It seemed like the right fit -- the nation's top automotive journalist pairing up with the newspaper of record in the car culture capital of the country if not the world. And for much of the time it worked: Dan Neil won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism during his tenure at the Los Angeles Times, writing about and often picking apart cars and the industry that spawns them. Unfortunately, he's leaving the Times for the Wall Street Journal.
Lately, because the Times has been downsizing and losing entire sections, Neil hasn't even had a home base at the paper from which to do his magic, as LAObserved noted. His columns appear prominently online, but are hard to find in the print edition. It seems like some of his best work these days can be found in his contributions to Esquire.
But perhaps things weren't too comfy for Neil down on Spring Street. He played a part in a high-profile employee lawsuit against Times owner Sam Zell and his Tribune company. And then there was General Motors' reaction to Neil's sharp criticism of its products, its organization and its leadership. In 2005 it temporarily pulled its advertisements from the Times.
Of course, in hindsight, Neil was right, and many of those suits who blamed the messenger have since been booted from GM headquarters.
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"GM utterly missed the boat on hybrid gas-electric technology and lobbied Congress not to raise fuel-economy standards on the grounds that meeting higher standards would divert funds from critical research in the ultimate propulsion technology, hydrogen fuel cells -- an argument that, shall we say, lacks authenticity," Neil wrote. "Today, GM has no hybrids of consequence on the street, while rivals Toyota and Honda are selling as many as they can build."
In that same piece, which was actually a review of the Pontiac G6, he wrote, "This is an uncompetitive product, an assertion borne out not by my say-so but by sales numbers. When ballclubs have losing records, players and coaches and managers get their walking papers ... At GM, it's time to sweep the dugout."
The dugout was swept -- by the Obama administration's bailout four years later.
We'll miss Neil. We think the best automotive journalist belongs in the biggest, car-loving town in the world. He probably won't be missed by some of the sales suits at the Times, but then again, they have to realize that must-read writers bring the eyeballs that advertisers crave. We'll have to flip over to the Journal for automotive insight.