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Is Thomas Friedman On Crack?

Illustration for article titled Is Thomas Friedman On Crack?

With the auto industry flailing about, everyone all of a sudden thinks they're an expert, acting completely flabbergasted none of the domestic automakers have magically fixed everything yesterday. This kind of hit-and-run punditry has always been on display in Friedman's work, including regularly equating GM to a crack dealer in the most sensationalist analogy ever. Then came yesterday's column in the New York Times displaying an even greater lack of understanding of the depth and breadth of the global auto industry than usual. In the column, Friedman believes GM should get Steve Jobs to design an "iCar" — then today, on CNBC, he claims it wouldn't take Jobs longer than a week to do it. While we agree an "iCar" could look pretty slick, it again shows Friedman's grasp of cars as existing in exterior design alone, with the inner workings something anyone with Lego blocks can engineer. Later on, he was talking up his follow-up idea — giving the multi-billion dollar loan to small, green automakers in California rather than the Not-So-Big Three. This brings us to the obvious question: is Thomas L. Friedman on crack? We think so and we'll work backwards to explain why. First, he can only be speaking of giving $30 billion to Tesla, Fisker or Aptera. Tesla has barely been able to produce a car and has halted development and laid-off employees. Besides, their car is based on a vehicle from a regular fossil fuel-burning auto manufacturer — Lotus. We like what Aptera is trying, but it isn't a solution for most commuters. The Fisker Karma Luxury Hybrid isn't a high-volume car and, as of now, has a production run of zero. Should we help these people? Sure. But you don't give out $30 billion to these guys just yet. Second, you blame labor and Detroit and gas guzzling and the Michigan Congressional delegation. Sure, we're 100% in support of blaming all of those people. But if we really want to get honest with ourselves we'll recognize that, unlike NYC, we don't have subways in most of America. Our government subsidized a road system that created sprawl and suburbs and the necessity for most of us to drive on interstates and spurred the building boom that made trucks make sense to some slice of America. That created the auto industry we have today as much as anything and that issue needs to be addressed. Third, remember 9/11 — those 0% interest loans the Bush administration asked the 'merican automakers to drop on the public to spur consumer spending in the months after 9/11 is another part of what started us down this path. Fourth, making everything a flex-fuel hybrid isn't the solution. We're a bit underwhelmed by flex-fuel performance (hint, E85 vehicles typically get worse gas mileage) and the additional cost of putting an electric motor/battery in a small car pushes it out of the price range of most people. On the other hand, putting money into the Big Three to build cars like the Ford Fiesta, which gets close to 50 mpg without an electric motor, is a solution. Fifth, Steve Jobs. Really? Do we think Friedman is on crack? Just a little. We wish that, instead of "How To Fix A Flat" the Times just printed that spoof column from yesterday instead. (QOTD is your chance to answer the day's most pressing automotive questions and experience the opinions of the insightful insiders, practicing pundits and gleeful gearheads that make up the Jalopnik commentariat. If you've got a suggestion for a good "Question Of The Day" send an email to tips at jalopnik dot com.)

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DISCUSSION

What may work for this idiotic analogy is that American consumers feel that they are a lot more sophisticated than they really are.

An iCar would sell like pancake breakfasts on Sunday precisely because American consumers are NOT sophisticated. They are easily led around by their noses and they tend to stick their noses up at things they THINK are inadequate. But trendy is cool and cool is good and an iCar would be trendy and there you go.

One of my more technologically sophisticated friends (keeping in mind that most of my friends are professional geeks) purchased one of these iPhones a while back and was real impressed. At everything except the phone part. Turns out he really likes a phone to work as a fucking phone. He took it back.

So to tie it all together, they could do an iCar that was trendy but a lousy car. But it wouldn't matter because it was trendy and they'd sell a bunch and the first person to unlock the iCar would get a million dollars or some such rubbish and it would be in all the papers.

And everybody would be happy because they'd have a useless iCar and American cars would be cool again. People would line up for blocks to get a new one every 6 months when they retooled the user interface and made the old one obsolete. You know your neighbors gonna get one. You could sit in your driveway and download MP3's for $1.49 a pop and change your horntune, woohoo!

All because they'd have the best ads. And it will only take 7 days or so.