Thursday, August 20, 2009

GM's Design Lab: Maybe Too Little, Way Too Late

From the "billions too little, decades too late" archives, GM has decided to open up a public-facing "design lab" so that the public can look under the hood at their design process, according to Mediabistro's Steve Delahoyde.

This could have been a great way to offer the buying public some transparency into all the planning and costs built into the price tag of your favorite Chevy, GMC Truck or Buick, had it come earlier. We've been well-versed for years in the role that union health care costs (as an example) play in causing the Big 3 to lose money on every vehicle, but the role that design and marketing costs play has been glossed over until far too recently.

So this effort to show how such breathtaking models as the Buick Century come to fruition smells a bit of an attempt to persuade buyers that the design process at GM is as lean and collaborative as it would be at the supposedly imminent generation of small, independent automakers (of which, only two - Tesla and Fisker - come to mind. But there is hope in the Progressive Automotive X-Prize, as Joseph White of the WSJ reported in April, spurring such small-team innovation.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Time Inc. Buys a $99k Home in Detroit

Bill McGraw of the Motor City Journal reports on Time Inc.'s purchase of a Parker Avenue home in Detroit for $99,000. The home (which sold for $252,000 a few years ago but has been for sale for two years now) will be the base of operations for some serious storytelling in the magazine publisher's portfolio of magazines, which range from the flagship Time to Sports Illustrated to This Old House.

This is an impressive angle to me for several reasons:

I love that it blurs the lines between residence and commerce. Setting up operations in a home is not a new idea, of course, but if the neighbors don't mind, it's an innovative way to get on the scene. Another example: a few years ago, and I can't find the link, I read about a Boston PR firm that had set up a summer house on the ocean as a sort of live showcase for new consumer brands, inviting waves of journalists to spend the weekend there.

This is also quite an investment for a publisher right now, considering the state of print. Sure, $99,000 is a modest NYC salary and they apparently paid cash. But in a time where many publishers are laying off people, cutting resources, and doing everything they can to find a workable business model - and Time itself closed its Detroit bureau about ten years ago - this is a considerable investment to be on the scene.

And finally, it illuminates not just the dire condition of Detroit's economy, but the national interest in doing something about it. If journalists believe one thing, it's that by telling stories in vivid, lifelike detail, they can make a difference by raising awareness. So it's a good sign that Time is coming to the neighborhood.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fuzzy (but good) MPG Math

Not sure what to make of the math in calculating the gas mileage of the new electric plug-in powered Chevy Volt, per this CNN Money story by Peter Valdes-Dapena. Alternative automotive technologies and fuels is sure to be another favorite topic at the Toledo Rust Removal Company, especially due to the number of available resources (i.e. unemployed automotive talent) in our hometown and that little city just to the north, Detroit. It's my belief that Detroit should move QUICKLY to attract and/or incubate as many alternative fuel start-ups as quickly as possible while doing anything to support production of similar efforts by the Big 3- such as the Volt.

Anyway, the math is actually sound: since the Volt gets 40 miles out of its 10 kwh electric charge (costing about $.40), and only then starts using its fuel reserves. Since, after 50 miles, the car will have only used .2 gallons, we land at this very attractive MPG of 230. Its great for marketing, and even though it seems doubtful that will be the final number on the sticker, its a nice twist in the evolution of the key metric in the future of automotive: Miles Per Gallon.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Toledo + Solar: Looking Back to Look Ahead

To kick things off, I'm going into the Wall Street Journal's archives for a Jim Carlton story I read in December, 2007.

Toledo Finds the Energy to Reinvent Itself

Desperate pun aside, there's a reason I bookmarked this story 18 months ago and have re-read it since as I keep up on news of Toledo + Solar (a long, slow courtship): I like it.

It's positive, it's optimistic, and it's out of date now, in a good way.

To really speculate whether Toledo has a chance to be a Solar Center, you'd have to know way more about the types of solar technologies being developed and manufactured in Toledo and elsewhere than I currently do. We'll get to some of that; I predict solar will be mentioned often on these pages.

But for now we keep it simple with a few and Optimistic facts:
  • At the time of this story, First Solar was already manufacturing in Perrysburg
  • Solar Fields had already been acquired by a German company
  • Xunlight, which spun out of UT, was already being looked at as a major horse in the race
  • Willard & Kelsey, our new favorite start-up, wasn't even being mentioned yet
We'll get deeper on the prospects of each venture as a NW Ohio presence, but for now we'll leave it at this, one of the early stories that got us talking about the future of Toledo business: if you look at the commercial makeup of regions that have been able to thrive and sustain, one argument is that its best to have a cluster of emerging companies in a common industry

(Side ramble: while it's arguable that the Toledo/Detroit corridor once thrived on the automotive industry largely because one single entrepreneurial man named Henry decided to set up his new-fangled "assembly line" in DTW, a look back at the history of all related industries, from the rubber & tire dynasties of Akron to the steel makers of Cleveland and Pittsburgh to the glass & components companies of T-Town, shows this wasn't really the case.)

So it is that we start this Rust Removal Company with the optimistic note that there are already several interesting businesses in one technology cluster hard at work at calling Toledo home.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Welcome to The Toledo Rust Removal Company

Our blog is a collective effort of several NW Ohio natives now geographically disbursed but equally interested in the economic health of our home region.

Please check here often for news and updates and our take on the good things happening with the communities, businesses, leaders, and people that make up the Toledo area.