It’s time to start reading the runes for the rest of the first decade of the 21st Century. I’ve been reading them, and they look good, writes Karl Ludvigsen.

How’s this for an indication: we now have a good idea of how well various films have done in 2006. The biggest grossing film on record at the moment (the December numbers may change some positions) is Pirates of the Caribbean. Ranked second, with box-office receipts of US$244m since June, is — wait for it — Cars the Movie. Yes, an animated movie starring cartoon representations of a Porsche, Ferrari, Volkswagen, Fiat 600 and even a Model T Ford has been one of the most-watched theatre films.

Far beyond the impact of the film itself is the knock-on effect of its aggressive marketing by Disney and the movie’s maker Pixar. Advance promotion for Cars was at saturation level in all the media. Sales of its DVDs are likely to be phenomenal. As well, the takeup of Cars-related merchandise is spectacular. I’m sure you know at least one youngster whose Christmas gifts included eagerly awaited Cars creations. You may even have had them in your own letter to Santa!

What’s my point? My point is that in Cars the Movie we have witnessed by far the most compelling advertisement for automobiles and their appeal, sexual and otherwise, that I have witnessed in my lifetime. Only the Herbie movies come close. The saga of Lightning McQueen as related by John Lasseter and Joe Ranft has its longueurs — I thought they’d never escape from Radiator Springs — but its portrayals of the pleasures of the road and the excitements of racing are unsurpassed. And it didn’t hurt to have authentic film and racing star Paul Newman voicing Doc Hudson.

My advice to car makers would be to research the reactions of a cross-section of viewers of Cars the Movie. What effect did it have on their perceptions of automobiles? How do they feel about the respective roles of domestic models versus imports? Did it encourage them to think about getting involved in the car business? What ideas about cars did the movie inspire in them? It would be useful to know things like these because the generation that has seen Cars will be more car-conditioned than any before. They’ve experienced total immersion in automania to an unprecedented extreme. That has to be good for our business — if we know enough about these prospective customers.

Another positive sign deserves a mention. One of my Christmas gifts was a book by Mary Bird called The Car Masutra — The Man Who Loves His Car!! Its subtitle is ‘The Essential Guide to the Ultimate Act of Love’. Accompanied by Mary’s own charming drawings, the book brilliantly depicts a woman’s view of the baffling enthusiasm that men show for these peculiar machines we call cars. The book’s ingenious premise is that it will help women understand this bizarre passion while also giving men an insight into the female view, an insight that could help them get ‘round that question, “Oh, no, you’re not working on THAT car again?”’

You can learn more about this amusing book at What I take away from this work by a fellow East Anglian is that young men are still intensely interested in cars! Mary Bird vividly depicts their enthusiasms for cars and racing. I think we all knew this was going on in spite of the gloom merchants and their dire warnings about traffic and the environment, but it was nice to have the confirmation that The Car Masutra provides.

There are other signs as well, such as the front-page attention given in Britain to the high-speed crash of TV personality Richard Hammond, driving a jet dragster. Fortunately Richard has recovered well but his lucky escape was top of the news, showing again the strong interest that people and their media representatives have in car-related activities.

So I see a bright future for our industry at all its levels, peaking dramatically when the Cars the Movie generation gets into serious automobile purchasing. What kinds of cars will they be buying? That’s up to you to determine!

– Karl Ludvigsen

Karl Ludvigsen is an award-winning author, historian and consultant who has worked in senior positions for GM, Fiat and Ford. In the 1980s and 1990s he ran the London-based motor-industry management consultancy, Ludvigsen Associates. He is currently an independent consultant and the author of more than three dozen books about cars and the motor industry, including Creating the Customer-Driven Car Company