Like many Americans, I find it galling and presumptuous that members of Congress deign to tell the car industry how it should run. Making confident yet ill-informed proclamations like that is simply not a job for our elected officials. It’s a job for writers, and I resent these senators stepping on my turf.
As an expert on these matters as well as many others, I think it only fair to share my wisdom with the car companies and the public at large, for even mighty Toyota is but a lamb lost among wolves without my insightful guidance. With that, then, I humbly and graciously submit for your elucidation my ten-point plan to repair the auto industry:
- Learn from the winners. Not every company suffered a decline in 2008, and we should endeavor to learn from those that prospered. Subaru deserves laurels as the only major company to record increased U.S. sales in 2008 – up 0.3 percent over 2007. Based on this performance, struggling carmakers should seriously consider installing boxer engines and all-wheel drive in every vehicle they make. Coincidentally, a source tells me that demand for gold BBS wheels was also up 0.3 percent last year.
- Despite the downturn, worldwide Rolls-Royce sales went up 20 percent in 2008, and Mini was up 28.6 percent in the United States. From this we can glean that consumers are still interested in two distant reaches of the market – gigantic cars that are very expensive, and tiny cars that are also quite expensive. Nobody likes a car that is of average size and not too expensive, unless it has all-wheel drive and a boxer engine (see: Subaru).
- We should allow giant investment banks to increase their leverage to thirty times their capital, and ratings agencies will get paid by the companies they’re rating, a conflict of interest that provides incentive to drastically underestimate the risk associated with mortgage-backed securities, thus contributing to a speculative bubble that unrealistically inflates personal wealth. Voilà! Everyone buys cars . . . What? We already tried that?
- Invade Cuba. Because those people are really itching to buy new cars.
- Increase the number of potential car buyers by lowering the driving age to eleven. That’s the age that I started driving, out in the woods, and I was a perfectly able driver – once I learned to shift into second gear. The counterargument here is that eleven-year-olds don’t have jobs and thus couldn’t afford cars anyway, but I see that as a chicken-and-egg scenario that will resolve itself. The eleven-year-olds don’t buy cars because they don’t have jobs, and they don’t have jobs because they can’t drive. So give the kids the keys, and let’s jump-start this economy. But let’s not get carried away and lower the age to nine. I speak from experience here, because when I was eleven, my brother was nine, and he was a pretty careless driver. He once got distracted by something under one of his fingernails and drove into a tree. Typical nine-year-old mistake.
- By government mandate, anyone driving a car more than five years old will be required to give Gary Busey a ride if he asks for one.
- Execute redesigns more frequently. If we parse the numbers looking for bright spots from 2008, one winner is BMW‘s M division, which had a sales increase of more than 50 percent through November 2008. Clearly, that surge was carried by the new M3. So, to maintain positive momentum, BMW just needs to keep rolling out new M3s every year. Besides a constantly hopping showroom, this schedule will allow dramatic progress to unfold far more quickly. Next year, we’ll have the M3 Turbo. By 2012, we’ll be toasting the hydrogen-powered M3 but already looking forward to the ’13 M3 Hydrogen Turbo xDrive, which purists will lament isn’t quite as good as the 1988 E30-series M3.
- Expand the pharmaceutical industry, which has a gluttonous appetite for company cars. One of my friends is a pharmaceutical sales rep, and before the new-car smell even wore off her Volvo S40, she was handed the keys to a new Mazda 6. Not too shabby. We should pour some of the financial stimulus money into the pharma sector, which will possibly result in some good drugs and will definitely result in higher car sales. Because those pens don’t just walk to doctors’ offices and hand themselves out.
- Use increasingly risky shipping methods to deliver cars. In 2002, Volvo lost several hundred XC90s when a transport ship sank. More recently, Mazda had to destroy 4703 cars that were aboard the Cougar Ace, a transport ship that rolled over in the North Pacific. But let’s not stop with leaky and unstable cargo ships. All Chrysler needs to do to get rid of all those Jeep Commanders is to open a dealership on the coast of Somalia.
- Finally, make cars less reliable. My wife has had her for a year now, and do you know what’s gone wrong with it? Nothing. Well, OK – one of the windshield wipers needed to be replaced, an outrageous and unacceptable defect that I fully intend to disclose to Consumer Reports and J. D. Power.
Even if major problems were to crop up, the Mitsubishi‘s powertrain warranty doesn’t expire until 2018. To be fair, we’re limiting wear on the rotary knob that controls the front-to-rear torque split by leaving it locked in rear-biased mode (and the fact that the Outlander offers such a device should provide some insight into why it ended up in my driveway). But really, unless Mitsubishi caves to my demand for an EvoLander or Ford rolls out the Edge EcoBoost, we’ll have no reason to buy another car for a very long time. And that’s just a bad business plan.
Now, the problem with decreasing reliability is that if your car breaks down by the side of the road, you might be disinclined to buy another car from that company. So car companies shouldn’t mess with the hardware. What they should do is quit rustproofing. Back in the early ’80s, when my parents started buying Subarus, they knew it was time to get a new car when they could see the road whistling past through the rust hole beneath their feet. Back then, there was a company called Rusty Jones that provided OEMs with proprietary time-release rust molecules that seemed to cause bodywork to begin disintegrating within five years. By the seventh or eighth year, your car looked like a tube-frame dune buggy and you drove it – still running fine – to the dealership to get a new one. Thus was perpetuated the Circle of Sales.
If I can’t vote for myself for Car Czar, I’m writing in Rusty Jones.