How many Mercedes owners change their own oil to save a few bucks? The latest “Meet the Volkswagens” TV ad doesn’t just insult Benz owners’— and everyone else’s—intelligence. It’s also racially insensitive. By depicting a white guy with his face blackened with oil, it raises the specter of 19th century minstrel shows. OK, that’s a stretch. But so is VW’s supposition that reminding customers of their over-familiarity with their local dealer’s service department is a good thing. And what does a Microbus sliding out of a nearby garage have to do with anything, Amigo? Wait . . . cue-up the Routan commercial . . .
There’s that Microbus again, with its “Cars” rip-off happy hippy stoner’s voice (as opposed to the Beetle’s Arte Johnson-esque German accent). In this ad, the Routan asks an Odyssey owner if her van has an “autobahn-tuned suspension.” Instead of checking her meds, soccer Mom replies that there’s no autobahn in Japan. True! Nor is there an autobahn in Canada, where Chrysler builds the Routan. Or Lincoln, Alabama, where Honda builds the Odyssey. Or the rest of America, where Odyssey mom lives. To the same point, the day a Routan driver explores the limits of her minivan’s autobahn-tuned suspension is the day I’m parking my Audi.
Needless to say, VW doesn’t have the corner on bad commercials. Suzuki’s “Supercar” ad makes it look like an SX-4—or any other car— can’t traverse a pothole without shifting into 4WD. How about Saturn’s recent campaign, where they attempt to reassure their remaining customers that they’re still the “just plain folks” brand that they were back when they were barbecuing—I mean building cars—in Tennessee? A Saturn salesman warns viewers that there’s a car company out there that’ll take your car away from you if you lose your job. Jeez. How un-American is that?
He’s alluding to the “Hyundai Assurance” program where you can return the car with no impact on your credit rating if you lose your job and can’t make payments. Mr. Saturn makes it sound like Hyundai’ll hunt you down and pry the car from your hands as soon as you’re unemployed. Then Saturn man assures you that his [temporary] employer would never treat you that way. Really? Anyone want to guess what Saturn will do the day after their nine-month grace period on payments expires and you’re still unemployed and not making the payments?
And what happens to Saturn’s “Total Confidence” plan after GM sells the “ReThink” brand to the Chinese or Roger Penske or whomever shows up with cash in hand? Or no one at all? Call me cautious but I wouldn’t feel too confident about Saturn’s ability to back any of their promises at this juncture.
Chrysler’s latest commercials proclaim that the bankrupt company (shhhh!) builds dugouts, lockers, easy chairs, radar systems, TV stations, starting gates, skyscrapers, fish finders, battery chargers, base camps, luxury suites, transporters, mechanical bulls, sanctuaries, viewmasters, security cameras, troop transports, and moving vans. No wonder their sales numbers looks so bad. They’ve been building all these neat things while everyone else is building cars and trucks. But don’t worry, be happy! It’s all backed by the U.S. Government, so buy your whatever-it- is they build with total confidence!
Ford wants you to know they’re still building trucks. BIG trucks. In fact, one commercial highlights their extra-cost tailgate and bedside steps and tells you how much you need them to get in and out of the bed of the F-150. Well, if they’re that important, why aren’t they standard? Or even better, if it’s such a chore to get stuff out of the back, why doesn’t Ford make the F-150 a more manageable size so you can just reach over the side to get what you want, like you could a few years back?
If you’re Chevy, and you can’t match the competition’s feature, you just make fun of it! In a Silverado commercial, Howie Long ridicules an F-150 driver (the usual stereotypical clumsy, balding, overweight schlub they use when they want you to know someone’s less than a “real” man) for using his “man step.” It’s the same sort of “you’re a faggot” put-down used by brain-dead high school football players (not to stereotype or anything) on classmates who can program a computer.
After questioning their competition’s customers’ sexuality, Chevy brags about Silverado’s “unbeatable” five year/100K mile powertrain warranty. But they won’t compare their warranty to the Dodge Ram’s lifetime powertrain warranty. Instead, they just belittle the Ram’s less-than-real-man owner for having a heated steering wheel and a manicure.
One good thing that’s come from the auto industry meltdown: fewer car commercials. Unfortunately, the remaining ones are getting worse, as the automakers grow increasingly desperate for sales. They’ll try anything to attract attention, whether it’s lying, belittling the competition or insulting viewers’ intelligence. Come to think of it, what’s changed?