Not the Wurst Idea: A modest plan to revive the American car industry.
Whether you're talking about inexpensive cars (Volkswagen) or expensive cars (all the rest of them), Germany is the world capital of automotive excellence. Even our favorite cars that aren't German are German. If you love the Lamborghini Gallardo, you love a German car. Ditto with the Mini Cooper, the Bentley Continental Supersports, and the Rolls-Royce Phantom. We can thank BMW for the design of the current Range Rover. And you can argue over the primacy of the Bugatti Veyron or the McLaren F1, but either way you've got a German engine under the hood. Every country has its signature product that it does beyond reproach - French cuisine, Japanese electronics, Canadian ornery border guards - and for Germany, that thing is cars. Cars and really bad music, but mostly cars.
Look at what the Germans are up to these days. While General Motors has to ask the government whether it can build a Chevy Camaro Z28, BMW can indulge any act of whimsy it chooses. For instance, someone at BMW says, "What if Saab still made the 9000? What would that look like?" The next thing you know, they roll out the 5-series Gran Turismo and everyone heads out to celebrate at the neighborhood topless bratwurst haus.
Over at Mercedes-Benz, the engineers got upset that you can't make a gull-wing car anymore - today's wimpy drivers would complain if it flipped over and they couldn't open the doors. So what did Mercedes do? It gave the SLS AMG exploding bolts at the door hinges, resulting in the first car that can blow its own doors off. Problem solved; time to hit the Biergarten.
And Volkswagen . . . VW built a twelve-cylinder Golf just for fun. Audi makes a production SUV with 738 lb-ft of torque. Even the far-flung outpost of Škoda offers a car called the Yeti. I ask you, fellow Americans: Are we no longer capable of making a car called the Yeti? Or did we just not think of it? Because that is a great name.
Germany's comprehensive excellence can't be a coincidence. There must be some indefinable essence of the country that insinuates itself into the metal of a Mercedes C63 AMG or a VW GTI, like soil and sun defining the grapes of a treasured vintage of wine. Our car companies understand this, which is why Cadillac, Dodge, and Chevy take pains to demonstrate that their cars were developed on the Nürburgring and driven flat out on the autobahn. But bragging about our lap times around the Nürburgring is a little bit pathetic. It's like the Kansas City Royals bragging that they had a great batting-practice session at Yankee Stadium. No matter how adeptly a Cadillac handles the Karussel, that's not our house. We don't need to take our cars to Germany. We need to take Germany to our cars.
What I propose is a social experiment. I demand that, for the betterment of the U.S. auto industry, we turn one of our states into Germany. And the state that I've selected is Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is a natural site for our New Germany. According to Wikipedia, which is hardly ever inaccurate, 42.6 percent of Wisconsin's residents are of German ancestry. Which means that a large segment of the populace is already accustomed to eating schnitzel and listening to Rammstein. And the rest of them will get used to it.
My plan for New Germany hinges on two large infrastructure projects. The first order of business is finding a site for our own mammoth road course. Dapackersring, as it'll be called, will span twenty-five miles and include more than 300 turns. In its inaugural year, the track will host the U.S. Grand Prix, but the circuit will prove so dangerous that the Formula 1 race will be stopped after thirty seconds, when three-quarters of the field fails to negotiate the Favrespiral early in the first lap. Credibility cemented, car companies will begin testing there later that day.
For the first few months, there will be no official lap record, as every attempt ends with a fiery crash. But as the U.S. car companies build vehicles designed for the demands of Dapackersring, the overall level of performance will skyrocket. Within a decade, the new Nürburgring lap record will be held by whichever American vehicle last bothered to tackle the track, including the Ford F-150 King Ranch.
The second project will involve replicating the famed autobahn, since easy access to unrestricted highways will directly translate into improved domestic products. If a Chevy Aveo is rock solid at a buck-fifty on the Wisconsobahn, it'll be overqualified for your drive to the office, goes my logic.
To convert existing highway to Wisconsobahn, engineers will fan out and scrutinize guardrails, pavement thickness, and turn radii. If a section qualifies for conversion, work teams will begin the process. First, they'll rip out the speed-limit signs and throw them into the woods. Then, well, that's it, actually.
Between Dapackersring and the Wisconsobahn, our car companies will finally have a home-field advantage over the international competition. But how will the current denizens of the state adjust to the new culture? Well, my friend Dave has a cabin in Wisconsin, so I asked him how he'd feel about joining New Germany. He liked the idea of the Wisconsobahn but pointed out that it sort of already exists each winter with the unofficial snowmobilebahns across the state. And he thought that serving even more beer and bratwurst would be a sure hit, although the massive beer-and-bratwurst consumption might make it wise to avoid adopting Old Germany's lax social mores regarding public nudity. Good point.
We're not going wholesale on this thing - not changing the language, appreciating David Hasselhoff in an unironic way, or acting awkward when talk turns to World War II. We're just looking to bottle a bit of the fairy dust that animates a BMW 3-series, a Porsche 911, a Volkswagen GTI. And I think we're already getting there with no-excuses cars like the Cadillac CTS-V - and, better yet, the rumored CTS-V Sport Wagon. In New Germany, they'll use those for taxis.
By Ezra Dyer Illustration: Tim Marrs