Posts Tagged Chrysler

Is Chrysler still “Imported from Detroit?”

2015 Chrysler 200SIt’s funny what advertising can do when it’s not superficial.

Three years ago, Chrysler launched a Superbowl ad titled “Imported From Detroit,” emphasizing the obvious parallels between the carmaker and the city.

While most Superbowl ads feature animals and hijinks, this one was almost inspiring, even if the car it was meant to sell–the 2011 Chrysler 200–was pretty terrible.

For a moment, it seemed like corporate America could sympathize with the rest of America, instead of just finding ways to avoid paying taxes.

However, in the car industry, things change quickly.

Chrysler has established a modicum of stability thanks to its merger with Fiat, revamping its lineup and even producing daring new models like the Dodge Dart and Jeep Cherokee.

Earlier this week, Chrysler unveiled the 2015 200 at the North American International Auto Show in–you guessed it–Detroit.

From Eminem’s purposeful stare in that 2011 ad, you’d think this would be a fulfilling moment, a sign that a city and a car company are climbing out of the pit of doom, together.

In reality, it was just another car unveiling. Journalists were impressed by the new 200’s sleek European styling and high-tech powertrain, but it’s a car divorced from its surroundings.

Detroit, on the other hand, is worse than ever. The city declared bankruptcy last year, and now everything from its art collection to its workers’ pensions seems to be up for grabs.

I wouldn’t want to take a drive through Detroit in the 2015 Chrysler 200. I’d be afraid of getting car-jacked.

Of course, the solidarity depicted in Chrysler’s 2011 Superbowl ad was just an illusion; all advertisement is illusion. Still, it’s not easy to watch corporate fortunes rebound faster than civic fortunes.

Chrysler still has a long way to go to secure its future, but only its investors will be unhappy if progress doesn’t continue.

Corporations can (and do) fluctuate. Cities can’t afford to.

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Are you happy, Mitt Romney?

Well, it’s finally happened. Even the unlikely tag team of Eminem and Clint Eastwood, equipped with an unlimited supply of Chryslers, couldn’t stop Detroit from going bankrupt.

The fact that the Motor City is filing for Chapter 9 protection isn’t too surprising, but the fact that things were allowed to get this bad is.

Many factors contributed to Detroit’s decline: the globalization of the auto industry, a shrinking tax base, and corrupt city management. The result is a city that doesn’t just look like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it is one.

Detroit has become a city fit for the Road Warrior. Hundreds of buildings are abandoned, authorities can’t even afford to keep all of the streetlights on, and a major international border crossing is owned by some random guy.

How did people let things get this bad? When the photos of eerily abandoned buildings started showing up online, why was no one motivated to do anything? When reports showed that Detroit citizens were waiting almost an hour for police to respond to 911 calls, why was no one shocked that something like this was happening in the United States of America?

Of course, people have thought about it. There have been so many urban renewal projects proposed for Detroit that Popular Mechanics once collected them into a lengthy cover story. Titled “Detroit 2025” it proposed redeveloping the city around its waterfront and building an epic curved bridge to Canada.

However, like most things featured in Popular Mechanics, none of this is anywhere near happening. That would require motivation and money, two things Detroit, and the rest of the country, is short on.

Instead, Detroit is down to weighing the costs and benefits of more basic things, like it’s employees’ pensions.

Saving a city isn’t easy, but it’s still surreal that the story of Detroit is an American story. Who could imagine a city in this great country being reduced to sacrificing basic services, and the contract it made with its employees, just to put together some cash?

This scenario doesn’t require imagination anymore. Maybe it’s finally time for someone to do something.

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Space: Whose final frontier?

SpaceX Falcon 9 launchSpace may be the final frontier, but it’s already commercial. SpaceX’s privately launched capsule began its journey to the International Space Station on Tuesday, becoming the first of its kind. Space exploration started out as the mother of all public-private partnerships but, at least in the United States, the private sector seems to be leaving the government behind.

Seeing someone take an interest in space exploration is encouraging, but it’s just not the same without NASA taking the lead. Some might say that it doesn’t matter: if the private sector can do something better than the government, why waste taxpayers’ money? The ends should be the most important goal, so as long as someone is going into space, it should not matter whether they are a government agency or a private corporation.

SpaceX seems like a major change in the way we explore space, but private companies have been involved from the beginning. Who do you think built the rockets? NASA may have run all previous space missions but, like any other government project, the hardware was produced by the private sector. The Redstone booster that launched America’s first astronauts was built by Chrysler; the Mercury capsule was built by McDonnell.

So why not cut out the middleman? Couldn’t private interests use their own resources more effectively? Not really. SpaceX will continue doing what it does as long as Elon Musk and his small cadre of investors have money to pour into it, and are still interested in going into space.

That is why government involvement in space is so important. Where private companies only have their investors’ interests in mind, governments have an entire nation’s. SpaceX has shown what a small company full of dedicated techies can do, but imagine what several corporations, striving toward one goal, could do. At one time, such a collaboration was able to get men to the Moon.

There is also the matter of money. In the end, private corporations need to turn a profit in order to exist, and sometimes that takes precedent over everything else. The future depicted in Star Trek is very appealing, but what corporation would want to fund Starfleet? Will space travel be more like the universe of Alien, where the Weyland-Yutani Corporation only operates spaceships for the sake of harvesting otherworldly resources?

Launching privately-operated spacecraft is better than not launching any, but mankind should not settle. The United States should go into space on its on terms, not the terms of a handful of wealthy investors. Government leadership and private resources has worked so far, there is no reason why private interests need to go it alone now. A lack of conviction is no reason to trade the Enterprise for the Nostromo.

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Other People’s Cars: Peugeot Bipper

This past summer, I visited London and Paris. Most travelers look for something quintessentially European in the food, language, or other cultural markers of the countries they visit. I was more interested in the cars.

There are many differences between the cars Londoners drive and the ones in the United States. Most of them are diesel powered and a Buick Regal is called a Vauxhall Insignia, for example. One thing I didn’t realize, though is how different their commercial vehicles are.

On the first day in London, I walked out of my hotel and saw this little bugger. It’s a Peugeot Bipper, a tiny van with a 1.4 liter engine and a manual transmission. Fiat and Citroen make identical versions, and Renault has a similar-sized offering of its own.

The Bipper (whose idea was that?) is about the size of a small hatchback; it seems like it’s too small to be of any use. Nonetheless, London and Paris are crawling with these things. Top Gear may have declared the larger Ford Transit king of British commercial vehicles, but I didn’t see nearly as many of them.

That makes sense, too, because European streets are tiny. London’s streets are only about half as wide as the ones in an American city, and they are constantly jammed with traffic. A compact, nimble vehicle is the only way to get around; I wouldn’t want to drive through central London in a Ford E-Series. Paris is even worse: most streets are barely wide enough to park on.

That isn’t the case in the U.S., and that’s why tiny vans like the Bipper were so novel to me. Other than the Ford Transit Connect and minivan-based Ram Cargo Van, American vans only come in one size: big. The standard size involves V-8 power and enough room in back for a medium-sized person to stand up.

However, big size means big inefficiency. In these times of austerity and environmental awareness, Americans might want to take a page from Peugeot and company. When your electrician leaves for work, is his E-Series filled to the brim with tools? When your local bakery delivers a wedding cake, does it fill an entire Chevy Express?

Probably not, and that’s where compact vans come in. Ford had the right idea when it introduced the Transit Connect: buyers deserve more choice. A full-size van could be overkill sometimes, and they’re still pretty difficult to maneuver through city streets.

Fiat makes a copy of the Bipper, called the Fiorino. Since the Italian company is allied with Chrysler, and back in the U.S., maybe we’ll be able to buy these micro-vans soon. They could really save money and generate CAFE points.

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