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April 3, 2006

Forests & Trees

Filed under: Cars,life — chuck goolsbee @ 11:04 pm

I went to the JCNA AGM on Saturday, and like the making of sausages, I would be better off not knowing what goes on behind the scenes.

(Of course meetings are about the least effective method of getting things done. No great human achievement ever came out of a meeting. But I digress…)

In this case I was able to observe large-scale nearsightedness: Shortly after I arrived they discussed with alarm the shrinking membership numbers and subsequent loss of revenue. They pondered the fact that the club was not attracting any “young” members. A look around the room seemed to confirm to me at least that the average age was somewhere between “retirement” and “deceased”… and the presence of the three of us there to talk about XKEdata … all of us firmly in our “middle age”… helped to pull the left side of the bell curve downward quite a bit. The sad reality is that Jaguar is not a car sold to young people anymore. They stopped making sports cars in 1970 (the S3 E-type is a GT car, not a sports car), and have priced themselves out of the “young” market anyway. The new XK is very nice, and a bargain compared to the Aston-Martin, but hey… $100k for a car?? Very few “young” people can afford that! The since-70 cars are becoming ‘inexpensive’ in a relative sense, but… The XJ cars are big sedans, and even though they are available for cheap nowadays, they hold little appeal for the average “car guy” really. The XJS is aging gracefully, but 12 cylinder cars will always be thought of as “exotic” rather than “fun.” So the reality is that “young” people do not buy Jaguars. Sure, there are the “tarted up Fords” – the X- & S-Types, but I have to wonder how many of those buyers are interested in joining a club for their cars? A very small percentage I would guess.

The other “young Jaguar owner” demographic that the JCNA is missing right under their collective noses is the “Second Generation Car Guy”… which would be me, and those just like me. We are their children, and grandchildren. Odd that they’d not see us eh?

Well, I can tell you why: They have chased us away.

From what I can observe, the focal point of the JCNA of late has been Concours, and the focal point of the Concours has become “Ultimate Originality”… meaning the car that “wins” is the one that appears as close to how it did “when it left the factory. ” This is kind of silly because it means that the “winner” eventually becomes the guy who can effectively seal his car into some sort of perverse time capsule… becoming a sort of “Ship in a Bottle.”

I would think that William Lyons would spin in his grave at that notion. He designed and built cars for people to USE, not preserve for all eternity.

Of course the other way to “win” this Concours is to $pend your way to victory. This is also ironic since Sir William was notoriously cheap, and pre-dated Wal-mart by decades at success-by-squeezing-suppliers for dirt-cheap components (not to mention paying his staff poorly… but once again, I digress.)

I guess the JCNA doesn’t want the Concours competition to come down to whose car came out of the Chrome & Buff shop or had the most recent full-body Armor-all dip ala the hot rod roadster crowd… but to be honest, I’d rather bring my E-type to a local small-town car show & shine, than a JCNA “Concours d’Arrogance” (a wonderful term coined by “Eric The Bastard” on J-L’s E-type list). At least at a local show & shine, the people will be interested about the historical importance of the E-type, rather than tell me that I have an incorrect screw in my headlight surround and that my centerlaced wheels are not stock.

So by making the focus of the club the creation and maintenance of ONE car, because really only one car & owner can “win”, they are actively discouraging the vast majority from participation. The vast majority of us have no interest in spending metric tons of money to create an undrivable “perfect” car… as that is a fruitless endeavor. In the end you have no money and a collection of trophies. Yawn. We’re the ones that have inherited, rescued, or resurrected our forebear’s cars and are their current caretakers. The vast majority of us are not intimidated by technology and embrace Internet based communities. We also are aware of the vast leaps in automotive engineering that have occurred in the past 50 years and not afraid to adopt them to keep our old Jaguars running and driving as their designers intended… racing, and running country roads at speed.

Cars are for DRIVING. The club need to put an emphasis on tours, rallies, slalom, autocrossing (slightly different but similar to slalom), gymkhanas, etc. Car shows are frankly… boring, and the hyper-critical anal-retentive JCNA Concours are the absolute pinnacle of that mountain of boring.

So, once the subject of declining membership was concluded, they went on to some amendments to the competition rules. Slalom went by swiftly, and (predictably), Concours went on for hours. Hours. Literally from noon until almost three, they debated such inane subject as “whether license plate frames should be considered in judging”…. I swear I’ve had root canal work that was more enjoyable than merely being in that room. I had to leave on a few occasions. Thankfully Rick Korn’s E-type racing car was on display out in front of the hotel. Far from being Concours-perfect, it was nonetheless a stimulating car to observe. Sigh.

“No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” –Helmuth von Moltke

So Steve, Roger & I planned our talk a few weeks before. I was there for two purposes:
1. I have a lot of experience as a public speaker.
2. I could “moderate” the talk and prevent Roger from droning on and on.

This is not a dig at Roger, he actively sought out somebody for the job! I volunteered and I knew that I was quite capable of doing the tasks assigned to me. Unfortunately the room was laid out for a meeting, not a presentation. To use the clock metaphor: The “table” was a large circle with the screen at 6 o’clock. They had a computer there (a Dell laptop) and a projector, but they were only using it to show the agenda. There were three microphones, but they were at 9, 12 & 3 o’clock.

(Ironically, whoever had put the laptop there did not set the screensaver to “off” prior to the meeting, so a woman seated at the 7 o’clock position would stand up about every 10 minutes throughout the day’s meeting, to scrub the trackpad in an effort to prevent the screen from blanking! Weird.)

As it turned out, I went to the 6 o’clock station and swapped the projector into my laptop and adjusted the screen resolution on the fly (thankfully I drive a Macintosh so that was a painless exercise.) Roger was at 9 o’clock, Steven at 3 o’clock, and the JCNA president held the other microphone, standing on the other side of the table and about 50 feet away from me at 12 o’clock. Roger and Steven started into the presentation, and I was left to the role of “demo-boy”. So, rather than speaking, I was the mute guy at the far end of the room clicking links on the sites (I had bought the $10 a day wireless Internet access from the hotel).

Thankfully Steven was coherent, and Roger managed to NOT drone on and on too much. He started to twice and I gave him as much of “a LOOK” as I could, and Steven interrupted him to swing the talk forward. Unfortunately just as we were getting to the logical end and a potential Q&A section, Roger did get into a bit of an apologetic rant repeating himself a few times, and avoided eye contact with me… which meant he drifted into his “on and on” stage… and then, somebody distracted Roger by walking up and talking in his ear. Steven started to talk a bit more, then the guy at the 12 0’clock microphone interrupted us and shut the whole meeting down. Bang. End of everything.

Roger later told me the guy had told him that they “already had a registry of E-types.” My answers to that are how useful is it? How up to date? How can I search it? How accessible is it to somebody in Australia for example? Since it is likely on paper, the answers are: “Not very.” “Who knows?” “Not without access.” and “Not at all.”

Worries about declining membership. Three hours of arguing about license plate frames. Then 5 minutes of what appeared to me as reaction ranging from indifference to hostility. Hopefully somebody in the room appreciated what we had to say, and more importantly what we represented… namely the next generation of POSSIBLE club members. And of course a group holding at least one of the answers to their questions about stopping their declines in membership, a database of just two models of Jaguar which together, represent a number larger than the current JCNA membership.

I am a member of JCNA and the Seattle Jaguar Club, but in terms of interaction, I really am more of a “member” of Jag-Lovers. I participate in JCNA events about three times a year… I participate in Jag-Lovers almost every day of the year. Like the computer user group, it could be that the car club, at least on a physical, regional basis, is a thing of the past. Maybe technology has outstripped the usefulness of a regional club. We still need to get together in “real-time” to participate in events, especially driving events, but if the clubs do not EMBRACE technology to facilitate communication among their membership, they risk extinction.

Paper newsletters and book-based registries do not scale to global communities. I can get better information about keeping my car running, from people all over the globe, in literally seconds… than I could ever hope to get from a lifetime of club meetings or newsletters. Yes, we still need to meet face to face. But it doesn’t REQUIRE a club to do that. The JCNA needs to adapt to that reality.

Soon.

4 Comments

  1. (Droning on? I was just getting warmed up!)

    The JCNA needs to adapt to that reality.

    They’ll have a tough time of it. I haven’t been a club member for a number of years, though I did send in cheques to the local MG club and the local Jaguar club just to see what they’re about these days. The answer seems to be: the same old stuff.

    I left the local Jag club many years ago because I really wasn’t interested in pot roast dinners, which is a gentle exageration but seemed to be the only thing they ever did. The national magazine a few years ago was sad, lots of small type discussing the kind of arcane minutae we heard at the meeting. As you said, the E-Type lover’s email list is a hugely more valuable resource.

    I had my doubts going in, and they weren’t alleviated by the meeting. A friend who belonged to the local club a few years ago noted that half of the meeting he went to was devoted to the sunshine committee’s report on everyone who was in the hospital. We all age, but that’s a sure sign your club is definitely in decline.

    I came to old British cars because I’m weird, but you’re right, the next generation has to come from somewhere and the sons and daughters of current owners is a good place to start. I somewhat disagree with your assessment of the XJ6 and XJS, but you’re probably right and I’m probably delusional. They’re both nice cars to drive and pretty good fun in the right hands. An all-XJ6 slalom meet would be a hoot, actually. People might actually try to have a good time in a car that cost them $2,500. (Not every young person has to have a sports car, even in the MG club 20 years ago there were young people more interested in the few sedans MG put out.)

    Jaguars will soon be like Model A Fords. The generation that loved Model A’s is gone, and while there are cars left and enthusiastic owners, the values have come way down and they’re just as likely to be owned as garage art as they are to be driven. When your club members average 70 years of age, it’s little wonder there aren’t many driving events.

    Another thing the club loses sight of is that to get people interested, you need to get out and spread the word, as it were. A bunch of cars arriving at a private venue on trailers with anal retentive owners q-tipping tires, where as a spectator you feel like a bull in a china shop…frankly, it’s lame. I’ve been to exactly one Jaguar concours and will not go to another, I don’t think.

    The other thing about clubs is that maybe 5% of the people get to be underwritten by 95% of the members. In theory events are open to everyone, but there is definitely always a core group of people who run things, often simply swapping offices at election time. Someone said to me a few years ago that even if I restored my car exactly to their standards, there was no way I was going to win if I showed up as a stranger to their event.

    There’s a local club, or at least there was, called the TC Tourers. As I recall, their bylaws prohibited elected officers and non-driving events, and events were often thrown together at the spur of the moment. I have no idea if they’re still active, but it was a good gig. Hopefully this driving series you’ve started will be similar.

    Comment by Roger — April 4, 2006 @ 3:50 am

  2. Roger, you are both weird, AND delusional. The XJ is the British equivalent of an Oldsmobile Cutlass, sorry to say. =)

    OK, it isn’t THAT bad… they do have a sleek line to them, and of course they contained a measure of that magic that was Jaguar in their heyday. But they are, as the brits say “at the end of the day” still a lumbering sedan. So yes, an all-XJ slalom would be a hoot, but really only for the novelty of extreme body roll and counting how many cones got obliterated.

    To your thoughts of generations and Model A’s, look at the insane muscle car market right now… that tide could be lifting our boat, but somehow it isn’t… and that is because the generation between us, and the current JCNA leadership are the ones with that fever. Whereas you and I are indifferent, these guys are outright hostile to their elders. The coming decade should be if nothing, interesting and entertaining.

    Comment by cg — April 4, 2006 @ 8:42 am

  3. The JCNA needs to adapt to that reality.

    (cue music) It’s a dyin’ little town. (end music)

    I don’t remember if that was Randy Newman or John Prine or somebody of that ilk from the 70s, but cg you have captured the profile of the end of a community.

    I was looking for a jag thread so I could tell you I spotted a Roadster last night in a most incongruous place – parked in the pouring rain behind a student-district apartment complex in Santa Monica. I doubt the owner was wealthy and old, unless he was visiting his consort in the apartment he pays for. My wife whirled the car around so we could take a closer look. (She loves those cars, but then were are both of a certain age which remembers when there were more of them.) I’d give you the license plate number, but since you can’t look it up it probably doesn’t matter.

    Comment by Dan O'Donnell — April 5, 2006 @ 9:40 pm

  4. ilk = Jimmy Buffett

    Comment by Dan O'Donnell — April 6, 2006 @ 9:59 am

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