I'm a Car Guy. I've been carrying on a love affair with the automobile since my father took me to the GM Autorama at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City in the mid-50's. We spent the day oohing and ahhing over every shiny new model, inhaling the intoxicating aroma of brand new upholstery, admiring the sexy lines of a fender, picturing ourselves riding around in one of those babies like a couple of "sports." My father was a Car Guy, too. He immigrated to this country from Russia when he was a boy. When he couldn't get a job at the phone company because he was Jewish, he decided he would make his own way. Which he did. With quite a bit of success. And as soon as he was able to afford it, he bought a symbol of his hard won prosperity. A Great American Dream Machine. A 1947 brand-spanking new four-door battleship grey Plymouth. "Buy American." That was my father's mantra. Later on when it was time to buy the next new car, he passed those Mercedes right by. As far as he was concerned, the Buick and then the Cadillac was the gold standard. He was proud to be an American and he would demonstrate that pride every time he backed his Detroit-made land-yacht out of the driveway. Buy American. It was the right thing to do.
A couple of years after I graduated from college I treated myself to my first new car -- a 1969 Corvette. Oh man, I'll never forget the first time I slid into that thing, put my hands on the wheel and pressed the pedal to the metal. I was in total possession of a true Car Guy fantasy. I picked up my friend Hank and we tooled around Long Island, letting off steam while we sweated our numbers in the draft lottery. But wait. What was that wet feeling around our shoes? I will never forget looking down and watching oil fill the foot well. The supply to the oil gauge was leaking and now we had about an inch of the stuff around our ankles. I took the car back to the dealership. They assured me it was a simple fix. But they tore the interior apart and put it back the way a monkey might reassemble a Titan Missile. The car came back to me with parts missing and rattles. Rattles that never went away. The Death Rattles. I sold it the following year.
Meanwhile, my father steadfastly remained committed to American cars, even though he was beginning to notice more than the usual number of "new car problems." I remember him saying that it seemed as though the American car manufacturers were starting to use their customers as a quality control department. And as a stickler for quality in his own products, this really bothered him. Years later, when my wife announced that she'd bought a Porsche, he got the same look on his face as when he realized she was a shiksa. Even though she tried to spin the situation by arguing that building Porsches kept the Germans busy, he was immovable. Yet he silently endured repeated trips to repair the same electrical problem that kept the windshield wipers from working. One day I noticed him slow down as we drove past the new Toyota dealership with all its zippy little new cars lined up touting great gas mileage and exceptional service.
When my father died, the car in his garage was a Nissan Infinity. He just couldn't fight the good fight anymore. The day he bought that Japanese car seemed to me like the moment the great romance with the American automobile died, too.
My daily ride now is a Japanese car. If I want to feel like a king for a day, I bring the car in for service. They can't do enough for me. Free loaner car? Check. Hot coffee? Check. Donuts? Check. Newspapers? Check. Flatscreen TV? Check. WiFi? Check. Free car wash? Check. They put the customer first, an apparently startling idea the Big Three automakers have yet to embrace. The most accurate word to describe American service is "indifferent". What will it take to get them to realize that the experience of owning an American car doesn't end as we drive out of the dealership?
While the Big Three are on their knees in Washington, sweaty palms outstretched, they remain arrogant and tone deaf. The fact that none of them thought to fly commercial -- even just for appearances! -- tells you all you need to know. They didn't even jet-pool! In a ridiculous nod to political correctness, they decided to sell a couple of the planes. And now they're planning to come back to Washington in a caravan of hybrid vehicles. Did they make enough for the trip? Watching these geniuses testify before a Congressional committee, asking us to believe that none of the financial mess was their fault, they looked eerily similar to the Big Tobacco goons. Do all these guys shop at the same store? They condescend. They perpetuate an image of Americans as fat, dumb, and lazy by building a product they think fat, dumb, lazy people might like. Their ear was nowhere near the ground when consumers were lining up for more modern and fuel efficient vehicles. They fought against reducing their carbon footprint and hunkered down to protect their jobs. They continue to cling to that Rust Belt mentality of old and heavy solutions and outdated technology. Why else debut a new Mustang with a solid rear axel when independent rear suspension is the only way to go? Losing a billion dollars a month this late in the game? Get off the golf course!
President-elect Obama risks making the first big mistake of his administration if he condones a $25 billion bailout with these corporate yahoos still at the wheel. Lawmakers are talking about "restrictions" like caps on executive pay. How about no pay? Or better yet, here's the door, don't let it hit you on the way out. And by the way, how about loading up one of those GM jets and taking the board of directors with you? Current management has to go the way of the Edsel. America loves a reinvention. The great American automobile is our legacy and Americans deserve to take it back.