"To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of Vonage's death have been greatly exaggerated." — Vonage CEO Mike Snyder in a statement issued by the company after its stock price plummeted in the wake of Verizon's patent infringement victory against it.
Here's something you don't often hear from General Motors (GM): Small is cool. Yet that'll be GM's pitch on Apr. 4 when the automaker takes the wraps off a trio of subcompact cars at the New York Auto Show. These Mini Cooper-size cars are also likely to carry mini prices—less than $10,000.
GM's Chevrolet unit is out to prove that its diminutive cars, called the Trax, the Beat, and the Groove, can be as stylish, fuel-efficient, and playful as any Honda (HMC) or Toyota (TM). Chevy also wants to show that its brand stands for more than just gas-guzzling monsters like its Suburban SUVs. Says John Smith, GM's group vice-president for global strategy: "It's time to do something more with cars."
These little guys are still concept cars. While they could be sold overseas around 2010, Smith says GM will decide whether to offer them in the U.S. based in part on reaction at the New York show. GM designed the cars in Korea, where engineering costs are 40% lower than in the U.S., and would build them in low-cost emerging-market factories.
To refocus buyers, GM is ramping up an ad campaign with the line, "People Who Love Cars Love Chevrolet." While GM will still hype its trucks with country music ads, it has also cut a marketing deal with young rap musician T.I. to reach a more hip-hop crowd.
GM isn't the only U.S. automaker eyeing the small-car market. DaimlerChrysler's (DCX) Smart Div. plans to launch a minicar in the U.S. next year, and Ford (F) will bring a new subcompact to the U.S. in two years. Still, Detroit's experience with small cars is a sorry tale. Remember the AMC Gremlin and Ford Pinto? "Bringing a car that size to the U.S. as a commodity is suicide," says James Hall, vice-president at research firm AutoPacific. "They have to be image cars like Mini and Scion."
To help GM gauge whether its cars will make the grade, consumers can soon vote for their favorite mini at www.vote4chevrolet.com. With enough interest, these little Chevys could be rolling in the U.S. of A.
Here's another reason to get antsy about real estate. Banks and investors in the mortgage-backed securities industry are increasingly worried that the troubles in the subprime market will spread to higher-quality home loans. In a survey of expected attendees at the upcoming Spring ABS Show (for asset backed securitization), some 87% of respondents said recent subprime woes would have at least a "partial impact" on the performance of the broader market for mortgages and mortgage-backed securities.
More than 50% of the loan issuers and mortgage investors surveyed expect the ABX index, a benchmark for subprime performance, will trend lower in April. Adding to the pessimism, about two-thirds say they don't view the current sell-off as a buying opportunity, and about three-quarters said they expect median home prices to decline for the rest of the year. About half felt proposals to tighten subprime lending standards could help shore up the market.
Wine exports from France's Bordeaux region ended a five-year decline in 2006, growing 23%, to $1.5 billion. But not all that wine tastes like classic Bordeaux. To counter the rise of New World wines, many of the region's 6,000 producers are abandoning age-old production methods. Now they send samples to labs that analyze everything from alcohol and sugar content to trace elements such ass iron and calcium.
Armed with such data, oenologists help growers adjust flavors to today's tastes. "The wine being made in Bordeaux now is nothing like the wine that was made 20 years ago," says one of those chemists, Jean-Philippe Gervais.
The idea is to make wine that's lighter and fruitier than earthy Bordeaux. "It used to be the client who adapted to Bordeaux. Now, it's the reverse," says Marc Lurton, whose Château Reynier has nearly doubled exports since 2000 by introducing new blends sold mainly in the U.S. and Britain. Working with the region's Grézillac Oenological Center, Lurton has changed the way he grows grapes. He lets vines grow taller so grapes get more sun, increasing their sugar content. And he heats his grapes briefly before crushing them, for what he calls a "rounder" flavor.
World trade gets the blame for all sorts of ills, from the loss of well-paying factory jobs in the U.S. to the rise of sweatshops in China and other developing nations. Now add global warming to the list.
The more than 90,000 commercial vessels crisscrossing the oceans produce more carbon dioxide than all but 10 of the 39 industrialized nations originally included in the Kyoto Protocol, says a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. That includes the Netherlands, Poland, and Spain. This massive global flotilla also emits more sulfur dioxide than all the cars, trucks, and buses on the planet, and a sixth of all the nitrogen oxide pumped into the atmosphere, says the study.
The outsize emissions at sea reflect the limitations of world politics. While national governments have forced giant reductions in discharges from vehicles and smokestacks, the U.N.'s International Maritime Organization has maintained looser limits on ships, in part because 139 countries are involved in crafting controls. Some fuel burned in ships, for instance, contains 27,000 parts per million of sulfur on average. In the U.S., diesel fuel cannot have more than 15 parts per million. The IMO plans to take up new pollution standards at a midsummer meeting.
Think of them as personal eco-trainers. So-called carbon coaches are helping Britons who want to learn how to live greener. For a fee of $300 to $600, advisers assess a family's energy usage and recommend ways to reduce it—everything from adding insulation and using halogen bulbs to installing a rooftop system to recycle rainwater.
Business is booming for the dozen or so green advisers, most of them based in the south of England, where they largely serve cash-rich, time-strapped customers. "I've had so many calls from interested clients I haven't even had to do any marketing," says Donnachadh McCarthy, founder of London's 3 Acorns Eco-Auditing and author of Saving the Planet Without Costing the Earth. McCarthy, who says he conducts at least two home audits a week, is also getting requests from companies.
Green coaching is about to get a boost from London Mayor Ken Livingstone's Green Homes program, which will roll out later this year across the capital as part of a wider initiative to combat climate change. The new service, announced on Feb. 28, will sell home energy makeover tips to Londoners for about $400 a session. There seems to be more than enough eco-demand to go around. Former engineer Dave Hampton, who runs Carbon Coach, based in the Thames-side town of Marlow, is planning to set up a side business in training others for the trade.
Baby boomers creeping up to retirement age think they are in poorer health than their counterparts viewed themselves 12 years earlier, according to a new study. The boomers surveyed, aged 51 to 56 in 2004, reported that they were having more difficulty with a range of everyday physical tasks than did the earlier group, as well as more pain, chronic ailments, and psychiatric problems.
Only half of those in the 2004 group rated their health as "excellent" or "very good." By contrast, in the 1992 survey, 57% reported above-average or excellent health. The findings, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, are from a continuing study that intends to survey 20,000 people every two years through mid-century.
Lead author Beth J. Soldo, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Population Aging Research Center, says the results run counter to the conventional wisdom that the Baby Boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, would retire in robust health. One big factor: high rates of obesity in the U.S. Still, the results may be skewed by the unrealistic view some boomers hold of their aging bodies. Says Soldo: "Once their health falls short of expectations, they take notice."
Workers in cramped cubicles aren't the only ones making do with less in the corporate world. A survey by office furniture maker Steelcase (SCS) found that 30% of white-collar workers still have private offices, but even for them, the four walls are closing in. The poll of 9,300 workers revealed that the typical private office has shrunk from 16 by 20 feet a few years ago to a more common 8 by 10 today.
Has that brought about better organization of space? Hardly. The study found that most of us make our offices even more cramped by piling papers, rather than filing them. Our drawers and cabinets store snacks, shoes, or nothing at all. Sound familiar?
Better design could come to the rescue. Steelcase thinks today's smaller offices would benefit from dual-purpose furniture—a file cabinet-chair combo on wheels, for instance. Extra outlets for laptop-wielding visitors would also help, as would bigger work surfaces that give people more options for personalizing their space.
Do people really want to watch TV on their cell phones or other handheld devices?
"In doctors' offices, buses, cars, or waiting in line, mobile media is the perfect solution. People will pay not to be bored out of their skulls. So the content is more valuable to producers there than on traditional Internet delivery." — Mark Cuban, president and co-founder of HDNet
"I'm convinced some people would marry their cell phones if they could, so TV is just the next logical extension. Still the majority will—or should—shun this innovation. Diminished screen, diminished returns." — Matt Roush, television critic, TV Guide
"People will pay for access. The appetite for media is growing exponentially, and that means it will be consumed on multiple screens at times and places the industry never thought of reaching the consumer." — Jason Hirschhorn, president, Sling Media Entertainment Group