Commentary

Just when you think you’ll never be surprised by anything again, the auto industry (and the circus that surrounds it) continues to amaze.

Just the other day, I had to give my noodle a shake over an apparent about-face by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The erstwhile Terminator-turned-enviro geek has characterized U.S. auto makers as Luddites who celebrate carbon-dioxide emissions, while their overseas-based competitors busily are saving the planet from global warming with their vastly superior engineering talent.

Last year, Arnold publicly tweaked Motown’s nose by calling on GM, Ford and Chrysler to further accelerate their development of alternative powertains. “Get off your butt,” he taunted.

Well, keep your eye on the tabloids. You may soon see Arnold’s butt behind the wheel of a ’08 Dodge Challenger SRT8, a modern 6.1L 425-hp. tribute to old-school show 'n go.

Scan the customer list attached to the car’s 6,400-unit limited production run and you will find the good governor’s name, Chrysler confirms.

I don’t blame the former bodybuilding champ. After all, it is a muscle car.

But stories like this explain why cynicism is to journalists what black-lung disease is to coal miners.

Meanwhile, business-acumen kudos goes to U-Haul for an inspired initiative that promises to resolve the conflict between American can-do spirit and the consumer flight from pickups to cars. The world’s largest installer of trailer hitches is out to show it’s possible to drive a small car and not feel inadequate in Home Depot’s parking lot.

“We’re building 1,600 small, open trailers that only weigh 630 lbs. (286 kg),” says Shannon Papa, U-Haul’s trailer and support rental-item manager.

Perfect mates for a Class 1 hitch you could install on a Toyota Corolla or Dodge Caliber, the trailers afford the same utility as a pickup, without the fuel-economy compromise that comes from running empty.

And for truck marketers who might sniff at the low volume, Pappa reminds that each trailer is shared by “many, many, many users” and boasts a duty cycle of 40-plus years.

No beef with that logic. But I can’t say the same for the strike that paralyzed Hyundai and Kia last week.

The union that represents the South Korea-based auto makers organized a walkout to protest U.S. beef imports. Not wages. Not working conditions. Beef imports.

To any of those auto workers who would argue that slowing Elantra sedan production will have a direct impact on their exposure to mad-cow disease, I say: Bull.

Meanwhile, Chrysler provides innovation aficionados with more food for thought. In an age when cup holders have become passé, how about a pizza holder?

A little-known feature of Flip 'n Stow, the under-seat storage solution in the ’09 Dodge Journey cross/utility vehicle, is its capacity to keep the humble pie on the level.

“It was a last-minute suggestion,” says Chrysler spokesman Jiyan Cadiz. “With the cushion upright and some investigating on pizza-box sizes, (supplier Johnson Controls) came back to the Journey product team and said, ‘You’re in luck. A pizza box will fit.”

Like I said, amazing.

emayne@wardsauto.com