You’ve seen them before, photos from some godforsaken place of insurgent warfare. A half dozen rag tag soldiers, if you can call them soldiers, bristling with Chinese Kalishnikov knockoffs, piled into a Toyota Hilux with a heavy machine gun or some other armament like a recoil-less rifle or ack-ack gun mounted on the roof or in the bed. The Toyota Hilux has been the choice of low level combatants around the world since the 1960s. As noted by China Car Times, when Muammar Gaddafi (is there a world leader whose names, first and last, are spelled in so many different ways?) had one of his snit fits and invaded Chad in 1987 to overturn the government, both sides used so many Hiluxes that Time magazine dubbed it the Toyota War. In the early 90s, the war in Somalia brought us the term “technical”, interestingly enough derived from the NGO practice of hiring local gunmen to protect their employees, and paying them with funds earmarked as “technical assitance grants”.
The confrontation between modern, Western societies and deeply traditional lifestyles in Afghanistan creates a healthy supply of fascinating car stories, as we’ve already heard about such uniquely Afghan manifestations of car culture as the Taliban’s Toyota Hilux-inspired maple leaf tattoos. And now here’s another one, fresh off the Reuters wire: Afghans are reportedly in a tizzy over (get this) license plates containing the number 39. Yes, really.
Afghanistan’s booming car sales industry has been thrown into chaos by a growing aversion to the number “39″, which almost overnight has become an unlikely synonym for pimp and a mark of shame in this deeply conservative country.
Drivers of cars with number plates containing 39, bought before the once-harmless double digits took on their new meaning, are mocked and taunted across Kabul.
“Now even little kids say ‘look, there goes the 39′. This car is a bad luck, I can’t take my family out in it,” said Mohammad Ashraf who works for a United Nations project.
Other “39″ owners flew into a rage or refused to speak when asked whether their car was a burden.
The Guardian adds:
I did not think it would matter when I got my car,” said Zalmay Ahmadi, a 22-year-old business student. “But when I drive around all the other cars flash their lights, beep their horns and people point at me. All my classmates now call me Colonel 39.”
We’ve heard of huge demand for certain-numbered license plates before, such as the craze in Arab countries for the lowest possible license number… but we’ve never heard of a taboo number when it comes to license plates. So what gives?
The NY Times reports:
Manal al-Sharif, one of the organizers of an online campaign encouraging Saudi women to drive en masse on June 17, was arrested on Sunday, days after she posted video of herself flouting the kingdom’s ban on female drivers on YouTube. Traces of Ms. Sharif’s campaign also started to disappear from the Web.
Following her arrest, the YouTube video of Ms. Sharif driving became inaccessible, as did a second clip, in which she outlined how women could take part in the June 17 protest. A Facebook page she set up called “Teach Me How to Drive So I Can Protect Myself,” which had more than 12,000 fans, was deleted. The Twitter account she used to spread news of the protest movement was copied and altered to make it seem as if she had called off the campaign.
As much as we tend to value cars as the ultimate tool of personal freedom, TTAC could definitely do more to cover the plight of those banned from the roads for nothing more than their gender. Though a hugely loaded and controversial issue, it is perhaps one of the most truly principled causes at the confluence of cars and culture. We wish Ms al-Sharif the very best in her struggle to attain a right we too often take for granted.
Bonus challenge for TTAC’s Best and Brightest: can you identify the car Ms al-Sharif is driving in this clip? I’ve wasted enough time today trying to figure it out…
When I reviewed the current Chevrolet Malibu, I was generally impressed with GM’s effort in a highly competitive segment, but I had a few complaints. One of those complaints had to do with the ‘bu’s back bench, which prompted me to note
the rear seats seem like almost an afterthought compared to the well-appointed front row. Low seat height, a relatively narrow bench and unsupportive seating make for a poor combination
With images of an updated Malibu making the rounds of the blogosphere, and the Detroit News reporting that its production has been pulled ahead by six months by the order of Dan Akerson, you might think GM had taken the opportunity to improve the Malibu’s second-row shortcomings. But, according to Automotive News [sub]‘s product editor, Rick Kranz, it seems that GM has done the opposite of improve rear-seat interior space… because of yet another of the ‘bu’s shortcomings.
We’ve already asked the cui bono question about Japan’s post-tsunami parts paralysis, and though opinions vary about precisely cui will be doing the bonoing, it’s clear that some are already doing better than others. For more clarity on the developing picture, hit the jump for TTAC’s roundup of the latest parts paralysis news. (Read More…)
Back in 1976, the Italian automaker Fiat had been badly battered by a global energy crisis and the resulting malaise infecting the global auto industry. In what Time Magazine described at the time as “a devastatingly ironic example of petropower,” Col. Muammar Gaddafi instructed his Libyan Arab Foreign Bank to invest some $415m into the Italian automaker, giving it a stake that would eventually grow to some 14 percent of the firm’s equity.
By 1986, Fiat’s Libyan stakeholders were becoming more trouble than they were worth. In the wake of the Lockerbie bombings, the US introduced sanctions on Libya, and Fiat’s Libyan connection left its attempts to bid for US military contracts (particularly those related to Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative) dead on arrival. As a result, Fiat and its shareholders bought back the entire 14 percent Libyan stake in the firm, presenting the Libyan Arab Foreign Bank-controlled Banca UBAE with a $3.1b check. And, according to what a Fiat spokesperson told us yesterday, that is where the story ends. But thanks to the now-ubiquitous Wikileaks, we have found that this story may in fact go farther than that. In fact, as the evidence stands right now, either the US State Department is working with bad information (which major news sources have yet to correct), or Fiat is lying about its ties to the embattled Gaddafi regime.
On Tuesday, UAW leaders meeting here described plans to reach out to foreign unions and consumers in what would be their first major campaign since failed efforts in the last decade at Nissan Motor Co. and auto-parts supplier Denso Corp. They hope to be more successful by reaching out to foreign unions at the auto makers’ overseas plants and bringing pressure from prayer vigils, fasts or protests at dealerships.
A person familiar with the matter said the union is now planning to target one foreign auto maker and has narrowed its list to three or four companies. Inside the union, much of the talk centers on targeting the now-struggling Japanese auto maker Toyota or Korea’s Hyundai, this person said.
The UAW has set aside tens of millions of dollars from its strike fund to bankroll its campaign. International actions are to be coordinated with foreign unions and run by some three dozen student interns recruited globally, UAW officials said. When the interns return to their home countries after learning about the UAW efforts in the U.S., they’ll be expected to organize protests against the auto maker, UAW officials said.
OK, so it’s a little bit strange that the UAW is entrusting a campaign that UAW President Bob King calls “the single most important thing we can do for our members ” to a bunch of interns. Still, with “tens of millions of dollars” allocated towards the campaign, some automaker somewhere will be feeling the union’s hot breath on its neck in due course. So, which automaker will the UAW target? Which automaker should they target? And with the UAW apparently refusing to fight the two-tier wage structure, will any transplant or foreign workforce want to join up?
Ruh Roh! A press release from the Made In USA Foundation [via theautochannel] picks the kind of fight that GM has been assiduously avoiding for years (but especially since the bailout):
General Motors, bailed out by U.S. taxpayers and still owned in part by the federal government, is stripping country of origin labels off of its cars at auto shows around the country, says the Made in the USA Foundation. The Made in the USA Foundation has charged GM with violating the American Automobile Labeling Act (AALA) which requires all new cars that are offered for sale to include country of origin information.
The AALA requires new cars to provide information on the window sticker, including where the car was assembled, the U.S. and other country content, where the engine was made and where the transmission was made.
Joel D. Joseph, Chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation, said, “General Motors wants to hide the fact that, even after the government bailout, it has moved production of vehicles offshore. The Cadillac SRX is now made in Mexico. The Buick Regal is made in Germany.”
GM claims that the AALA only applies to cars for sale at dealers not at auto shows. Joseph stated that he worked with Senator Barbara Mikulski, who wrote the law, and that the intent of the law was to inform consumers about the country of origin of new cars. Joseph said, “Millions of consumers get their first look at cars at auto shows. The law applies to cars that are ‘for sale’ and auto show cars, except concept cars. Identical GM cars are for sale at thousands of dealers across the nation, and display vehicles should include country of origin information. The U.S. government saved GM and still owns one-third of the company. General Motors should comply with the intent of the law.”
At a press conference announcing new cooperation between Nissan and Mitsubishi, Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn presented the tie-up as a far-sighted move that will help both sides prosper. The Renault/Nissan boss explained
In the global auto industry, cooperation on specific projects among automakers is becoming increasingly common. It is a signal of how our industry is evolving to sustain success over the long term
But if his words were saying “cooperation,” Ghosn’s body language said “I’m hungry and your company looks bite-sized.”