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 >
Category: Product Reviews
“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.
I was just a pre-licensed car nut when the July 1994 issue of Car and Driver passed along the news of Ayrton Senna’s death. Brock Yates’ column in that issue said, “In a sad way, Ayrton Senna’s death dignifies motor racing…He did not die in vain, but rather he made the ultimate sacrifice in seeking his own personally mandated pinnacle of achievement. Tragically, ironically, he may serve his chosen profession more in death than life.” This meant nothing to me at the time. But it means something now.
I can’t say that I was completely surprised when, about two thirds of the way through Bob Lutz’s new book Car Guys vs Bean Counters, I caught a sideswipe at myself and The Truth About Cars, which the retired Vice-Chairman of GM describes as
a Web site that often offers anything but.
After all, TTAC and “Maximum Bob” have long been sparring partners, and were indirectly debating the fate and fortunes of General Motors well before I ever started writing about cars. What was surprising was that this passing shot at TTAC’s credibility would actually help bring us, two presumptive arch-enemies in the world of automotive ideas, to a better understanding of each other. The exchange that a single paragraph prompted taught me that, against all odds, Bob and I share a fundamental character trait: we are at our best when we’ve been goaded into action by a no-holds-barred call-out. In celebration of this shared value, let’s take off the gloves and give Car Guys the unflinching look it deserves.
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.
The ad says that cotton is “the fabric of our lives.” It wasn’t the fabric of my youth, I can tell you that. There were the blue school uniforms, seemingly forged in a single piece from iron-strong polyester, hot in the summer and abrasive in the winter. There were suits and ties in rough wool to wear during the weekends, sweaters in soft Lacoste velour and miserable Brooks cable knit, and the instantly dirty, plasticized leather of the Nike “Burt Bruin” shoes on my feet. And, of course, there was M-B Tex, eternal and unchanging, perennially youthful even as the car surrounding it disintegrated into flakes of chromed rust.
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Test Drive Unlimited 2 (TDU2) is the latest pistonhead-oriented video game, a genre I’ve enjoyed since Test Drive first arrived in 1987. My PS3 usually spins two amazing time wasters: Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) for sheer hotshoe geekiness and the Grand Theft Auto series (GTA) for snark, storyline and reality-blurring gameplay. TDU2 sets out to blend elements of both, making it unique and intriguing in concept alone. But does the promise of a game that’s less serious than GT5 but more car-focused than GTA work in practice? Read More >
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.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Time and time again, it’s the comparison that kept occurring to me as I played Gran Turismo 5 on my PS3. The fruit of years – and years of development, Sony’s Forza-killer was finally bestowed upon us this November. Befitting its immense gestation period, the game is a mix of out-dated user interfaces and standard cars and tracks, a sublime driving engine, and incredible detail on some of the newer premium cars. Originally targeted at Forza Motorsport 2, it came out after Forza 3, and it plays like something in between the two.
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 >