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TheCarConnection’s Year in Reverse


 

 

Paris Hilton on a scooter out of control, outdone only by James Gandolfini. Ford’s President (not that President Ford) busts a move to profitability; while Chrysler’s Dr. Z. attempts to create some media snowball and fails, despite being accidentally telegenic.

It was the year that was in cars – and damn if we’re not looking forward to more in 2007.

 

By now you’ve guessed correctly. This is indeed our Year in Reverse, where we recall fondly the year that was in the auto industry and collect some of its flotsam, with enough celebrity name-checks to get Google to pick us up higher in search results. (It’s all about the uniques, baby.) As you’ll recall – or for the less sentient, read for the first time - the compelling stories of 2006 like GM’s reorganization, Ford’s third or fifteenth Way Forward, and Chrysler’s long walk of shame back into the barrel, were bracketed by even more nonsensical nonsense, such as finding out GM spends more on Viagra in a year than it did on the Aztek’s funeral.

 

So flash back with us through the past year’s highs and lows, won’t you? We’ve put it together seasonally in Carole King fashion – winter, spring, summer, or fall, with a coda back into winter – and not monthly, in Neil Sedaka style. But bear with us – typing Britney twice has us a little confused right now.

WINTER

 

GM CEO Rick Wagoner

Multiple choice: Rick Wagoner is praying that a) he’s won valuable time from the UAW and Delphi on restructuring; b) the GM board of directors is blissfully unaware that he has a box of company Sharpies in his briefcase; c) J.J. Reddick has a fifth year of eligibility left.

 

TheCarConnection started the year, as usual, at the Detroit auto show. A safe bet would be 20 miles of walking during the three press days of the show, 3GB of photos, easily 10,000 words of copy and at least 36 hours of reporting, writing, editing and posting. The only complaint? Showing up in the same outfits as Cadillac’s stunning showgirls.

 

Later that week, the Associated Press reinforced two Southern stereotypes we’re personally trying to conquer when it reported that a snowfall of less than one inch in the stretch of I-64 between Virginia Beach and Williamsburg caused about 115 minor accidents, The other stereotype? We all shop at Piggly Wiggly.

 

With the winter doldrums firmly in place, we started up our Celebrity Car Deathwatch, in which we rebroadcast the lurid details of non-fatal car accidents caused by TV personalities, former beauty-pageant winners, and anyone ever nominated for a People’s Choice Award, which includes us. Kick-off comes when Shannen Doherty and her Range Rover mashed up in a non-lyrical way with a Mustang while turning on the Pacific Coast Highway . No injuries were reported, and hours of searching for Jell-O wrestling shots of the former 90210er were fruitless.

 

Our cup ranneth over when Googlicious Federfrau Britney Spears was nabbed by paparazzi driving away in her Lincoln Navigator with five-month-old son Sean Preston in her lap, not in a rear-mounted car seat. Spears naturally blamed the photographers and called it a “horrifying, frightful encounter,” though it was unclear whether she was referring to the incident or to her second mini-marriage.

 

Our monthly peek at “peak oil” found that some scientists still think the world is running out of oil. Duh! For accuracy’s sake, we decide to leave the headline running for the next 20 years since it’s changed so little in the past 30.

 

Prius backlash descended on the HOV lanes in California . Hybrid drivers get free use of the state’s HOV lanes, and its popularity began to crowd those lanes. California decided to commission a study on how popular hybrids might destroy the notion of the lanes, but not on how they are destroying the street cred of the former Terminator.

 

The New York Times woke us up when it reported a growing number of roadside arrests now involve prescription drug Ambien. Drivers have reported waking up with no knowledge of speeding, having been in accidents, or having purchased tickets to Madea’s Family Reunion.

 

Still at the movies, we prepared in earnest to be utterly charmed by Pixar’s Cars movie, even rewriting our Brokeback Mountain review to replace every instance of “gay cowboys” with the words “huggable animated cars.”

 

Dieter Zetsche took a stand against bribery at DaimlerChrysler. A less perturbed Volkswagen took allegations of company-paid hookers lying down.

 

Our Street Signs contest made a buzz on the AP wire, attracting the attention of news agencies around the world and sending our office manager into a paroxysm of overwork. We just like that word, paroxysm.

 

Then, as winter wound down, we learned of the only guy to saw an Enzo in half and then not try to stitch it back together. Stefan Eriksson wrecked his Enzo and the story kept getting weirder. First he was a gaming exec. Then, possibly, he was intoxicated. And potentially broke too. Only in Hollywood (okay, Malibu ) would the backstory be more interesting than the final product.

 

And as the irises peeked up in our mental flowerbeds, we sent a batch to the wake of Kimberly Du, the Iowa driver who faked her own death to avoid traffic court. Du, 36, cloned a page from the Des Moines Register’s Web site, filled her name in an obituary and forged her mother’s signature on a letter to a Polk County judge confirming she was “dead” from a car accident. Her alibi fell apart when she was pulled over for another traffic ticket in January, more than a month after her demise.

SPRING

 

Martha Stewart and Ed WelburnMartha Stewart has a close encounter with GM’s Ed Welburn, who gets paid well enough to take those kinds of personal risks.

 

With spring in the air, tennis came to mind – and like Land Rover, we fell in love all over again with Russian nymphet Maria Sharapova. The 18-year old 2004 Wimbledon champion and People Most Beautiful Person inked a deal to attend Land Rover events over a multiyear period – and dude, we totally met her at one! She’s awesome! I think I shook her hand too hard. I mean, it’s her career and all.

 

In the same vein, we found out that General Motors spends about $17 million a year on prescription coverage for erectile-dysfunction remedies like Viagra and Cialis, for the benefit of its insured workforce. GM, it turns out, is the world’s largest private purchaser of Viagra. All sorts of punchlines came across our desk - stiff penalties, managing from the top down – but we decided not to touch then with a ten-foot pole.

 

TheCarConnection toured the New York auto show and we were not left wanting. We applauded the organizers of the New York auto show for the utterly logical placement of both the Starbucks kiosk and the men’s rooms. You wanna talk synergy? There’s your synergy.

 

We learned that only about half of Nissan’s West Coast employees would make the move to the company’s new HQ in Nashville, Tenn., and decided there were two possible unintended consequences: former chief Jed Connelly would end up over at Toyota, or Kenny Chesney would get lunch and a lovely bouquet from Jim Morton for Secretary’s Day.

 

Then, we were repulsed to find out that William Bethel, 24, who had been pulled over for driving without proper inspection tags and without a valid license in his 1993 Buick, was also transporting bodies to the local morgue, according to TheSmokingGun.com. Bethel got $400 in fines for the tag and license problems. A creative solution to the Chinese versus pizza quandary, indeed.

 

HBO star James Gandolfini destroyed his persona off-camera by having a scooter accident. A scooter accident. An accident…on a…scooter.

 

On many trips to New Orleans , we encountered first-hand the estimated 50,000 cars and trucks ruined by Hurricane Katrina that had become an issue in the city’s mayoral race. Challenger Mitch Landrieu charged the Nagin administration with laxness in cleaning up the city – but Nagin laughed all the way to a second term as mayor of the newly reminted Chocolate City . The T-shirts alone are a scream.

 

Smart’s South African outpost told the world that it used “American Nothing.” Maybe not the right message for a brand about to march into showrooms? Blog Neandernews posted this pic of the billboard, which was later removed. Go, blogs!

 

And finally, things heated up in Detroit when notorious puddin’-stirrer Kirk Kerkorian sent a note to GM CEO Rick Wagoner that basically asked him to step aside and let Renault/Nissan fix the General. Wagoner, known for his tenacious defense, pretty much ignored the request except for a fancy Paris dinner.

SUMMER

 

phaeton Chrysler conceptTCC’s exclusive photographic evidence confirms that Honda’s Asimo robot had indeed attended the Duke lacrosse party in question. The Panamera has since filed charges.

In honor of Gay Pride month, TheCarConnection’s friendly and stylish neighbors at gaywheels.com told us that the Saturn Sky was the gayest car you could possibly buy. And you know what? We totally believed them.

Danica Patrick was outed as a female by ESPN announcer Ed Carpenter, who joked that Patrick could be a tough challenge on the track, “especially if you catch her at the right time of the month.” The poor bastard will probably be known forever now on ESPN as Ed Carpenter, Period. (For the record, Patrick herself laughed it off in a class act.)

 

The Sixties lived again in the summer. First, Zeppelin was canned as Cadillac’s theme music of choice (please tell us Dave Matthews has not gotten any calls from Modernista!). Then Dylan got his own car-songs show on XM. And completing the nearly-dead troika, Keith Richards had a speeding ticket waived in Arkansas. We felt a little like the last human alive in Dawn of the Dead.

 

Sex and the City matron Kim Cattrall appeared in a Nissan ad that raised smut-standard eyebrows in the South Pacific. The ads, including this one found on Aussie TV, featured lines like, “Why didn’t you tell me it was so big? I just wasn’t prepared for it!” Frankly, we hear that one all the time.

 

Ford’s downward spiral inspired us to pick our favorite rumor: 1) Ford will take the company private after selling off Credit, Jaguar and Land Rover; 2) Ford will form an alliance with Hyundai/Kia or Renault/Nissan; 3) Ford will stick by its turnaround plan and weather its product drought; 4) Ford will change its name to an unpronounceable symbol, move to Minneapolis and push out some lazy career filler for the rest of its days.

 

And over in Auburn Hills, Dieter Zetsche warmed up the airwaves as “Dr. Z.” Prince fans, warning: he’s not a current or former member of the Revolution. That was Bobby Z.

 

And as the summer faded, two highly hyped but ultimately untalented entities popped to the top of the car charts: the Detroit Lions and Paris Hilton. First, Joe Cullen, assistant coach with the Detroit Lions, was pulled over on August 24 and was ticketed for suspicion of indecent exposure and obscene conduct in his car. Then, sorta lovely Paris was pulled over for driving under the influence in Hollywood on Thursday morning after being spotted driving erratically. “Maybe I was speeding a little bit and I got pulled over. I was just really hungry and I wanted to have an In-N-Out burger,” Hilton told radio station KIIS-FM, subtly bitch-slapping her former employer, Carl’s Jr. Hilton has yet to be charged for failing sobriety tests—or for that matter, for crimes committed in the recording of that album.

 

FALL

 

2007 Jaguar XKRWe declared the XKR “slap-your-momma good.” And that, my friends, is the truth about cars.

 

What’s a little pot and mushrooms between friends? Okay, now multiply that by about 5 and throw in some Louisiana state police and Willie Nelson. The sitcom pilot practically writes itself.

 

The newly defanger Governator and his Golden State sued automakers, including Toyota and Honda, for damages stemming from greenhouse-gas emissions. Somewhat oddly, Taco Bell was not named to the suit.

 

Al-Qaida got its props at one Ohio car dealer when Keith Dennis of Dennis Mitsubishi declared that his sales team would be wearing burqas all weekend long and declared Friday “fatwah day,” complete with rubber swords for the kids. The Columbus Dispatch reported that several radio stations refused to air ads for the dealer, and also refused to get them another bag of peanuts and a seat-belt extended.

 

You’ve got to have faith in George Michael, but maybe you should do the driving? Michael repeatedly fell asleep at the wheel this year, and was found more than once by passers-by and police, who gently nudged the singer awake and took him in for the kind of booking no lounge act really wants. The Sun tabloid ran some really awful photos of Michael that reveal just how long it’s been since 1984 – you know, when CHOOSE LIFE wasn’t a Florida license plate?

 

Quentin Tarantino reached out from beyond the grave with the promise of a new flick, Death Proof, in which he directs Kurt Russell and Rosario Dawson (Rent) through the story of a stuntman who uses his musclecar to stalk and terrorize women on the streets of a fictional town. No joke here until we see it, okay?

 

After months of diddling around with meetings and such, GM and Renault/Nissan called off the grand alliance. GM said it would focus on its own recovery, while attention shifted to Ford, and we just got tired of all the merger talks and turned on Judge Judy.

 

Pope Benedict XVI“Here’s an extra ten euros. Make sure it’s washed and if there’s more than ten miles on it when I get back, I’m sending Sister Mister T after you.”

 

SEMA continued to vex us. Is it an important outlet for automakers and aftermarketers to meet and make nice, or is it just an excuse to take a HUMMER H2 and make it into a new Star Wars initiative? After days of wandering through the convention center, we give the TCC Award of Excellence (what, you missed the previous editions?) to the fleet-footed cabbie who whisked us away from SEMA, giving us a thumbnail on Las Vegas real estate market conditions as well as the quickest means to the Spearmint Rhino. Customer service, thy name is something we can’t pronounce.

WINTER

 

Mark FieldsIn a jet-lagged fit of pique, Mark Fields fell off-message and insisted that Ford had to “bust a move” back to profitability.

 

You know the rest, right? The world kept turning, 2006 kept slipping away from us, and the peak-oil theorists kept prattling on about how much of the slippery stuff we have left. Some experts said yes, the world has reached peak oil - and others say emphatically, no. We don't know one way or the other, but peak gas? Oh yeah. We got that.

 

Meanwhile, truckers reported that All roads to New Orleans are bumpy and badly maintained. But where else are you going to get Fiorella’s red beans and rice?

 

A poll reasoned that Americans have the best touring roads, up there with the Aussies and the Irish. It proves our point: 90 percent of tourists to the U.S. never step behind the "Barbecue Curtain" and have never experienced the sheer joy of I-20 through Little Rock . Bring an inflatable cushion.

 

First it was the Chinese we had to worry about. Now, Mahindra's planning on offering SUVs to Americans. The story remains the same though: most of us really want Tatas.

 

We're not sure whether the drag-donning West Palm Beach cops are doing it to be annoying or just so they can feel fabulous for a day. Either way, we know a Payless store that specializes in plus-size pumps. Call us, ladies!

 

And as we look ahead to 2007, all reports indicate it will be a stinky year for new car sales, with just 16.2 million units moving off dealer lots. Our prediction: Detroit ’s fairgrounds and other long-term parking lots will do a booming business.

 

At least someone in the car industry can get some love in the year ahead. The amorous Bruno wrote to us and basically wanted us to hook him up with a friend: "How can I get in touch with Mr. Ghosn? I have been looking for a man who is attractive and successful. If he is still looking for a partner *wink* I would like to meet him." Hey, it's a car news site, not Match.com! Although the editor does sort of look like Dr. Phil.

 
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