Haters gonna hate.
By Janice J. Putman
In what has now become a rite of spring, the latest article proclaiming the demise of car culture has appeared. Posted on May 31 by AP national writer Adam Geller, "Americans and Their Cars: A Love Affair on Fumes?" cites research from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute that would seem to sound the death-knell for the automobile. Among the statistical nuggets, "after rising almost continuously since World War II, driving by U.S. households has declined nearly 10 percent since 2004....The average American household now owns fewer than two cars....Less than 70 percent of 19-year-olds now have (a driver's license), down from 87 percent two decades ago." Now, I love statistics as much as the next guy - well, maybe not as much as Big Data his ownself - but they very seldom tell the whole story. (Plus, we all know you can design research questions and manipulate data to skew the responses, but that's a whole 'nother issue.) I'm just exasperated by the seemingly endless barrage of attempts to dismiss the car as some non-essential part of our lives and furthermore to trivialize what it represents.
Geller asserts that maybe we are "rethinking the paradigm of vehicle ownership," but to back up the claim that more and more people are seeking to drive less, he cites a guy who used to work as a driver for a package deliver company, who now likes to walk or bike to where he needs to go. (Gee, could you find someone even more burned out by driving? I probably wouldn't even want see a picture of anything with wheels if I had spent years driving a delivery truck.)
To be fair, it's true that most of the time the car represents our daily slog to work or running errands or taking us to and from any number of the tedious activities that seem to totally consume our lives and sap the spirit out of even the most hard-core car enthusiast. It's not often we get to slide behind the wheel, roll the windows down and go for a ride, simply for the pure unbridled fun of it. But maybe it's time to reconsider doing just that. Maybe it's time to reconnect with that fundamental part of what makes us human: There is something truly magical about moving a body through space, and something fundamentally human about the desire to transport ourselves. The car lets us travel - both literally and figuratively - in a way that an iPad or iPhone simply cannot. The Internet and our ability to connect anytime, anywhere and access anything is nothing short of miraculous. But equally - no, make that more - miraculous is the world that lies beyond those devices - yes, the world, in all its beauty and messiness and frustration and possibility. And that's where the car comes in.
(A quick thought experiment: Imagine taking any of our ancestors, anyone from anywhere in the world, taking them for a ride in a car - and asking them, "Do you want one of these?" I am fairly confident that the answer would be "Hell, yes!")
But as surely as the sun rises in the east, when it comes to the car and the idea that it might actually have a place in our culture, haters gonna hate. I say they are the ones missing out. If you have no special car memory, no car story or car moment, I truly feel sorry for you. There's "the one that got away" as in, the car you didn't buy or sold too soon (or, ahem, sold to your boyfriend because you thought that would make him like you more, but then he ended up trashing it and breaking up with you and then you were out both a guy and a car...but I digress). There's the one you're lusting after, saving for, taking yourself into. Or maybe it's the one in your garage right now, that's your perfect car, your haven, your private. It doesn't matter. What matters is that you know what it means to have a car actually move you, make you feel alive.
As for Autoextremist and this 15th anniversary thing, all I can say is, Wow. As in, Wow, we really made it happen and it's still going strong. It's been the best of times; it's been the worst of times. I've read some of the nastiest, most vitriolic comments imaginable in our reader mail over the past decade and a half. But I've also read some of the most moving and most passionate tributes to this whole "car thing" as well. There is no shortage of Autoextremists in the world and for that I am grateful. -WG
Editor-in-Chief's Note: From the "It's An SUV World After All" File comes word that VW plans on tripling its SUV offerings to make a serious run at Toyota, according to a Bloomberg report. Cue the Wicked Witch of the West, "Oh what a world, what a world." - PMD
Carlos Ghosn. Editor-in-Chief's Note: Automotive News has dredged up Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn's promise to shareholders back in April at the annual meeting that he wants to "install Renault-Nissan as one of the top three global automakers." Ghosn thinks his alliance will make hay with new products in Russia and China, and that he can ascend to the Big Boy Throne with Toyota, VW and GM. Uh, sure, Carlos, whatever you say. Please stop talking now. - PMD
AE Headline Highlights from the First Fifteen Years. Just a few of our favorites...
"White Boy Culture" (6/1/1999)
"Write Hard, Die Free" (11/9/1999)
"In this 'Age of Entitlement' We All Get Screwed" (10/25/2000)
"The Day The Racing Died" (2/21/2001)
"Captain Zarrella, Your Space Ship is Waiting" (5/16/2001)
"One Man's Passion - A Legacy Still Vibrant Today" (6/13/2001)
"Hell Freezes Over, As Porsche Becomes Just Another Car Company" (10/2/2002)
"Memo to Chris Bangle: 'The Emperor' is Naked" (11/27/2002)
"GM's Culture of Invincibility" (2/12/2003)
"Detroit's Real Challenge? Selling the Idea of an American Car" (10/29/2003)
"How much longer can 'Detroit' extract blood from a stone?" (3/31/2004)"Benchmarking - Detroit's Ticket to Oblivion" (9/15/2004)
"Toyota's Shiny Happy People Peg the Stupid Meter" (6/15/2005)
"Turn out the lights, the party's over - Detroit is officially out of ideas" (7/13/2005)
"The Autoextremist self-help guide: How not to be a PR Weasel" (8/24/2005)
"The NASCAR Bubble - Coming to a Boardroom Near You." (8/31/2005)
"Soul Survivor or just Dust in the Wind?" (3/1/2006)
"The Players, the Schemers, the Smoke-and-Mirrors Dreamers" (8/23/2006)
"Interview with a Robot" (2/14/2007)
"After the smoke clears, it's time for America, Inc." (10/29/2008)
"Queen LaGreena and The Dunderheads." (12/10/2008)
"The 2008 Autoextremist Year in Review: 'The End of the World As We Know It' Edition. (12/17/08)
"PMD Unplugged: The 'Old Broken Down Piece of Meat' Edition." (3/11/2009)
"State of the Motor City Nation: The 'Polishing of the Pitchforks' Edition." (3/25/09)
"Going, going, gone." (5/27/09)
"They came, they saw, they bored us to death." (11/4/09)
"It’s time for a True Believer to run GM. (12/2/09)
"Campbell-Ewald is forced to walk the plank as the train wreck called GM marketing continues." (4/28/10)
"Still clueless after all these years." (6/16/10)
"Caution: You’re entering the Notgonnahappen.com Zone." (6/30/10)
"The Shit Disturber Cometh." (7/14/10)
"The Ultimate Sellout Machine: BMW commits brand suicide." (10/6/10)
"The looming train wreck at General Motors."(1/26/11)
"Brother Sergio’s Traveling Salvation Show gets derailed." (2/9/11)
"The UAW’s Solidarity Train to Nowhere." (3/23/11)
"All bunny rabbits and rainbows for Detroit? Not so fast." (5/4/11)
"The Sergio Show gets preachy and the media genuflects. What’s wrong with this picture?" (8/10/11)
"'Minimum Bob'ascends to the Delusional Thinking Hall of Fame." (10/5/11)
"How brand delusion can lead to brand dilution." (5/2/12)
"Mr. Akerson, your fifteen minutes are up." (8/15/12)
"The Penalty of (bad) Leadership." (4/15/13)
"The Democratization of Luxury, coming to a Mercedes-Benz dealer near you." (11/12/13)
"The Unctuous Prick takes his leave and screws GM one last time." (12/10/13)
"A kaleidoscope of the pretty good, the really bad and the just plain ugly. Welcome to The Land of Overpromise and Underdeliver, otherwise known as the 2014 Detroit Auto Show." (1/15/14)
"We May Never Pass This Way Again. GM at a Crossroads." (4/4/14)
"Arrogance + Delusion = the industry’s most lethal cocktail." (5/19/14)
AE Words & Phrases from the First Fifteen Years. We've become known for words & phrases over the years (for better or worse) and we thought we'd remind you of a few of them...
"The Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking"
"Shiny, happy, flatulence-powered balsa wood smiley cars"
"The Green Horde"
"Heaping, steaming bowl of Not Good"
"Dead car company walking"
"The Trifecta of Not Good"
"Starbucks Nation of Zombie Consumers"
"Anti-car, anti-Detroit intelligentsia"
"It's all over but the hand-wringing"
"The Product is, was, and always will be King"
"Bush League Bullshit"
"Go Big or Go Home"
"The more you know the more you just never know" (Dr. Bud).
"Accidental tourist of a CEO"
"The Soy-Based Chlorophyll-Specked Self-Driving Module"
"From the 'Sergeant Schultz 'I Know Nothing' File'"
"Olivier 'I'm a genius, just ask me' Francois."
And of course, "notgonnahappen.com"
Editor-in-Chief's's Note: This week our "Quick Take" has us in a 2014 BMW 435i Coupe, the last of a run of BMWs we've enjoyed of late. I'll get right to the point about this BMW, I flat loved it. Taut, lively and wonderfully responsive, the 435i was simply a blast to drive. Having owned a BMW M3 V8 for a brief time a few years ago, I expected to be a bit disappointed with the 435i. And though I still prefer the bad-ass, rumbly V8 in the old M3, the 435i was certainly no slouch. The 435i is truly well-rounded, a high-performance car you can expect to live with and enjoy every day. Having the 435i be so pleasing was a reaffirmation of sorts, a reminder that BMW hasn't totally forgotten what got them to this point, and that they can still get it right when they focus on the important stuff. Thank goodness. - PMD
2014 BMW 435i Coupe: $55,325 ($46,000 Base Price; Melbourne Red Metallic, $550; Black Dakota Leather; Dark Burl Walnut Trim; 3.0-liter, 24-valve inline 6-cylinder engine, BMW Twin-Power Turbo technology, High Precision Direct Injection, Valvetronic and Double-VANOS variable valve control with 300HP and 300 lbs-ft of torque; 8-speed sport automatic transmission with automatic Sport and Manual shift modes and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters; Auto Start-Stop function; Driving Dynamics Control with ECO PRO, COMFORT and SPORT settings; High-performance, lightweight, 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes with anti-lock braking system (ABS) with Dynamic Brake Control (DBC) and Cornering Brake Control (CBC); Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) including Brake Fade Compensation, Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying and Brake Stand-by features with Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), 18" light alloy wheels with run-flat all-season tires; Xenon Adaptive Headlights with dynamic auto-leveling and LED accent lights; 8-way power front seats with driver's seat memory; AM/FM/CD/MP3 player audio system with HD radio; iDrive system with 6.5" full-color flat screen display, controller and 8 programmable memory buttons; M Sport Package - Adaptive M suspension, Sport seats, High-Gloss black trim highlight; Aluminum hexagon interior trim, M steering wheel, Aerodynamic kit, Shadowline exterior trim, Anthracite headliner - $3100; 19" M Sport Performance alloy wheels, $900; Dynamic Handling Package - Variable Sport Steering - $1,000; Premium Package - Comfort Access keyless entry, Lumbar support, Satellite radio with one year subscription - $2,200; M Sport Brakes, $650; Destination charge, $925)
Adherence to Brand Image: The BMW 435i is what BMW is supposed to be all about. Period. - PMD