The Truth About Cars » Media http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Media http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/editorials/media/ Solar Roadways: A Modest Proposal? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/solar-roadways-a-modest-proposal/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/solar-roadways-a-modest-proposal/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 16:07:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=833633 Click here to view the embedded video.

Last week, an amazing video popped up on my Facebook feed. Produced by a small Idaho based startup seeking funding from the public via an IndieGoGo campaign, it offers a glimpse into a possible future where the roads are made out of reinforced glass panels that contain solar cells, microprocessors and LEDs. The company, Solar Roadways, has been working on this product for years and it has already attracted a considerable amount of attention from the tech community. Now, as it seeks money to hire a team of engineers to perfect and streamline the production process, it appears as though Solar Roadways is finally ready for the big time.

The proposal is simple in concept but the implications and the potential costs are vast. The best breakdown I found comes from Singularityhub.com who looked at the project in-depth back in August of 2010 and crunched all the numbers with a mathematical expertise I have no hope of matching. The long and short of it is this: If we were to replace the approximately 30,000 square miles of paved roads, sidewalks and parking lots in our nation with currently available commercial solar panels which offer about 18.5% efficiency, the project could generate approximately 14 billion kilowatts of energy – or about three times what the US currently generates each year. Replacing all our nation’s pavement, however, would require around 5.6 billion panels and, at a cost of around $10,000 per 12’X12’ section, could ultimately cost somewhere on the order of $56 trillion dollars. Factoring in longevity and repairs, Singularity hub’s mathematicians figure that Solar roadways will be about 50% more expensive than asphalt but admit the relative costs may change given improvements in solar technology or a spike in oil prices.

Hard numbers aside, the technology presented is pretty amazing. Tied into a computer network, the LED lighting incorporated into the system could be used for any number of purposes including variable lanes, speed limits, crosswalks, or written warnings. The video also shows how heating elements could be used to keep the roadways free of ice and snow year round, something that might actually ease the coming transition to self-driving cars. Just sitting here thinking about it, it occurs to me that it may even be possible to tie the network into an on-the-road charging network where cars’ batteries are charged as they pass over magnetic fields generated by the roadway itself. Who knows how else it might be used?

It would be easy to dismiss this Solar Roadways as just another hippie dippy, pie in the sky idea but there was a time when many people dismissed the cellular telephone, too. The network was virtually nonexistent and the phones themselves were outrageously expensive, but what seemed only marginally useful back then has transformed modern day society in ways we never imagined. Solar Roadways, it seems to me, could be another leap forward and, while the costs are huge, so too is the opportunity. I’d like to see this go forward.

Solar Roadways’ IndieGoGo campaign has far exceeded its rather modest million dollar goal, but will remain open until the end of the month.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/solar-roadways-a-modest-proposal/feed/ 136
Tesla Fires Back Against Accusations Brought By Lemon Law King http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/tesla-fires-back-against-accusations-brought-by-lemon-law-king/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/tesla-fires-back-against-accusations-brought-by-lemon-law-king/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 11:30:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=793490 tesla-model-s-11

Tesla has fired back against the accusations brought in a lawsuit filed against the company earlier this week by a Wisconsin attorney and self-described “Lemon law King” Vince Megna. Mr. Megna’s client, a physician who took delivery of his Model S in March of last year, alleges that he has had repeated problems with the car’s doors and main fuse and that repeated attempts to remedy the problem have met with no success. He is asking that, after four attempts at resolving the issues, the company re-purchase the car under Wisconsin lemon laws intended to protect buyers if a product is faulty and cannot be repaired by the manufacturer.

Tesla’s response, published on their official blog and attributed to “The Tesla Motors Team,” claims factual inaccuracies in the attorney’s statements. The company writes that, although the customer filed an official buy-back request in November 2013, they have continued to work him to resolve his issues, many of which have “elusive” origins. They go on to say that their technicians were unable to replicate customer’s main complaints, problems with the door handles and the car’s main fuse, and that after replacing several of the parts in question without alleviating the situation they began to suspect the car was being tampered with. They noted that all the issues with the main fuse came shortly after the car’s front trunk, which gives access to the fuse, was opened and claim that the part has performed flawlessly since technicians applied a tamper-proof seal to the switch.

Tesla concludes their response by noting that the attorney in question also filed a Lemon Law suit against Volvo in February 2013 on behalf of the same customer and encourages the public to be aware of how opportunistic lawyers can take advantage of lemon laws.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/tesla-fires-back-against-accusations-brought-by-lemon-law-king/feed/ 88
The Manly Art Of Stick Handling http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/the-manly-art-of-stick-handling/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/the-manly-art-of-stick-handling/#comments Sat, 22 Mar 2014 15:02:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=778449 6-speed manual transmission

I was browsing the internet the other day and came across a website that purports to be “A guy’s post-college guide to growing up.” Normally I avoid websites like this. I learned about the manly arts the old fashioned way, dangerous experimentation, but since I have been wrestling with an especially verdant crop of nose hair recently I thought I might find some grooming tips and so I decided to check it out. Amongst all the articles on slick, greasy-looking haircuts, sensual massage techniques and the power of positive self-development, I found this handy beginners’ guide on how to drive a stick shift. Since it was one of the only things on the site I had any real experience with, I looked it over and decided it was pretty good. Naturally, I thought I would share it.

Like sword fighting and bare knuckle boxing before it, driving a car with a manual transmission is on the verge of becoming a lost manly art. One day soon I expect to tune into the History Channel and hear someone explain how archeologists think these devices might have worked and watch as historic re-enactors dress up in their oldest bell bottoms and tie dyed shirts in order to drive around in their automatic transmission equipped replicas while making shift noises and pretending to step on a clutch pedal that isn’t there.

You keep both hands on the wheel, Frankie. I’ll handle the stick.

OK, perhaps I am being just a little facetious here, but let’s face it, manual transmissions are moving out of the mainstream and there will come a time when only cars aimed at the enthusiast market will bother to offer them. History tells me, of course, that it wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things that all cars had manual transmissions. Some people will say they also had crank starts, hand-operated chokes and manual spark advance too, and that no one ever laments the loss of those things. It is, they will say, the price we pay for progress. The old things go away, replaced with new things that serve the masses better and, despite the fact that a few people may lament their loss, the fact is that vast majority will hardly notice their absence.

That’s not going to be the case with the manual transmission. Learning to shift your own gears is a right of passage. It is something that people grew up watching their elders do and upon a child’s entry into adulthood, the skill was handed down across the generations, person to person. With few exceptions, those clever, intrepid people who had the gumption to teach themselves, every one of us who knows how to work a stick learned from someone else.

Click here to view the embedded video.

I started out the way most young people do, pretending to row the gears in an old broken down Opel Kadette in my parents’ garage and eventually wheedled a lesson from my older brother Tracy who took me out in his, then, fairly new 1978 Nova. It was a pretty little car, a red on red two door coupe that had a 250 cid six cylinder under the hood and was as utilitarian as they come. I started out shifting gears from the passenger seat to get the feel of the shift lever and by the time I slipped over behind the controls had a fairly good idea of what I needed to be doing with my hands. Learning how to work the pedals took a little longer but, with my brother’s encouragement, I eventually got the hang of it.

I won’t say the experience changed my world, but it did open up a part of it that is, unfortunately, closed to many young people today. By the time I got my first car, a slightly older six cylinder three speed manual Nova of my own, there was no doubt about my ability to work the thing and, over the years and in the many manual equipped cars that would follow, I built upon the skills my brother taught me.

12MustangBoss302_07_LR

Running a car with a manual transmission connects man and machine in a way few other things can. In that same way the bumps and judders transmitted to a driver’s fingers through steering wheel gives one a connection to the pavement rushing beneath their seat, the vibrations transmitted to the palm of your hand by a shift ball and the sole of your left foot by the clutch pedal gives you a direct connection to a car’s drive train. Also, because you don’t have computer managing your engine speed and choosing the best gear, a manual transmission forces you to watch your gauges, to monitor the tachometer, and to actively think about the process of driving. These things pull driver and car together and when a driver has real focus they can join with the vehicle in the way that jockeys talk about becoming one with the animal during a race. That experience is, in a nutshell, enthusiasm is its purest form.

As a fat, hairy, old-school ape man, I have a special disdain for the “self-improvement” media and magazines that try to tell young men what it means to be a man while, at the same time, attempting to sell them a plethora of products to make them ever softer and ever more sensual, but this time I think they nailed it. Perhaps driving a manual is no longer a skill that every man must have, but it is a skill that every man – and every woman, really – should aspire to. It doesn’t matter if you learn if from your brother or a magazine, just get out there and learn it before it’s too late.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/the-manly-art-of-stick-handling/feed/ 228
Leno Talks Nissan IDx: What’s Left Unsaid Speaks Volumes http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/leno-talks-nissan-idx-whats-left-unsaid-speaks-volumes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/leno-talks-nissan-idx-whats-left-unsaid-speaks-volumes/#comments Mon, 10 Mar 2014 15:42:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=768962 IDx Freeflow / IDx NISMO

The Nissan IDx concept, which debuted at the Tokyo motor show back in November of last year, is in the news again, this time appearing on YouTube as a part of the popular Jay Leno’s Garage series. We learned in January that the IDx is expected to go into full production and Nissan has been relentlessly seeking publicity for it by taking it to events all around the country. It is a good looking little car with just enough retro touches to remind people of the times when Nissan was sold in this country under the Datsun brand name and this video is the lengthiest review of the car I have yet seen. Leno spends a lot of time speaking with the car’s designer about all the little details that make the car so special and then takes it on a real world test drive. If you haven’t seen it yet, take time to look at it now as it will soon be the topic of discussion around water coolers and wherever else it is that car guys gather these days.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Rather than review the video, I’ll let you watch it and draw your own conclusions but I was struck by the fact that, even during the test drive, there was no discussion about the car’s driving dynamics or performance. Leno and the car’s designer ride around together talking about silly things like three-box design philosophy and keeping the car cheap so that normal people can afford it, but at no point does Jay say, “Wow, this thing handles great” or “Wow, this thing really accelerates.” Perhaps it was a simple omission on the part of the video’s producers but I feel like it could be more than that and, because of it, I am getting an odd sense of foreboding.

Back when Nissan announced that the IDx would go into production, they mentioned that the turbocharged engine in the show car would not make the final cut. They suggested instead that the production car would mount a 1.6 liter four cylinder and this earlier statement is confirmed by the designer during his ride with Leno. What does not come up in this conversation, however, is the other bit of informaion Nissan originally dropped in their January announcement: that their stated choice of transmissions for the car is their continuously variable transmission.

Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

I would imagine that, if Nissan was paying attention to the opinions of their many fans and had elected to go with a different choice of transmissions, the designer would happily have trumpeted that decision during the interview. The fact that he ignores the transmission altogether makes me feel even more certain that the IDx will be delivered exactly as Nissan’s original announcement indicates – sans manual. Frankly, I am disappointed, and unless the company takes action to offer at least some version of the car where people can row their own gears, I think the IDx is going to be another one of those cars that almost, but not quite, caters to the enthusiast market.

To be sure, I’m not sure if catering to the enthusiast market is a wise thing to do for a car intended to sell in large volumes, but I would like to think that our opinions still matter. If nothing else, enthusiasts generate buzz around a new car and that excitement can and does drive people into the show rooms. The industry has this habit of hyping cars to the enthusiast market and then coming up short and, frankly, I don’t like it. I believe the BRZ/FR-S is not selling in the numbers they expected because Toyota and Subaru decided they knew better than us about what people really wanted in a small sporty coupe. Dodge, too, horribly botched the debut of the new Dart by failing to bring enough automatic transmissions to market something that is, from my perspective, at least partially to blame for their failure to sell what is otherwise a nice little car. Will the Nissan IDx be the next example of a promising little car that ultimately under-delivers? I honestly hope it isn’t because I would love to live in a world where we have more than enough cute, zippy, fun to drive little cars running around, rather than a world where I am always right.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/leno-talks-nissan-idx-whats-left-unsaid-speaks-volumes/feed/ 87
Testing The Limits Of Civil Obedience: An Experiment http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/testing-the-limits-of-civil-obedience-an-experiment/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/testing-the-limits-of-civil-obedience-an-experiment/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 11:00:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=740529 2013 Taurus Police Interceptor -02- Picture courtesy David Hester

Yesterday, while folks in the Southeast were getting hammered with their second severe winter storm in two weeks, the skies over Buffalo were wonderfully bright and sunny. Of course, when you count the wind chill factor, the temperature barely climbed into the double digits but as a result of the sun and a whole lot of road salt, the highways here were mostly bare and dry. That means my evening commute was a breeze. I hit Route 33 and ran my little CUV up to just over the 55 mph limit and sailed right out of town. Things were going great, but then, unexpectedly, traffic began to slow.

I shifted left into a place I really don’t run that much these days and wicked the speed up to a smidge over 60 in order to keep up the pace. I found myself fourth or fifth back in a line of cars that was whizzing up the fast lane overtaking car after car and, as a student of the road, I began to wonder just what the hell was holding all these people up. I found the reason at the head of the line, a Buffalo City Police cruiser running right at the limit and, like all the good people of the Earth who don’t want a senseless speeding ticket, I found myself easing off the gas. But as I noted his lack of response to all of the cars ahead of me that were simply accelerating away into the wide open space the officer had created, I decided that for whatever reason he simply wasn’t interested in writing tickets and so I continued on, barely adjusting my pace.

Always on the lookout for something that will make a meatier TTAC article than my usual shtick of old time reminiscences, I came home and spent some time on the computer looking at traffic patterns and wondering just how these rolling roadblocks affect the flow of traffic. What, I asked myself, is the point of setting a speed limit that is so low that people simply disobey it as a matter of course? Virtually everyone, I found, pushes the limit and. unless an officer is looking for an excuse to stop a suspicious vehicle, the least of these transgressions are simply ignored and so we receive a sort of tacit approval to speed. Knowing how fast to go can be a problem, however, but most people are pretty good at judging the speeds of the cars around us and we usually just fall into line and run with the crowd. When that happens, people who follow the strict letter of the law become road hazards.

Click here to view the embedded video.

In 2006, a group of Georgia college students decided to point out the absurdity of the 55 mph speed limit by getting in their cars, lining up next to one another on the interstate and then actually following the rules as they drove around the city of Atlanta. Their Youtube video “A Meditation on the Speed Limit” explains the genesis of their plan and gives us the opportunity to observe first hand as we ride along during their daring act of “civil obedience.” It’s like most amateur videos, shaky, poorly framed and without enough shots of the girls, but its an interesting watch. If you are in a place where you can’t actually view the video now, just know that the beginning has several young people railing about the speed limit and talking about their plan, the middle cuts to the car where we see the kids annoying a whole lot of people and nearly causing an accident as they proceed to back up traffic for miles and miles and then ends with them talking about how great their plan was and how they proved the absurdity of the speed limit.

What grabbed my attention were the reactions of the other drivers around them. We all know the law, American roads generally have signs telling us the limit every few miles, but every driver also understands the unwritten rules of the road that tell us we can exceed that limit in a reasonable way so long as everyone else on the road is running somewhere around that same speed. It is a social norm and, when faced with the rolling road block, the social contract we have with other drivers broke down. People were outraged and they started doing anything they could to break through. They even got downright dangerous at times, a couple of people going so far as to use the breakdown lane to make high speed passes!

Writing this now, had I been driving one of the cars stuck behind them, I’m not sure how I would have responded . I would like to think that I would have enough sense not to make a dangerous and illegal pass, but I probably would have followed too closely, hit the headlights, blared the horn and eventually made some pretty threatening gestures after the blockade ended and the kids were busy patting themselves on the back. This kind of thing really makes me angry. We may be a nation of laws but we are a society of norms and whenever the two clash people can get seriously hurt. It is generally accepted that we get at least 5 to 10 mph over in most cases and we damn well better get it.

The strange thing is that I could find no proof that anyone involved in this stunt was ever punished. I found contradictory statements in the press from Georgia State Police officials who said that it was against the law to block the fast lanes, but that the kids did nothing wrong because they were running at the posted speed limit. I expect similar confusion when we hit the point where our in-car technology is used to report speeding violations or to assess us fines. It will be interesting to see if the government continues to allow us the traditional few over or whether they decide to turn this into a cash-cow and get people for every little infraction. The lure of easy money is there and if the whole traffic camera fight is any indication, some municipalities will take the bait. If people react to that intrusion into their daily lives the way they acted towards these kids’ silly experiment, you can expect a revolution. Let’s just hope it happens in the voting booth.

Obama angry.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/testing-the-limits-of-civil-obedience-an-experiment/feed/ 206
GPS Tracking: Catch This Fly With Honey http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/gps-tracking-win-this-fly-with-honey/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/gps-tracking-win-this-fly-with-honey/#comments Tue, 14 Jan 2014 21:22:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=697681 Photo courtesy of media.ford.com

Photo courtesy of media.ford.com

Last week, Ford’s Global VP of Marketing and Sales, Jim Farley, told a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that Ford has access to data on its customers’ driving habits via the GPS system installed in their cars. “We know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone,” he said. The next day Mr. Farley adjusted his statement to avoid giving the wrong impression saying that the statement was hypothetical and that Ford does not routinely collect information on, or otherwise track, drivers through their GPS systems without those drivers’ consent and approval. That approval comes from turning on and opting into specific services like 911 Assist and something called Sync Services Directions, a system that links the GPS system to users’ cellular phones. So that’s that, right?

I’m going to say right here that I believe Ford when they say they aren’t collecting information on individual drivers because, if you think about it, they really don’t need the level of detail that sort of tracking can provide. It matters little to Ford whether or not you like to run 5 MPH over the speed limit on your morning commute or just how often you go to the gym so it seems unlikely that they would seek to collect that kind of data. No, I think that, just as Mr. Farley speculated in the comments that followed his initial revelation, they really are interested in the big picture issues, the kind of data that urban planners may want or even the sale of bulk data to other marketers, say a retailer trying to determine the best place to open a new store.

Of course, what’s true about the Ford Motor Company may not be true of others. The Federal government, for example, may want to track the movements of certain people and state and local governments may want to link into that data stream to determine whether or not people are obeying traffic regulations. Right or wrong, necessary or not, the government using your cars’ onboard computers to keep tabs on you is something that will continue to evolve in the years to come, but it the actual topic I wanted to discuss today wasn’t government intrusion into our lives, it was where I think this is really headed – a new form of advertising.

Years ago I read a factoid that said when most Americans have the opportunity to opt out of junk mail, things like advertising brochures and store catalogs, we actually sign up for more. I think that’s as true today as it was back then. We don’t like intrusive forms of advertising like phone calls during the dinner hour and pop-up ads in our browsers, but generally speaking the average American doesn’t mind things like targeted ads that appear off to the side or above a website’s banner. These things are, we know, a necessary evil, the price we pay for free content. After all, someone has to pay the bills in order to keep a website running and targeted ads based on my browsing history are an effective way of getting me to see a product I might actually buy. I’m OK with that. If I read an article about a mini-van and, as a result, get links to companies that sell mini-vans, that’s actually helpful.

2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Interior, Infotainment, Navigation, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

So why aren’t these things happening with our GPS units? If I frequent hamburger joints, then sponsored content might actually get me to try some place new, right? If I search for an auto parts store, why not do what Google Maps already does on my home computer and put sponsored links on top and then others down below? It’s the way the yellow pages used to work and so long as I get all the information I need then I’m willing to look at your sponsored content. Of course, I want something in return, maybe a free GPS head unit or a free satellite radio subscription, but if you make it worth my while and it could be a win-win situation.

I’m serious! It’s how the free market works and I, along with a great many others I am sure, don’t mind the intrusion as long as you make it worth my while. All that other “big brother” stuff is going to get sorted out eventually and I am firmly in the camp that believes that, since I’m not doing anything wrong, someone looking over my shoulder doesn’t hurt me at all. Give me something for free while avoiding pop-ups and you can track me all you want. In fact, I’ll be the first in line to subscribe and I’m sure that tens of millions of Americans will be right behind me. Bring on that better, brighter future.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/gps-tracking-win-this-fly-with-honey/feed/ 75
One Man’s Love For His Mother, The Car http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/one-mans-love-for-his-mother-the-car/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/one-mans-love-for-his-mother-the-car/#comments Tue, 12 Nov 2013 12:00:16 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=647954

Long before Knight Rider’s KITT, back in the mid 1960s there was a television show about a car that talked. I’m not sure just how they pitched the idea to the network, my guess is that it had something to do with the popularity of the Mister Ed show. If a horse could talk, why not a car? Anyhow, the 1965 show was called My Mother The Car and it’s generally acknowledged to be one of the worst tv sitcoms ever. Some feel it may even be the worst television show, comedy or drama, ever, though it managed to last a full season, 30 episodes. The show starred Jerry Van Dyke whose character discovers, while shopping for a used car, that his late mother, played by Ann Sothern’s voice over the car radio, has been reincarnated as a 1928 Porter. Don’t bother doing a search, there was no 1928 Porter, unlike Jack Benny’s Maxwell. Though there has been a couple of car companies named Porter, Mother, the car, was fictional, created just for the tv show, said to be named after the show’s production manager. The car used in the show was originally made by customizer Norm Grabowski, who’d already made cars for the television industry, like the T Bucket Edd Byrnes‘ “Kookie” character drove in 77 Sunset Strip, which started a hot rod fad that continues to today. As with other tv cars, George Barris managed to get involved, in this case making a replica used for stunts. From Wikipedia:

For the TV show, assistant prop man Kaye Trapp leased the producers a 1924 Ford T-tub hot rod he recently bought from his friend and its builder, Norm Grabowski. Both Grabowski and the car had earlier appeared in the B movie comedy Sex Kittens Go to College (1960).

The 1928 Porter touring car sported diamond-tufted naugahyde upholstery, oversized white tonneau cover, plush black carpeting, chrome windshield braces and half-moon hubcaps. Trapp and studio special effects man Norm Breedlove (father of land-speed-record-setter Craig Breedlove) modified the car to give it an elongated engine compartment, palladian-style brass radiator with “Porter” script, a spare tire mounted on the running board, outboard fuel tank and antique cane-clad trunk. (It was later fitted, as needed, with special effects hardware, such as an oil tank drip to simulate a smoking engine and “tear ducts” in the headlamp bezels.) Off-camera operation of electrics was by umbilical cable. The signature features gave it an anachronistic look, resembling cars of earlier eras.

The power train was the rod-grade 283 cu in V8 (Chevrolet small-block) engine mated with Powerglide automatic transmission. The “Porter” was registered (as a modified Ford) in 1964 with the contemporary yellow-on-black California license plates PZR 317 evident throughout the show’s run. Though it bore a few design similarities with the FRP Porter, which may have suggested the television car’s moniker, it is rumored that the car was named after the show’s production manager, W. A. Porter.

When series production was approved, the Grabowski rod was retained as the “hero” car, and a second — “stunt”, or special effects — car was commissioned and built by celebrated car customizer George Barris, whose Barris Kustom Industries licensed it to AMT for model kit production (an inaccurate rendering) and also toured it after series wrap with other of his creations. The stunt car, not conventionally driveable, was ingeniously equipped with apparatus to let Mother “drive herself” via a system of levers and mirrors operated by a short human driver concealed on a tractor seat below the removed rear floorboards. It also had other special mechanical features, such as gimbaled headlamps.

Both cars had the dashboard-mounted radio head with flashing dial light through which Mother “talked” (though only to her son). These scenes were filmed with a stand-in; actress Ann Sothern’s voice was dubbed to the soundtrack in post-production. Generally, the hero car was used for driving shots and close-ups, and the stunt car for long shots and special effects sequences. Either was available as a stand-in in case of mechanical breakdown on set. Though made to represent one car, they can be distinguished by minor details, and actually appeared together in one episode.

Even though the Porter in My Mother The Car was fictional, and even though the show is just about as bad as reported, you still might want to watch the video above of the first episode, if only to see Hollywood’s idea of a used car lot circa 1965. Yes, that’s Sammy Davis Jr. singing the theme song. It’s worth noting that Alan Burns, the show’s creator, went on to have a hand in some of television’s most successful shows, like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spinoffs Rhoda and Lou Grant. James Brooks, who produced Room 222 and Taxi and is the executive producer of The Simpsons, got his start writing an episode of My Mother The Car. There were talented people who worked on the Edsel and Pontiac Aztek too.

If you can sit through the entire episode you have a higher tolerance for bad comedy than I do, but I encourage you to check out the video below about Dave Bodnar, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Bodnar bought and restored Mother, the “Porter” that Grabowski, Trapp and Breelove put together. As you might expect about someone who would buy an artifact of such a notorious failure, Mr. Bodnar is a bit eccentric, but endearing. In a way, he’s funnier than the sitcom.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/one-mans-love-for-his-mother-the-car/feed/ 15
Family Jewels: What Dribbled Down To You? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/family-jewels-what-dribbled-down-to-you/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/family-jewels-what-dribbled-down-to-you/#comments Sat, 02 Nov 2013 15:08:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=640409 Photo Courtesy of Cardomain.com

Photo Courtesy of Cardomain.com

Today, my wacky morning DJ, right after he said democracy was a joke and called me “dude,” hit us with this fun fact: 39% of young people choose the same brand of car their parents drove. I’m not sure if that is impressive as the previous day’s fact, that 20 million pounds of candy corn are sold annually in the United States, but it made me think about my father’s preference in vehicles and whether or not I had followed suit. Despite the fact that my old man had pretty good taste in cars, the answer, oddly enough, is “no.”

Like the late, great Jean Sheppard once wrote about his own father, my father was an Oldsmobile man. Of course today Oldsmobile is as dead as the Huppmobile and unless I want to reach back into history and buy one on the used market, I’m never going to own the same brand of car my dad did. I have owned a few other GM cars over the years, a GMC Jimmy, my current Pontiac Torrent, a Geo Metro and a few well used Novas I found dead in people’s yards but, truth be told, I am not GM guy. I, for whatever reason, am a Mopar guy.

I’m not really sure why I settled on a Dodge Shadow back in early 1988. My buddy Rick had an old Dodge Charger for a while, but other than that I really had no experience with the brand and looking back there were some really great cars on the market for similar money. I could have had a Toyota Corolla Twin-Cam, a Honda CRX like my friend John bought, Nissan had two or three little coupes on the market including the Turbo 200SX and Chevrolet offered both the Baretta and the Z24 Cavalier as direct competitors to the little Dodge Turbos. For whatever reason, I passed them all by and went to my local Dodge shop.

Which would you choose?

Which would you choose?

My experience with the Dodge wasn’t entirely trouble free, but considering the amount of abuse I dished out the little car held up remarkably well. As a result I have always thought of myself as a “Dodge guy” and always shop their products when I am looking to purchase a new vehicle. The 300M I owned and my recent purchase of our new Town & Country have their roots in my positive, early experiences with the brand and I think that more Chrysler products will eventually follow.

But will my kids be Chrysler fans? Given all the recent mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, I‘m not sure it really matters. Eventually, they’ll have a chance to take the controls and decide whatever they like on their own, and my only hope is that they feel the same passion for cars and driving that I do. If they get that, then I’ll consider my job as one well done.

Let me ask though, how much does you parents’ brand loyalty or ownership experience play into your own brand affinity? Are you loyal to a single brand at all? A single country’s product? I’d like to hear about it.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/family-jewels-what-dribbled-down-to-you/feed/ 125
Editorial: The Mob Mentality, The Unwise Brag, The Witch Hunt http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/editorial-the-mob-mentality-the-unwise-brag-the-witch-hunt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/editorial-the-mob-mentality-the-unwise-brag-the-witch-hunt/#comments Sat, 05 Oct 2013 15:02:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=606145 wez mm2

By now everyone with an interest in any kind of motorsports has had a chance to view the terrifying video of an innocent New York City family surrounded and then attacked by a gang of motorcycle riding thugs. Every one of us has placed ourselves behind the wheel of that Range Rover, our wife beside us, our infant daughter in the back seat and thought about what we would have done had we been the head of that family under siege. What happened there is an unconscionable act of mob violence. It was precipitated by the stupid actions of a single motorcyclist and made worse by the general attitude among riders that it is “them or us” out there.

I have always thought that motorcycling is an individual endeavor. I grew up in the country and I didn’t know anyone who rode when I purchased my first street bike. I learned about the sport through the magazines and by actually going out and riding. It never occurred for me to seek out other riders and so I had almost a decade of real, on-the-road riding experience when I first logged onto AOL back in the mid 90s and found their motorcycle chat room. It was, to say the least, an eye-opening experience and it was the first time I ever spoke to other riders about things like gear, safety and how to avoid accidents. Thanks to my hard-won experience, I had a lot to share but I learned a lot too. As time passed and the internet expanded, I found Usenet and Yahoo groups and eventually forums like Sportbikes.net.

By 2006, I was a regular contributor to and moderator of the New Riders’ Forum on the website Sportbikes.net (SBN). In the interest of full disclosure allow me to say that although my actual participation in discussions on the site has waned over the past few years, I still have close friends among the moderators there and that SBN, like TTAC, is a Verticalscope owned website. Unlike TTAC, which is an article based news and discussion website with a staff of editors, writers and automotive reviewers, the primary focus of SBN has always been its message boards. It is a lively place and SBN’s members come from all walks of life. Despite our differing socio economic status, levels of education, professions and politics, one thing united us: a love of motorcycles. It was then, and still is, a great place to talk about bikes.

Although the forum I was charged with managing was not one of the most active on SBN, it was the first stop for many people serious about getting into the hobby. We always encouraged new guys and gals to start small, use all the gear all the time and gradually build up their level of experience before jumping to higher powered bikes. Sometimes people were unhappy with our staid, conservative approach and we were taken to task by those who had started big and been just fine because they “respected their bike.” In the end I would like to think that those people who followed our advice had a better sense of the fundamentals than those who ignored us and that perhaps we saved a few lives.

The other thing we always told the new folks was “Ride like you are invisible and remember that everyone in a cage is trying to kill you.” We repeated the phrase so often it became a sort of mantra. It’s a useful metaphor because it helps grab a new rider’s attention and lets them know what is really at stake when they are out in traffic. But sometimes, I wonder if our efforts weren’t too successful because it seems to me that many riders have the attitude that they are constantly under attack. Because of that, they tend to respond violently to any perceived threat.

The internet is an odd place. Protected by the anonymity of their username and from the comfort of their own homes, where they sit in warmth and light with full bellies, tablet computer in-hand, in front of the TV with their wife beside them and their pets or children frolicking at their feet, people say the damnedest things. It’s even worse when they are among their internet friends, in their own familiar forums where they imagine that they are sitting in the smoking room of some old-fashioned men’s club, cigar in one hand whiskey in the other, surrounded by wood paneling and with the trophies of some long ago African safari mounted upon the walls they let their words flow too freely. People forget that a forum is actually a “public space” and that their most obtuse comments can be intercepted, stripped of their context, copied and rebroadcast to people outside of the club. When those words land, sans their humor, tone and context there can be hell to pay. So it was when a man named John Parks posting as a user named “technoweenie” on his own familiar forum, crownvic.net, announced to the whole world that he purposely caused motorcyclists to wreck.

The message, which was part of a conversation about a you-tube video of a motorcyclist known as the Ghost Rider who stunted around Europe, read: “…Changing lanes is not illegal. I do the same thing to cars all the time when they are being dumb and try to pass me at 20 over. If they hit me, guess what, their fault. And yes, some people on bikes deserve to die. I’ve witnessed several bike accidents ’cause the driver is just plain dumb.”

Later he followed that up with: “I have done many stupid things. Speeding at 90 mph kills, end of story. Last I heard, your license is gone if you’re going 90mph, so it’s not just speeding. That is reckless, and I can’t remember the last time I did something reckless and put people’s lives (or my own) in danger. ”

The first few messages were quickly picked up by other members of Crownvic.net who also happened to be motorcyclists and those people ended up linking to them on several biker forums. The message hit SBN on Feb 23, 2006 at 9:26 PM. By 11:02 SBN members had identified and posted the man’s email address. By 11:24 they had the VIN number to the car in question and the man’s Ham radio license number. By 11:41, they had identified the name and address of the company the man owned, an operation called “Pursuit Technologies” that sold light bars and other technology for police cars and then figured out that the car in question was actually a demo unit for the company and that it was outfitted with lights and other police gear which made it appear, despite the lack of official markings, to be an official police car.

At the behest of SBN members who lived in the region, the local news got involved and reporters showed up at Mr. Parks’ home with cameras in tow. They produced a story about the man with the “fake police car” and when they challenged him about the comments, he actually admitted he had written them. The police became involved and launched an investigation. One of SBN’s members created a special website, Johnparkssucks.com to track the progress of the investigation and on and on it went. In the end, the police investigation came up empty-handed and no one was ever able to attribute a single hit and run accident to Mr. Parks or his police lookalike Crown Victoria. A year later, johnparkssucks.com was taken quietly down and the whole incident faded away with a wimper.

So, what is the moral of this story? That people in groups, acting in the heat of the moment can do stupid things. Although no one in the SBN episode was physically injured or attacked, John Parks suffered for his thoughtlessness. He had his name – which I used here because it remains part of the public record of the incident – blasted all over the internet, his face splashed on the TV and the specifics of his job, hobbies and life made public. I am sure that, to this day, wherever he lives, John Parks lives in fear of the retribution of a sportbike community he did not actually harm. His mistake was being insensitive and he made his situation worse by shooting off his mouth in an internet forum where he felt too comfortable for his own good.

The world has moved on and the videos of John Parks’ interviews have fallen off the far side of the internet after going un-clicked upon for years. The original thread on Crownvic.net that started all the trouble has now vanished and only SBN’s thread, complete with its snippets of the offending original posts still exists. It sits today, 82 pages long, as a testament to one man’s thoughtless braggadocio and as an example of how a group of people with righteous intent was able to stir up a real-life hornets’ nest over something that, in the end, amounted to nothing. John Parks was stupid but we were over-reactive. It ended up as a witch hunt and, looking back on it now, I can see that no one comes out of it looking any better than anyone else. There is a lesson there, I think, for all of us.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/editorial-the-mob-mentality-the-unwise-brag-the-witch-hunt/feed/ 104
Why Is There A Hidden Drug Reference In CNet’s Review Of The Chrysler 300 SRT8? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/why-is-there-a-hidden-drug-reference-in-cnets-review-of-the-chrysler-300-srt8/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/why-is-there-a-hidden-drug-reference-in-cnets-review-of-the-chrysler-300-srt8/#comments Tue, 01 Oct 2013 16:11:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=532849 5keysdog

Late last night, a friend of mine posted the above video on my wall. At 2:15, CNet CarTech’s Brian Cooley demonstrates how the big Chrysler can read one’s text messages aloud. The example used may fly under the radar of most people, but anybody who has ever listened to rap music, or dealt massive quantities of cocaine, will pick up on it immediately.

Click here to view the embedded video.

At 2:10, Cooley discusses the feature, and upon hitting a button to vocalize the message, a female computerized voice robotically asks  “Hey can you spot me 5 keys on credit dog?” While I’ve never ever sold narcotics in my life, years of listening to gangsta rap gives me enough knowledge of street lingo to know that the individual in question is asking to be supplied with 5 kilos of drugs (most likely cocaine, as that drug tends to be denominated in kilograms) on credit. Current rap songs place the value of a kilo of cocaine at about $17,500, which would mean that the sender is asking for a very generous loan – almost enough to buy two 300 SRT8 Core models.

Why this even appeared is an utter mystery. But it’s also something that I could envision somebody doing as an “easter egg” to see if anyone is paying attention. At the very least, CNet gave my friends and I a good laugh.

Click here to view the embedded video.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/why-is-there-a-hidden-drug-reference-in-cnets-review-of-the-chrysler-300-srt8/feed/ 81
Inside The Industry, Special Edition: The Truth About Getting In http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/inside-the-industry-special-edition-the-truth-about-getting-in/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/inside-the-industry-special-edition-the-truth-about-getting-in/#comments Wed, 15 May 2013 20:15:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=488617 IMG_5034

 

This being Q&A Wednesday, I promised to answer  TTAC commenter 28-cars-later’s question in feature-length. He said: “Bertel, how do you get such access to Ghosn… is Nissan just *this* friendly to the press?” Let me explain to you how it works.

IMG_5060

I am in Tokyo for a simple reason: Love. Being here also is made easy due to the fact that nowhere in the world can you cover the world’s automotive industry with greater ease than in Tokyo. Companies that are in charge of about a third of the world’s automotive output are not more than a few subway stations apart. Sure, companies like Toyota or Mazda officially are headquartered elsewhere, but they have substantial presences in Tokyo. From where I live, it’s 45 minutes to Toyota, 30 minutes to Honda, 30 minutes to Nissan in Yokohama. All by train, few people still drive in the world capital of cars. Besides, having Ronnie Schreiber in Detroit provides plenty of counter-weight, especially now that he covers the truly poetic aspects  of the state of Michigan, in a story so deep that I am unable to fathom it.

IMG_2308

You don’t have to speak Japanese to work with the Japanese car companies. I don’t, except for what’s needed to order a hotto kohee, a hot coffee.  The large multinationals usually have large polyglot and often multinationally staffed  PR departments that cater to the international media.

IMG_3813

Nissan is the epitome of internationalism. The whole company is like the United Nations, their management hails from all corners of the world, the language at 1-1, Takashima 1-chome, Nishi-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa 220-8686, Japan, officially is English. Simultaneous translation is a growth industry at Nissan.

IMG_5060

Despite their inscrutable image, access to Japanese carmakers is easy. Much easier than, say, get access to a flack at GM, at least for me, Ed Niedermeyer, or Robert Farago back when.  In Tokyo, simply pick up the phone to make your presence known, you have a get-to-know-each-other meeting over a cup of  hotto kohee, and unless there is immediate mutual dislike, you are in. With a third of the world’s automotive volume  being bunched-up within a few square miles, getting the inside track is a matter of a few days  and a similar number of cups of kohee.

IMG_5330

Actually, one  needs to be selective in making contact, because  soon you won’t have time to write with all the visits. Let’s have a look at my Outlook. Tomorrow, at noon, I will be at Mitsubishi to learn what they will race up  Pike’s Peak. Then I need to jump on the Keihin-Tohoku  line to Yokohama to learn everything about Nissan’s Common Module Family (CMF), despite warnings that “this briefing will consist entirely of the same content which Nissan disclosed on February 27, 2012.” You never know. On Friday morning, I will be at Nissan again for some kei car story that is sadly embargoed until June 6th. After a ride on the Keihin-Tohoku line, I will be at Toyota. On Monday, I will go on a 4 hour ride on the alleged bullet train to Shin-Kurashiki near Hiroshima. There, I will hear everything about a kei car Mitsubishi builds together with and for Nissan. It’s most likely the same car that will be disclosed by Nissan on Friday under embargo. So I better don’t go on Friday, thereby being able to write what and when I want, apart from being able to sleep in.

Once you are on the list, you visit a third of the world’s automotive volume multiple times a week. If you are not on the list, no problem. Show your meishi, your business card, at most press conferences, and you are in.  Exciting, no?

IMG_0170

Now you probably ask how can they afford all those lavish press events with all the free booze and canapés multiple times a week? Simple: There is no free booze, there are no canapés. The only food is of the for thought variety. You are lucky if you get a bottle of water – usually reserved for special occasions, such as the quarterly results, or the launch of a new model. The entertainment at the launches consists of a PowerPoint deck, the lavish press trip usually takes place on the aforementioned Keihin-Tohoku line, paid for by my own SUICA card, a fare card that depletes faster than the battery of a Plug-in Prius.

When I go to Mitsubishi on Monday, there will be free transportation: A shuttle bus from Shin-Kurashiki to the factory. The train fare  from Tokyo ($330) is expected to be paid by the members of the media. Yesterday, going home to Tokyo on a (free) bus laid on by Nissan, a whisper went through the assembled A-list of Tokyo’s press corps: We were told to surrender the lanyards, as we always do. But this time, we could keep the baseball hat. At factory visits, hats are mandatory. It also is mandatory to give them back. Except at the launch of Infiniti’s main premium segment model. There, you get a free hat.

This is probably not the answer 28-cars-later wanted to hear. But it’s the truth. He surely doesn’t want me to lie.

IMG_3388

Closeness allegedly breeds contempt. Not true in this business. Familiarity makes for mutual respect. It’s easy to hurt someone who doesn’t like you either, it’s harder to throw written invectives at someone you will see face-to-face tomorrow. GM has yet to learn this simple trick of manipulating the media.

IMG_5871

I am known to occasionally make a mistake. Then, my phone rings, and someone apologizes for not having been clear enough in the morning.  Japan is the land of politeness, and  of high precision. Factual mistakes are fixed immediately. Differences in opinion are never mentioned, and it is understood that they would remain unchanged anyway. I have yet to hear one comment about a car review, good or bad, on TTAC. Wait, the other day, someone at Nissan said “I did read Baruth’s comparo of the 2012 and 2013 Sentra.” I gave the internationally accepted hand sign for “give it to me,” and nothing was given.  I don’t know whether they liked it or not. After reading the story, I still can’t figure it out.

They usually can take a joke. Despite of what some people think, my picture features of Nissan’s gesticulating CEO Carlos Ghosn appear to be a source of great amusement in the company, and I always have the same seat at the press conference. (Front row, across the aisle from the brass, right in front of the lectern.)  And that’s the secret of unfettered access: Make them laugh.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/inside-the-industry-special-edition-the-truth-about-getting-in/feed/ 23
Discovery’s Fast N’ Loud, Where Cars Meet Reality TV http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/discoverys-fast-n-loud-where-cars-meet-reality-tv/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/discoverys-fast-n-loud-where-cars-meet-reality-tv/#comments Thu, 25 Apr 2013 17:17:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=485894 Click here to view the embedded video.

Time was, the only time you could see cool cars on TV, outside of reruns of the Rockford Files and Starsky and Hutch, was on Saturday Mornings on The Nashville Network. Those programs, aimed at shade tree mechanics and the average do-it-yourselfer, were about as interesting as a high school auto shop class’ instructional videos. Things have definitely changed and today, thanks to hundreds of cable channels and the advent of Reality TV, car related programming is easy to find. The problem is that Reality TV is character driven and you have to endure colorful personalities in order to see the cars.

The first Reality Show that really grabbed my attention was American Chopper. I know it’s not about cars but, when you think about, it wasn’t really about bikes, either. American Chopper was about fathers and sons, and how working class men pass along their work ethic and values to their children – at least for the first few seasons. After that it was about how money and fame corrupt and about how families and relationships can self destruct as father and son compete with one another for time in the limelight. Watching American Chopper for the first few years was like spending time in the garage with my own dad, learning a lot about being a man while getting yelled at for being stupid, unskilled and lazy. Watching American Chopper as the show churned through its final episodes, and as the entire Teutul family descended into chaos and mutual hatred, was painful. If the events depicted in the show happened in real life, the Teutels should be ashamed of themselves. If those events happened because of clever editing, the production company should be ashamed. Either way, because I felt something of a personal kinship with those characters, it felt personal.

Since then I have sought out lighter Reality fare and now I have a new guilty pleasure, the Discovery Channel’s “Fast N’ Loud.” The shows premise is simple. Basically, two guys with a small shop shuck-and-live their way around Texas looking for old cars that they can fix quick and the sell for a big profit. This is a subject I personally know a lot about, after all I did help to kill the American Muscle Car and, truth be told, the show strikes me as being fairly true to life.

If Fast N’ Loud was a typical reality car show, our greasy looking heroes Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman, would buy a piece of junk and then, in the name of drama, inflict some crazy-short deadline upon themselves which they would then meet with seconds to spare. Then, they would sell their crazy creation to a corporate customer for about a bazillion dollars. Although I wonder about the Ford Bronco, which had seats upholstered in a red and black plaid pattern suspiciously close to the halter tops the well endowed waitresses at a certain restaurant were wearing at the end of the show, that sort of thing doesn’t generally happen here. More often than not, Richard buys a piece of junk, drags it back to the shop where Aaron picks apart all the problems. Sometimes the answer is to throw a lot of money at a project and hope it pays off while other times the answer is to roll the hulk out front, put a for sale sign on it and hope to pass the trouble along to some other sucker with more time and resources to throw into it. Seems about right to me.

Then comes the cars. In American Chopper Paul Teutul thought like an artist and he always seemed to be more concerned about creating his artistic vision than he was about creating a reliably running bike. In Fast N’ Loud, master mechanic Aaron Kaufman spends a great deal of time on actual engineering and he often states that his primary concern is safety. Sure, some of the cars that emerge from the shop are show boats, but for the most part the cars end up as fairly mild customs that sell for less than stratospheric amounts of cash. I like that.

Lastly, let’s talk about the main characters Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufman. On the surface they seem like prototypical Reality TV chumps complete with abundant tats, crazy skull rings, various piercings and no fashion sense. Personality wise, however, they differ from the usual fare and, again, they come off as likable and especially genuine.

Richard Rawlings is the front man and I know his type intimately, I grew up around them. Fast N’ Loud’s Gas Monkey Garage is his business and like many successful small businessmen who sell to the public, he has an effusive, outgoing, larger-than-life personality. He is engaging and smart but not afraid to be silly in order to bridge the gap between himself and the customer. He does what it takes to get the sale and he knows that getting noticed is at least as important as offering a quality product. He mixes with the rich and famous one minute, talks to 70 year old Texas farmers the next and he finds something in common with each of them. That’s how sales works and if he was any different, and any less genuine, he would be out of business in a month.

Aaron Kaufman is the master mechanic and he oversees Gas Monkey Garage’s staff as they work on the various cars that Richard brings back to the shop. Thanks to his shaggy beard and slicked back hairstyle, I first expected Aaron Kaufman to be another larger than life reality show figure with a pretend bad-boy attitude. The personality that has emerged over the course of the show, however, is a quiet, thoughtful and genuinely likeable. Aaron Kaufman comes off like a guy who knows how to repair cars and who thinks that doing a good job is critical. Often there is, albeit mild, conflict between Aaron and Richard over the rising cost of this or that project as Aaron seeks to ensure the job gets done right while Richard seeks to control costs. Again, this is a compromise that all small businessmen make on a daily basis and it lends credibility to what we see on TV.

Now into its second season, I believe that Fast N’ Loud is on its way to being another huge Reality TV hit for the Discovery Channel. I earnestly hope that Richard Rawlings and Aaron Kaufmann can keep their egos under control as their fame and fortunes increase. It would be a shame to see these two very likable guys turn into raging jerks. I know that some part of reality TV will always be scripted, but as long as the set-ups are interesting cars and not silly interpersonal drama they can count me among their regular viewers. The world needs more fun, silly shows that can draw attention to the car hobby. This is a good one – check your local listings for the time and channel and sit through an episode, you might find yourself surprised at just how much fun you’ll have.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/discoverys-fast-n-loud-where-cars-meet-reality-tv/feed/ 117
Selling Snake Oil: Great Automotve Ads Of The Past http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/selling-snake-oil-great-automotve-ads-of-the-past/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/selling-snake-oil-great-automotve-ads-of-the-past/#comments Fri, 19 Apr 2013 16:26:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=485083 Click here to view the embedded video.

Sweet, sweet publicity. Although I am loathe to admit it, I am a sucker for a slick ad campaign. Those catchy jingles, perfectly posed photos, and quick camera cuts work their way into my psyche and demand that I throw down my hard earned cash for something I may not need, but God how I want it! Done right, an ad campaign can have a lasting effect on me – I’m not sure if Bertel is to blame, but does anyone else remember when Volkswagen used Elvis Presley’s “Devil In Disguise” to promote their GTI? I sure do- too bad I can’t find it on you tube! So let’s talk car ads – here are some of the greatest car ads of all time:

Nissan 300ZX

Click here to view the embedded video.

Nissan had a real string of clever commercials in the early 1990s. I think the company really understood that people weren’t buying some of their cars on cost or features, they were buying them because they were some of the coolest cars going. The above ads spring right from the mind of every boy who ever owned a classic GI Joe.

Isuzu Impulse

Click here to view the embedded video.

Joe Isuzu was the pitchman in one of the most popular TV commercial series of the 1980s. You may or may not know it, but not everything he says is the truth…

Dodge Shadow

Click here to view the embedded video.

Today computerized graphics and morphing from one shape into another is old hat, but way back in 1987 that technology didn’t exist. This commercial was incredible and it drew a direct line between the legendary Dodge Dart of the past and the new, modern K car based Shadow. It got my attention for sure, this commercial is the reason I got my ass down to the local Dodge dealership when I went looking for my first brand new car.

Mercury Cougar

Click here to view the embedded video.

This is one of the earliest car commercials I can remember from my childhood. Back then I was more interested in the cat than I was the car (or the woman.) I guess it’s a sign of my age that today I am more interested in the car than I am the cat (or the woman.)

Bonus: American Home Direct

This is actually a Japanese advertisement for life insurance but it is a touching story about a man, his cars and how his life’s priorities change as he moves through life. Keep your handkerchief handy for this, it’s a beautiful, touching ad featuring some cool classic Japanese cars. (Big thanks to Japanese Nostalgic Car for turning me onto this a couple of months ago.)

Click here to view the embedded video.

There you have it, food for thought. As always, your own contributions and suggestions are more than welcome. Also, if you have better internet sleuthing skils than I, feel free to find that Golf GTI Elvis ad I mentioned!

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/selling-snake-oil-great-automotve-ads-of-the-past/feed/ 39
Casey Shain: Turning Pure Fantasy Into Virtual Reality http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/casey-shain-turning-pure-fantasy-into-virtual-reality/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/casey-shain-turning-pure-fantasy-into-virtual-reality/#comments Tue, 09 Apr 2013 10:40:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=483694

Dodge Charger

They say that you don’t regret the things you do as much as you regret the things don’t do. I hope the auto manufacturers are listening, because when I look at so many of the fantastic looking four door sedans on the market today, I feel a sense of regret for what they aren’t doing, namely making two door coupes. I know there are financial considerations, probably tens of millions of dollars worth, at work behind the scenes. I understand, too, that there are likely to be engineering challenges and any number of other issues that a simple layman like myself can never really understand, but the fact that there are no really cool coupe versions of today’s hot sedans gnaws at me.

Thank God for artists like Casey Shain, a man of considerable talent who, like many of us, believes that today’s cars can be better. Unlike most of us, however, he has the talent and the ability to turn his thoughts into artistic reality. His website artandcolourcars.blogspot.com showcases his digitally altered “fake” cars and his love of all things automotive. It is filled with images that rival those of any professional design studio and I highly recommend checking it out. If you are anything like me, you will spend hours there.

Like so many of us, from the time he was a child Casey dreamed about designing cars. Instead, he earned a bachelor of arts from Vassar College and worked as a designer in the publishing industry for more than thirty years. These days he is a freelance book designer and a professional “starving artist,” but he spends much of his free time working with Photoshop and pretending to live that childhood dream. He says, “I’m the same doodler as when I was a child, only now my crayons are digital.”

Casey’s cars may not be real in the sense that they are made out of rubber, plastic and steel, but the detailed images he creates certainly have a life of their own. As a kid who grew up spending hours in front of the fire looking at the Sears Christmas catalog, I know there is a great deal of joy to be had simply looking at pictures and dreaming about the possibilities. Still, I hope that one day someone turns these ideas into reality. Come on car companies, don’t wonder “what if” – take a chance!

View more of Casey Shain’s work here: Casey Shain Car Photochops at Pintrest

Buick Verano “Skylark Hot Hatch”

Dodge Charger Ford Flex Country Squire Chevrolt Impala 2 door fastback 1981 Coupe Seville Buick Verano "Skylark Hot Hatch" Toyota Supra Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/casey-shain-turning-pure-fantasy-into-virtual-reality/feed/ 53
Bloomberg Interview: American Car Design Rennaissance? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/bloomberg-interview-american-car-design-rennaissance/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/bloomberg-interview-american-car-design-rennaissance/#comments Fri, 05 Apr 2013 14:57:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=483682

If you have a spare four minutes and four seconds (plus time for the commercial) take the time to check out the following discussion over at Bloomberg.com. As a layman, I find these kind of discussions very interesting and would like to hear the best and the brightest, many of whom I know to be connected with auto industry, give a little perspective to what seems to me to be a very shallow look on the subject of modern car design.

The active premise of the Bloomberg piece is that American car design lost its way in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, and is now beginning to return to its former glory. There is no doubt in my mind that improvements automotive technology have ushered in a golden age of performance, dependability and longevity, but I am left feeling cold when I hear people talking about how superior the “new designs,” are to the ones that came before.

There were some fantastic designs in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and when I look back at the clean, classic lines of many of those cars I miss the days when designers used a straight edge as a part of their work. The Chevrolet Vega and Monza, while mechanically problem prone, are still wonderful looking little cars that have aged quite gracefully. The mid 80s Fox Body Mustangs, shown in the piece alongside both previous and later versions, look especially good to my eye. Of course you already know my thoughts on the Chrysler LH cars of the 1990s – I like them so much I put my money where my mouth is and have a 300M Special in my driveway.

My take is that there were some damn good designs in the eras these people are deriding. Sure there were some uninteresting and even outlandish designs too, but that doesn’t mean that designers have spent the last 30 years sleeping on the job. They were trying new things and some of those really worked. So, tell us now, what are your favorite cars from the much derided ’70s, ’80s and ’90s?

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/bloomberg-interview-american-car-design-rennaissance/feed/ 89
Titillating Embargoes, And How Our Youth Is Led Astray By Manipulative Automakers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/titillating-embargoes-and-how-our-youth-is-led-astray-by-manipulative-automakers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/titillating-embargoes-and-how-our-youth-is-led-astray-by-manipulative-automakers/#comments Wed, 16 Jan 2013 10:25:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=473985

Investigative reporter

We have a new car show season. With it come new car releases, and with them comes a contagion that is as tiring and headache-inducing as a Cobo Hall flu on top of an after party hangover. The disease goes by the name of embargo, and it comes with  the embargo breach as a secondary infection.

In case you have studied Pol.Sci. instead of HTML, you might be thinking that we are talking about real embargoes, such as those of Iran or Cuba. We don’t. In our biz, an embargo is when an OEM sends a blog a picture or a story, and then asks not to “print” it until later. If you think that the outcome is both predictable and inevitable, then you are absolutely correct. We could put the matter right to sleep without wasting (ha!) precious HTML column inches, would the new car season not also be marked by an excited chattering, twittering, OMG+1000ering over busted embargoes in what goes as the automotive media these days.

So let’s do what we rarely do, let’s talk about embargoes.

Our embargo

In the funky world of car blogs, embargoes are treated with the fascination otherwise reserved for an older sister’s first period, for our first pubic hair, or, OMG!, stained linen. Likewise, a broken embargo is treated with the enthrallment, or faux outrage caused by school buddies who purportedly went to “third base” without going blind.

Whenever an OEM tells me that “kids have lost their interest in car”, I say: “Wrong, look at Jalopnik.” Jalopnik is the epicenter of youthful eruptions caused by titillating embargoes.  Jalopnik even has a special section for “Embargo News, Videos, Reviews and Gossip.” Currently,  the section crucifies Cycle World (yes, Cycle World) for blowing an embargo.  I was unable to find out which one. I had to withstand attempts of the Jalopnik section to lure me into other Gawker assets that promise me “Orgasm-Free Casual Sex.”  No thanks. In my advanced age, one is grateful for any orgasm one can achieve during casual sex.  (Speaking of age, things got a little better at Jalopnik after Ray Wert was replaced by a more youthful looking, but far more mature Matt Hardigree. As mature men, they talk less, and do it more.)

However, I am looking forward to the promised reviews of embargoes. Car reviews: Tired. Embargo reviews: Wired. Can we hope for five star embargoes? Three thumbs down for halfhearted embargo breaches? A “Meh” for indignant reports of embargo breaches, illustrated with the embargoed picture?  +1000 for the intrepid reporter who can’t be cowed by the OEM machine, and who hits “Publish” a day before he is allowed to? Best upskirt picture during car reveals? Endless opportunities for a blogging biz that always should be on the look-out for distinction at the lowest cost.

Bad boys they are, Jalopnik is a bad influence on other adolescent automotive authors, who try to be a Jalop, even when writing for a site that makes its money by selling contact data of car buyers to car-dealing sharks. Oh, the excitement when they hold their first embargoed picture in their shaking hands! The temptation to jerk off to it usually overcomes the best of them. Kimberly-Clark, always on the lookout for new niches for its tissues, should look into the matter. EmbarGoezAwayz® perhaps?  I mean, I invented Sneezies® for them in the 80s, why not continue on the road to success? You know where to find me, I’m sure.

Their embargo

With that rant off my chest, here the Truth About Embargoes.

What is an embargo? In real life, an embargo is close to a blockade, and some say it’s an act of war. If we stop Iranian oil, it’s God’s work. If the Arabs stop Arabian oil, it’s an outrage. In the unreal life of the motor media, an embargo is a request not to publish something before a set date. Blogs know how to design, make, market and even recycle cars, why should they listen to silly pleas to delay their orgasms until a later date?

How binding is an embargo? It is not binding at all. Usually, an embargo is an appeal to professional courtesy. Lack of  which renders the matter void.

What happens after a breach? Nothing, except for the excited chattering and twittering that provides added media exposure. In most serious cases, the sanction may be that the reporter is not invited back.  This rarely happens, and only with the most stringent types of embargoes as listed below.

What is the sense of embargoes? Purportedly, it is to give journalists time to get their heads and printing machines around a topic. In reality, an embargo acts as a timer that sets off a cluster bomb strike of stories, timed just right for maximum impact for the OEM, while delivering useless crapitation on the part of the individual news outlet. An embargo usually contravenes the interest of the publication, and the stage is set for trouble.

Embargo consequences

Types of embargoes

The buff-book embargo: This is a throwback to the times when pictures of rare pre-production models were shot with large format cameras, on (OMG!) film, where color seps were made, and where cylinders needed etching. This took at least a month, and led to the strange custom, still observed on occasion, that reporters congregate in a room a month before the launch, where they are presented with a top-secret car, and a piece of paper on which they have to promise that they won’t say anything until the embargo lifts. Unless the paper is a hard and fast Non Disclosure Agreement, in which clear sanctions, such as loss of your firstborn, or $250,000 for each breach, are agreed upon, that paper only has symbolic value. The buff books stick to the embargo, because they want to be invited back, and they need the month anyway. They also do on-line, and a day after the meeting, renders appear that come close to the actual car. Those, wink-wink, do not count as a breach of embargo. I observe the buff-book embargo, even if it leads to a conversation like this one: “As you know, no photography allowed today, Mr. Schmitt.”  “I know.” “Where is your camera?” “At home, you told me not to bring one.” “Oh. You brought your phone, did you?” “Sure.” “Good. Keep it in your pocket.” “Sure thing.” Wink. Wink.

The individual embargo: Trusted reporters sometimes receive individual access to car, inside information, executives, production sites etc. before the launch, with the understanding that the story is held back until the launch. This usually is in form of a handshake agreement, sometimes on a piece of paper. This embargo is rarely breached, because it gives reporter and publication a better story, and a leg up on the riff-raff that has to quote from the press release. I observe the individual embargo. I am old-fashioned and I believe in handshakes.

Ignore it: Common (market) embargo of today

The common embargo: Sometimes, press releases, even those published on publicly accessible websites, or sent out via mass emails have “Embargoed until ….” on them. This is regarded as effective as appeals for chastity until marriage, and it is as commonly ignored. When I was young, pubescent kids used to get thrilled about chastity and we tried to get our hands and more as deep into other pants as possible. These days, kids excitedly twitter and chatter about (OMG!) breaches of embargo.  I ignore this kind of embargo, I would laugh at complaints and never receive any.

The come-on embargo: The industry, fascinated with the social media thing, has caught on to the stirring in loins and keyboards caused by a titillating embargo. As the slow reveal loses its efficacy, nothing punches better through the clutter of pre-car-show press releases than a big “EMBARGOED UNTIL …” on the email. In a world where real tits have given way to titillations, this assures attention, just like adolescent sex was exciting, because it was verboten. High fives in the PR departments of the OEMs are triggered by the secondary explosions in blogs that feign outrage over embargo breaches by colleagues who dared to go to third base first (“AutoWeek’s Phil Floraday Breaks Embargo On Buick Enclave!!!” OMG!)

Expect large-scale farming of these genetically modified forbidden fruit, and expect them to taste as bland as GM produce usually tastes. A blogger who gets excited, or worse, who observes the come-on embargo is a lost cause, and really should look for other employment.

 

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/titillating-embargoes-and-how-our-youth-is-led-astray-by-manipulative-automakers/feed/ 18
Tales From The Cooler: Buff Book Boy Beaten By Dealer, Booed By Bugatti http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/tales-from-the-cooler-buff-book-boy-beaten-by-dealer-booed-by-bugatti/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/tales-from-the-cooler-buff-book-boy-beaten-by-dealer-booed-by-bugatti/#comments Mon, 22 Oct 2012 16:24:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=464489

I have not read Automobile magazine regularly since the late David E. Davis, Jr. departed the Ann Arbor rag a few years ago. I did grab a copy of their November issue while stuck in an airport last week and was treated to a pair of puzzling pieces from Contributing Writer Ezra Dyer.

His monthly column was a first-person rant about a recent car buying experience, your basic Dealership Treated Me Badly story, of which you can find about 10,000 examples of on the Internet. What’s next? An expose on how drunk drivers kill innocent people? It must have been a slow news month at Automobile.

Dyer cried because the dealership’s “title guy” (“finance manager” to you and me) attempted to add a service plan and extended warranty to the deal. Ezra, you are in the car writing world and don’t know what happens when you buy a car? If nothing else you could have used your default position: tell the dealer who you are and promise them some free publicity if they cut you a deal and supply you with a seamless buying and financing process.

In an attempt to protect both his story and the flagging advertising sales of the magazine, Dyer did not disclose the brand, model or type of car he purchased. He did mention that the vehicle was located “two states away” and had a certified extended warranty, so it must have been a hard-to-find late model used car. I am wary when an auto writer does not want the audience to know what kind of vehicle he or she owns.

 

Next up, Ezra writes of his trip to Europe to drive flat out on a “secret” test track in a 1200 horsepower Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport Vitesse worth $2.5 million and capable of hitting 255 mph. Now there’s a great story I am thinking, that is merely everyone’s fantasy.

Bugatti has seen enough Frank Bacons darken their door to know they need to control car writers’ driving behaviors while piloting their million dollar babies. I don’t know about you but I would follow Bugatti’s rules if given this amazing opportunity. If Bugatti ordered me to don Danica Patrick’s firesuit and then clay bar and Meguiar the car before we hit the track, I would happily comply. But not Dyer, he had to do it his way.

Dyer’s marching orders were very precise on approach speeds to the mile long straightaways, where to be on positioned on track and when to hit the go pedal, all monitored by his passenger, Bugatti test pilot Loris Bicocchi. Let’s let Dyer take it from here:

“…my brain skips a half a step ahead of the approved takeoff sequence…we’re closing in on 300 kph when I hear a strange noise. It almost sounds like a man yelling. In fact, it is a man yelling. In my peripheral vision, I see Bicocchi gesticulating frantically. I hit the brakes. Bicocchi is pissed. “I was yelling at you to slow down! You need to look at me!” he shouts. He looks angry but also petrified. “I had no control!” he seethes. In my defense, I was not ignoring him. I simply could not hear him…”

You can’t tell a Big Time Auto Journo like me how to drive! He did get his act together and hit 205 mph on the following straightaway. Dyer did not mention what happened after his run but I imagine Bugatti threw him out on his ezra.

Ezra Dyer is a funny and insightful writer and obviously not afraid to admit his screw-ups but I question his editorial judgment and behavior in these two instances. So memo to Automobile: Next time please send Editor-In-Chief Jean Jennings along on such missions. She would have negotiated an additional $1000 discount on the car and would have easily hit 225 mph in the Bugatti. You see, Ms. Jennings is an adult.

 

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/tales-from-the-cooler-buff-book-boy-beaten-by-dealer-booed-by-bugatti/feed/ 15
Blind Spot: The Twilight Of The Volt http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/blind-spot-the-twilight-of-the-volt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/blind-spot-the-twilight-of-the-volt/#comments Mon, 05 Mar 2012 00:44:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=433724

 “Do you want to accompany? or go on ahead? or go off alone? … One must know what one wants and that one wants”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight Of The Idols

This week’s news that GM would stop production of the Chevrolet Volt for the third time in its brief lifespan came roaring out of the proverbial blind spot. Having watched the Volt’s progress closely from gestation through each month’s sales results, it was no secret to me that the Volt was seriously underperforming to expectations. But in the current media environment, anything that happens three times is a trend, and the latest shutdown (and, even more ominously, the accompanying layoffs) was unmistakeable. Not since succumbing to government-organized bankruptcy and bailout has GM so publicly cried “uncle” to the forces of the market, and I genuinely expected The General to continue to signal optimism for the Volt’s long-term prospects. After all, sales in February were up dramatically, finally breaking the 1,000 unit per month barrier. With gasoline prices on the march, this latest shutdown was far from inevitable.

And yet, here we are. Now that GM is undeniably signaling that the Volt is a Corvette-style halo car, with similar production and sales levels, my long-standing skepticism about the Volt’s chances seems to be validated. But in the years since GM announced its intention to build the Volt, this singular car has become woven into the history and yes, the mythology of the bailout era. Now, at the apparent end of its mass-market ambitions, I am struck not with a sense of schadenfreude, but of bewilderment. If the five year voyage of Volt hype is over, we have a lot of baggage to unpack.

When a history of the Volt is written, it will be difficult not to conclude that the Volt has been the single most politicized automobile since the Corvair. Seemingly due to timing alone, GM’s first serious environmental halo car became an icon of government intervention in private industry, a perception that is as true as it is false. I hoped to capture this tension in a July 2010 Op-Ed in the New York Times, in which I argued that

the Volt appears to be exactly the kind of green-at-all-costs car that some opponents of the bailout feared the government might order G.M. to build. Unfortunately for this theory, G.M. was already committed to the Volt when it entered bankruptcy.

But by that time, the Volt was already so completely transformed into a political football, the second sentence of this quote was entirely ignored by political critics on the right. The culture of partisanship being what it is in this country, any nuance to my argument was lost in the selective quoting on one side and the mockery of my last name on the other. One could argue that that this politicization was unnecessary or counter-productive, but it was also inevitable.

The Volt began life as a blast from GM’s Motorama past: a futuristic four-place coupe concept with a unique drivetrain (which still defies apples-to-apples efficiency comparisons with other cars), a fast development schedule and constantly-changing specifications, price points and sales expectations. It’s important to remember that the Volt was controversial as a car practically from the moment GM announced (and then began changing) production plans, becoming even more so when the production version emerged looking nothing like the concept. But it wasn’t until President Obama’s auto task force concluded that the Volt seemed doomed to lose money, and yet made no effort to suspend its development as a condition for the bailout, that a car-guy controversy began to morph into a mainstream political issue.

At that point, most of the car’s fundamental controversies were well known, namely its price, size, elusive efficiency rating, and competition. Well before the car was launched, it was not difficult to predict its challenges on the market, even without the added headwinds of ideological objections (which should have been mitigated by the fact that they were actually calling for government intervention in GM’s product plans while decrying the same). But GM’s relentless hype, combined with Obama’s regular rhetorical references to the Volt, fueled the furor. Then, just two months after Volt sales began trickle in, Obama’s Department of Energy released a still-unrepudiated document, claiming that 505,000 Volts would be sold in the US by 2015 (including 120,000 this year). By making the Volt’s unrealistic sales goals the centerpiece of a plan to put a million plug-in-vehicles on the road, the Obama Administration cemented the Volt’s political cross-branding.

When GM continued to revise its 2012 US sales expectations to the recent (and apparently still wildly-unrealistic) 45,000 units, I asked several high-level GM executives why the DOE didn’t adjust its estimates as well. But rather than definitively re-calibrate the DOE’s expectations, they refused to touch the subject. The government, they implied, could believe what it wanted. Having seen its CEO removed by the President, GM’s timid executive culture was resigned to the Volt’s politicized status, and would never make things awkward for its salesman-in-chief. And even now, with production of the Volt halted for the third time, GM continues to play into the Volt’s politicized narrative: does anyone think it is coincidence that The General waited until three days after the Michigan Republican primary (and a bailout-touting Obama speech) to cut Volt production for the third time?

Of course, having used the Volt as a political prop itself from the moment CEO Rick Wagoner drove a development mule version to congressional hearings as penance for traveling to the previous hearing in a private jet, GM is now trying to portray the Volt as a martyr at the hands of out-of-control partisanship. And the Volt’s father Bob Lutz  certainly does have a point when he argues that the recent Volt fire controversy was blown out of proportion by political hacks. But blaming the Volt’s failures on political pundits gives them far too much credit, ignores GM’s own politicization of the Volt, and misses the real causes of the Volt’s current, unenviable image.

The basic problem with the Volt isn’t that it’s a bad car that nobody could ever want; it is, in fact, quite an engineering achievement and a rather impressive drive. And if GM had said all along that it would serve as an “anti-Corvette,” selling in low volumes at a high price, nobody could now accuse it of failure. Instead, GM fueled totally unrealistic expectations for Volt, equating it with a symbol of its rebirth even before collapsing into bailout. The Obama administration simply took GM’s hype at face value, and saw it as a way to protect against the (flawed) environmentalist argument that GM deserved to die because of “SUV addiction” alone. And in the transition from corporate sales/image hype to corporatist political hype, the Volt’s expectations were driven to ever more unrealistic heights, from which they are now tumbling. Beyond the mere sales disappointment, the Volt has clearly failed to embody any cultural changes GM might have undergone in its dark night of the soul, instead carrying on The General’s not-so-proud tradition of moving from one overhyped short-term savior to the next.

Now, as in the Summer of 2010, I can’t help but compare the Volt with its nemesis and inspiration, the Toyota Prius. When the Toyota hybrid went on sale in the US back in 2000, it was priced nearly the same as it is today (in non-inflation-adjusted dollars), and was not hyped as a savior. Instead, Toyota accepted losses on early sales, and committed itself to building the Prius’s technology and brand over the long term. With this approach, GM could have avoided the Volt’s greatest criticism (its price) and embarrassment (sales shortfalls), and presented the extended-range-electric concept as a long-term investment.

Even now, GM can still redefine the Volt as a long-term play that will eventually be worth its development and PR costs… but only as long as it candidly takes ownership of its shortcomings thus far and re-sets expectations to a credible level. And whether The General will defy and embarrass its political patrons by destroying the “million EVs by 2015″ house of cards in order to do so, remains very much to be seen. One thing is certain: as long as it puts PR and political considerations before the long-term development of healthy technology and brands,  GM will struggle with a negative and politicized image. And the Volt will be seen not as a symbol of GM’s long-term vision and commitment, but of its weakness, desperation, inconstancy and self-delusion.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/blind-spot-the-twilight-of-the-volt/feed/ 238
The “Slow Reveals” Need To Stop http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/the-slow-reveals-need-to-stop/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/the-slow-reveals-need-to-stop/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2012 17:48:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=432626

As a “glass-half-empty” kind of guy, I would need a minute to think about the most fascinating story I’ve ever written, but could easily tell you about the most infuriating. That dubious honor goes to the Facebook launch campaign for the 2012 Ford Explorer.

Starting in June of 2010, Ford released a series of “teaser images” of wilderness or other scenes with an Explorer barely visible. The process went on for roughly a month, and I was responsible for writing blog posts about the new images, which proved to be trying. By the time the 2012 Explorer launched, I was sick of hearing about it, and didn’t care whatsoever about any of the new technologies or improvements.

The Explorer is far from the only car to get this treatment; most notably, the Chevrolet Camaro and Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ underwent this excruciatingly uninteresting method of endless concept cars and leaked details. Other vehicles, like the Dodge Dart get social media soft launches where little teaser photographs are dribbled out bit by bit.

The car companies feel that this builds buzz for the “brand”, but most importantly, it’s great for the auto bloggers. Every new photo or piece of information can generate a new post, which can generate an all-important “click” (see also: Top 10 lists, slideshows, reporting on social unrest and natural disasters). It’s a symbiotic relationship between the OEM and the media that’s unlikely to change, given the dysfunctional economics of blogging, that rewards speed, sensationalism and superficial content (which generate clicks) over the kind of slow, measured, in-depth work that the foundations of real in-depth journalism are built on. The kind of content that takes time and money to produce, bores many readers because it’s over 800 words long and often gets displaced in the article hierarchy because a new Toyonda Camcord Juicy Couture Special Edition was released and if we’re not first at re-hashing the press release and stock photos, we’ll be rendered irrelevant. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a new Ferrari teaser photo to write about.

 

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/the-slow-reveals-need-to-stop/feed/ 20
The Tesla Roadster “Bricking” Story Deconstructed http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/the-tesla-roadster-bricking-story-details-deconstructed/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/the-tesla-roadster-bricking-story-details-deconstructed/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2012 17:47:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=432441

I was originally hesitant to jump on the Tesla Roadster “bricked batteries” bandwagon, and my initial story was written with a sort of cautious neutrality. Further context will be provided by the details that have surfaced in the 24 hours since the story broke. Hope you’re ready to dive in to it all.

Original story here. A quick recap: Tesla Roadster owner Max Drucker contacted Tesla CEO Elon Musk regarding a dead battery in his car. Drucker’s car died after he left his Roadster parked, without leaving it plugged in for two months. The vehicle subsequently died. The car was towed to a Tesla service center and a technician determined that his battery would have to be replaced at a cost of $40,000. Drucker sent an angry letter to CEO Elon Musk admonishing him for poor customer service.

- The Tesla “bricking” story broke on the blog of Michael Degusta. Degusta and Drucker have a long history as business partners. This was not disclosed. I contacted Degusta, who said he would put me in touch with an owner who has had their car “bricked” (he did not say if it was Drucker or one of the other four affected owners) and refused to put me in touch with the Tesla service manager who claimed that, among other things, Tesla was tracking vehicles by GPS without the owner’s consent. I was reluctant to take those claims at face value – now they can’t be independently verified. On Degusta’s blog, he discusses an owner of Roadster #340, who parked his car in a temporary garage, sans charger, while his home is being renovated. This is consistent with Drucker’s emails to Tesla – but also consistent with Drucker at best not following the protocol outlined in various documents (obtained via Green Car Reports) and the Tesla Roadster’s manual, or at worst, being negligent. Drucker’s Roadster wouldn’t have the Tesla GSM connection that can alert Tesla to low battery charge conditions. Those were only installed after the first 500 Roadsters were produced. Degusta makes a big stink about the GPS tracking of the Roadsters, but is on record claiming that, and Degusta is unwilling to back that claim up beyond anecdotal evidence.

- A copy of the Tesla Roadster owner’s manual (covering the Tesla Roadster S and Roadster 2.5. Link is at the bottom of the page for you to peruse yourself), states in numerous places that owners are not to leave their vehicles uncharged for long periods of time, or to drain the battery down to zero. Doing so, the owners are told, will cause permanent damage to the battery, and such damage will not be covered under the Tesla Roadster’s warranty agreement. This is spelled out in numerous places in greater detail throughout the manual. Scans of these pages are available in the gallery below. In addition, there is an agreement which owners must sign at the time of purchase that has the owner acknowledge the responsibility of maintaining a proper battery charge, and that any damage that results from negligence in this area is not covered under warranty. Degusta’s complaints that the “Battery Reminder Card” handed out to owners during servicing don’t contain adequate warnings of the consequences are also misleading, as the consequences are spelled out in the aforementioned documents.

- The Tesla Roadster’s battery, unlike those in the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt, is made up of 6831 “consumer commodity cells”, basically laptop or cellphone type cells that combine to make up the battery pack. These batteries use Cobalt Dioxide chemistry, which is the most energy dense, and prone to decaying with time as well as use. This is not the case in the Volt or Leaf, which use different chemistry. In addition, the “state of charge” used by the Tesla pack is different; when a Tesla range indicator displays “zero miles”, it could have 5 percent of the battery life left. If the car is then parked without charging, it may drain to zero, leaving the car “bricked”. A Volt, on the other hand, may actually have one half to one third of the battery pack’s life left upon displaying “zero miles”; it only uses 10.4 kW out of its 16kW battery. Exact figures for a Tesla battery weren’t available, but are said to be much higher.

-It’s theoretically possible to revive a “bricked” consumer cell via slow trickle charging, in the same way that a dead iPod or laptop can be brought back to life if left to charge for a very long time after months of not being used.

So, we know for sure that it’s possible for a Tesla to “brick”. Tesla has admitted it in a statement, but also seems to have provided ample warnings that it could happen and that it can easily be prevented. These measures, along with the structure of the warranty agreement, leads us to believe that a product liability lawsuit is highly unlikely (a former auto industry lawyer we spoke to agreed, though cautioned that California’s Lemon Laws were the most liberal of any of the 50 states).

Of course, Tesla could have replaced the battery pack in good faith (and maybe had Drucker and the others sign an NDA agreement that also absolves Tesla of any responsibility for the pack’s failure), but for some reason, they didn’t. In the gallery below, we have scans of the manual. You can read the manual for yourself here.

Tesla Owners Document. Photo courtesy GreenCarReports.com Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail OwnersAgreementBatteryDocument Page6DataRecording Page7FailureToFollowVoidsWarranty Page8Glossary Page33BatteryTOC Page34ChargeInstructions Page35 Page36 Page37 Page78zerowarnings Page88Towing Page89Towing ]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/the-tesla-roadster-bricking-story-details-deconstructed/feed/ 110
Hammer Time: What Should Have Been http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/hammer-time-what-should-have-been/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/hammer-time-what-should-have-been/#comments Fri, 13 Jan 2012 14:26:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=426035

 

I remember looking at the then brand new Ford Five Hundred and thinking to myself, “This would make one heck of a Volvo.”

Like the Volvos of yore this Ford offered a squarish conservative appearance. A high seating position which Volvo’s ‘safety oriented’ customers would have appreciated. Toss in a cavernous interior that had all the potential for a near-luxury family car, or even a wagon, and this car looked more ‘Volvo’ than ‘Ford’ to me with each passing day.

Something had to be done…

Hmmm… why not subtract ‘twenty’ from the Five Hundred name. Call it a 480, and put in a nice classic Volvo styled fascia on the front end. Throw in an interior inspired by the best of Swedish design and, Voila! Ford would have offered a Volvo that would have hit the square peg of the brand’s main customers… and maybe even a few others who were considering an upscale Camry or a Lexus ES.

Sadly Ford never made a Volvo version of the Five Hundred, or the Flex for that matter. Instead they mis-balanced the diverging priorities of competing simultaneously with BMW (S40′s, C30′s, S60′s) and conservative middle-aged Americans who valued luxury transport over driving dynamics (Xc90, XC60, C70).  The brand became a disaster.

I am starting to see the same ingredients mixed into other brands these days. Take for instance Scion.

Yes this brand will get a nice pop and halo in the form of the upcoming FR-S. Then again, halo sports cars that are shared with other brands tend to be short-lived. Just ask Pontiac and Saturn about the Solstice and the Sky.

So what would be the perfect car to put into Scion’s kinship?

Two years ago I would have strongly argued for making the CT200h a Scion. It didn’t have the luxury trappings of a Lexus. However it offered tons of sporting character and attracted the type of youthful and educated audience that Scion sorely needed at that point.

You know. The type of people that quickly walked away from Scion after they started marketing bloated SUV-like compacts that should have been marketed as… Toyotas… or Volvos. Who knows.

Wait a second. YOU know!

A lot of potentially great cars over the years have been marketed to the wrong brands for the wrong reasons.  So I ask the B&B, “What cars were given the wrong brand, and where should they have gone?”.

Like most marketing classes in modern day MBA-land there are no right answers. Just SWAG’s and opinions. Feel free to demote a Cadillac to a Chevy if you must. So long as you can defend it, let’s hear it.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/hammer-time-what-should-have-been/feed/ 49
The Fix Is In As GM Makes Changes To Volt After NHTSA Investigation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/the-fix-is-in-as-gm-makes-changes-to-volt-after-nhtsa-investigation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/the-fix-is-in-as-gm-makes-changes-to-volt-after-nhtsa-investigation/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2012 22:25:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=424566

General Motors announced changes to the Chevrolet Volt’s design after a NHTSA investigation into why a Volt caught fire following crash testing.

The changes will go into effect once production restarts at the Hamtramck, Michigan facility, but customer cars already sold will follow a different protocol.

Starting in February, GM will initiate a “voluntary customer satisfaction program” to make the necessary changes to the Volt. According to GM’s Rob Peterson said that  formal recalsl must be initiated by NHTSA, and their lack of movement prompted GM to enact a voluntary one instead.

The fix involves changes to the Volt’s battery pack housing, as well as a coolant temperature sensor and a special bracket to prevent overfilling. The previous system allowed the battery housing to be punctured, which then resulted in coolant overflowing onto a circuit board causing an electrical short. The short was determined to be the cause of the fire.

 

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/the-fix-is-in-as-gm-makes-changes-to-volt-after-nhtsa-investigation/feed/ 39
General Motors Trying Stealth Tactics For Super Bowl Ads http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/general-motors-trying-stealth-tactics-for-super-bowl-ads/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/general-motors-trying-stealth-tactics-for-super-bowl-ads/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2012 19:46:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=424547

Rather than running commercials during the Super Bowl, General Motors is looking to try something more subversive – product placement within other brand’s TV spots during the big game.

Automotive News reports that GM marketing man Joel Ewanick was investigating the possibility of paying other advertisers to insert GM vehicles into their ads. But various contractual elements related to Super Bowl advertising may kill the idea in its nascent stages.

Super Bowl ads are apparently restricted via a form of non-compete clause. Ford and Chevrolet could not run ads in the same “pod” (i.e. commercial break), and GM’s plan would cause havoc with this arrangement. Having GM products inserted into another company’s ad, as well as commercials for GM’s own products would cause a logistical nightmare for the people who decide where and when ads are placed.

Furthermore, the plan would run afoul of a long-standing policy against buying a 30 second spot and then re-selling 5 or 10 second blocks of time. NBC, which broadcasts the game, would also have to approve any ads that feature the promotion of an unrelated brand. The article also mentions a “reward system” that would give small prizes to viewers who are able to spot product placements, though no details on this seemingly silly scheme were given.

As much as Super Bowl ads have become a part of pop culture, meriting their own examination, the undeniable fact remains that for many, the ads are a great way to grab another beer or, shall we say, recycle the liquids via the municipal sewage system.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/general-motors-trying-stealth-tactics-for-super-bowl-ads/feed/ 20
Ten Simple Things The Industry Could Do For Me This Christmas http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/ten-simple-things-the-industry-could-do-for-me-this-christmas/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/ten-simple-things-the-industry-could-do-for-me-this-christmas/#comments Sat, 24 Dec 2011 20:08:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=423451

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.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/ten-simple-things-the-industry-could-do-for-me-this-christmas/feed/ 96
Motor Trend’s Car Of The Year: As Relevant As You’d Expect http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/motor-trends-car-of-the-year-as-relevant-as-youd-expect/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/motor-trends-car-of-the-year-as-relevant-as-youd-expect/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2011 23:56:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418762

Click here to view the embedded video.

Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award has been a lightning rod of criticism among automotive gadflies ever since… well, you decide. Corvair? Vega? Mustang II?  Every year, MT picks one “best” car from a market that serves a wide variety of needs, and every year, the autoblogosphere rushes to help the tottering “contest” collapse under the weight of its own pretense. This year, with Motor Trend picking Volkswagen’s new de-Euro’d Passat (a car that has received a decidedly mixed critical reception) for its highest honor, is it any wonder that the peanut gallery is frothing over the choice?

Jalopnik, the gaddiest of automotive gadflies, swung for the moon with their headline of “Golden Shower” superimposed atop a picture of Editor-In-Chief Angus Mackenzie. Mike Spinelli’s satirical rant, praising Motor Trend for giving the award to a car that has been watered-down and decontented for the American market, would be funny if there weren’t legions of people who earnestly believed the Passat could qualify as some kind of enthusiast vehicle beyond the mere fact that it was a Volkswagen, and therefore obscure to most consumers.

The previous Passats were great cars. I lobbied hard for my folks to buy a B6 Wagon in high school but they ended up going with a Hyundai Santa Fe. The inside of a Passat was, to quote a popular movie at the time “lined with rich mahogany and filled with leather [bound books]…” and the 2.0T engine provided a nice kick. The dealer even had a parts counter guy who offered to re-flash the ECU for another 40 horsepower and 90 lb-ft, but alas, it wasn’t to be. Otherwise, the Passats were just “meh” to drive. More fun than a CamCord to be certain, but eating diabetic candy is more fun than eating celery sticks.

But a rant like Jalopnik’s, as funny as it is, is just as disingenuous as Motor Trend’s award – it’s not really about the quality of the car or of Motor Trend’s journalism, but a sly bit of branding and status whoring, intending to position Jalopnik as a site of integrity, by the enthusiasts, for enthusiasts. We’ve seen this before with the Jeff Glucker hit-piece, in spite of the rampant XBOX whoring and other questionable tactics like misleading headlines that lead to single sentence posts. Motor Trend may have made a bad call, but trotting out the typical “enthusiasts are being ignored” canard is the wrong move when our target for attack has given the COTY award to illustrious candidates like the 2002 Ford Thunderbird and the 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser. Spinelli asks rhetorically “Why would Motor Trend cater to the whims of “enthusiasts” over the marketplace?” Because, as we’ve established long ago, enthusiasts complain endlessly and buy seldom. Meanwhile, the new Jetta is setting sales records, despite it apparently being the enthusiast Antichrist on four wheels [Ed: to the point where Forbes calls it a "flop," despite its 27% bump in sales]

On to the next bête noire – Motor Trend brags about this year’s field of cars being one of the largest and most competitive, at 35. Looking at the field, I can see about, oh, 33 more worthy candidates (aside from the Fisker Karma, which is vaporware and looks like a kosher sausage that stayed in the frying pan too long). Why not the Ford Focus or the Chevrolet Sonic, two small cars that prove that American cars can beat the imports at their own game [Ed: Might this not have been the best year in history for MT to give a GM small car the honor, after so many embarrassments?]? Why not the Audi A7, which should win for no other reason than being heartbreakingly beautiful? Why not the Nissan LEAF for being a mass market EV that actually works?

If you ask me, the reason is because Motor Trend is out of touch with everything and everyone else outside of Planet Motor Trend, and has officially become irrelevant. They slam the Ford Explorer, but again, it seems to do just fine in the sales race. Their endless advertorial love affair with the CTS-V wagon “long term tester” is almost a parody of auto journalisms excesses. And don’t forget MacKenzie’s own piece for Subaru’s magazine (and MT) which detailed his all-expenses paid jaunt to the Australian Outback in – A Subaru Outback! More than anything else, this seems like MT is betting that the new Passat will sell well, rather than rewarding a manufacturer for a truly significant achievement. And who precisely learns what from that?

Ed described the new Passat to me as “A German Impala” and that’s a pretty apt, if uncharitable description. It’s a lot better than the “enthusiast” vanguard would have you believe, but there’s still something not quite right. It’s a little watered down, a little soft around the edges – just right for everyone else who isn’t totally immersed in the world of automotive trivia. And they’ve never bought a car based on an annual award anyways.

]]>
http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/motor-trends-car-of-the-year-as-relevant-as-youd-expect/feed/ 59