Monthly Archives: November 2017

Car Books – Second Gear

Continued from Car Books – First Gear

But it is this most recent book that I read by David Halberstam that has given me the most comprehensive look into the modern automobile industry. I have to admit that I had an almost love-hate relationship with this book while reading it as some of the details it went into in its massive 760 page length I was just not that interested in. On more than one occasion I considered not finishing the book. But I kept on plugging and I am glad I did. In fact, after finishing the book and reflecting on the different interwoven stories, I now see that they were all critical parts leading to ultimately what happened to the US auto industry in the 1970s and 1980s.

This book mainly focuses on Nissan, Ford, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, the Japanese auto unions and several influential individuals inside and outside the auto industry, going back and forth between all of them on the same chronological timeline as they each enjoyed different successes over their history. The story traces its beginning all the way back to just after World War II when Douglass McArthur was in Japan helping the Japanese to resurrect their manufacturing industries. It was interesting to get more details of the story I was only aware of at a high level of how it was Americans, in particular Edwards Deming that taught the Japanese how to develop quality driven manufacturing processes that led to high quality vehicles (think of products made in Japan in the 1960s vs. the 1980s).

I enjoyed learning of the history of Nissan (Datsun in the US), which was thoroughly covered in the book, all new knowledge to me. But once the book began to describe the development of the Ford Mustang, my interest was particularly piqued. I can still recall as an adolescent in 1964 when the Mustang was launched. The details included helped clarify the controversy over who was ultimately responsible for bringing the Mustang out. While Lee Iacocca has been credited with its development, it was actually others who came up with the design. But it was no doubt Iacocca who shepherded the car through the Ford political morass and into production and his prescient foresight that ensured adequate manufacturing capability to keep up with the unprecedented demand.

It was also incredible to read how close the Mustang came to not being produced at all, for at the time, Ford was controlled by very conservative finance people who had Henry Ford II’s ear and who constantly impeded the product people, the “car guys” whose passion it was to design and build exciting cars. In fact over much of its history, Ford has been controlled not by car guys but rather finance guys who were always looking out for maintaining the wealth of the Ford descendants instead of bringing innovative automobiles to the market.

By 1970, all three US automakers were producing really big, highly profitable cars because they claimed they couldn’t make a decent profit on small cars. And US consumers kept buying these big cars in spite of their poor quality. But all of that was soon to change.

Superimposed on these automotive stories were the events surrounding the oil producing nations and how for so many years, oil was cheap (I can still remember from my childhood seeing gas selling for 29.9 cents per gallon). This storyline reached a climax in 1973 when the Yom Kippur War (Six Day War) led to the Oil Embargo against countries supporting Israel and resulted in the escalation of the price of gasoline and the end of cheap energy. It was at this time when the Big Three (Ford, GM, Chrysler) had no small fuel efficient cars but only large poor quality cars that on average got a mere 13 miles to the gallon. It was the turning point for the Japanese to gain a real foothold in the US auto industry with small fuel-efficient cars that had better quality. Interestingly it was at this time that I bought my first car, a 1973 American Motors (AMC) Gremlin.

As Ford, GM, and Chrysler scrambled to come out with small cars, it was this portion of the book that was of most interest to me as these were events I could readily recall from my teenage and early 20s, the times when GM came out with the ill-fated Chevy Vega and Ford, the maligned Pinto. Having previously read Iacocca’s book, I was quite familiar with his ouster from Ford and his very successfully saving of Chrysler. I can even vividly picture the commercials he starred in for Chrysler and the return of the convertible and the launch of the now ubiquitous mini-van.

The book also covered the development of the highly successful Ford Taurus, the riskiest product launch ever undertaken by Ford and the development of the Nissan plant in Smyrna, TN.

But the underlying theme of the book came to a climax in the chapter with the same name as the title of the book, The Reckoning. For while it was with great interest in the US automotive industry with which I read this book, the fact was that for the forty-year period from 1945 to 1985, that it was the Japanese that became the major producers of automobiles sold in the US. What started, as a very diminutive importing of Japanese cars became the major manufacturers that we know them as today. With the huge market share garnered by the Japanese, the “Big Three” became simply the “Detroit Three” since no longer were they the manufacturing behemoths they had once been. And I guess this reality is reflected in my own selection of cars as with the four cars I currently own, none of them are domestic but rather all are Japanese.

Reading this book has reignited a desire in me to read more books about the automotive industry. Until I read this book, I had not run across one in over four years. But now searching I will go on Amazon for more good car books to test drive.

Car Books – First Gear

I have posted numerous times of one type of book I enjoy reading which I refer to as my Building Books—books about building things. But until recently, I realized I had never written about another genre I especially enjoy reading, books about cars. The more I thought about it, the more I recognized it was long over due.

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know that I have been a lifelong car lover, a Miata owner for over 20 years, and now that I have more time to do so, an avid reader.

I can still remember from when I was a toddler that my favorite picture book with all of its colorful cars and dog drivers was Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman. And when I was in grade school, I can recall with delight when I discovered my first book about cars at the Scholastic Book Fair, a book about buying and taking care of your first car. In high school, my mother suggested I read Wheels by Arthur Hailey, a fictional novel that explored the auto industry from the perspective of the dealer, the manufacturer, the line worker, and the consumer. This was my first exposure to the complexity and politics of manufacturing cars and probably dampened my naïve desire up to that point to work in the automobile manufacturing industry.

As an adult, I read with fascination a number of different books about the development of specific cars, in particular Corvettes, Mustangs, Muscle Cars and Miatas.

I absolutely fell in love with the Mazda Miata when first seeing this car ad in 1989 since convertibles had all but disappeared from our US roads, especially small sports cars. After purchasing a Miata, I bought this book by Jay Lamm. It was with fascination that I read how three different development teams within Mazda vied for creating the car and then once the winner was declared, how the final car was brought to market and all the changes that occurred over its first seven years of production. This could have been a thick 1,000-page book rather than the slim 140 pages it was and I still would have read and poured over every page. The entire development story was an enjoyable read with a most happy outcome.

However, not until I read The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts did I got an inside look into how unpleasant it could be to live in that world. This book covered the history of Ford as it spanned over its founder’s lifetime. I found absolutely shocking some of the things that occurred within the Ford Motor Company that confirmed my wise choice to enter the field of science rather than automobiles as my career.

Knowing that Lee Iacocca was a part of that troubled history under Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, I wanted to get Iacocca’s side of the Ford story so I purchased his autobiography and gained further insight into those difficult years at Ford. In addition, this book covered Iacocca’s successful turnaround of Chrysler after he was fired from Ford.

A much more upbeat story about Ford that I read was American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman. I was already familiar with Alan Mulally having seen the PBS documentary many years ago on the building of the Boeing 777 jet airplane, a development program spear-headed by then Boeing executive Mulally. And I recalled from 2008/2009 when the other big automakers were getting bailout loans from the federal government as they were entering bankruptcy; Ford had gone it alone and survived without government loans and without enduring bankruptcy. While he seemed to be quite a likeable person in the PBS series, it was only through reading this book that I gained tremendous respect for his executive office prowess.

This book covers the period from when Alan became CEO of Ford when the great grandson to Henry Ford, CEO Bill Ford stepped aside. It tells the story of the struggle between the changes Alan wanted to make and the wishes of the Ford family, which to this day as a block, owns a controlling interest in Ford. To Bill Ford’s credit, he recognized that dramatic change was necessary to save Ford and so mediated with the family to help Alan make the changes. This story is so intriguing and came so close to failing that it might well become a case study for others to learn from in business school. Particularly since Ford still enjoys today the successes that Mulally forged under his leadership.

But it is this most recent book that I read by David Halberstam that has given me the most comprehensive look into the modern automobile industry.

To be continued…

Puzzling Anticipation

Now that the autumnal equinox has past, I have really been looking forward to getting back to puzzling—assembling puzzles that is. Earlier this year, I wrote about how I had taken this up as a wintertime hobby and had thoroughly enjoyed it. What I didn’t write about was that no sooner had I finished my last puzzle in January that I already wanted to purchase my puzzles for next winter. I even wondered if maybe was there was such a thing as a puzzle club or a puzzle exchange where avid puzzlers shared puzzles with each other.

Within days of completing my last puzzle last winter, I was perusing my favorite online retailer, Amazon looking for puzzles I would want. I focused predominately on my favorite topics—cars and beer. But then I ran across a puzzle of  Keukenhof gardens, a beautiful park just outside of Amsterdam.

I had visited this large, beautiful garden numerous times on my teaching trips to Amsterdam whenever the scheduling of my course coincided with the brief two-month period of it being open. If you are a fan of tulips, hyacinths or flowers in general, this is an incredible place to explore with an estimated 7 million bulbs in bloom over their season.

When I saw this puzzle online, I knew it had to be one of mine to work. What better way to end the cold winter break than assembling a beautiful prelude to spring?

For my second puzzle, I explored more car and beer puzzles and selected this one of beer labels.

I thought this was would be a fun one to work on while actually enjoying a delicous beer on a cold winter night.

I finalized my purchase and waited for the package to arrive.

As Amazon does so well after making a purchase by suggesting additional items of potential interest, I was “notified” of this puzzle.

It was a Christmas version of a Midcentury Modern puzzle that I also enjoyed assembling last winter.

For this puzzle I had not only enjoyed the scenes depicted, but it was like assembling multiple puzzles within a puzzle with the many individual frames, giving me a sense of accomplishment each time I completed one section.

Colorfully bedecked with Christmas décor, I thought this would be a festive one to kick off my puzzling season in December, not long before Christmas.

Then for my birthday, my sister surprised me with a puzzle gift, one that I had actually debated getting myself when I was exploring potential puzzles in January.

She knows me well; naturally it was of cars.

I stashed my “war chest” of puzzles in our upstairs playroom closet to await cold weather. Never before have I wished for winter since I do not like cold weather but every time I went in that closet for something, there the puzzles sat as if taunting me to break down and open one up. But each time, I suppressed the urge and left them for another time.

Then as if calling for reinforcements to let them out of their caged boxes, my wife bought a used puzzle for me.

Amazingly, this was a puzzle design similar to another puzzle I almost bought. My only concern about working a used puzzle is what if one of the pieces is missing? I hate investing all the time into a puzzle if I can never see it completed. So before I work this one, I will likely take on the tedious task of counting to make sure it has all 1,000 pieces.

These five puzzles are still tucked away in that closet awaiting the day when they can come out and play. Since I will be retired at the time of the winter solstice, the official beginning of winter, I know I will have more time available to work on them. I suspect with the extra time, I may not have enough puzzles with these five to keep me puzzling throughout January, the national puzzle month. In that case due to the “puzzle addiction” I am willing to admit I am afflicted, I will just have to go in search for another “fix.”

Retirement – Week 1

Me on my last workday

The last weekend in October, following my last workday on Friday 27 October, I thought a lot about what my first week of retirement would be like. Even knowing that I would not be working this week impacted my weekend schedule—in a positive way. Normally, I would feel rushed and pressured to try to get all the things done over the limited time I had on the weekend. But the weekend before my first full day of retirement felt much more relaxed.

Usually by Sunday afternoon, I am feeling a bit frustrated that I am running out of time and will have to postpone until the following weekend the things I didn’t get done.

This feeling has roots dating back to early in our marriage when on Saturday morning, I would make a long list of things I needed to do over the weekend and then by Sunday night, feel a sense of depression that I only got 28 of the 31 items done on the list. This used to drive my wife crazy. Fortunately I got over that phase of my life and while I am still a perpetual list maker, I got out of the habit of making weekend lists long ago.

Sunday morning is normally a running day for me followed by a trip to the grocery store to get a week’s worth of groceries. Both of these activities I skipped knowing that I no longer had to do those on Sunday. My Sunday instead felt quite relaxed and my wife and I even went to an art festival downtown in the afternoon, something we normally might not find time to do.

When I went to bed on Sunday night, I consciously did not set an alarm knowing I could sleep as late as I felt on Monday.

Maybe it was due to an excited anticipation of this significant life change but I woke up in the middle of the night and started thinking about what I would do first. After lying awake for quite some time thinking about all these things, I realized the first thing I really needed to do was just make a list so I wouldn’t forget them all.

In spite of remaining awake for probably an hour, I woke up refreshed and glancing at the clock, saw that I had slept in until 6:30! (Normally on a Monday I would be awakened with an alarm at 4:45.) I did my usual stretching and then went to the gym to run indoors since it was too cold outside. By the time I left the gym around 8:30, I was feeling a bit lazy and thinking my day was getting away from me. But then I remembered, it was OK, as I was not going to work.

When I got home, I had my delicious Peet’s coffee and typical breakfast—“concrete”—a concoction I create of dry oats, Grapenuts cereal, sliced almonds, and fruit Greek yogurt that I have been eating for years.

However, rather than gobbling this down while I would normally be getting ready for work, I sat down and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. It was after 9:00 AM before I was shaving and showering, something unheard of even on the weekends.

After getting cleaned up, I went grocery shopping. As I wandered the aisles, I realized that if I continued to shop on Monday morning rather than Sunday, I would see a whole different crowd than whom I normally saw, shoppers like me now who could shop during the week. Driving home, it felt like I was on a holiday since all of these things were so foreign to me during the week.

Returning home, I could even participate in my daughter’s and grandson’s daily FaceTime with my wife, a treat I normally only get to join in on weekend mornings.

After lunch, I decided it was time to make my lists. I decided to make a short-term list and a long-term list. In my mind, my short-term items would be anything I wanted to be sure and get done within three months or less. I reflected back to my many thoughts in the middle of the night and quickly jotted down 18 items on the short-term list and four items on the long-term list.

When I shared these lists with my wife later in the day, she commented that these were all things that I needed to do but none of them were necessarily things that I might want to do. I realized that I had gone back and done the same thing I used to do many years ago when I made those weekend lists. My list was filled with chores not fun activities, which usually meant I didn’t have much fun on weekends in those days. This was not a way to start off retirement.

So on Tuesday, I made a third list, a list of things I wanted to do.

It was actually a year ago that I wrote a post of the fun things I would do after retiring. I remembered seven of them before deciding to reread that post to make sure I didn’t forget any. I only missed two.

Over the week, several people asked me how it felt to be retired and I typically responded either weird or different. Reflecting back, it seemed that both Monday and Tuesday felt quite different, at times like it was a holiday or vacation day since I was not at work. Wednesday and Friday did not seem that different, as I have been working from home ½ day on Wednesday and all day on Friday for quite some time. The difference was I did what I wanted to. Thursday was very different as I worked out at the gym in the morning and then got to go to Kinder Music with my wife and granddaughter, something I have not gotten to ever do since Thursday was typically a busy day at work.

Someone who retired two years ago recently told me one of the things he had gotten to do was catch up on his sleep. I guess I must have done that sleeping in on Monday and Tuesday as on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I slipped back into my work habit of waking up around 5:00 AM. Each morning I lay there a while thinking I should go back to sleep but since I was not tired, decided I could get up not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

After just one week, I can’t say that I fell into a new routine but I did definitely identify some additional things I might want to consider making a part of a new routine. Over the week, in my old list making fashion, I did manage to strike several items off that short-term list and only occasionally did I feel I needed to be more productive thinking my “vacation time” was almost over. But then I remembered that next week I would again be free and the week after that, and so on for many weeks ahead as I am no longer working full time. Having achieved one of life’s major milestones and only being one week into it, I think I am really going to like this retirement thing!