Long ago, back before the times of George W. Bush, Bob Dole said something that I found very intriguing. Upon having seen former Presidents Carter, Ford, and Nixon, he referred to them as “See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Evil.” Anybody who knows about the Iranian Hostage Crisis, pardoning Nixon, and, well, Nixon, will immediately appreciate the quote. I thought it was funny, anyway.
Now, of course, looking back, I can see many different things that this applies to. Like for example, cars. Carmakers throughout history have been some of the dumbest, most frustrating businesses on Earth. When given the 1970s fuel crisis, they built their cars smaller rather than more efficiently (and there’s a difference–you can get a lot of space into a small area if you know how). In the compact truck arena, instead of using the newfound efficiency of today’s four-cylinder engines, they just make the truck bigger (because people who buy compact trucks want full-size trucks). And, if Americans want a car built in America, they build it in America, and style it in Japan, by people who have no concept of American ideas of attractiveness and thus ruin otherwise fine vehicles.
This post is a tribute to three regional carmaking areas–North America, Asia, and Europe–and which region has what moniker–in this case, See no Evil, Think No Evil, and, of course, Evil.
See no Evil–Asia
When Americans ask for “distinctive” cars, what they really mean is “pretty, in a way that people will notice.” But they don’t say that. And that’s why we have the Scion series and Honda Element, some of the ugliest vehicles on the planet.
Sadly enough, the trend toward ugly, overwrought plastic cars is getting extensive. The new Toyota Tacoma, which has a look that can best be described as a cross between an AMC Pacer and a Chevy Avalanche, is one of the ugliest vehicles in pickup history, especially considering that most trucks aren’t really ugly assuming that the creators aren’t blind. Unfortunately, Japanese companies apparently hire blind exterior designers, and even worse, American companies seem to be hiring their lead. If only it weren’t so damned ugly, I wouldn’t mind being caught dead in a Toyota. If only.
Think no Evil–Europe
Europe used to make good cars. I think. I’m assuming, considering that the Benzes used to make a good one, I think. And (again, I think), they have good designers who seem to have good eyesight, considering European vehicles’ attractively conservative styling.
It’s just too bad that their engineers are mentally retarded. That’s my opinion, anyway, considering European vehicles’ atrocious reliability record and high prices. Of course, I can only imagine what the workers on the field must be going through, because the engineers probably use crayons to dimension everything, and I’ll bet that it becomes a bitch to try to read all those backward numbers. Currently, the Volkswagen New Beetle ranks at -136% in reliability according to Consumer Reports. It costs $18,000. Apparently, designers spent more time in making it “retro” than in making it work.
To make things even worse, Mercedes-Benz vehicles, some of which cost upwards of $80,000, are some of the most unreliable vehicles on the planet. An E-Class wagon ranked at -101% on Consumer Reports reliability reports; an Mercedes SL, costing upwards of $95,000, ranked -122%! Think about that for a second: A $100,000 car that is less reliable than a Chevy Cobalt, adjusted for its class. OK, so they’re ranked according to class. But that’s no excuse. I’d rather have a Corvette (which is in the same class as the Mercedes, and ranks higher in reliability) than that crap, especially if I’m spending $100,000 to do it versus $45,000 for a good ‘Vette.
What’s really sad is that the Europeans take the role of “Hear no Evil” too, as do Americans, because they still haven’t figured out the Japanese means of success: Make cars with a high initial outlay of money, and then reward the buyer with reliability, performance, and decent quality. Americans and European designers and managers, apparently because they are as deaf as they are dumb and blind, build cheap cars and expect people to take the low initial price in exchange for years of reliable service they could be getting (excepting, of course, the Mercedes I was talking about). Unfortunately, that’s something not many people are willing to do in the Richest Country in the World, and because people in other countries demand reliability too (including in Third-World nations, since the people, if they’re going to shell out that much of their money on a car, want to pay a little extra for a much longer service period), American and European carmakers eat it every time for their haste and penny-pinching.
I myself would like to buy American. Sometimes, they actually manage some good-looking, half-decent vehicles, but there’s always some sort of catch. If it has a good engine, its reliability is terrible. If it performs well and has a roomy interior, it’s ugly. If its reliability is good and its interior is decent, then the engine is underpowered. There’s always a catch, and it almost always has to do with the constant, bitter struggle between workers who want more, more, more, and managers who want to crush unions and grab more of the pot for themselves. The result is cars practically made of cardboard and only half as strong, and it gets obnoxious to watch the car companies practically stomp all over each other to jump on the next car-design fad bandwagon in a desperate attempt to make a quick buck.
It’s no wonder Ford, GM and Chrysler are all in danger of going bankrupt this year. If only they could be less interested in their petty conflicts of interest, they could get back to making some decent cars. As it is, though, there just isn’t any hope in a Pontiac Aztec (Asstec?).