Guest editorial: No picnic judging new cars
You can take a kid out of Detroit but you can't take Detroit out of the kid. That's my excuse, anyway. I'm a car nut. I grew up in Detroit and I like cars the way Imelda Marcos liked shoes. I call it my auto-eroticism (and you'd be amazed at the looks I get when I call it that).
And what better place to indulge one's lust for the auto than the Detroit Auto Show? It was once the premier show in North America if not the world. It's not quite that now (hardly anything about Detroit is quite that now) but there's still enough there to stir the loins. And the girls are nice too.
Foam on the latte is the fact that I am in the market for a car right now. That gave focus to my auto show trip last month.
Where once I lingered over the Jaguars and Maseratis, drooling in front of the BMWs, Porches and Corvettes, I instead centered on practical cars, ones that gave good value for the money, were fuel efficient with good safety and reliability records, cars whose back seats would accommodate friends with creaky joints. (Note to my fellow car nuts: I know, that's pathetic, like going into a chocolate shop and asking for tofu ice cream. What can I say? The fires burn low.)
There were other questions to be answered as well. Should I go for total fuel efficiency and buy a hybrid or, living in the upper Midwest as I now do, should I go for an all-wheel drive to better make it through the snows?
And if that wasn't complicating enough, I was looking to buy American, if possible. After expressing sympathy for the Washington bailout of American automakers I felt it bordered on the unpatriotic to buy a foreign car.
The last time I'd owned an American car was about 25 years ago when I had the great misfortune to buy a "Pontiac X car." To say it was a piece of junk is to libel junk. It had a disturbing habit of grinding to a halt on the highway, leading to a tow and major surgery. In between, things would fall off---knobs, screws, nameplates, dials...things.
I finally got rid of the sled and vowed never again to put myself in the way of an American car which, in any case, tended to be sloppy handling, behind the curve in safety features and too, too big.
In the meantime I have owned Swedish cars, German cars and Japanese cars---all of them better than any American car I had owned previously (with the exception of a couple of great Checkers I had that were so funky as to not really count as American cars).
So what did I find at the Detroit show?
I found that they do not make cars the way they used to. They make them much, much better. They are better looking, more reliable, they get incredible mileage for their size, they're much safer and the creature comforts they offer beggar the imagination.
"Stick to the program," I kept telling myself. "You're here to pick out a real life car, not indulge in eye-candy."
OK. I found a delightful, reasonably priced car made in Indiana. The manufacturer was Japanese and most of the parts were made in Canada. Then there was an American car I liked, but it was made in Mexico, with parts made in Canada. I also discovered a sensational Korean car, made in Korea parts and all. But I'm not sure you can trust a car whose parts aren't made in Canada.
So, is it more patriotic to buy a car that puts Americans to work or one that helps keep an American manufacturer out of bankruptcy? Aye, that is the question.
If any of you out there have suggestions for me I urge you to send them. I need help.
And is it better to buy or lease? Why is that?
Don Kaul is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-losing Washington correspondent who, by his own account, is right more than he's wrong.