB port and, if you're lucky, Wi-Fi. Editor Christie Schweinsberg's had both and she spent an hour in it Sunday evening charging her phone just enough to text co-workers and keep track of the family back home.

But the real fun was Monday afternoon when it came time to file stories. She learned that writing in the car has its pluses and minuses.

Benefits include the power-adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel, as well as the solitude offered by her steel cocoon. That beats a noisy press room any day. However, the seat side bolsters, while great for driving, don’t do much for typing. She had to avoid them with her elbows in order to strike the right keys.

The door armrest proves a poor substitute for an easel, forcing Christie to balance a notebook on her knee instead. And while charging her phone, the infotainment system defaulted to playing voice recordings. Suddenly a relative was speaking to her from his hospital bed. Talk about taking someone out of the moment.

While it is an experience to remember forever, she was as happy as anyone when the power returned to the resort just before 6 p.m. Monday. Given the choice between writing in her car or a conference room, she'll take the latter every time.

Altair Enlighten Award Goes to ’15 Ford F-150

Ford is going to need a larger trophy case. The ’15 F-150 fullsize pickup, famous industry-wide for its segment-first all-aluminum body, receives the Altair Enlighten award, the industry’s first award program created specifically to acknowledge innovation in vehicle weight reduction.

The third-annual Enlighten Award is presented to Ford at Monday’s “Lightweighting: From Manufacturability to Consumer Acceptance” session at the Management Briefing Seminars.

By using aluminum for the F-150’s body panels, as well as advanced materials in the powertrain, frame and interior, Ford chopped as much as 700 lbs. (318 kg) compared to similarly configured versions of the previous-generation F-150.

Runners-up for the 2015 Enlighten Award were the “Alpha” platform for General Motors’ Cadillac ATS (and coming new-generation ’16 Camaro coupe and convertible), which for the ATS shed 163 lbs. (74 kg) via lightweighting efforts, and suppliers Faurecia and Automotive Performance Materials (APM) for their work on lightweight, sustainable interior-panel materials for the Peugeot 308.

Privately held Altair, based in Troy, MI, has more than 700 employees in 40 offices worldwide specializing in product development, industrial design, workflow automation and staffing services.

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