Autos — The Next Subprime Crash

(Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns speaks with Tony Dutzik, Senior Policy Analyst for Frontier Group and Strong Towns member about his recent article, “What Comes After the Auto Bubble?”)

Tony Dutzik of The Frontier Group

Strong Towns: I want to start with the kind of remarkable statistic, and it was not maybe remarkable to you, but to me it was, this idea that ADT [average daily travel] the amount that people drive is really tied not only to unemployment, the growth of the economy, but also tied loosely to credit conditions. Can you talk a little bit about that relationship?

Dutzik: I can talk a very little bit about it, which is to say that it’s that it’s rather unclear. What I can say is that there’s been there’s been growing attention in to the link between the availability of auto credit and access to vehicles, the ability to purchase vehicles on the market.

You know, when we think about the factors that go into whether someone purchases a car or many people purchase cars the things that we tend to think about relate to state of the economy: so do people have jobs, do people have income, are they able to afford vehicles. And all of that is true and very important. But there’s also this additional factor which I think, certainly, if you think about the housing bubble and the conditions that led to, that plays out in the car world as access to credit. We’re starting to look into this question a few years ago.

I found a very interesting working paper that was done by researchers at the Federal Reserve that essentially looked at this question of what is it that triggered the downfall of a car market in and around the recession. And what they had found was that, in addition to all of the sort of bread and butter economic factors that were playing into people’s decision making at that point in time, that credit availability — so simply the inability to get a loan to buy a car — was a major factor and in fact was as big a factor, credit market conditions were as big a factor as employment and income. How that plays into trends and how much people are driving, I think is a point that is still very unclear.

One of the reasons that we started looking into this, in addition to coming across this research, was the very sharp spike in vehicle travel that started in late 2014 but accelerated in 2015. Which a lot of folks, including ourselves, have chalked up, in large degree, to gas prices and the economy. But it was also at roughly the same time that this concern about subprime auto lending really started to get rolling. So I think we don’t really know very much at all about the connection between credit conditions and people’s ability to buy vehicles and how much that’s affecting overall trends and driving. But we definitely — I think there’s reason to ask the question of how those things relate. And it’s worth talking about and thinking about.

Strong Towns: At the beginning of this paper you had a number, 1.2, 1.2 vehicles for each licensed driver. I have to say, if you would have asked me, for every licensed driver in the US how many vehicles are there, and this may point to my worldview, but I would have said 0.8, 0.85, something below 1.0. In other words there’s going to be families where you’re going to have two people sharing a car, or are you going to have kids that have licenses that don’t have cars. There’s 20 percent more cars than licensed drivers in this country. And that number is actually then started to go up in the last few years again after reaching a high over a decade ago. Do I have that right?

Dutzik: You do have that right. I think that statistic can — and we flagged this in in the blog post that I think is the jumping off point for this conversation. We flagged that that statistic. I think it can be easily misinterpreted. So when we talk about 1.2 vehicles per licensed driver, that includes commercial vehicles and includes taxis and includes Ubers and includes all manner of vehicles that are out there that are not necessarily personal household vehicles. That being said, it’s still a pretty striking number.

Strong Towns: It’s astounding. That’s astounding. Yeah, it’s incredible. The number peaked in 2001 and then kind of hovered and then and then dipped during the recession. But now, in the last few years, it started to spike up again. Is this kind of tied into this notion of now we’ve made credit more available, we’re doing more subprime lending, and so it’s simply easier to get into a car?

Dutzik: Well, I think that that is very much true. We had done a blog post a few a couple of years ago when we first started exploring this topic. I can’t remember if it was the title of the blog post or just a line that we used within it, that “it’s never been cheaper to get into an expensive car.” What we meant by that was that the credit market conditions that have prevailed in the last few years have enabled a very large number of people to “afford,” quote unquote, vehicles that otherwise would have been out of their financial reach if we had — if we were dealing with lending conditions that were similar to what they would have been 10 or 15 years ago. So there’s a few factors that play into that. So one factor that plays into it is just that interest rates have been very low, which is obviously a huge factor.

The second thing that plays into it is that lenders have become increasingly willing to lend people money for cars over longer periods of time. So, when I was growing up, your traditional car loan, it was about a four year loan, four or five years. Now many more people are taking out loans that are five, six, seven years long on new cars.

Strong Towns: I saw a seven year loan the other day and it just floored me. Seven years!

Dutzik: Yeah. No it’s true. And there are some who I think, perhaps legitimately, will note the fact that that cars last longer than they used to. So one of the things that I think is a factor that will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next couple of years is the fact that cars are increasingly higher quality. They’re more durable, they last longer. So you might think, well if I’m going to be in this car for for 10, 11 years, that a seven year auto loan makes some amount of sense. That challenge is that it lengthens, intentially lengthens, the amount of time that someone has a car that they owe more in loans on than the car is actually worth at trade in. So my concern is that that’s going to play out in some fairly wacky ways in in terms of how people deal with those decisions over the next few years.

But the bottom line is that, if you have low interest rates, if you’re paying off over a longer period of time, and if used car prices are high, which they have been over the last number of years, then it’s possible for lenders to offer a much lower — all of those things combined, when you’re leasing a car, enables you to offer a really attractive lease payment. And if you’re buying a car, enables you to have a lower payment. You’re still paying more over time, because you’re paying more in interest with a longer loan period. But the actual monthly payment is lower. And, for many consumers, when they’re thinking about, “Do I get into a car” and “Do I buy this car, do I not buy this car, ” the monthly payment is the thing that they’re thinking about. They’re not necessarily thinking about the cumulative payments over time.

Strong Towns: Exactly. I remember my wife bought a car, five, six years ago, and it was all about the interest rate and the payments. This would have been 2011, 2012, so we’re after we plumb the depths of the recession. But kind of in the early phase of this, and yeah, the hook . . . We went in, she knew what car she wanted, she knew that type, all that. But the hook was the, yeah, here’s like — I think we even got zero interest for a while, but they wanted to make a six year loan. And I think we actually wound up doing something like that, just because the interest rate was ridiculously low. You know, like, why not. And I figured, how does this make any sense? Because I felt like the car was fairly priced and all that. Is this all part of the national . . . . I don’t sound conspiratorial, but the Federal Reserve pushed to loosen credit, and kind of loosen up things and can keep the economy going as a response to the recession?

Dutzik: You’re getting a little bit beyond my field of expertise or field of concern. I would say that certainly, coming out of the recession, the Federal Reserve did, through interest rate policy, tried to find a variety of ways in which to spark the economy. And clearly, if you are lowering interest rates, that makes all sorts of durable goods purchases that you might borrow for look a heck of a lot more attractive. And so I think one of the one of the concerns, when you look at the auto market, is that to the extent that those policies have incentivized people to buy vehicles now that they might otherwise have waited two or three years to buy, and to have taken out a fair amount of debt on that is not something necessarily that the collateral of the vehicle supports their ability to take out that debt. You might have repercussions in the next few years of people not being able to make vehicle purchases that otherwise they would have made. So essentially there’s a concern I think that the consumption has been pulled forward by those policies a little bit, and might result in what I think the auto industry anticipates as being a slackening of sales in the next few years.

Strong Towns: A hangover in a sense. I remember with the Cash for Clunkers thing, we had this debate too. The idea was “hey, we’re we’re in a really bad fix, the auto companies are imploding. Let’s do this thing and essentially pull the demand forward and keep things from bottoming out now” with the understanding that if people are buying more durable cars that last longer and they’re purchasing it earlier than they otherwise would, that means at some point in the future you’re going to have less demand, but the urgency is there now. So let’s deal with now and we’ll worry about that later. There’s a part of me that sees the whole subprime thing essentially as a way to entice people to bring forward even more purchases that they otherwise wouldn’t make. Is that kind of what you’re sensing too?

Dutzik: Well, it’s interesting that you bring up Cash for Clunkers because I think there’s there’s a couple of things that are going on here. So one of them is that Cash for Clunkers took all the cars off the road. So it spurred the demand for new vehicles but it also wiped a bunch of older vehicles off the road at the same time.

Strong Towns: Those were crushed, like, they didn’t go back on the market as used cars. I don’t think they did.

Dutzik: I’m not 100 percent certain of that, but I believe that that’s true. One of the really curious things of the last couple of years at least 2015, we haven’t seen final 2016 data, is that there’s been this huge net flood of vehicles in the market. So we had looked at some statistics, and I’ve been working on a blog post on this, I hope I can find them while we’re actually talking.

Last year light duty vehicle sales were north of 17 million, so it was an all-time good year. In 2015, scrappage, the removal of old vehicles off the road, was running at around 11 million. So what had happened was this very strange circumstance in which new vehicle sales are at an all-time high, and yet the average vehicle on the road got older, which suggests to me that we have been — that number that you talked about at the very beginning of the 1.2 — that we have been — we know — we’ve just been putting a lot of cars into a lot of people’s hands over the last couple of years. And a lot of those folks who have those vehicles now are folks who were not going to be in a position to buy them during the course of the recession, either because they didn’t have income or they didn’t have access to credit.

And so you have this really difficult and challenging situation where — you and I have talked about this before — that we’ve created a situation and create a transportation-land-use system in this country where many folks feel the need to own a vehicle, where in order to participate in, to be able to participate in daily economic life and to take their kids to school and do the things that they need to do every day. And you know when those people are people who are not of economic means, if they are folks who really legitimately can’t afford to own a car, then you have this sort of ping pong effect where you get the subprime market going to provide access to something that people very desperately need.

You have a subprime — tools that are being used in that market to recover vehicles that people may not be able to make payments on. You have all sorts of very shady dealers who show up on the scene to provide access to this product. What ends up happening at the end of the day is that it does challenge the financial viability of those households and it also raises some challenges for the financial system too. So I think that my answer might have kind of taken off on a little bit of a different tangent than what you were asking but . . . .

Strong Towns: I feel like we’re getting, and I know John Oliver did the piece that was really very good, that kind of talked about how we’re preying on people, really, through the system.

And you have, like you say, you have a captive audience. I mean people in most of America need a car to get to work and to function. I mean it’s kind of the ante to participate today in most places. I remember back in 2000, I went to graduate school and my wife and I were looking for an apartment. At that time we we still do but we had two big white snow dogs. They’re Samoyeds. They’re not exactly like household pets. And every place we were looking for, nobody — I mean they were going to charge us obscene amounts for these dogs. And it just was a bad deal.

And this realtor we were talking to said “What you guys should actually look to buy. Buying is not bad right now.” Well. I was quitting my job, right, to go to graduate school. I had a half-time assistantship at graduate school, was going to pay me like $12 an hour. And we had a mortgage already on our existing house, which we were thinking we were going to rent, but we weren’t exactly sure. We go into “OK, we’ll entertain this.” We went and looked at a townhouse and I thought, there’s no way we’re going to be able to afford this thing. And when we got in they asked us some questions and they said “Well, let me let’s go show you some houses in your price range.”

And they started showing us these $400,000 homes, which is like double the house I had, and I thought “this is insane. Something’s wrong here.” When we sold it a few years later, the couple that bought it, in order to purchase the house, had a first mortgage, a second mortgage, and third mortgage, and they paid like $2,000 more than what we were asking for. And we found out when we got to the closing that the $2,000 extra was a bonus to their realtor, and their realtor actually turned around and cut them a check so they can make the first two payments. This is 2004. And in my mind, there’s just warning bells going off, like “This makes no sense.” I know people today, I know two people today who actually have leased cars that are sitting in their driveway because they’re over the mileage amount and they still have time left before their lease is done. So they’ve actually gone out and purchased another car and are essentially making two car payments. To me it feels frothy in the same way that 2004 felt frothy to me.

Dutzik: You can definitely start to see signs of that. You know, if you’re if you’re looking for signs of froth, basically right about now, what seems to be happening in the new car market — and again, I would preface for your listeners that my interest in this is more in the line of a hobby as a than as a full time vocation to me — but I pay attention to it because I think that it does. To the extent that the work that I do looks at trends in transportation, to the extent that we look a lot at potential transitions in how we do mobility, whether it’s moving toward shared mobility and shared vehicles or walking or biking or land use or any of these things, this stuff is important, and it intersects with all of that. So with a little bit of preface that this is not something that I’ve spent my entire life focusing on, what you’re seeing, I think right now in the new car market is that a few things are kicking into gear that are reversing many of the trends that we just talked about

So the thing that enables the leased vehicle to be sitting in your friend’s driveway, one of them, is that because we have put so many more vehicles on the road, and because so many people have leased vehicles — and because the deal has been so good over the last few years to lease a vehicle — that you have this surge of relatively inexpensive, but fairly high-priced used cars that are coming on the market that is causing used car prices to fall. When used car prices fall, the trade-in value that you get on your new vehicle becomes less attractive, and it becomes harder for dealers and lenders to finance leases in a way that is attractive to folks.

So you’re starting to see, from the automakers, a few things that are happening at the same time. One of them is that sales are going down of new vehicles. The second thing that’s happening is that incentives are going up, so they’re actually giving away more money to encourage people to take vehicles on their lots than they have since the recession, and at the same time inventory for some of the automakers of new cars is growing. So I think you have — the evidence of the froth in the market is that you start to have something that looks like a glut of cars, cars that are sitting in dealer lots, cars that are still being manufactured by the manufacturers, and also on used car lots.

To tell you a little bit of an anecdote, and I almost hesitate to share this because I don’t really know that it’s proof of anything, but I bike to work a lot, and I’ve been biking by our local Toyota dealer, and I’ve noticed over the last couple of months that it used to be that they stored all of their cars on their lot at their facility. But now I’m noticing that there’s a vacant lot across the street where there are a bunch of cars and there’s a former restaurant lot down the street that has even more cars, so there’s you know it’s almost like they’re pouring out of their lot into adjacent properties wherever they can store cars. And none of that is particularly sustainable I don’t think going forward.

Strong Towns: I noted the same exact thing here in central Minnesota. We have the same thing. We have an auto dealership that I go by when I take the girls to dance, and their overflow lot across the street was always empty. The last few months, the last six months, really it’s overflowing now. It’s packed full of cars, and it’s not the time of year to be packed full of cars you know.

Dutzik: Exactly, because pretty soon they’re going to be trying to get rid of those vehicles in order to turn over the stock for the next model year.

Strong Towns: I want to ask a little bit about the implications of this because I’ve seen this kind of rumbling around for months, maybe a year now. The people that push back back on it say “Hey, this isn’t as big a deal, don’t worry about it.” You know, subprime housing was a big deal, but when people defaulted on their home mortgages it took a year to get them out of the house. You default on your car and the repo man shows up and it gets taken care of in an afternoon. And we can make the banks whole pretty quick. So there’s there’s not a big deal here. Don’t worry about it.” That changes though when there’s a glut of cars right?

Dutzik: Yeah, it changes quite a lot, and I think it’s already beginning to change. You’re starting to see some indications from some prime lenders that they’re not recovering the value on those vehicles that they’re repossessing that they had in years past or that they’re anticipating. This whole system, in the subprime world, of offering a relatively high interest loan to a relatively high credit risk and being able to repossess it quickly and resell it to the next person is — which I think that John Oliver piece that you described and which we linked to in our blog post on this — and which I definitely encourage folks to watch for entertainment value if nothing else.

Strong Towns: So it was hilarious, but it was ridiculously eye opening too.

Dutzik: You read some of these stories and you watch that piece and kind of — you sit back in bemused horror a lot of the time. But, at any rate, this whole system actually works decently well for lenders and dealers so long as vehicles are holding their value.

If it comes to the point where a dealer is repossessing — in a lot of cases the industry segment of the industry that John Oliver talked about is the the Buy Here Pay Here dealer, essentially folks who sell and finance vehicles right on the same lot. But, essentially, if you get to the point where those vehicles are being repossessed and they’re being resold at a lower value, then you begin to get into issues. Certainly for the lenders, which I think is already starting to happen to some degree.

You know, for consumers, I think the implications for the folks who are in the subprime market, I don’t really have a clear idea of because — on one hand you might say that folks are going to be lacking access to credit and therefore not able to borrow for vehicles, which I think will be . . .

As banks and other lenders are beginning to tighten their credit standards, which is already happening , but could continue to happen even more in the months and years ahead, that will obviously shut off credit.

But there’s also going to be a flood of — a lot of really cheap, pretty good used cars out there. So I suspect that for some folks, who would be in the used car market and would be in the subprime market, that there will be opportunities to have access to vehicles that perhaps they might not have previously.

So how all of that shakes out, I think it’s still very much unclear to me. I haven’t really seen much in the way of analysis that documents or suggests what’s likely to happen there, and I think it’s important not to jump to too broad of conclusions about what that’s likely to look like.

Strong Towns: You had one other statistic in that paper that struck me. And I don’t have any context for this one except for my own. It’s the 137 percent loan-to-value ratio.

I’ve been fortunate enough that the only two cars I’ve owned as an adult have been brand new cars. I grew up on a farm in a poor family, we always had junky cars and they always broke when you needed them, right? And I said, “Look I’m not going to have a junkie car, I’m going to have a car that works.” I bought a brand new car out of college and then, in 2004, nine years later, I bought another brand new car. I still have that one. So I’ve driven it almost 13 years now. It’s been mine, I’ve taking care of it and all that.

I know when I drove that thing off the lot it dropped $2,000 in value right there. And so my loan to value ratio was something over 100 percent, but 137% being the average? And that’s not even the subprime average — that’s the average average for used, not for new. That astounded me. Because that just tells me right there that you have, if you buy a used car, and you even get like a three year or four year loan, for half of that loan or a third of that loan, at least, you’re going to be underwater for sure. Even if you don’t drive it. That doesn’t seem to work in any world to me.

Dutzik: Right, well and it doesn’t. It doesn’t make intuitive sense really.

There was another paper that I had seen when we were doing our investigation into this that was dated from the early 2000s. I was going to talk about it a little bit in our blog post and it wound up on the cutting room floor. But it’s an interesting piece of work. When they were doing their analysis, one of the things that they specified was that the amount of the loan could not exceed the value of the car. And this was back in the early 2000s. And what I gleaned from that was that the researchers had sort of not thought that that was something that was possible — for there to be a loan to value ratio that vastly exceeded 100 percent and yet it’s something that happens all the time.

I’ve got personal experience with this, because my stepfather passed away a number of years ago. This was back in 2009, and he had to be the opposite experience, I think of you growing up, which was that he was a car guy. He raced stock cars in the 60s, and always very much wanted to have a new car. You know, he had to have a new car every three or four years, and he continued this well beyond his ability to sustain it financially. And so his last vehicle, which was the vehicle that he had when he passed away, was in this very same situation of the loan to value ratio. He had rolled over the outstanding balance of a previous car loan into the loan for this car and it was, by that time, he passed away and that we had to sell it. The car was worth dramatically less, I think it was worth it was worth about $7,000 and he still owed about $13,000.

So for me, as the executor of the will, I could just say “Here you go, here are the keys, have at it,” without my credit rating being at risk. But he would not have been in that same situation. And I think for folks . . . . At some point, this has been called, and I’m forgetting exactly who labeled it this way but I think it was a Morgan Stanley analysis that labeled it “The Trade-In Treadmill.” But at a certain point you do wonder if there is some sort of upper limit on what that loan to value ratio can be.

So how much how much phantom car are lenders willing to finance going forward? And if you do have that situation where you have folks who are in relatively long-term, five years, six years, seven-year financial commitments on their cars, if those vehicles turn out not to be worth at Year Two or Year Three or Year Four what people have anticipated that they would be, how does that affect the financial decisions that they make if they’re under financial stress? How does that affect their willingness to purchase new vehicles three or four or five years down the line? There are a whole set of implications that I think tumble atop of one another that I certainly haven’t had the time to dig into and I don’t know have really been fully explored by people who pay attention to this stuff.

Strong Towns: I want to ask you one last question, and I don’t know how you are going to know the answer. But with the subprime market for housing, I know a lot of it originated at the local level. There were everything from the appraisers, to the real estate agents, to the originators in local banks, all kind of part of this chain of people, none of whom was really responsible for anything. And there was a moral hazard created by the fact that the paper got shoved off onto the secondary market where it was securitized and sold off. And basically the people who were taking the risk were so far divorced from the people who were, in a sense, vetting the risk, that we wound up in this really crazy situation.

With auto loans, it does seem like you’ve got the vendor financed ones, and they’re charging really high interest rates and there’s some predatory things there. But are most auto loans still held by local banks? Or is this something that too is getting securitized and we have that kind of hazard with the people taking on the risk being very different from the people who are vetting it?

Dutzik: Yeah, I think there’s there’s a lot of very similar dynamics at play.

So certainly auto-loan backed securities exist. They are increasingly important, and I think one of the dynamics that some observers of the situation have been concerned about is that you have a very similar set of incentives that are put in place. Essentially you have folks who are investors who are seeking yield. So they’re seeking good returns at a time when interest rates are relatively low, who are seeking investments that can deliver that. And auto backed securities have tended to — they did pretty decently well during the recession and afterwards. And so you have this bidding up of the market of people who want to invest in this kind of lending when the cupboard may be getting to be fairly bare in terms of the people who are actually willing to do the borrowing and capable of paying it back.

In some ways it is similar to the housing market. I think that one of the slight differences is that, certainly banks and others are beginning to pull back from this market a little bit. I think that they understand, or are coming to understand what some of the issues are. I was reading a story in Bloomberg today that was talking about a number of lenders who had retained a firm to identify essentially what percentage of new car loan applications are beset by fraud. And that’s something that I think was not really part of the conversation until well after the housing bubble began to burst.

Now you could argue that the auto bubble has already started to burst over the last few months. But there’s, I think, some greater awareness among the more reputable and sane aspects of the financial industry as to what’s going on here. One of the issues I think going forward will be to what extent — it’s one of the things that I think has been challenging about this particular situation is that you’ve had new entrants to the market who are not necessarily . . . . who were a little bit more fly by night, a little bit more willing to take on risk, who then are entering into the subprime market in a big way. And the extent to which I think they’ll continue to be able to do so is something that’s up for question. But I think you’re right about this question of the divorcing of of risk from investment. And I think there are a lot of things that we don’t know about how that has happened. But there are definitely some, if not similarities, at least echoes of the housing crash that are starting to play out in this market.

Strong Towns: I just remember buying my first car in in high school and sitting down with the banker. And, you know, knowing that this guy knew my dad, knew my grandpa, if I didn’t make good on this loan, not only did this guy know where I live and was going to kick my butt, but I was never going to get a loan for anything ever again. And you contrast that with when I the story I told about going to purchase the second home when I was in grad school with no income. It’s a very strange world to me that I have trouble grasping. I’m 43, I’m too young to be the Curmudgeon, you know? This feels like a little bit “Boy, back in the day, it made sense” and this doesn’t make sense to me.

Dutzik: It is unsettling, and I think part of the reason that we wrote that blog post and have written before on this issue is less about the kinds of things that we pay a lot of attention to all the time. But the fact that I think many people who look at trends in transportation and land use, one of the themes over the last couple of years has been that we’re going back to whatever was the case in the 2000s or previous to that. You know, we’re going to see a resurgence of sprawl, we’re going to see everybody’s driving again, and so on and so forth. And to some degree that is happening, but what we don’t tend to look at are the underlying forces that drive what’s happening. And, I think, over the last couple of years, it’s certainly the case that the economy and gas prices and all of these things are helping to drive consumers’ decisions.

Dutzik: But consumers can make this question of what people are being incentivized to do with their money through this system something that — it plays into all of these decisions. And we saw how that happened in the housing bubble. I mean, you can say that people had demand for all of those really big mansions that were very expensive, but it was it demand that was never going to be satisfied if it weren’t for the fact that there was someone who was willing to throw money at people to go out and do this thing. And I think it pops up in the housing market, I think it pops up in the auto market. It certainly pops up among those of us who pay attention to the innovative mobility world where you have services like Lyft and Uber that are coasting on huge amounts of venture capital investment. But we don’t know, for many of these services, whether they actually are fundamentally sound or viable as businesses over the long run.

And yet we have to figure out how we react to them and how we understand how they play into people’s decisions today. So I share your sense of being very unsettled by it.

But I think for all of us who care about and want to pay attention to the decisions that people are making, the decisions that communities are making, decisions that individuals are making in this set of issues, we at least have to acknowledge and surface the fact that those decisions are not necessarily being driven entirely by market fundamentals or entirely by individual supply and demand, but that there are these other other factors and other decision makers that are coming into play. Until we can understand and surface that and begin to talk about it, we’re going to continue to misinterpret what’s happening in the world in ways that I think could be quite dangerous. So that’s kind of how we got into it in the set of questions that we really wanted to start asking. And I think you’re right that we to do a lot of work to think through, to understand how all of that works and to get to the point where we go beyond being unsettled by it and can begin to react to it.

Strong Towns: On a related note, I’m going to send you a picture. My girls play softball and one of the practice fields that we play in, next to the outfield is an old industrial site used to be the paper mill. My dad worked there, my grandpa worked there, the paper mill is closed now, but they’ve taken the grounds and they’re using it to store the recalled Volkswagens. So there’s this sea of cars, and they’re all brand new. They all look beautiful, they’re gorgeous, but they’re just sitting there waiting for people to figure out what to do. And nobody knows how long they’re going to be there and it’s eerie. It’s really weird. So I’m going to take a photo and send it to you so you can see it. I go by this all the time with my kids.

Dutzik: So that’s a monument to a really bad decision. Yeah, we’ve done work in the auto emissions field for a while and just the ability to think that you can get away with something that’s fundamentally unsustainable and wrong and and that’s the result: you get a bunch of unused Volkswagens sitting in an old paper mill in Minnesota.