Detroit: Embrace Your Inner Bling
The ‘Sclade re-started it, the Navi went with it and the C made it official: bling is king. What began as an urban tuner phenom– modifying domestic SUV's with flashy wheels, “presidential” window tinting, an infestation of video screens, a stereo powerful enough to make rap music even more painful than it already is (to me), etc.– has become industry practice. One need only glance at the new Escalade, Navigator and Aspen’s gleaming prows to see that bling now comes standard. And thank God for that.
While it’s tempting to give white middle-aged Detroit executives mad props for accepting and adopting urban flava, what choice did they have? The bling thing went ka-ching pretty much about the same time SUV sales started swirling around the toilet bowl. More to the point, why should they care? Quite rightly, the execs saw the financial value of a trend– any trend– that celebrates the most profitable examples of their most profitable genre. If customers want to paint Motown’s premium barges bright red and carpet their insides with two inch thick shag, who gives a shit? Nothing– not even good taste– can interrupt Detroit’s “move the metal” mantra.
Detroit quickly– OK, eventually built on the blingery. They peeped the billions of dollars lavished on their trucks’ aesthetics and creature comforts and decided to grab as big a piece as possible. Your ‘Sclade now comes straight from the factory with wikkid dubs. A Chrysler Aspen can be yours swathed in “Cognac Crystal Pearl” paint. And up-specced Navi's arrive pre-blinged with an “Audiophile” stereo that pumps out enough bass to bruise your sternum– from outside the truck. And if the manufacturer can’t help you transform the not-so-sublime into the entirely ridiculous, their dealers sure as Hell will.
And now we hear that this year’s SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) convention in Viva Las Vegas will feature eleven heavily modified Buick Lucernes. “We want the Lucerne and the event to move Buick into a new audience,” Buick rep David Dorovitz told Brandweek mag. That’s a bit like Brooks Brothers announcing they’ve created a line of ladies’ lingerie, but you gotta admire Davey's street-flavored chutzpah. From Tiger Woods to Krayzie Bone in one giant leap. Wow. Again, what exactly does Buick have to lose? (Remember: they paid TTAC to junket it up in Canada.) Anyway, respect.
And warning: danger Will Robinson! The whole point of automotive blingery and tunery is to display your unique sense of style. Just ask the ex-heads of one of the thousands of super-cool clothing brands that rose and fell like Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 spacecraft: as soon as “your” style hits the heady heights of mainstream acceptance, it’s headed for the drink. Less poetically, when Wal-Mart’s got it, millions of people don’t want it. Of course, for a while millions of sheeple do, and Wal-Mart makes a fortune. So, again, you can’t blame Detroit for minting money by bringing it to the masses. But there is a wider lesson to be learned: the best way to avoid fashion-based obsolescence is to create products worthy of modification.
I know: SUV’s suck. Gas, that is. But the genre found its way into the urban culture’s heart because they best reflect the American spirit: bigger is better. This website has long argued that Detroit should do what it does best: big, comfy rear-wheel drive vehicles with a bit of style and plenty o’ waft. OK, they can’t really do much else, what with their penthouse overheads and crazed competition. But now that Buick– Buick— is getting the spizzarkle treatment, what’s the bet that the bling craze will shift focus towards the recently saved Ford Crown Vic and its platform siblings? Or that the Lincoln Town Car will find some new friends? It's time for Detroit to get their rear-wheelers into gear, ready for the boyz in the hood.
Granted: it’ll take a while for the movers and shakers to make the move and shake-off SUV love. The money showered on trend-setting rappers took them into wheels made of unobtainium. (Which they no longer modify, ironically enough.) Style makers lower down on the food chain need some time to regroup. But the freshened Mustang (in all its crap packaged glory) showed the world that there’s still a huge market for traditional American cars. If you doubt that Yank tanks are set for a resurgence, clock the recent development of thoroughly hideous “donks.” (If you have to ask, believe me, you don’t want to know.)
CUV’s and front wheel-drive high-mileage mid-market motors ain’t gonna cut it. Americans like barges. My advice to Detroit: embrace your inner bling. Let the imports do the fuel-efficient, sweet-revving, tight interior thing. Build cars worthy of stunting and flossing. Either that or you’ll be bitching and moaning as your market share goes the way of the pet rock.
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