Ramblings for Feb. 14, 2000

February 14, 2000

Underdogs rule at Daytona’s 24 hours

 The whole world loves the underdog, and great drama accompanies the triumph of an unexpected winner. A few times in the history of 24-hour races a car from one of the lesser classes has won overall, but in the past those victories have been diminished by small fields, quirky rules or other circumstances.

The victory of the Dodge Vipers in the 2000 Daytona Rolex 24-hour race, beating the best pure racers such as Ferrari, was based almost solely on their superior performance and reliability. Fully a quarter of the field was filled with the more exotic prototype designs, but accidents and mechanical failure left the production-based Vipers in front. Remarkably, the Vipers’ competition at the end came from the factory Corvette team, barely in its second year, while the brand new Cadillac prototypes outlasted their more experienced competitors. The margin of victory was an astounding half-minute after a full day of racing. The Viper has won its class at Le Mans the last two years, and with the addition of the ‘Vettes and Cadillac team, plus the Ford-powered Panoz cars, this year's French 24-hour event will get extra attention in the U.S. media.

Net fallout from NADA

Among American retailers, there is no group as resistant to change as U.S. auto dealers. I defy you to name any other commodity that we buy the same way today as we did fifty years ago . . . or twenty years ago ... or even ten. If the most recent National Auto Dealers’ Association convention didn't point the way to the future, these guys need a wake up call. The Internet is going to be a large part of the process, and that does not mean just having a Web site. Once vendors at the show mainly offered shop equipment; then it was computer-based accounting and management systems; this year the display area was full of folks trying to sign up dealers for their Internet sales networks.

If they need more of a nudge, Ford provided it this week when they announced a plan to offer all employees worldwide a home computer, printer and unlimited Internet access for no more than $5 a month. These systems are for the entire family's use, and will not be restricted or monitored, but are likely to be used to disseminate corporate info via e-mail.

The underlying effect is getting a large segment of the public completely connected to modern technology, and it harkens back to when Henry Ford I raised the base factory worker pay to the unheard-of level of $5 a day. By doing so he insured a stable work force, but also created a working middle class that could afford his products, thus reshaping the U.S. transportation scheme. Linking a large segment of the public to the Net will accelerate the move to electronic retailing.

Ford is committed to getting a competitive edge through innovative partnerships. They are using UPS Logistics Group to get vehicles from plants to dealers and customers in 40 percent of the time. Through Vehix.com, Ford Motor Credit is offering online financing. Ford is using Bolt Inc. to get insights into the interests and needs of more than 3 million teens. TeleTech Holdings will consolidate Ford's worldwide network of customer-contact centers. Oracle is managing auto-xchange, an e-business integrated supply chain speeding up dealings with Ford vendors. Barnes & Noble (www.bn.com) introduced the "Mercury Sable Independent Thinkers" book series.

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