All told, this has been a successful holiday season for your humble editor. I have showered myself with gifts, avoided annoying family entanglements, kept my pimp hand
weak strong, and made sure there’s a three-hour gap in my Christmas to re-watch Michael Mann’s Heat in its glorious entirety.
And yet… I’m dissatisfied. Perhaps because there are ten simple things the automotive industry and/or its various players could do to make this the best season ever, and as of yet, none of them have been done. So here’s my list, delivered nice and late. Warning: mixture of hatred, sarcasm, and foolish sincerity ahead.
#10: Get the Chinese crap out of iconic American automobiles. There’s no simpler way to say it. Ford, please fit a decent, American-made transmission to all the Mustangs. If you need to, just toss in the GT500 transmission, charge everyone a fair amount for the difference, and rest secure in the knowledge that the right thing has been done. GM, you don’t get a pass on this either. Every Corvette sold in this country should have American-made wheels. It’s that simple. I don’t want to do 195mph on wheels made by suppliers who can just close their doors and reopen the next day under a different name. We won’t even talk about the electronics. Just fix the running parts, okay?
#9: Mercedes-Benz should formally apologize for the W220 and W210. Every customer who purchased a new S-Class or E-Class from those infamously troubled generations should receive a letter in the mail, hand-signed by Dr. Panzer Kampf-Wagen or whoever is running the show nowadays, apologizing for selling them an utter piece of junk. Hundreds of thousands of customers were basically swindled. They thought they were buying a Mercedes-Benz, not a cost-cut half-plastic embarrassment. Make it right. And throw them a little incentive towards the price of a new (and presumably better) Benz, just to make up for the abysmal resale on, say, the 2001 S430.
#8: Kill the Caliber. Okay, I guess that one’s been done.
#7: Buy all the Calibers back. Well, a guy can dream.
#6: Extend the warranty on the Cadillac Northstar. All of them. As dismal as the Mercedes-Benz S430 was, at least the basic mechanical parts were generally sound. Not so the Caddy four-valver. It’s great to drive and the name is also really cool, but they have become infamous for reliability issues. Now would be a good time for GM to show that they are serious about making Cadillac a world-class brand. They could do this by extending the warranty to match that of existing world-class brands like Hyundai, Kia, and Mitsubishi. If you really want to impress people, and if you really want to do something about Cadillac residuals, extend the warranty backwards in time. There’s precedent. Honda did it on the exploding-tranny Acuras. Surely Cadillac can match Acura.
#5: Go ahead and release the real 2012 Honda lineup. Oh, you’ve certainly had your fun with us, you crazy Japan-people, you. We Got Punked! I’m laughing. I really am. So now you can pull the wraps off the Civic, Acura TL/TSX, and CR-Z that you really want people to buy. I can hardly wait. DO EEET NOW. Obviously anybody who accidentally bought the current cars will get to trade, right?
#4: Let’s get Car and Driver and Road & Track off the newsstands. And AutoWeek while you’re at it. Seriously. Those of us who remember these magazines in their prime (not that AutoWeek ever had a prime, but you get the idea) are just depressed by reading them now — and the younger drivers don’t care. Close their doors and give existing subscribers, none of whom paid more than $6.95 a year anyway, their choice of Grassroots Motorsports or Shaved Asians to finish out their terms. Reading these once-great magazines now produces the same uncomfortable feeling I had when I heard that Jaco Pastorius had died in a gutter. Let’s make the dignified choice.
#3: End trim discrimination for manual transmissions. We live in an era where just-in-time manufacturing and supply have revolutionized the way cars are built. There is no reason whatsoever why the Hyundai Elantra Limited can’t be had with a manual transmission. Same goes for any other number of cars on the market. I’m not asking anybody to take the completely wacky step of fitting optional manuals on cars which don’t have them available now. I’m not living in dreamland. I understand that it’s critical for every Nissan Maxima sold to be crippled with that ridiculous Completely Vapid Transmission, and I can see how it’s simply too much hassle to offer a stick-shift in US-market Mercedes-Benz sedans, what with the extra $10 million it would cost to test the powertrain combination. That kind of cash pays for a lot of hidden goodwill programs on the W210 (see #9, above). I’m just saying: if you offer a manual transmission in one trim level, offer it in all of them. TSX Wagon, I’m looking directly at you. It can be special order only. That’s okay. I will wait.
#2: Porsche. Try finding it in your God-damned hearts to engineer, build, and sell a sporting 2+2 made to last a lifetime under a combination of four-season street and casual racetrack usage. Take all the money you waste on lifestyle marketing, accessories catalogs, special promotions, unique tie-ins, PR, free trans-Atlantic business-class flights for sycophants, hybrid drivetrains for five-thousand-pound crapwagons, special advertising sections, long-term loaners, Peter Cheney’s garage door, full-color glossy posters featuring frog-faced, thyroid-deficient trucksedans, whatever special tools are required to make sure the Cayman’s engine pushes less air than the 911’s, and any other unbelievably stupid thing you’re currently doing — and put all of it into creating a decent car. Just do that. Just put aside the thirty years of self-aggrandizing detritus you’ve built up around a once-legendary brand. Just build a car that will run 200,000 miles with careful maintenance the way (some of) the air-cooled cars did. I want to buy a Porsche. But I’m not a big enough fool to give you $85,000 for something that will have major, unresolved defects and a 35% residual five years after I take delivery.
#1: I’d like my colleagues to look in the mirror. If you’re writing in this business, today would be a good day to take stock of who you are, what you’re written, and the things for which you personally stand. Today would be a good day to remember that, although your super-best-friends in the PR business may pay for your daily driver, send your family on vacations, and pick up the tab for your drinks, your genuine and true responsibility is to the people who read your articles. My son is two and a half years old. The day will come when I am dead and he will only have what I’ve written to guide him as to who I was. He will see that I was flawed, intemperate, promiscuous, and occasionally naive to a fault — but he will also see that I believed in my readers and was passionate about creating content in which they could believe. Will your son be able to say the same? Or will he say, “My father (or mother) was a pawn of people who bought and sold him for the price of a monthly car payment”? Here’s a litmus test. If you had more interactions with PR people, fleet managers, and industry buddies than you did with your own readers last month, you’re part of the problem. Fix your wagon.
What are the chances I will get any of these gifts? Let’s be honest. It’s between slim and none. I have received one thing for which I am grateful, however: all of you at TTAC. Time and time again you have demonstrated that, collectively, you are the greatest group of partners any writer in the automotive world could wish to have. Merry Christmas to me, indeed.