It’s that time of year, with the clock ticking on your shopping for Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa and the ease of buying books online makes them such low-hassle gifts. You want to give that special car-freak on your gift list a nice coffee-table book, but everybody’s coffee table seems to be creaking beneath the weight of books full of photos of gleaming classic/exotic cars. Boring! The solution: this book full of photos of abandoned cars! Read More >
“In the end, it was all about the car—designing, engineering, assembling, and selling a product that consumers wanted to own and drive.” So observes Bill Vlasic near the end of Once Upon a Car, his 379-page account of the recent “fall and resurrection” of the Detroit car manufacturers. Vlasic’s book is quite late to the party, following other journalistic accounts by Alex Taylor III and Paul Ingrassia and insider accounts by Steve Rattner and Bob Lutz. Can it possibly offer anything new? Is it worth reading? Yes, and yes. Yet Vlasic’s book also shares a fundamental weakness with the others, one all the more damning because of the above observation.
Never assume that press accounts of what’s going on inside the auto companies resembles what’s actually going on. For my Ph.D. thesis, I inhabited General Motors’s product development organization much like an anthropologist might inhabit a Third World village. What I observed during my year-and-a-half on the inside bore virtually no resemblance to what I read in the automotive press. Journalists aren’t inside the companies, have contact with select high-level insiders, and tend to print the PR-approved accounts these insiders provide. These accounts reflect how senior executives want outsiders to think the organization operates and performs much more than how it actually does. To the extent journalists know the reality—and few do any digging—they rarely print it. So I’ve refrained from even guessing at what’s been going on inside GM. Instead, I’ve been hoping that some insider would write an insightful account of the eventful past 10 to 15 years. None have, until ex-vice chairman Bob Lutz’s new book, Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: the Battle for the Soul of American Business. Lutz has a reputation for speaking his mind and straight shooting. What does his book tell us about what really went on inside GM?
As promised yesterday, my review of Michael Dunne’s American Wheels Chinese Roads: The Story of General Motors in China is now live at the Wall Street Journal website [sub] as well as today’s print edition. Be sure to pick up a copy and stay tuned for TTAC’s own review of this important book, by our man in China, Bertel Schmitt.
Has it really been a year since the United States tore itself apart in a frenzy over the possibility that Toyota’s might suddenly accelerate out of control? So intense was the furor over Toyota’s alleged misdeeds, that it seems like the whole scandal occurred only yesterday, yet the brevity of the crisis already gives it the distance of ancient history. Now, just a year after the height of the hysteria, the first major book on the subject has arrived, casting a clear light on the events of the recall. Serving as a history of the scandal, a case study in Toyota’s responses to it, and a cutting critique of the media’s coverage of the recall, Toyota Under Fire is a powerful reminder of the many lessons that emerged from one of the most intense and unexpected automotive industry events in recent years.
John McElroy recently quit the Automotive Press Association because they invited Steven Rattner, former head of the government’s auto industry task force, to speak. He warned, “If you want to read [his] book, DON’T BUY IT. Get it from your local library, because Steven Rattner is a rat who doesn’t deserve a dime of anyone’s money.” What he didn’t say: don’t read the book. And with good reason: it’s well-written, insightful, and definitely worth reading.
First things first: having stuck my neck out a quite a bit with a piece I wrote last year The Truth About Why Chrysler Destroyed The Turbine Car, I approached this book with a mixture of eagerness and trepidation to find out if my own theory held any water. It does (whew!). This well researched book by Steve Lehto confirms it: the myth that Chrysler had the bronze beauties scrapped because of import duties that needed to be paid is utter junk and a baseless urban myth. It even confirms my speculation that the Ghia bodies cost about $20k each, and therefore any import duties would have been insignificant: Read More >
Book Reviewed: Where the Suckers Moon: An Advertising Story, by Randall Rothenberg, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, 477 pages.
I don’t know what you get out of the current Subaru Legacy ad campaign, but what I get out of it is: “The Subaru Legacy is so banal, and sucks so unrepentantly hard, that we had to put extra crap on an old Kia Optima to create an alternative you wouldn’t automatically prefer.” This is not the first time Subaru has pointed a shotgun at its own feet, nor is it likely to be the last.
Where The Suckers Moon is, primarily, a story about advertising, but along the way we get a true sense of Subaru itself: a company stumbling from failure to failure, forever being rescued by market conditions, outrageously misinformed buyer perception, and completely random factors. It’s simply a company that is too lucky to fail, no matter how hard it tries.
Predicted by site founder Robert Farago when few people thought it could actually happen, GM’s bankruptcy is now history. So, time for the histories.
Paul Ingrassia certainly seems qualified to provide one. The Wall Street Journal’s man in Detroit for years, he won a Pulitzer (with Joseph White) for his coverage of the auto industry’s early 1990’s brush with disaster and subsequent recovery. That coverage provided the basis for 1994’s Comeback: the Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry, a definitive account of that period.
Does Crash Course: the American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster similarly deserve a place on your bookshelf?
Well, it depends. Did you know: Read More >
To say that the auto industry has had a rough several years would be an understatement of epic proportions. The bailouts of GM and Chrysler dragged many of the industry’s challenges into the open, and the dramatic rescue effort brought an unprecedented level of public awareness of long-festering problems with Detroit’s business model. Here at TTAC, these troubles have provided much grist for our discussions, which tend to focus on the product, business and customer care factors. But behind the decades of Detroit’s weak products and poor business practices, lies a political-economic narrative that tends to be left out of the discussion. In End of a Dream or The Great Auto Crash: An Inside Story, economist William Vukson fits the great sweep of macroeconomic policy since Richard Nixon into a slim volume, and explains Detroit’s dramatic collapse in terms of trade and fiscal policy rather than, say, Detroit’s “Deadly Sins”.
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Matthew Crawford is a practicing motorcycle mechanic out of Richmond,Virginia. He’s also an excellent writer who holds a philosophy degree from the prestigious University of Chicago. This unusual trifecta informs “Shop Class as Soulcraft: an Inquiry Into the Value of Work.” Anyone who’s changed their oil or timed a distributor (remember them?) will appreciate the result.
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P. J. O’Rourke takes the decline of the American car personally. And not just because his family has sold Buicks for three generations. In his latest book Driving Like Crazy, O’Rourke sees the very story of our nation written in the crazy, chrome-clad arc of American automobilia. From “the sheer genius that transformed the 1908 Model T into the 1965 Shelby Cobra GT500 in a single human lifetime of speeding tickets” to the industry’s decades-long “sayonara,” O’Rourke reflects on where we’ve been and what we drove to get there. But he also knows that cars are about more important things than mere cultural and political commentary. They’re about fun. Fast fun. Busting axles in Baja fun. Pointing a big, noisy car at the horizon and burying the gas pedal fun. And what’s more American than that?