Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cadillacs! Corvette Coupes! And Custom Cycles!

Our eldest daughter, Anna, is in the market for a new vehicle. She’s been talking to us for the past few months and now it’s getting serious. She has been driving a Honda Accord now for many years and it’s as much about getting something new, and better suited to her current needs, as it’s about dumping the Accord.


She bought the Accord when she had no pets, and lived in California. Now she has a Greyhound dog, lives in Colorado, and has to deal with all four seasons. While I have been a party to the exchanges with her mother, this weekend she came to me with a short list of candidates. I drive an older Cadillac SUV but unfortunately, with all its creature comforts, it is a bit overweight. While I don’t like to see the register clicking over each time I pump gas, I wouldn’t have made it through the blizzards of ’06 without all three tons of this heavy metal behemoth!

So how could I not go back into the showrooms to take a look at the new models? It must be Spring! Anna wants some separation between herself and her dog. She would really like something better suited to the climate, and so a smaller 4X4 comes to mind. But with today’s gas prices, the big SUV is just not an option for her, and perhaps hybrids may be the right way to go.

But where do you go to for advice and who do you really trust, particularly when family members may have prejudices?

Corvette Coupes!

As I was thinking about this on my way to the car lot, a car pulled up next to me and blew its horn - it was a similar car to the ragtop coupe I was driving. The driver called to me “do you live here?” When I responded that yes, I do, the driver responded “would you like to start a car club with me, for this model – they are so much fun! Call me, I work for the local Chamber of Commerce and my name is Susan!” And then, off she went. I love coupes – particularly Corvettes, whether Targas, or Convertibles – but there’s always compromises when driving these cars as the characteristics I get excited about often annoy my passengers. I can tell that the trade-off that I have made, for the sake of performance, really isn’t appreciated by everyone.

I used to be a regular visitor to the auto shows, and each year I would look forward to them. My brother and I went to the show in Sydney during the ‘80s, and when I lived in London, I took the tube to Earl’s Court for the London Car Show in 1975. I was never hesitant in approaching the manufacturers to talk about their latest offerings or to talk with other attendees about which car we would really like to own. These big events offer the manufacturers the opportunity to roll-out concept cars and to gauge their popularity. And the enormous increases in horsepower of today’s sports cars has been in response to the fascination of today’s baby boomers with the sports cars of their youth – but now with airbags, carbon-ceramic breaks, and dual-clutch “automatic” manuals!

Yes, there’s specialty clubs and associations for select and mostly up-market, expensive, marques - is there a community we could tap into for real-world experience with the type of vehicles Anna is considering?

Custom Cycles!

More recently, I attended the Denver Motorcycle Show to check out the latest offerings and to catch up with some of the dealers I know. I even ran into a fellow ITUG member as I sat astride a new bike. The move by many Motorcycle manufacturers into the market segment now being called “manufactured customs” has been materially influenced by the crowds surrounding the current crop of specialty bike builders - and the Discovery Channel has a lot to answer for! The picture I have included here is of the custom cruiser owned by Ron Thompson of CAIL and it’s a Titan Softail Chopper with a beefy S&S OEM 113 cubic-inch power-plant! I have lightly customized two production cruisers already but the extra money needed to get them looking and working just right pushes me into maintenance that becomes incredibly expensive over time. Nothing is ever just right, and has to be upgraded or, more often, simply thrown away.

But as I read the magazines and look at the letters they publish, and as I surf the Internet and scan the blogs that are posted, much of the innovation for custom cars and bikes is happening locally in the suburbs, far removed from these big events. While I don’t particularly care for every trend I see (no, I just don’t get car “drifting”, or am I particularly excited by motorcycle “stoppies”) there’s no question that some of the trends that emerge from these local communities do influence the mainstream of car and bike manufacturers. And for that reason, they remain an extremely important faction across the industry.

Do we run the risk of walking into groups on the bleeding edge, where “extreme machines” dominate – are we to be cautious about the communities we join?

Readers who regularly log onto this blog are aware that I have a fondness for anything with engines and wheels. Whether a car or a motorcycle, they hold a fascination for me that I have harbored since my youth. It was on a family vacation to the northern Australian state of Queensland, and to its famous Gold Coast, when the car bug first bit. I wasn’t yet in high school when we drove up the New England Highway, west of the Great Divide, I watched the first E-Type Jaguar I had ever seen race past us. I will always remember the sight and sound of that car, and the excitement I felt as I found that very same car parked at a vacation home just around the corner from our hotel.

I have much the same love affair with user group events as I have with car shows. The Las Vegas HP Technical Forum and Expo (HPTF&E) will open its doors shortly, with the big European event scheduled for later in the year. These are spectacular events attracting most of HP’s executives. Last year, we heard from Mark Hurd, Ann Livermore, Randy Mott, Martin Fink, and many others - unfiltered, live, and very topical - talking about issues we were all facing at that time. I really look forward to participating in these events as it does give me the opportunity to talk with the developers about their newest products – not unlike the way I check out the latest cars and bikes!

Last week I attended the local RUG meeting outside of Denver – put on by the members of RMTUG. Next week I will be in Phoenix for DUST. And earlier this year, I attended SATUG. I have also attended other user group events, the ACI ACE Focus meeting in Omaha being the most recent and I will follow up shortly by attending the EBUG meeting in Vienna. Just the week before HPTF&E, there will be the major user event of my own company, GoldenGate, in San Francisco, where I hope to catch up with many of you. As much as I enjoy the big events, I continue to come away impressed by the quality of the turn out at these local regional gatherings.

When regional groups get together, the topics are focused on the real issues these users face daily, and while they don’t ignore the broader industry perspective, they want to drill down into the details specific to their issues. Ask any of these participants what they think of a deployment or of a new feature-set, and you will instantly tap into a wealth of real-world experience. And solutions that are just too bloated or costly, those that offer blinding performance but with many critical features missing or only available as part of a service offering, as well as those that require a lot of “assembling” with serious ongoing maintenance issues, are quickly discarded.

I have a really good idea on the type of car our eldest daughter would like to buy – and I understand why she is as interested in some cars and not others. Cadillacs are just too big and a little out of sync with the environment! Corvettes just aren’t that practical for transporting big dogs! And Custom Cycles are for her parents! Perhaps I should check and see if there’s a local owners group for the vehicle she’s interested – perhaps all the Greyhound owners have a preference for a certain make and model.

One day I will get to see another London or Genève car show, with the same level of excitement that always overtakes me as I prepare for the big user summits, but you know, having local folks sharing the same interests I have is just as valuable and often, far more practical and relevant. And no matter how successful and informative the premier events for our community become, it will always be the local RUG meetings that keep me connected with the issues of the day!

Maybe I should give Susan, at the local Chamber of Commerce, a call back. Perhaps it would be fun to join a group of folks that get as much fin from their car as I do!


Anna said...

How can you post a picture of your fine-tuned racing machine and not post one of mine? It's shameful really! ;)

Wil said...

Good to see you enjoying yourself and using it to make a point.

Also, I like the 'cartoon" of you.

See you at ITUG soon.