Don Fried — Playwright & Author

May they all get halitosis . . .

Posted on: November 28, 2008

evil-car-company. . . and die lonely.

Forgive me, but I take vast delight in the current troubles (and impending demise) of a particularly evil U.S. car company.  It couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch of guys.  (To keep from being sued, I shall refer to it simply as the “Evil Car Company,” or “ECC” for short. )

When I first got into the market of looking for cars in the early 1970s, I quickly realized that ECC wasn’t interested in trying to satisfy the demand of its customers.  It was intent on shoving down their customers’ throats what it wanted them to buy.

“But you advertised this car for $2,999.  How come it’s $4,500?” I complained to the ECC dealer.  (Remember, this was 1972.)   “But that’s because this car has the Luxury Decor Option.”  “What’s the Luxury Decor Option?”  “That’s the interior floor carpet, a strip of chrome on the side, and a mirror in the passenger sun-visor.”  “And how much does that cost?”  “$600.”  “What if I don’t want the strip of chrome and the sun-visor mirror, but I just want the carpet?”  “You can’t do that.  It only comes as a package.”  “What comes on the floor if I don’t order the package?”  “Rubber floor mats that cover only part of the floor.  The rest is bare metal.”  “For $600, I’ll buy my own mats.”  “In that case we’ll have to order it special, and it will take you 4 months to get it.”

And so it went.  If I wanted a radio, I had to get the Comfort Package (or some other euphemism), which cost $500 and also included a lock and key for the glove compartment, and variable speed wipers.  If I wanted a heater with temperature control, I had to buy the — well, you get the idea.

So I went to a Datsun dealer and looked at the B210, which was advertised for $2,999.  “How much does this car cost?” I asked.  “$2,999.”  “And with the carpet on the floor and the strip of chrome on the side and the visor mirror?”  “$2,999.”  “And the air conditioning and the radio?”  “$2,999.”  Needless to say, I bought the Datsun.  It was 15 years later before I drove another ECC vehicle.  But that’s the beginning of the good part of the story.

In the early 1980s I was working in England for an I.T. services company when it was announced that my company would start a long-term, “special relationship” with ECC.  I was immediately transferred to work on the ECC account — they were looking for people in my company who could speak a variety of European languages to work with ECC’s European subsidiaries, and I was at the top of a very short list.  Over the next 10 years, my company did a large amount of work for ECC.  As an employee of a company with a “special relationship,” I was partly protected from the filthy business practices to which ECC regularly subjected its vendors, but not so much that I wasn’t aware of them.  (Sorry, but if I gave you any examples, ECC may become recognizable.  Anyway, you probably wouldn’t believe that anyone could be that unethical.)

Fast forward to the mid 1990s, when the special relationship between my company and ECC was winding down and we were negotiating an arms-length contract for ongoing services.  There was a book at the time by Chester Karrass entitled “The Art of Negotiating.”  In it, Karrass listed a large number of unethical negotiating tactics.  He wasn’t recommending them, mind you, he just wanted you to be prepared.  According to my colleagues who spent nearly a year negotiating the wind-down contract, ECC’s negotiators ran down the entire list, using all the unethical tactics, more or less in order.  Once the contract was signed, ECC immediately began to treat my company as it was treating its other vendors.  Namely, it would decide: a) if it would pay; b) when; and c) how much.  When my company complained, ECC’s response was to trump up spurious financial claims (which it would drop if my company dropped its demand for payment) and to say, “If you don’t like it, sue us.  We’ll squash you like a bug.”  My company chose not to poke the 500 pound gorilla in the eye, and let them get away with those tactics for a number of years.

After I left my company, I went to work for another I.T. services company that had aspirations to do work with ECC.  Much to my credit, I worked mightily and nearly single-handedly to convince them not to pursue ECC’s business.  I succeeded.  I say, nearly single-handedly.  According to the executives at my new company, ECC helped in the job of dissuading them by finding excuses not to meet many of its obligations for a number of projects that the company was doing for them at that time.

During all the time I worked with ECC, their executives never even had the decency to be embarrassed at the way they were behaving.  Everything was always everybody else’s fault.  If their suppliers weren’t acting “like that,” ECC wouldn’t have to either.  I’m sure they haven’t changed their tune, especially now that they are finally getting what they so richly deserve.

I spent 15 years of my life in that environment, and for quite a while after that I was bitter, mistrustful of everybody and everything, and profoundly depressed.  As a joke — OK, a really sick one — I used to say about ECC’s executives, “May they all get cancer and die slowly and painfully.”  Unfortunately, I used that line once at a party at which two of the guests were suffering from cancer.  So I’ve cleaned up my act, and now I say,

“May they all get Halitosis and die lonely.”

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