Half The Story

In “Reinvent Product Planning” ( see WAW — July '06, p.48), columnist Jerry Flint offers Ford advice on product planning. In one instance, it seems he enjoys comparing apples to oranges when discussing assembly plant efficiencies within the auto industry. He starts his lecture on the topic of assembly plants — mainly building vs. remodeling, with some historical data to support the latter.

Flint's advice to Ford is to keep his favorite plant, Atlanta Assembly, rather than build new plants in Mexico. After all, Atlanta Assembly is “old, but those people know how to build cars.” He then tries to sway readers by giving us half the truth, stating the Harbour Report ranked it “the most efficient plant in North America, better than Toyota or Honda.”

Sure, Atlanta Assembly did earn the No.1 spot, but is it worth bragging the Ford plant supplies Enterprise and Avis with their most popular rental car? Can you really compare the assembly time of an option-less, design-frozen Taurus to America's best-selling Camry? Which would you think is more complicated to screw together?

I'd hope Ford, with its vast historical knowledge of mass production, would be able to pump out these rentals in an efficient manner. And I hope readers take time to investigate the similarities, or, rather, the differences between apples and oranges.
Mark R Holbrook
Detroit, MI

E85 Reality

John McElroy seems to have been a bit too enthusiastic in “Our E85 Insurance Policy” ( see WAW — July '06, p.13). One of the things overlooked in the media is the fact fuel economy with ethanol is less than with gasoline — 30%-50%, depending on whom you reference. The cost of ethanol actually has to be much lower than the 20% figure noted, especially if E85 is being used. The advantage of using ethanol may be a reduced dependence on foreign oil. But until the cost per gallon drops significantly, there is little economic benefit.

In addition, if E85 usage is encouraged, the demand will increase the price of ethanol, as well.

I agree if we can reduce the amount of imported oil the price should drop, but to do so would require a sufficient supply of ethanol, without making us dependent on another kind of foreign import. Also, what about food production? If the agriculture industry decides alcohol feedstocks are more profitable than food, do we then become more dependent upon imported foods?

Personally, I'd like to see nuclear- or solar-powered desalinization plants that could provide fresh water, while also electrolyzing it to make hydrogen, which could then be used in a variety of ways.
Dave Telling
Carson City, NV

Cornbelt Ethanol Fan

I agree completely with Drew Winter's “More Carrot, Less Stick” ( see WAW — June '06 p.3). I'm not exaggerating when I say just about everyone I know here in rural Iowa fills up with 10% ethanol gasoline. One might think we are supporting the local corn producers or taking a stand on foreign oil dependence, but those benefits are just coincidental.

The bottom line is the state subsidizes ethanol, and consequently gasoline blended with 10% ethanol is almost always a few cents per gallon cheaper than pure gasoline. E85 is even cheaper yet and available at most filling stations around here.
Jared J. Birk
Sioux Center, IA

What's In A Gear?

After reading Mr. Flint's “Auto Makers or Burial Societies?” ( see WAW — May '06, p.48), I have a question for him: If the 4-speed automatic transmission works just as well as the 5-, 6-, 7- and 8-speeds he mentions — that is, the car drives just as smoothly, with the same acceleration, gets equal fuel economy and doesn't create any more emissions — then why would he care?

Is he trying to tell us that people buy cars based on how many gears the automatic transmission has? Perhaps his next column could explain exactly the benefit of an 8-speed automatic and how GM's investment in one instead of addressing fundamental problems will turn the company around.
Jon Ball
Farmington Hills, MI

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