Posts By: Jack Baruth

By on August 24, 2017

20-2014-jeep-cherokee-chrome-grille

Years from now — perhaps even now, for the younger generation — I think people will have trouble understanding that a significant percentage of humanity used to derive a good living from arbitrage of one form or another. We live in a world now that has been effectively flattened by the standardized shipping container and the Internet. It was not always so. Think of Max Hoffman towing one Beetle behind another one all the way from an East Coast port to a Midwest town then taking the train home.

Even more interesting is that people used to be accustomed to paying money for information and/or access to knowledge. For instance, my old pal Alex Roy grew up in his father’s business, Europe By Car, which was (and still is) a service that arranged overseas rentals for American customers. Can you imagine that there was once a time when people couldn’t just click a couple of buttons and have a rental car waiting for them in London or Stuttgart? Crazy, I know.

The imperial ease with which we command the delivery of things from China or arrange hotel rooms in Zurich from the comfort of our living room in Milwaukee sometimes blinds us to the fact that sometimes you just have to deal with the impacts of distance and displacement. Our friend Brent is experiencing one of those times, at least by proxy.

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By on August 18, 2017

2017 Dodge Viper Snakeskin Edition GTC was inspired by the origi

They closed the Viper line at Conner, they’re selling to Chinese
What was once the “engineering company”, now trembles on its knees
The money went to swift sedans, that need cash on the hood
There ain’t nobody left who thinks the Journey’s any good
And the Roadkill squad they’re restless, they need somewhere to go
As Sergio and I look out tonight from Desolation Row

We’ve said goodbye to the finest, fastest American track car ever produced and, although I don’t know exactly why it failed, I have my theories. The only question left is: Could it come back? Is there room for any sporting car from FCA besides the 500 Abarth and the super-sedans from both sides of the Atlantic?

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By on August 17, 2017

2011 Hyundai Sonata

After 45 years on this earth, I have come to a conclusion that is neither unique nor universal but which has considerable truth to it, regardless: The kind of stuff that alarms regular people rarely alarms experts on the subject — and vice versa. It’s true in scientific disciplines from materials science to artificial intelligence, it’s true when it comes to medical and health issues, and it’s true in matters of the law and governance. We can also add a corollary to this: Even when the experts and the regular people are both alarmed, it’s usually not for the same reason.

The idea of corporate personhood is an example of the latter. It’s common for lightly-educated political activists to screech, “CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE!” — as if corporations had managed to start operating autonomous bipedal robots that walk among us as men and women. What they fail to realize is that corporate “personhood” actually protects both individual humans and society as a whole. As a ridiculous example to the contrary, Prince Charles and I both have the same “cutter” at Turnbull & Asser, a certain Mr. Steven Quin. He is the Royal Warrant Holder as an individual. In an earlier age, an English king could presumably have had him physically punished if his shirts didn’t measure up, as the Warrant is a transaction of sorts between a member of royalty and a subject of royalty.

While it’s very satisfying to extend this to the modern era and to imagine the CEO of BP being keelhauled for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the fact is that without corporate personhood the responsibility for something like that would be placed on a “fall guy” or corporate sacrificial lamb — leaving companies free to break the law at will so long as they had access to people who were willing to go to jail on their behalf.

With that said, there is plenty of justified concern about some consequences of corporate personhood, most specifically as it applies to First Amendment issues and political contributions. Today’s question addresses yet another aspect of the corporation-as-individual. More precisely: Do we have a moral duty to a corporation? If so, to which one is that duty owed?

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By on August 15, 2017

friedman

It’s the stuff of which public relations nightmares are made.

For the past couple of years Dodge has sponsored Motor Trend‘s “Roadkill” show, which can be thought of as a generic white-label take on Fast N’ Loud. It’s worth noting that Dodge did several promotions with Rawlings before parting ways with him and settling for the Roadkill team; the brand appears to believe that its heartland audience is best reached through flamboyant/quasi-authentic/redneck-chic YouTube personalities. What that says about FCA’s view of its customers is an exercise best left to the reader.

This past weekend, Dodge and Roadkill teamed for “Roadkill Nights on Woodward,” a staged car show and street-drag event in Detroit. There’s been no small amount of interest in this among the company’s owner base and from what I can see the event was a rip-roaring success, chock-full of Vipers and Demons and whatnot. Whenever an automaker spends this much money on any public relations exercise, there is always a tremendous amount of data deep-diving done immediately afterwards to demonstrate ROI of the expenditure via social media visibility, buff-book coverage, and mainstream mentions. Given the big turnout both online and in real life, I’m sure Dodge and its marketing partners were looking forward to the Monday meeting where they could pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

As it turns out, this weekend was an absolute barn burner of Dodge-branded media exposure. Unfortunately, the Dodge in question wasn’t a Demon lifting its front wheels on Woodward. Instead, it was a V6-powered 2010 Challenger that was driven into a crowd of anti-white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, causing one fatality and multiple injuries.

The odd coincidence of a “Roadkill”-themed promotion with a Challenger-caused hit-and-run fatality in Charlottesville has pundits on both sides of America’s culture war salivating — and with this unforeseen notoriety comes an unusual, and nearly unprecedented, demand.

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By on August 11, 2017

broken down car breakdown, Image: Marta_Photo/Bigstock

Long-time readers of TTAC know I am always willing to criticize Porsche in general, and PCNA in particular, for their oft-spectacular indifference towards their own customer base. For much of the previous decade, the company vacillated between denying fundamental problems with their M96/M97 engines and blaming those problems on the customers. When a reckoning finally came, it involved the United States legal system. I stopped buying Porsches more than a decade ago and have rarely felt tempted by the brand since.

With that said, it’s obvious the firm learned from its previous misadventures in consumer relations. The latest generation of flat-six engine, though not perfect, appears far less failure-prone than its predecessor. I’m hearing good things about the quality of recent-build Macans and Cayennes. Finally, there is this: Porsche has just announced a warranty extension to 120,000-miles on their 991.1 GT3 models. This program will go a long way towards holding up the resale value of these occasionally fragile automobiles.

Naturally, Porsche’s absolute mastery of PR has ensured that this warranty extension received nothing but positive press. Compare that to the infamous Honda “glass transmission” goodwill campaign that often saw cars with 90,000-miles on the odometer receive free transmissions nearly a decade after leaving the assembly line. It was often treated by autowriters as an example of Honda’s post-millennium fallibility, rather than as an example of monstrously expensive devotion to customer satisfaction.

We should commend both companies for their sensible and ethical approach to known defects in their automobiles. Which leads to the question: What other candidates are there out there for a program like this?

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By on August 10, 2017

Jeep Trackhawk

One of my favorite writers once ruefully noted that “in the end, whether you are loved or not is determined by the shape of your skull.” To which I would add: and the way you know you are loved is whether or not somebody will take out their wallet for you.

Being a wife usually pays better than being a mistress, which pays better than being a girlfriend, which pays better than being a Tinder date. Not that money is precisely equal to love — but in most cases cash speaks louder than poetry.

For that reason, it’s fascinating to use pricing as a window into human desire. With most consumer goods, of course, there are two prices. There’s the MSRP, which is fantasy, and there’s the “street price,” or actual transaction price, which is reality. The sticker price of a new Impala or Taurus or Sonata is considerably above the price that the vast majority of people are willing to pay, but on a 458 Speciale it’s a screaming bargain. These are exceptions that prove a surprising but durable rule: most of the time, automakers price their cars remarkably close to market reality. We take this for granted when in reality it’s proof of just how much intelligence and effort goes into product planning. Consider the fact that Rolex is widely acknowledged as having the lowest discount rate of any major watch brand, yet it’s usually possible to get between 10 and 20 percent off sticker at most dealers. That same amount of pricing flexibility gets Bloomberg in a tizzy when it’s applied to mass-market cars.

Assuming, therefore, that we can usually rely on manufacturer pricing as a rough yardstick for consumer desire, it’s absolutely fascinating to see how Fiat Chrysler Automobiles positions its most powerful sedans and SUVs. It is also very depressing for anybody who believes in an automotive future that contains anything but jacked-up Me-Too-Iguana-Boxes.

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By on August 9, 2017

EcoBoost Mustang Burnout

True story: I once dated a woman who liked to kinda-semi-roleplay that I was Hannibal Lecter and she was Clarice Starling. I don’t mean that I served her anybody’s frontal lobe with a nice Chianti and some fava beans, but more that we would try to work phrases from the book into our conversations. Just in case you are wondering, this is a distant second place in the awkward-makeout-talk category of my sordid personal history, well behind the woman who wanted me to call her Bella while she called me Edward.

In Silence Of The Lambs, Dr. Lecter tells Clarice, “We begin by coveting what we see every day.” This is one of those statements that is almost too true for us to understand. We learn to want things by looking at them. It’s why very few people have whatever mental quality is required to order, and enjoy, truly bespoke items — cars, clothing, bikes, guns, watches, whatever. We like to see things and choose from them. It’s a combined limitation of the software (ability to imagine) and the hardware (the way we “see” is fairly hard-wired into our actual, physical eyes in all sorts of ways that we are just finding out about now) that comes standard with the human body.

The mere act of seeing something can be persuasive, even if we know in our heart that it’s not right for us — which was certainly the case with the Bella-and-Edward woman, I tell you. And that is how we come to this story of a fellow who wants a very specific kind of brake for his car… even if it’s not nearly enough to do the job.

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By on August 4, 2017

2007 2008 Nissan Altima (public domain)

A few years ago I heard the phrase “future time orientation” and in that moment the scales, as they say, dropped from my eyes. I’d always known the concept but I didn’t realize it had an actual name. Well, it does, and that phrase is “future time orientation.” Put simply, it’s how real the future is to you, and how much thoughts of the future affect your present behavior.

The more I’ve read about future time orientation, the more I realize it is pretty much the defining characteristic of a human being. The more real the future is to you, the harder you will work, the more you will save, and the more you will moderate your behavior. Lack of future time orientation damn near qualifies as a mental illness and it turns you into a loser in any case. I can speak personally about that.

When my grandfather was 45 years old, he was just eight years from a fully-funded retirement that would see him driving Cadillacs and enjoying life without reservations until he died well into his nineties. When my father was 45, he had practiced 20 years of fiscal discipline. After twenty further years of fiscal discipline he retired to a plantation where he aimlessly steers a Benz between the gym and the golf course every day.

I, on the other hand, have more than one hundred pairs of dress shoes and I’ve spent enough money on racing to pay off my house three times over. I will have to work until the day I die because every time I’ve had money in my pocket it’s turned into a Porsche or a Kawasaki or a Savile Row suit or a massive house party with free liquor and steaks for 150 people. I have almost zero future time orientation. The only reason I pay my bills is because I’ve always managed to have a woman in the house to remind me to pay my bills. Otherwise, they wouldn’t get paid and I would just buy a bunch of ZX-10RR Winter Livery Snowflake Editions. Actually, as of this writing I think my son has more money in the bank than I do, and he is eight years old. He will be retired at 54. He can come visit me at the Wal-Mart, where I will be a greeter.

As low as my future time orientation is, however, there are people out there who are even worse. And you can actually identify them from a distance on the freeway.

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By on August 4, 2017

Lincoln Mk. V (public domain)

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. In this special edition of QOTD, I answer your search engine queries with all the sincerity I can muster. So let’s start with your above question: Where is Silverado made? The answer is simple. Silverado, the alt-Western starring basically the cast of The Big Chill, was filmed on location in New Mexico.

Let’s roll the tape and see what else you asked.

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By on August 2, 2017

2015 Dodge Charger V6 AWD Rallye (8 of 13)

Politics, the man once said, is downstream from culture. It applies to cars as well. Maybe cars are in fact downstream from both politics and culture. You never know.

Everybody who was alive in the 1950s tells me it was kind of a dicey time. Children kneeling beneath a combined 1.25 inches of plywood that was supposed to have some sort of palliative effect on a locally detonated hydrogen bomb with a thousand times the power of Little Boy. The Iron Curtain clamping down across Europe, hundreds of millions of people disappearing into a regime where twisted social science operated a political machine lubricated liberally by the blood of kulaks and a generation of Soviet O’Briens insisting they could float off the ground if they just wished it so. Meanwhile, the United States was grinding through the task of reintegrating a few million young men who had often gone directly from their shoeless rural existence to the meat grinders of Iwo Jima and Normandy Beach.

Yet I defy you to look at a ’57 Chevrolet and not tell me somebody was feeling optimistic. The roads were covered in pastels and chrome and the good times were surely just around the corner. It was as if the styling chiefs of the Big Four (or however many there were) looked at the world around them and said, “Oh, the hell with this, let’s PUT FINS ON CARS!”

Sixty years later we’ve got all the Netflix and chill we can handle but most people look at the future as something that will impoverish, assail, endanger, or boil them. The climate and the economy seem to have more malevolence than the old Soviet shoe-bangers could ever muster but, instead of responding with Bel Airs, we’ve all decided to lock ourselves into tall, tippy metal boxes that promise to isolate us from every possible contaminant or concern. Each box must be sufficient for all imagined tasks, whether it’s clearing the Rubicon or circling the Nurburgring.

Most of these things scale half a ton more than a ’76 Cutlass Supreme Brougham with the 403. They are chock full of features we neither need nor want, and the hunchback king of those assembled unnecessaries is called All. Wheel. Drive.

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By on July 27, 2017

2016 Chevrolet SS - Image: GM

Last week, we discussed the fact that the gap between automotive perception and automotive reality can lead to some remarkable cognitive dissonance on the part of “car people.” That’s why the breadvan Civic Si was sold as a budget-priced Bimmer-beater and the breadvan Scion xB was sold as a Portland-friendly mobile Millennial drum circle. They knew very few Civic “intenders” would look at a Scion and vice versa.

This sort of stuff runs rampant in the business and, if you want any further confirmation of it, just take a look at the staggeringly different demographic profiles for the mechanically similar Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon Denali, and Chevrolet Tahoe Premier.

But wait, there’s more. Thanks to a wide variety of advances in materials, design methods, and computing power, the capability envelope of modern vehicles is expanding in all directions. My 2017 Silverado 6.2-liter just got an average of 22.1 mpg on a 680-mile drive from Ohio to South Carolina; my 2006 Phaeton got 17 mpg flat on the same trip despite being a thousand pounds lighter, 100 horsepower weaker, and considerably more aero-friendly. Next week, you’re going to hear a lot about how the Audi TT-RS is faster than (insert name of supercar here) from 0-60. Much of that will be regurgitated pablum from a staggeringly expensive press trip that includes a private helicopter ride from Manhattan to Lime Rock, and some of it is due to advances in tire tech, but there’s some real truth to the fact that the mighty Ferrari Enzo can be humbled in a short sprint by a car that is basically a VW Jetta in a party dress.

As cars become more capable, they are also going to engage in hitherto-unseen marketplace conflicts. Should you buy a 7 Series Bimmer or a Denali XL? A Corvette or a Macan Turbo S? Which brings us to today’s unusual matchup… but before we click that jump, here’s a reminder to send your most burning questions to askjack@calamarco.com.

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By on July 25, 2017

(Public domain)

All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. No doubt some of you will recognize that little speech, even if you’re not quite of the correct generation to have seen Blade Runner in the theater. It was on my mind as I sat in my father’s office yesterday and talked to him about the value of my Porsche 993.

“Sell the car and invest the money for your son,” he suggested, before leaning back in his chair and clarifying, “Of course, right now you’d have trouble finding an investment that is doing as well as that car.” The man has a point. I don’t think we’ve hit Peak Aircooled Value yet, as ridiculous as that sounds — but that time will come, and on the other side of that singular moment will be a free-fall into the abyss.

Not just for my 993. Not just for the Boss 302 formerly owned by my brother. It will swallow everything. My car. Bark’s car. Your car. Ralph Lauren’s McLaren F1. Every Hemi ‘Cuda ever made and every Ferrari F40. They will all become utterly, completely worthless. Like scrap metal worthless. You know it’s going to happen. But would you believe that you’ll live to see it? Because chances are that you will.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and it’s going to be here sooner than you think.

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By on July 21, 2017

Scion xB, Image: Toyota

If you’ve read enough of my writing, then you know that I am a fervent believer in what I call the power of the story. Human beings rarely interact directly with reality; instead, we use stories to interpret what we are seeing in a way that makes sense. It’s why we no longer fear thunder and why people will cheerfully take food prepared for them by strangers.

Few aspects of our existence are as relentlessly story-driven as our interactions with the automobile. Without the power of story, we would see automobiles as nothing but machines for accomplishing a particular task, be it a commute, a vacation, or an SCCA race — and we would judge them solely on their ability to accomplish that task. Trust me, if we all did that it would be absolutely ruinous for the automaker profit margins out there. Imagine picking a car the way you’d pick a dishwasher or, um, a power supply. You would quickly forget about intangibles and focus on fitness for purpose.

Over the past couple of decades, I’ve tried to shed my personal addiction to the automotive narrative and learn how to “understand the thing for itself,” as Marcus Aurelius wrote. This can lead to some surprising conclusions… and it looks like I’m not the only one who has acquired at least a little bit of this skill. Normally we wouldn’t do two Ask Jack columns in one week, but the fellow in this case says he’s going to make a choice this weekend, so let’s pull the trigger pronto and get right to the question.

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By on July 21, 2017

1995 Plymouth Neon, Image: Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a believer in the idea of authentically American small cars, then you’ve had a rough couple of years. The last compact or subcompact to be engineered ground-up by an American corporation was probably the ’95 Dodge/Plymouth Neon, although some kind of argument might be possible for the Chevrolet Cobalt. In 2017, the Big Three have been reduced to selling locally assembled versions of a German car, a Korean car, and an Italian car. We’re basically where Brazil was in 1990.

Things are going to get worse. GM might discontinue some small cars altogether. Ford is going to build the Focus in China. FCA probably has no plans to bring a Dart successor here. This is the end, beautiful friend. Do you care?

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By on July 18, 2017

winter driving snowy road (public domain)

Quick now: Just how full is your refrigerator at this precise moment? I mean, it is kinda full, is it sorta full, is it totally full, is it almost empty, does it have the bachelor’s portion of beer and Cretaceous takeout? The reason I ask is because when I visit my more successful friends I’m simply bowled over by the amount of empty refrigerator space they have. Double and triple Northlands or Vikings with nothing in them. Deep stacks of empty shelves. Sometimes they have empty sections, doors behind which the air is chilled to 33 precise degrees but where nothing is stored.

My friends tell me that they need the space for the parties and gatherings they are going to have. I refrain from pointing out that in the modern suburban era nobody ever goes to anybody else’s house unless it is on pain of death/shunning/shaming. That gregarious age documented by Updike and Cheever is long gone. My friends won’t be hosts. Nobody’s coming to the parties that they won’t really have. All of that empty fridge space will always be empty. They spend most of their nights on “foodie adventures” anyway, spending massive amounts of money to avoid being trapped in their homes with only Netflix to fill the gaps in their meaningless conversations. And it’s only the two of them anyway, plus one designer baby after the wife turns 38 and panics.

I feel very virtuous, almost Spartan, because I only have a single-width Sub-Z from about 15 years ago. And my fridge is relatively full. But still there’s empty space. Sometimes Danger Girl goes through and tosses a half-ton of expired food. Still more fridge than we need. Compare that to the fridge at my grandmother’s house. She had four boys living in the house. Six people to my three. And her fridge was under six feet tall. With two cramped compartments. How did she do it, particularly given the fact that she cooked a real dinner, a real lunch, and a real breakfast every night? How did she survive on one-fifth the frosted space available to my DINK foodie friends?

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