Friday, August 28, 2009

Where is California's Car Genius?

Or genii as I am pretty sure the plural is written.

It has long been evident (to me at least) that part of the reason the American car industry has crashed like a Mastodon on thin ice is because it looks for its creative spark in, of all places, Detroit.

I don't have anything against Detroit. I wish it were a better place. It happens to be a bad place--one of the worst cities in the United States. Does anyone with world-class creative juices, connections, or even just iPod-like coolness live there, or want to live there? I know I am going to sound parochial by saying it, but I suspect the answer is "no". Or if they do live there, they are hurting to leave (didn't Madonna grow up near Detroit--and scrammed as a youth for a flophouse in the junkiest part of Manhattan?). You will argue that it produced tailfins and huge engines and large success for many years. I will say I agree, but that the Pinto and the Aspen and the Suburban have long buried that glory in a mound of disgraceful and now very disfavored automotive junk.

So we are expecting a city with a wretched recent history, zero creativity and all the verve of a bag full of jello and marshmallows to come up with the next great automotive idea? Don't bet the house on that. Don't bet a nickel. They may be able to build them there--but they sure as heck don't seem much able to design them there.

That's where the Golden State comes in. After all, where would Detroit be without Los Angeles to buy Cobalts and Magnums and Azteks by the boatload? How many cars do Californians buy a year? I don't know--but it is a sick number I am certain. So why don't the folks up along Sand Hill Road recruit the next Bid Daddy Roth and come up with some butt-kicking car ideas and ramp up a company kind of the way they did with software? Kind of like the dreamers in Hollywood came up with Titanic and Coraline and the cinematic version of Chicago? How about combining the best of California--entrepreneurship, a taste for the greener choices in life (and I don't mean just money) plus the old razzle-dazzle--and putting that considerable energy and money and brainpower behind a new automotive industry?

Do I think it can happen overnight? No. Do I think that in twenty years we'd be driving 150mpg cars that look like Excellence on Wheels, and for which the world will clamor (the way it does for software and movies)? I do.

I know California's not exactly in great shape these days either. But on its worst day, it's got about a thousand percent better chance of coming up with a winner than the Glyptodonts in Michigan who've spent the last forty years lying and dying and losing and snoozing.