As I've realized after swapping my flip-flops for shoes, seeing Christmas trees on top of Priuses, and dodging the salespeople at shopping mall kiosks, it's winter. This means turning the thermostat up 20 degrees, buying everything in The North Face catalog and waiting five minutes extra to warm the car up in the morning. If you live in the Midwest, that is.
However, in California, where I currently live (unless someone at an automaker decides "Let's ignore everything he's said about our cars! Hire this man to get a manual rear-drive diesel station wagon past the finance people!"), winter is like the summer, albeit with colder temperatures and shorter days, with the occasional trip to Tahoe to keep up the skiing lessons.
But let's face it. During the holidays, you manage to find yourself with enough time to plop down and catch up on the shows on Netflix or whatever new sitcoms came out this fall. (Trophy Wife is quite good. The Millers? Not so much.)
Instead, I've decided to make some unsolicited reading suggestions, and I've actually read them, mainly to demonstrate that I do other things besides watching sitcoms and playing Gran Turismo 6. All of them are excellent reads and provide entertainment away from looking at a screen, with the exception of the book in the middle.
Author's Note: I know Raphael Orlove already had some recommendations and solicited some for other good books. Unfortunately, I had this list planned for the weekend by that point. If you want an Honorable Mentions list on my end (mainly since I haven't read quite a few of them as it turns out), there are plenty of good automotive books in the comments of that post.
Arrogance and Accords
I've decided to start with the choice from left-field first. Arrogance and Accords covers the Honda scandal of the 1990s, when people in charge of dealer allocation decided to get kickbacks from dealers in exchange for giving them a favorable selection of cars when the market for Honda was hot during the 1980s and early 1990s. The book ends up showcasing the contentious relationship between corporate companies and their dealer franchises.
Steve Lynch, a former American Honda, also includes good stories about Acura's launch and why it was never as strong as Lexus' debut. Some parts of this book are downright hilarious (in a dark, Arrested Development-sort of way), while other moments make you realize how the scandal may have impacted you when buying a Honda from a Honda dealer. Unfortunately, it's out of print, so prices have skyrocketed, but look for it at your local library.
Icons and Idiots
Having read Bob Lutz's past books, Guts: The Seven Laws of Business That Made Chrysler the World's Hottest Car Company (showing even Lutz can get things spectacularly wrong) and Car Guys vs. Bean Counters (he strangely doesn't mention the SSR), Icons and Idiots is the best book out of all of them, since one of Bob Lutz's books had to make this list. The book tends to be a quick read, but it's thoroughly entertaining. Since most of these guys are now very old or dead, Lutz names names, which allows us to contrast these leaders' public and private personas.
The best part about Icons and Idiots is that the stories take center stage, in order to illustrate Lutz's points on the qualities of good and bad leaders. This involves the famous stories of Philip Caldwell, how the current BMW naming system was developed, and what it was like to report to Lee Iaccoca. Thankfully, the book shows how much auto industry leadership has changed (or not changed, depending on your view) and is a very entertaining read. (Purchase Link)
Plays With Cars
Yes, I know Doug DeMuro attempts to charm us into paying $3 for his book by getting the Jalopnik editors to post his stuff on the front page. Unfortunately, I was taken in with his charm and ended up buying his book (and lived to tell the tale). I also finished it in less than a day. As a result, I know CarMax is the place I'll buy a V10 M5 and to never drive a Lotus Elise across the country with your mother.
If you're familiar with the usual DeMuro quirks, things such as constantly mentioning E63 wagon ownership and the use of the adverb "presumably" once or twice every chapter, you'll love this book. Otherwise, sitcoms are probably not for you and your holiday plans need to be reexamined. Keep in mind if you want a paperback version, it'll be around $10 with shipping and possibly tax. Worth it? Definitely. (Purchase Link)
Go Like Hell
If anything, this is a must-read for sports car racing fans. Reading about the people and resources involved show how seriously Ford took to winning at LeMans. The amount of technology Ford developed for the GT40 program (such as a computerized simulations of engines and transmissions running at LeMans to test their durability) is exactly what most racing programs like Audi do today, but it was in the 1960s.
Baime also provides a fairly good history into the events transpiring at Ferrari and Ford due to the new rivalry. This involves documenting how chaotic the situations were at both companies from inability to find drivers at some points to the most unlikely of cars winning the races. And the portrayal of Enzo Ferrari, Henry Ford II, and Carroll Shelby demonstrate the kinds of personalities that were behind these cars and the bragging rights that came with winning endurance races. (Purchase Link)
Once Upon a Car
Bill Vlasic ends up writing the book which has defined the automotive industry for the last ten years. Through interviews with the major executives of the the Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors, Vlasic reconstructed the situation that the American auto industry found itself in ten years ago. With numerous stories surrounding the events at the top level, any reader will be amazed that American automakers even survived the last decade.
In the end, to know why the Big Three are in their current situation, Once Upon a Car is a must-read. For such a serious book, it is a page-turner, as it explains a lot a qualms car enthusiasts had with the industry during the 2000s. From the sale of Chrysler to Cerberus to GM negotiating with the UAW to Ford hiring Alan Mullaly, there's a story for everything. It'll even explain why the Big Three may never make the Jalopnik dream of a rear-drive manual diesel station wagon. (Purchase Link)
What other books should people add to their reading lists?
Satish Kondapavulur runs Clunkerture, named because "Clunker.com" was $82 at auction and would've taken 30% out of the balance of his Eagle Vision for LeMons fund. In between contemplating cross-country runs, he spends much of his time attempting to convince others that his MkV Jetta 2.0T Wolfsburg is indeed a sports sedan.
Honda image courtesy Honda. Once Upon a Car image courtesy The New York Times. Other images credit to respective publishers.