The Pulitzer versus the Pontiac

Car writers don’t get Pulitzer Prizes. I suspect that’sbecause their writing is either wonky and burdened with specs or basically carpornography. Or rather, car writers usedto not get Pulitzers, before Dan Neil got one last year, "for his one-of-a-kind reviews of automobiles, blendingtechnical expertise with offbeat humor and astute cultural observations."I guess they liked Neil’s honest, irreverent writing in passages like this:

If you ever despair that the U.S. auto industry is whirling,slowly but with gathering momentum, down the tubes of history, thesecond-generation Toyota Prius will give you no comfort. This is a car Detroit assures us cannotbe built. No way. No how. A spacious, safe and well-appointed mid-sizefour-door with practical performance while returning more than 60 miles pergallon? For $20,000? Are you, like, high?

Well, there it sits in my driveway, looking like a set piecefrom a Kubrick film but in other respects a straightforward piece ofengineering. And it shames the domestic automakers and the Bush administration.

Well, guess what? Neil’s right about the Prius and the domestic car makers. Butthe car makers don’t like to see suchthings in print, certainly not in one of this country’s largest newspapers.Which became a problem when the LA Times published this slam on the Pontiac G6 the other day:

The G6 is not an awful car. It’s entirely adequate. Butplainly, adequate is not nearly enough.



Meanwhile, the detailing of the bodywork makes the skin ofthe car look eggshell-thin. I wonder how many buyers look at this car andwonder what is behind the billboard?

Interior styling: The GT comes with comfortableleather-lined bucket seats, nicely bolstered with heaters. I like the soft gripon the hand brake. That exhausts my praise for the interior.

  1. DemFromCT says:

    Fascinatin’ tale. And it resonates for anyone who’s ever worked in the corporate world of â€My way or the highway’ groupthink.

    Got a problem? Hire a consultant. Didn’t solve the problem? Fire the consultant. BUT DON’T CRITICIZE THE CEO. After all, it’s the same strong but wrong ethos that got us into Iraq.

  2. Blue the Wild Dog says:

    I’ve got 3700 miles on my 2004 Prius. Neil’s description of it is dead on. But I wonder if it isn’t other Japanese automakers that are at least as threatened by Toyota as Detroit.

  3. emptywheel says:


    I work in the auto industry (driving my 1991 Honda, which still makes better gas mileage than Ford’s hybrid, increasingly regularly down to Dearborn). And I gotta say, the auto industry everywhere seems to be pretty fearful of Toyota. I think Hyundai will surprise people in a few years. But yeah, Toyota scares people. And with its scion division…

    Good thing the husband’s new autosupplier project is for Toyota, good thing he kept his Japanese relatively fresh…

  4. Crab Nebula says:

    empty, no kidding you work in the industry? any hints as to what you do?

    I sat in a G6; I think the interior is pretty nice. All the ’buff books’ say the car is adequate, though, and the magazines, not newspapers, are the traditional places for smart consumers to research vehicles. Ten years ago you had much less auto coverage in papers; nearly all of it sucks. You can do much better on the web, and certainly in the mags.

    One problem with Toyota – their styling sucks. Of course their quality is industry-leading, but writers do not bash the company for how dull their cars look. I mean, the G6 is better looking, IMO, (and I’d bet a focus group would agree) than half of Toyota’s car lineup. So there is pro-Toyota bias (mechanically and on build quality, they deserve it, though).

    Dan Neil is a great writer, but from what I know he’s off base in targeting Lutz. Lutz does not have unilateral power in GM, and his ability to rein in certain ’problem vehicles’ is not unlimited. I think Lutz is a car guy, and needs more power, not less.

  5. emptywheel says:


    I’m not technical at all. Just a lowly consultant, one of the army now employed by the big three.

    I agree about Toyota styling (at least their standards). Mr. emptywheel and I bought a non-Japanese car for our last car because we were bored with the bigger japanese cars. But I do think their cars targeted to younger people (scion, Matrix) are pretty good.

    Do read the full Neil article. He is saying that the natural tendancy (can Lutz, which I’ve heard from people who work with GM here) should be expanded to include Wagoner.

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