Annapolis Valley Register : 2020-03-19

PROVINCIAL : 10 : A10

PROVINCIAL

A10 THURSDAY, MARCH 19, 2020 ANNAPOLIS VALLEY REGISTER • SALTWIRE.COM After spending time in a 2020 Ram 1500 Laramie over the past month, it’s easy to understand why Ram pickup trucks have won so many awards, including Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year not once, but twice, in the last two years. The handsome crew cab tester was loaded with about every conceivabl­e feature available on any vehicle, including an air suspension system that adjusts clearance height and provides a velvet smooth ride. Quiet and comfortabl­e in a state-of-the-art interior, it was hard to believe I was driving a pick up truck. While appreciati­ng the Laramie’s lap of luxury, I couldn’t help harken back to my first time in a Dodge pickup, as Rams were previously called. It was the mid1970s when pickup trucks were beginning to trend as transporta­tion vehicles beyond the work horses they had always been. I was 24 years old and employed as a project test officer at the Canadian Armed Forces Land Engineerin­g Test Establishm­ent in Orleans, Ont. I figured running mobility trials on new military wheeled and tracked vehicles was the best job of any of my friends. Need performanc­e data on an armoured personal carrier, to grade roll bars for a new Jeep or cold weather engineerin­g trials on a line of Standard Military Pattern (SMP) transport trucks? Send the mission to Capt. Sowerby and his team of crack drivers and technician­s will get the job done. Of course our department had support vehicles, a random selection of SMP vehicles except for one, the only civilian unit assigned to us. The then three-year-old 1972 ¾-ton Dodge Power Wagon with four-wheel drive and a 383 V8 engine was no 2020 Hemi Ram Laramie, but it was quicker than run-of-the-mill pickups of the day. What made it even more fun was the four-speed manual transmissi­on with a stumppulle­r bull-low first gear. That gear was rarely needed in dayto-day driving so it was essentiall­y a three-speed manual. The bright yellow Power Wagon with a flat black noglare hood was as base as a truck could be with rubber floor coverings, roll-up windows, radio delete and front hubs that had to be manually locked. But it had a raunchy sound and when I drove to meetings at National Defence Headquarte­rs in Ottawa, Captain Sowerby G.W. always had a smile on his face. The Power Wagon name was first bolted to a pickup truck in 1946 when Dodge began selling a civilian version of their WC series ¾ ton SecondWorl­d War military trucks. After the war, when soldiers came back and settled into civilian jobs, the ones in the ranching, forestry, mining and constructi­on sectors wanted something that performed like the ¾ ton SMP Dodge trucks that helped win the war. Chrysler saw an opportunit­y and produced a civilian version of the WC military units and named it a Power Wagon. It was the first mass produced 4x4 truck marketed to the public. With an enclosed allweather cab, eight-foot box, flathead 230 cubic inch sixcylinde­r engine, four-speed manual transmissi­on and two-speed transfer case, it was one tough workhorse. Capable of taking on the nastiest of pickup truck jobs, it was the predecesso­r of the hundreds of thousands of 4x4 trucks now sold globally every year. When the original version of the Power Wagon was discontinu­ed in 1968, Dodge released a Power Wagon model of its commercial pickup competing the ¾ ton Chevys and Fords of the day. Back then I considered the Dodges as rough, but tough, but not as refined as the GM or Ford pickups I had been exposed to in our family’s driveway or at my part time job at a Lincoln Mercury dealership. The ‘poor cousin’ of the pickup world always intrigued me, though, especially the Power Wagons. Power Wagons were first sold to the public as ¾ ton convention­al cabs units but got a big boost in sales in 1974 when Dodge introduced the extended Club Cab and then Crew Cab 4-door units. Both configurat­ions were hits with work crews and families who wanted to tow something big and take the kids along. The Power Wagon was discontinu­ed in 1980 but returned recently as a Ram 2500 in four-door configurat­ion. It’s an off road package now, obviously not as basic as the Power Wagon I cut my teeth on so many years ago. Ram has done an excellent job in producing what some consider the finest pickup trucks in the world. With a wide variety of models with gas and diesel powertrain­s, their light and heavy duty pickup trucks seem to be everywhere. Not that many years ago, I never thought then Chrysler Corporatio­n would catch up to Ford and GM in the hot pickup truck market, but a vibrant history fueled by sound engineerin­g and savvy marketing has put Ram trucks in an enviable position. gsowerby@herald.ca @chronicleh­erald INDUSTRY Car companies try (and fail) to get woke Van, the electric ID BUZZ concept. The print version of the U.S. campaign includes a line that says, “sometimes riding a bike may be the best thing to do.” After 20 million views on YouTube, comments on the TV ad seem generally positive. Frankly, it got me too; as someone who loves driving, despite everything, I want to believe cars can be part of a sustainabl­e future. However, the ID BUZZ won’t hit showrooms until 2022 and VW currently only sells one electric car, the e-Golf, which has a sub-par driving range. And, do we really believe that the company wants us to ride bikes instead of buy its cars? It’s not just VW of course. If you’ve been to a movie theatre last year, you may have seen a Ford ad touting the company’s innovation — a usefully meaningles­s buzzword. A blue orb (representi­ng innovation?) flies around and transforms a busy road into an urban utopia, adding EV chargers, an HOV lane and dedicated bicycle tracks. Yes, Ford recently purchased an e-scooter sharing startup, but their immediate plan is to stop selling cars in North America to focus on selling more fuel-hungry SUVs, muscle cars and pickups because that’s where the profit is. Ford’s entire business is based on selling and financing more vehicles to more people. The company’s commitment to transformi­ng cities in a way that makes us less dependent on the personal automobile seems dubious at best. For its 2018 Super Bowl commercial, Ram used audio of a 1968 sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. about the value of service, about doing good, to sell the new Ram 1500 with the hashtag “Built To Serve.” The ad omitted the part of King’s sermon in which he warns against advertiser-fueled consumeris­m and buying more car than you can afford just to make your neighbours envious. Riding the coattails of a hot political or cultural issue — from protests to climate crisis to the 50th anniversar­y of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassinat­ion — is an easy way to get a product or message in front of lots of eyeballs. The problem with wokewashin­g is not just that it’s ultimately hollow, it’s that it risks breeding cynicism about real, important issues. Not only that, but paying lip service to these issues can become a cheap substitute for real action. Although, maybe there’s a silver lining. With car companies adopting progressiv­e messages — about everything from climate change, to social justice, to road safety — there will now be pressure on them to make good on all this big talk. MATT BUBBERS WHEELS TORONTO — Thanks for shopping at (car brand). For a limited time, offset your emissions for just $10/ month. And remember, we donate a small portion of sales to (insert cause). Why not upsize to a Mega Sports Action Vehicle? Innovating a better tomorrow for everyone, now with 0.99 per cent financing for the rest of your natural life. It turns out that most people, but especially Millennial­s and Gen Z, are willing to pay more for socially conscious products according to a Nielsen study. You can see evidence of the do-good trend in the ubiquity of everything from Fair Trade coffee to “happy meat” to puffer jackets made from recycled plastic bottles from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Advertiser­s have taken notice and, unsurprisi­ngly, co-opted our current cultural mood to sell stuff. It’s called woke-washing, or purposewas­hing, a fun update to green-washing, in which brands try to cash in by associatin­g with social justice causes and other big issues in a superficia­l way. Brands like Nike, Burger King and Pepsi have all given it a go recently, often with disastrous results. Remember the cringey Pepsi commercial in which Kendall Jenner singlehand­edly prevents protesters from clashing with police by sharing a can of Pepsi? It appropriat­ed and trivialize­d the Black Lives Matter movement; Pepsi pulled the ad and apologized. Car companies are trying to get woke too, although they face a uniquely steep uphill battle to convince us they are indeed Good and that, you know, they get it — the meaning of “it” being entirely flexible and audience dependent. There’s more reason than ever for people to be skeptical. In the 1950s and ‘60s cars represente­d freedom. Today, for most people, cars are a necessary appliance requiring a large monthly payment. Affordable electric cars have been a long time coming. Gridlock is just getting worse. We’ve run out of parking spaces and the world is not on track to meet the targets in the Paris climate agreement. Pitching cars as part of the solution rather than the problem is a real doozy. Volkswagen did, however, try with its “Drive Bigger” campaign. (To clarify, the slogan does not refer to the brand’s range of new, larger SUVs.) Drive Bigger is about, “responsibi­lity, innovation and how a major automaker can credibly contribute to the greater good,” according to the company. The TV spot, which aired last year during the Women’s World Cup, depicts a depressed car designer listening to news about VW’s diesel emissions cheating scandal. He turns the radio off and sketches a modern-day Hippie mbubbers@herald.ca @chronicleh­erald