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The Roundup June 23

It sure sucks to be MySpace right now.

MySpace, the social networking site owned by News Corporation, is reversing a strategy of international expansion in an attempt to slash costs and improve profits amid a global advertising slump.

The company on Tuesday said about 300 of 450 employees in offices outside of the US would lose their jobs.

(“MySpace halts global growth and cuts staff,” Financial Times, June 23) One of the odd experiences that marathoning offers (I’ve run about 15) is the sight of people collapsing on the road right in front of you. It’s like someone throwing a switch and their whole body just turns off. First they’re running, then they slow for a second, drift to the right or left, then they suddenly go all limp and fall to the ground. If it were ever possible to download a person completely out of their body in a second or two, that’s what it would look like. At a Virginia Beach half-marathon held during the cool, 100 degree, 99% humidity weather of early September, I saw literally dozens of people on the ground, half a dozen being loaded into ambulances, and three or four collapse two feet in front of me. There are many perceptive ways to describe this, but “refining their growth strategy” is probably the last one I’d choose.

It’s just a rounding error in the auto bailout billions, but it’s nice to see some of that money go to Tesla and other forward-looking auto companies.

The Energy Department announced this morning that it would lend Ford $5.9 billion to retool plants in five states for fuel-efficient vehicles.

The department also awarded Nissan $1.6 billion and Tesla Motors $465 million to ramp up electric car production.

The loans are the first wave of commitments from a $25 billion fund to help automakers and parts suppliers offset the costs of retooling factories and building more fuel-efficient vehicles. Congress authorized the program in the 2007 energy bill, but didn’t appropriate the money until last year

(“U.S. to Lend Billions to Ford, Nissan for Fuel-Efficient Vehicles,” Washington Post, June 23) The big news, of course, is the half a billion dollars going to Tesla to build a manufacturing facility for its $50,000 electric car. While conservatives carp and cavil about government picking winners and losers in the marketplace, let’s applaud the Obama administration for funneling money to the winners this time instead of the losers.

Just in case you thought losing your dealership with GM was the end of the world . . .

By the end of the year, Mumbai-based conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra — best known outside India for manufacturing tractors — plans to launch two-door and four-door compact pickups that would compete with established brands such as the Toyota Tacoma, the best-selling compact truck in the U.S., and the Ford Ranger. Powered by clean-burning diesel engines and tailored for U.S. buyers, prices for the as-yet-unnamed pickups will range from $20,000 to $30,000, says Pawan Goenka, president of Mahindra & Mahindra’s automotive business. The company also plans to launch two SUVs, called the Scorpio and the Bolero, in the U.S. next year.

(“,” Time, June 23) While it may sound a bit “day late, dollar short” (SUVs sold in the U.S. in 2003: 2.8 million; in 2008: 1.2 million), if they play their cards right, this seemingly boneheaded move into the rapidly declining market for light trucks and SUVs in the U.S. may pay off. If their diesel is as good, clean, economical, and quiet as Honda’s, Mahindra & Mahindra may be providing just the product to keep this market growing. They have the manufacturing experience here in the U.S. (they have three tractor plants in the U.S.). And . . . they now have a veritable smorgasbord of recently-dumped dealers to build a sales network with. And they may not be that much of a threat to other auto companies — they may end up simply capturing buyers who were leaving the platform for cleaner or more economical cars anyway. However, having been in a few Indian cars, they have a huge perceptual hurdle to overcome (as do the Chinese when they introduce their models into the U.S. in the next four years or so). As a long-time former pickup owner, I can tell you that people who buy pickups have a very Clint Eastwood take on the world. I’m not quite sure “Made In India” is a good fit with the macho, tough guy character that’s like a must-have second coat of paint on every pick-up sold in America.

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