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Needs More Horsepower

Gregg Easterbrook has an interesting look back at how car reviewers helped enable America's addiction to gas guzzlers—a trend that, in hindsight, helped bring down Detroit:

Because auto reviewers fixated on speed, carmaker executives paid too much attention to horsepower, not enough to manufacturing quality, MPG and safety. The excellent 2002 book High and Mighty by Keith Bradsher not only offers what reads, in retrospect, as a prescient warning of Big Three arrogance and slipshod management. The book also contains a hysterical description of an auto-reviewers’ junket during which Big Three publicists lavished favors on reviewers who, wagging their tails like lap dogs, later wrote press-release-like “stories” exalting the huge engines of the most wasteful new models.

Warren Brown, longtime auto reviewer for the Washington Post, once was among the offenders in this category, lauding max-horsepower, low-mileage cars intended for the super-rich: those were the kind he wanted to be loaned to drive for the week. When General Motors and Chrysler almost folded, Brown came to his senses and began writing about MPG and safety. So the scales have fallen from the eyes of the Washington Post, while Joseph White of the Wall Street Journal long has emphasized safety and fuel efficiency in his auto reviews.

Then there’s the New York Times. The “wimpy” Cadillac SRX has a “peashooter” engine with a mere 265 horsepower, and “takes a lazy 8.5 seconds to reach 60 MPH.” The Hyundai Genesis has “just 210 horsepower.” The Times recommended that Genesis buyers pay extra for the optional 306 horsepower big-block engine, and didn’t warn that this option drops the car to 20 MPG. The Mitsubishi Outlander has a “disagreeable” engine because it only cranks 230 horsepower. The Times lavished praise on the 355-horsepower Ford Flex, especially lauding a blazing time of zero-to-60 in 6.1 seconds, while never getting around to mentioning the car’s awful 18 MPG fuel thirst.

What's amazing is that the Times' auto reviewers continued to heap praise on big, manly engines (and ignoring features like mileage and safety) even after the GM bailout.

(Flickr photo credit: DRT Photo)