The politics of a flat tire
Text by Cor Steenstra, photos by Cor and Christiana Steenstra
Following a beautiful sunset just missing the fog, south of Gualala, we managed to reach Sacramento late in the evening. A good nights rest and an excellent breakfast set us up well for our trip along Lake Tahoe en down to the eerie Mono Lake, renowned from the Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here.
It was a gorgeous day, and therefore not surprising that there was a lot of traffic around Lake Tahoe. What did surprise me though was how easily the gearbox of the Lexus IS350 reacted to the various traffic conditions, the rolling and winding roads, the slow traffic, the sudden accelerations needed to make use of the passing lanes that were sporadically offered along the otherwise dual lane roadway. The gearbox really was so smooth, and it was no big deal at all to react quickly and move our way forward to in front of the traffic jams.
The drive around Lake Tahoe offered quite a few photo opportunities, as you can clearly see.
From there it was on about a 100 mile drive south toward Mono Lake, a lake I have admired since I first bought my Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here album. It was unopened in its original completely black plastic wrapper, and opening it was like opening a Christmas present. Amongst the many goodies was an intriguing postcard, which depicted a swimmer standing on his hands in a lake surrounded by a moon like landscape. The water had almost no ripples and the reflection was near to perfect. A few years later I found a book called Hypgnosis, mainly about album cover design, in which they explained the back story of the photograph, and the location. I had to see it for myself.
Sadly, then disaster struck. Thankfully we were driving at slow speed through a town, so the consequences did not end in drama, but I had a sudden exploding tire, the rear passenger side one. It was sudden, and came with a really loud bang, not only to us. It was so loud that we ultimately had some of our fellow travelers on the road return to where we were stopped, to ask if we were ok, and if we needed help. Totally unexpected reaction from total strangers, but it was very good to know that people still had that basic concern for their fellow men.
With the Lexus IS350 the problem of changing tires is an issue. Firstly, the car has side sills, and logically, you have to put the jack at the right location under the sill to jack it up. The side sill extension on the Lexus however, is completely covering the full length of the sill, and this covering any area where one would need to place the jack.
I certainly did not want to damage this press fleet vehicle, and being that concerned, I decided to lie on the gravel and dirt to look thoroughly underneath the car for a possible spot to put the jack. As said, that was not to be found, so I tested the plastic sill for an area where there was no flexibility, indicating that there was a support beam there. I tried this, and it worked, but seriously Lexus, is this what you wan your owners, your clients, the people who apparently crave your attention to detail and perfection, to go through?
What was also noteworthy was that the tire logout happened on the inside wall of the rear tire. I have driven a lot of cars, but never had a blow out, but if I would have, I wouldn’t have expected to have this on the inside wall of the tire. To me that indicates there might have been something wrong with the tire. Damaging the outside wall of the tire is something I can understand and comprehend, but only if cars are used at more extreme situations, pushing the boundaries, like during racing. To have a tire blow out on an inside wall after driving a couple of hundred miles on clear highway, straight line, makes no sense at all.
So the car was jacked up, and on came the only option that was available, the emergency spare wheel, the home coming type, pathetically thin, round section, narrow, black wheel, and of course with a very strict limit on the speed and the mileage you could do while using this emergency option. However, we were targeting going through Yosemite National Park, and this incident obviously meant we could not do that. Sadly, being on the East side of the mountain range, it also meant we were nearly 300 miles from home.
Since this happened, I have been thinking a lot about this, especially from the point of view of a Lexus client. If they happen to be in a situation like I ended up in, in the middle of nowhere, and the spare wheel as the only option, is it reasonable from Lexus to then expect these highly appreciated clients to drive a low speed for hours and hours just to make it home? If I were the client, I would be quite disenchanted by that.
Furthermore, as it concerned a press vehicle which was still 4 days out form being returned, I contacted Lexus press fleet the next morning, and was told they would like the car back so they could repair the thing immediately. So I woke up my daughter, despite us only arriving in the midst of the night, and brought it over to Lexus as soon as I could. I was expecting to get a note from them when it was repaired, so we could continue the evaluation, and I had not concerned myself with cleaning the car up before bringing it back. As you may remember, I was lying in the gravel and dirt to change the tire, so obviously some of that was in the interior.
I was therefore very unpleasantly surprised, and frankly quite upset, to find upon my return home, an email from Lexus stating there were food remnants in the car, and therefore they could no longer lend us any evaluation vehicles.
Firstly, we had not eaten anything in the car, so there were no food remnants anywhere unless someone else had left that before. What was in there was gravel, and neither me nor my daughter have the habit of eating gravel. I thought blaming us for this was totally uncalled for, and quite upsetting.
If Lexus has budget issues, if they can no longer afford to loan cars to outlets with niche readership, if they have to be more main stream, then be honest about it. Do not blame it on fake excuses. I find that attitude very unacceptable. With what is going on with Lexus design these days, it is obvious that a design related outlet might not be high on their list of priorities, but there are other ways to make that clear.