Roy Exum: Hooray For Passat, But...

Saturday, January 5, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I’ve always been real strong on what’s called “The Code.” It is an unwritten but well-versed set of rules for a cowboy, which the great Western writer Zane Grey taught all us boys early, and a big one on the list is this: “A cowboy is loyal to his brand, to his friends, and those he rides with.”

Now there are some other ones that are important, like “Never try on another man’s hat,” and “Always fill your whiskey glass to the brim,” and “Never pass another rider on the trail without saying ‘Howdy’.” Oh, “The Code” is chock full of wisdom, too. “After you pass a man on the trail, don’t look back at him – it implies you don’t trust him,” and “Real cowboys are modest; a braggart who is ‘all gurgle and no guts’ is not tolerated.

But my point is you stay true to your brand. “If you ride for a man, you represent him every minute you’re in the saddle. You defend him, his cattle and his name.” So this is a round-about way of saying how thrilled I am to hear our county mayor is taking the keys to a brand-new Volkswagen Passat. The cars are being made here by Chattanoogans – who pay taxes -- and both city and county government officials ought to be driving a Volkswagen Passat.

Volkswagen is a Godsend for our area and its economy. Our local Volkswagen dealer – Village Volkswagen – is a fabulous dealership and I am hopeful in the months to come our government-owned cars will be exclusively those that are made in our town. In Nashville some of the governor’s staff drive Nissans – another great car – that are made in Smyrna and maybe we’ll get some Passats into the state fleet, too.

I’ve always been a little miffed at the way government buys cars. Our state troopers used to get stuck driving Chrysler products only because they were cheap and could be under-bid instead of far better vehicles. I’ve also been angry when I see where some dealer from Knoxville or Nashville sells to the our city or county instead of a dealer that’s here in town. Yeah, the bid might be lower but when you look at the taxes, the jobs, and the civic contribution a local automobile dealership generates in Chattanooga, to buy from an out-of-town dealer is stinkin’ thinkin’

So – yes – I’m all about our public servants driving Passat but I am also smart enough to know a Volkswagen Passat – bluntly speaking -- ain’t quite the best car on the road. You see, I have to be true to my brand, too, and when you read in the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the “Volkswagen brand had a 35 percent jump over 2011 to 438,133 vehicles to lead the major car companies,” that’s a touch misleading.

I’m a Toyota guy – that's the brand I ride. So the better truth is that just this week Toyota became the first automobile company in history to sell over two millions cars in a model year in the United States. Actually, Toyota – which hires 365,000 Americans -- sold more than 2.082 million vehicles in 2012, an increase of more than 400,000 units from a year ago, a leap of 26.6 percent and doubled the industry’s performance for the year.

Volkswagen’s 35-percent increase is noble, but when you are starting down at the bottom you are going to have a bigger percentage than you do at the top. But wait! I’m not knocking anybody! I’m proud of the VW plant, and I’m all about our taxes buying Passats for official use but let’s be honest here – globally Toyota sales increased by more than a million units over 2011 to about 14.5 million. VW ain’t even in the ballgame!

A Toyota Camry – similar to Passat –  was in fact the best-selling passenger sedan in the United States for the eleventh straight year. According to the American public, it is the best car on the road – there are more out there than any other model that has ever been made. Prius family sales accounted for more than half the industry’s hybrid sales, and the Lexus RX (made by Toyota) was the best-selling luxury SUV in America.

Again, this is the truth: Toyota Division sales for the year were up 27 percent from a year ago, making Toyota once again the No. 1 retail brand; Lexus Division sales were up 23 percent, their biggest year-over-year gain since 1998; and Scion sales were up 50 percent, with 65 percent of Scion buyers new to Toyota. Hello?

Toyota and Lexus vehicles earned the top spot in six out of the 10 vehicle categories on the recent list of Best New Car Values in Consumer Report magazine. This ain’t “all gurgle and no guts,” it isn’t bragging. The Code says a cowboy has to tell the truth. “Honest is absolute – your word is your bond, a handshake is more binding than a contract.”

I have friends who drive Volkswagens. They are happy and I am thrilled for them. But just because a Passat carries a Chattanooga brand, a cowboy (who rides for another outfit) must “Defend himself whenever it is necessary.” I’m not telling Volkswagen anything those folks don’t already know. After all, The Code says, “When approaching somebody from behind, a cowboy must give a loud greeting before you get within shooting range.”

You’d be amazed at the deep and warm friendships that exist between car people. Really, today’s Volkswagen is a well-made automobile. “A cowboy always helps someone in need, even if it is a stranger or the enemy,” and “Be hospitable to strangers. Anyone who wanders in, including an enemy, is welcome at the dinner table. The same holds true for riders who join cowboys on the range.”

Now, maybe I shouldn’t have been so bold to burst the VW bubble after the newspaper has a weekly color picture and is all fluff and glitter. I know The Code is against that: “A cowboy shouldn’t talk much; he saves his breath for breathing.” But just as I salute Chattanooga and Hamilton County for being true to the VW brand, I gotta’ defend the outfit I ride with.

It’s The Code. And I ain’t driving a Volkswagen. “Riding another man’s horse without his permission is nearly as bad as making a pass at his wife. Never dare bother another man’s horse.” The Code tells us instead, “Lookout for your own,” and urges us not to be quiet when there is a wrong. “Always be courageous. Cowards aren’t tolerated in any outfit worth its salt.”

So as I “stay loyal to the brand,” I commend our elected officials for doing the same. And if you disagree, The Code says, “Cuss all you want, but only around men, horses and cows.”

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