Avoidable Contact #140: In which the author buys a new vehicle, somehow
The so-called “supply chain crisis” wouldn’t have bothered Henry Ford very much. His River Rouge plant took in raw materials at one end and delivered finished vehicles at the other. Ford’s subsidiary enterprises made glass, dug coal, acquired wood. He was vertically integrated, as the kids say nowadays, and he made his own luck.
The Ford truck that I ordered back in December to replace my deer-totaled 2017 Silverado is not cut from the whole cloth of raw materials in a single massive facility. It is a complex amalgamation of globally sourced parts delivered just in time to an optimized assembly plant. A generation of modern management geniuses whose hubris would make Robert McNamara reach for a bottle of Tums used the latest techniques and best practices to build a hyper-efficient chain of suppliers and subcontractors that would in turn build my truck. They knew that Friedman was a god and the world was truly flat.
Ah, but Friedman is merely a useful idiot who spake as a sounding ass, or tinkling shill, and the world is quite … bumpy nowadays. My engine is stranded on the other side of the Canadian border thanks to whatever’s going on up there, various “chips” have gone AWOL, and other parts have no expected delivery time. The Ford computer thinks that my truck will be built next week. It has cheerfully assured me of the same one-week timeline on a recurring basis for months now, rescheduling me through identically inane e-mails with all the innocent malice of the “Share And Enjoy” tea machine on Douglas Adams’ Heart Of Gold.
What did Maxine Nightingale sing in my youth? Come on and lead me on … tease me all night long! Your humble author is a simple machine; he does not care for the thrill of the chase, particularly when he is chasing a 3/4-ton truck. Something must be done in the meantime.
And something has been done. I have a new truck. A brand-new, 31-mile GMC Canyon crew cab. In the times prior to January of last year, this news would be greeted with authentic indifference by my friends: Ugh, that old design. Hope you got a good deal, anyway. No longer. My phone trills with “DMs” and texts: How’d you get that truck? Whom do you know? Did you pull strings? It is because you’re the greatest autowriter of your generation and the undisputed leader of a massive Website operation that is read by nearly two million people a month?
Alright, I made the last question up myself. But the rest are legit, because our country is currently going through a gritty, Batman Begins-style reboot of the Carter years, only this time it’s not just rampant inflation and stratospheric fuel prices. It’s also next to impossible to get a new car or truck of any type.
You’ve probably heard the stories. AMG G-Wagens are going for double MSRP; everyday Accords have a $10,000 markup. People are buying new vehicles and reselling them to Carvana a week later for more than they paid. The loathsome megadealer who has just absorbed my local Chevy/GMC shop has about 20 trucks on the lot. They are all loaded down with $5–10K worth of trash post-sale-installed options, plus a $1299 rustproofing plan, plus a dealer markup to be discussed later.
At times like this it pays to think differently. The midsizer pickups from General Motors have provided solid, if undistinguished, service for several years now. The V-6 versions can tow pretty well, sip fuel in slightly better than full-size fashion, handle about 80 percent of my truck-specific tasks. But they are far from hot properties in this or any other market. Surely I could find one if I looked hard enough.
The megadealer had one. A GMC Canyon Denali, shortbed crew cab. With “performance intake” and “performance brakes” and a bunch of other junk. Total out-the-door price was just short of 58 grand. They also had some really nice Sierra Denali CarbonPros in stock. For $80K and up.
Nobody else had anything. But the Internet thought that General Motors had its act together in the Missouri plant where the Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado are built. “You could order and get one in two months,” I was told. So I headed up north to Chesrown GMC in Delaware, Ohio, and inquired about ordering one.
That timeline was severely optimistic, to put it mildly. And I was cautioned that many GM vehicles are arriving without certain options, like heated and ventilated seats. “They retrofit them later, at no charge.” Oh, boy. That’s what I want to happen to my truck six months after I get it, which would be four to six months after I ordered it. I want it to be disassembled by some furious low-level tech who is being “flatbooked” for tedious chip-install procedures.
“Well, we do have one Denali in stock,” my salesman said. “Came off the truck this morning. We haven’t made any calls on it yet.” Thirty minutes later, we’d cut a deal on the thing. It’s not exactly the Canyon I wanted—that would have been a grey Denali long-bed crew-cab with “Mocha” interior—but it will absolutely do. For now.
There were no stupid options on this little truck; all it has is a trailer brake controller, which I wanted. I paid flat sticker minus a small rebate, something I’ve never done before over the course of buying perhaps three dozen new cars and motorcycles, and I promised in writing not to sell it for six months. This contractual condition, hitherto familiar only to LaFerrari owners in the benighted days before we immanentized the eschaton in November 2020, is to keep me from immediately cashing out to Carvana. This is not hyperbole. My new truck stickered for $46,200. The megastores are selling used 2020 examples with 30,000 miles for the same money. Or more.
Of all the twists and turns I could have imagined for my future life back when I was a 30-year-old owner of a Porsche 911 and a new Discovery 4.6, “getting hyped up about paying full-pop for a GMC minitruck” surely would have been the least plausible. Oh, well. It’s good to be humbled, to be taught something, to have more perspective than you had previously.
Don’t tell anyone, but I kind of like the thing. It’s quiet. Not slow, not by truck standards. Handles well. The interior is intimate, with single-zone climate control and less reach from door card to door card than you’d get in a modern Porsche. The bed is a useful size, and not so high … you can’t get over it, as the song goes. I need to pull my Radical around a bit before the beginning of the race season, just to get it prepped, and this baby truck will do very well.
The sting of paying full sticker was significantly lessened by what they gave me for my 67,000-mile 2018 Lincoln MKT Reserve. I’ll miss that big wagon. It had style. Didn’t want to be just like everyone else. And now I don’t have anything remotely resembling a grownup’s car. That space in my head is marked “Reserved For 2022 Genesis G90 5.0 Ultimate.” You can’t get a decent deal on a G90 right now. I hope that changes before the end of the summer.
Here’s something I’ve come to believe: There are smart-enough people, the kind of folks who can calculate a tip in their heads and balance their checkbooks. Then there are geniuses, people like Henry Ford who are driven by a vision and who are eminently capable of making it happen. In between you have the “midwits.” What’s a midwit? It’s someone with a lot of credentials and not a lot of sense, someone who can’t think in direct and dynamic fashion but who is very good at parroting what they’ve read elsewhere.
Our current “flat world” was built by midwits. People who could optimize five bucks out of a car because they’d been taught 10 ways to do it. Midwit World works well enough, the same way most of the new skyscrapers and bridges in China seem to work well enough most of the time, but it’s not durable. It’s not what they call “antifragile.” Many years ago, I watched in amazement as a pair of seats were taken out of a truck at BMW’s Spartanburg Assembly Plant and robot-dragged over to a new X5, where a special robot installed them in a single motion. It was as modern as tomorrow, but all I could think about was, What if the truck’s late?
We now live in a world where the trucks are late. A world where everything costs more this quarter than it did last quarter. Where you have to know somebody, or get spectacularly lucky, just to get a new pickup truck at a decent price. As a child I read Mig Pilot, the moving story of a fellow who hops the Iron Curtain in his fighter plane and joins the West. His first stop in the United States is a supermarket, which freaks him out because the shelves are all full of food. He thinks it’s some kind of put-on.
Let’s say you’re a Russian fighter pilot in the current unpleasantness and you decide to quit the theater permanently so you can finally create a Hinge profile and meet age-appropriate single women. They took the dating apps away from the Russians, you know. Netflix, too. Not a bad thing for young men of the Rodina, in my ignorant opinion, but some people can’t live without all of it, and you’re one of them. You land your Su-57 in Maryland after a few mid-air refuelings and you run to the grocery store because you, too, have read Mig Pilot. Imagine your surprise to find the shelves bare! You could have stayed home!
That’s Midwit World. But just you wait. At some point, one of these auto executives is going to have the simply brilliant idea to re-centralize production. He or she will want to be like the hoopy froods at American Giant, who haven’t missed a step in their new-product march because they do it all in the USA with USA-sourced materials. Cue the creation of a truly massive facility that takes in raw materials at one end and delivers brand-new F-150 pickups out the other.
This plan is not flawless. I mean, it might occasionally cost a few dollars more to make something without relying on some much-battered subcontractor. Worse yet, you might find yourself unable to replace skilled and dedicated veteran employees on a moment’s notice with labor sourced from countries they haven’t even discovered yet. (Remember the aboriginal island tribe that killed anyone who paddled onshore? Has anyone figured out if they know Agile programming strategies or would be willing to pretend knowledge of the same?) God help us if the aliens ever arrive and prove to be flexible about rate and working hours.
“Hey, are you on the next-gen transmission project with KL-1812?”
“Oh, you mean the bloodthirsty eight-armed alien from the planet Hellmouth? Yeah, I’m in two scrums with him. The guy is literally using his tentacles to flick peoples’ eyeballs out of their skulls and into his mouth like lymphatic-fluid-soaked Cadbury Eggs.”
“Whoa, that sounds bad.”
“Yeah, but he’s the first one to show in the morning, you know? And the last one to leave. Real team player. Straight shooter with management potential written all over him.”
“Is he any good at engineering?”
“He’s just as good as anyone else nowadays, I guess.”
The first manufacturer to openly acknowledge the non-flatness of the world is gonna clean up. Trust me on this. I know you probably disagree. Many of our readers have become very successful following the dominant paradigms of the past few decades. I probably sound like a ranting madman to you. But am I really that insane? Don’t I have a new truck, right now? Could you manage the same?