Ralph Nader has long been my hero, someone I perceived as a selfless advocate who shared my outrage about corporate wrongdoing, but in his case, he made a meaningful difference.
Nader in 1965 published a groundbreaking book called Unsafe at Any Speed – The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile that revealed the indifference of U.S. automakers to safety and their preferred emphasis on comfort. Among the most damning chapters was Nader’s takedown of General Motors’ rear-engined Corvair. Nader also slammed the styling of U.S. automobiles, particularly the Chevrolet Bel Air, which he said were hazardous to pedestrians.
In the 60s, Americans still read books and Unsafe at Any Speed was national bestseller that resulted in the passage of seatbelt laws and other road safety initiatives, as well as the creation of the Department of Transportation and what morphed into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Millions of Americans were spared serious injuries and deaths because of Nader’s muckraking.
Publishing Unsafe at Any Speed took real guts. In the 60s, GM wasn’t the American embarrassment it is today but rather a globally admired industrial company whose influence was such it was said that “What’s Good for General Motors is Good for America.” Nader paid a price for taking on such a powerful company; GM launched an aggressive harassment campaign for which the company’s president was forced to publicly apologize and Nader successfully landed a $425,000 settlement. He used the money to establish the Center for Automotive Safety.
CAS does an admirable job calling out safety issues, but unfortunately the only reporter who seems to monitor the organization’s findings and warnings is Tom Krisher, the AP’s auto writer, who does a yeoman’s job reporting on recalls and defective automotive vehicles and parts. Perhaps out of frustration that its valuable research goes mostly unnoticed by the legacy media, CAS recently decided to go cheeky and question the manhood of those interested in buying Elon Musk’s revolutionary Cybertruck.
Obviously, Musk’s legions of acolytes who believe he’s a modern-day Messiah didn’t take kindly to someone questioning the size of one of their prized body parts. I quite liked this response from someone with the X handle “Elon’s My Hero.”
The CAS’ tweet garnered the organization’s desired media coverage, with NBC News, Business Insider, Jalopnik, Rolling Stone, Robb Report, and others amplifying the organization’s warnings about the safety of the Cybertruck. Rolling Stone and Robb Report didn’t think to mention that the company that owns them is controlled by Jay Penske, heir to the dealership fortune of billionaire Roger Penske whose businesses are threatened by Musk’s direct sales model. Admittedly, I don’t have ethical expectations from a media organization funded by the Saudi government and in the case of Rolling Stone, a purveyor of egregiously fake news.
I’m loathe to defend Elon Musk, but CAS’s attack on the Cybertruck involved a selective use of facts that’s consistent with the organization’s continuous attacks on Tesla, as well as Nader’s criticisms of the company, particularly its self-driving technology. Most of CAS’s Tesla attacks are well founded, except its deceptive slamming of the Cybertruck’s safety.
As CAS knows, the chance of severe injury or death in crashes goes up almost 50% for every thousand pounds of weight added to a vehicle. I know CAS knows this because the information is posted here on its website. Rapid acceleration capabilities are another risk.
The Cybertruck weighs some 6,000 pounds, considerably more than a Ford F-150, America’s best- selling pickup, which weighs 4,300 pounds. But the Lightning, the electric version of the Ford F-150, also weighs 6,000 pounds, so it poses additional risk to drivers and pedestrians. The electric version of GM’s best-selling Silverado pickup weighs 8,500 pounds, so it’s an even bigger roadway hazard.
But the heaviest EV in the land is GM’s GMC EV Hummer, which weighs more than 9,000 pounds. What’s especially alarming about the Hummer is that two reviewers warned the vehicle has insufficient braking power, particularly given that it can go from 0-60 in three seconds.
“Even with its crazy amount of regenerative braking, this truck absolutely does not have brakes commensurate with its power and speed capabilities,” MotorTrend warned in an April 2022 review. Emme Hall, in a review in the Verge earlier this year, also warned of the EV Hummer’s inadequate braking power.
Engage the Watts to Freedom, otherwise known as WTF, mode (no, I’m not kidding — that’s what GMC calls it), and the three electric motors unleash all 1,000 horsepower, propelling the truck from a dead stop to 60mph in a GMC-estimated three seconds. I’m not going to lie — it’s super fun, but stopping is terrifying. The road runs out quickly when your truck is this heavy and can go this fast, so play carefully.
In a nod to Nader’s design warnings more than a half century ago, Hall said the EV Hummer’s driver visibility is also compromised.
The extreme width means the side blind spots are pretty terrible, so be prepared to use that monitoring system — you’ll need the extra help. Forward visibility is compromised, too, with that short windshield and long hood.
It’s clear that the EV Hummer is far more of a potential hazard than the Cybertruck, particularly given that Tesla’s vehicles rank high for automotive safety. Yet the media is piling on with stories about CAS’s warning about the Cybertruck, no doubt because of its disdain for Elon Musk.
Admittedly, I imagined that someone who drives an EV Hummer might be compensating for masculinity issues, but I was mistaken assuming the vehicle would primarily appeal to wealthy men who wanted to flaunt they could afford a more than $100,000 vehicle that screams “FU” to everyone else on the road.
The EV Hummer’s most famous driver is GM CEO Mary Barra, who disclosed in an interview with David Rubenstein at the Economic Club of Washington this week that’s one of her vehicles of choice. Barra, who has received more than $200 million in compensation for her nearly ten years on the job, can easily afford a Hummer, but my guess is it’s among her position’s perks, along with financial planning GM provides her to manage her compensation loot.
“You get respect driving a Hummer EV,” Barra said, no doubt referring to the vehicle’s monstrosity, with a battery weighing as much as a Honda Civic.
Barra disclosed that her other vehicle is an electric Chevy Blazer, which GM manufactures in Mexico, where under Barra it has become that country’s biggest automotive manufacturer. If I was UAW president Shawn Fain, seeing the boss of my union members driving a Mexican-made vehicle wouldn’t sit well.
Rubenstein, the billionaire co-founder of the private equity firm The Carlyle Group, took a dig at Barra in an otherwise fawning interview. Asked how long she expects to remain as CEO, Barra said, “Well I serve at the pleasure of the board.”
To which Rubenstein replied, “But you’re the chairman of the board.”
Experts say that allowing CEOs to chair their boards is bad corporate governance and gives them undue control of their companies to keep their jobs.