Just something off my facebook feed this morning. The Zombie Walk of Alexandria looks like just the sort of event that we really need to be happening on a regular basis. It’s not huge, probably had very little budget, but got people out and about, and having a good time downtown. Bravo.
I don’t think this issue requires much of an introduction because the debate over paying for crossing guards within the City of Alexandria has been an issue for most of the past years. The existing system in which crossing guards are paid for by the City of Alexandria is simply not something that works anymore in this new world of added budgetary constraint. And actually, as budgets get tighter, this will likely be only the first of many many such debates along the lines of what services should be provided and if so by whom.
This crossing guard issue hits to the core of what the purpose of local government really is. Governments are formed to use the combined resources of a community to deliver to that community products or services for which it would be either prohibitively expensive or impractical for individuals to provide themselves. Crossing guards, however, are simply not one of those resources that require special government funding and regulation.
Amelia Durand, originally from Mansura (and I’m pretty sure now the communications director with a winery in California) is featured on the Food Network series Barefoot Contessa.
The episode entitled “Cooking with Rice” features Durand’s family recipe for Jambalaya. It’s nice to see the Central Louisiana version of this Louisiana favorite getting some good press. Durand is the daughter of the former Mayor of Mansura and her family owns and operates Durand’s Food Center (by the way, if you’ve never explored on a short road trip, probably the best hog’s head cheese and boudin can be found around Mansura — I recommend Lonas Kelong’s (Kelong’s Grocery on Main Street), Juneau’s Specialty meats (expensive but good – across from the Casino), and T-Jin’s in Cottonport (especially for Hog’s Head Cheese — but call first before making the drive as they don’t make it everyday).
In case you didn’t know, the CenLa versions of most traditional Louisiana foods are quite different from the South Louisiana and New Orleans versions. There are a couple of reasons for this. First is the type of terrain. When it comes to a combination of growing vegetables, grazing livestock, and fishing and hunting, Central Louisiana has about the best land and weather in the entire state. This means the people who settled here had access to considerably more ingredients than their cousins in the swamp. Also, even though various Louisiana staples can be traced to either Cajun or Creole or Isleño (look it up) roots, the versions we know today are rarely the original pure forms. Also, many of them like Gumbo and Jambalaya were sort of accidental to begin with. You actually find Jambalaya in many cultures (as fried rice in Asia, as Paella in Spain and Latin America, and as various regional varieties in France). It was simply a way to stretch leftovers and the various bits and pieces left in the pantry. Poor food. Interestingly, the word boudin in much of France actually refers to any food (often in a casing like ours) in which leftovers are mixed with rice and recooked.
Our native Central Louisiana versions of things like Jambalaya, Gumbo, e’touffe (it means ‘of the pot’ basically Cajun French for stew), creole, boudin, etc are really about the earliest example of ‘Fusion Cuisine’ you can find. We were a hundred years ahead of the popularity curve on this one (sorry Emeril). CenLa food is like CenLa culture and CenLa highways. It’s a mix of everything that makes Louisiana great. Our cuisine has its roots in the Prairie Cajun traditions of northern Acadiana, the Appalachian country food of North Louisiana (remember the area above Alexandria and Natchitoches was settled almost entirely by free land programs the US government instituted to bring in “Americans” from Kentucky and Tennessee to balance out the French/Spanish/Catholic established population of the state whom they feared would rebel), traditional planter cuisine from Mississippi, a bit of Texas, some traditional New Orleans Bourbon cooking (especially around Alexandria and remember New Orleans french settlers (many of whom first came our way) were not Cajuns and were in fact from an entirely different region of France), and of course some good local soul food from our black residents. It’s a big mix, a lot of people and cultures, and a lot of flavors. But that, is what CenLA is all about, and that’s wonderful fusion that is our Louisiana Cuisine.
Certainly the differences aren’t huge. The main thing is we use more and usually better (perhaps I should say, more expensive or what would have been considered better way back when simply due to the higher availability of culinary resources in the region) ingredients. And, it’s usually spicy (as in having lots of spices in it) yet not overwhelmingly hot and peppery (which tends to be the predominant spice in the Lafayette and Baton Rouge versions because pepper was a sturdy cheaper spice that everyone could keep back then). The New Orleans influence usually means more vegetables and a more neutral roux or butter base. And, our African influences generally mean that you’ll find considerably more okra (Gumbo actually is Senegalese for ‘okra’, so gumbo was originally any soup with okra in it), and more usage of meats like chicken livers and other organ meats from cattle and swine (the biggest difference between CenLa boudin and South Louisiana versions is the presence of liver in ours).
Well, check out the show if you see it. Head down Highway 1 and taste your way around Avoyelles, and stop by Durand’s (I’m going to next time I get the chance. I’ve never had anything from there.). Amelia’s recipe is in the link below:
It’s not very often that something nearly a hundred years old would be considered a ‘must read’. However, given our current political climate, our various financial, regulatory, and social issues at hand, and the relative dysfunction of either of our two parties to do much about them, it may be time to take a look at this.
In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt lost the Republican nomination for president to incumbent Taft. His response was to form his own Progressive Party. Known as the Bullmoose party, the Progressives lambasted the corruption of the Republicans and the inability to adjust and get anything done in the Democrats (sound familiar?). Keep in mind that Roosevelt at no point changed his political stance. He had been a lifelong Republican and felt that he was indeed running and forming this party as a true Republican.
The Republican party — his Republican party — was not one of conservatives demanding nothing in life ever change and idealizing a mis-remembered yesteryear that never existed nor never can. His party was not one of so called libertarians professing a myth that no government is the only good government. His Republican party, the party that idealized the stand of Lincoln, and drew its roots from the ideals of Jefferson (yes, I said Jefferson), was a party of progress. It was a party that was born amid massive economic and social strife and who made their original stand, albeit a very nationally painful one, forcing the nation to progress its social system which at the time kept millions of people in bondage.
What Roosevelt cedes in his break with his party is that their progress driven purpose had by this time become corrupted by power and money. The connections and siding with business interests had stripped the party of its ability to push the nation forward as needs to occur with time.
Thus, he formed his own breakaway group from supporters within the Republican Party, and this was, for the most part, the birth of American Progressive Politics.
Excepting the few things specific to the era of this election. I believe you’ll find reading the Progressive Party’s actual 1912 platform to be an eerily familiar mix of political ideas found within both parties platforms today:
The city of New Orleans has released their NOLA 2030 masterplan. It’s really worth a look as it takes a very holistic approach to restoring the green urban qualities of our largest city in a very responsible and attainable manner.
I think paying attention to such a project for New Orleans is very good for Cenla, as our community actually has much more in common with NOLA than most people think.
Our recent predicament with Levee decertification has resulted in page after page of finger pointing both in print and online with one resounding theme of people being unclear about which government entity is responsible for what in regard to local levees. With the Levees, there is debate over whom actually is ultimately in charge of the structural integrity of waterway protection in Rapides Parish — The Corps of Engineers, Red River Atchafalaya & Bayou Boueff Levee District, Rapides Parish Police Jury, City of Alexandria/City of Pineville, individual property owners…who? Any? All?
One thing we learned after Katrina (actually we learned it after Ivan but chose not to act prior to Katrina) is that not knowing whom is in charge can lead to the most ultimate of detrimental effects. In the same way, having too many chiefs creates nothing but confusion and bureaucracy and creates huge hurdles to development and effective management of scarce local resources.
New Orleans — the Carnival King of nepotism and who d’ya know is slowly taking the steps to rectify the mess that is their local government system. Combining levee boards (somewhat), assessors, sheriffs, etc will eventually allow them to operate more effectively and efficiently with great cost savings, unified visions, and streamlined governance. If it can happen in NOLA, it can happen elsewhere. We need to follow that lead in CenLA.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has been for the most part, strangely quiet regarding President Obama’s healthcare proposals. Certainly he’s done a bit of grandstanding to remind any potential voters and donors that he’s their kind of conservative. But for Jindal, who has used every unpopular democratic proposal as his own personal soapbox for the past year to steer mostly clear of healthcare seems odd. Well, actually it doesn’t…
I think Jindal has a dark and dirty secret he has to hide from his Republican cohorts.
Bobby’s got a crush on Obama.
Well, maybe he isn’t exactly in love with B-Rock himself, but he surely must have a twinkle in his eyes for the President’s plans for universal healthcare. Why? Well Bobby, like most of his peers has a nice free publicly funded healthcare plan for himself and his family. In fact, he’s had taxpayer-funded health insurance since he was in college. He doesn’t have to worry about his own healthcare, so from a personal health standpoint the Obama plans really don’t affect him too much. But, aside from his own occasional scraped knee or Flu shot, Bobby does have one big worry that is always on his mind — the Louisiana State Budget.
Nobody Knows the Troubles He’s Seen
So here we have Bobby Jindal — child star of the GOP — the party of budgetary restraint and responsibility (we’ll ignore the past 12 years and assume they still practice what they preach), and we have him balancing the running of the state of Louisiana with his hopeful shot at the big national job in a few years. So Jindal has to manage a pretty amazing balancing act — he has to be the voice of fiduciary responsibility while meeting the needs of one of the poorest populations in the country.
It’s that population that creates a problem for Jindal. Louisiana is a state with more potential wealth than most of the country, yet centuries of privateering upon the state by business and national government interests have left the 25th most populous state with the 49th most impoverished citizenry. Most years entail huge budget shortfalls and problems with transportation, education, and healthcare funding throughout the state; in a time when government wants to be concentrating on economic development, Louisiana has problems filling potholes and paying for band-aids.
Louisiana has a population of around 4.5 million people. Together they pay $4 billion each year in income taxes to their state government or roughly $1000 per person on average (certainly many pay no taxes and many others pay considerably more). As last year’s electoral support for Ron Paul shows, Louisianians have a strong libertarian streak. They like to take care of their own, but they expect maximum return on their tax investment and would just as soon not pay for anything they don’t have to.
Louisiana’s libertarian streak is balanced in a strange way by an equally strong sense social responsibility not as evident in most states. Louisiana has always had a strong history of publicly funded education, infrastructure, and healthcare.
Going back the 1920′s and the populist movement of Huey P. Long, Louisiana has maintained one of the most comprehensive charity hospital systems in the nation. The charity system in Louisiana is by far not perfect, but it does make the state unique in that technically, every person in Louisiana does have universal healthcare. Sure it’s not the best, and if they feel you can afford it, they will bill you, but everyone here can go to a hospital or clinic, or Parish health unit and get care. This care gets expensive. Even with those in the state who have private insurance not using the Charity system, we still spend $8 Billion each year running our state healthcare system — that’s about $2,000 per person per year, or roughly twice what the average income tax per person is.
Our other big public expenditure is education, and in particular higher education — the many colleges and universities of our state. There are roughly 150,000 college students at Louisiana’s colleges and universities (a little over 3% of the population).
Money, Money, Money must be funny…
Higher Education and Healthcare have one main thing in common for Bobby Jindal: They fall into that part of the budget that is not protected from budget cuts. That means that no matter how vital these services are, or how popular they are, when it comes time to make up a shortfall in revenues, it’s Healthcare and Higher Education that get the axe in Louisiana.
So it’s rather funny, the two areas that have the most impact on Louisiana’s future economic viability are the most vulnerable in our budgeting process. Obviously we need healthy workers and more obviously we need an educated workforce to lift the state’s populace out of poverty. What’s also a bit funny — not comical, but ironic — is the fact that higher education and healthcare are Bobby Jindal’s two shining bullets on his elect-me resume. Having worked for Governor Mike Foster as the youngest head of the University of Louisiana system and then as part of the Bush administrations healthcare team. If there were anyone in the governor’s office in Louisiana in the past 20 years who should know how to deal with Louisiana’s health and education needs it should be Bobby Jindal.
Unfortunately for Bobby, much in the same situation as Obama, he’s been dealing with money far more than medicine and with the economics of running the states colleges and universities in an ever deepening deficit. This budget year will see the Governor slashing 635 million dollars in higher education spending. Take that $635 m and divide it by the 150,000 college students in the state and you have per student burden of those cuts equaling a ghastly $5,000 each! That $5,000 per student cut can only be directly felt by those students and their families as either a lessening in educational quality and opportunity or a very hefty increase in tuition in a time when no one can afford an increase in anything.
Executive Branch Romance
Higher Education and Healthcare aren’t Louisiana’s only funding problems. As reported in the Town Talk last week the state’s transportation infrastructure backlog is nearly a decade behind — even after the huge influx of federal dollars from economic and storm recovery programs. And, in Central Louisiana alone the finding backlog sits at $250 million with only $12 million in annual spending being available on a good year.
So how does this all tie into how the secret romance could be budding behind the executive households of Washington and Baton Rouge?
Well as beneficial as it has been for Bobby Jindal to politically challenge every proposal the Obama administration has put forth, that alone can’t win him a future Republican nomination. The Christian Conservative wave on which Bobby Jindal has built his personal political career has very quickly moved from being the centerpiece of his Republican party to now being openly referred to as a fringe element. While Bobby certainly has the support of that fringe, even here in Louisiana where vast stretches of the state vote as their preachers tell them to, people are looking for something more than vacuous ideology and hateful rhetoric.
No Bobby won’t win in the future only on arguing against gays and for God. He has to do far more than that. His first foray into the realm of the new Republican has thus far backfired with the true colors of his “Ethics Reform” showing the cracking finish of a once gleaming facade. Jindal needs to show the state and more importantly his national party that he can be one of the new Republicans — that he like the long unfulfilled promises of his party can move beyond a decade of massive political corruption and conservatism with corporate sponsorship. For the Governor to ever be more than governor, he must show that he can solve the social and societal issues of his state and make it more attractive to economic development, all the while limiting taxation and reigning in the now very bloated state budget.
Change that even a Republican Could Use
This past week Louisiana Congressman Cao made big news by being the only Republican to cross the very demarcated party divide to vote for the house Healthcare bill. But Cao may not be the only Louisiana Republican who sees the massive benefit his state could reap from Obama’s universal health coverage. Bobby is not a dumb man and he’s very good with numbers…
Those numbers as mentioned above are that Louisiana currently spends 8 billion dollars of its state budget every year on providing healthcare for its citizens. What that has to do with universal healthcare is incredibly simple and it’s amazing ingenious of him not to oppose it. If the federal government were to pick up the tab of funding healthcare of Louisiana’s citizens, then suddenly the state would have $8 billion more dollars a year than it has now. Actually they may end up with even more because they would have the opportunity of converting one of the nation’s largest charity hospital systems into a profitable network of healthcare providers funded not by the state’s taxpayers but by a national healthcare program.
What would that $8,000,000,000 mean for Louisiana? A lot. What would it mean for Bobby Jindal? A nomination.
With the 8 billion dollar healthcare burden removed from the state budget the Governor and Legislature could fully fund higher education, could fund every transportation backlog in a single fiscal year, and could actually eliminate the personal income tax from the state altogether. Look again at the numbers:
$8,000,000,000 (healthcare expenditures)
- 635,000,000 (Higher Ed Cuts)
- 4,000,000,000 (total personal income taxes paid)
$3,365,000,000 (left over to play with)
It’s a new Republican’s dream and if Obama get’s his wish in Washington, Bobby Jindal just may get his as well.
I just happened to click on Wikipedia this morning to find that their feature article is a tale from Alexandria’s somewhat less than genteel past.
The Sandbar Duel is famous for being the last public duel fought in the US. By this time most states had outlawed dueling. This duel involved the parties of Dr Thomas Harris Maddox — my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Alexander Fulton’s business partner, and town surgeon for Alexandria at the time, and Samuel Levi Wells — the Sheriff of Alexandria (and oddly enough also my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather as well as the Great-Great-Grandfather of author Rebbecca Wells of Ya Ya Sisterhood fame).
This was a rougher time for Alexandria just as many of the first plantations were being established and at the time our fair city was the sinful den of inequity across the river from the military establishment of Post Du Rapides (present-day Pineville); I suppose some things never change.
As was the case in many frontier towns (and Alexandria was the frontier (with Spain)), many residents earned their money and then spent it in the saloons. Maddox was no exception. He liked his whiskey and when he got enough of it he had no problem telling whomever would listen all the medical-related dirt of the city.
In a drunken rant one day Dr. Maddox let loose that the reason Sheriff Wells’ daughter had to retire to the country had nothing to do with illness and everything to do with being pregnant (and unmarried).
This led to a series of exchanges in town with pot shots being taken at each other (funny that our Sheriff and town doctor were probably involved in Alexandria’s first drive-by). Eventually realizing they could not continue the two agreed to a duel to settle the matter.
With dueling being illegal in both Louisiana and Mississippi, the two cooked up a plan to fight it out on a sandbar in the middle of the Mississippi river between Natchez and present-day Vidalia. They theorized that being in neither Louisiana nor Mississippi that the sandbar could prove a legal host for their very illegal activity.
Both sides recruited their buddies and formed dueling parties. The most famous member of the crew being Jim Bowie.
During the organized portion of the duel both Maddox and Wells fired a single shot and completely missed each other. Following the failed chivalric solution a drunken brawl ensued with both Maddox and Wells skirting off to the side and drinking more while their cohorts bloodied the sand.
The duel itself is famous for being the last public spectacle of its sort fought in the United States and also in being the first recorded use of a Bowie Knife.
Greg over at CentralLAPolitics posted this video earlier. I think it deserves a watch:
*so I’ve just learned that WordPress has chosen not to support videos from most news sources…strange. You can check it out on Greg’s blog or through the NBC link below.
This is yet another example that blows the Republican theory that everything works best without government out the window.
From the AP article:
Oct. 13: A Colorado couple was initially denied health insurance for their 4-month-old son because he was overweight.
The child’s weight was considered a pre-existing condition by the insurance company and thus they refused coverage for an otherwise fully healthy infant. Fun.
Check out the full story here.
OK a break from Politics and something different just in case any of you might be tired of the vast variety of music played on A-town’s radio stations:
First, from Ole Blighty, The Kooks and their song “Shine On”. You’ve probably heard the chorus in a recent commercial. They’ve got a clean fun sound. Their two albums are definitely worth a listen.
And from the US, We Are Scientists who have got to have some of the best videos in recent years. Their website is nothing but hilarity so google them away. “The Great Escape”:
And finally “After Hours” which is just funny as can be.
Growing up we actually bought my dad one of those dogs — a German Shorthaired Pointer from a kennel out in Mary Hill (by the VA). They’re supposed be great bird dogs. And this one was, just one thing…massive car sickness. We only got to hunt with her once and that was by taking her to a friends house in Kurthwood the day before and leaving her there until we were ready to hunt. Otherwise she would ride in the back, then hop out puke everywhere, crawl under the Jeep and wait till we took her home.
How many times have you sent an email to an elected official? How about a phone call? A letter?
How many times have you gotten a response?
I don’t write to my Senators, Representatives, State, or local officials very often, but when I do it’s for a reason. I would like to think (as I am sure anyone else would) that when I do, my inquiry merits a response. I am usually frustrated however in the fact that I almost never receive a response back. Many of our elected officials now have email addresses or contact forms on their websites. Most even add a statement proclaiming their joy at receiving letters and their love for the opportunity to assist and discuss the issues with their constituents. Some of these vary from the rather vague statement on whitehouse.gov:
President Obama is committed to creating the most open and accessible administration in American history. To send questions, comments, concerns, or well-wishes to the President or his staff, please use the form below:
To the rather florid intro by Representative Rodney Alexander which basically says if you’re in his district let’s have coffee, otherwise bugger off:
I am very interested in hearing your views on issues of importance to you and your family. I am only able to accept messages from residents of the 5th Congressional District of Louisiana, due to the large volume of U.S. Mail, email and faxes that I receive. Congressional courtesy dictates that representatives be given the opportunity to assist their own constituents.
If you are resident of another district, I encourage you to contact your U.S. Representative by clicking the following link to the Write Your Representative Service.
From the rather specific instructions on Sen. Landrieu’s website:
Thank you for taking the time to share your comments and concerns!
If you are writing from Louisiana, be sure to include your full name and address in the web form below so that I may respond to your question by postal mail. If you’d prefer to contact me by letter or telephone, I have several offices that can help you. Click here for a list.
To absolutely nothing (no instructions, thank you, or acknowledgment) on Sen. Vitter’s site.
Now, I would like to say that I have personally written to and called each of the people listed above at least 2-3 times in the past couple of years. I have never gotten a single response to an email (ever). Other than a tacit phone call back with a promise for a followup call (which never came) from Sen. Landrieu’s Alexandria office, I have never once received a response to a phone call either and that includes calling Washington and the local offices — nothing.
So I would like to know if my experiences are unique or if our elected officials are forgetting who their bosses are. I’ve included a poll below. Please take the time to vote in your results:
(Please answer all polls that apply to you)
I’ve been thinking of writing something very similar to this for the past month or so, but ran across this piece in the Shreveport Times today. The author, Jared Clemons, says it as well as I ever could…
Socialism is bad. And as Elmer Fudd would advise, we need be “vewy vewy quiet” when speaking of something as truly heinous as socialism.
But I’ve always had a penchant for being taboo, so I will have to respectfully go against Mr. Fudd’s recommendation.
So what is socialism? According to Merriam-Webster, socialism is defined as “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” OK — simple enough, right?
At a recent town hall meeting in Lebanon, Pa., a livid Katy Abram fulminated against health care reform, specifically the public option because it would be the “systematic dismantling of this country” and would end up “turning (the U.S.) into Russia” or some other socialist country.
I can totally understand why Ms. Abram would want to cure this country of the socialist malignance that has continually pervaded this country since the Constitution was drafted.
Here are a couple examples of socialism’s ominous influence:
Libraries: Oh my God, Becky, look at her… books? How does she have that? I’ll tell you how — because of your tax dollars. Yes, the government collects your, my, our tax dollars for the purpose of erecting a commonplace where we can share a service, essentially, for little-to-no cost.
As horrible as this sounds, this idea is still being allowed to permeate across this nation and as we speak, somebody is using my tax dollars to enjoy a service that simply perpetuates this socialistic demon. Down with the library!
Medicare: Yes, even Granny is a socialist. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administers Medicare (the nation’s largest health insurance program) to nearly 40 million Americans age 65 or older, some disabled people under age 65, and people of all ages with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure treated with dialysis or a transplant).
Yes, you read correctly, 40 million elderly individuals are a part of this socialistic plague. And it’s important to note that they even realize that they’re contributing to the problem, as many of our nation’s senior citizens have vehemently expressed their opposition to allowing the government to have a more integral role in regulating health care.
“Keep your government hands off my Medicare” is the battle cry that many folks have been chanting as of recent. Well, rather than tie the government’s hands, let’s go even further and do away with the lurid idea of Medicare altogether! Yippee!
There isn’t enough time to adequately condemn socialism’s insidious existence, but here are a few more examples of how socialism has invaded our nation: public transportation, the interstate system, social security, and sidewalks — yes, even that concrete slab in front of your beautiful capitalistic home is a facet of socialism.
As Ms. Abram stated so passionately to Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., on behalf of the other exasperated patrons in the building, “You have awakened the sleeping giant. We are tired of this.” And rightfully so.
America, it’s time to do something about Socialism.
Let’s march the streets in protest — the streets that socialism built, of course.
But for the sake of not allowing hypocrisy to dismantle this anti-socialist movement, only those who haven’t pushed along this socialistic agenda need engage in this protest.
Any able bodies? I’d think not.
Jared Clemons, of Lake Charles, is a senior at LSU majoring in political science.
Mr. Clemons well points out the idiocy of this argument against anything Obama. From health care to the Town Talks rant today against Cash for Clunkers, critics are far too quick to jump on the anti-socialism bandwagon. Of course these same critics seem just a quick to ignore the many aspects of their life that would not exist without that same socialism; they would have you believe that they themselves have never in fact benefited from socialism.
Let’s see…in Central Louisiana we have roads, hospitals (yes although private all of our local hospitals were mostly built with government funds), public schools, police, fire protection, water service, the postal service, the military, ball parks, golf courses, neighborhood parks, drainage, Kisatchie (almost entirely built by those evil socialist nightmares the WPA and CCC), dams & flood control, airports, public universities.
That last one is an interesting one because so many of the voices of the anti-everything-Obama movement are coming from university professors. That’s interesting because every university in Louisiana was built and is funded at least in part by the US government. Centenary’s campus in Shreveport was built by the WPA. LC gets funding from all sorts of government agencies and is actively seeking more funding for a medical school. Even my own Tulane which prides itself in being the only major private university to be fully non-sectarian was originally built by the state legislature as the University of Louisiana. It gets hundreds of millions of dollars a year from state and federal coffers. And of course, every public university in the state is pure socialism and every instructor and professor at those universities are government employees. So when a professor from LSU speaks out against socialism, I find it strange that he would want to dismantle the system that provides his paycheck, insurance, and retirement each month.
Two sides of a coin…(oops, oh wait, coins are socialism too…)
There has recently been a decent amount of discussion regarding the possibility of high speed rail in Louisiana. And while any rail is good in my book, I think both the supporters and detractors of rail expansion are missing the point when it comes to what rail options will work and would actually provide a net positive benefit for our state and region. As I mentioned in a comment to a previous post, one thing we have to do is to get past this idea that rail is something for New Orleans, Baton Rouge, or only the I-10 corridor. Rail systems are referred to as networks because they must be treated as a holistic transportation asset that benefit not just one lone area or demographic, but the population as a whole. Our rail planning for Louisiana must be holistic as well and envisage a plan that benefits the entire state and not just one or two population centers. So let’s look at a couple of options that unlike those proposed thus far, would actually make money for the state while giving us the chance to move away from car dependence and to a more sustainable, less personally costly model:
High Speed Passenger Rail
High Speed Passenger Rail service works well in certain areas due to the nature of the cities it services. In Germany, France, and the UK cities are developed in such a way that most business is better accomplished by public transportation than by car. Subways, trams, metro rail, and buses, bike paths, and very walkable centers make navigating by foot easier and often cheaper and quicker than by car. There is also an established regional and intercity rail system in these areas which allows the high speed trains to be just one more option in a very diversified system.
Likewise, in the US, the Acela high speed trains of the Amtrak system have succeeded for similar reasons. Acela trains only serve Boston, Manhattan, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and DC. The trains go directly to the cities’ business centers and tie in with efficient, established, local service (mostly subways). The ridership of these trains is also primarily business oriented with people riding between these 5 business centers. It was less of a gamble to delve into the Acela line because the majority of its ridership was virtually guaranteed and already in place.
Developing Passenger Rail in Louisiana presents obstacles these systems did not have.
The biggest obstacle to success for train service in Louisiana is the layout of our cities. Louisiana bit hard into the magical cookie of 1960′s urban sprawl. Life in the suburbs away from…well…everything, was the mantra of generations of residents, developers and city planners. It has unfortunately left us with metropolitan areas sometimes with no defined urban center, and nearly always with no truly effective form of local public transit. At one time New Orleans had 22 streetcar lines. Today it has two and a half. At one time Alexandria had about 5 lines. Today even the idea of a streetcar draws cries of absurdity. In our cities today car is king, gas is gold, and the working commuters of our state fear the day gas once again crosses that $4 per gallon mark.
The fact is, passenger rail cannot succeed in Louisiana until we reinstitute effective mass transit systems at the local level. Without such an investment we have the option of building trains to nowhere which people will likely not ride. Years ago I was on an Amtrak train from NYC to Darienne, CT. For some reason the train had to stop its run short and I was let out in downtown Stanford at around 1130pm. There is NOTHING in downtown Stanford, Connecticut at night. The connecting trains were not running until 430am and I spent a nice boring night walking some very empty streets in a downtown with no people and no connections to the parts of town where people may have been. Aside from New Orleans, that’s what riding a train in Louisiana would be like if we instituted inter-city rail. No one wants to go nowhere.
Option 1 – Motorail
People need a way to get around when they get to their destination.
With the absence of dependable effective local transit in our cities, the people of our state depend on their cars. Those without cars are generally poor and thus don’t matter (oops, we’re not supposed to really talk about that are we). But yes, you need a car to get around our cities and as many Rail detractors have argued, people are not going to ride a train to somewhere just to be stranded without a car.
Well, they don’t have to be. Motorail — high speed rail cars that transport automobiles is the answer. These are in successful operation in many countries around the world and run 24 hours a day through the very profitable Eurotunnel (Chunnel).
The Motorail model is very simple. Passengers who want to ride the train to their destination and then connect to local rail or whatever ride the train as normal. But those who wish to drive their car at their destination simply purchase a motorail ticket, drive their car onto the car carrier and then go to their seat on the train. At the end of the journey they simply drive right off just like you would on a river ferry.
The loading and unloading process takes about 10-15 minutes on each end. Considering there is no hassling with luggage or finding transport at the station, that delay is easily nullified.
This could actually work in Louisiana.
The benefits to the motorail option are obvious. Train systems would have increased ridership and be able to maintain profitable operation. The cost of the motorail ticket for travelers would be a fraction of the cost of gas to drive between the same locations. Rail travel is considerably safer than highway travel. And travel would be considerably faster.
Consider the numbers: New Orleans to Baton Rouge is 80 miles or 1.5 hours driving. Baton Rouge to Alexandria is 110 miles or 2-2.5 hours. Alexandria to Shreveport is roughly 130 miles or 2.5 hours driving. This figures a near perfect driving condition that allows for 60-80 mph average speed. The Acela runs at 200 mph (operating new trains on existing track, what we would likely have here).
So at even a conservative estimate of only 150 mph, you would get: NOLA – BR (32 min); BR – ALEX (44 minutes); ALEX – SHRV (48 minutes). Compare that to current rates and travel from Alexandria to New Orleans decreases from 4-5 hours to 1.5 hours (and that includes a 20 minute layover in Baton Rouge). The difference from Shreveport to NOLA is 2hrs 45 min versus 6.5 hours.
There are a few things about this that are neat. For one thing it makes dinner in the French Quarter as easy as getting off work at 5, driving downtown, having a few cocktails in the bar car while you watch the LSU game, getting back in your car, driving about 15 blocks, parking, partying, getting back on the train, and watching a rerun of Law & Order, and being asleep in your CenLa bed by 2am.
For another, Motorail cars are much cheaper to build and maintain than passenger cars. So the added cost to offer this service would be very low.
Motorail — that’s how you get people to ride trains in Louisiana.
Option 2 – High Speed Freight
High Speed Freight service is one option that Louisiana should not ignore. On a long distance approach, high speed freight still doesn’t work out too economically beneficial. The reason really comes in the efficiency of our existing nationwide cargo rail system, and the massive cost involved in upgrading the millions of miles of track and of buying new vehicles that a long-distance system would require. But on a local standpoint high speed rail makes sense, especially in instances where point-to-point transport of goods is required and the ranges are less than 100 miles.
CenLa is one of these places. As much as I hope to eventually see high speed passenger service (with motorail cars) coming through CenLa I am not holding my breath. Most people in South Louisiana are still convinced we don’t have electricity or plumbing north of I-10 (oops, time to wind up the ‘puter again), so the reality of hoping that we would get a fair shake in the divvying up of the passenger rail pie is not too great. But point-to-point high speed freight could absolutely transform the economic landscape of the Central Louisiana region.
Alexandria is home to an international airport which happens to be a first port of entry for international cargo shipments (although this possibility hasn’t been used much). It is actually the furthest inland air point of entry on the Gulf Coast between Dallas and Atlanta. Almost adjacent to Alexandria International is the Port of Alexandria — connecting rail and interstate shipments to the Red River. Additionally local industries are working on a series of proposals that will either add an additional intermodal facility (possibly in Pollock) and/or upgrade the capabilities of AEX and the Port to operate in a more complementary capacity.
That’s all great, but it’s not best of it. There are currently two approved yet non-operational ports within a 45 – 1.5 hour drive of Alexandria. The Avoyelles Parish Port in Simmesport (already connected to Alexandria via rail) is situated just 43 miles south of Alexandria on the Atchafalaya River and the Port of Vidalia is 78 miles due east of Alexandia on the Mississippi River (and a good 200 miles upriver from the Port of Baton Rouge). Between Alexandria and Vidalia is also Jonesville, strategically situated on the Black River which is also navigable, connected to Alexandria and Vidalia by rail (and soon to be interstate) and provides additional access to ports on the Tensas and Ouachita Rivers.
Dedicated high speed freight rail connections between these facilities could result in the combination of a Gulf Coast Inland Strategic Megaport. Imagine a port that served three of the nation’s major waterways, provided two direct routes to the Gulf, and access to international air, interstate, and rail service a full 200 miles north of New Orleans and (for the most part) beyond the hurricane danger zone. Add to that the fact that we have access to Free Trade Zone area, and GO Zone programs, and you have an application of high speed rail with so much economic potential that even the most staunchly opposed, Ford Excursion driving, anti-rail Republican could not argue with.
Port information on the three ports here:
This is the kind of thinking we need in talking about Rail for Louisiana. Then later on, after we’ve rebuilt our public transportation infrastructure in our cities, we can look at expanding to things like NOLA-Covington, or NOLA to Slidell, or Lafayette to Baton Rouge Commuter lines or regional rail connecting rural areas to their urban centers.
Some area bloggers like to criticize the content of this site as pushing a “share the wealth” mentality. In reality the writers of this blog more than anything else work to bring a local focus to national and world issues. Often when you talk about larger issues on a local scale — especially in relation to a local area like Central Louisiana where poverty is still rampant and wages are considerably lower than the national average those discussions do tend to lean toward a progressive or “share the wealth mentality”. It’s just the nature of our local situation and at least the writers of this blog are honest enough in their views to discuss the true realities of our region’s situation rather than purporting that things aren’t that bad. Well, I want to take a few minutes to dose out a bit more honesty and discuss another national issue on a local scale. Consider this “share the guilt”.
It’s been no secret that the American auto industry has been failing for some time; it’s only been recently though that the true absolute failure of companies like GM and Chrysler have become open to us all. Certainly the impetus of the failures of these corporate behemoths lies with their corporate management. A chosen failure to react to consumer demands, improve company efficiency, and offer innovative products is by far the major reason we are in this mess today. Of course the greed of the United Auto Workers and affiliated unions is also to blame. I am in favour of unions as I feel they are overall a very positive force and without them we would still be in the era of Robber-Barons and impoverished factory workers. But in the case of the UAW’s relationship with automakers the creation of an impossible situation with overly inflated wages, redundancy protections, and workplace rules that actually discouraged productivity had placed an economic burden on all parties involved that was simply destined to explode into failure; and it did. But there is another party to blame…
Thus far most coverage of auto industry ills has been focused on the corporate level with all stories aimed squarely at Detroit. There is however somewhere else we should be focusing our ire — right down the street at our local dealers. Whether they be Hixsons, Walkers, Wards, Leglues, or any of the rest, our local Central Louisiana auto dealers are just as much to blame for an ailing auto industry as is Detroit.
Why you may ask? Greed really.
I could say dishonesty, but to call these business owners dishonest would be a stretch. Certainly some are. I worked for Allstar Toyota once for about 3 days before my conscience got the best of me. During those three days of “training” myself and the rest of the new hires spent hour after hour watching video seminars from something called the Cardone Method (get it “Car” “Done”?). These videos were a series of tactics and roleplay situations that showed salespeople how to carefully exploit every aspect of the customers’ visit to the dealership. They covered anxiety, psychology, need for acceptance, family guilt, and every other possible thing that could be played upon to pressure someone into a deal that was good for the dealership but not necessarily good for the buyer. The training involved shadowing the “star salesmen” and observing how they moved customers away from the car they came to see and over to one with a higher markup, how to choreograph the entire sales process to know when to “clear something with your manager”. They taught salespeople how to convince buyers to spend more per month than they could afford and how to get them out the door before they realized what hit them. Needless to say, after a few days of this “training” any illusion I had that you could in fact be honest in that business (at that dealership) was done and I quit. Now that was in 2004 and maybe All-Star has changed to more honest methods since then, I don’t know. And, maybe (hopefully) the other dealerships in our area behave in a more ethical fashion. We can hope.
Beyond this experience though is a set of practices that are common across the board and universal among our local dealers. You see, a car dealership is like any other retail business. The owner of a dealership buys his inventory (cars and trucks) from a manufacturer at a wholesale prices (usually called invoice price in the industry). That same car comes with a recommended MSRP or retail price at which they are supposed to sell the car to consumers (me and you). The difference between MSRP and Invoice is the dealer’s margin and once they have deducted their operating expenses what’s left is their profit. It’s not a huge profit. For some brands like Lexus it’s around 15% but the industry average is actually 8-10% (but 10% of a $20,000 car is still no small chunk of change).
The problem is that our local dealers are a bit greedy. They could buy their cars at invoice pricing and sell them at the MSRP and make a comfortable profit. But instead they employ a series of tactics that greatly increase their profits at the expense of the consumer (you and me). For one thing, they pad the MSRP price. Because local dealers tend to be the only ones selling a certain product (or one of only one or two other peers selling it) they employ a sort of price-fixing by which they set the price they offer a car for sale at the highest amount they feel the local population will pay for it. Added to that they charge “dealer preparation fees”. Often these are listed on the window sticker along with things like “paint protection” (aka car wax), “rust proofing”, etc. The fact is that most dealer preparation involves peeling off the protective shipping stickers, stenciling on their dealership logo, washing the car, and moving it to the lot. At anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, consider this the most expensive car wash you’ll ever pay for. This sort of thing is purely a money maker. If you doubt that, try ordering a car from a dealer and telling them you’ll take care of the “prep” . They’ll probably not be very willing to take off that fee.
Add to these price increases the fact that dealers actually make a commission off of financing and you have a bad recipe for problems. How many times have you gone into a car dealership and had the salesperson ask you how much of a monthly payment you can afford? It’s one of the first questions they are supposed to ask you. Why, because it gives them a range of how much they can plan to stick it to you. Salespeople are trained to know that if you say you can afford $300 per month that you are probably really willing to go as high as $500 and with enough coaching they can probably get you to sign off on a $700 per month note. What really irritates me about this is that math doesn’t work in that direction. This is like starting with the answer 12.7578 and then creating a formula for long division that will work in reverse to get me back to a whole number. These dealers use the monthly payment approach to reap maximum profit from the sale. They are very well versed in how to pad the prices and manipulate the interest rates and fees to get their numbers right where you’ve said your maximum will be. Once you’ve given them a “monthly payment”, you’ve lost. Walk away.
A little comparison if I may to bring some of this home:
A simple click on Walker Automotive’s website reveals their new car inventory. The first car I got to was a 2009 GMC Sierra 1500 SLE truck. Here’s the link:
Walker Lists this truck with an MSRP of $36,440.
That price would not include prep fees and other dealer add ons. But it’s the base at which you would begin the process if you visited their dealership.
Autos.yahoo.com allows you to view the GM invoice and MSRP pricing. Here is the same truck, same color, same engine, transmission, trim and everything:
Now they list the MSRP as $31,515.
That’s nearly a $5000 difference between the price GM says the truck should be sold at an what Walker is offering it to you for here in Alexandria. Yahoo lists the invoice price (what GM sold it Walker for) at $29,151. That would have given the dealership a $2,500 profit in raw numbers. Instead they’ve decided to go for a $7,500 profit (at your expense of course).
Again, these are the raw numbers. Incentives and rebates are also given. There are two types, dealer incentives and consumer incentives. Dealer incentives and rebates are given directly to the dealer by GM or other automaker and result in the invoice price being lower for the dealer — thus increasing their profit margin at the MSRP price. In addition the automakers offer incentives to the buyer (on this particular truck GM is offering $1,500 -2,000). There are often other promotions and sometimes even government programs that give consumers discounts on new cars. That is, they are meant to. But, often times when you see or hear a car ad there is a little line in there that says “All incentives and Rebates to Dealer”! Whoa! What’s that mean? It means that money they have promised to you the buyer is instead going to the car dealer.
Is this a big deal? Yes, sometimes these incentives and rebates equal up to $5,000 -10,000. When was the last time you walked into Wal-Mart and handed them a check for a few grand just because it made you feel warm and fuzzy? If you went into the grocery store and used a coupon for a dollar off a case of Coke would you be cool with the cashier pocketing that dollar and charging you full price? Probably not. That’s what is happening in this sort of case. Now I don’t know whether, if you went into Walker GMC and tried to buy that truck whether they would try to keep the consumer rebates and incentive or whether they would give them to you. Hopefully it would be the latter. But what I can say is that those incentives are given by the automakers to YOU so that you can more easily buy one of their cars and when the dealers keep those incentives for their own pockets they are taking money from you that was intended for you.
OK, maybe none of this is news to anyone. But, the point I want to make is that sure, GM and Ford and Chrysler are to blame for the auto industry failure, but so are our local dealers. They are to blame because they have systematically made the car buying process more difficult. They have inflated the local prices that you the consumer pay. They are profiteering when a reasonable profit is already given. And they are defeating the proactive efforts of the automakers that are meant to encourage sales by pocketing money Detroit has given to buyers.
Again I am not saying all dealers or salespeople are corrupt. I’m not saying Walker is dishonest. I could have done the same comparison with every other dealership in the area and encourage anyone looking for a new car to do just that. But what I am saying is that we as consumers need to be proactive in our dealings with businesses we give our money to. And, as taxpayers who will be paying for hundreds of billions of dollars that is is taking to prop up this industry for generations to come, we should remember when we drive past those car lots on MacArthur and Coliseum Boulevard that our tax dollars, the check we will write in April help put the owners of those buildings in nicer cars than we can ourselves afford.
Don’t just blame Detroit.
Romeo, Oh Romeo!
(Actually ‘Ro-may-o’, ‘Ro-may-o’)
As many may know Chrysler Holdings, as part of its remake of the country will be closing many dealerships and getting rid of several models. It’s also quite common knowledge now that the company will very likely become part of Fiat Group of Italy. What is not so common knowledge is why Fiat would want Chrysler in the first place.
For Years Chrysler has been the sick old man of the American Auto Industry. It’s not that Chrysler has been a bad company. In fact, they have been one of the most innovative in their products and one of the best in styling in quality…sometimes.
Chrysler has had one main feather in its cap for decades, and that was Jeep. It is and has been a very solid company with a near cult following. And, that’s not so hard when you’ve been basically making the same product for 60 years — especially, if you stick to what you do well and do it better than anyone else. Unfortunately for Chrysler, Jeeps aren’t for everyone.
Unfortunately, neither have Chrysler’s other products. Chrysler cars themselves have gone in cycles with the early 80′s being great and the mid 2000′s being wonderful and everything in the middle being a mish mash of poorly constructed amalgamations of moving parts that looked more like a combination of flying saucer and dung beetle than respectable automobile.
Luckily Chrysler didn’t fall into the same pitfall of Ford and GM by focussing on the biggest baddest penis-envy SUV-so-big-you-need-a-new-garage market segment. They didn’t go down the path of zero fuel economy but more cupholders than a cinemaplex. That’s a good thing for them. Unfortunately, they didn’t really seem to focus on any market segment at all.
Chrysler’s most recent suitor was of course German automaker Daimler-Benz. Daimler really only purchased Chrysler for Jeep. With the luxury car market changing away from large sedans and toward Luxury SUV’s and Cross-overs, Mercedes saw in the daddy of all Sport Ute’s a chance to get one up on the competition (usually BMW and Audi). So in order to get access to all those nice patents and technology that has kept Jeep the best at what it does since Normandy, Mercedes decided it was time to buy American. But, like Napoleon with Louisiana, Detroit wasn’t about to give in that easy. Jefferson couldn’t buy New Orleans without Missouri, and Germany couldn’t have the Jeep without Chrysler and company in tow. Still, the deal was done. Within a year of Daimler buyign Chrysler Mercedes debuted its first SUV (which looked an awful lot like a Grand Cherokee). A year or two after that and Jeep introduces its newer improved Grand Cherokee (which looked even more so like the Mercedes).
Long story short, Mercedes got what it wanted out of the deal. But, Chrysler didn’t come out so bad in the divorce either.
You see, the Germans don’t so much have a taste for luxury as much as Americans do, and they really don’t care that much about quality compared to consumers here. But they do value engineering above all else and in bringing into its family Chrysler, even if it was the ritalin addicted stepchild of the marriage, the Germans had to make sure that Chrysler was the best Chrysler it could be. So…sie haben den Chrysler besser gemacht.
And when they made Chrysler better, they did so the same way Ford made Jaguar and Volvo better; they looked for ways to take the good from what they had bought (an American brand that could sell big cars), the good from what they had (a German brand of great big cars in a country that doesn’t really value big cars), a whole lot of extra engineers in a country with high unemployment and high labor cost, and a whole lot of auto workers in a country with considerably lower production costs, threw in some designers, sprinkled in an Austrian or two for good measure, stared at a Bentley, and voila…the new line of Chrysler sedans.
Now here’s the thing, love them or hate them, the new Chryslers are pretty amazing cars. For one, they look an aweful lot like an updated version of my mom’s ’82 New Yorker we had when I was a kid. At the same time, they look like a slihtly smaller and boxier version of the big buck Bentley. But that’s not what matters, and that’s not why I knew several Mercedes execs in Germany who drove Chrysler 300′s. The big Chrysler is basically a Mercedes E Class, but for about 40-50 thousand dollars less. The drive train, suspension, electronics…let’s just say it’s a good deal.
So, we didn’t come out so bad when Chrysler came home. But, what about Fiat? Why would they want (the now bankrupt) Chrysler?
Well, they aren’t just after Chrysler for Jeep (which was the reason Mercedes bought Chrysler and the reason Chrysler tried to buy Renault, the reason Renault bought AMC, and the reason the AMC was formed with other companies from Willys in the first place). No, they want you!
Well, maybe they don’t necessarily want YOU, but they want access to you. Fiat wants access to the biggest car-buying market in the world (that’s us). They want to be able to get their cars into dealerships on street corners in America — dealerships in your town — dealerships that Chrysler and Dodge.
This won’t be Fiat’s first foray into the North American market. They had brief success in the 60′s and 70′s in some areas of the country and when England Air Force Base was open, you would even occasionally see one that had made its way to Alexandria via some poor unsuspecting Airman who learned all to well the jocular “Fix It Again, Tony”.
Fiat at the time, like most car coming out of Europe were crap to say the least. They were cheap, and sometimes fun, but you needed as much room in your trunk for tools as you did for groceries. Reputation at the time pretty much doomed Fiat in the American market when combined with our love for everything big and their specialization in making cars small.
Times are different now. Fiat makes good cars. Their company is stable. And, they have enough market share wordwide that a total failure in the American market wouldn’t really hurt them that bad. In fact, the Fiat Punto right) is the world’s Best Selling car. It’s not the fastest, it’s not the best looking, but it’s really really fuel efficient, reliable, sporty, and cheap! (three things most American cars have forgotten about being)
Does this mean we need to look for the new Fiat dealership on Coliseum Blvd or learn to add “Punto” to our vocabulary of Corvette, Mustang, and Wrangler? No…not likely. Fiat will fear American prejudice to their brand which most feel is a cheap car. They also wouldn’t want to put a car into our market that sounded anything like Pinto (car that had exploding gas tank, bean that causes explosive gas, etc). Instead we’re likely to see Fiat cars arrive on the local scene rebadged as Dodge’s.
A few years ago the idea of losing one of our American car brands was unthinkable to my Generation. Sure the 20th Century saw the rise and fall of hundreds of auto marques. There were even 4 or 5 of them here in Louisiana. But by the early 1970′s the American market had calmed down into a blend of brands that had remained fairly continuous for decades. Then a few years ago we lost Oldsmobile. Plymouth quickly followed suit, and rumors of Mercury’s demise have remained aloft for at least as long. And now we have to accept that within the next few years our familiar car market will change once again. Pontiac has already received its execution order. GMC is probably next and Buick may likely be following right along.
Back in the 1980′s and 90′s Chrysler played around with rebadging by selling Mitsubishi and Renault cars as Eagle and Dodge lines. Other automakers do this all the time as well. Fords are Mazdas; Chevys are Daewoos; Citroen, Puegot and Toyota all sell the exact same car with almost the exact same styling made in the exact same factory (it’s the Yaris here). Like most any other industry it comes down to marketing more than anything else.
Nowadays however, marketing has to be combined with market awareness and after 50 years of telling Americans what they want, car makers are having to listen to and react to what consumers are actually demanding. American consumers will still want sporty cars, and luxurious cars. They will want to feel they are getting the most they can for their money whether they spend seven thousand or seventy (believe it or not, most Europeans don’t view driving as a pleasurable thing so most cars there are quite utilitarian and even BMW’s sold in Germany seem cheaply made by American standards of fit and finish). In addition now to valuing the comfort and performance of our rides now though, Americans want something that’s going to be as kind to their wallets as it is kind to their bottoms. Fuel economy and lower cost of entry are becoming the defining factors in consumers’ car hunts.
The days of every auto manufacturer making a variation on the same theme is probably gone. And for Chrysler that most probably means a much leaner Dodge. Jeep does it’s job as an SUV marque impeccably and aside from losing the ill-conceived Compass, it’s safe. Dodge however is keyed for a makeover. It’s weight-loss regime will probably come in the form of jettisoning it’s SUV and truck offerings. Our market has shown that even the USA cannot support the 6-7 lines of full-sized trucks on the market. GM is already going to have to choose between Chevrolet and GMC as to which will go forward as their workhorse line, Ford is by far better at that market than anyone else, and Toyota has absorbed much of the market share that was at one time split. Dodge will likely need to concede defeat on this front. Ram Tough just wasn’t tough enough for $4/gal gas.
Chrysler as a marque is already lean and has its segment of sedan buyers. Plan on saying goodbye to the Sebring and despite being a good car, the Crossfire has already gotten the axe, so the baby Bentley / middle-class Mercedes is likely to be the bulk of its offerings with a minivan thrown into the mix somewhere. That leaves Dodge to pick up the slack and provide America with the cars they are wanting. Expect those cars to be Fiats. We’re likely to see cars like the Punto on Dodge lots with remenicent names like “Dart” and “Daytona”.
Now Fiat isn’t just a single brand. Fiat is a large car company and covers a full range. If you compared them to Ford, you would have Fiat [Ford], Alfa Romeo [Mercury], and Lancia [Lincoln]. But you have Maserati and Ferrari. Out of all of these we’re not likely to see Lancia, Fiat will likely be rebadged, and let’s face it, those who can afford Maseratis and Ferraris already have them. The one brand to watch though — and the one Brand to look for coming to a dealership near you is Alfa Romeo.
Alfa’s are an oddity in the car market. They’re completely out of sync with the brand design of most American and Asian marques, and even by European standard they are a sort of purposefully designed prodigal son of the industry. Alfa Romeo has the unique position of being born a sports car and manufactured by a company that sells the some of the cheapest cars in the world and some of the most expensive on the planet. What this all blends together to form is a brand of auto that has a very odd combination of German Sportiness, fine Italian Styling, and a very American middle class pricepoint. They’re luxurious, fast, fun, utilitarian, and really really cool!
Take a look at the 8c (left). It look likes a Porsche, drives like a dream and costs about the
same as a Mazda or a Saturn. And the one thing about Alfas that you can rarely say about a car that most people can afford (take a look at the car to the right)…They’re BEAUTIFUL!!!
Alfa Romeo actually makes a full line of cars and their price point is around where a Saturn is. Some are closer to the price of a Honda. The people I have known who owned them loved them and they are known to be very dependable.
I recommend you check out their website at alfaromeo.com
Of course, this is all conjecture on my part, but having spent as much of my adult life in other countries as I have in the US, I have had the chance to get to know more than just the local auto industry, and these are my guesses as to where we’re heading.
Only time will tell, but in the meantime, have a nice drool over the Alfa Romeo 8c: