The subject of cars has been in the news.
When we think of cars and the auto industry, we think of all things American and apple pie. Cars are a big part of our culture.
We conjure up visions of Henry Ford's assembly line, the Big Three and taking our Chevy to the levee. Or a Ford. We had fun, fun, fun until Daddy took the Tbird away.
But the truth is that the car industry isn't uniquely American, and never was. Consider this: scholars typically credit Karl Benz of Germany with building the first true automobile. And America isn't the number one market. The world's biggest car market is China, and the top selling car of all-time is Japanese the Toyota Corolla.
The longest running body style is the original Beetle of Germany, 1938-79. So when it comes to cars, America seems to be a player, but not necessarily the leader.
Motor Trend magazine recently named the world's 10 top selling cars of all time based on volume. The list included only three American vehicles the Chevy Impala, the Ford Model T and the Ford F-series truck.
Germany had three cars on the list: VW Passat, Beetle and Golf. Japan also had three: Honda Accord, Civic, and Toyota Corolla. Motor Trend magazine says someone buys a Corolla every 40 seconds. Of course, that report was made before Toyota's recent troubles. Right now, someone returns a Corolla every 40 seconds.
If you own a Toyota, be careful about putting the pedal to the metal.
But I still wish I had that 77 Corolla from my days in Allentown. It was a four-speed manual shift and fun to drive.
In those days, there were no computers. The gas pedals didn't stick and the cars were safe. Cars were made of steel and other strong materials. Today it's cheap plastic. But that's OK because we put air bags inside to protect the occupants. Isn't there something wrong with that picture?
The worst car I owned was a British Triumph TR7, shaped like a wedge of cheese. The driver's seat was positioned so low that it felt as if you were sitting on the road. The suspension was stiff, you could feel every bump. It was the most uncomfortable ride I'd ever experienced. I got rid of it fast.
My best riding car was a Cadillac. Cadillacs in the 1950s-90s rode as if they were floating on air. Is that still true? I haven't owned a Caddie in a long time. I wonder if they get better gas mileage these days.
The biggest disappointment for me was a Mercedes-Benz. It was dangerous in the snow; it slid everywhere. Plus, the ride was bumpy and harsh. To top it off, an MB is expensive to fix. I'd never buy one again, although I'm fascinated by the little Smart Car produced by that company. One catch: there are no local dealerships. If you need service, you have to drive your Smart Car to Cherry Hill, NJ. Last week, I spoke to a man in State College who bought a Smart Car. He had trouble with the car right away. He had to have it shipped to a dealer in Pittsburgh via Penske Trucking. They eventually repaired the car and shipped it back. That is inconvenient and could become costly. To me, a Smart Car doesn't seem so smart. A Mercedes is impractical and too expensive.
But too cheap isn't good either. Remember the Yugo?
During the summer of 1985, the Yugo went on sale as the cheapest car sold in the USA. It cost $3,990, thousands cheaper than the next car up.
But the quality was poor. Yugo eventually went bankrupt. Cheaper isn't better. Costly isn't better, either.
All people really want is a stylish, safe, affordable, quality car. And it'd help if it's American. We want to drive a Chevy to the levee, not a Yugo. Cars may be global, but we want a car to sing about.
Come away with me, Lucille, in my merry Oldsmobile. Yep, that sounds right.
But nobody sings about a Yugo or Smart Car.