The Best of France and Italy Car Show

The drive into Van Nuys… ah like totally in the valley… for the Best of France and Italy Car Show wasn’t particularily hot on this November 1st morning but it was still only ten o’clock. The things I hate most about car shows in California is how hot it gets by mid-day. Should I wear shorts, pants, maybe jeans and a t-shirt, big hat for the sun, baseball hat, tennis shoes, flip flops. What’s a boy to do? We drove in a classic 1958 Desoto with big fins, big bench vinyl seats and big windows. Big glorious windows that let the wind smooth out your hat-head hair for a bit cool. But the vinyl seats, well, they just make your butt sweat.

Everyone keeps talking about this show. “There is always something unique, it’s not your typical.”

No. 11 of 40 mdade, 1 of 2 in the US

Everyone was right. We kept running into Mark Vaughn from AutoWeek at these shows. He was putting together a story while claiming to be wasting his time on a Sunday to keep his job. 50% of which is probably true. He left us to go find the guy who runs the show for some fabled quotes about “how much it keeps expanding year over year” and “how proud we are of the turnout.” Morgan Seagal, photographer for Car and Driver, rallied for the cause while Jay Leno brought one of the most expensive Bugattis in existence. Everyone of these collectors who showed their cars, like the yellow 1996 DeTomaso Guara — one of 40 made and the last DeTomaso produced before the company’s demise, challenged the guy next to him for one-offness. The Guara had a 4.6 liter V8 producing 370hp, a 6-speed transmission and weighed only 2,550 pounds.

Shade was our friend as the time passed on to noon and later. Dust was not. Mud being the alternative, I’m happy to get dusty but the cars and their owner’s probably not so much. Jay’s car, you can see Jay just above the front wheel, had sweeping marks from wet wiping the car before driving it out to the featured display area. Photographer’s and fans mobbed the car kicking up more dust. I was fortunate to snap this photo as the car drove in before it was surrounded. It’s nearly impossible to get a beauty shot of these cars without some guy pushing a stroller in front of you.

Most noted car at the show? The black Tatra. Tatra is a vehicle manufacturer in Kopřivnice (Nesselsdorf in German), Czech Republic. The company was founded in 1850 as Schustala & Company later renamed Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriksgesellschaft, a wagon and carriage manufacturer, and in 1897 produced the first motor car in central Europe, the Präsident. In 1918 it changed its name to Kopřivnická vozovka a.s. and in 1919 started to use Tatra badge named after the nearby Tatra mountains. Tatra is the third oldest car maker in the world after Daimler Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot. Production of Tatra cars ceased in 1999 but the company still produces a range of primarily all-wheel-drive 4×4, 6×6, 8×8, 10×10, and 12×12 trucks.

Tatra’s specialty was luxury cars of a technically advanced nature, going from aircooled flat-twins to fours and sixes, culminating (briefly) with the OHC 6 litre V12 in 1931.[1] In the 1930s, under Austrian engineer Hans Ledwinka, his son Erich and German engineer Erich Übelacker and protected by a high tariff and absence of foreign assemblers,[2] Tatra then began building advanced, streamlined cars after obtaining licences from Paul Jaray, which started in 1934 with the large Tatra T77, the world’s first production aerodynamic car. The fastback T77’s drag coefficient of 0.212 is rarely bettered even by the sleekest of modern cars. It featured (as did almost all subsequent big Tatras) a rear-mounted, air-cooled V8 engine, which was in technical terms very sophisticated for the time.
Ledwinka discussed his ideas with Ferdinand Porsche who used many Tatra design features in the 1938 Kdf-Wagen, later known as the VW Beetle. This is particularly evident when compared with the smaller T97 model which had a rear-mounted, air-cooled, flat-4 engine and rounded body styling. Tatra immediately started legal action, but the matter was not resolved until 1961 when Volkswagen was ordered to pay 3,000,000 Deutsche Marks in damages. — Wikipedia

We stood under a tree while part of our group milled around the show. Concorso Italiano gave me a fill of the Fiat and Alfa groups although I’m sure I missed something.. like sweating more in the sun… I enjoyed chatting at that point more. In the end, these shows are as much about the cars as learning from the people who love them.

Are Stick Shifts Dead?

Interview December 2007

Hybrid electric cars, emission controls and traffic are all to blame.  But why Jay Leno thinks something else is at fault.

Can’t find ‘em grind ‘em
Where would we be without stick shifts? 

For the enthusiast, there may be nothing more satisfying than dropping the clutch for a thrilling launch, all four limbs motoring about in synchronicity as you counter steer the burn out — clutch — shift — then hit the gas on your way to triple digits. 

For the habitual A-to-B driver, there may be nothing more frustrating than trying to let the clutch out slowly, maintaining engine revs by RPMs not pedal placement, as your bobble-head passenger wonders how many years just got burned off their clutch disc.  God forbid you ever encounter a hill.

AutoPacific, an automotive research and consulting firm, says the 90% of the U.S. car market is comprised of automatics.  Ninety percent.  Nine zero.  If I brought that number home on a school paper, it would end up on the fridge.   Does anyone see what’s happening?  The man is phasing out stick shifts.  The only people who order manual transmissions are immigrants with D-paper living the American debt dream and a few obsessed car guys.  

Sure, we could blame ourselves and say that global warming is making us push manufacturers to higher CAFE standards and tighter emissions controls.  And what better way to achieve that then through automatic transmissions that gives engineers the ultimate engine management controls?  If we are talking about hybrids, an electric motor has 100% of the torque from a dead stop.  Engineers don’t even need a gearbox.  And speaking of gearbox, who wants to shift one constantly during rush hour?  Ask a BMW dealer in Southern California to test drive a manual and they’ll tell you “I can order one for ya, it’ll take about eight weeks.” Well then, aren’t we living in a geographical oddity.

We interview Jay Leno, maybe “The” obsessed car guy, and ask him with all of these factors pushing us to just select “D”, are stick shifts dead?

Leno: I think what’s happening is you have a whole generation of kids who grew up without them.  I talked to someone who bought an SLR McLaren and I used to have an SLR McLaren.  We started talking and I asked, well, do you like it? 

He said, “Well yeah I love it, it’s an automatic.  I don’t drive a stick”.  

And that’s the reason I don’t like mine.  Today I was just driving my ’64 Honda 600 which has got 57 horsepower and a 4-speed.  You’ve really got to make the gearbox work but that’s the fun.  It almost seems to me in an era when cars are becoming so fast that to get any sensation out of them at all, you have to be physically involved.

Leno:  The reason I bought the Porsche Carerra GT was primarily because Porsche spent a great deal of time and effort developing the six-inch ceramic clutch.  Just putting all the time and effort into a new type of clutch and gearbox to lower the center of gravity.  I was so impressed with them not going the easy route of paddle shifters.

You know the funny thing is, I talked to guys who have the 430 Ferrari and they go,

“Oh, it’s got the F1 gearbox just like the F1.” 

And I say, do you like it? 

And they go “well it’s not as much fun as a stick but you know this is what the F1 technology guys use and this is what they use at the race track.” 

But you’re not at the racetrack. 

“Well, uh yeah.”

The most fun with cars is in the 60-100 mile per hour range.  Nobody’s running 188 or 207 on the street and if you are you should be in jail.  But most guys are running 60 to 100.  And to me, the fun of executing a perfect downshift or up-shift is very gratifying.  Especially when you use old pre-war boxes like the old Bentley’s I’ve got.

MCM:  You started out by talking about the young people, the younger generation.  Is it they just aren’t being taught how to drive a stick? 

Leno:  I’m 57 years old so I grew up in a time when the car wouldn’t start.  So my dad and I would open up the hood and I’d go, what’s that?  He’d say “those are the points.  Let me show how to clean them, let me show you how to set them.”   There was a more physical involvement with the car.  Plus in the era when I grew up, automatic transmissions were an expensive option.  So your dad got like the Ford LTD and your mom got the Falcon with the stick.  That’s the way it was back in the day but now everybody buys automatics.

I think there will always be a certain market for it.  I remember back in the 80’s, Taurus came out with the Taurus SHO and that came with a five speed and I think that less then 3% of people actually opted for the stick.

MCM:  Do you think that we’ll be paying for a stick shift as an option and automatics will become the standard?

Leno:  Oh sure, on the Ferrari Scuderia, they don’t even have a stick shift.  There is no stick shift available.  Yeah, I think the stick will become an option.   You know I drove one of those E-gear Lamborghinis.


We pause for a moment as Jay takes a call on his cell phone to wish somebody a Merry Christmas.


Leno:  Back to the E-gear, I drove one of those and I hated it.   To turn around you gotta stop, put your foot on the brake, wait for it to beep twice, press the R button, back up, stop, take your foot, you know…  I like the old days of rocking it back and forth.  As you’re rollin’ your kinda slipping it in reverse and all in one motion you back up.

 How many gears before we stop adding?

Leno:  You always want to have your car in the power band but at some point it becomes a marketing tool.  You know Mercedes has got the seven-speed transmission and then Lexus comes out with the eight, and people go ooh eight, give me the eight.

MCM:  Do you think it will go past six speeds in a manual?

Leno:  Six is about right.  I’ve got a little Rocket, an English car.  It’s got 12 speeds, basically six high and six low.   It pretty much what the public dictates but six seems about right.

MCM:  The other half of Motor Car Market is stick shift and rear-wheel drive.  What are your thoughts on rear-wheel drive?

Leno:  Rear wheel drive is coming back.  It’s hard to sell a high end car with front wheel drive.  People just don’t seem to like it.  It’s for packaging in econo-boxes.  Cadillac has gone back to rear-wheel drive.  I prefer it myself because I like to slide a car a little bit.  That’s half the fun, sliding it around. 


We couldn’t agree more.  Thank you Jay.

Tesla Motors, Where’s the Car Guy?

Originally Published 2008

Tech guys may be able to build a fast electric sports car, but what do they know about running a car company?

Tesla Motors captured the environmentally conscious car market when the tree hugger talk turned from transportation to tuner toys. An all electric sports car that can do 0-60 in 4 seconds built on a stretched Lotus Elise was just what Prius posers needed.

After delays that have pushed production into 2008, we decided to take a look at the make up of Tesla Motors and talk with Joe Powers about the future of Tesla.

MCM: After reading through your board and team members, we’ve noticed that no one has direct car industry experience such as, running a dealership or working at a manufacturer with responsibilities in distribution, service, sales or marketing (except for Malcolm Powell who managed vehicle development at Lotus). While you are hiring engineers in Detroit, what are your plans for automotive experts who come from the car business?

Powers: As we grow as a company we’ll increasingly attract world-class talent from the automotive world. When we begin delivering and servicing vehicles next year and manufacturing on a larger scale in the coming years, we expect to bring more automotive experience into the fold. We’ve set out to do things on a very different path than have established manufacturers, so hiring a broad base of skill-sets and backgrounds has helped that creative development. There is no doubt that the industry contains valuable practices, and we’ll bring those resources on as we continue to innovate towards a new type of company and customer experience.

MCM: Who currently or in the future is handling the overall marketing and positioning of the company and what are the goals?

Powers: Darryl Siry is Vice President of Marketing, Sales and Service. Marketing goals closely tie into the design, performance and efficiency philosophy of the company, and branding decisions are made within those paradigms.

MCM: Tesla Motors adopted the 2-seater roadster style setup for your introductory vehicle. Other start up car companies such as Saturn, Kia, even Toyota and now the Chinese electric companies like BYD Auto planned market entrance with larger or sedan type vehicles.

Given that funding a new automotive start up is estimated in the billions, can you talk more about the reasoning behind that approach for the electric market and how you feel that approach sets the tone for future models like the White Star or Blue Star?

Powers: There’s no doubt that the auto industry presents huge barriers to entry. We’ve also got the added costs of R&D for a whole new technology in our proprietary electric drive components. As a result, entering the market from the high end with initially low volumes makes a lot of sense. Our three company tenants are design, performance and efficiency. We are positioned to offer best-in-class vehicles in each of these categories, and the Roadster embodies that philosophy. Future models, including the White Star sedan, will follow that trend while serving progressively lower price points at higher volumes as marginal costs are reduced.

MCM: At a $50,000 price point for the White Star, what type of vehicle will it be. Will it be built on it’s own platform or a shared venture?

Powers: Our goals for White Star are lower price and higher volume. The vehicle will be a 4-door, 5-passenger sedan, but beyond that it is too early for manufacturing details to be finalized. We’ll announce any new information on our website as it is released.

MCM: While an IPO has been mentioned, will that fund the future vehicle development or are their new raises coming to do that before an IPO?

Powers: We are discussing our fund raising strategy currently, but no formal plans have been established. We have raised $105 million from private investment to date and have no firm plans for an IPO at this time.

MCM: Currently your service zones are are in SF, LA, NY, Chicago and Miami. Are those Tesla owned facilities or contracted service centers?

Powers: These are locations where we plan to establish Tesla Stores, which provide sales and service capacity to customers. The Tesla Stores will resemble a branded retail experience similar to an Apple store rather than the traditional dealership showroom. We have two facilities on track to open in early 2008 in Menlo Park, CA and Los Angeles.

MCM: Where and how do you see the expansion of those services
and sales zones growing?

Powers: Our goal is to provide a comprehensive and innovative customer experience nation-wide. From our initial locations we’ll expand to provide more convenient coverage.

MCM: The manufacturing process is really quite a dirty one. What can you tell me about the carbon footprint of these cars before they save on emissions?

Powers: Machining parts for cars is resource-intensive. Where we can find efficiencies in the manufacturing process, we try to employ them; our Yokohama Advan tires were selected not only because of their performance and low-rolling resistance, but also because Yokohama produces the tires through an innovative zero-waste process; by using lithium ion battery cells, we gain the high energy density advantages, but also avoid the presence of heavy metals found in other chemistries; our battery pack is highly recyclable, from the steel cell casing to the lithium and cobalt contained within each cell. The casing for the battery pack is design to be able to be re-used.

MCM: Do you have breakdowns of recycled materials? What do you do at the company itself to remain green?

Powers: We have an internal green initiative that has been established to keep our corporate practices in line with our greater mission of efficiency. Currently, we are working to develop more sustainable transportation incentives for employees and reduce office waste.

MCM: It’s been noted that you are planning to grow from 300 to 3000 employees. In what capacity are the employees going to be hired?

Powers: No official ramp has been set for growth, but we expect to maintain a healthy hiring rate.

MCM: Do you see a strong base in Detroit? How about LA?

Powers: Detroit has some great resources, and we do intend to continue to build our Rochester Hills based organization with that talent. Los Angeles is also a very large market for us and will increase once we establish a permanent location there early next year.

Press Release November 28, 2007

Tesla Motors Completes CEO Search

A Message from Elon Musk, Chairman of Tesla Motors:

For the past several months, the board of Tesla Motors has been engaged in a search for the right person to lead the company through its next phase of growth. During the search, we met with many candidates from a wide range of backgrounds, including both the automotive and high-tech sectors.

Given what Tesla needs to accomplish, the ideal CEO is someone that understands the automotive sector, but also has a proven entrepreneurial and high-tech track record. Advancing our leading electric drivetrain technology is critical, but, above all, the Tesla CEO must be someone who will ensure that the products we deliver to customers are outstanding.

To that end, it is with great pleasure that I announce that Ze’ev Drori will become CEO of Tesla Motors, effective December 3rd.

Ze’ev is a successful high-tech entrepreneur and an experienced chief executive with the proven ability to create and manage companies with innovative products in both the high-tech and automotive sectors. He has more than 30 years of continual success and has demonstrated the ability to lead a company from conception to profitability, a public offering and thousands of employees.

The first company he founded was Monolithic Memories, a Silicon Valley semiconductor firm that pioneered fundamental advances in memory and logic technology, before being acquired by AMD in 1987. Under his leadership, Monolithic introduced programmable read-only memory (PROM) and programmable array logic (PAL), which revolutionized many aspects of computer and electronic systems technology. As CEO through 1981, Ze’ev was responsible for R&D, manufacturing, marketing, finance, world wide sales and overseas operations for product assembly. Ze’ev served as chairman of the board from 1981 through 1987.

After the sale of Monolithic Memories, Ze’ev purchased a controlling interest in Clifford Electronics, then a small start-up in auto security systems and the perfect combination of his twin passions for technology and automobiles. As chairman and CEO, he rapidly developed Clifford into the world’s leading automobile security company through significant innovations, such as remote control alarms, and distribution relationships with domestic and international car manufacturers as well as a network of thousands of retail dealers. In 1999, Ze’ev sold Clifford Electronics to Allstate Insurance.

I would like to thank Michael Marks for his leadership of Tesla Motors as interim CEO for the last few months. Michael’s experience with manufacturing and logistics has been very valuable for the company as it prepares to enter production of the Tesla Roadster. As an investor and customer, Michael will continue to be involved in Tesla.