Archive

Cars, Food, and Sociology

14 October 2013

The American “love affair” with the automobile is often mistaken for a love affair with driving. We think driver distraction arose with the smartphone, but truth be told most Americans never liked driving much. When Oldsmobile debuted Motoring’s Magic Carpet, it lamented the struggles of the little lady with a standard transmission: “After nineteen distinct manual operations, she’s finally ready to drive.” More…

11 April 2011

The first breakout product was the Kia Soul, which began life in 2005 as sketches by American designer Mike Torpey. Torpey looks more like a Yeshiva student than the designer of a global product for hipsters, and his choice of a boar carrying a backpack as his model would seem to augur poorly for the car. Yet somehow the crazy design by this bewhiskered visionary worked beautifully. More…

9 February 2011

Is there anything left of the American car? This is not a question about government bailouts or Italian takeovers. It is a question of style and of soul. Can we still find the America at the heart of automobiles built by companies that have their roots here? Until last week I would have said, sadly, that all that was good about American cars is gone. Thank goodness, then, for the new Cadillac V-Series. More…

13 December 2010

In Detroit, race is never not an issue, always at least subtext when it isn’t quite text. Come January, Eddie—a former Budd worker who stayed on to work security—would ask the boss about a day off for the Martin Luther King holiday. “You’re not in the UAW anymore,” Eddie quoted the boss as saying. Eddie complained, half-kidding, to a co-worker. “We’re in the city of Detroit,” he said. “We might get shot for working. It should be a double-time day.” More…

29 November 2010

The first thing to do is check your bank account. Got $110,000 to spare? Then you want a Tesla Roadster. It only seats two and has limited luggage space, but it accelerates faster than a Porsche and you get $7,500 back from the feds. You can use that tax rebate to buy the $2,000 fast home charger that puts 56 miles of range in the batteries every hour. More…

6 July 2010

Will the roads become obsolete overnight? Certainly not; we’ll always need a place to ride our bicycles. But the massive motorways will be the first to atrophy, and eventually the third of the nation used up by land cars can be reallocated to living. More…

23 April 2010

The State of California Air Resources Board wants to terminate my car. I drive a Buick, a Buick Estate Wagon to be exact, an eight-passenger lead sled with a 455 cubic inch V8 coupled to a four-speed hydro-drive. It has a magic tailgate that disappears at the touch of a button. Its pale yellow topside and simulated wood-grain panels ooze domesticity. More…

9 April 2010

To understand what was going on during the Congressional hearings and may well continue for years to come as the US tries to make a last-ditch effort to save its failed auto industry, you have to start with the understanding that the hearings had nothing to do with “saving American lives” or “preventing another tragedy.” More…

19 January 2010

Here’s what you need to know about the auto show if you only have a minute: Ford has been having a great show, winning both Car and Truck of the Year awards. There’s nothing special about Ford’s truck winner, the Transit Connect van—it is nearly identical to GM’s Combo, Fiat’s Fiorino, Peugeot’s Partner, or Citroen’s Berlingo, to name a few. More…

18 November 2009

It depends on what you mean by large country. Cars are made all over the place. Most of them are made in China, Japan, Germany, the US—although less so in the US these days—and then Brazil and Spain and the UK, Mexico, Russia. Those are all places that make, oh, I don’t know, a million or more cars every year. And some places you wouldn’t think of, like Iran. More…

2 October 2009

When Assan Motors bought an American car plant, Japanese managers didn’t think American workers were up to snuff.  They lacked the company spirit of their Japanese counterparts and fell well short of volume and quality targets.  But then a dynamic middle manager stepped up, goaded the Americans into doing things the Japanese way. More…

25 September 2009

Find your favorite pair of lips and, asking nicely, have them sing it for you in an Italian whisper: Cinquecento. The mouth starts with a smile, puckers boozily in the middle and finishes open, full of possibility. And that’s just the name. More…

6 May 2009

It’s a little sad to see GM dying just the way they lived. Their latest death throe is called the “Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility,” an incredibly awkward name designed to yield the acronym P.U.M.A. The PUMA is a two-seater city car based on the Segway scooter, a vehicle which has done more to advance situation comedy than personal transportation. More…

11 December 2008

Americans own 244 million motor vehicles, yet we have only 203 million licensed drivers. Even if we all do our part and start driving continuously, we’d still need to leave 41 million cars parked. Cars pollute, contribute to global warming, kill more than 40,000 Americans a year. Yet with Detroit begging for bailouts, history teaches us one undeniable fact: America needs more cars—now. More…

25 November 2008

You can eat your Powerbar, product of an engineering as peculiar as any the world has known, and wash it down with unpasteurized unfiltered cider pressed by Mennonites, and on both fronts, you find it good. More…

Originally published in Issue 7: Correction

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19 August 2008

In late July, a rookie NYPD officer viciously body-checked a bicyclist to the ground and was caught on video by a Times Square tourist. The incident occurred during the monthly ride of the New York incarnation of Critical Mass, a disorganization that champions the right of cyclists to ride on public streets unmolested. More…

6 June 2008

Hummer sales are falling, econobox sales are rising, and pretty much every high-powered SUV now comes in a hybrid model. But all this greenery amounts to little more than cosmetic change in the face of Global Warming—or, more accurately, in the face of 4-dollar-a-gallon gasoline. How can a cash-strapped, environmentally aware, patriotic American do more to limit the rise in temperature? More…

21 May 2007

Maybe this all sounds nefarious, food and oil companies making us afraid in order to sell us products that are hopefully healthier. And maybe we’ll find out, like we did with saturated fat, that the cure is worse than the disease. But consider for a moment where we might be now if power plants and oil companies invested in cleaner fuels with the same zeal that Nabisco pushes its trans-free Oreos. More…

11 April 2006

Surely it is a sign of the end of days when Kermit The Frog starts shilling for Ford Motor Company. “It is easy being green,” Mr. The Frog tells us, hawking the new Ford Escape SUV. In other words, you can be environmentally conscious and still drive an SUV, as long as it’s a hybrid. The Frog’s giving you the green light More…

24 November 2005

The people’s car is ready to invade America … again. Media attention surrounding the imminent Chinese invasion has focused on the self-promoting schemer Malcolm Bricklin, a serial failure in the auto import business. But the real story is the shrinking space for the people’s car in modern America. More…

31 July 2005

The show has been a hit since its 2004 debut, popularizing the phrase “Pimp my ___.” But from an automobilist’s perspective, either Pimp My Ride has simply jumped the shark, or the age-old American love affair with the motor car has reached a sad state. The MTV generation may still love their cars, but they have decided to see other machines. More…

20 September 2004

The Angel of Convention sat down with the Demon of Suspicion to debate the meaning of fashion. “At bottom, fashion is the art of personal adornment.” “At bottom, fashion is a dark forest of half-starved wolves, tarted up with stiff collars and eye-tints, mangy fur and sultry looks. Competition is the only constant in their existence.” More…

20 September 2004

Gentle reader, do you, if you are a woman, have an inked motif on your lower back, at a point where it will be revealed between the top of your low-rise jean (fashion of the 1990s) and the bottom of your cropped contemporary shirt? Is it, instead, in a similar position up front, a revelation of the pelvic midriff? Do you show off a little mandala, or rising-sun, or arabesque? More…