Kiss Toyota Good Morning

March 14, 2010

The recent troubles that Toyota has been having seems to be a harbinger for the auto industry as a whole. Cars that careen out of control when you’re at a full stop at a four-way intersection tends to be a bit of a hard sell. But give the history of the auto industry, it may turn out to be in Toyota’s benefit.

It’s quite unfortunate about Toyota, because the Japanese model of creating automobiles was seen as the future of the industry, rather than the past. The past, of course, is exemplified by pretty much everything Detroit has done in the last four decades or so. The Big Three automakers spent years and years basically ignoring the fact that the future was, beyond all expectations, rapidly approaching. They failed to see changes in the market. They ignored changes in consumer taste.

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, having huge, yacht-sized vehicles barreling down the highways was seen as a God-given American right; large cars was necessary from a safety standpoint, not only to protect its passengers from an untimely death in the unlikely event of a crash, but also to give those Ruskies the what-for. Possibly, your average Ivan and Sventlana would see the absolute size of the roadboats we used to pick up the kids from K Mart and my goodness are they putting fins on those things? Do those cars go seaborne? Maybe those Yanks know a thing or two about economics. Little did those commies know that those fins and chrome and eight spare tires in the Anaheim-sized truck were there simply because we could. U.S.A! U.S.A!

They also pretended that tomorrow would never come in other ways, as well. When dealing with the auto worker’s union, negotiations tended to go like this:

Management: What are your terms?
Union: We don’t really want to work more than about six hours a week. Also, free health care and eight months off the year. And we want pensions paid at age 35 at 100%.
Management: Done.
Union: And please get us out of Detroit.
Management: If we have to stay here, so do you.
Union: Strike!

While it worked out great for the auto workers, it didn’t go over so well for auto workers who hadn’t been born yet, which, at last count, is what they are using now.

But then times changed. Carting around an extra 200 tons of steel and democracy looks awesome but it also made the cars get about four miles a gallon. Granted, back in the day when the top sheik of the moment could hardly go get a copy of the Mecca Times without getting overthrown by the CIA, KGB, Mossad, or Islamic fundamentalists, oil flowed like water from a faucet and people drank the stuff straight from the tap, and no one really cared how much we were using. But then the Arabs and assorted factions wised up and started checking the receipts Israel had with all those plans and missiles, and decided maybe it was time to start applying a bit of tough love.

All of a sudden, those little rice-burners that hippies and professors were zipping around in didn’t look like a farcical stop-motion newsreel anymore. Sure, they looked like something those crazy Asians would kick up in a board room. It was all function. It didn’t even have spoiler bars or a trunk that required its own zip code! What self-respecting American would ever buy such a ludicrous machine?

Well, it turns out, plenty of Americans who were sick of forking over a mortgage payment every time they went to pick up groceries would. This was an upset for Detroit, who reacted just the way that the free market system we have in America works: they kept doing the exact same thing they had been doing for three decades, then wailed to the government for a bailout. Which, of course, worked about as well as you could imagine.

At the very least, companies such as Toyota and Honda eventually forced the American car makers to adopt some changes, such as not building cars to the same specifications as an Abrams Tank. But they still held on to the solid money-making core of their business, such as offering auto loan rates only slightly less usurious than Nicky the Shinbreaker and charging for frivolous extras such as floor mats and carburetors. But foreign automakers made the industry as a whole better. So the fact that Toyota is having such problems doesn’t bode well for the auto industry as a whole.

Remember–all of these problems for the American car companies happened in the late 70’s and early 80’s. For those keeping score at home, this of course means that the exact same thing happened thirty years later. Which goes to show that in America, hard work, self-sacrifice, and innovation will make you successful, but nothing spells real success unless you sell yourself as an American Institution that is too big to fail, in which you can basically make whatever boneheaded decisions you want and let everyone else clean up afterwards. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

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Running on Empty: Gas Saving Tips

May 6, 2008

Everybody is feeling the pinch these days…gas prices are through the roof anymore, and more and more people are angry and cheap.

I know a thing or two about saving gas. My very first car, a Plymouth Caravelle, was notable for two things. First, it was the first car to be produced that was made to look like it was the computer car from the future, but did not, in fact, contain any computers at all. They had three different buttons you could press to turn on the radio, manufactured for no other reason except that it was possible to do. My car looked like a cross between an airplane cockpit and the commode after Star Trek threw up. The other notable thing about it was that my car had an energy efficiency rating such that that, when I pulled up to the pump at the gas station, I would get better gas mileage if I poured the gasoline directly onto the ground instead of actually into my gas tank. As a perennially poor teenager (or, more accurately, a teenager who perennially spent all his money on hair gel and They Might Be Giants CDs instead of transportation costs), I found creative ways to improve my mileage, namely, hoodwinking my friends to drive me places.

So I’d like to say I have a pretty sharp eye when it comes to saving gas. I present, then, as a free consumer benefit, a list of gas-saving tips:

When pumping gas at the station, drive there either early in the morning or late at night. Doing so will not only net you dozens of cents in savings, it is also the perfect time to coldcock the attendant and grab all the money out of the register, since that’s a lot more efficient than making an extra trip to the station to gain a few drops of Regular 87 off of The Man.

Encourage India and China to go to war with each other, preferably with nuclear weapons. This is likely to decrease demand of oil and customer service operators.

Try mixing one part gasoline with three parts water, which should increase your gasoline volume by 300%! I think. Anyway, engines are hot and boil all the water away so you don’t need to worry about it stalling out. Your car loves it! I think. Sawdust works too.

Be born in Saudi Arabia.

Car pool with other people! It’s not only an energy efficient way to travel, but you’ll also get to know your co-workers better. Because if there’s someone you want to spend an additional hour in cramped quarters with every day, it’s the people you already spend eight hours with all week like listening to their boo-hooing every day.

Why make five trips to the grocery store when one will do? Consolidate your trips. Instead of picking up your daughter at soccer practice, let her stay there. Hell, she’s already got practice three times a freakin’ week, and it’s always when House is on. If she loves soccer so damn much she won’t mind.

Boycott the oil companies! Boycotting has done so much to reign in companies in the past, I can’t imagine it not working. Sure, of the 118,000,000 barrels of oil consumed by the world each day, not putting eight gallons in your tank on a random Tuesday will send just the signal to OPEC and the oil companies need!

Try riding a bike! You’ll get exercise and save on gas and smell like a locker room when you get to work. This assumes that you work at a place that is downhill both ways to and from home. And doesn’t have winter. Or rain. Or thieves.

Drive the speed limit; this will save gas. Also, it will make you a pussy.

Support a tax holiday! Politicians are ready to temporarily repeal the gas tax until oh, I don’t know, about the middle of November or so. Supporting a policy that will encourage people to buy more gas is exactly the kind of thing that will bring prices down! At least it will in Fantasy Land after the Laws of Supply and Demand are repealed by King Lumblydum and the Queen Ladybug.

Use public transportation! Public transportation such as light rail, buses, and subways use significantly less oil per passenger than driving your old heap to work every day. Sure, you won’t get to choose your time of arrival or departure, can’t carry anything bigger than a folded-over newspaper, have to sit next to a guy that smells like Play-Dough and vomit, feel guilty about not standing up when some old bat gets on, which is every freakin’ stop anymore, and can’t stop at Wendy’s for a Junior Bacon Cheeseburger you’ve been craving since ten o’clock, but at least over the course of a year you can save about twenty bucks or so.

Purchase and drive a smaller car with better gas mileage. Ha ha! Just kidding. Seriously, you should think about doing the whole stealing money from the cash register thing.