Archive for July 18th, 2011

Ford launches the all new Fiesta.


Ford India has launched its global sedan, the All-New Fiesta. The globally evolved product brings to its segment a new meaning to passenger safety, delivers class-leading fuel efficiency and comes with first-in-segment smart features such as cruise control, electric power assisted steering (EPAS) and Advanced Bluetooth Voice Control…

Ford Traded In Keys To The Wrong Luxury Cars


If Ford Motor is going to revive its lackluster Lincoln brand, it needs to convince luxury car buyers that Lincoln showrooms have exciting vehicles to offer. But first, it has to convince its own employees of that fact.

Beginning this week, Ford has been inviting employees and retirees for a sneak peek of Lincoln’s future lineup to demonstrate the company’s commitment to rebuilding its only remaining luxury brand following the sale of Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin. The so-called “Lincoln immersion,” outlining future styling and strategy direction for the nameplate, is similar to the product backgrounders Ford used a few years ago to build employee morale in the midst of a painful turnaround.

Lincoln sold just 85,828 cars in 2010, 35% fewer than its most recent peak in 2007. Through the first half of 2011, sales are down 4%. Analysts believe Lincoln is losing money, but the carmaker does not break out profits by division, so it’s difficult to know. Ford declined to provide financial results for Lincoln.

Meanwhile, Jaguar and Land Rover, two of the iconic brands Ford sold at fire sale prices in 2008, are thriving under their new owner, India’s Tata Motors. Now combined as a subsidiary of Tata, Jaguar Land Rover reported a net profit of $1.7 billion for the fiscal year ended March 31, on $15.8 billion in revenue. The carmaker attributed the record results to improved market conditions, the popularity of new models like the Jaguar XJ, favorable currency exchange rates and strong growth in China.

Maybe it’s a bit painful for the folks at Ford to watch Tata reap the benefits of their development efforts. Jaguar’s redesigned flagship, the $72,500 XJ sedan, has received rave reviews for its contemporary styling and sleek performance. Sales have tripled so far this year. The Land Rover LR4 is also doing well, with sales up 29% so far in 2011. Both vehicles were conceived under Ford management. Next up is the Range Rover Evoque, the smallest, lightest and most fuel-efficient Land Rover yet. It was initiated under Ford, but has undergone substantial changes since Tata took over. Jaguar Land Rover recently hired seasoned industry veterans, including Carl-Peter Forster from General Motors and Ralf Speth from BMW, to ensure the momentum continues.

Ford acquired Jaguar and Land Rover separately more than a decade ago for a total of $5.3 billion, but profits, particularly at Jaguar, proved elusive. In June 2008, Ford sold the two luxury brands to Tata, a maker of commercial vehicles and inexpensive small cars like the tiny Nano, for $2.8 billion. Ford’s chief executive, Alan Mulally, said the company had too many brands and he wanted to focus on strengthening the core Ford brand around the world.

As a result, however, Lincoln, and its sister brand, Mercury, became nothing more than higher-priced rip-offs of Ford vehicles. The Lincoln MKZ, for instance, is a gussied-up Ford Fusion, and the MKS flagship sedan is a rich man’s Ford Taurus.

Now, after languishing for years, Lincoln is getting some much-needed attention. The parent company killed off Mercury in 2010 and told Lincoln’s shrunken dealer network last month that it will invest about $1 billion in seven new or refreshed models by 2014, including a compact crossover utility vehicle. The new Lincolns will have styling all their own, and technologies not available in Ford vehicles like computer-controlled suspensions and push-button gear shifters.

The first updated vehicles, the 2013 MKS sedan and MKT full-size crossover utility, will go on sale next spring, followed by a redesigned MKZ in mid-2012. Then, in early 2013, Lincoln will introduce its first compact crossover, based on Ford’s global small-car architecture. That will be followed by two more SUV-type vehicles–a more fuel-efficient Navigator and a redesigned MKX–both for the 2014 model year. By 2015, the MKS will be ready for a complete overhaul.

Missing from Lincoln’s future lineup will be the well-known Town Car, which ends production in August. Ford’s hope is that limo drivers will choose the MKT crossover for their clientele instead.

Will it be enough? Rivals don’t think so. General Motors chief executive Dan Akerson recently dismissed Lincoln’s rejuvenation efforts. “You might as well sprinkle holy water. It’s over,” he told The Detroit News.

Facebook Is Getting Into the News Business


Facebook has a war on its hands, and Mark Zuckerberg knows it. Practically overnight, Google+ has gone from a rumor to a thriving community with over 10 million members. With some 700 million members of its own, Facebook is thinking less and less about how to grow that number and more about how to get current users to live more of their lives within its virtual walls. One answer it has come up with: asking a select number of news outlets to produce “Facebook editions” — basically, app versions of themselves that can be read and consumed right there on Facebook.

About a dozen news outlets are currently participating, including CNN, the Washington Post and The Daily, according to sources familiar with the project. The first Facebook editions are expected to arrive later this year, perhaps in September. The New York Times was also asked to participate, according to one source, but opted to hold back for now, apparently because of reservations over how having a Facebook edition might fit into its new paywall strategy. (It’s for similar reasons that the Times isn’t even giving all of its content to the digital news aggregation service Ongo even though it’s a financial partner in the startup.)

I don’t know any details of the financial arrangements involved, but if it’s similar to the deals Facebook is making with TV and movie studios and networks, the social network is likely asking for a cut of revenues generated by subscription and advertising sales generated by the app editions. (Mostly recently, Facebook made it possible for users to rent episodes of the BBC’s series “Doctor Who.”) I’ve contacted Facebook and the four news companies mentioned above but have yet to receive any comment. Update: A Facebook spokeswoman says, “We have nothing new to announce. The top media sites around the world are integrated with Facebook and we’re constantly talking to our partners about ways to improve these integrations.”

I also understand that Google is working on, or at least has recently explored, a similar idea. An executive from a leading online news company was summoned to a meeting at the search giant’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters last fall for partnership talks. “They gave us a presentation on how Google’s going to be rethinking the news,” says the executive. The plan called for partnering with “selected publishers that would offer up the choicest stories they were working on.”

This executive’s company demurred: “We looked at it as Google creating this powerful news portal that was going to compete with us.” (Again, no comment yet from Google.)

Now that Facebook is known to be at work on a parallel initiative, however, it could change the dynamic for publishers, who may find playing one against the other gives them leverage they lacked until now.

The Best-Paid Celebrities Under 30


Fame favors the young. If you doubt that, just take a look at the singers, movie stars and athletes on our annual list of the Best-Paid Celebrities Under 30.

These guys haven’t gotten rich through decades of careful, prudent investing, like some of the top members of our Forbes 400. But they have sweated and spent a lot of sleepless nights honing and promoting their talents. That hard work helped these 20 young stars bring in a total of $690 million between May 2010 and May 2011.

Full List: The Best-Paid Celebrities Under 30.

The youngest star on our list is Justin Bieber. In his meteoric rise to fame, the 17-year-old crooner skipped the dues-paying drudgery of touring clubs and small venues that many artists go through to work their way up. Instead, at a time when most teens are worrying about who to invite to prom, he’s been touring the world and starring in a hit concert documentary. Bieber ranks second on our list with $53 million in earnings over the past 12 months. That money, plus his incredible fame, helped him debut in third place on our annual Celebrity 100 list, which measures wealth and fame.

Bieber is one of seven musicians who make our list. A world tour of arenas can be incredibly lucrative and almost all of our music stars had big tours this year. Lady Gaga, who ranks first on our list, grossed $170 million from 137 shows in 22 countries. Gaga is, of course, no slouch when it comes to music sales. Between May 2010 and May 2011 (before her latest album, Born This Way, dropped) she sold an estimated 15 million albums worldwide. We estimate that over that time Gaga earned $90 million. She ranked first on our Celebrity 100 list this year because of her earnings power and her ability to always attract attention, whether she’s wearing a meat dress or arriving on stage in an egg.

‘Harry Potter’ Can’t Top ‘Twilight’ for Midnight Record


Most fans will flock to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this weekend but die-hard fans hit theaters starting at midnight on Thursday. According to Exhibitor Relations those night-owls spent $24 million making the latest Harry Potter the franchise’s highest grossing for midnight shows. It beat Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by $2 million.

But it doesn’t set a midnight record. Two Twilight movies, Eclipse and New Moon, earned more.

Eclipse brought in $30 million and New Moon earned $26 million at midnight shows.

How is it possible that the most hyped movie of the year (see Harry Potter by the Numbers) failed to head out of the gate with better numbers than Twilight movies?

Well for one thing, the fans. The Twilight movies are specifically aimed at a demographic that can go to movies at midnight: older teens and young adults. Many Harry Potter fans needed to head to school Friday morning and older fans with children weren’t likely to look for babysitters to attend a midnight show.

Also the vampire-themed Twilight movies lend themselves to things like midnight showings. The magic in Harry Potter is less about what lurks in the dark than about what smart, motivated students can do with a little talent.

It will take another few days to see if New Moon can stay ahead of the new Harry Potter movie when it comes to opening weekend earnings. New Moon went on to earn an astounding $143 million its opening weekend making it the biggest opening of 2009. Harry Potter is on track to earn between $125 million and $135 million this weekend, according to Exhibitor Relations.

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