First, can someone please explain to me how John McCain is going to do away with the "gas tax" this summer? Did he win the election already or something?
This first posting will be a bit longer than what we intend to place on this blog on a near-daily basis. There will almost always be a new posting here and we hope you visit often and tell your friends about us, too. Together we'll build an exciting, fun and interesting blog which not only reports the news... but makes news, too.
For the past 35 years, I've written about the worldwide auto industry, motor racing and the political and economic realities of how a country, its people, leaders and its car-making businesses interact. Take a look at the health of a country's car manufacturers and it's usually closely related to the health of that nation in general. My theory certainly holds true for America, especially at this moment in time. And for China... and India, too.
(We shot the already-famous Nissan GT-R on the first day it was shown to the public, officially, at last November's Tokyo Motor Show. This supercar, at under $80,000, weighs nearly two tons, produces 473 horsepower through a twin-turbocharged 3.8 liter V6 has all-wheel drive and every bell and whistle possible. Nissan says they'll sell 1,500 of them annually in the US... Small-enough numbers for an automotive Godzilla like this, but Nissan's boss, Carlos Ghosn, doesn't think hybrids are the future for his company's cars, and his company includes Renault, too, and his hybrid Altima uses Toyota's hybrid system under license.)
For over 60 years, the American public has been manipulated, lied to and been terribly served by a cabal of car-makers and a media only too willing to carry the message of the car, truck and motorcycle manufacturers to the buying public.
They're the so-called "enthusiast magazines" (and websites and TV and radio shows) and they've been bought-and-paid-for by the car-makers and the huge aftermarket industry since their inceptions. Robert Petersen started it all with his Hot Rod and Motor Trend magazines, both of which began publishing in the late 1940s. Car industry execs from the beginning saw those two mags, and the many more to come, along with today's websites and radio and TV shows (on SPEED, among others) as nothing more than additional pieces of their tightly-controlled PR and advertising strategies and budgets.
Which would be okay... if there were some competition to the constant enthusiast media drumbeat of "bigger and faster means better." But there is none, really; in the US, only Consumer Reports dares to take an unemotional, objective look at cars from around the world, but their own testing methods and the techniques they use to reach their auto-related conclusions have come under attack in recent years, and rightly so.
Starting with this blog and our new column, Tornante, which begins running this week (July 10th) and thereafter every other Thursday in the Santa Monica Daily Press newspaper (www.SMPD.com) and our own website, www.SteveParker.com, we -- all of us together -- are going to effect a fundamental and necessary change in this ongoing car-maker/media charade and offer consumers a location on the web which has their interests at heart. By the way, first e-mailer or commenter who can tell me what Tornante means will win a prize --we have a lot of car stuff around here!
(Here's the convertible version of the 2009 Chevrolet Camaro at the November, 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show. Gorgeous car, but making somewhere near 500 horsepower with a 350 cubic inch V8 isn't exactly what the doctor ordered for the future, at least not in the numbers in which Camaro was originally sold.)
We're also starting two new Webradio shows, both of which will be available live and completely interactive right here on this blog. Look for more info on those shows here... We're going to launch them in the next six to eight weeks. They'll also be available as podcasts just a few minutes after the live versions are over. It's a really exciting project and we know you'll enjoy them both, because, if you like, you can be involved in them too.
How will we accomplish all this? We can only do it with you and your assistance, with your comments, opinions, questions and driving-related experiences.
You get the idea: if your story involves a vehicle, we want to hear about it in the form of "comments" on the blog. Got something to say? Just post it as a comment and we'll answer you and turn it into a posting so others can participate, too.
Before anyone asks if I'm a vegan or a crazed hyper-miler (though we do own a Prius), let's get this straight: I really like cars, trucks, motorcycles... and airplanes, wristwatches, model and real railroads and sending things into outer space. I like automotive marketing, technology, engineering, motor racing, advertising, and, of course, driving and riding.
(You heard that the big Chevrolet Tahoe SUV was chosen "Green Car of the Year" by industry magazine Green Car Journal, and no, it wasn't someone's idea of a bad joke. Here's what allows that huge truck to achieve somewhere near double the mileage of its non-hybrid cousins. It's the automatic transmission used in the truck, a GM/BMW/Daimler-engineered unit which has electric motors in the transmission itself, helping add to the power developed by the engine. A similar system has been used in GM trucks and buses in Europe. While getting 20 miles per gallon is certainly no big deal, it's about twice as good as the Tahoe got before, and the truth is that people will continue buying these big trucks, though in much lower numbers than in the past, so they might as well produce somewhat improved mileage and emissions figures.)
And I've stood by and watched as General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have done their best to destroy themselves, allowing Asian and European car-makers to establish themselves by offering Americans products which were perceived to be, and in reality were, higher quality, longer-lasting and more reliable and efficient than those made in the US. A lot of this is hype (like Volvo co-opting "safety" as if they invented the word) but too much of it is true.
And it's about time someone who's been inside the industry started offering some truths, and that might as well be me. Ralph Nader, I think, is running for president, again. In future postings, we'll tell you why Nader's book, Unsafe at Any Speed destroyed, for 20 years, any thoughts US car-makers had about making small cars.
As red-blooded Americans, we've been raised to believe, for instance, that when it comes to the number of cylinders in a car's engine, if 4 is enough, 6 must be better, 8 might be just right and even 12 and 16 make sense. Cadillac was proposing a V16 engine in one of their cars as recently as 2003 with an auto show concept car called Sixteen, which they displayed around the world. It was really something to watch the Japanese media drool over it at the Tokyo Motor Show that year.
We'll also involve the industry in this blog, in the way of executives, engineers, stylists, assembly line workers -- everyone involved in creating, making and selling cars, trucks and motorcycles will be welcome here as guests. And when they join us, you'll be able to ask them the questions you want answered, too.
(Here's a cutaway of the Smart cars which just started sales in the US. The cars were originally a project shared by Daimler and Swatch Watches, and are now being sold through Roger Penske's nearly 100 dealerships around the country. Smart wanted to display some of the safety features on their car, especially those in the cabin, including the race car-style cage construction, numerous airbags, use of soft materials wherever feasible and on and on. Looks safe enough, but driving one of these little mighty mites cross-country is probably not something Smart owners would want to try. And where's the kidney belt, anyway?)
Gasoline and diesel prices in the US are coming into parity with what have been their normal, expected costs throughout Europe and in Japan and South Korea for decades. We hope that Americans are finally and seriously questioning what they've been reading in automotive magazines, websites and blogs, what they've been hearing on the radio and seeing on TV. And all those sources live, generally, by one Golden Rule: They never met a car they didn't like.
We beg to differ.
So, what do you think? Join us!
(Here's another Tokyo Motor Show shot, a car which Lexus has been working on developing for some time. Called LF-A, Lexus is aiming for the Porsche-and-above market with this car, with prices being talked about ranging into the over-$150,000 category. Hey, their LS600 hL hybrid sedan costs $124,000, so what's a few grand between friends, right?)