The Klingons were right to believe that life isn’t much without glory, and there’s not much glory in reassessing things after the fact.
Take Thomas Friedman’s seminal globalization text The Lexus & The Olive Tree. Friedman chose a Japanese luxury car as a representative of all things modern because, when he wrote the book, it looked like Japan was going to take over the world.
Friedman was blown away by the robots that assembled each Lexus, because after installing and caulking a windshield, they would spin around to allow a well-placed knife to slice off the residue. It’s the little things, I suppose.
The Japanese car industry’s dominance went beyond its products’ well-sealed windshields. When it debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1989, the Lexus LS400 was a revelation: a car with the luxury of a Mercedes-Benz, and the durability of Keith Richards.
As a kid, I remember the adults around me being very impressed when a friend or relative drove up in a Lexus. This was the mid 1990s; Lexus had been around for less than 10 years, and it was already a byword for exclusivity.
Then there was the Acura NSX, which whipped a Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, Lotus Esprit Turbo SE, Porsche 911 Carrera 4, and Ferrari 348 in a 1991 Car and Driver comparison test, among others.
It seemed like Japan would ruin everything by being too good, but reality turned out to be a lot less dramatic.
Japanese cars are still big sellers in the United States, but they compete with reinvigorated American and European makes, as well as a couple from Korea. Plus, many of them are actually built here.
As Motor Trend editor at large angus Mackenzie noted in a recent column, Japan is now just one of many competitive nations in the automotive world.
Just look at the most recent Lexus LS 460hL: it’s a nice car, but it’s no longer a leader. While Japan continues to excel in other areas of the automotive sphere, it doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of analysts any more.
The media has a tendency toward sensationalism that doesn’t seem to ebb no matter how many times people are wrong.
There’s been plenty of hysteria over the past few years that China would take over the world economy because of its rapid growth, and its government’s tendency to borrow the most convenient bits from capitalism and totalitarianism.
But are things really that bad? China is already starting to show the strains of unlimited industrialization, so maybe we’re not doomed after all.
“Not doomed” doesn’t sound as exciting as an apocalypse, though. Or a car-building robot.