Pubdate: Mon, 26 Nov 2001
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
Section: Editorial/Op-Ed
Author: Christopher Buckley


Dismayed by its status as the Taliban's favorite automaker, Toyota today 
rolled out a new line of S.U.V.'s and pickup trucks for 2002. Named 
"Northern Alliance" after the Afghan rebels, the new vehicles are 
specifically designed, according to a Toyota spokesman, "for today's 
all-terrain freedom fighter."

Over the past years, Toyota has grown increasingly uncomfortable with 
images of Taliban soldiers driving around in its pickups with Stinger 
anti-aircraft missiles or leaping out of its S.U.V.'s to beat women. The 
new Northern Alliance line includes not only features designed to appeal to 
anti-Taliban forces, but also a number of devices that make the cars 
unappealing to brutal zealots.

For instance, when a key is inserted into the ignition of the 2002 S.U.V., 
Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" plays over the vehicle's quadraphonic sound 
system, which cannot be deactivated. The device is intended to so enrage 
Taliban-type drivers that they drive off the road, where United States 
Predator drones can more easily destroy them with Hellfire antitank guns.

To discourage passengers who have beards longer than four inches, the 
minimum length permitted by the Taliban, the steering wheel and dashboards 
are covered with a Velcro-type surface that adheres to facial hair and 
pulls it out painfully when the vehicle makes sharp turns or goes over 
bumps. Afghanistan's roads are full of such bumps.

Further, the headroom has been reduced by two inches, which would cause 
discomfort to a Taliban warrior wearing the prescribed high black turban. 
"We did extensive testing," said a Toyota engineer. "We're very pleased 
with the results. A Taliban driver would end up with a very stiff neck 
after just a few miles."

The Toyota Hilux model pickup truck, a great favorite with the repressive 
Afghan regime, has been "completely overhauled," according to a Toyota 
designer. Gone, for example, is the roll bar that made it possible to stand 
in the back and fire anti-aircraft missiles at C.I.A. drones while holding 
on with the other hand.

Toyota was also reportedly unhappy with the Hilux's appeal to heroin 
smugglers. "We spent a lot of time on that," said a Toyota spokesman. "This 
vehicle was intended to haul heavy boxes, machinery, sheep  you name it. 
Heroin was never part of the cargo design package. But it's tricky. Toyota 
isn't in the business of telling customers, `Don't smuggle heroin,' yet we 
recognize that we have a certain responsibility to the global community."

To discourage heroin smuggling, Toyota has installed sensors in the back 
that detect the presence of narcotics. When they are activated, loud sirens 
go off. Toyota tested this system along the United States-Mexican border 
with great success. "There's something about those sirens that just screams 
to a border guard, `Look in the back,' " the spokesman said.

If the Northern Alliance line meets with success in the new Afghanistan, 
Toyota says it may introduce it in the United States and Canada. "It's not 
that people in, say, Greenwich or Palo Alto or Highland Park are waging 
holy war," he said. "But it is a way of announcing, `I'm more 21st century 
than 12th.' We think it has exciting potential."

Christopher Buckley's new novel will be published next year.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart