Episode 85: Infiltrating the Auto Show II
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Aaron: Just a quick heads up for sensitive listeners: we kind of cussed a lot in this episode. There’s some strong language, so just be aware.
Aaron: This is The War on Cars. I’m Aaron Naparstek, and with me are my co-hosts, Sarah Goodyear and Doug Gordon.
Sarah Goodyear: Hey there.
Doug Gordon: Hello.
Aaron: How’s it going?
Doug: You know, it’s going.
Aaron: You guys had a big mission this week.
Sarah: Yeah, it was really exciting. I felt a sense of renewed purpose after this mission.
Doug: We should tell our listeners what this mission was.
Aaron: Yeah. So Sarah and Doug have just returned from the 2022 New York International Auto Show. We infiltrated, we dropped them in out of choppers and they snuck in.
Doug: Yup. Got in, out. I was like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, dangling from the ceiling. It was great.
Sarah: Yeah, I was, like, crawling underneath the laser beams, like, you know.
Sarah: Yeah, it was great.
Aaron: And you made it out. That’s the most important thing. They didn’t catch you.
Doug: They let us out. Nor was I escorted out by security, so that’s a win.
Aaron: And we—all three of us got The War on Cars press credentials. I feel like that’s the most amazing thing. That shows their overconfidence, actually, that they’re willing to give The War on Cars press credentials.
Doug: Or it just shows it’s like a robot. You just send an email and they print out. I don’t know. Yeah, I’m really actually surprised. We had a lot of conversations before about would our press credentials show up, and then one by one they did. So wow!
Sarah: Yeah. And I’m seriously considering framing the actual piece of paper that says “International Auto Show. Sarah Goodyear, The War on Cars.” It’s pretty good stuff.
Aaron: Yeah. I still have my 2019 press credential hanging from the bulletin board. I can’t get rid of it. I moved offices and I was like, “Should I get rid of it? No.”
Doug: Keeping it forever.
Sarah: Yes. So you’ve been there before, Aaron.
Aaron: I was there. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it this year. It’s such a weird, interesting event for—you know, especially for us with what we cover. Kind of fascinating, but also extremely unpleasant.
Doug: I was a little overwhelmed. It felt like adult Epcot Center, but not in the fun way. I don’t know. It was just strange to me.
Sarah: I guess for me, there were all these attempts at creating these environments within the environment. You know, each display is trying to do its own thing. And I just kept feeling like it was all so flimsy. Like, you could just knock over this thing, and then you would realize this is just a big empty shell.
Doug: Metaphor alert.
Sarah: [laughs] Yeah.
Aaron: It’s funny. I got the feeling the last time I was there, especially afterwards when I left, the same kind of feeling that I get whenever I’m in a casino: just this kind of like blitzed out, sort of spacey, a little bit nauseous feeling of just like, you’ve been in this overstimulating environment that is designed to kind of distract and trick you.
Doug: I think the casino metaphor is good because, first of all, it was at the Javits Center, which if our listeners don’t know it’s on the west side of Manhattan, it’s the massive convention center. And when you walk in, it’s this beautiful—well, I don’t know if people would call it beautiful, but it’s this I.M. Pei–designed building with lots of windows and lots of light coming through, except for when you then descend into the actual convention space where there are no windows, and like a casino, no clocks. The only difference is less cigarette smoke, I guess.
Aaron: Yeah. And did anyone give you guys second looks about The War on Cars press passes? Were there any issues with that?
Doug: Yeah, so I probably should say that—so we obviously went with our recording kits, and I had a rule that I wouldn’t record anyone until I had their permission to record. If I had just kept my recorder on, you would have heard a few different reactions when I said I was with The War on Cars. You would have heard, like, “Oh, wow. Great!” And then people walk away. You would have heard people say, “Yeah, let me go get someone for you who can talk to you.” And then I just stand there like an idiot. Or you just would have heard nothing because it was people who looked at our nametags and were like, “Oh, okay,” and then, like, turned around.
Sarah: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s important to say that the people that we talked to, the people that I talked to, I did tell them who I was and where I was from. And, you know, these people are people who they’re just doing their jobs. So many of them are, you know, not making decisions about this kind of stuff at all. So I’d like our listeners to extend some grace and compassion to the people who were trapped inside this casino for however many days.
Doug: Aaron’s looking at us like, “No. Fuck these people. Fuck these people.”
Aaron: Okay, we’ll have grace and compassion for the auto industry. But first, let’s get a word from our sponsor.
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Aaron: Okay, so before we get to the specific displays for auto brands and the people you talked to, let’s just set the scene for us. What’s the atmosphere here?
Sarah: The first thing you notice, frankly, is how loud it is. There’s tires squealing, there’s people talking, there’s—it’s a very loud environment, which is not surprising because …
Aaron: It’s cars.
Sarah: It’s cars, yeah.
Doug: I think I had mentioned it felt like an adult Epcot Center.
Doug: The casino comparison also. You know, there was a Jeep thrill ride of sorts outside where you could climb up this 45-degree angle and go down with a professional driver. There was expensive whiskey at the Infiniti booth, fancy coffee somewhere near the Ford booth. Lots of food available. And Nissan had this spot where you could assemble bags of trail mix, you know, for the outside.
Aaron: I hope you guys filled your pockets.
Doug: I didn’t.
Sarah: I actually didn’t. I was worried it was kind of like going down into Hades, that if you ate while you were there, you might never be able to leave.
Doug: Maybe they’d slip something in our drinks, right? I don’t know. You know, church and state.
Aaron: Good journalistic ethics, guys.
Doug: We were journalists this day. But Sarah, amidst all of this confusion, I did see you testing out something to get a bit of, I don’t know, Zen relaxation.
Sarah: Yes. I found a place to get away from it all. Infiniti was displaying its new QX60, which is one of those names of a car, like what is that even?
Doug: A Star Wars droid, I think.
Sarah: [laughs] And they were touting the acoustic properties, how quiet it is. And, you know, it’s all part of this idea that cars can offer us peace and refuge, and be a kind of refuge from the world. And they had an isolation booth that you could go into as—it was like a chance to take a break, which I took advantage of pretty much as soon as I got there. [laughs]
Sarah: How quiet can it get? Let’s listen. Okay, there’s a screen in here. “A moment of quiet. Touch screen to begin.” I’m gonna sit down, make myself comfortable. It’s a beautiful landscape filled with mist, mountains, flowers. Forest with a stream going through it. There’s some beautiful flowers in here as well. Butterfly on a flower.
Aaron: So you guys know my mom produces guided imagery meditation audio programs?
Doug: Sign Sarah up.
Aaron: Sarah, you could take over the company.
Sarah: This is my audition reel right here.
Aaron: Belleruth Naparstek, move over.
Aaron: You’re good at this.
Sarah: I’m glad I finally found …
Doug: The Sarah Goodyear Meditation Hour, brought to you by Infiniti.
Sarah: [laughs] Yeah. Automobiles, so peaceful and quiet. So known for the serenity that they bring to our streets and our lives.
Aaron: But I feel like it’s apt that that’s where you started, because in a way this is what they’re selling, right? They’re selling that interior space. When you have a car in the big, noisy, chaotic, traffic-choked city, the whole advantage of that car is you’ve essentially annexed this bubble of peaceful space for yourself, regardless of what’s happening on the outside.
Doug: So, Sarah, I was still kind of getting the lay of the lands. And then you went over to the smell test at the Nissan booth. Can you explain what that was?
Sarah: Well, there was this really nice person there who said she was a “smellmeister” for Nissan. Or scentmeister, I guess.
Doug: The scentmeister! I mean, this is like old SNL stuff. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. Anyway.
Sarah: And she honestly was the nicest person. I did tell her I was from The War on Cars, and she looked around for someone to appeal to.
Aaron: Save her.
Sarah: And then she’s like, “I think I should ask if I should talk to you. Oh, okay. I’ll talk to you.” Because there was nobody for her—there was nobody to approve that. So she did talk to me. So there were these little jars that—I had to close my eyes so I wasn’t cheating, and she would open them up and I would guess what the smell was that was in the jar.
Sarah: That’s like a pine or balsam?
Scentmeister: It’s a cedar.
Sarah: Okay. All right. Close. Close.
Scentmeister: Very close. Very good. Yeah. So you’re out for your adventure. There’s all these trees around here, getting the smells. You’ve got your windows down.
Sarah: That’s like a—that’s pine?
Scentmeister: Yeah. So it’s a pine sawdust.
Scentmeister: So when you’re out there, you’re camping, you’re chopping wood for your fire. You’ve got your sawdust out there that smells like your campfire. Last one.
Sarah: That’s dirt.
Scentmeister: That is dirt. So that’s pretty self-explanatory.
Sarah: You don’t have the car smell, though.
Scentmeister: Yeah. So the car smell’s right here.
Sarah: Okay. All right. I guess I’ll have to go check that out.
Scentmeister: Take a smell.
Sarah: All right.
Aaron: What is the point? Why?
Doug: Nissan had, like, a very nature-themed thing. There was a lot of, like, fake dirt and grass on the ground. But we did post this to Twitter: they also had simulated city streets, and they had parked a bunch of their cars in crosswalks.
Sarah: [laughs] It was all very realistic.
Doug: It was incredible.
Sarah: Yeah. And there was also, like, in the Nissan display, I think there was, like, a raccoon cut out, like a raccoon kind of coming out from behind a rock.
Aaron: Come on!
Doug: Before you run it over.
Sarah: It was very much, you know, this idea, which is heavily, heavily promoted in ads these days. I mean, it’s a real, real theme for these vehicles is like, you can get out into nature in these cars.
Doug: I mean, that’s always been the pitch for automobiles since the very beginning, when wealthy people were the first people to basically own them. It was: get out of the filth of the city and go for a ride in the country on a parkway, right? That was the original promise. So they’ve never really lost that. But Sarah, I want to know, did you actually go and smell the car? I didn’t see you at that point.
Sarah: I’m very diligent about these things, and I did need to smell the car.
Sarah: I’m gonna get in the car and I’m gonna smell it. Yeah, it definitely smells like a car.
Aaron: So while Sarah was having her senses tickled and her Zen experience in the peaceful bubble of the car, Doug, you were getting an entirely other type of sensory experience.
Doug: Yeah, that experience was rage and aggression. So I was standing around for a while by the Ford display, where they were showing off the new 2022 Ford Bronco Raptor, which is ginormous. Like, the-last-thing-you-see-before-you-die big. Huge!
Aaron: It’s also a very weird, mixed metaphor.
Aaron: A bird—a bird-horse? A horse-bird?
Doug: A dinosaur that’s mated with a horse. A bird of prey. Right, it’s—yeah, let’s just combine the animals. Fuck it, right? Anyway, this thing was so big, it’s over seven feet wide. It probably barely fits into a parking spot at the mall with enough room for you to open the door without hitting the car next to you. It was six and a half feet tall. Sarah, did you see Boomer Esiason? He was standing by there, the former …
Sarah: I did.
Aaron: The actual quarterback was there?
Doug: Yeah, from the Cincinnati Bengals.
Sarah: Yeah, I saw him, but I didn’t know who he was. But I knew he was important because lots of people were following him around.
Doug: I looked this up. He’s 6’5″, and this car is taller than he is. It’s about six and a half feet tall.
Aaron: Wow! Wow!
Doug: It weighs more than 5,700 pounds. It had huge tires that were sticking out wider than the body of the car itself. Like, total murder machine kind of material. I was not happy looking at this thing.
Sarah: It was a scary item. I mean, it was definitely—it looked like it was designed to freak you out.
Doug: And so I did speak to someone from Ford, Jian Cadiz, who is a communications manager, all about this massive car.
Doug: So yeah, tell me about—this is the Raptor, the 2022 Raptor?
Jian Cadiz: So that’s right. So first time New York Auto Show appearance, the ’22 Ford Bronco Raptor is here. We obviously just debuted this in January. It’s our Bronco built wild to the extreme. Everything about this is meant for high-speed desert off-road, at the same time extreme rock crawling. We don’t compromise either way. We like to say that it’s Ultra4-inspired, just like the Ultra4 race trucks you might see out in the Southwest. King of hammers might be—would be the one that most people think about. That’s what it’s inspired by. And it’s just kind of that extra boost of adrenaline. Every shape, every sense of the word for Bronco is the Bronco Raptor.
Doug: Tell me about these tires, because they’re massive.
Jian Cadiz: Sure. So you’re right. You know, if you’re gonna be jumping your Bronco Raptor, you’re gonna need some big tires as well. And these are 37-inch BFGoodrich G8 tires. Largest SUV tire right now on the market. That’s 37. You know, the average car’s maybe high-20s at best. So this is 37. It’s massive. And so this gives you extreme grip, not only just across desert sand. Again, we need to be able to make sure that Broncos can rock crawl as well. One of the things that’s key for us is that Broncos need to go over all terrain, and obviously these 37-inch tires help us achieve that.
Doug: So I’m 5’8″. So that’s essentially almost half my height, basically. You know, so full disclosure, you know, our podcast is about sort of cars and their effect on people and cities. And, you know, it’s great if someone wants to go off-roading, go to a park where this is allowed. But, like, if someone’s driving and it’s in the city, you know, the hood of this thing comes up to my shoulders. Like, what considerations are given to the people who might be outside of the car, as opposed to just the person who wants to go sort of with that extreme experience?
Jian Cadiz: Sure, of course. You know, one of the things that we do at Ford, it doesn’t matter if it’s our Ford GT, the Bronco or F-Series, right? America’s best-selling truck. Safety matters, right? Safety is priority, always priority number one. And of course, you’re absolutely right. Here in Manhattan, safety matters because there’s so many pedestrians in front. There’s—you know when we design, we design for pedestrian protection. That also includes what is that kind of the front face of the vehicle. And so yes, that is something we absolutely take into account when we’re designing. Again, this is a large vehicle. Yeah, you’re right. It maybe isn’t quote “City size,” but we also know that it can function very well here in the city, just like a lot of the bigger SUVs you see around town. You know, you’re not gonna have any issues with some of the potholes and metal plates and stuff around the Manhattan roads.
Aaron: I mean, look, it’s actually quite upsetting, because these are the vehicles that are gonna be on your streets in your city, in your town, in your suburb, in your shopping mall. You know, there’s some small number of people who are gonna use their Bronco Raptor to go climbing rocks in Utah or wherever, but this is really just—this is what people are gonna be using to take their kids to soccer and to go pick up groceries at Costco. And these vehicles are so inappropriate. It’s such a bad tool for personal transportation, and it’s so dangerous to everyone outside of the car. It’s really, really—I mean, I hate to be so earnest, but it just bothers the hell out of me.
Sarah: [laughs] It’s okay to be earnest.
Doug: It’s true, it’s true. We’re an earnest podcast. It’s fine.
Sarah: No, but it is. And, like, even in the name, right? Because the Bronco brand, obviously it’s a Bronco, it’s a Western thing, it’s the kind of freedom of the great outdoors or whatever. But then they felt compelled to add the “Raptor” concept, which is—I mean, it’s a killer.
Aaron: A bird of prey.
Sarah: A killer is what it is.
Aaron: Or a dinosaur. A Tyrannosaurus rex.
Sarah: Yeah. It’s something that kills things.
Doug: I was really struck by what he said towards the end where he said it maybe isn’t quote-unquote “City size.” Quote unquote “City size.” But we also know that it can function very well here in the city, just like a lot of the bigger SUVs you see around town. And so I think there’s this sort of sense that, oh, our vehicle isn’t out of place. It’s only just a little bigger than the other cars that are out there, and they all do this. So they’re all kind of pointing to the other car companies and saying, “Yeah, well, they’re making big cars, so we’re gonna make big cars.” And the cars just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
Aaron: I thought you did a great job with it, Doug. I mean, these kind of potentially hostile interviews aren’t easy to do. And I thought that his response to your question about the people outside the car was really interesting. He said of course, you know, safety’s priority number one, and we design for pedestrian safety in the way that we sort of style the front face of the vehicle, which was a really strange response, I thought.
Doug: Right. And I asked him about that.
Doug: You talked about the front face but, like, can you talk about, like, what does this convey? You know, I always feel like we’re all so used to, like, cartoon versions of cars where the headlights are eyes. Like, what do you think this conveys to someone?
Jian Cadiz: So one of the cool things, first and foremost, obviously, this is—this nods back to the original first generation Bronco from 1966 to 1977. Very classic, rectangular-shaped grille with two circular lamps. And obviously that’s true here today in the 2022 Bronco Raptor. Again, it’s very authentic. It’s very purposeful. There’s nothing here that’s, you know, for no other reason other than to help it perform off-road. We’ve kept it very clean in a very modern way. But what’s also cool—and you want to speak about character—this thing is extremely aggressive. It’s menacing looking and it’s in-your-face, 100 percent in your face. Look at how flat the front of this is, right? The bumper’s really not sticking out a whole lot. But at the same time, we’ve taken the fenders that were 9.8 inches wider than the standard Bronco. Talk about shoulder. Like, this thing looks, like, super capable, super stable. And it needs to be. For high speed off road, you need that stability. And it’s—so again, it’s not just to look beefy, it needs to be beefy for that stability, especially if you’re doing jumps.
Doug: Right. So on the one hand, he’s saying we’ve designed for pedestrian protection, and they have all the camera tech that all of these cars have. But at the same time, he’s saying, yeah, look at this thing. It’s got, like, a totally flat front, that if it hit you would hit you like a battering ram and just knock you over and crush you. It isn’t actually designed for pedestrian safety in the physical shape of the car at all. In fact, it’s designed to look as threatening and awful as possible.
Sarah: But, you know, when he says it looks menacing, I mean, I guess you could spin that as pedestrian safety because you see it coming and you know I’d better scurry out of the way because that thing is going to kill me. So maybe, you know, truth in advertising, right?
Aaron: Yeah. One way to save the pedestrians is to just scare them away.
Aaron: So they don’t want to be outside around your car.
Sarah: Yeah, that could work.
Aaron: When Jian says they’re trying to nod back to the original first generation of Bronco, I mean, I don’t know about you guys, but my association with the Ford Bronco is 1994, O.J. Simpson in a white Ford Bronco trying to escape the murder of his wife on live TV in front of millions of people.
Sarah: Did you ask Jian about that, Doug?
Doug: [laughs] I did not bring up O.J. Simpson.
Aaron: He wasn’t there as a spokesmodel?
Doug: No, no, no.
Sarah: Next time.
Aaron: They should get him in there. They should get him in there.
Doug: What’s he doing these days? Sure.
Aaron: The Bronco Raptor, O.J. Edition. Perfect. Really sends the message.
Sarah: All right. But that wasn’t the only aspect of auto aggression that you confronted, was it, Doug?
Doug: There were seemingly a lot of contradictions in what he was saying, that on the one hand, we’ve designed for pedestrian safety, but it’s menacing and it’s got this flat front. So I was pretty proud of myself, actually for this next question.
Doug: So can I ask you, like, a sort of maybe philosophical question? We’re talking about how the front of this is really aggressive, in your face, but at the same time, the use case you’re talking about for this car is, like, solo desert, rock crawling sort of driving. So why would it matter what the outside of the car looks like if it’s meant to be used in a place where no one’s gonna see you except, you know, you inside the car?
Jian Cadiz: Well, I think, you know, it matters a lot, because one of the cool things—and obviously Bronco, we would say when we debuted it, the initial Bronco family, it became quite a cultural moment. People who were not even into vehicles were excited about Bronco or heard about this Ford Bronco coming back. And so that’s more than just the name, it’s the authenticity. Its styling does represent an era, definitely at Ford, where some of the best ideas came from, and at the same time, some of the most original ideas. At the time you had, like, the Willys Jeep, you had the International Scout. And both of those vehicles were very utilitarian. When Ford Bronco came out in ’66, yeah, utilitarian and can go off-road, but it did it comfortably and at a speed that was quicker than its competitors. Almost like the reverse of the Mustang for the off road back in ’66. And again, that kind of resonates today. We’re high speed off road. Our aesthetic is original and true to form, just like it was in ’66. And people like that. It’s very honest in its style.
Aaron: There were two interesting things there to me. One was the way in which Jian is so open about the menacing nature of the vehicle. Like, this is not a thing to be embarrassed about or a thing to hide. It is—that’s the sales pitch. And two, this kind of—the big new idea is hearkening back to 1966. You know, make Ford great again. It’s nostalgia.
Doug: Part of the weird thing, and Sarah you might have had this experience, too. I felt a little nervous talking to these guys because there is an urge, I think, for advocates to probably want to go to this and be like, “Fuck you guys! You’re killing the planet! Quit your job”! But these guys are not gonna be like, “Hmm. You’ve really made me think today. I’m going to, you know, quit my job and go volunteer at, like, a charity.” They’re not gonna do that. So I found that just letting them talk, this stuff would just come out. And yeah, you’re right. Like, it’s menacing, it’s aggressive, it’s in your face. This just came out of his mouth. Like, he doesn’t think about the implications of what that means for anyone other than the person buying and operating the car.
Sarah: Speaking of advocates, you know, advocates for safer streets have really been focused on a particular car: the Dodge Charger. And you went and talked to the people who were showing off the Dodge Charger, right, Doug?
Doug: Yeah. I spoke with a product manager for Charger named Justin Chiswick. He was accompanied by a man named Darren—I didn’t get his last name—who appeared more senior than him and was sort of like his handler, I guess. Again, I should say that a lot of people listening to this probably would have wanted me to really give Dodge the what for.
Aaron: Spill a bucket of blood on Justin?
Doug: Yeah, basically. You know, thrown myself across the hood of the car or something. But part of what I wanted to do was just see how much I could get out of them. I also just didn’t want to be escorted out by security or have the interview cut short. So here’s what I talked about with Justin of Dodge.
Doug: Full disclosure. I’m with a podcast, don’t be afraid. It’s called The War on Cars.
Justin Chiswick: Oh, The War on Cars. Okay.
Doug: Yeah, so don’t run off. I will tell you, some people have. You guys are braver than most.
Justin Chiswick: I am not afraid to talk about our products, you know?
Doug: Good, good, good. So if you had to explain, like, who’s the typical—tell me what we’re looking at right here. Let’s start with that.
Justin Chiswick: Sure. So the vehicle in front of us is our Challenger Scat Pack, Hemi Orange, which is a new what we call buzz model, right? And essentially, this was new-for-’22 model year. It’s available on both Charger and Challengers. And not just Scat Pack trims. You can actually get this package on GT rear wheel drive as well. So essentially what you’re looking at here is an appearance package. It’s called Hemi Orange because of all the orange accents that are on it. And that hemi orange kind of goes back to how we paint our engine blocks, the hemi blocks, orange, right? So we’ve taken those orange accents and we’ve added them to the exterior of the car in a couple of ways. One is the brake calipers, right?
Doug: Yup. I see the orange poking through.
Justin Chiswick: First thing you do when you look down at this car, you see the really big six pop Brembo brake calipers up front, wrapped by our warp speed low-gloss black wheel. Really nice on this Scat Pack. And this is on the wide body, right? So it’s 11-inch wide wheel. Then a little bit more orange. You get it on the 392 badge, which comes on the fender, and also the grille badge. Now, I don’t know about you, but I look at this grille badge and I say, “Man, does that make a statement or what?”
Doug: All right. So what kind of statement do you think that it makes?
Justin Chiswick: I’m here to rule the road.
Doug: [laughs] Yeah. So it’s a little long. Justin’s going on about the features of the car, but, boom, “I’m here to rule the road.”
Sarah: Doug, I love how you keep telling them how brave they are because you were the brave one here. [laughs]
Doug: I was nervous as hell. I was so nervous.
Aaron: But also, it’s like, you must think you’re really scary.
Doug: I mean, you know …
Aaron: “These guys are terrified of me.”
Doug: Yes. 5’8″, Jewish Doug Gordon. The most threatening person at the auto show.
Sarah: Well, but I mean, look, what we’re thinking that they’re gonna be scared of is the name of our podcast, The War on Cars. Because why do we think that? Because people in their camp spend a lot of time saying how scared they are of the war on cars, right? And that’s why the name of the podcast is The War on Cars. So I guess maybe they’re not quite so scared as they say they are.
Aaron: Isn’t it interesting? Like, so you’re asking this guy about the car, and the stuff that he’s talking about, it’s just kind of gibberish, you know? It really is like the orange brembo brake calipers, like the Scat Pack. It’s got its whole own language to it.
Doug: I think the Scat Pack is like, if you’re worried you have colon cancer, you can send that little sample to your doctor and they send it to a lab. I’m not sure.
Sarah: But seriously, it’s not even—the first thing he goes to isn’t even anything about performance or—you know, it’s just about the way it looks. It’s about all these arcane details of the styling and the sort of accessories. I guess …
Doug: Well, those things are probably really important to the average auto show attendee. They’re not important to us. I don’t give a shit what the car looks like, whether it’s orange, pink, black. I just don’t care. I don’t care about the brake calipers. It’s a nice-looking car. I mean, as a work of art, as a work of engineering, it’s a beautiful-looking car. But obviously that’s not what I was there to elicit from him. I was there to kind of find out what he meant by “Rule the road.”
Doug: You’re here to rule the road. But okay, so I’m with The War on Cars, and I take a different perspective, which is that I am here to be one of many people who is on the road sharing it. So, like, how do we justify or reconcile our two positions?
Justin Chiswick: Oh, man, that’s a tough one.
Doug: This is a phil—I went right to the philosophical very fast.
Justin Chiswick: Oh, man. You hit me with a heavy one.
Justin Chiswick: So let me just understand so I know your position. You’re saying that we all rule the—we should all be on the road and share it. Is that what you’re saying?
Doug: Well, like, okay, so, like, when you say …
Justin Chiswick: I just want to make sure I’m not speaking out of context.
Doug: Oh, no, no, no. And I appreciate you playing along. You know, so, like, the Dodge position is you rule the road, right? Like, you’re out there to make a statement.
Justin Chiswick: We’re out there to make a statement, right? You know, like, we are America’s kind of performance brand.
Justin Chiswick: Right? And so we’re going to play to those strengths. Now you look at these cars, and they do make a bold statement, right? That’s the reason why we won Kelley Blue Books exterior styling award this year, right? And a myriad of other awards in previous years. It’s because these cars do make a statement right? And they do draw attention on the road. I’ll tell you, every time I drive one, I’m always getting people looking at me or trying to race me, even though I’m just trying to go out for a cruise, right?
Doug: [laughs] Is that drivers of other Dodge?
Justin Chiswick: That’s just like drivers of other cars.
Doug: Or any other car, really pretty much.
Justin Chiswick: Yeah. Not just I’m not just taking on, like, Mustang or Camaro owners. I’m just telling you in general, like, even a guy in a Honda Civic might pull up and thinks he wants to, you know?
Doug: He’s probably not gonna beat you. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Justin Chiswick: But anyhow, yeah, I guess that’s kind of just the—what a Dodge stands for, right? We’re an iconic muscle car company, right? That’s who we are at this point. So …
Sarah: Okay. I just have to say this as the only female human in the room: this is a guy problem.
Sarah: This thing is—so this idea that, like, you roll up to the stoplight, and that having another guy want to fight you basically just because of how you look is, like, what you’re trying for? That seems to be at the core of what he’s saying, right? Like, that this car is a masculine challenge. It’s a way for men to challenge each other to a fight, to a duel.
Aaron: If you go and Google “Dodge Charger crash,” or any one of their muscle car brands, and just go look for images of crashes, these things are—there are wrecked Dodge muscle cars all over them.
Doug: There was recently that one in Las Vegas where someone apparently was racing a Dodge—it might have been a Challenger, it might have been a Charger, I’m not sure, but it was definitely a Dodge and killed an entire family, essentially.
Doug: Like, kids, uncles, parents. And that’s not an isolated incident by any stretch.
Aaron: There is no question that people are using these products in the way that they’re being marketed as sort of like big, dangerous, menacing things to just sort of either, like, have their own fun, or to actually threaten other people.
Sarah: He’s basically saying that the styling of the car is an incitement to violence. Like, that’s one way of reading it.
Doug: I totally agree, and I pressed Justin on this a little bit.
Doug: Do you see sometimes that the way cars are marketed leads to the way they are used? Like, if you’re marketing for aggression and dominance and ruling the road, do you see that having an influence on behavior?
Justin Chiswick: Well, I think anytime you communicate anything as a company, I mean, it’s a message that you’re trying to put out. I think people are going to make up their own minds on their behaviors, okay? We’re just merely proliferating the fact that these cars have the performance, that if you want to use it, you can. Now somebody who really appreciates performance as a car enthusiast should know the difference of, like, where and when to use that, right?
Doug: Go to a racetrack and do it on a closed course.
Justin Chiswick: Exactly. Go to a closed cause, a racetrack, things like that. Places where you can do things safely, right? Now obviously, people do that out on the road. I’m not condoning that. But yeah, I mean again, I think people are gonna do their own as they wish, right? Regardless of the marketing message we put out there, you know?
Aaron: I mean, it’s so cynical, because the marketing message they put out there is people driving these muscle cars in cities in a really dangerous way. And they lean into it, and that’s their message.
Doug: He even said that when he is at a light, people will pull up to him and want to race him. Now I’m not saying that he then takes them up on that challenge, but he’s basically saying that when you’re out there, like Sarah said, it’s like an incitement to go do your guy things, right? And it’s not good.
Sarah: Right. And then he has the nerve to say that he’s not condoning it. He just condoned it two seconds earlier.
Doug: “I rule the road.”
Sarah: Yeah. And he’s saying that he’s responsible for everything about this brand and the message that it sends. Well, dude, like, you know, I don’t know how you sleep at night, but this is the message it sends. You said it. You know it. I just have no patience for the Dodge guy. Sorry. No compassion for the Dodge guy.
Doug: So I had mentioned his handler earlier. At this point, you could kind of tell maybe that the interview was not going in a direction that they thought it was gonna go in. I don’t know what they thought when I told them I was with The War on Cars, but his handler broke in.
Darren: The safe driving school?
Justin Chiswick: Oh, yeah. I forgot about that.
Doug: Yeah, tell me about that.
Justin Chiswick: Yeah. So Darren brings up a good point. So the other thing that actually we offer our customers, we’re not just talking, like, okay, you can go get 800 horsepower, but anytime you buy an SRT product, we actually give those customers the opportunity to go to the Radford Racing School.
Doug: Where is that?
Darren: In Utah.
Justin Chiswick: It’s out in Utah. To show them how to actually properly handle 800 horsepower, or 717 or 797, right? Any SRT product? That’s part of the package when you buy that car. So we’re not being irresponsible by any means with those customers, I don’t think so, by offering them that opportunity, right?
Doug: Well, I mean, if anything, that’s like training to ride a horse or training to shoot a gun. Like, all of that kind of stuff.
Justin Chiswick: All those things, yeah.
Doug: But, I mean, if I buy one of these at a showroom on Long Island, I’m unlikely to fly out to Utah to take this course, right? Like, you offer the course but, like, is it something that comes with the price of the car or, like, I have to pay extra for that?
Justin Chiswick: No, it’s included in …
Doug: Oh, it’s included?
Justin Chiswick: It’s included. Yeah. Now obviously your airfare and stuff is your own prerogative, right? But I mean yeah, it’s included as part of the car when you buy an SRT. Yeah.
Aaron: I mean, he’s saying, like, they need to fly you out to Utah to take a special course to learn how to handle an 800-horsepower vehicle of this type. Which is true. It’s, like, not a normal car, you know? It’s got rear-wheel drive and all these, like, differential features that make tires spin at different speeds potentially. These are incredibly dangerous vehicles. And what Justin, I think, is doing fundamentally is making the case for banning them from cities.
Aaron: Like, these do not belong in the hands of just sort of normal, untrained drivers on public city streets. Period. And in a way, like, I think these guys are doing us a favor. They’re telling us that these are vehicles that need to be driven by specially-trained people.
Doug: It’s so similar to the gun industry in my mind, because basically what he’s saying is cars don’t kill people, People kill people. And he’s saying, like, yeah, we sell you this thing that you’re totally not able to use if you’re just a regular person. And if you want, you can fly out to Utah from wherever you bought your car and take this complementary course in the same way that I guess you could take a AR-15 training at your local shooting range. But how many people are doing that?
Aaron: I actually feel like gun culture is better about this than car culture. I do think there is more of an ethic of, like, okay, you’re carrying an AR-15, you better know what you’re doing. And then guys go off to their little, you know, weekend warrior training camps and stuff. And I mean, you know, a lot don’t, but I think it’s taken much more seriously than cars. Like, this is also a weapon that you’re putting in someone’s hand.
Sarah: Because everybody drives some kind of a car if they’re, you know, an adult in the United States of America. Almost everybody has to drive some kind of a car, and so it’s like, oh, well, everybody can do this thing, but this thing is not the same thing when you’re driving one of these, and it is a weapon. And I would like to thank Justin for making it all so very clear.
Doug: All right. So now I could really sense that things were going south, and the interview was definitely not gonna last much longer, so I really wanted to press him on the “rule the road” comment.
Doug: So I would just want to go back to maybe one last question to follow up on the, like, rule the road. And maybe, like, if you’re saying, like, this car, this vehicle that I drive rules the road, and 800 horsepower, if you’re talking about this one over here …
Justin Chiswick: And just for clarity, by “Rule the road,” I mean, it has a commanding presence.
Justin Chiswick: Right?
Doug: But, like, when I’m on my bicycle, right? Or if I’m walking with my kid, I don’t need to have a commanding presence, right? Like, I just need to get to where I’m going safely, get the groceries home, you know, get to work, wherever I’m going. Why do you think it’s so important for—there are lots of identities a driver could have and express through their cars, right? Why do you think having a commanding presence is so important to Americans right now?
Justin Chiswick: Oh, wow. Well, let’s be honest. I mean, that’s a really tough question.
Doug: Like, do you think there’s something about how we behave on the road that, like, leads people to …
Justin Chiswick: You mean as Americans?
Doug: As Americans, as car consumers, as drivers. Like, Americans have always expressed their personalities through what car they buy, right? They name them, right? They name them. They treat them like a pet, almost. They wash them, right? We feed them once or twice a month, right? So, like, what do you think is so important about having a commanding presence? Because that’s a really specific—you’re in marketing. Like, language is important.
Justin Chiswick: So yeah. So for me, like, I think that commanding presence, it’s just like if you get in a Wrangler, right? For example. These cars make a bold statement, okay? They kind of own the road, I think, in the aspect of the performance is there, okay? And also just the aesthetic, right? It’s the vibe or how people—the attributes associated with the vehicle, right? Does that make sense?
Doug: Yeah. But also, like, what are those attributes in your mind?
Justin Chiswick: So in my mind, those attributes are our wide stance and our performance lineup, right? Like, these cars truly sell from a performance perspective, right? We’ve got a Halo in our Hellcats. Then, you know, you take the next step down, you get a Scat Pack. We truly sell these by powertrain. And then, you know, additional customization and features are all from there, right? So yeah.
Doug: If you gotta get going. Appreciate it. Thank you. You guys are great. Thanks.
Doug: Pretty clear, yeah, his handler wanted nothing to do with me.
Aaron: Darren was done with you.
Doug: “We got a 1:00. Or maybe it’s a 2:00. We got something.” Yeah.
Aaron: [laugh] We got something that’s not this.
Sarah: Wow. Congratulations, Doug. You really got them to think for a second. I think that you really confounded Justin there, because when you went to the philosophical stuff, he really did get kind of confused by his own rhetoric, right? He’s like, “What am I commanding? What does that mean?”
Doug: Yeah, it was all like a tautology of, like, “Well, you’re saying it makes a statement. What kind of statement does it make?” “Well, you know, it makes a statement.”
Doug: It was very strange.
Aaron: I thought it was interesting, because I do actually think you were confronting these guys with ideas that they hadn’t thought about. I don’t think that they think very much about what they’re doing to the environment around them, whether it’s just the people walking around outside of the car or, you know, the actual planet and its ecosystem. Not something that they’re thinking about.
Sarah: And that’s sort of the argument for you doing this interview the way that you did it, instead of just pouring a bucket of red paint on the vehicle and being arrested. I think it’s a real service to make them explain in plain English, or try to at least get them to think about explaining in plain English what it is that they mean when they say “A commanding presence.” You know, a commanding presence means that you are commanding the people around you to do whatever it is that you want them to do and get out of the way. And, like, I don’t think that he had ever actually really thought about what those words mean. Maybe, maybe you planted a tiny little seed, but at any rate, you did a good job of trying. [laughs]
Doug: Justin, if you’re listening and you’re just questioning your life choices, I’m here to talk.
Aaron: Yeah. And you should be tried at The Hague for human rights crimes.
Sarah: After doing a meditation session with me.
Aaron: Yeah. But seriously, like, these are the kinds of questions that I mean, there should be Dodge executives answering these kinds of questions in front of a congressional hearing, and that would lead to the regulation of these products. I mean, I really think, you know, we can do as much as we want on Twitter and on our podcast, but it’s like these are products, there are all kinds of consumer safety laws. We know that the auto industry doesn’t change stuff on their own. You know, like, it took a lot of work to force them to even put seatbelts and airbags in their products. And there needs to be real work to, like, force these guys to change because this stuff shouldn’t be on public streets.
Doug: Okay, I think we all need to kind of shake that off, take a shower, take a deep breath. Look, it wasn’t actually all rage and aggression at the auto show this year. And Sarah, maybe you can set this up for us. There were some interesting developments downstairs at the auto show.
Sarah: Yeah. I personally couldn’t take as much of the scene around the Dodges and the Fords and whatever as you could, Doug, and I found myself gravitating downstairs where there was a significant dedicated space for micromobility vehicles like scooters and e-bikes. And I just found myself drawn toward that happy place. And it felt so good to be there.
Doug: Like when I go to a party and kind of intuitively know that’s the Star Wars nerd over there. I’m gonna go talk to him.
Sarah: Yeah, exactly. So I got down there, and before long I was riding around on a Veo scooter, and I felt like I was starting to come back into my body.
Doug: Right. So this was the first year actually that the auto show had its own dedicated space for micromobility companies, which feels like a really big development. There have been scooters that have played parts before, and you do see bikes on top of some cars upstairs.
Aaron: They love putting the bikes on top of the cars.
Doug: Yeah, absolutely. For all those, you know, camping trips or whatever. But yeah, so there weren’t, like, huge companies that our listeners might be familiar with like Rad Power, Tern, Trek, none of the really big names. But there were some interesting companies. Sarah, you spoke to somebody about one of their products.
Sarah: So I talked to Mindy Stumpf from Flyer, which is a bike company that’s a part of the Radio Flyer family that makes the wagons and the sleds and everything. And she talked about how they’re trying to present an alternative to the toxic stuff you see upstairs at the auto show.
Mindy Stumpf: You know, we really think that, you know, it can be a car replacement to help make traveling and transporting with kids a bit easier. So for example, with schools, we often hear from families that the car drop-off line is so long. So we’re seeing that people are using e-bikes to drop off their kids so that they can make that experience a bit shorter and a bit quicker and more convenient. So seeing an e-bike just zoom past all the cars in line to drop off their kids. And same with dealing with traffic or parking. It’s really providing that opportunity to have a more convenient transportation option.
Sarah: Yeah. And also more fun, right? Because, like, the kids, when they zoom past everybody else on their bike, and they get to class, right? And then the other kids are probably saying, “I saw you on that bike while I was sitting in the car,” right?
Mindy Stumpf: Absolutely. I mean, you can’t help but smile when you’re riding an e-bike. [laughs]
Doug: So I also spoke with an e-bike company. I spoke with the head of Jupiter Bikes, which is based in Tampa, Florida.
Rob Daniels: My name is Rob Daniels. I’m the president of Jupiter Bike. Jupiter electric bikes are folding electric bikes. Our slogan is “The bikes that fit your life.” We have five different models, and they each have different target audiences, they each have different use cases. Yeah, it’s a great—it’s a great solution for a lot of people, you know, with gas prices being what they are. And a lot of people just looking for, you know, another solution for their commutes. It’s a great solution for that.
Rob Daniels: You know, this is the future that people don’t want to burn fossil fuels, and they want something inexpensive and, you know, they get fresh air and it’s fun to ride, and it gets them there. It handles the job. So I think government’s recognizing that, and they’re moving more and more towards having, you know, dedicated bike lanes, and making it a good experience for the bike commuters.
Rob Daniels: Every time we do a test drive, the customer comes back grinning ear to ear. You know, it’s—riding a bike in general, you know, people like riding bikes, you know? It’s a fun pastime for a lot of people. And to make it, to interface that pastime with something that’s functional and something that you can take to work, something that can actually get, you know, 20, 30 miles out of it and not break a sweat and show up, you know, drenched in sweat at your final location, it’s a very enjoyable product, and it does—you know, it has functionality, too.
Doug: And you can always find a parking space.
Rob Daniels: Yes. [laughs]
Aaron: Well, so that was really interesting. You both talked to people at sort of the kids’ table of the auto show, right? So the e-bike micromobility section, and they both emphasized how fun their products are.
Aaron: Very different from what you’re hearing upstairs.
Doug: They’re not ruling the road. They’re not dominating or making a statement. It’s literally just: gas prices are too high, this is more convenient, and oh yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
Aaron: I mean, I gotta say there’s something very promising about this. Like, there’s a kind of insurgency building in the ground floor of the auto show.
Sarah: I totally felt that. And I felt also that the things that we saw down there showed the kind of innovation and responsiveness to what consumers actually want and need that they were talking about upstairs, but that actually wasn’t happening upstairs. They were just recycling the same old things over and over again.
Aaron: And Doug wasn’t just talking to some, you know, e-bike spokesperson with a handler. You’re talking to the president of the company. I think that’s pretty interesting too that, like, this person is like, “I make these bikes. I want to come and show them to people.” And they’re not, like, trying to trick or distract you with, like, “Here, smell this pine, and we’ll tell you a story about what you’re gonna do with this vehicle.”
Doug: No, it’s literally like, “Sarah, go take a test ride on a scooter.”
Aaron: And, like, “You could use this to take your kids to school.”
Sarah: And I was allowed to drive the scooter myself because it’s not a life threatening thing to do. And, you know, whereas upstairs you had to have professionals showing you the things.
Doug: The last person I spoke to was this woman named Nancy Scanlon. She’s the VP of customer experience at Jetson, which is an e-bike and scooter company. It’s actually based not that far from us in Brooklyn. And so yeah, she mentioned fun, but I also think she had a much different perspective than what you hear upstairs. Upstairs where it’s macho and dominance. Here’s what she had to say.
Nancy Scanlon: Jetson is a super fun, awesome company. What I love most about it is that the values of everyone in the company are to be really humble and to be customer first. So my role is within the customer care team, so I want to make sure that every single person who purchases our products is able to use them safely, but also to have a ton of fun.
Aaron: I mean, that’s just such a contrast to the shtick that you’re hearing upstairs from the auto guys.
Sarah: Right. Fun, humility. Yeah, instead of commanding and terrifying people, you care about them.
Doug: The really cool thing about Nancy—and we spoke for a little bit—is that she used to work in the auto industry.
Nancy Scanlon: I think it’s very exciting that the New York Auto Show is having a micromobility area in track. I had spent many years in a previous life working for Toyota on the upstairs, so I’ve been very interested in the growth of alternative transportation for many, many years, and it’s fantastic to see that it’s been embraced by the auto show community.
Doug: What’s your—you know, we’re downstairs now. Do you see a day where you’re upstairs?
Nancy Scanlon: [laughs] I mean, the world is going in that direction. So I a hundred percent think that we will be upstairs someday.
Aaron: Well, that’s it for this episode of The War on Cars. Doug and Sarah, glad you guys made it out of the New York International Auto Show in one piece.
Doug: I’m just glad we didn’t have to use our Patreon dollars to bail me out of jail somewhere.
Sarah: And I do hope that they’ll let us go back next year, because I’m interested to see the growth of that micromobility area, and how it might start percolating up to the higher floor.
Doug: Just so long as the person and/or robot who issues press credentials doesn’t look at our name too closely.
Aaron: Remember, if you want to support The War on Cars, go to TheWaronCars.org, click “Support Us” and join today. Starting at just $3 per month, you’ll get access to exclusive bonus content and other treats and rewards.
Sarah: Thank you to everyone who has signed up to support us. A special mention to our top Patreon sponsors: Charley Gee Of Human Powered Law in Portland, Oregon, the law office of Vaccaro and White in New York City, Virginia Baker, James Doyle and Martin Mignot.
Doug: We also want to thank the good folks at Cleverhood. They make the best rain gear for walking and cycling. If you want 20 percent off your purchase for a rain cape, an anorak, or anything in the Cleverhood store, go to Cleverhood.com/WaronCars to learn more.
Aaron: And thanks to our friends at Rad Power Bikes. To learn more about how Rad Power Bikes can replace car trips in your life and help you have more fun in the process, go to RadPowerBikes.com.
Doug: This episode was recorded by Josh Wilcox at the Brooklyn Podcasting Studio. It was edited by Ali Lemer. Our music is by Nathaniel Goodyear. Our logo is by Dani Finkel of Crucial D Designs. I’m Doug Gordon.
Sarah: I’m Sarah Goodyear.
Aaron: I’m Aaron Naparstek, and this is The War on Cars.