Non-Enthusiast Car News You Can Use

Motor City Blogman

Rear-wheel-drive Scions, stick-shift BMWs and sporty station wagons are the stuff enthusiast dreams are made of, automobilemag.com columnist Marc Noordeloos wrote last month. We are a minority, and a small one at that. I read somewhere a few years ago that we make up about ten percent of the U.S. population.

In would be great to know the real number, not some website’s estimate. I suppose you could break out the percentage of driver-oriented cars sold in the U.S. every year, but would that exclude Ford Mustang V-6s and Chevrolet Camaros? Would it include Toyota Camry SE V-6s? How do you break out Lamborghinis sold to guys who only want to make sure their cars are valet-parked out front?

Tuesday was full of auto industry-related news items that reflect the interests of the Other Ninety Percent. They are news items we cannot ignore.

First, Forbes reports that everybody’s favorite billionaire, Warren Buffet, was photographed in Sun Valley, Idaho, sitting in the passenger seat of a Subaru Outback. CNBC tweeted news that Buffet is the proud owner of the shiny new Subie (wouldn’t he be behind the wheel, or in the back seat?).

“I’ve never driven a Subaru in my life,” Buffet told Forbes’ Joann Muller, in an interview. Buffet told her he had, in fact, bought a new Cadillac XTS, which @cadillac then turned into a Twitter media event.

By now you’re thinking, “Everybody’s favorite billionaire bought an XTS, not a CTS? Really? Surely Buffet can afford a set of winter wheels and tires.”

Meanwhile, President Obama is photographed behind the wheel of a driving simulator while praising research into the technology of car-to-car (C2C) communications. The University of Michigan Transport Research Institute is a couple of years into a comprehensive study to perfect the technology. C2C will make driving safer and will potentially ease traffic jams as it becomes an important step toward autonomous cars.

C2C also is another chip away at our personal privacy, and, well, it’s another step toward autonomy. Is there any reason to remain part of the Ten Percent when new cars look like the Stan Mott/Robert Cumberford Cyclops, but without a steering wheel, like the driverless car Google showed last month?

Obama used the C2C simulator (it was a Saturn S-series!) as a photo op to call on Congress to replenish the U.S. Highway Trust Fund, which has been going broke since 2008. Turns out that by driving more fuel-efficient vehicles, we’re paying less in fuel taxes. Suddenly, a hike in gas and diesel taxes (and a shift from flat rates to percentages), doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Nor does funding a better mix of public and private transportation to perhaps get some of the Ninety Percent off the roads when they’d rather be online, anyway.

Speaking of Google, Tuesday ended with news that the online search monolith had named recently retired Ford Motor CEO Alan Mulally to its board of directors. Google had made the appointment a week earlier. My reaction normally would be, “big deal,” as industry moguls tend to serve on each other’s boards so they can approve big salary packages, but the business media are agog about anything Mulally does.

The Google announcement also comes as Bill Maris, managing partner of Google Ventures, estimates that car-sharing program Uber is worth “$200 billion or more.” Which, of course, brings us right back to CNBC, which ignored the economic bubbles of 2008, and more recently misreported that Warren Buffet bought a Subaru Outback. This news cycle amounts to Six Degrees of CNBC.

We should be worried. Silicon Valley is overvaluing – bubbling up, if you will – a digital service designed to cut down on personal car ownership while trying to put taxicabs out of business (the ones not self-operated, at least), and Alan Mulally is in the middle of it all. If we don’t want to be relegated to driving our Mazda Miatas, Chevrolet Corvettes and Porsche 911s around pricy country club racetracks, then it’s time for the Ten Percent to start working on a transportation strategy of our own.