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One way to fix a broken business model

Lots of financial analysts say that automakers' business models are outmoded and inefficient -- broken, in fact.

I have a solution.

Automakers need to adopt the computer printer business model. Printers are packed with complicated machinery but are amazingly cheap. Yet those tiny cartridges with nothing but powered toner are surprisingly expensive.

Essentially, computer companies give away printers because the profits come from selling proprietary toner cartridges that the printers must have to work. From the consumer's point of view, the economical way to buy a computer printer is to compare the cost of toner cartridges. The printer price is the least important part of the equation.

So here's my plan, which I offer free upfront to any automaker, with only a tenth of a percent (gross, not net) on the back end.

Price cars dirt cheap. Let's say $59.95 for a Ford Focus; $129.95 for any Lexus.

But modify the cars so they only run with proprietary shaped plug-in electric modules -- a different shape and plug-in fitting for every model. The modules would be brightly colored, of course; and tiny, so they'd have to be replaced often. Now price them at $199.95 each, with a $39.95 replacement service charge.

Of course, each automaker would have to hire private thugs to, um, discourage competition from any awful pirate that refurbishes used modules or garages that offer conversion kits that allow vehicles to run on gasoline.

You know, eventually that's bound to create bad publicity.

So maybe there are still some flaws in my plan.ar

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