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What Do Car Buyers Really Want?

"Designer cars" (Cover Story, Feb. 16) confuses the word design with styling. For a barber, the distinction does not matter. But in automotive design, the distinction is very, very expensive. Unfortunately, nowadays even the very bright people (such as William Clay Ford Jr. and Robert A. Lutz) running the biggest automotive companies risk their shareholders' fortune on something called "emotion, passion, or attitude" and righteously wish that they could sell their cars in the millions. Automotive styling as an artistic undertaking should have no constraints. But when attacking the mass automotive market, where a few winners take all, extreme commercial caution is the only key to success. After all, Versace or Gucci is only for the few.

No matter how much the middle class may claim to have emotion, passion, or attitude, their automotive purchases mercilessly separate the winners and losers. Do not confuse Lamborghini Diablo with Toyota (TM) Camry, for we all know who is the commercial winner of these two.

Lei Rao

Chairman and CEO

Beijing Tianqi Automotive Group


When most of the cars you featured are remembered by nobody, the 2004 Toyota Prius midsize hybrid gasoline-electric sedan will be recognized as a true automotive milestone. And the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive will be offered in many other models over the next few years. General Motors (GM), Ford (F), and DaimlerChrysler (DCX) execs should already be having nightmares.

James E. Waters

Wilmington, N.C.

The expensive, obsessive game of competing for sales along stylishness and horsepower dimensions reflects an environmental arrogance that pervades the entire auto industry. Flashy 12-cylinder cars have no place on a planet increasingly beset by damaging greenhouse gases.

Bruce Rhodes

Richmond Hill, Ont. The U.S. approach to eating and health, not the patient, is in need of some strong medicine ("Health care: How good?" Economic trends, Feb. 16). The weapons of mass destruction are actually DDEs -- diseases of dietary excess -- and they are certainly present in the U.S. The World Health Organization underlined this "malnutrition of excess" in its recent report on the global strategy on diet, physical activity, and health. The outcry it has provoked from the American food industry demonstrates clearly that the WHO has hit the Achilles' heel of an industry that has long been marching down the dead-end street of profits above health. More personal responsibility is now required. Maybe your writers have succeeded in giving your readers a critical impulse in this direction.

H. Novotny

Basel, Switzerland "Turkey's EU bid: Resistance is on the rise" (International Outlook, Feb. 9) says Cyprus "has been divided along religious lines since 1974." Cyprus hasn't been divided along religious lines. It was divided when Turkish troops invaded in 1974 and occupied almost 40% of the island, forcing Greek Cypriots to abandon their homes and become refugees in their own country. The invasion was carried out not to protect the Islamic minority of the island, but to satisfy Turkey's long-standing objective to have a strong hold in Cyprus and its geographic position of extreme strategic importance.

Stella Hadjicosti

Nicosia, Cyprus In "What India can do to catch up with China" (Economic Viewpoint, Feb. 16), Gary S. Becker's recommendation to eliminate poverty in India does not attack the cancer that has spread to the guts of the Indian society and polity: corruption. Without a direct attack on corruption that is literally consuming scarce developmental resources, India cannot progress, let alone catch up with China. It may look like the erstwhile Soviet Union rather than the egalitarian nation Mahatma Gandhi envisioned.

Sharan G. Nandi

South Pasadena, Calif.

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