Automakers in the United States are in deep trouble, and Marty Padgett knows it.
As executive editor of the website TheCarConnection.com, a freelance journalist for magazines like Details and Stuff, and the author of three books on the automotive industry, Padgett has felt the coming hardships for manufacturers over the past few years. With or without federal assistance, he fears that "there will just be a shattering change."
Padgett's enthusiasm for automobiles stretches back to his adolescence, when he and his buddies would sit around their neighborhood in the D.C. suburbs talking about dream cars. As an undergraduate, he knew that he wanted to pursue a career in journalism, and was able to join his interests during a series of summer internships at Car and Driver.
He had his share of challenges, as well. Padgett was ousted from his post as the editor of Jabberwocky, a satirical student magazine, following the publication of some controversial articles. A "trial by fire," as Padgett described it, the incident gave him the strength he's come to rely on as a journalist. "I learned that I had to be able to defend anything I write and also to be ready for the possibility it will draw extremely negative reactions… I realized that [if] I could live with what happened then, I could live with anything."
After graduating with honors in history, Padgett went to Michigan to work for Car and Driver, where he had been a summer intern. He honed his skills by reviewing countless automobiles and enjoyed the process and the perks immensely. After about five years, he decided that he wanted to learn more about the manufacturing process, and took a job in public relations with Mercedes. From there, he moved to his current home in Atlanta in 1997 and began to do freelance work.
In 2004, Padgett published his first book, Hummer: How a Little Truck Company Hit the Big Time, Thanks to Saddam, Schwarzenegger, and GM. Nominated for the Ken Purdy Award, given by the International Motor Press Association, the book earned Padgett numerous television and radio appearances as an industry expert. "The story of the Hummer brand," he says, "closely parallels the strong political and economic themes that are playing out right now."
Since then, he has noted shakeups not only with the auto industry but also with the nature of automotive journalism itself. As energy issues take center stage, the kinds of things consumers look for in their relationships with automobiles are changing as well. Moving increasingly to what Padgett terms "service journalism," his website will soon begin offering ways for prospective buyers to find the car that will fit them best, in addition to the more traditional profile and manufacturer pieces. And, as for the commanding power of the "Big Three" automakers, Padgett does not see much of a future. But as a journalist, he knows that regardless of future events, consumers will still need help in deciding what kinds of automobiles to buy.
"American cars were seen as unassailable, invincible. They were proof that we were the best country, that we had the best designers and the best engineers." But, according to Padgett, the penchant for producing cars excelling in roominess and comfort—as opposed to an environmentally responsible agenda—has left American automakers moribund in a shaky economy. "Unfortunately, I think we're at the end of the myth of the American car."