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The General Motors Hunger Games

Hindsight is a funny thing. With hindsight we gain a forced perspective of all of our actions through the clearest looking glass of them all: time itself. This becomes especially potent when it comes to business decisions, as profit and loss and all of the other financial indicators will tell you exactly where you messed up. Literally, business schools are churning out thousands of cheap suit wearing peons who will tell you exactly where you messed up. Realistically, the bigger the company, the more eyes are on you, especially in times of upheaval.

10 Years Ago, the Games Began

In 2008, General Motors put all of their American Brands through the business equivalent of the Hunger Games, killing off the likes of Saturns, Hummer, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Saab — while maintaining GMC, Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac. At the time this was seen as necessary cost saving measures and was used to propel the stricken company through the sales doldrums that were the late 00’s. With 10 years of hindsight though we are here to ask, did they kill the right brands? We weren’t sure, so we talked to a whole bunch of GM consumers, employees, mechanics, and dealers — and their answers might surprise you.

First we are going to look at the American brands — specifically based on the year 2000 — and their position within GM itself. How did they overlap with other brands in the company? Which makes had the best brand loyalty, and could that loyalty be turned with another brands nearly identical product? Where should have these companies positioned themselves within the greater marketplace in order to create a more monolithic car company? More importantly, did the short term survival decisions of GM potentially limit their overall reach in the future?

Continue reading “The General Motors Hunger Games”

Used Car Review – 1998 Chevy Blazer

Chevy S-10 Blazer#blazeit

At Surfwrench, we really like Blazers. We like that they are simple, capable small SUVs that can handle pretty much anything that you can throw at them (within reason). The early ones were a bona fide answer to the revolutionary Ford Bronco and they are pretty damn cool. Today though, we’re taking a look at a 2 door S-10 variant from 1998.

First of all, I had one of these early in my driving career and to me it was a genuinely great car. While the gas mileage wasn’t very good and I was commuting a long way to school, one of the main things that I remembered was just how liberating this car was. It meant that I could get where I needed to go in just about any weather because of the solid 4×4 system. This really was a very good car for a new driver being cheap, durable, and fairly capable when things get dicey. Continue reading “Used Car Review – 1998 Chevy Blazer”

Saturn: That Awkward Moment When GM Started a Japanese Car Company

Saturn: America's Japanese Car Company

Starting a company isn’t easy. Trust us — we’ve been there. Starting a car company — well that’s damn near impossible. The amount of capital, both human and physical, that is required is absolutely daunting. Since about the midpoint in the past century, few upstarts have been able to cope with the stringent regulations and vicious marketplace that is the automotive industry. This is why the seeming ethereal emergence of the Saturn company is so impressive, and why it caused more cocked eyebrows than Leo DiCaprio’s performance in Django Unchained.

In this article, we are going to be looking at one of the most fascinating companies to ever grace the automotive stage. A company that didn’t make the most innovative or even interesting cars, but a company that was built from the ground up to be new, innovative, and inherently competitive — and how it all went terribly wrong. Continue reading “Saturn: That Awkward Moment When GM Started a Japanese Car Company”

Used Car Review – Land Rover Discovery

Non-Starter at the Disco

Image via Wikimedia, By OSX, Public Domain

You know it’s always weird when I get to plug Surfwrench at the beginning of a used car review. That should be your first red flag. It’s even funnier when I get to plug Surfwrench to the poor sap trying to sell their car before I even drive it. Well, that’s the most stereotypical beginning to anything ever about a near 20 year old Land Rover Discovery — but I’m going to keep going on this because unlike most people, I genuinely like older, unreliable British cars.

I figured, since winter is bearing down on us like an army of white walkers, it was time to start driving some stuff with AWD that could qualify as a winter beater. One of the real marquis names in being able to go anywhere is Land Rover. That and I had never actually driven one, so I started looking for something beat, cheap, and British. Those are a series of statements that are bywords for reliability and quality — said no one ever.

Died in the Afternoon

Right away, I found one on the side of the road and knocked on the door. The owner said that it had some issues, and the price reflected that: a mere $1500. Normally, $1500 for something with leather seats, a V8, and a renowned 4WD system would be a screaming deal — that is, if you can get it to work. The owner said that he hadn’t run it in a while, but for the time that he had it it was his daily driver. He must not have owned it for very long, because it only had 99k miles on the odometer, which in retrospect probably didn’t work. Additionally, it looked like he had driven it into a lake given the amount of rust on the suspension components and musty, moldy smell of the interior.

Honestly, one of the things that has always drawn me to the older Discos is the looks. Yes, they are big, boxy people movers, but much like the Nissan Xterra, they look more capable than their contemporaries, even if they really aren’t. However, the Land Rover does have something that the Xterra doesn’t — some serious pedigree. However, pedigree doesn’t make a car run, because this one didn’t. It wouldn’t start or turn over. It had power, and that’s about it. Even after attempting a jump start, the lethargic 4×4 wouldn’t budge.

Dying is the Most Fun a Land Rover Can Have Without Leaving the Driveway

Undaunted, I started scouring the back end of our little app to see if there was anyone who could help me out. Immediately I found that all of our Land Rover guys were out in Buffalo and Albany. Seeing as that wasn’t going to fly, I remembered that BMW owned Land Rover for a short time. Unfortunately, they owned it later, taking over operations and giving them engines and transmissions in 2000. So this was a real, honest-to-God Rover, and seeing that we don’t get those in the United States, we didn’t have any Rover Techs.

Not wanting to waste any more of my afternoon, I thanked the owner and wished him the best of luck — right after putting his Disco on Surfwrench free of charge. I honestly expect to see this vehicle at the salvage yard shortly, because parts are not cheap and there is really any number of things that could have been wrong with it. They are notorious for very complicated electrical problems, and even using Surfwrench it would have cost much more to fix than the car was actually worth.

I Write Car Reviews, Not Tragedies

So there it is, a used car review without ever even driving the car — kind of a bummer because I was looking forward to driving one of the best names in the business of rugged 4WD.

Sending Your Kid Off to College?

Our App Gets Them There & Back Again

So, your child is going to college.

This often conjures up images of loading up the family car, and slowly unloading it in a non-parking spot on a warm early fall day in a small town that you have never even heard of. However, there are different options. More kids have their own cars these days, so they now have the option of bringing themselves. We just made a guide for students on weather or not to bring your car to campus, so now we’re going to tackle the other side of the equation.

Should you encourage your child to bring their car to campus? The short answer is yes, however there is a lot of uncertainty. Oftentimes, the car that your child uses is an older, higher mileage age vehicle. Oftentimes this means that it is less than reliable. Luckily for you, there is a new solution. Even if you are dropping your child in a strange land, there is a service that can get them home in one piece.

Surfwrench is a new crowdsourcing application that allows people to post their car, their car problems, and have local, independent technicians and auto repair shops bid on their work. They choose based on price, availability, and previous feedback- so they are always getting the most trustworthy technicians at the best price. This allows young people, especially broke college students to get to where they need to go with less drama, less hassle, less stress, and by paying less money. This service was built by college students, for college students- because we know that you need to get where you’re going and don’t necessarily want to spend all day on the phone figuring out how.

So…does your kid really need a car?handing over the keys

Do they need it? Are they going to be safe with it? Is it going to be wrecked? Is it going to be more trouble than it’s worth? These are all some of the common questions that the parents of incoming students have had. Once again, the answers are as diverse as the students.

Does your student need their car on campus? The most basic answer to this question is probably not. Odds are they can get around fairly well, and most colleges are extremely accommodating with their public transport. However, if you want them to be able to do thing on their own terms, a parking pass is a good back to school gift. One of our marketing operators had an interesting solution. “That is what my aunt did for my cousin every semester. He would buy books with his part time job savings, and my aunt would front a parking pass.”

Is your child going to be safe with a vehicle on campus? This depends entirely upon how they were with it while they were in high school. If they were reckless and foolish with a car while you had your eye on them, why would they act any differently when there is is less personal surveillance, and way harsher legal ramifications? Seriously, University Police and small town cops make their living off of careless college students. Conversely, if they are responsible drivers, this will allow them to go on great adventures and give you great stories for the Thanksgiving and Christmas family get togethers.

Is your child’s car going to get wrecked if they are driving it around campus? Yes. In our experience, a lot of the people on a college campus are in a major hurry. When you are in a major hurry in confined spaces, you’re going to run into stuff.

As our Marketing Director put it, “every single car that I had in college had dents from being backed into, bumped into, door dings, spray from plows, and a myriad of other body damage. But, that’s ok in my case, because I didn’t care. I never paid more than $1000 for any car that I had in college, so it was all good.” However, if you plan on sending them with something nice and newer, you might want to make sure that they’re not duking it out over on street parking — fork over a little cash for a parking pass.

Is having a car on a college campus more trouble than it’s worth? This is something that parking services will tell you is gospel, but don’t act so quickly. Having a car on campus is having the ability to have adventure at your right foot. It is also the ability to get home on your own terms. For many parents, this isn’t the first thing that they think of, but it is important. Having a car on campus for some students is a silent reminder that despite being quasi on their own, they still have the ability to return to something they find familiar. It also gives them the ability to do the right thing in being a designated driver, or visit friends and family not near enough to walk. Overall, despite the cost, most people that we have talked to who have brought their cars on campus have found that the benefits far outweigh the cost.

So overall, we feel that you should encourage your son or daughter to bring their car on campus. It will open many doors of friendship, employment, and adventure: which is what college is all about. Moreover, if your worried about them having problems with their car, there is now a simple and cost effective solution — your friends at Surfwrench. We keep college students on the road to success, and keep more of their precious few dollars in their pockets.