as a weekly practice I listen to npr and do a little sketch on one of the stories. take a look, you can click on the illustration to make it bigger!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Amid Recession, One Automaker Is Prospering

Across the Midwest, auto plants are on extended summer breaks or, worse, shuttered for good as turmoil in the industry continues. But there's one factory in Ohio that can barely keep up with demand for its hot car.

It has two doors and an iconic, compact design.

"This car really has done a great job of reading what the consumers want these days," says auto expert Paul Eisenstein. He publishes TheDetroitBureau.com.

"Whether you're talking about its performance, which is pretty good, depending on who's behind the wheel. It has a lot of really nice features," says Eisenstein. "You don't have to worry about these vehicles breaking down. In this case, the driver might break down a little bit. Get a little tired and have to count on Mom and Dad."

Wait. Mom and Dad? Yes, the nation's best-selling car is the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe: that molded plastic yellow and red sub-subcompact with countless fans like 3-year-old Audrey Kuntz of North Royalton, Ohio. She makes car sounds as she rides around in her Cozy Coupe.

The Cozy Coupe is delightfully low-tech and environmentally friendly. No gas or batteries are needed. It's powered by a toddler's legs or a parent's push.

The Little Tikes factory in Hudson, Ohio, runs 24 hours a day, cranking out a Cozy Coupe every minute. Sales have remained strong, moving more than 450,000 of these cute plastic cars every year in the U.S. That's more than the runners-up in the sales race: the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.

Bill Holcomb, the plant manager, says it feels nice to be in an auto factory in Ohio that is doing pretty well. "The Cozy Coupe isn't subject to the same woes that Chrysler and GM are subject to today," he says.

The little car has gone through only a few minor face-lifts in its life span. Little Tikes executive Tom Richmond says the biggest change actually came this year with a new front end that looks like a happy face, with big cartoonish eyes.

"We've given Cozy a personality," he says. "He has a full-length video. He has eyes, he has a mouth; we've humanized him."

The Cozy Coupe also now has cupholders.

"Of course those are primarily for Mom and Dad, but [they're] also a great place for sippy cups and so on," he explains.

As the Cozy Coupe celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, it entered automotive history.

Last weekend, the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland inducted the Cozy Coupe into its permanent collection. Museum Director Allan Unrein says it deserves to be among the historic Model T's and Packards.

"This, of all the cars I've ever seen in my life, that's the only one everybody aspires to. That's the Cozy Coupe," he says.

Unrein says that when the kids came for the induction, he realized the beleaguered automakers could learn a thing or two from the Cozy Coupe when designing their new models.

"Sometimes they become too appliancelike," he says. "They just lost that emotional appeal where there is emotional appeal. Those kids who were riding around, I can take it from them and they're all sad and crying, you know. I can take your Honda away from you and you're not going to be sad and crying. I'll find something else or whatever."

No wonder Honda and Toyota can't compete. Oh, and maybe the fact that the Cozy Coupe sells for the low-low price of $49.

-excerpt from NPR

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