Stop The Car, I'm Getting Out

Except for one brief, unfortunate interlude, I have covered the automotive beat for the past 16 years, give or take. Like most of my professional jobs, I fell into it in a “cover it, or hit the bricks” fashion: big magazine funded by internet money that burst with the 1999 internet bubble, and I was lucky to stay with the firm. I was told I could cover cars or leave. The problem was that I knew not the first thing about cars or car companies except that I’d owned two Beetles when I was a kid, and had driven out west in a Corolla that somehow managed to take me across the West Texas desert with no water in the radiator and nothing in the tank but tumbleweeds.

When I started covering autos around Y2K, I was sent to Detroit to meet with Big Three reps, a fact-finding mission. It involved some embarrassing interviews in which I asked people at Ford, “Well, how have sales of Ram been for you guys?” “They’ve been terrible, but not for us, since we don’t make Ram (who is this guy?).” “Oh, right. I meant Tundra.”

None of the people I spoke with then are there now. Some have moved to competitive automakers. That seems like a long time ago, even before Daimler AG made the mistake of acquiring Chrysler Group, and around the time Jacques Nasser was trying to turn Ford into some kind of holding company. Oddly, automakers are playing with that idea again as they figure out what the hell the automotive revolution means for the car business.

But back then, Nasser was about acquiring a lot of different companies — repair shops in the U.K., luxury auto brands under its Premier Auto Group umbrella — at the expense of its core brands. So was Ron Zarella over at GM. God knows what was happening at Chrysler. The idea was the automaker should be some kind of mobility company and not rely on Ford and Lincoln, to put it mildly. Now, with GM making deals with Lyft, and Ford’s new FordPass program, computer companies making cars, and cars becoming connected devices, auto companies are … mobility companies.

In the auto business, like the celebrity business, no news tends to be good news. That was especially true a decade and a half ago because there wasn’t much good news in product development. It was kind of a lousy time for cars, with one lozenge looking like another, and a sense of desperation in the air as companies fired off Roman candles to the design gods to try to ignite some kind of “gotta have” excitement. Yes, a lot of PT Cruisers were sold, for a while. Ford Thunderbird entered through the front, exited through the kitchen door. There were more mainstream cars that, for one reason or another, didn’t grab: Subaru Tribeca, Lexus SC 430, Honda Element, Chrysler Pacifica, and a whole list of some others that came, saw, didn’t conquer.

Pontiac, Plymouth, Hummer, Saab, Suzuki, Mitsubishi, and most recently Scion? Gone. Mini, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, and Tesla? Here, for the time being. Mini is the most successful of these, if you don’t count Tesla, which probably loses money on every car it sells, until it makes a ton of them.

But, for me, the standouts were mostly star turns: the near death, then stunning rebirth of Hyundai and Kia, which fewer than two decades ago were basically things with wheels you could buy if you couldn’t rate a Camry. There was Nissan’s sudden, aggressive reinvention after the company allied with Renault under Carlos Ghosn, making him turnaround king and manga hero. Toyota’s  introduction of Prius, a car that would help to set in motion fundamental changes to the business.

There was Ford’s brilliant decision to woo Alan Mulally over from Boeing. He turned the company around by bringing the Blue Oval back to life with big investments in product, and savings through spinoffs of brands like Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Volvo. Great marketing, horrible ads, over-rated ads (I never thought the Darth Vader spot was all that brilliant), great car shows, product launches, leaders and agencies. And clueless ones.

And now, with the business on the verge of a major churn event or two, I’m outta here. Bad timing — this will be my last auto marketing column for a while, though probably not forever. Who knows. Anyway, just pull over to the curb right about here, sir. No, there, near the charging station. I’ve got Uber on my phone, but I’ll use my Zipcar. Don’t need to pick it up. It’s on its way; it’s picking me up, ordering my groceries and calling my therapist at the same time. Thank goodness for cars.

12 comments about "Stop The Car, I'm Getting Out".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, February 23, 2016 at 11:09 a.m.

    Thanks for the time spent. I don't work in automotive, but I learned things from your work anyway; finer praise, I do not have.

  2. Leanne Jenkins from Reelz Channel, February 23, 2016 at 11:18 a.m.

    Also thankful for your columns. I call on Detroit from outside Detroit and your work has been very helpful for an outsider to understand the nuances of the industry. Best of luck.

  3. Karl Greenberg from MediaPost replied, February 23, 2016 at 11:39 a.m.

    Thanks! I'll probaby still be involved in the business from the tech end. 

  4. Karl Greenberg from MediaPost replied, February 23, 2016 at 11:40 a.m.

    thanks Leanne. I appreciate knowing someone out there is following. 

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 23, 2016 at 11:47 a.m.

    Ouch. You will be missed. The best to you revving forward.

  6. Joe Kyriakoza from Oracle Data Cloud, February 23, 2016 at 2:59 p.m.

    You'll be missed, Karl. I've enjoyed working with you and always followed your work.

  7. Sarah Mahoney from self employed, February 23, 2016 at 4:48 p.m.

    Will miss your column, and working with you. Best of luck. Vroom.

  8. Tanya Gazdik from MediaPost, February 24, 2016 at 1:17 a.m.

    GREAT last column!  Looking forward to hearing about your new adventures.

  9. Robert McEvily from MediaPost, February 24, 2016 at 1:56 p.m.

    Karl is THE MAN.  His awesome guitar playing around the office will be also be missed.

  10. Chuck Lantz from, network, February 24, 2016 at 4:59 p.m.

    As an avid gear-head since before I could walk, I dislike seeing the ranks of good automotive journalists shrink, for any reason.  

    So, even though your story about asking those Ford guys about "their" Rams back in your early years made me cringe a bit, due to the sad fact that far too many of today's "expert automotive writers" are atill at that stage, your writing will be missed. 

  11. Barbara Lippert from, February 24, 2016 at 5:16 p.m.

    Good luck, Karl! I've enjoyed your work. 

  12. Doug Robinson from FreshDigitalGroup, February 27, 2016 at 5:38 p.m.

    You've taught us all so much, we are beyond appreciative, and I thank you.

Next story loading loading..