Cringley on the Failure in Detroit: “It’s the cars, stupid”

He writes:

My hobby is building small airplanes and one of my favorites is a Davis DA-2A, winner of the Outstanding New Design contest in 1966, the same year my Oldsmobile (and my current Thunderbird convertible) was built. That little Davis can teach us a lot about cars.

I didn’t build my DA-2A, but I am rebuilding it right now and know it intimately. My Davis is an all-aluminum two-seater with an 85-horsepower engine. The engine was built in 1946, the plane in 1982, and the whole thing cost under $4,000 at the time, though today I have more than that invested in the instrument panel alone. The plane weighs 625 lbs. empty, 1125 lbs. loaded, has a top speed of 140 miles per hour and can travel about 600 miles on its 24-gallon fuel tank.

Why can’t I buy a car like that?

Imagine if we took the basic design parameters of my DA-2A and applied them to a modern automobile. The new design would have to carry two people and luggage, have an empty weight of no more than 625 lbs. and use an 85-horsepower engine. With a loaded weight of 1125 lbs., the car would have a power-to-weight ratio comparable to a Chevy Corvette and be just as quick — probably even faster than the airplane’s 140 mph. Driven only 20 percent over posted speed limits as God intended, the car would easily get 50+ miles per gallon.

Who wouldn’t want to buy one?

Sounds promising…and different then the Detroit approach.

Here’s the kicker:

Bicycles are different. Bicycle buyers, whether they are conscious of their behavior or not, try to pay the MOST per pound rather than the least. A lighter bike is always a better bike and a more expensive bike. Cheap bikes from Wal-Mart tend to cost about $2 per pound, nice bikes from a bike shop cost about $20 per pound, and top-of-the-line racing bikes cost about $200 per pound which, interestingly, is about the same per-pound cost as a top-of-the-line Ferrari or Aston-Martin.

So the trick to turning around the U.S. auto industry is to make car buyers adopt the values of bicycle buyers, which implies the willingness to pay $20 per pound of final product. The way to achieve that goal is by building cars that are both affordable at $20 per pound and EXCITING TO DRIVE.

Under this formula, the car version of my DA-2A would cost $12,500, making it broadly affordable. Yet with 6061 aluminum alloy selling in volume for around $1.60 per pound, there ought to be plenty of profit in there for the companies.

Detroit doesn’t understand that.

No free-ish bailout of the Detroit 3 will makes the executives smarter and make them designand produce better cars.

They need chapter 11 and a heavy hand.


I think this is a DA-2A

Cringley touches upon the emergence of Super Empowered Individuals

Cringley is a documenter/pundit of computer geeks and their world. He does calls them “nerds” though which shows he does not have a full understanding and is apart from them.

Anyways, in a recent article he wrote:

There is a technology war coming. Actually it is already here but most of us haven’t yet notice. It is a war not about technology but because of technology, a war over how we as a culture embrace technology. It is a war that threatens venerable institutions and, to a certain extent, threatens what many people think of as their very way of life. It is a war that will ultimately and inevitably change us all, no going back. The early battles are being fought in our schools. And I already know who the winners will be.
[…]
Here, buried in my sixth paragraph, is the most important nugget: we’ve reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.

Note the part I bolded again:

…younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of
as essential, central, even immortal.

Narrow it down more:

…impatient and ready to jettison institutions…

Therein lies future 4GW, 5GW, and civil Wars.

Happy Easter!

[cross-posted to Dreaming 5GW]