For these autos . . . we give thanks
At the first Thanksgiving, the denizens of Plymouth Rock had many things for which to be thankful. Alas, motorized transportation was not among them. Four hundred years later, we 21st century pilgrims have trains for commuting, planes for vacation getaways, and rockets for space travel. Yet the automobile is our personal transportation. Our manufacturing base. Our favorite toy. The last year gave us another bountiful harvest.
We give thanks for ...
Seat heaters. It’s not even December yet and Detroit has set a record low temperature of 11 degrees and roads left slick by snowfall. Yet commute we must. Fortunately, heated seats and steering wheels have become common in our horseless carriages. While engine-heated ventilation systems can warm slower than a child to broccoli, the electrical coils in seats and wheels make instant rump roasters and hand warmers.
SRT Viper. Sales in 2014: Just 650. Cost? A pricey $101,000. The snake lacks the affordability, comfort and auto tranny of its popular cross-town Corvette competitor. But we are thankful for this ground-pounder’s 8.4-liter, 640-horse V-10.
Bob Lutz. The design guru gained the nickname “Maximum Bob” for his plain-spokenness in an industry where executives often lapse into inscrutable corporate-speak. He once called global warming “a total crock of s***” and allowed how calling ex-GM CEO Ed Whitacre “the architect of GM’s current success is a bit like crediting the rooster with making the sun come up.” Lutz has retired as GM’s vice chairman, but it has not dulled his sharp tongue. “The main problem with what is no doubt an excellent car,” he said recently of Lexus’ head-turning new RC sports coupe, “is that it’s ugly almost beyond human optical tolerance.”
Cup holders. In 1992 Stella Liebeck put a boiling cup of McDonald’s coffee between her knees to add cream and sugar. The drink turned over in her lap and the 79-year old made national headlines when she sued the fast food maker for her resulting third-degree burns. The incident likely would have been avoided were her car equipped with cup holders. Cars without cup holders? It’s hard to imagine such a time. Even long-resistant German automakers now offer multiple cup cubbies. Heck, the 2014 BMW i8 super-sports car has two — in its back seat!
Tim Kuniskis. Because Bob Lutz won’t be around forever. Kuniskis, the 45-year-old, barrel-chested, Dodge CEO and car guy has the swagger of a hellcat. Like the fire-breathing, 700-hp Challenger and Charger Hellcats Dodge brought to market this year. Kuniskis launched the brutes with quotes that broke the Internet and caused his Chrysler bosses to spill coffee in their laps. “Sometimes you need to ignore the data, disregard the focus groups, and just build a car that defines itself,” he crowed.
Muscle cars. Like Hellcats (see above). Who would have thought that the era of 54.5 mpg fuel economy diktats would also coincide with the greatest show of power since the ’60s? Camaro ZL1s with 580 ponies. Steroid-fed Mustang GT350s. And of course, a Charger Hellcat sedan that does a quarter mile in 11 seconds flat — faster than a Ferrari F12 — while carpooling the kids to school.
Any car that isn’t on a recall list. It has been a record year for recalls and it ain’t over yet. More than 56 million vehicles have been recalled through October. GM is responsible for more than half of them thanks to its massive ignition switch glitch. But it’s not just the General. Toyota has sent 5.5 million notices. Ford has recalled over 3.8 million vehicles — including 12 for its popular Escape crossover alone. Now comes the Takata air bag storm. Haven’t received a recall letter? You lucky dog.
Sergio Marchionne. The chain-smoking, sweater-wearing, Fiat-Chrysler philosopher-in-chief is must-see TV.
The odometer-resetting dash button. Electronic consoles have brought us wonders like Sirius/XM radio, phone apps and navigation systems. But some analog functions can’t be replaced.
Alfa Romeo. The Italian sexpot is back. The brand’s little roadster once defined the fun, affordable, care-free sports car after it starred as Dustin Hoffman’s ride in “The Graduate” waaaay back in 1967. Trouble is, Alfa sold little else of note and exited the U.S. market 30 years ago. It’s back this year with the rowdy, throaty 4C. Eight more models are planned in the next five years, meaning more bounty for our Thanksgiving table.
Uber drivers. The app revolution is transforming everything else. Why not taxi service?
Matthew McConaughey. Thanks to the “Interstellar” star’s bizarre, mumbling Lincoln MKC ads, we got brilliant parodies from Jim Carrey on SNL, Ellen Degeneres and Conan O’Brien.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.