- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009

Each month, I get to decide what topic of wisdom to impose on you, my FreeWheeling reader. In vetting subjects for this month’s column, I was blown away by how much happened in the auto industry in the past 30 days — a lot of “you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up” kinds of events.

“Wild and wacky stuff,” as late-night TV’s Johnny Carson used to say. Here’s a scorecard of some of the weird car moments that have occurred this summer:

• General Motors went bankrupt. And then, thanks to the Obama administration and thousands of fat-and-happy lawyers, quickly was reorganized. GM going bankrupt was one of the biggest business stories of the young century; it took GM more than 100 years to get to bankruptcy — then only six weeks to start over as a “new” company. And then just weeks out of bankruptcy, the new GM announces it has built a car that gets 230 miles per gallon.

• The U.S. Senate is “considering” a ban on texting while driving. Ya think? This has to be one of the more clear-cut “duh” events of the year. Gee, think we oughta force teenagers (and dullards of any stripe) to stop staring at tiny keyboards while they’re piloting a vehicle at 80 mph?

Fact is, a nationwide texting ban should only be the beginning. I’m all for the “Live Free or Die” spirit of nonrestriction that birthed this nation, but really, something needs to be done about the distractions cell phones bring to the auto environment. Or all of us who drive to get somewhere are going to go absolutely insane — if the cell-phoners don’t kill us first.

• Crude-oil prices went down this summer, and the price of gas (and diesel) stayed normal. Everybody was bracing for another summer of $4 gasoline. It didn’t happen.

Who knew how great a global economic meltdown could be for tamping down the world’s oil oligarchs? Everybody in the world is cutting back oil consumption, and that’s not a bad idea to stick with. Heck, if it weren’t for 10 percent of the nation not having a job, I’d say let’s have a quick recession every spring to keep a lid on those summer gasoline prices.

• Speaking of oil monopolies, the Middle East states of Abu Dhabi and Qatar made eyebrow-raising moves in the auto industry last month.

Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments (which recently became the largest single investor in Daimler AG, maker of Mercedes-Benz) also got a piece of Daimler’s investment in the U.S.’s Tesla Motors, the upstart maker of the $100,000-plus, all-electric Tesla Roadster. Oil guys investing in electric-car makers? Hmmm.

And the Qatar Investment Authority reportedly entered a nonbinding agreement with Porsche to buy some 25 percent of the fabled German sports-car maker. That, in fact, was only a sideshow to a bizarre, years-long quest by Porsche to complete an implausible takeover of German auto giant Volkswagen Group — a quixotic, high-leverage bull rush that is coming to a head with just the opposite result: VW is going to end up owning Porsche.

• After 30 years, Honda stopped making motorcycles in the U.S. This is sadder than just another “off-shoring” of more U.S. manufacturing. The Marysville, Ohio, plant that made the flagship Goldwing motorcycle was what put Honda on the map here.

Marysville became the Honda’s first U.S. manufacturing plant when it opened its doors in 1979 — and the success of the operation is what spurred Honda to continually expand around the Marysville site to create the giant auto- and engine-making complex it operates there today.

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