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Chutzpah is my all-time farvorite Yiddish word. It means brazen nerve, unmitigated gall, sheer audacity.
Chutzpah came to mind recently when I noticed a news story reporting that China has banned the sale of four new Renault vehicles due to concerns about "serious safety risks."
Sounds like quite the scandal. I mean, is Renault basing its new models on the '71 Ford Pinto template?
Turns out nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to crashworthiness, Renault holds one of the best track records in recent years.
In fact, Renault was the first brand to earn a five-star crash rating in the EuroNCAP crash test - even before such safety champions as Mercedes-Benz and Volvo received the coveted five stars. And all of the vehicles that have been banned from sale - the Laguna, Megane, Megane Coupe-Convertible, and the Scenic - have earned EuroNCAP's top marks for occupant safety protection.
Even so, the General Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine (China's Orwellian-sounding quality inspection agency) says these Renault models are unable to meet China's technical safety standards. Inexplicably, no details were given as to what is actually wrong with the cars.
What makes the whole situation so puzzling is that quite a few Chinese-developed and built vehicles aren't exactly known for their safety acumen. Several have been tested according to EuroNCAP standards and they haven't passed with flying colors.
As well, talk about the pot calling the kettle ebony. Hardly a week goes by without some Chinese product being recalled due to a genuine safety concern - from flammable bathrobes to teethers contaminated with micro-organisms. And many technicians would never dare install some of the "white box" automotive parts imported from China, knowing full well that much of this stuff is unsafe junk.
So, what's the unspoken strategy at play here? Could it be this move is less about safety and more about protecting the Chinese auto industry? And are other auto brands to suffer Renault's fate?
In the meantime, if China is really concerned about automotive safety, it might want to crack down on the export of dangerous aftermarket car parts.
But then again, I suspect that might be bad for business...
Technician Lebert St. Bernard of Mississauga, Ont. is quick to point out he's no hero.
We beg to differ.
Just after 1 a.m. last Thursday, St. Bernard - who works at Bay Auto Zone in Toronto - was driving along a major thoroughfare to his Mississauga home. He then saw something that had him disbelieving his eyes: a three-year-old boy was crossing the street with no adults in sight. Lebert immediately slowed down, made a U-turn, and went back the opposite way to pluck the child out of harm's way.
Unfortunately, the 45-year-old father of three was too late: by the time he got back, the boy - who suffers from sleepwalking - had already crossed waded into traffic. St. Bernard was then horrified to witness a minivan strike the boy head on. Worse, the driver of the minivan stopped for a few seconds and then sped off, leaving the boy bleeding in the middle of the road.
St. Bernard was faced with a choice: give chase or attend to the seriously injured boy. He did both, by convincing a passerby to remain with the child as he sped off after the minivan.
"The road (Britannia) is lit up pretty good but he [minivan driver] had a phone in his ear - I think he was distracted," says St. Bernard. "I couldn't believe it when he took off - he knew he hit the child."
St. Bernard caught up to the minivan at a traffic light. Along with another motorist that St. Bernard flagged down, they blocked the minivan from moving and called police.
"We boxed him in because he wasn't going to stick around. The driver said to me he just wanted to go home. And I said, 'I don't think so.'"
Police say St. Bernard was instrumental in solving the case given that most hit-and-run incidents prove very difficult to solve. Meanwhile, the child is recovering in hospital with serious injuries including two broken legs and a split skull.
Syed Hoda, 48, of Mississauga is charged with failing to remain at the scene of an accident. He is scheduled to appear in Brampton court on July 13.
Despite the heroism displayed, St. Bernard says he doesn't feel like a hero. In fact, he says he is full of regret that he couldn't get back to the boy soon enough to prevent the accident.
"When I saw the boy just get splattered and the driver took off like the kid meant nothing to him... that was sick," says St. Bernard. "I'm just happy I caught the guy. All I want now is for the child to get better."
Still, in a world where so many people prefer not to get involved, St. Bernard is indeed a hero. His quick thinking likely saved the life of a child and was instrumental in apprehending a scum bag who obviously couldn't care less.
The good news: if you missed Gran Torino on the big screen, the film is going to be out on DVD next Tuesday (June 9). It's well worth the cost of a rental.
Clint Eastwood (who also directs) plays Walt Kowalski, perhaps the most endearing bigot to come along since All in the Family's Archie Bunker. The gist of the plot has the embittered Korean War veteran taking a Hmong teenage boy, Thao, under his wing. It makes for one of the most unlikely reluctant friendships in cinematic history. (Indeed, the film's title refers to Kowalski's prized muscle car, a 1972 Ford Gran Torino, which Thao attempts to steal as part of a gang initiation ritual.)
After the attempted theft, what follows next is a truly wondrous tale, equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.
Alas, the bad news: I regret to report that the technician community - once again - takes a cheap shot to the solar plexus in terms of being less than honest.
For example, in one scene, Kowalski brings Thao with him to the local barbershop to show the teen how to "act like a man." After a few false starts, Kowalski says: "You could talk about a construction job you just came from and bitch about your girlfriend and your car."
At this point, Martin the barber demonstrates: "Sonofabitch! I just got my brakes fixed and - eech! - those sons of bitches really nailed me. I mean they screwed me!"
So, the question arises: how is it that this industry so often suffers from a lacklustre reputation? Is it simply a lack of understanding on the behalf of the consumer that some auto repair jobs are indeed expensive by their very nature due to the cost of parts and labor? Or are there a few bad apple shops out there - and these places tend to taint the whole bushel?
In any event, I'd love to hear theories from industry veterans why this industry remains such an easy target when it comes to allegations of getting "screwed."
In the meantime, do rent Gran Torino when it comes out. It's one of the best films of 2008 - in spite of an unfair characterization of our industry.