Suzuki Grand Vitara – The “Soft Roader” Gets Serious

The cheeky little Suzuki Vitara was once very popular and especially appealed to younger drivers. I remember college kids who had a bit of money used to buy them and then “pimp” them up to the required standard which usually consisted of enormously oversized wheels and tyres accompanied by some kind of amusing spare wheel cover on the back. Then there was the obligatory sound system which emitted a blue incandescent glow and of course needed to be pumping out the latest hip-hop tune.

I’m not sure what the Suzuki executives back in Japan would have made of all this. I guess they would have just been glad of the sales but for whatever reason the plug was pulled on the Vitara and Suzuki concentrated its efforts on the higher spec Grand Vitara instead. Suzuki must have been aware that along with other baby off-roaders such as the Toyota Rav 4 for example, their cars were rarely used off-road (the cheaper Jimny was always the more favoured mud-plugger) popular with farmers and safari parks alike. I remember when my car broke down in the lion enclosure at Longleat safari park and I was saved from becoming an appetiser by a man in a zebra striped Jimny.

The motoring expression “soft roader” was born out of a desire by people to drive vehicles that were designed for off-road conditions but ended up in our towns and cities. It still provokes a heated debate amongst those in favour and those who are opposed to such behaviour.

Unperturbed though by the anti- 4×4 lobby Suzuki introduced an all new Grand Vitara in 2005 and I recently decided to have a closer inspection of one at a cheap Suzuki dealer.

This third generation model is quite a step up from the model it replaced. It is stylish, better to drive, and compares well on price and specification to models offered by Kia, Hyundai and Nissan.

There are two petrol engines a 1.6 VVT with 105bhp and a 140bhp 2.0-litre petrol. Both offer adequate performance and cruise well at speed, but can suffer from a lack of pulling power between 30-60mph, which can make overtaking a drawn-out affair. A 1.9 DDiS diesel, supplied by Renault, with 130bhp became available from late-2005.

The steering is sharp and body roll is much more under control when cornering, even at speed. The brakes are positive and responsive. As with most off-road vehicles the gear change can be a little notchy at times, but otherwise there’s a precise feel to the changes and the ride is much better than the old Grand Vitara which was rather unsophisticated and a little uncomfortable.

The Grand Vitara is longer and wider than before and the interior styling is good. There is plenty of headroom and rear legroom on the five-door, the space in the rear of the three-door is a bit tight though. Road and wind noise are kept to reasonable levels, but engine noise can get intrusive under heavy acceleration.

The wide opening tailgate and high roof means that large and awkwardly-shaped objects are easily accommodated, although loading can be quite tricky as it’s quite high off the ground. The load area on the five-door is good, while the boot space offered by the three-door is acceptable for a couple, rather than a family. The seats tumble and fold, which gives even the three-door near van-like practicality. Both have a hidden storage bin under the boot floor which is useful for hiding your valuables. Inside there’s a large glove box, centre storage bin and bottle holders in the door pockets.

The Grand Vitara gained an impressive four star rating from Euro NCAP for occupant safety and standard safety equipment is good. You’ll find ABS and electronic brake force distribution, dual front, side, and front and rear curtain airbags. All cars have remote central locking and an immobiliser so it should still be there when you return to it.

Like many Japanese manufacturers, Suzuki has a reputation for mechanical durability and like the successful Swift supermini, the Grand Vitara has been designed and engineered for European buyers who now expect a quality interior with a high-grade finish. There are no reports of any reliability problems so you should not encounter anything untoward.

The Grand Vitara has proved to be a worthy adversary against its counterparts from the other 4×4 stables.

The Magic Key of Awakening Into Your Hidden Thoughts

MODE of Cosmic Therapy; Paying Attention to Your Particular Life

As you awoke this morning, prior to placing your feet on the floor, what was your distinguishable mood? More importantly: what was the very first word that lingered in your head? Notice, I did use the word ‘linger’ for a specific reason. The words which classify and organize conveyed thoughts do not just ‘pop’ in your head, they ‘linger’. All thoughts arise from within, waiting their time {so to speak} to make language of understanding audibly manifest. Every word is significant. The ideas conveyed are not randomly mismanaged jumbled up nonsense. They serve a purpose. [A very vital life-sustaining purpose] You are in dialogue with the Divine. You are carrying on a conversation with the deeper part of yourself (though not the deepest) and the more you begin to ‘take note’ of the celestial messages from within, the more peacefully accepting of your life’s events will you become.

Now, again I inquire: what was your specific mood prior to arising this morning? Do you know? Are you aware? Did it matter? Does it ever register with you? Or, did you simply deny the relevance offered leaving behind the single most important tone of the day along with the first word {message} delivered? That word {so sacred and secret} sets the toned theme for the adventures of your day. Every aspect will follow in suit of the mysterious sacred plot revealed. [Sort of like a trailer to an upcoming movie.] Will it be worth the time, interest and vested effort for you “pay attention” from this day forward? Is it worth your curious observance to see what’s really going on deep inside of you? Or do you blatantly choose to stay anxiously ‘on edge’, stressed out and irritable; rushed needlessly like a disenfranchised run away horse? Instead of your moods, being tossed around from pillar to post, anxious/angry not wanting to be disturbed without knowing why or how to slow or calm yourself down long enough to find out the source, you can become consciously aware.

You are the only one who knows how so driven by the need to accomplish something, go somewhere, do something, ‘be’ somebody, get ahead, you are. And, yet all the while you tend to forget you are running on a prefabricated automotive pilot of deeply ingrained conditioned “habit” without relent or recourse. The truth is: there’s no where to go, nothing to do, no place to be other than where you are this precise moment. {I say this statement not as a figure of speech but a glaring reality!} Pray tell me, who, what, when how and why would you ever think you could get ahead: ahead of your self, life, existence??? It’s the most perfect one you could ever have been given; designed specifically for your needs and desires.

You must have, at some time, “purposed in your heart” these matters – as Daniel did in the Lion’s Den. For in all possible reasonable investigation, what is the probable delegated reason you live? For what explanation could there be for the pieces of your life’s puzzle to have fallen into place in the precise manner they have? Just ponder for a moment how exquisitely intricate the personal pattern has dubiously unfolded. You must, also, have also considered the many “What ifs” “If only” and “I should haves” in the course of the winding ‘zig zag’ unfoldment of your specific life’s journey. [Such wasted unproductive meaningless chatter of self indulgence.] Nothing could, should, would or will be any different than what it is. This is it! This is as good as it gets, period!

You, as well as your perfectly orchestrated life, radiate a divine function each moment you breathe. You are not missing out on anything. It’s impossible. The fact that you are breathing indicates you possess a divine willful intent and along with that manifold intention, your inherent purpose resides. How could it be otherwise? You can not live another person’s life story nor can you emulate another’s path. [Ridiculous to believe and pointless to attempt] Remember and never forget: “Nobody can do you like you can do you!”

Back to the original ‘point’ of these particular admonishing words. Pay attention to your first thoughts in the morning prior to getting out of bed. Take the time to really, really hear them with interpretation. Just listen to the melody in which they bring you’re the song of your day’s interrelated circumstances. You sincerely are a very fun, vivacious, enthusiastic, interesting, vitally receptive and sacred sensual creature. Behold your existence in fullness.

There Could Be a Ford in Your Future, But Mercury is History

It is sad that the list of car names is shrinking faster than the auto makers can close dealerships. Ford Motor Company announced the 71-year old Mercury brand was about to be dropped from its lineup. This was not a surprise to many market analysts, but for consumers it means one less choice for those interested in buying an American car.

The history of the Mercury can be traced back to 1939, when it was introduced as the step up from Ford but not pricey like Lincoln. In the beginning, a Mercury looked pretty much like a Ford; however it had features that made it competitive to mid-priced General Motors cars. The war stopped all auto production until 1946. The post-war cars were pre-war models with some cosmetic changes. Soon after that bold new designs and more powerful engines became the vogue.

Mercury built a bigger car, one that could compete favorably with GM’s Oldsmobile, Pontiac and even Buick, as well as Chrysler’s Dodge and DeSoto. The era of car featuring big fins, tri-colors, chrome and low gas mileage was in, and American’s were buying most anything Detroit rolled into dealer showrooms. During this time lesser brands, such as Studebaker, Hudson and Kaiser, fell from the seen. And, sportier cars like the Chevy Corvette and the Ford Thunderbird were developed with great success.

In the later part of the 50’s, Ford Motors introduced the Edsel at the price level between Mercury and Lincoln. Due to lack of consumer appeal, the Edsel suffered a horrible and swift death. This was followed the next year by Chrysler’s discontinuance of the DeSoto. Following this the US car market went through a period of adjustment during which GM capturing the lion’s share of the business.

However, as gas prices rose and foreign cars offered functional economy, competition entered from both coasts. European luxury cars started to take market share, too. When gas became less of a factor, many US buyers balked at the over-sized cars the “big three” car makers were offering. This opened the door for off-shore manufacturers, particularly the Japanese. With the exception of the SUVs, the US lagged behind foreign producers in consumer accepted innovation for many years.

Now auto makers worldwide are in trouble. Two of Detroit’s own had to be bailed out by the government. This resulted in GM, which had already discontinued Oldsmobile, dropping Pontiac and Saturn from its lineup along with Saab leaving Hummer on the chopping block. Chrysler had stopped making Plymouth earlier this decade. Ford, which has not taken government funds, has also sold off Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. There is talk that Lincoln will try to survive by hooking up with Ford dealers; a move that will close dealerships nationwide.

In spite of these issues, Ford is the healthiest US car company. For American consumers, the passing Mercury marks the loss of yet another proud automotive brand. With this in mind, is comforting to know that there still could be a Ford in your future?

Apple Is No Longer a ‘Sure Thing’ Investment

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) stepped into the earnings confessional recently, and everyone on Wall Street is praising the company’s quarterly results. Revenue and earnings exceeded expectations, and even fourth-quarter guidance came in better than expected. However, everyone is overlooking some rather key risks that could negatively affect AAPL stock.

Let’s take a moment to recap what’s driving AAPL stock’s post-earnings bounce:

  • Second-quarter earnings rose 17.6% year-over-year to $1.67 per share versus expectations for $1.57 per share.
  • Revenue gained 7.2% to $45.41 billion, topping the consensus for $44.89 billion.
  • Apple guided fourth-quarter sales in a range of $49 billion to $52 billion, above estimates for $49.18 billion.

On the surface, Apple’s third-quarter report looks impressive. What’s more, analysts concerned about a delayed delivery for the iPhone 8 interpreted the better-than-expected fourth-quarter guidance as meaning that reports of a potential iPhone delay were overblown – prompting a slew of upgrades and price-target increases that exacerbated AAPL stock’s rally.

But there are several key points that very few Apple watchers are talking about. And once Wall Street takes note, it could spell trouble for AAPL stock.

Apple Cored

If you dig deeper into Apple’s earnings report, you’ll notice that this quarter’s results were not driven by the iPhone, but rather by services and iPad sales. Services revenue grew an impressive 22% year-over-year, while enterprise partnerships helped boost iPad sales. Analysts have called this an important development for Apple, leading to the most attention non-iPhone products have seen in quite some time. It’s a telling development.

For instance, iPhone sales of 41.3 million were essentially flat with the same quarter last year, and actually fell from 50.8 million in the second quarter. What’s more, Apple continues to struggle with iPhone sales in the Chinese market, with recent data suggesting the company is poised to drop out of the top 5 vendors list in China.

And the iPhone isn’t the only concern. Apple’s iPod is essentially dead. The device that brought AAPL stock back from the brink of obsolescence is on its way out after Apple discontinued all but one version of the iconic handheld music player last week.

What’s Left for Apple?

Apple has ridden the coattails of its iPods and iPhones for so long, there isn’t much left outside of those key products. As an investment guru put it: “Apple has fallen behind on the very thing that people want from it – innovation.” Gone are the days of Steve Jobs’ dramatic pauses and “Oh… one more thing… ” at Apple product announcements and investor weeks.

The company is now content with incremental improvements to existing devices and services. Even the highly anticipated iPhone 8 will arrive with few innovative features, and most of those are present in competing smartphones already on the market.

All is not lost for buy-and-hold Apple investors, though. Despite declining iPhone sales, Apple products are more about value than volume. Despite falling way behind key competitors in the PC, mobile phone and tablet markets, Apple still holds the lion’s share of revenue. For instance, despite controlling just 11% of the smartphone market in 2016, Apple captured 36% of global end-user spending.

What’s more, the company is working on cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) software for the automotive market. Apple CEO Tim Cook calls autonomous driving “the mother of all AI projects.” And if Apple plays its cards right, AI and self-driving cars could be the company’s next “one more thing.”

Investing in Apple Stock

If you’re a buy-and-hold trader, I’m not convinced that now is the time to sell AAPL stock. But it is most certainly not the time to buy. AAPL stock’s post-earnings rally was stopped cold just short of round-number resistance at $160. Furthermore, the shares are on the verge of overbought territory, with their 14-day Relative Strength Index rising sharply in the past week.

This combination of technical indicators doesn’t bode well for AAPL stock’s short-term outlook, and the shares are already exhibiting signs of weakness due to a lack of follow-through buying after earnings.

The key test for AAPL stock will be the $155 area. This region was home to heavy resistance in May and June, and could act as a short-term backstop for Apple over the next few weeks. If this region fails to hold support, AAPL could find itself retesting the $150 area and its 50-day moving average in short order. A pullback to $150 would make a good buying opportunity for long-term buy-and-hold AAPL stock traders.

As you can see, AAPL stock is no longer the “sure thing” investment it once was – either over the short term or the long term given the company’s lack of innovation. In fact, Apple is often subject to an increasingly fickle cult following on Wall Street and a wealth of emotional trading pitfalls.