Recently, I had to endure a couple talking about their recent trip to Europe. They bragged about how fast they went on the autobahn (the speeding tickets are yet to arrive in the mail), how excellent the food was (they paid 100 euros per meal; they forgot the breadsticks aren’t free), and how beautiful the scenery was (can’t argue with that, but they repeat it so darn much).
During the story, when they arrived at the point where they discussed how insufferable the saleswoman at Chloé was, I ended up thinking of ways to improve the American auto industry. (That’s also my default when RX-7 owners talk about modifying their engines, let alone explaining how they work.)
Naturally, I began thinking how great a brown manual oil-burning ATS 3.6 wagon would be and how Lincoln should bring back the Town Car because arriving in a livery MKT arriving at a charity gala doesn’t ooze class, since the valets will direct you to the local private school pick-up line instead.
But then I came up with the best way to improve the auto industry, and in effect, strengthen the American economy. It was: The Great American Delivery Program.
We all know the European delivery programs and how they work: Have customer order car at dealer and take a bit off the MSRP (Porsche does not do this because...well...they're Porsche). Pick up customer at airport and cover one night's stay at hotel near delivery point. Deliver customer the car at corporate museum or factory. Customer tours continent in new car for two weeks, oblivious of the speed cameras around them. Have customer leave car at drop-off point to be shipped home when finished.
We also know the type of people who take European delivery. Since I need to maintain relationships, I’ll create a couple instead of referencing an existing one. I’ll call them George and Lisa. George is a software programmer, creating an app that can turn your iPhone into a hair blow dryer. Lisa works as a junior analyst for an accounting firm, investigating where twenty-four cents from a junior executive’s lunch expenses went. They’re essentially the couple we saw in that woeful Lincoln MKZ vs. Lexus ES350 ad, except they promptly went to the BMW dealer and leased a 428i M-Sport.
During their time in Europe, George and Lisa are spending their money on hotel rooms with no extra blankets, overpriced boutique clothes with an insane VAT, gas at three times the cost, dealing with snobbish waiters, and waiting for hours to enter the Louvre. And George and Lisa will think they’re regaling you with stories of visiting castles and parks while you’re texting one of your friends about how the Murano CrossCabriolet isn’t that bad a vehicle. All of which helps the European economy (and Nissan) but not the American market.
Why can't America do the same to the rest of the world and have foreigners travel to America and pick up their new American car? It used to be the case for years that American cars weren't world-class. That was true even in the 2000s with the Pontiac Aztek, Chrysler Sebring, and Ford Five-Hundred (seriously, that anemic V-6 and CVT in that heavy a car never helped). But those are all cars from the 1990s and 2000s.
Today, America actually makes cars that the world likes. Camaros are extremely popular in the Middle East. The Chinese buy Jeeps in droves. For reasons I cannot fathom, the Germans want the Ford Taurus. (My take: it drives like a lowered Volvo XC90. I haven’t quite determined whether it’s a compliment or not since I like the XC90.) And wealthy buyers across the world want American trucks no matter the cost.
And even foreign automakers with American plants can get in on the action. Honda is now a net exporter of cars from its American factories, meaning it will have customers who want to take an American vacation. The same is true for Toyota, who export their Sequoia, Camry, and Corolla. Nissan will certainly have buyers for the Altima, Frontier, and Pathfinder. BMW and Mercedes will definitely attract the seriously wealthy with the SUVs they make in the United States.
Then it comes down to where the cars will be delivered. Of course, it needs to be a place where tourists can have a favorable opinion. And more importantly, places to shop and enjoy scenery. These stipulations, unfortunately, take out most of the Midwest and the South. (My apologies.) So it comes down to automakers building delivery centers in California or New York because foreign tourists always want to visit those places.
Keep in mind this is better than what the Germans do, who have their delivery centers near their corporate headquarters, which tend to be like any other industrial city except with some nice shops and restaurants because of their impact on the local economy, none of which have air conditioning. (I’m looking at you, Stuttgart.)
Toyota, Honda, and Nissan can deliver their cars at their American headquarters in Southern California, since Disneyland, Legoland, and shopping outlets are all nearby. Mercedes and BMW can deliver their cars in New Jersey at their American HQs, to prevent X5 owners from accidentally walking into a Piggie Park and new ML owners from experiencing what ensues when being pulled over in Alabama.
So how does all of this help the economy?
With these foreign customers spending their money on their American vacation in their American-made vehicle, our economy as a whole will improve because of their spending. These customers and their families will visit Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Times Square. They will shop in those brand name stores on Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive because the goods there are cheaper than in their home countries. And most importantly, a lot of their spending counts as export income, becoming a small stepping stone towards erasing our trade deficit.
Not to mention American automakers will sell more cars which will certainly enable their employees to buy more beer, cars, upgrade their cable, extend their houses, and get newer appliances, which will affect the livelihoods of so many other people from local contractors to cable TV installers to those clowns you call for your toddler’s birthday party.
In the end, the world gains a much more favorable view of America. The American auto industry and economy as a whole does better. I don't have to receive phone calls about the expensive European speeding tickets later and then talk for another half-hour about that chime their car makes below 39 degrees.
Why haven’t we thought of this sooner?
Satish Kondapavulur runs Clunkerture, named because "Clunker.com" was $82 at auction and would've taken 30% out of the balance of his Corvette fund. Though he drives a Volkswagen Jetta (MkV 2.0T Wolfsburg w/DSG), he intentionally avoids VW forums to prevent anxiety of break-downs (and a German engineer not receiving his wings).