Weekly Roundup: Light At The End Of The Tunnel Edition

I didn’t go to the Detroit Auto Show this year. I’d wanted to go, as this was the last year for a traditional winter event. The next one will be in the summer of 2020. Will anyone care?

The first Detroit Show I attended would have been in 1995, I think — my co-worker “Rodney” talked me into going. My first wife and I made a habit of attending the Charity Ball some time around the turn of the century — in those years before I had a media credential, the charity event was a nice way to pick up an $800 tax deduction and check out the cars without the crush of the madding crowd.

Detroit was always a chance to meet up with people, put faces to names, make friends, meet girls, and get excited about cars again. In the past few years it’s felt a bit dead. People want to blame the weather, but the weather was always bad. What’s changed? In truth, the lack of excitement at the show probably has a lot to do with the now-universal practice of pre-empting the event itself with embargoed and non-embargoed press materials. There was once a time when the people at the show were genuinely shocked, or at least surprised, to see a new car roll out on stage. When it happens nowadays it’s anti-climactic because everyone’s already read the press release and seen the pictures.

Which is not to say that there was a lack of fascinating news at this year’s show…

It’s being discussed on the forums now so there’s no reason to ignore it here: Road&Track is closing its Ann Arbor office and moving the print operation to be under the direction of my old enduro-racing teammate Travis Okulski. This was probably an overdue change; we’ve been kinda floundering ever since Larry Webster left. I’ve always thought that running a “paper of record” like R&T is more of a vocation than a job. You have to love cars and you have to be an evangelist for your own enthusiasm. It’s not like running a McDonald’s. You have to live and breathe it or the product will suffer as a result. Travis has that enthusiasm. He’s also very handy with both steering wheel and keyboard. He’s the right man for the job and I predict great things to come. Just as importantly, he’ll have the continued assistance of both Sam Smith and Kyle Kinard, who are both important parts of the R&T voice and who will both be part of his journey as Editor-In-Chief.

Sadly for me, I won’t be part of that journey. This upcoming week will be my last one as a freelance writer. I have two Web pieces and two print pieces in the works with R&T. This is a coincidence, not a byproduct of the restructuring at R&T — I took a new job a while ago and I start it a week from Monday. More details to come. I’m looking forward to the move. Not because I want to leave this great publication, but because I think there’s more to be done away from it.

Riverside Green readers should be aware that this site will not close, nor will the general tone of the place change in any measurable way.

I’d like to thank all of my readers, but particularly the ones who stuck with me from the beginning to now. We are not done yet.

* * *

For Road&Track, I explained why homebrew pro-race cars are disappearing and made a modest proposal regarding the Supra.

25 Replies to “Weekly Roundup: Light At The End Of The Tunnel Edition”

  1. AvatarRonnie Schreiber

    A few people at the NAIAS asked me what your plans were. Some were certain you were taking over this or that publication. I pleaded genuine ignorance.

  2. AvatarJohn C.

    Your article on the 08 Focus was interesting. I remember how everyone jumped to that it would be bad since it wasn’t the Euro platform, as if they could have sold at Ford 08 prices and discounting. These same people liked when it went to the Mazda engine in 04. Think the real point is that nonbuyer critics wanted the Focus as foreign as possible. Even adding a two door coupe, how could that be bad but somehow it was. You have to build a car for people who actually might buy it and be able to make it at a price that it can fill the factories and keep dealer volume up. The 2012 did what the critics wanted and despite selling at higher prices did not have the volume to sustain.

  3. Avatartrollson

    It seems to be a new pattern at Toyota to outsource niche vehicles to other automakers. I suppose the logic is that there is some demand for these, but not enough demand to justify the investment of building one, so they badge-engineer them instead.

    • AvatarAthos

      Going solo in a car like that is expensive, even for a company like Toyota. Emissions, EV and AV are already soaking up plenty of R&D re$ource$. It’s a win for both OEMs. In the Supra’s case, the top hats seem to be sufficiently different to me, so not exactly badge-engineered

      • Avatarsabotenfighter

        The “Supra” is a Z4 wearing an ugly body with excess pointless fake vents and grilles. I had an opportunity to semi disassemble a production prototype and play around with one in general. My dissatisfaction with the lack of Toyota DNA was felt by the design engineer that was handling us. I walked into that excited and left just mad. They hadn’t even changed the iDrive images yet. The look and feel of everything was the same as a crappy BMW. As were all the fastener sizes.

  4. Tom KlockauTom Klockau

    “Riverside Green readers should be aware that this site will not close, nor will the general tone of the place change in any measurable way.”

    Oh good, I still have like 8,000 Brougham pictures in ‘the vault.’

    Like a triple black 1969 Plymouth VIP four-door hardtop with factory leather interior, owned by a friend of a friend…stay tuned…

  5. AvatarBlueSilverWave

    I hear a lot of grumbling about how CES has taken all the wind out of Detroit, since every automaker wants to be a tech company.

    I wonder if there’s also the issue that Detroit mostly means engineers pawing your show cars for a fairly limited return in sales volume locally, when you could just do a web announcement.

    • AvatarMike B

      Engineers pawning show cars – you mean the Industry Days in Detroit where suppliers bring a measuring tape and a pocket knife, and help themselves to “samples” of anything from electronic switches to leather swatches?

      Re: CES – was it just me or did it fall flat this year? Not much auto press out of CES at all, perhaps people are starting to get bored with screens and robots? I could only hope…

  6. Avatarsafe as milk

    “The old fart smelled this through his important breather holes
    Cleverly he dialed from within from the outside we observed
    That the nose of the wooden mask
    Where the holes had just been a moment ago
    Was now smooth amazingly blended camouflaged in
    With the very intricate rainbow trout replica”
    – the old fart at play by captain beefheart

    • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

      As an old Zappa hand, I was familiar with the Captain many years ago. Some high school classmates started a band, Destroy All Monsters, that was influenced by the idea of a band with people who couldn’t actually play their instruments. My taste for Don Van Vliet, though, only extends to his vocals on Hot Rats. I prefer music that is accessible. FWIW, Zappa also ‘discovered’ Alice Cooper.

      • AvatarDirt Roads

        I liked Beefheart on the “She’s 200 Years Old” song as well (Bongo Fury c. 1976), but I agree, his time was limited. In Zappa’s autobiography he mentions Don ended up somewhere, probably on the streets begging. He was real, and he stayed true to himself, which was other than some decent lyrical work with Frank, kind of a loser.

        I’ve long ago memorized the intro to that song where Frank is sitting in a breakfast room in Allentown, PA, got up at 6 in the morning it was a terrible mistake… etc etc. There are many, many Zappa lines I could quote off the cuff. 🙂

  7. Avatarhank chinaski

    (expresses gratitude to the owner for keeping the corner bar open)

    I spent a few formative years behind the wheel of a Gen 1 Supra. Those poor 110 horses were rode hard and put away wet daily, automatic trans and all. The 2.6 I-6 made decent noises through the Ansa I had bolted on it, though. Nimble it was not. A classmate was handed down his dad’s 280Z and promptly totaled it.

  8. AvatarBrian

    Talk about timely… I just got my renewal notice for R&T. Was all set to renew but now this news makes me second guess that decision. I like your writing style (which was the sole reason for subscribing to the mag) but there’s only so many articles I can put up with about $150,000+ supercars. I loved your rental reviews on TTAC and I wish there was a magazine remaining that actually drove and reviewed everyday cars…

    • AvatarMike B

      The buff books have to put something new and flashy (read: expensive) on the cover so people at the airport newstand will pick it up, but they also have to satisfy the $5/year subscriber who wants to read high production value stories about everyday cars. It would be great to have a mag full of adventure-style reviews a la Top Gear/Grand Tour but that shit is expensive, and magazines… well, they are not. Press junkets are paid for and make for those gorgeous cover shots and feature pieces, but true original content may be even harder to justify in print than it is online. At least that’s how it looks to me.

  9. AvatarPanzer

    Ah fuck.
    Getting your print articles first was reason #1 why I got a subscription to R&T. Ah well, i’m sure it’s in good hands 👍
    Wishing you all the best in your future endeavours Jack.

  10. AvatarDR Smith

    Thanks for 10 + years of automotive writing….that is a long time to do anything, so don’t blame you for wanting a new direction. Best of luck with your new job! BTW, my wife went to charity preview this past Friday, and she was very underwhelmed…not nearly what it used to be.

    As for something personal, your writing, not just of the automotive landscape but the cultural one, as well, to me has usually been spot on and well as meaningful and deep. Not to mention effective – this link is from Darlock’s blog, and it shows that maybe writers like youslef are starting to have effect: https://youtu.be/x_HL0wiK4Zc (a Youtube ad for Egard watches, and their response to the now infamous Gillette youtube ad)

    Keep the faith and the writing up…..it is worth it even if you are not getting paid what you would like.

  11. Avatarsgeffe

    Jack, are you moving completely out of the automotive realm, or does your new venture and the auto industry cross paths?

  12. Avatar-Nate

    Subscribed .

    I remember when the Auto Show was a big thing I looked forward to .

    I’ve not gone in ten years or so…..


  13. AvatarJordan

    Hi Jack!

    Discovered your writing on R&T when doing research for a sports car purchase last May and really enjoyed your style and takes on various topics. I didn’t always agree with what you wrote, particularly some of the political stuff, but it did make me think and there was nuance to your work that is lacking in most mainstream writing.

    I will miss your contributions to R&T and wish you the best of luck going forward. Hope there will be more car content from you here or elsewhere!


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