Senate Session 2011-09-19 (16:15:53-17:18:45)

Uploaded by CSPANSenate2011 on 20.09.2011

>>Adam: Good afternoon. Authors at Google NY are pleased to welcome back Paul Ingrassia
to share with us his recent book, "Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream
in Fifteen Cars." Paul Ingrassia is the former Detroit bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal,
winner of The Pulitzer Prize in 1993 with Joseph B. White for reporting on management
crisis at General Motors.
Ingrassia has chronicled the auto industry for more than 25 years. His prior book, "Crash
Course, The American Automobile Industry's Road from Glory to Disaster," was the first
book published about the 2009 bailouts and bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler.
He's a frequent op-ed contributor to many publications and is currently with Reuters
and I'd like you to welcome my Dad to talk.
>>Paul: Very nice. Hello. Thanks. Well, thanks Adam. That was a very generous introduction.
Adam was kind enough to mention the Pulitzer Prize that came my way back in 1993, when
I was based in Detroit and Adam was growing up there. And my best memory of that story,
actually, is the next day one of his younger brothers went to school and told his teacher
his dad had just won the Pulitzer Surprise.
I think he had it about right. I just want to talk to you about my book a little bit,
"Engines of Change," which is really a look at the last hundred years of American cultural
evolution through 15 cars. The cars are listed here. I don't have time to go through all
the 15 during this presentation, but I'm gonna go through a bunch of them and then just scroll
through the rest of these in a quick order.
And this was really kind of a fun book to do, basically. I mean, writing books is a
lot of work, but I'm sorry this one is done because it really gave me a chance to really
dig in to a lot of things in automobiles and the history of automobiles and the cultural
impact of automobiles that has fascinated me for a long time.
And I think has a lot of fascination for a lot of people. I imagine, it's a little bit
weird to be honest with you, talking to a Google audience about the cultural impact
of cars, or certain cars, because at some point, someone's gonna do a great book about
the cultural impact of key developments in technology, whether it was the first Mac computer,
or whatever it was--the invention of the browser, all that sort of thing.
And I think that the interesting thing is that these things have a tremendous impact
on how we think and live in a lot of ways. And certain automobiles really uniquely captured,
or shaped, the spirit of their day, either reflected it or captured it. And at some point,
like I say, someone will do the history of technology using this sort of approach to
looking at technological innovation back from the days before "laptop" was a high-tech term
and that sort of thing.
So, but my really expertise is in automobiles. As Adam can tell you, I have zero expertise
in technology. In fact, I might even ask one of you to come up and forward my slides during
the middle of this presentation. I started out with the premise of this book that American
culture--. Let's forget about cars for a minute.
American culture is like this big tug of war, OK, between the practical and the pretentious,
between the ordinary and the ostentatious, up down versus uptown versus downtown, Saturday
night Sunday morning, that sort of thing. And that is really reflected in all the automobiles
in this book. And I'll show you that as I go along here.
And especially in the first two automobiles, the Ford Model T and LaSalle, which is a dead
brand now, but was the first yuppie car of its day. The Model T was introduced in the
Fall of 1908. It was literally the car that put Americans on wheels. Other cars of the
day were sold for well over a thousand dollars at the time.
And the introductory price of the Model T was only 850 dollars. It was the first car
with interchangeable parts. It was Henry Ford's vision of how to put people, make America
a mobile automotive society. And it had interchangeable parts and very flexible chassis that could
go anywhere. I mean, the roads in that day were even worse than the roads of today, I
might add.
There was a, one of the, Henry Ford's favorite jokes was about the farmer who asked to be
buried in his Model T Ford because the Model T had gotten him out of every hole he'd never
been in, OK? And another apocryphal perhaps story of the day was about a university researcher
who went out to an isolated, rural homestead and talked to the housewife there and said,
"Look. I don't understand this. You have a Ford Model T sitting in front of your log
cabin here, but you don't even have indoor plumbing. Tell me about your priorities."
And she said, "Well, look. It's pretty simple. You can't go to town in a bathtub." And that
explains the value of the Model T. It really made automotive transportation, going anywhere
you wanted, when you wanted available to the common man. And it really ended rural peasantry
in America in a way that Europe never had that happen, to be honest with you.
So, Ford Model Ts introduced in 1908. Five years later, 1913, Henry Ford comes up with
this amazing innovation called the moving assembly line. He actually got his inspiration
of this from the dis-assembly lines of the stockyards of Chicago where animals are being
slaughtered and cut into steaks. He reversed the process, right?
And that's how they assembled cars. And a few months after that, in January of 1914,
he followed that with the five dollar day--the average factory wage at the time was about
two and a quarter a day. He more than doubled that. And he incurred the wrath of the Wall
Street Journal and a lot of other industrialists, basically.
But he paid people a five dollar day. And it really, all that really made mass manufacturing
come in to play and they created the foundations for the American middle class. So this one
development of his, the Model T Ford, had incredible, incredible legs if you will and
incredible impact. By the early 1920s, Henry Ford applied all those manufacturing efficiencies
and he lowered the price, the basic price of the Model T from 850 dollars to 260 dollars--cheaper
than ever, right?
But by that time, Model T sales were falling dramatically. And why was that? It was really
pretty simple, basically. They didn't call the Roaring 20s, "Roaring" for nothing. America
was becoming an urban society and people wanted automobiles, not only for physical transportation,
but they wanted them for social mobility, if you will, to show off their status of life
and that sort of thing.
So, along comes General Motors with a different idea about cars. It'll sell them for more
money, but make them snazzier, sexier, a little more appeal, a little more stylish. And this
is what you get. You get the LaSalle. It's the first yuppie car. It's a beautiful automobile,
even today looking at its design proportions.
It was the first automobile designed by Harley Earl, who was the father of American automobile
design. And it was launched in 1927, which incidentally, was the same year the Model
T died. In this, by driving a Model T, you can get anywhere, but you wouldn't be able
to show off. By driving this car,you can really show that you had arrived.
So, it's sort of the bookends, if you will, of practicality and pretention, really uniquely
captured in these two cars. And ironically, the Model T's demise came in the same year
that the LaSalle was launched. So after the LaSalle is alive from the 1927 to 1940, when
GM discontinued the brand, but the 30s and the 40s don't really have much of a place
in my book to be honest with you, because cultural evolutions ran into two big hiccups
in America in the 30s and the 40s.
One was called the Depression, right? And the next was called the War. In World War
II, all civilian automobile production was discontinued. It was curtailed. So, those
factories in Detroit were building planes and tanks and military transports and all
of that sort of things. So, the whole car thing discontinued for a while.
But then comes 1953. 1953 is a seminal year in America. The, what happened in '53 was
the Korean War ended, Hugh Hefner started this magazine called "Playboy," a young singer
named Elvis Presley began his recording career. So you get this picture, right? Of a whole
generation of Americans that had grown up, that had come of age, knowing first Depression
and then War.
So, real privation when they were coming of age. And all of a sudden, we had peace and
this was the year that Jack Kennedy went to the Senate. It was the year that Eisenhower
went to the White House. We have peace. We have prosperity. And you get this picture
of a whole generation of Americans who had grown up in tough times, wanting to let loose
a little bit.
And here comes the Corvette. The first Corvette is pictured on the upper-right there. And
it was a disaster. Corvette was a disaster at first. It had an anemic 6-cylinder engine.
I mean, it looked kinda cool. But the 6-cylinder engine was slow. It had a two-speed automatic
transmission. The roof leaked. I mean, it had a pull-over roof.
They were all convertibles, but the roof leaked. In fact, a couple of owners who bought their
Corvettes during that day, actually drilled holes in the floor to make sure the rainwater
could drain out properly during storms. So, about a year after GM introduced the Corvette,
the company was ready to kill the car.
They were gonna discontinue it. And this came to the attention of a young engineer, named
Zora Arkus Duntov. He's a mid-level engineer for Chevy. And so, it'd be like, for example,
if one of you guys--any of you--who might be a mid-level engineer at Google got word
that the company was about to discontinue Chrome entirely.
And he just wasn't gonna take this lying down. He skipped up through several layers of management
and wrote a letter to the top guy at Chevrolet and said, "Look. We cannot let this happen.
Ford's about to introduce the Thunderbird. If we retreat where introduces the Thunderbird,
we're gonna take a black eye.
And not only just in the face of the auto industry, but really in the face of all America,
in the eyes of everyone in America." So, the irony about Zora Arkus Duntov was he was raised
as a Bolshevik. He was born in 1910 in St. Petersburg. His parents were Bolshevik functionaries,
basically. So, he grew up during the Revolution.
And after the Revolution, his parents were posted to Berlin of all places in the '30s,
as Russian diplomats. And then, when the war broke out between Russia and Germany, he had
to flee and managed to get out of Europe. Came to America. Finds himself in Detroit.
And you had the irony of the all-American sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette, being
saved by a Bolshevik boy.
But Zora argued--. This car would not be alive today, frankly, without this guy's vision
and determination to save the car. It literally, management was ready to kill it and he pleaded,
"Let me improve it." So, he went back a did a lot of work on it. And over the years, it
just got to be a really iconic automobile.
The other signature car of America in the 1950s--remember, this is the Post War Pax
Americana, right? It's peace, prosperity. The economy is doing well. Was tail fins.
They are actually introduced by Harley Earl in 1948. And they were sort of small at first,
a little like finlets on the back of fenders, if you know what I mean.
But in the mid-1950s, Chrysler was really hurting. It's market share was sagging, brought
in a new top designer and he started putting bigger and bigger fins on the back of Chrysler's
cars. And as a matter of fact, what Chrysler did was not only market these fins as styling
cues, right? Chrysler actually sold them, billed them as safety devices.
I know, it's hard to believe, but the exact terms of the old sales brochures were, these
were called "graceful, directional stabilizers." OK? A little dodgy, I'll admit it. But so
what happened was the, this is the 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, the biggest tail fins of
all time. This is like, remember the Jetson's anyone?
OK? This is like George Jetson's car, sort of. But what happened was a young General
Motors designer named Chuck Jordan. He just passed away a couple years ago. I was fortunate
enough to interview him before he died. But he was the only--. He later became Vice President
of Styling at GM. But he was a young Cadillac designer.
He heard rumors about Chrysler's 1957 models. He took a drive over his lunch hour one day.
Snuck around the back of a Chrysler storage facility and saw the '57's with their big
fins. Hopped in his car. Drove back to his office in a panic. Ran in to talk to his boss
and said, "We're about to get out-finned." OK?
So, GM put its designers back to the drawing board. And a couple years later, it takes
a couple years to really bring a car to market. They came out with the biggest tail fins ever.
And my favorite quote about the tail fins came from Bill Mitchell, who is Harley Earl's
successor. He said, "You know, I say if you take the tail fins off a Cadillac, it's like
taking the antlers off a deer. You got a big rabbit."
OK? So, anyway, nothing quite symbolized "the sky's the limit" ethos of America in the 1950s
as these tail fins. But remember what I said about the ostentatious and the practical,
right? We are about to swing back to the practical in a really big way. This is the anti-Cadillac.
OK? It came out in the early 1930s.
Ironically, the Beetle, and later the Microbus, which was developed right after World War
II, but it really had the same, has the same underlying vehicular architecture, same chassis
as the Beetle. The Beetle was Hitler's car. I mean, the irony of the Volkswagen Beetle
is it went from Hitler's car to Hippie icon.
I mean, you could not make this up, right? This is like the epic automotive journey of
all time. It was actually developed at Hitler's behest to put German's on wheels, the way
Henry Ford's Model T had put Americans on wheels. And the, it was very practical, not
at all pretentious, as you see. And it was, it came out just before the war, but right
after the first few Beetles were built, World War II broke out and therefore, Beetle production
was curtailed till after the war.
And what happened was really that some American GIs, who were stationed in Germany after the
war, started driving these things. It was the only car they could get. They liked it.
They brought it back to America. And it took off, surprisingly, in the '50s. More and more
people started buying them. Back then, two car families were a rarity.
Maybe ten, 20 percent of Americans had second cars. This was the ideal second car, if you
will--cheap, easy, you didn't need to carry the whole family in it. So, the Beetle gradually
grew in sales. It wasn't even named the "Beetle" by the way. The original name was the "Kraft
durch Freude laden," which meant the strength through joy car.
It was chosen by Hitler, sort of a dumb name. But after the war, the Germans called it the
Volkswagen Sedan. They thought the word "beetle" was derogatory. So, they wouldn't even allow
the word beetle to be used in the sales literature till the early 1970s. But Detroit was shocked
by this, right? They see the Beetle and they think to buy a Beetle you gotta be like, either
a Pinko or a weirdo or a cheapo--maybe all three.
So, it was mystifying that basically in Detroit's views that the Beetle took off. And then the
microbus came along as well. So, what really made the Beetle take off in the '60s and made
it a hippie icon was not only its simplicity, but the great funny advertising. They had
a great advertising agency, here in New York, called Doyle Dane Bernbach.
And they had marvelous ads. These are two of my favorites. They found out, the people
at DDB found out that literally a hillbilly couple, who lived in the Ozarks, in a cabin
without running water had their mule pass away and went out and bought a Beetle to replace
the mule. So, one of the guys from the agency, Bob Cooperman, who later became the Chairman
of the agency, flies out to the Ozarks.
Knocks on the door of the log cabin. Mr. Redman Hinsley, the guy pictured here, answers the
door. Mr. Cooperman explains, "I'm from New York. I'm from an ad agency. I'm gonna take
your picture and put you in an ad." Mr. Hinsely thinks it's a city-slicker's scheme to get
him to steal his land. He runs and grabs his shotgun.
OK. They calmed things down and smoothed things over after that. And they do this wonderful
ad in American Gothic-style, right? I mean, there's Mr. and Mrs. Hinsley with the pitchfork.
There's the Beetle. And there's the cabin they lived in. And the headline is great.
"It was the only thing to do after the mule died."
And this is the kind of the hip, irreverent stuff they did. The actual, the real hippie
favorite, of course, was the Microbus. And, as a matter of fact, it was such a hippie
favorite, that in 1995, this musician--you've probably heard of named Jerry Garcia, passed
away. He was young, but he had lived a hard life in a lot of ways.
Let's put it that way. Volkswagen took out this ad in Rolling Stone and other magazines.
It shows, it's a sparse pencil sketch of a Microbus with a teardrop coming out of one
of the headlights. I mean, that's advertising, but that's like really art, frankly. It's
just a beautiful ad. The word Volkswagen doesn't even appear.
I doesn't need to. The only text is Jerry Garcia, and the year he was born and the year
he passed away. So again. you have the practical and the pretentious. Now, this actually is
one of my favorite cars in the book, even though it's a tragic car and it was literally
a fairly flawed car. And remember, this book is not the 15 best cars of all time or worst
It's really cars that had a defining influence on how we think and how we live as a people.
And the Chevy Corvair surely was one of those. It was really GM's answer to the Beetle. The
Beetle did not have its engine in the front. It was a rear-engine car with an air-cooled
engine, so there was no radiator.
It made it very lightweight. Put the engine right on top of the drive wheel, so there
was great traction in the snow. This genius, Ed Cole, was running Chevrolet at the time--the
guy that really helped develop the Corvette. Cole had a vision of a bigger, rear engine
air-cooled car called the Corvair. And by the way, when it came out in 1960, he made
the cover of Time.
It's, so that the car got 29 miles to the gallon. That's amazing for that day. It's
not even bad for today, is it really? But in that day, most cars got eleven or twelve
miles to the gallon. So, it was really incredible because he didn't have the weight of a radiator
and didn't have the drive shaft to connect the engine in front to the drive wheels in
the back.
The engine was right in back. The problem was, the Corvair, unlike the Beetle, was a
longer car. And all that weight in the back made it susceptible to spinning out around
corners. So, the Corvair does pretty well for a few years. And then in 1965, this young
lawyer, he's unknown and he's out of work, but he's fascinated with automobiles' safety.
And he writes this book called, "Unsafe at Any Speed." And his name, of course, is Ralph
Nader. At first, the book went nowhere. I mean, no one even noticed this book was published.
But then, the New York Times revealed that General Motors had hired private detectives
to spy on Nader's private life, 'cause they wanted to know who's this guy badmouthing
our car?
When word of this broke in the New York Times, there were hearings in front of Congress.
A fellow named Jim Roche, who was then the President of General Motors, went down from
Detroit to Washington and apologized publicly to Nader in front of Congress with all the
network TV cameras going.
One of the ironies is, by the way, that Nader missed the apology. He missed the apology
'cause he did not own a car and couldn't get a taxi that morning, OK? You couldn't make
it up. But after that, basically the book became a bestseller. Corvair sales nose-dived.
And the ramifications of this car on our life and our society were just remarkable.
For one thing, the government changed its whole attitude toward regulating industry.
So, before the Corvair, regulation of industry, whether it be coal mining, meat packing, car
building, computer making, anything, was really very light in this country. But after that,
the whole regulatory apparatus of the Federal Government, the concept changed that the government's
gotta protect the people.
So, all kinds of safety and other regulations came in on products--baby food, hot dogs,
cars, everything else really. And so, America took a whole different approach to regulation.
The other thing is, that a whole new growth industry was started. I mean, you guys work
at Google, right? Most of you anyway.
So, there are two great growth industries in America in the late 20th Century. One is
technology. What was the other one? [laughs] Suing anybody. Lawsuits was the second greatest
growth in the history of the 20th Century. All of product liability law is descended
from this car. Basically, the whole idea, definition of what constituted product liability
was greatly expanded for what a defective product in legal terms was, greatly expanded
because of the Corvair.
So really, the Corvair really created--. That's why there's so many lawyers today. Adam's
two brothers are lawyers, OK? So, what can I say? Where did I go wrong? The Corvair collectors
today are very passionate people. I mean, they have, despite the car's flaws--the obvious
flaws--they collect cars. They go to conventions.
They have license plates on their cars. One is "wealth space 2." The other is, one of
my favorites is "F space Ralph." My absolute favorite is one word, Nadir. N-A-D-I-R. But
the Corvair's impact on American life and thought did not end with product liability
law and regulation and all that kind of stuff.
The car was killed in 1969, same year that Ralph Nader made the cover of Time. You see
it here. And you see that little Corvair driving off into the sunset. That's the year the Corvair
was discontinued. Thirty-one years later in the year 2000, we had a Presidential Election
in this country. It was George W. Bush versus Al Gore.
Remember the hanging chads in Florida? All that stuff? There was a third-party candidate
in that election. And that was Ralph Nader. Exactly. Bush lost the popular vote, as you'll
recall. But he won Florida by less than two thousand votes. When the Supreme Court finally
decided that issue. Ralph Nader got 95 thousand votes in the State of Florida that year.
It's obvious, intuitively obvious, that almost all those votes had Nader not been on that
ballot would've gone to Al Gore instead of George W. Bush. So, really, 31 years after
it's death, Corvair actually played a defining role in a Presidential Election 'cause there's
no way Ralph Nader would've been on the ballot in Florida.
He was a nobody until the Corvair made him famous. So, I think it can safely be said
at any speed, that the legacy of the Chevy Corvair helped to make George W. Bush the
President of the United States. Think about that for a minute. [laughs] The next car in
the book is a Mustang, which is really the great youth car of the 1960s.
I'm gonna skip over that quickly because the '60s were a very interesting period. They
were sort of like two--. If you were alive in the '60s, there was the good half and the
bad half. The early '60s were all about the Beatles and about Civil Rights. And they were
about the Ford Mustang, to capture the youthful exuberance of the '60s, the decade when Baby
Boomers came of age.
The last half of the '60s was very different. It was basically, this is not Spock, by the
way. This is John DeLorean who invented the other great car of the '60s, if you will.
And that's the Pontiac GTO, the first muscle car. In the latter half of the '60s, things
took a darker turn in America. I mean, it wasn't Civil Rights anymore, so much.
It was urban riots that got the headlines, OK? And The Beatles were replaced by a harder,
tougher-edge band in popularity--The Rolling Stones. And the Mustang, the fun and youthful
car was replaced in popularity in a lot of ways, or at least moved to the, what moved
to the fore was the Pontiac GTO, which is the first muscle car, really.
And it was this, kids were drag racing on streets all the time and all that sort of
thing. In fact, in Chicago, the fire department took to hosing down some of the streets on
Friday and Saturday nights so the kids couldn't race on them actually. It was that pervasive.
But it was a, this is the GTO, which is basically just a big engine in what was then considered
the body of a small car.
They were great to drive, by the way. And again, after the '60s was over, America needed
to have a little retreat, if you will. The '60s were a very tumultuous period in America.
So, along comes the '70s when things, everybody need a break a little bit in the practical
return to the form. The '70s were not a good decade in America.
We had Watergate, right? We had defeat in Vietnam. We had inflation, stagflation. We
had two oil crisis. We had bell-bottomed pants. We had Donny and Marie. I mean, all kinds
of bad stuff was going on in the '70s, right? So, along comes--. American cars were terrible.
The quality was awful back then.
I mean, they used to fall apart regularly. The signature car, American car of the decade
was the AMC Gremlin. Anybody remember that? I hope not. OK. Some of you do. Yeah, the
Gremlin. It was introduced on April Fool's Day, 1970. No kidding. The design was sketched
out on the back of a Northwest Airlines air sickness bag.
No kidding. But along comes this little Japanese company that was really new in the car business.
It built this reliable, fuel-efficient car called the Accord. And a decade later, basically,
they started building the Accord in America. It was the first foreign car to be built successfully
in America, in a factory near Columbus, Ohio.
And that actually started 30 years ago this November. The 30th Anniversary is coming up.
It really changed the whole industrial landscape in America. And so, the Accord really was
again, a retreat from all the wackiness of the '60s and the '70s and a basic common sense,
down to earth car that got you where you were going.
This is actually one of my favorite cars in the book since it's one of the cars I actually
owned--a Chrysler minivan. We got ours in 1984 when all of our boys were real young.
And so we used to take trips to Grandma's house. And this was pretty easy. The remarkable
thing about this car is that the same two guys who developed the Ford Mustang in the
'60s, developed the minivan.
It was Lee Iaccoca and Al Spurlick. So, just think about this. In the '60s, the Baby Boomers
were coming of age, just getting their drivers license, right? A big change in their lives
at that time, a big transition in their lives. OK. Twenty years later, it's another big transition.
They're coming into their 30s, their childbearing years.
So, Boomers, in the meantime, between the '60s and the '80s, they grew up. They went
to college. They got haircuts. They got jobs. They got married. And they started families.
Not always in that order, but more or less. That's what happened. And along comes this
vehicle that basically replaces the station wagon as a basic family transportation.
And it becomes a real symbol of--. In the 1990s became a symbol of what was then regarded
as the most potent force in American politics--that is, the soccer mom. So you had this New York
Times, all the papers were sending the kids around, reporters around the kids' soccer
games to interview mothers about "how does it feel to be a political force this year?"
One mom told the paper that, "I gotta go home and I gotta thaw something for dinner. I just
don't have time to be a political force today." It played a lot of different ways.
The '80s were the period of the yuppies. The BMW 3 Series was the quintessential yuppie
car. Ironically, we think of BMWs as really neat cars now, but right at, in the early,
in the late '50s, the company almost collapsed. It was saved by two German half-brothers.
Mercedes-Benz was about to acquire BMW and basically kill the brand.
It was saved by two German half-brothers, Herbert and Harold Quandt. Herbert was legally
blind, couldn't even drive a car. Harold's step-father was one of the more notorious
figures in history. His name was Joseph Goebbels. That's really not widely known these days.
But anyway, these two half-brothers saved the company and then basically over the years,
BMW just started building better and better cars.
And it became the quintessential yuppie car of the 1980s. My favorite bumper sticker from
that era was found on many a BMW. "He who dies with the most toys wins." OK. A little
obnoxious. Jeep was another car in the book. It basically started the whole outdoor recreation
thing. At that time, LL Bean and other companies were making their products go mainstream.
And Patagonia was making all its coats in bright, vivid pastel colors, et cetera, et
cetera. And Jeep did the same thing. They basically took what used to be a work utility
vehicle and made it a popular fashion statement if you will. Ironically, Jeep's had nine owners
in its corporate lifetime. The last two have been the Germans and the Italians--the same
two countries that the Jeep as a wartime vehicle helped to defeat in World War II.
The Jeep was actually developed to fight the war in 1940. This is actually a fun, this
is actually a fun chapter to write. This is the second last car in the book, which is
the F-Series pickup truck. And why was it fun? Because it gave me a chance to write
about my other passion besides vehicles, which is country music, OK?
I mean, pickup trucks and country music were both marginal sorts of things in American
life until the late, until the 1970s when they started to go mainstream. And the more
pickup trucks went mainstream, the more country music played off that and vice versa. Some
of the great country songs were really built around pickup trucks, including one of my
all-time favorites you guys have probably heard.
It's a Joe Diffie song--"Leroy the Redneck Reindeer." Anybody know that? No, I guess
not. OK. Anyway, Leroy is Rudolph's cousin. And one Christmas Eve, when Rudolph gets sick,
Leroy dashes from Nashville to the North Pole in his pickup truck and saves Christmas, basically.
Pickup trucks became very big political symbols in America--still are.
So in 2010, there was a special election in the State of Massachusetts to fill the seat
of the late Ted Kennedy. And the guy who won it in a big upset victory was Scott Brown,
a Republican, unheard of in Massachusetts, right?
He won by driving around the state, campaigning in his used pickup truck. That was his symbol.
The New York Times wrote about it. Everybody wrote about it. Ten months later in the mid-term
Congressional elections of 2010, there was a candidate for Congress in Tennessee who
actually advertised himself as a "truck driving, shotgun shooting, Bible reading, crime fighting,
family loving, country boy."
This guy was a Democrat, OK? It shows you how far that went. He lost that, he lost his
race, by the way. But pickup trucks are still a big political and cultural symbol in the
South and the West. And finally, the last car in the book is the Prius, which is known
as the Pious in some circles after the people who drive it.
It was introduced in Japan in 1997. It came to the US in the year 2000. The first successful
mass-market hybrid car. Remarkable engineering feat. I mean, this is as remarkable as the
browser. I mean, amazing how they did this. The breakthrough here came in 2003 when the
second generation Prius was introduced.
It was bigger, roomier, could hold a family, better performing and all that sort of thing.
In the 2003 Oscars, all the movie stars used to be ferried up to the red carpet, right,
in their big stretch limousines. They were just clamoring over each other to be photographed
arriving in a Prius. And that's what really made the car's popularity take off.
And one of my favorite incidents in the book occurred in March 28th, 2007. There is a guy
is arrested on the freeway in the Bay Area for going more than 100 miles an hour in his
Prius. And this comes to the attention of a guy named Gary Richards. Gary Richards writes
the car column called "Mr. Road Show" for the San Jose Mercury News in Silicon Valley,
He hops on the story because the guy who owned this Prius that was driving at the time was
Steve Wozniak--a name obviously familiar to you. He fires off an email to the Woz and
says, "Hey, is it true you were arrested for going 105 miles an hour in your Prius?" The
Woz fires back a quick email and says, "Not true. 104."
OK. So, the dialog goes back and forth about what it was like to be in court and all that
sort of thing. The judge fined him 700 dollars. The, at that point, Mr. Road Show sends an
email that says, "Well, OK. How did it feel? How did the Prius handle? What was it like
going 104 miles an hour in your Prius?"
And Wozniak sends back an email that says, "You know, it was really stable. It felt pretty
good. It was actually kind of like my Hummer." [laughs] So, here you have a guy who has a
Prius and a Hummer. Which, I mean, the best analogy I can make for you guys is probably
someone who like has a Mac and a PC maybe, right? OK?
So, he has a foot in both camps. It was a really interesting cultural exchange there
if you will. Anyway, that's basically the book. It's a journey through modern American
culture as seen through the lens of automobiles. You could do the same kind of book, and someone
will, about technology or maybe movies that had a big influence on our culture, which
certainly a lot of them did.
Someone will probably do those books one day, but not me 'cause I write about cars. Anyway,
you've been a great audience. Thanks for having me back at Google. I'll be glad to answer
a few questions.
>>Male #1: Hi, my name is Igor. And my question is how you see the future. What is the next
>>Paul: You know, that is a great question. So, if I'm doing another edition of this book
five years from now, right? What would be the car I would include in this book? The
most likely car. To be honest with you, I'm not even sure it will be a car. It might even
be some sort of a car type concept, maybe a blend of car sharing with social networking
or something like that.
I mean, are we gonna one day have a company that's called like eHarmony Zip I
mean, who knows, right? So I think automotive transportation, people want personal transportation.
They wanna be able to go where they want, when they want. They want horizontal freedom
if you will. But a lot of people these days don't want to have a car full time.
Some people wanna share one if you will. And this whole social networking thing is, I don't
have to tell you guys. It's sort of a big deal. The business model is still being worked
out. But it could be some sort of a combination of car club, online dating, social networking.
I don't know. It's a very, I can't predict the future, but I wouldn't be surprised if
it was something like that.
>>Male #1: Thank you.
>>Male #2: Why didn't you include station wagon? I thought that was like the quintessential
American car.
>>Paul: How do we live and think as a people today that is different because of the station
>>Male #2: I think concept of like road trips and like the National Lampoon Summer Vacation,
tying all your luggage to the top of the car and going across the country.
>>Paul: Yeah. I think that's a valid argument. I mean, 'cause I said in the afterward of
the book, the hardest part was figuring out which cars to leave out. A question I often
get is, "Why didn't you include the '57 Chevy, one of the greatest cars of all time?" But
I can't really say that we had a definitive change in our lifestyles because of that.
Now, station wagons did bring in the family road trip. I really thought that the impact
of the minivan, if you're gonna choose one family vehicle. The minivan was more revolutionary,
I think, because not only did it bring family road trips to a new level, but it also ushered
in this whole fascination with trucks that Americans have.
And basically, around 1990, Americans were actually buying more trucks, meaning minivans,
pickup trucks, and Jeeps, than they were cars. Now it's swung back to automobiles more, but
trucks are still a very high percentage of what Americans buy for personal transportation.
And so, I really think the minivan over the station wagon really had a more--.
I mean, I mention the station wagon in the book because the minivan supplanted the station
wagon for family transportation. The minivan was just, it far more influential not only
in culture, but in terms of politics because the whole soccer mom phenomenon that came
up and all that sort of thing. OK. Any more?
No one's gonna ask me what kind of car I drive? It's a red one. Thanks very much.