Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Another Day at the ice Capades

Well, the first day of Spring brought.....a snowstorm. Gotta love Indiana. As I drove across Indiana and into Ohio I saw lots of folks in the ditch or median. I even got a nice little scare when a U-Haul smacked the guardrail on the other side and then came across the median (fortunately he got it stopped just before he went English on me). That got me to thinking, my company just started using simulators to train drivers how to deal with skids, blowouts and such (stuff that isn't safe or economical to practice in real life), wouldn't it make sense to include such training in drivers ed classes? Either set up a central lab for the state and each school could take a one day field trip or use mobile labs and visit each school in the state. Of course while they're at it they should slip in a module about how to drive around trucks, but that's another story.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

An act of war?

ABC News: Iraq weapons: made in Iran?

March 6, 2006 — U.S. military and intelligence officials tell ABC News that they have caught shipments of deadly new bombs at the Iran-Iraq border.

They are a very nasty piece of business, capable of penetrating U.S. troops' strongest armor.

What the United States says links them to Iran are tell-tale manufacturing signatures — certain types of machine-shop welds and material indicating they are built by the same bomb factory.

"The signature is the same because they are exactly the same in production," says explosives expert Kevin Barry. "So it's the same make and model."

U.S. officials say roadside bomb attacks against American forces in Iraq have become much more deadly as more and more of the Iran-designed and Iran-produced bombs have been smuggled in from the country since last October.

So what are we going to do about it? Iran seems to be counting on its ability to incite an uprising in the Shiite south and its ability to shut down a massive portion of the world's oil flows to deter us from responding to this and to their rapid nuclear buildup. At some point in the not too distant future we are going to have to fish or cut bait. a) Either bail out of Iraq and let a nuclear armed Iran set up a Islamofascist thugocracy in Iraq, b) bail out of Iraq and then bomb the Iranians into the stone age and then have two countries in disarray (and not pumping oil) for the foreseeable future [which would sure make our good pals Hugo Chavez and the House of Saud happy]), or c) perhaps the worst of the alternatives try to hold Iraq and invade Iran (while praying that China and North Korea behave while we are thoroughly tied down for a decade) which may have an end result not far removed from a or b.

(h/t Patterico

Is the U.S. Heavy Truck market going the way of Europe?

MergerTalk: US truck engine makers near end of road?

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Caterpillar Inc. (CAT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) and Cummins Inc. (CMI.N: Quote, Profile, Research), the two big U.S. diesel engine manufacturers, are at a crossroads, bankers say.

The dilemma: To keep their heavy-duty truck engine operations rolling, will they need to align themselves more closely with a single domestic truck maker?

In Europe, the top manufacturers of heavy-duty trucks -- Sweden's Volvo Group, and Germany's DaimlerChrysler and MAN AG -- are vertically integrated, producing both the chassis and engine.

But in North America the industry is divided.

The European players, Volvo and DaimlerChrysler's Freightliner unit, have tried in recent years to impose their vertical template on the marketplace, encouraging customers accustomed to being able to order their trucks with outsiders' engines in them to go with in-house drivetrains instead.

But the two other big manufacturers, Bellevue, Washington-based Paccar Inc. (PCAR.O: Quote, Profile, Research) and Warrenville, Illinois-based Navistar (NAV.N: Quote, Profile, Research) -- continue to outsource their so-called Class 8 heavy-duty engines, primarily to Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar and Columbus, Indiana-based Cummins.

But a big change -- the kind that drives deal-making -- is afoot. The wheels were set in motion in late 2004, when Navistar, Cummins' key customer, announced plans to develop a new big-bore engine with MAN.

When Navistar announced the deal, says one banker, "it sent shivers through the Cummins organization."

PACCAR makes its own engines for the European market (it owns DAF, Leyland, and Foden in Europe as well as Kenworth and Peterbilt here in the U.S.), so they have a potential Euro source as well. Cummins has more to worry about because Caterpillar engines are seen as a premium product, so drivers and owners would probably change truck brands to have a CAT motor. So any maker that chose to drop CAT would have some lost sales and perhaps many lost sales for Peterbilt, which has a "Premium truck" image. Cummins motors are more fuel efficient but don't have as devoted of a following. Right now they are the sensible fuel economy and cost choice in an IH, Kenworth, or Pete; and an alternative to the expensive to maintain Volvo motor in a Volvo. Already the market is much more fenced off than the 60s to the 90s where at most manufacturers buyers could choose Cat, Cummins or Detroit power. Detroit diesel in a typical bit of short term thinking was sold off by GM right after developing the Series 60 engine, the best fleet motor on the market, to Penske. A few years later Penske sold Detroit to DaimlerChrysler and all of the manufacturers outside the DC portfolio (Freightliner, Western Star and Sterling [formerly Ford's heavy truck unit]) dropped Detroit engines from their options list.

Until the Euro emissions standards catch up with the US 2010 standard though I don't see PACCAR moving to bring their euro product here. IF they did, it would probably slot in as the standard motor in place of Cummins with Cat motors remaining the "step up" option. Navistar seems to be struggling right now so it is hard to tell how their joint venture will shake out. Americans have traditionally resisted European diesels because of high parts costs and unfamiliarity (DC also offers Mercedes diesels in their heavy truck products but they haven't found a large following),