Rubin: Putting a car precisely, anonymously on the mark

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

It’s one of those jobs you’d probably think you could do, if you knew it existed in the first place.

You’d be wrong, unless you’re actually one of those rare people who can drive a car onto a stage, time your trip to the beat of the music or the bleat of an announcer, ignore the pressure and the flash of cameras, and park in a precise spot with maybe a 1-inch margin of error.

Most of the people who can pull it off are stunt drivers. The 34-year-old who hit his mark precisely in a red 2017 Ford Fusion V6 Sport at Joe Louis Arena Monday morning is a second-generation racer.

You? Me?

Disaster. Or anyway, failure. Mess up a product launch at the North American International Auto Show and you’ve let the air out of a million-dollar marketing campaign before it’s even begun.

“It’s probably the hardest thing you can do that sounds easy,” says Arie Luyendyk Jr.

As for hard things that sound hard, consider the Phoenix resident’s other job, driving the Quicken Loans truck in a series known lyrically as the Speed Energy Formula Off-Road Presented by Traxxas.

In that role, he’ll blaze down a course during the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, flying off ramps and banging doors with other trucks in midair.

It’s sort of like being a bare-knuckle boxer by trade who repairs antique watches on the side.

If Luyendyk’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because his dad won the Indianapolis 500 twice. Or it could be because he just missed the checkered flag on “The Bachelorette,” hitting the metaphorical wall in the Season Eight finale.

Truth is, he says, “even people at Ford probably don’t know my background.”

They just know he used the handbrake to put a souped-up Mustang into a 180-degree slide at last year’s auto show, then nudged it up a ramp onto a turntable and stuck his mark exactly – a crucial bit of precision at a new car launch, because the spotlight is fixed in position and its beam is almost exactly the size of the vehicle.

He was speaking in the relative serenity of the Grand Prix display in the concourse at Cobo Center, where the auto show will open to the public Saturday.

It’s carpeted, unlike Joe Louis, where a sort of glassy cement surface makes a driver’s job even harder.

Rehearsals for Monday’s show started Thursday. You pick out some immobile marks like pillars or signs to use as gauges, he says, practice for hours, and trust that nobody messed with your seat, which would throw off your entire perspective.


VW is really,

really, truly sorry

Volkswagen CEO Matthais Muller apologized Monday morning for the company’s impressively nervy cheating on emissions tests for its diesel cars.

He had also apologized Sunday evening, and last week, another lord high executive apologized at a consumer electronics convention in Las Vegas.

“We’ll do that today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow … then we’ll be looking forward to a great future for Volkswagen,” Muller said.

There are no Jetta or Passat diesels at the VW exhibit. There will almost certainly be questions about them, and congenial product specialist Megan Staples of Novi says she has been instructed to direct any questioners to, where the first entry on the home page refers to the “TDI emissions issue.”

Fines will ultimately be levied by various United States agencies, and “scandal” seems to be running neck-and-neck with “Beetle” if you play word association with VW.

According to several overseas journalists, however, there’s less outrage across the ponds.

In a nation where VW is the leading manufacturer and diesels are commonplace, “We don’t have this issue because we don’t have the (emissions) regulations of the U.S.,” says Hernando Caloza of Autocosmos Argentina.

In Europe, says the Scotsman who directs, “it’s pretty much over.”

“The attitude is, ‘OK, you got caught with your pants down, let’s move on,’” Kyle Fortune explains.

Here, a few more mea culpas, a few whomping lawsuits from car buyers and more than a few large checks should put the whole thing gently to rest.