Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Smoldering Lions

The Detroit Lions fired Steve Mariucci with a losing record as head coach over the past 30 months. We can conjecture all day whether he deserved the boot for mismanaging arguably the best talent in the NFC North. Regardless, the team sucks, and you can’t fire the team, so Mariucci, despite his past Super Bowl successes (something the Lions have never done), is left dusting off his resume.

A seemingly unrelated news item is that we recently bought a used Toyota Camry. No, it didn’t once belong to Steve Mariucci. After years of buying Tracers, Sables and Broncos, the Grodge Family eschewed Ford Motor Company for an Asian “import” made in Ohio. The heresy. Last year, the revelation was made that Ford ignored a faulty power steering switch in it’s F-150 that could catch fire even while the vehicle was park and the motor off. Ford knew of the problem but refused to re-call the trucks after running a cost-benefit analysis and figuring the few potential lawsuits would amount to less cost than a nationwide re-call to fix the $50 part. A woman was killed in her home when her F-150 ignited while she slept; and Ford could have prevented it.

That’s a deal breaker. That’s negligent homicide.

Granted, in over ten years, none of our Sables has ever caught on fire. My wife drives 40,000 miles a year and goes through cars like J-Lo goes through engagement rings. Every two to three years we've bought a 2 year-old Sable and she drove it until the fenders fell off. They have served us well, but I admit that I was growing uneasy about having a smoldering Ford product in the garage every night about to explode into flames. What isn’t Ford telling us this time? This past summer, she was due for another car and we both asked, how much is that Camry again?

Fast forward to yesterday and the Mariucci news. The common thread in these two poor product lines, Sables and Lions, is none other than the Ford family. William Clay Ford is the top of the heap, the owner of the Lions, and the CEO of Ford Motor Company is Bill Ford. The rot in both of these organizations comes from the top and the top is the same family.

I’m not about to make some bold prediction about Ford filing for bankruptcy, or the Bears winning the Super Bowl in Detroit this January (we can dream); but I will say that the automobile marketplace, like the NFL, is a very competitive arena. If the management cannot make a product that the consumers can trust, then your company is doomed.

I imagine little happens by accident in the business world. Quality ratings for Fords are dismal and their trucks catch on fire; Ford market share has dropped and their stock price has been cut in half. The spiral began when Bill Ford moved his laptop into the corner office. A coincidence? Doubtful.

Steve Mariucci should have learned a valuable lesson this week: be careful that the vehicle to which you've hitched your wagon is not a smoldering Ford product, because it may blow up in your face. Does Toyota have a football team?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Entertain Me, America!

When channel-surfing before dinner, invariably we gravitate to the America’s Funniest Videos show. Never underestimate the entertainment value of drunk and stupid people riding their bikes off roofs and obese women on children’s playground equipment. It’s funny stuff. Trust me.

As I’m watching a segment last week that had some skinny little kid screaming his tonsils out on a roller coaster, I realized that I was witnessing yet another dividend of economic globalization. Sure, my closet is full of cheap Nikes and I’ve enjoyed my inexpensive microwave made in some Southeast Asian sweatshop, but I honestly never had imagined the far reach of globalization in my nightly entertainment.

After the kid and his older brothers won the $10,000 prize for the “best” home video, they explained how it was made. The youngest boy, probably 10 years old, was mortally afraid of roller coasters and both of his brothers knew this. The oldest brother, about 16 years old, “made” his younger sibling go on the terrifying roller coaster just so that he could film his death screams and submit them to the video show. Needless to say it worked.

The show is increasingly entertaining as more and more people have access to video camera equipment, and that equipment is cheaper and more available to the average consumer due to globalization. When Uncle Elmer gets drunk on Thanksgiving and decides to drive his ATV off a makeshift ramp into the creek, it’s now much more likely that Cousin Sadie has a Sony digital movie camera running. Little Vern sets his pants on fire with a roman candle on the 4th of July? Don’t worry, Pa has it on the Samsung camcorder.

I know that video shows have been around for at least a decade and who can forget the Jackass movies, but my point is that never have the quaint activities of Americana been so available to the viewing public, and it’s always funnier when it happens to someone else. It’s as if every backwater and trailer park has constant surveillance video running just for our entertainment. Did Thomas Friedman ever see this coming?

Every baby who pees on his Dad or pours spaghetti sauce on Grandma’s dress is recorded for TV—their fifteen seconds of fame, and a chance at $10K. So, keep the cameras running, America. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to watch the news with my dinner.