Category: Editorials

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 7, 2017

mercury commuter

I’m old enough to remember when the word “minivan” didn’t exist, when American *moms drove carpools and kids to piano lessons in sedans and station wagons. Styles, tastes, and social conventions change, though. Over the decades we saw how Chrysler’s introduction of the front-wheel drive minivan, CAFE standards that favored light trucks, and women discovering that they liked sitting up high in traffic, have changed the American families’ fleet.

Due, in no small part, to consumers’ zeal to keep their mommymobiles from having the stigma of mommymobiles, we’ve seen the family “car” go from wagon, to minivan, to truck-based SUVs (which, much to those consumers’ dismay actually rode like trucks), to high-waisted passenger-car based crossovers. It’s not just the American fleet, either. CUVs are popular worldwide.

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By on July 11, 2017

car salesman in car dealership with key, Image: Kzenon/Bigstock

It’s a fairly bizarre story, and although you can read the whole thing at Slate, I’ll give you the rundown right here: TrueCar was the brainchild of a “professional disrupter” who specialized in founding companies that added an unnecessary level of Internet-ness to existing processes — think eToys or Pets.com. TrueCar had a lot of initial success before “going through the Swirl,” which is how TrueCar refers to the near-collapse of its business a few years back. The company’s founder had to ask the board for a raise so he could keep his Aston Martins, which emotionally damaged and triggered him to the point that he had to go to counseling.

I know, right? Just when you think that there’s nobody out there less likeable than a dealership principal, along comes a guy who needs therapy because he got a massive raise. But wait, it gets worse. After therapy, TrueCar’s founder “pivoted” towards helping dealerships make more money, because somehow that would be even more disruptive. The cynic in me thinks this 43-year-old billionaire just finally figured out what most teenagers learn with their first lemonade stand, and what pretty much all automotive journalists learn after their second press trip: if you have a choice between screwing over the people you talk to every day or screwing over some random person off the street, the smart business move is to prefer the interests of the former over the interests of the latter.

To make this as plain as possible: TrueCar is a “consumer service” that helps dealers maintain profit. So, there is absolutely no reason you should ever waste a moment of your time with TrueCar. At least, that’s how I personally saw it prior to last week, when I used TrueCar for the first time. Not that I wanted to use TrueCar, mind you. I just had no choice, because my mom made me use TrueCar.

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By on July 10, 2017

img_4426

July of 2013. Somewhere between Death Valley and the Mojave Desert, with the scorching summer sun beating down upon the bleached blacktop. Colin Firth’s perfectly accented voice reading the conclusion of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.

My white 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe Z71 carried me towards San Bernardino from Albuquerque on my journey to Cayucos, where I was headed to visit my great uncle through the nothingness of the desert and the interminable heat. It can drive a person crazy, particularly when you’re alone. While I don’t mind being alone, sometimes it’s not best to stew in your own thoughts for that long of a stretch. Instead, I listened to audio books on my iPhone, connected to the Bose stereo system via an auxiliary cable. The Tahoe had Bluetooth capability for phone but not for media. I didn’t mind.

My Tahoe has witnessed, and at times been party to, the ends of many an affair. The beginnings, as well — changing relationships, changing jobs, moving homes. The big white truck carried me both willingly and reluctantly from one place to the next, safely and successfully weathering storms both meteorological and emotional. It carried my amazing daughter, my German shepherd, Stella, and my most personal belongings on the journey from Albuquerque to Columbus. From time to time, it has also carried my preferred demons. It made sure I arrived to countless physical therapy appointments and home from several surgeries. In the 114,524 miles we were together, it betrayed me only once.

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By on June 23, 2017

2017 Civic Type R (European Version), Image: Honda

The release of the Civic Type R has created a lot of buzz. The recent media launch generated plenty of opinions as to its performance, including some reviewers who believe Honda has underrated the CTR in the same manner it has done with the Accord V6 in the past.

Their speculation seemed to be proven true as a video released from a shop in Puerto Rico showed the car making 301 wheel horsepower. Many outlets reported on the dyno test and, while some showed the data with a little skepticism thrown in, others went all in and told us that the CTR has hidden horsepower.

The real truth behind the dyno test is that it is valueless. We do not have any data on its calibration or the weather, and the dyno operator could have applied any correction factor on the data to boost the results. This is not an isolated case in reporting sketchy dyno results, as I see it multiple times per month from various outlets and, in just about every case, the data and reporting are meaningless.  Read More >

By on June 23, 2017

2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, Image: GM

Another month, another fresh batch of Burgerkingring-related stupidity. This time it’s the General Motors PR machine and its ever-reliable Southern California appendix stirring the hype for the new Camaro ZL1 1LE, which obtained a seven-minutes-and-change time when driven by an engineer around the course.

Nine times out of 10 I ignore this stuff entirely, but insofar as I was at the Ring just two weeks before the Camaro crew got there I thought this would be a good time to remind everybody out there why these times are completely and utterly meaningless.

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By on June 14, 2017

2017 Dodge Durango GT, Image © 2017 Corey Lewis/The Truth About Cars

This past week, your humble author spent three days on vacation with a rented 2017 Dodge Durango GT. The black wagon you see above is the result of terseness at the Enterprise counter, where I had a reservation for a “Standard, Buick Verano or similar” vehicle, but where a base model Elantra with 25,000 miles, stained seats, and wheel covers was presented by the Enterprise staff.

The Durango was equipped with the Navigation and Power Liftgate Group, bringing its price to around $42,000 before incentives. That’s far too much coin for the irritation this vehicle causes.

All things considered, the Elantra may have been less annoying to drive.

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By on June 12, 2017

Mark Stevenson in 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass S, Image: © Kayla Ross

Let’s keep this short, shall we?

This Friday will be my last day as The Truth About Cars’ managing editor. On Monday, I begin a new career elsewhere, outside of journalism but still in the automotive industry.

But this isn’t really a goodbye. I’ll be vacating the seat to sit in another as an editor-at-large here at TTAC, and will stay for as long as my replacement will have me.

Speaking of my replacement …

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By on June 6, 2017

What The Truck?

And did you know desire’s a terrible thing
The worst that I can find
And did you know desire’s a terrible thing
But I rely on mine

“Can’t Be Sure” was The Sundays’ brilliant 1989 debut, introducing all of us to the lovely Harriet Wheeler and her ability to sing the most heartbreaking lyrics possible in the voice of a spoiled British child. I took the above stanza to heart the minute I heard it, because it took something that had long animated me and put it into a few simple words. It’s no wonder that the Zen philosophers preach a detachment from desire, because it drives our worst and most selfish behaviors. Virtually every regrettable or repugnant episode in my life has begun with me looking at something (or, more often, someone) and pronouncing, like Henderson The Rain King, “I WANT!”

Yes, desire is a terrible thing — but I rely on mine, as I’ve recently been reminded. You see, I need a full-size pickup. But need is in no way synonymous with desire, so I’m absolutely stuck in the mud trying to figure out what I should do next.

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By on June 1, 2017

Mazda MX-5 Cup Coolant Neck, Image: © 2017 Bozi Tatarevic

Our race weekend at New Jersey Motorsports park was months in the making and the MX-5 Cup car known as Marylin finally felt solid. We arrived late, so the plan was to pull the car off the trailer, complete an ABS calibration, and then head back to the hotel to get a little rest before the afternoon qualifying session.

The MX-5 had other plans and started steaming from the back of the cylinder head after the ABS test.

The qualifying session was just a few hours away and the leak appeared to be coming from an unreachable spot between the cowl and transmission bellhousing. Online diagrams showed an O-ring at the joint that was leaking but the closest Mazda dealership had none in stock. If we were home in North Carolina, the move would be to go to the sole local mom-and-pop store and raid their case full of various o-rings until we found the right one, but a quick Google search showed that all we had around us were national parts chains.

These stores had no such case and their computer system showed no rear water outlet o-ring for the MX-5. Time was running out. We had to qualify. We put the car back together and sent it out on track. When it came back, the bit of steam had turned into a waterfall coming down over the bellhousing and our race weekend looked like it had come to an end.

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By on May 17, 2017

Chevrolet Corvette C7 convertible roof gif - Image: giphy

Intending to ask your advice before I actually made a purchase, I was left alone with no family to entertain me last Friday night and, well, something happened. To go along with our long-term 2015 Honda Odyssey EX, I exchanged a large sum of cash for a new vehicle.

Tell people what you’re going to name your baby, and they will tell you what they really think. Tell people what you named your baby, and they’re more likely to say, “Oh, how nice,” even if you named him Dwayne.

Similarly, tell people what car you’re planning to buy, and they’ll be forthright with their opinions. Tell them what you’ve already bought, and they’ll be more likely to say, “Oh, how nice,” even if you bought a Outlander.

So we’re going back in time to last Thursday. The automotive universe is littered with options. My choices are limitless. Major life changes have presented our family with new opportunities, but also new challenges. Regardless, it’s time to double the size of our fleet. Read More >

By on May 16, 2017

#HondaFamilyOdyssey

Ripples on a pond. Waves on the ocean. On the surface, they’re innocuous. But make enough waves and you know’ll you’re either doing the right or wrong thing, taking the right or wrong action, getting the right or wrong result.

In this particular case, the waves were building in the form of private messages and an email from a public relations representative from an OEM. It read:

From: <OEM PR flack>
To: <Mark Stevenson>
Subject: Seriously?

Honda…

That was it.

Even with only two words, the email was a no-brainer. The flack was talking about the Honda Odyssey launch.

Just weeks before that email, some members of TTAC had an at-length discussion on our participation in the event as TTAC’s invite to the program sat unanswered in my inbox.

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By on May 16, 2017

1999 Nissan Z Concept, Image: Nissan

I fell in love for the first time as a 10-year-old boy in tiny Pella, Iowa. She passed me and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her until she turned the corner and ran away.

That babe was the 1970 Datsun 240Z, and it was driven by one of the coolest cats in town.

Little did I know then that I’d have a hand in bringing the Z back from the dead some 28 years later.

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By on May 15, 2017

2017 Car Wash Show, Image: © 2017 Sajeev Mehta/The Truth About Cars

Some trade shows embrace the purist of missions, refraining from creating pointless content in hopes of mindless media coverage. The Car Wash Show caters to professionals in the car-care business with nary a sensationalist notion and not an autoblogger in sight on the show floor. This show isn’t about clicks, reach or engagement.

Which was precisely why I attended, embedded with my Mumbai-based cousin in the trade to learn more.

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By on May 12, 2017

Confident car dealer giving a handshake car showroom on the background, Image: stockasso/bigstock.com

I spent 33 years in the automobile business, the equivalent of 96 human years. Having worked for car dealerships, manufacturers, an auction house, and an auto finance company, I’m convinced there is no other industry that attracts such a diverse cast of characters. Many of them defied stereotypes: I met car sales people who were honest, ethical and hardworking. I also worked with senior executives of well-respected automobile companies who were total sleazebags.

Throughout the years, I kept meeting the same set of six people over and over. These are their stories. Their names have been changed to protect the guilty. Read More >

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