The Truth About Cars » Generation Y The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 18 Jul 2014 20:52:49 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 » Generation Y Coming of Age in the BOF Era Sat, 24 May 2014 13:00:56 +0000 DSCN2839 - Copy

Standing on the sidewalk in front of his house, a young boy watches his neighbor across the street back out of her driveway. Her moss green Expedition starts to roll backwards. Suddenly, a blue beach ball blows into the SUV’s path. She hits it with one of her rear tires, and the truck rises up on top of it for just a moment. The ball bursts with an enormous bang, and the truck crashes back to the pavement with an equally loud noise. The top-heavy rig sways back and forth as the boy laughs.

That young boy was me, sometime over a decade ago. The moss green Expedition was hardly the only SUV on the block. Our own family had two, at various points in time. The first was a second-gen two-door S-10 Jimmy that we assumed the lease on after my grandfather passed away suddenly. The second was another Jimmy, this time a four-door in dark green. The parents didn’t keep either of them for long. The two-door wasn’t very practical, and of course had to be returned at the end of the lease anyway. My mother hated the swinging rear spare configuration because it was difficult for her to lock securely; one time the latch came loose on a freeway exit ramp, and the tire swung out crazily on the swivel mount. The four-door was more practical, but a maddening front-end squeak that was never quite fixed led them to trade it in on a new Mustang. It was the last GM product my family owned.

For us Millennials, the SUV defined the automotive era in which we grew up. Consider that the first Ford Explorer, the most paradigmatic SUV of the entire boom, rolled into showrooms in 1990. The Explorer was mostly just a softer clone of the unibody XJ Cherokee, with fewer off-road chops and less sophisticated engineering. It didn’t matter- the Explorer went on to become one of the greatest sales successes of the 90s, despite the notorious rollover scandals. The Explorer inspired yet more imitators, and the passenger vehicle market has never been the same since. A multitude of causes have been cited to explain the SUV boom: historically low gas prices, a booming economy, a resurgence of interest in outdoor leisure activities, tax write-offs, and regulatory loopholes. In terms of the Millennials and their relationship to the automobile, arguments about what caused the SUV boom are less important than the mere fact of its existence. The rise, fall, and partial rebirth of the SUV made a powerful impression on the automotive consciousness of the Millennials. The negative externalities of the BOF Era (a period I’ll define as the years between the introduction of the Explorer in 1990 and the collapse of the world economy in 2007) are at least partly responsible for the ambivalent, occasionally hostile attitude of many Millennials towards the automobile.

SUVs became a ubiquitous sight on the roads as Millennials were growing up, but their conquest of America’s driveways and garages was never total. Low gas prices made it feasible for more middle-class people to operate them as regular-use vehicles, but they were never particularly cheap to buy. In 2000, the Explorer hit its all-time sales peak of 445,157 units, although Ford managed to shift more than 400,000 units in all but two years between 1995 and 2002. At that time, the very cheapest four door, two-wheel-drive model was still over $23,000- close to $32,000 in today’s money. In reality, most models were nudging thirty grand in year 2000 dollars by the time all the paperwork was signed. The bigger Expedition and Excursion were more expensive still.

In hindsight we now know that there was some pretty hair-raising over-leveraging of credit that went on in the first decade of the 2000s. Even so, not everyone could afford an SUV, and they became an unavoidable distinction between haves and have-nots. They introduced a classist element to the American roadways that differed from the old brand hierarchy. That made a deep impression on myself, as well as many of my friends. We were getting old enough to start understanding the basic tenets of American consumerism. Things cost money, and people made money by working. If you had more money, you could buy more things. In the context of our economic times, this had two important manifestations. Wealthy people drove SUVs and lived in large houses; poor people had sedans (or nothing at all) and lived in apartments or bungalows. The childish mind doesn’t understand that size isn’t always a virtue; nor, it turns out, did many adults.

The logic of the SUV boom was wildly simpler than in the supposed salad days of the Sloanist brand hierarchy in the 50s and 60s. It’s debatable to what extent that brand hierarchy ever penetrated the public consciousness in the manner imagined by automotive historians, anyway. The “buyers’ strike” of 1957, the failure of Edsel, the backlash of the nascent independent consumer press against the excesses of Detroit, the overwhelming dominance of “low cost” brands even during times of rising affluence, and the early success of the Volkswagen Beetle and its imitators are all challenges to the old story. The point remains that drivers who were uneducated about brands, or who didn’t care about cars in general, could easily fail to be impressed. The 1957 Chevrolet looked a lot like the 1957 Cadillac, and this was still true two decades later. If you didn’t pay attention to the brand, the conspicuous consumption aspect was lost on you. That’s how all pure, tiered branding works, right? You have to convince the consumer of his position in the brand hierarchy; but you also have to impress everyone else with the strength of the brand.  The non-purchasers of your product are the ones that make the act of conspicuous consumption truly possible. They are the ones that provide the admiration (or envy) that makes the whole system turn.

The marketing genius of the SUV was that it radically simplified the display of wealth. You didn’t need to know anything about brands, drivetrains, or interior fabrics to guess that an Expedition was more expensive than an Explorer, and an Excursion more still. Pure size turned out to be an incredibly effective substitute for the delicate logic of branding. Unlike the carefully cultivated advertising of yore, SUVs didn’t need an abundance of consumer knowledge to be effective in their message. Bigger meant more expensive, and thus more exclusive. Every kid of the 90s understood this, as did their parents. It was consumption reduced to its crassest, most vulgar form. Even the most ostentatious land yachts of the 50s, 60s, and 70s were rarely much larger than the more pedestrian sedans on which they were often based, and they utilized most of the same styling cues. The SUV was an unavoidable sensory assault that based its appeal not on some form of enlightened coexistence, but on physical dominance of the road. It was literally impossible to ignore.

SUVs trampled the notion of an enlightened, “real” luxury. They put paid to the idea that a luxury vehicle must somehow provide the owner with a superior driving experience, even if that only meant a plusher ride or easier steering. No, the remorseless logic of SUV ownership proclaimed. It must only be expensive and readily identifiable as such. Sure, there was an avalanche of phony “lifestyle” marketing associated with SUVs- they were “sport utility vehicles,” after all. We all know, though, that most SUV purchasers had no interest in the supposed rugged capabilities of their vehicles. They were minivan and wagon replacements with more swagger. As the Germans and Japanese joined in on the SUV orgy, this logic was carried to completion. The hopes of the David E. Davises of the world that the late Seventies had marked some kind of turning point in America’s love affair with the automobile were crushed. Those yuppies didn’t buy their Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes, and various other upscale European and Japanese hardware because they offered superior driving experiences or quality; they bought them because they were the latest trend in loudly advertised wealth. Those cars might have been excellent driving machines, but that isn’t why most people bought them. Toyota learned this lesson and hit a home run with Lexus. Nissan and Honda didn’t, and their luxury ventures floundered.

In the BOF era, the crude size contest undermined the traditional logic of branding to an unprecedented degree. It proved that customers could be receptive to expensive pleasure vehicles without the benefit of a premium brand image. A Land Rover Discovery with leather, a V8, and four wheel drive retailed for $36,100 in 2000; an Eddie Bauer Explorer with the same set of options was only about two grand less. BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac, and Lexus maintained their pricing premiums at the top end of the market, but their advantage was slim and their overall share of the market small. The reality is that nobody struggled to sell SUVs at huge margins in the late 90s and early 2000s, regardless of the strength of their brand. Honda was so desperate to get in this game that it agreed to stick its badges on a GM product. There were plenty of weak brands that got a new lease on life because of the SUV gold rush. When the SUV market entered a sharp decline around 2003, Oldsmobile imploded, Isuzu and Mitsubishi ceased to be relevant entities, and Saab and Mercury were fatally weakened. Sales were more a function of capacity and availability than anything else; “brand” was a secondary consideration. The incessant drive downmarket by virtually all of today’s luxury automakers, and their subsequent erosion of pricing power, is at least partially a legacy of what happened in the SUV market.

In this atmosphere of radical consumption, my contemporaries and I played out our formative years. I didn’t get as much seat time in SUVs as many of my friends, but I had a favorable impression of them. SUVs and trucks were cool. Bill Paxton drove a Ram in Twister. The kids drove an Explorer in Hocus Pocus, and people got eaten out of them in Jurassic Park. I had a die-cast Explorer that I played with constantly. I didn’t have any deep ideas about resource depletion, or climate change, or driving a car that actually put you in touch with the road. I just thought they looked awesome, and that cool people drove them- the main criteria of any adolescent boy. If nothing had changed in the American political and economic picture, I’d probably be driving one today.

Of course, things did change. 9/11 was the first major world political event that Millennials experienced in a meaningful way. The long-term implications of that are enormous and wide-ranging in scope, but for the purposes of the current discussion it’s sufficient to say that the attack and the wars that followed were fodder for a critical look at the American transportation complex. Nobody who was an adolescent in the mid-2000s could avoid the acrimonious debates about American energy policy that accompanied the wars. They couldn’t ignore the mounting crisis that was beginning to thin the SUV herd either. After the Iraq invasion, gas prices began to rocket upwards. Suddenly, middle class budgets were squeezed. Expenditures had to be cut in order to feed ravenous 14 MPG gas hogs. Family trips were curtailed. Parents carpooled. Young teenagers spent long hours in boring dealership waiting rooms as Mom and Dad desperately tried to get out from under their mountain of debt and into something that didn’t cost $150 to fill up.

Meanwhile, there were other problems that combined to make driving a gas guzzler deeply unfashionable and out-of-touch. Casualty lists were ever-present in newspapers and on television. Weapons of mass destruction weren’t found where they were supposed to be; nor was the zealot who had caused us all this pain in the first place. Despots in oil-rich nations laughed at us. The public debt ballooned. Climate change science became harder and harder to deny. Deindustrialization was a mounting problem. Corporate fraud cases exposed shocking levels of institutionalized avarice. Political discourse was ever frothier. In the grim atmosphere of national suffering and sacrifice, people began to question the wisdom of consumption for consumption’s sake. SUVs were beginning to decline in a major way after the gas price spike, but others doubled down- the H2 was introduced in 2002, you might recall. Even so, the long term projections weren’t good. The political Left embraced the SUV as a bogeyman and a symbol for a wide variety of ills.

Just as those kids born the same year the Explorer debuted were about to start their senior year of high school, the bottom fell out. Of everything. The BOF Era had really died that summer, when gas crested $4 a gallon nationwide. The financial crisis was just the nail in the coffin. Now we got to see just how over-leveraged our “boom economy” really was. It was a swift, brutal lesson about the value of living within your means. More than anything, it taught us that luxury and consumption were two different things. You can get by without fancy clothes, eating out, and expensive vacations. Those can be easily set aside when times are tough. It’s much harder to get out from under a car payment for a vehicle that is now too expensive to drive and which no dealer wants to take in trade; to heat a house full of empty rooms you never use; or to pay the mortgage on that same house when the fixed-rate term is suddenly up. I was lucky in that I had a family which understood these things, so our pain was minimal. Lots of people in our community weren’t so fortunate, as was the case all across America.

So what did observant Millennials learn from the BOF Era, when the dust had settled? Mostly, that overspending on commodities isn’t a smart or fulfilling substitute for luxury. You can’t go without a place to live or a way to get around. If you’ve over-leveraged yourself into buying more housing or vehicle than you really need, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to jettison those commitments when times are tough. This doesn’t mean that luxury cars or expensive houses are going to disappear. What it does mean is that the mindless “more is more” mentality of full-size SUVs with two passengers and poorly-constructed McMansions with no furniture in bland suburbs is dead. Energy and space are basic goods that everyone needs. They aren’t meant to be burned up in an endless quest for inefficiency. Neither is inexhaustible, or totally predictable in value. Better to indulge in something with a fixed cost whose long-term obligation isn’t dependent on the vagaries of global financial and commodities markets. Keep your money tight to your chest. Only take out debt that enriches your personal equity: student loans or perhaps a fixed-rate mortgage on a right-sized house in an established neighborhood. Of course, I can’t speak for everybody. There will always be people who make bad decisions as long as money exists. If we start to experience the same level of prosperity our parents enjoyed, we might regress. But we’ve seen the inevitable end to irrational exuberance, and the conspicuous waste that follows. The shameful discarding of SUVs, many with lots of life still left in them, is the final and most sordid legacy of the era.

Like the car-critical Baby Boomers of the 60s and 70s, Generation Y is looking for alternatives. The Boomers looked to fuel-efficient imports as an antidote to Detroit behemoths. The CUV is one of Gen Y’s alternatives to the excesses of the BOF Era. The CUV offers the efficiency of a car with the headroom, seating position, and interior space that were the most redeeming qualities of SUVs. Mid-size pickup trucks are dead, so they say- but new materials and engineering techniques are already making full-sizes more efficient. Hybrids and alternative energy vehicles are only going to grow in demand. The Millennials have been castigated as a generation that doesn’t care about driving or mobility in general, but that isn’t true. We just don’t want the millstone of vehicles that are too cumbersome, too inflexible, and too inefficient to be an effective hedge against the future. The Millennials will go on to buy plenty of cars, but not by the pound.

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Sunday Story: Corrupting the Youth Sun, 02 Feb 2014 14:00:01 +0000 go_kart

“Don’t be ridiculous, young lady. You need something SENSIBLE.” Jamie sat at the kitchen table, her head in her hands. Week 5 of the search for her first car had just dawned, and she was about ready to give in.

Mother scowled as she scoured pans in the sink. This was all the fault of that wretched brother-in-law, Dan. Filling up her delicate baby girl’s head with GARBAGE, from the moment she could walk! The nerve of that grease-stained clown, spoiling her with all kinds of wretched mechanical excess! His help with Jamie was appreciated after Father’s untimely passing, but Uncle Dan’s idea of a good time made Mother pull her hair out. First it was the rides through the mud hole in that sky-high, cobbled-together death trap he casually referred to as “the Bronco.” Jamie would return home covered in dirt and giggling madly, throwing a royal tantrum when she was forced into the bath. Then, when Jamie was a little older, Uncle Dan seriously upped the ante. Dropping Jamie back off after another months-long summer vacation, he slyly hinted that her precious daughter was quite the talented racer. Mother demanded to know the context; go-carts were the answer. This, while horrifically dangerous and an enormity on many levels, was almost forgivable. She had known of other parents, devil-may-care types that would surely come to grief someday, who let their children pilot such contraptions at Magic Mountain. Then it emerged later that these go-carts were not of the rubber-covered, speed-limited variety, and that her daughter had been permitted to zip along at speeds nearing fifty miles an hour on an open track. THWUMP, went mother, as she fainted into the plush embrace of the carpet.

This emotional wallop wasn’t the last, though. Two summers ago, slimy Uncle Dan dropped Jamie off in his evil black Buick. He grinned sheepishly at Mother as Jamie bounded up the driveway, beaming. Then he drove off, the twin turbochargers hissing like snakes and the fat rear tires leaving ugly marks at the bottom of the driveway. With teenage boldness, Jamie proclaimed that she had piloted said machine down Uncle Dan’s nearby drag strip. A Youtube video was quickly produced as proof. There was Jamie, strapped into the five point harness, her helmet right-sized but fire suit comically overlarge. Mother watched that devil’s chariot vanish down the quarter mile. The signboard at the end flashed: one hundred and twenty-one miles per hour. Just a hair over eleven seconds. And the unmistakable cackle of Uncle Dan in the background. “Good girl,” he said. Mother wept her bitter tears, and vowed to reassert control.

Now was the time to lay down the hammer. Jamie had her own money, a cool forty-five hundred dollars. Those summer sessions as a helper in Uncle Dan’s hot dog truck had certainly been lucrative. It was enough cash for a gloriously ratty rolling wreck and the barest of minimum coverage. Uncle Dan could be counted on as a steady source of mechanical advice and assistance. But Mother did have the upper hand in one regard; all parking space privileges were her preserve. With no room on the street, Jamie was forced to comply. The first two of Mother’s ground rules were reasonable: disc brakes and seatbelts. Those could be found easily enough. Mother compromised on airbags, after Jamie showed her some suitably hysterical evening-news pieces on accidental deployments. But the last two rules were immovable, and hopelessly cruel: an automatic transmission, and a curb weight of at least two tons. Jamie threw an absolute fit, because she knew the aim of Mother’s game now: nip the enjoyment of driving, right in the bud. “Young lady, cars are appliances. They exist only to get you from point A to point B. I am not going to let you break your neck because you got some fool idea about driving over the speed limit in some tiny little car! You know that Uncle Dan went to jail for street racing once…” SLAM, went Jamie’s door, as she cut off the stream of unwanted advice from her parental unit. Tears wouldn’t help; what was to be done?

Flash forward, and Jamie was still struggling to eke any amount of fun out of the Sunday classifieds. Nothing but page after page of abused pickup trucks and underpowered CUVs in her price range. Jamie might have been satisfied with some used luxury, but nothing matched the price/weight combo. It was hopeless. Mother smiled; she could see the rebellious urges gradually disappearing in her daughter. Jamie lost focus, and daydreamed about trying to steer a whale onto a crowded freeway…

A ring on her phone snapped her out of it. Uncle Dan, to the rescue! He’d be by in a couple minutes. He had a lead on something Jamie would like, he said. Great! Mother was quite displeased, but she saw no way that Jamie could find something fun without breaking the rules. And if she broke the rules, there’d be no place to put her new toy. Mother let her run out the door to the waiting Buick, confident she still had the upper hand.

Within an hour, they were at the site of Uncle Dan’s promised killer deal. Jamie’s jaw dropped when the wizened old farmer pulled the tarp off the hulking shape. She and Uncle Dan busily inspected it. There was rust in the fenders, and a crack in the windshield. The paint was rather faded, and the interior smelled musty. Even so, the doors and trunk felt more solid than cars thirty years younger. The required equipment was there, thankfully: disc brakes, seatbelts, and an automatic. And the curb weight? It wasn’t even necessary to ask. Jamie opened the hood, and breathed a sigh of relief. The unobtanium power plant had long ago been ditched for a trusty Chevrolet small block. They gave it a jump, and it fired right up. She knew this car would handle like a boat, but the smile factor was well worth it. Even so, Jamie was afraid to hope. Surely, there was no way she could afford this thing! But the price was clear: four thousand dollars, and it was hers. Depreciation can be a good thing sometimes.  “What do you say?” the toothless agrarian chortled, waving a crumpled title in her face. “I’ll take it,” she grinned from behind the massive steering wheel.

Another hour later, and Jamie was back in the kitchen. She slapped her keys and the title of her new car grandly on the table. Mother strutted over primly. Her eyes boggled; this must be a joke. That title must be another one of Uncle Dan’s dastardly tricks! Jamie invited her disbelieving Mother to look out the window at the driveway. There, in all its faded glory, sat a 1978 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow II.

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Hammer Time: Young People Smell Funny Thu, 14 Nov 2013 17:40:30 +0000 large

A herd of automotive journalists get led off into a dark room filled with oversized furniture and cheap snacks.

It is where the ritual slaughter of truth takes place. A screen bigger than Wilt Chamberlain’s …. flashes in front of them as discordant music pulses and the beautiful people beam out their irrational exuberance of owning the upcoming 2014 model.

The actors and actresses on the screen are all young, sexy, virile, obscenely joyful, and about as genuine as a thirty-three dollar bill. Which is A-OK for me. Because after the fifteen minutes of corporate infomercials filled with empty code words such as “Value”, “Best In Class”, and “Award Winning”, the head honcho of the press junket let’s me, and everyone else, off the hook with the biggest lie in the car business.

“We believe our core audience will be young people in their 20′s and 30′s.”

It doesn’t matter what car they are trying to jerk us off with, the words never change.

Cadillac XTS?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Young… 30′s…. a technology junkie…

Toyota Corolla?

Click here to view the embedded video.

20′s and 30′s… preferably someone who thinks that there were plenty of talented white dancers on Soul Train.

A Lincoln?

Click here to view the embedded video.

A rabid Jimmy Fallon fan… 20′s to 30′s…. who still thinks old Town Cars and floating sting rays are great ways to rebuild your brand image.

I have been through dozens of press car launches over the last two years, and every single one of them is lock, stock and loaded with a barrel full of the big lie.

“We… want… the… young. Old people? Not in our commercials! But you’re invited to visit the local dealership, and we’re hoping that the parental enablers within you will help improve our current demographics. But our NEW customers? Our army of customers for the future? Young.”

The young obviously include the young at heart, and of course, that includes all of us who have the money to blow on a new car. In otherwords, the average 60 year old.

Click here to view the embedded video.

These days the mature among us are supposed to be sold with plenty of dancing, spastic pop music, and enough good drugs to turn any rotten life into a Disney movie.

Am I being a curmudgeon? Not at all. This particular commercial struck me as one of those patronizing phony pitches that is designed for success in the boardroom. and failure in the marketplace.

The old man within the middle-aged me looked at this ad. and imagined a bunch of burnt out advertising executives trying to convey the following message.

“Our car is the cool car. Our cool is the hip car. Why? Shut up and look at the young people dancing. It’s like, all 70′s and shit.”

This is the same outstanding logic that brought us talking cartoon ducks selling Cadillacs.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Commercials featuring water, which were somehow supposed to introduce the Infiniti brand back in the day when all Datsuns were Nissans.

Click here to view the embedded video.

And the reanimated corpse that nobody knew outside our industry or cared about. Once again hocking cars… maybe…

Click here to view the embedded video.

Now if Harley Earl had ripped the flesh off that young guy’s neck. Carjacked the brand new 2003 Pontiac GTO, and hit enough curbs, pedestrians and stop signs to make the commercial resemble the game Grand Theft Auto, then it would have been something worth our attention.

Instead you’re left thinking, “What the hell was that all about? Buicks? Old guys with hats?”

This is the exact level of bewilderment that goes through my mind whenever I am reintroduced to the young buyer paradox. Young people are broke these days, for the most part. So why fucking lie?

Reality usually gets no more than a passing glance in the rear view mirror at these new model launches because doing so would require these guys to admit that that their best customer is the stupid one who buys the car at MSRP, and finances it at an 18+% interest rate,.Plus bullshit fees and GAP insurance.

While the guys pine away about their target audience. This is what I usually lead between the lines and the moving lips.

“We love all our customers Steve. Really! But we especially love the stupid ones who are bad at math.” If the guys who presented these vehicles would at least pay homage to their true prime customer, instead of creating fictional facsimiles based on modern day fashions, they would likely wind up with better marketing campaigns.

The Cadillac XTS was probably the best example of the type of marketing campaign where there is simply no audience and a complete dismissal of reality. After a few commercials featuring music and random images of the XTS, we were introduced to the then brand new CUE technology. This new system would be the killer app for getting Cadillac’s new young customers in the door.

Did the CUE technology enable hands-free communting? Was it some type of tablet, phablet, or mobile device? I came there with absolutely no idea what CUE meant.

So, I was treated to a solid two minutes of a guy using what seemed to be aikido type movements to guide all the instrumentation on the center console.

What the hell was that? Why?

Well, because in the future dictated by Cadillac, apparently knobs no longer work. This was the defining reason to buy the XTS. No knobs.

Click here to view the embedded video.

After the final video, we were given the grand announcement of who the target audience would be for the XTS.


30′s, maybe 40′s.

Technology junkies.

Someone who thought that Cadillac is a world class brand that can outperform other leading luxury brands including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti.

Any questions?

You bet your ass I had questions. After a couple of minutes I was mentally crossing out the questions that I simply couldn’t ask…

“I see that CUE uses hand movements for the radio and temperature controls. What about finger gestures? If I gave CUE the finger, or the circle jerk, would it automatically scan to the nearest talk radio station?”

“In the future, are there any black people who buy your product?”

“What do you guys have against knobs? Couldn’t you have simply constructed four round knobs that don’t feel like rubber dog chew toys?”

This is the one I ended up asking…

“The Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6 and BMW 5-Series all offer multiple engine choices along with their own unique high performance models. You are offering one engine and that one is shared with the Impala and LaCrosse. How can you realistically expect to compete with the best cars in this class?”

The fellow in charge of answering the questions did a little sidestep.

Click here to view the embedded video.

And let me in on who Cadillac’s future customer would be.



The sleazy used car dealer? Pretty close.

The young Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Now don’t get me wrong. Marketing teams in every industry want to show how their product is the best in the business. But to get people into that Promise Land when it comes to cars, you need a target that your audience can relate to.

Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who think that Cadillac is a world class brand is not a target. It’s a fictionalized slip of the tongue that let me know the XTS had no chance of making it.

“Young people” is also not a target. When it comes to cars, not even an age group (or sex) can represent a valid target. 25 to 35 can range anywhere from investment banker to jail bait.

However, the worst target is not one that is too big, too small, or even a fictional one.

The worst target in the car business is the one that aims squarely at pleasing the guys in the suits, and nearly nobody else who is outside their brainwashed world.

Self-adulation of a brand, or a model, is the surest way of making any audience cynical of your credibility and intent.

Everybody says they’re the best.


It takes more than that to get the point across. In the case of the spastic dancing Corolla commercial, they could have used a canine, a cane, and a Clapton… and maybe some cocaine from the 70′s.

That would do the trick.



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Ur Turn: Getting My First Driver’s License At 25 Sun, 03 Nov 2013 22:00:54 +0000 IMG_0022

Editor’s note: Last year we ran a post from Tova Schreiber on what it was like to learn how to drive at 24. Now she’s back to tell us about having her driver’s license and driving.

I’m sitting at my desk, waiting for students to arrive and thinking about cars. Waking up at 6:00 on a Sunday morning is rarely fun, but I truly love what I do for a living. My fingers are stained from last night’s dye job, and they clutch a tall Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. Together with a calorie-laden croissant, it’s a breakfast of champions that fuels my discussions as a teacher.

I filled the tank in my brother’s old Focus wagon a few weeks ago, spending what was small fortune to me to repay a favor of his. That car isn’t in great shape, but I borrow it whenever circumstances allow. It takes me to meetings, on errands, and through excursions with my darling nephew. It’s a rare moment that doesn’t see me begging to get behind the wheel, even if I’m only going to be driving for ten minutes.

Last year, I was a scared kitten. It was a few hours before Rosh HaShana and I had to merge onto the interstate for the first time. The driving instructor, a comedic sort, told me I should pray for a sweet new year. I just wanted to survive the freeway.

Things got easier. With time, my hands no longer shook or sweat when they gripped the steering wheel. My then-boyfriend’s ex-police cruiser, with its fearful acceleration, died a few days after I got my driving permit, so he bought a cute, easy-to-handle Hyundai and that’s what I learned to drive on.

There were many frightening moments in the past year. One evening, I was taking some friends to the pub when I suddenly heard, “Tova, change lanes! The lane is ending! No! We’re going to die!”

I did what I was told in the nick of time. We didn’t die.

This summer, a cute guy sat behind me in my Statistics & Econometrics course. I would lend him my notes, which everyone else wanted but couldn’t have, and tell him about my driving adventures. When I said I would soon be taking my road test, he was sure that it would be a second license for me at 24. His look of shock at my explanation (“Nope, I’m a new driver!”) was beyond price.

It’s all been an interesting journey for me. The day I passed my driving test is the day my relationship with my now-ex combusted. He still lets me drive his Hyundai, though, when we go out to dinner.

I’d like to get a motorcycle endorsement eventually and buy a small Honda bike. My parents don’t like that idea, although I rather enjoy the imagery of arriving at my weekday preschool classroom in leather chaps and a tough jacket. More than one person has told me to restore my dad’s ’66 Elan in the garage (pictured above); I fear it has been rendered irredeemable by feral cats. I’m still in love with Chevelles, talking K-cars, and vehicles with interesting cosmetic details like sequential tail lights and gull wing doors. Then there’s my friend’s old Firebird, which needs a few grand to run and many more to be worthy of the Woodward Dream Cruise. (In happier times, we’d goad Corvette drivers, almost all of whom were men with midlife crises, into racing against us. They were left in the dust every time.) As it stands, though, I am carless and moping about it. Moping about not having a car and craving those moments when I can control a huge machine! What a difference a year or two can make.

This summer was filled with milestones. I turned 25, graduated from college with an degree in economics (Detroit editor‘s note: magna cum laude), and began a modest teaching career.

…None of these things has given me the type of thrill and enjoyment that driving has. None of them. I finally came to understood the gravity of it on a warm evening a few weeks ago. I was driving home from a meeting with my boss. It was dark, and the streetlights shone down on the rings on my fingers, making them sparkle. I tapped the steering wheel, cruising along as Billy Idol crooned over the radio waves.

What set you free? I need you here by me! In the midnight hour, she cried, “More! More!

Flooring it, I merged onto the interstate and blended into the colorful stream of cars. The music surrounded me, claiming me as my own voice added itself to the din. I had power and speed and independence. I had myself, and I was driving. In the mad, rushing tons of steel death traps, I felt quite alive.

Getting over fear is a beautiful thing.

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Avis Budget Group Buys Zipcar For $500 Million Wed, 02 Jan 2013 12:29:25 +0000

Zipcar, the leading player in car sharing in North America, is about to be acquired by Avis Budget Group for $500 million in cash. The rental car firm will pay $12.25 per share, a whopping 49 percent premium relative to Zipcar’s closing price on December 31st.

Rivals like Hertz and Car2Go, a Daimler-backed car sharing service are slowly expanding into urban areas in the United States and Canada, looking to establish a presence in markets where Zipcar is already an established player. Zipcar is on the verge of 1 million subscribers in North America, and rolled out innovative new services, like a by-the-hour cargo van service. The firm’s financials are starting to even out as well, after years of less-than-solid profitability. From a mobility standpoint, car sharing has a lot to gain given Generation Y’s apprehensive attitude regarding car ownership. In my hometown, Zipcar is a popular alternative for young people who still need a car for trips to Ikea or the grocery store but are unwilling – or more often unable – to deal with the annoyances of parking, insurance and fuel prices in a city that is increasingly hostile to motorists.

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Generation Why: My Gen Y COTY Tue, 20 Nov 2012 20:54:23 +0000

With the TWATs under way and awards season about to gear up, I would like to take a moment to highlight the one car I’ve found that ticks all the boxes for me personally. It’s the Fiat 500 Abarth.

The base 500 might as well be the template for the “premium city car” segment that’s slowly cropping up (the 500, Opel Adam and even the Ford Fiesta and Smart ForTwo can be included). It’s stylish, economical and carries a small footprint which makes it easier to park and maneuver. It’s also bog slow and dull to drive.

The Abarth fixes all that. 160 horsepower won’t light anyone’s hair on fire, but its quick enough by anyone’s standards, with serious punch above 3000 RPM that’s great for merging and passing big rigs on the highway. In the base car, those are white-knuckle feats of derring-do. In the Abarth, you want to do it again and again. The power comes in handy in city traffic too. There’s very little lag, and you can take nearly anything from a stoplight. A stopped taxi or dawdling driver blocking your lane can easily be evaded without downshifting – wait for even the tiniest gap, punch the throttle and you’re gone.

It sounds like a tuner car, and tries to look like a serious performance machine but doesn’t have any of the “I work at McDonalds” vibe that a tuner car (factory or aftermarket hackjob) carries. Girls think its cute, seniors take a real shine to it and you’d never be embarassed to take a client or your boss out to lunch in it. That wonderful exhaust note that everyone goes on about? It never drones or buzzes like an aftermarket unit does. But it sounds wonderful with the windows down, when you can hear the turbo spooling, the wastegate exhaling and the unburnt fuel crackling and popping.

Some of the cars flaws, like the high seating position, are actually a boon to city driving. Visibility is excellent and you quickly adapt to it. Others, like the excessive body roll and darty steering at high speeds make it less than ideal for serious performance driving. This isn’t something you’d take to the track. But for the kind of road courses you tackle on a daily basis, it’s superb. I even fit a Cotsco-sized grocery shop in the trunk without folding the seats down. In a pinch, I took a couple friends across town to go for lunch. Even though I drove the car vigorously all week, I had no trouble matching the 28 mpg the EPA claims for this car.

The Abarth is definitely a niche product, and a lot of people will be more comfortable with something else, whether that’s a Mini, a Mazdaspeed 3 or even an FR-S. But if you are that mythical Millenial; downtown-living, employed in the creative field, the kind of person that GM and Ford are trying so hard to cultivate, then this is your car. I love it for more tangible reasons; it can fit in nearly any parking space, easy on gas and has just the right amount of performance. Do I love it enough to take on a car note? No. But of all the cars I’ve driven this year, this is the one that I’d buy. Maybe in a few years, when things are a little more stable and I’m firmly entrenched here at TTAC, I’ll take the plunge. Right now, the world doesn’t seem to be getting any more stable economically, and that means even a $22,000 new car is something to be second guessed.

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Commercial Break: How To Bring A Car To Market In 93 Seconds Mon, 10 Sep 2012 13:00:52 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

A hot tip from a few friends in my generational cohort, the ones who don’t drive or have any interest in motoring. They all love this ad for the Dodge Dart and encouraged me to check it out.

At 1:33, it’s a good deal longer than most car commercials, but it seems to be resonating with people beyond the catchy use of a Jay-Z song. As one friend remarked “I have no interest in the process of creating a car, but it held my attention.” I’ve put advertisement critique to the TTAC readership before (here, here and here), and it turned out that we have some marketing professionals in our ranks. The floor is open again.

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Commercial Break: A Quick Example Of A Good “Gen Y” Ad Wed, 25 Apr 2012 20:27:09 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Here’s a quick example of Gen Y marketing done right, but this isn’t so much to do with the product.

It’s an ad for the Hyundai Veloster. Short, effective, just enough of a nod and a wink to the viewer without being risqué. Unlike most male-focused ads, it doesn’t hold promises of threesomes with cute, nubile girls, but if your game is tight enough to get two of them to go with you to a night club, the Veloster won’t let you down.

Click here to view the embedded video.

MINI tried this a few years ago with the above ad. Maybe it’s because of shifting cultural norms or some other nonsense that I didn’t pay attention to in Sociology 101, but the ad generated some controversy without a lot of impact. In any case, it seems too blatant, like a very low-cut top. The Veloster ad, on the other hand, is like that tight dress worn by the girl getting out the back seat. You don’t see too much, but you know what’s being implied.


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Ford To Surrender To Gen Why, Will Euro-Trash Mustang Mon, 16 Apr 2012 12:09:07 +0000

Nostalgia is so last Millennium says Ford. The new Mustang will ditch retro in an attempt to appeal to Generation Y, the folks that do not want to driver their forebears’ cars or dreams. According to the Wall Street Journal, the new Mustang will retain the shark-nosed grille and round headlights, but will “look more like the new Ford Fusion than the current Mustang.”

Says the Journal:

“The new Mustang is due as a 2014 model, and will look somewhat like an Aston Martin, the high-price sports car often featured in James Bond movies. People who have seen the new Mustang said it is almost a body double for the Evos concept car that Ford showed at the Frankfurt auto show last fall.”


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Green Hopes Pinned On The Young: Generation Y Has The Hots For Hybrids, Survey Says Sat, 21 Jan 2012 16:16:43 +0000

The  car industry has high hopes for the young. Automakers have invested and are investing billions into hybrid and electric vehicle, so far with lackluster success. In the U.S., the take rate of hybrid cars is actually coming down from a 2.78 percent peaklet in 2009. The 0.14 percent market share of EVs is too small to move the plotter’s needle. To recoup the investment, new tech vehicles have to be sold in more meaningful numbers. It is the generation Y that is supposed to set the needle in motion. A study of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu promises that Generation Y will make a humongous difference.

Generation Y could be the “generation that leads us away from traditional gasoline-powered vehicles,” Craig Giffi, who is in charge of  Deloitte’s  annual survey of Gen Y auto consumers, told the L.A. Times. The paper summarizes:

According to the Deloitte survey, 59% of Gen Y respondents said they preferred an “electrified vehicle” over any other type of car or truck. They generally defined “electrified” as a hybrid gasoline-electric vehicle. Just 2% said they wanted a pure battery electric vehicle, which reflects the very small number of such cars that people are purchasing.  Just 37% of the respondents preferred vehicles with the traditional gasoline-only powertrain.

Giffi loves the Y generation, so much that he recklessly collides with TTAC’s jargon vigilantes: The enthusiasm for hybrid vehicles turns Gen Y consumers in the U.S. into “game changers,” Giffi said.  And he continued:

“At nearly 80 million strong, they are one of the biggest automobile buying market segments and the largest consumer segment since the baby boomers.

Sure, once they have a job and make money.

Let’s hope Generation Y sticks more to its principles than previous generations. I have seen study after study where customers announced their environmentally responsible intentions, only to reneg on their promise once they were in the showroom.

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