Vellequette Cops to Automotive News Demon-Ban Piece, Proves You Can Be Right and Wrong at the Same Time

Mark Stevenson
by Mark Stevenson
vellequette cops to em automotive news em demon ban piece proves you can be right

After the reveal of Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Dodge Demon at the New York Auto Show, I thought all the hooplah would be over. We all did. Little did I know Automotive News’ editorial board would pen a screed calling for the Demon’s banishment from American roads, which then caused others to cry foul at the bylineless editorial, and subsequently triggered Larry Vellequette — the author of the original piece — to double down on his thoughts, name attached.

In the last piece, Mr. Vellequette claims, “It is still a stupid idea for Fiat Chrysler to outfit the Dodge Demon as a high-performance drag racer and then sell it to the motoring public in a form that makes it inherently more dangerous off the track.”

He’s not wrong. Drag radials come fitted to the Demon from the factory, and he claims they’re “prone to lose traction in even a light morning mist under that much torque — regardless of electronic intervention.” I won’t argue with that.

But I will argue with the logic upon which Mr. Vellequette bases his call for exorcising this Demon from America’s roads, and who he thinks should do something about it.

First things first: I think Larry’s opinion is coming from a good place, and not one where he despises seeing those of us not driving Fiat 500Ls having more fun than him. Still, this editorial comes from a dealer-friendly publication, and it reeks of hypocrisy.

For starters, Larry calls out FCA for selling the Demon to people who may not have the training or personal self-control necessary to safely pilot a 840-horsepower car on drag radials in a light rain on the street. If you’ve learned anything by reading TTAC, it should be this: automakers don’t sell vehicles to the public; dealers do.

This is important.

While one could make the argument against FCA building a vehicle that’s unsafe from the factory, someone could also argue it’s the dealers’ responsibility to not sell an unsafe product directly to customers. You won’t see any dealer-aimed criticism from Automotive News, which has almost every dealer in America subscribing to the publication and hosts numerous sales, F&I, and other dealer-oriented workshops throughout the United States and online.

Still, we know dealers will sell anything to anyone if they’re allowed to do so. Don’t believe me? Ask Automotive News.

Instead, Vellequette makes a case for holding FCA responsible for manufacturing a safe product, so let’s focus on that.

From the latest editorial:

Yes, we live in a free country — and from what I have read this week, it’s now called “Murica,” where the word “freedom” is permanently substituted for the word “responsibility.”

But every freedom in this nation has a legal limit. We have freedom of speech, yet do not have the legal freedom to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. We have the freedom to keep and bear arms, yet do not have the freedom to legally own shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

Emphasis mine.

The automotive free market will undertake all sorts of actions — dubious or otherwise — to turn a buck for shareholders. That includes neglecting to install wheel blocks on base-model versions of America’s most popular vehicle to save money on manufacturing costs. That includes installing weird doors on a lusted-after SUV that one cannot open manually without reading the owner’s manual — even though back-seat passengers are rarely the owners of the vehicles in which they ride.

And that includes putting drag radials on a 840-horsepower street car.

Thankfully, there’s one way to make sure someone does not shout “fire” in a crowded theater, and it’s surprisingly effective: legislation.

Yes, it’s a dreaded word, especially when it comes to the freedom afforded to us by the automobile. But it’s also the same thing that keeps you from dying in a crash thanks to mandatory seat belt laws, the requirement of airbags, and crash-protection rules administered by the NHTSA. The rule of law, not the rule of commerce, ensures you cannot legally own a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. Without that law, many enterprising entrepreneurs in America would line up to sell the first rocket to a willing, civilian buyer.

A law wouldn’t be that difficult to implement. Here, in Ontario, Canada, one cannot pass a motor vehicle inspection with tires sized differently than the vehicle was fitted with from the factory. The same type of legislation effort could be applied to drag radials. Additionally, it’s much harder to hide drag radials from the cops than it is to hide your texting-and-driving habit should lawmakers make drag-radial street use illegal.

FCA is not going to cave and cancel the Demon before it arrives at dealers. Even Larry’s suggestion that FCA sell the Demon with street tires and a $1 upgrade to drag radials — as it does if a Demon buyer wants to add the front and rear passenger seats — isn’t going to stop someone from slapping the soft-sidewalled rubber back on this drag king before running down Woodward.

But legislating the legality of drag radials on the street will stop every motorist, no matter the vehicle, from driving with these supposed unsafe tires, and requiring safe tires during the a government-mandated inspection process ensures dealers must deliver a vehicle affixed with proper rubber.

There is the law of unintended consequences, though.

Remember that Ontario law that states a vehicle must be fitted with the same size tires as I cited above? The Demon runs a 315/40R18, which is only offered as a drag radial, meaning it may be difficult to run anything but drag radials on Demons in the province thanks to the law.

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2 of 21 comments
  • NMGOM NMGOM on Apr 30, 2017

    Vellequette is way off base. His views are unprofessional, baseless, and hypocritical**. Who is he to impose a shut-down judgment on someone else's car if he wants to buy it? Is he trying to be a Big Daddy Socialist Government replacement, or what? (Thought we got rid of that.) Does he want to ban guns too, in case they might hurt somebody? We have a (mostly) free market in this country: if that's not what he believes, then he should LEAVE. People have a choice to buy or not buy this car, knowing full well what it's capable of: it's THEIR responsibility. And realistically, there won't be that many made (3000?) even to make an issue out of! ---------------- ** Why hasn't he banned the RWD Lamborghini's or their instability, especially the old Gallardo's? Why hasn't he banned the Callaway Z06 Corvette with its 750 HP? Or how about the older Porsche 911's with their rear-heavy instability that can kill you? Why not block the new Camaro Z28 with its 650 HP? How about the LaFerrari with its 949 HP? ( What about the 1500-HP Bugatti Chiron article, pages 58-62, in the latest (June) issue of "Car And Driver"? Where does his attempt to stifle market-place innovation stop? Is he going to publish a ban on anything that he personally doesn't like? --- the new Car Czar? ---------------- Again, Vellequette is way out of line, and his do-gooder predecessor, --- one Ralph Nader by name --- virtually single-handedly derailed an entire market segment by exaggerated and unwarranted safety hysteria. The tragedy of that unjustified attack (which is what it was) on GM with respect to the Corvair, meant a shut down of any movement toward a rear or mid-engined vehicle made in the America --- EVEN AFTER GM FIXED THE SWING-AXLE PROBLEM! (The Corvair was actually a very nice little car, and could have served as the role-model for many others like it, perhaps produced by Ford and/or Chrysler.) I heard Nader speak at something called "Freedom Forum" in Schenectady, NY, in the early 1970's. His self-serving tirade and factual machinations were so obvious that my wife and I left half way through. I've been around the block for a while and have seen a lot of distortion and exaggeration preached in the name of safety. This Vellequette nonsense, though phrased more subtly, is of that ilk and equally dangerous to the automobile industry in America. Let us call him out on it --- vigorously. This journalistic overreach has got to stop. It's similar to the "fake news" created by essentially biased socialist outlets like CNN, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, USA Today, and others. ======================================

  • SanJoseCarsExaminer SanJoseCarsExaminer on May 01, 2017

    What is missing, and seemingly the crux of the matter, is the fact drag radials are NOT dangerous tires. They are legal, DOT approved and the Demon boasts a lateral 1g of cornering traction and a world class braking distance. The entire controversy is ridiculous.

  • Chuck Norton And guys are having wide spread issues with the 10 speed transmission with the HP numbers out of the factory......
  • Zerofoo "Hyundais just got better and better during the 1990s, though, and memories of those shoddy Excels faded."Never. A friend had an early 90s Hyundai Excel as his college beater. One day he decided that the last tank of gas he bought was worth more than the car. He drove it to empty and then he and his fraternity brothers pushed it into the woods and left it there.
  • Kwik_Shift There are no new Renegades for sale within my geographic circle of up to 85 kms. Looks like the artificial shortage game. They bring one in, 10 buyers line up for it, $10,000 over MSRP. Yeah. Like with a lot of new cars.
  • Ribbedroof In Oklahoma, no less!
  • Ribbedroof Have one in the shop for minor front collision repairs right now,I've seen more of these in the comments than in the 30 years I've been in collision repair.