In his New York Times column on Sunday, Bono, the lead singer for the rock group U2, lists ten ideas that “might make the next 10 years more interesting, healthy or civil.” One that struck my eye was his push for the “return of the automobile as a sexual object.” At least he’s not asking us to inflate our tires.
How is it that the country that made us all fall in love with the automobile has failed, with only a few exceptions, to produce a single family sedan with the style and humor and grace of the cars produced in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s? Put aside the question of whether those models were male (as in longer, lower and wider, Dr. Freud) or female (as in fender skirts, curvy belt lines and, of course, headlights). Either way, they all had sex appeal. (In Ireland in the ’70s, it was the E-Type Jag that made sense of puberty.) Today, however, we have the mundanity of our marriage to the minivan and the S.U.V. and long-term relationships with midsize cars that are, forgive me, a little heavy in the rear cargo hold.
Bono’s remedy, unfortunately, is as sexy as my first beater:
[The] Obama administration — while it still holds the keys to the big automakers — ought to put some style fascists into the mix: the genius of Marc Newson … Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive from Apple … Frank Gehry, the architect, and Jeff Koons, the artist.
Forget the Apple guys. Obama already has an iGMAC. And forget about the other artistes, too. The president would promise us a Chevy Gehry and we’d end up with ‘Corvette by Shepard Fairey’. And though Bono is right to urge the Big Three to think big, and top-down, that doesn’t mean they need top-down bureaucracy to speed up sales. The rock star misses the point: The Obama administration shouldn’t be holding the keys. The president may think he can play God from Washington, but he’ll never be Harley Earl.
Next week, as any car enthusiast will tell you, the Big Show opens: The 103rd annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The show’s sex factor will be as exciting as an Edsel, writes Paul Ingrassia:
Since last year’s show, General Motors and Chrysler have gone in and out of bankruptcy. GM is mostly owned by the government, and Chrysler is being run by Fiat. Toyota has announced its first loss in nearly 60 years and the largest car recall ever.
GM’s once-venerable Pontiac, Saturn and Saab brands will be absent from this year’s show. Pontiac and Saturn are dead, victims of downsizing that has slashed GM to four brands from eight. Only a flicker of hope remains for Saab. The efforts of two tiny European car companies to buy it have fallen through, although GM says it’s open to further negotiations. China’s Beijing Automotive, meanwhile, has bought engineering rights to a couple Saab models. Will they live on as Sino-Saabs?
Speaking of Sino-Saabs and Edsels, I’m reminded of what the Wall Street Journal’s Steve Moore wrote this past spring, after he heard that the Camaro was being reintroduced:
If GM makes a comeback, it will be thanks not to the green dream battery-operated Volt (which is already becoming the new Edsel) but to cars people want to drive . . . It’s the first bullish sign for the big three auto makers that a classic like the Camaro is making a comeback, though the folks in Washington will complain that a gas guzzler like this is a menace to the planet. Now that the politicians are running the auto companies, we’re likely to see Detroit rolling out small, unremarkable “green” cars that get good gas mileage but don’t go fast, don’t look cool and don’t make your pulse race.
If there’s anyone who can make America’s pulse race with panache (see Miller, John J.), it’s Bono. How about President Obama gives back those keys, and, perhaps, gives Bono a shot at sexing up those rear-cargo holds? Talk about Detroit Rock City.