Books by Brock Yates

Released: June 3, 1999

One fan's breathless overview of the impact Harley-Davidson motorcycles have had on individuals and popular culture. Yates, an editor-at-large for Car and Driver magazine, has here shifted from his career focus—on cars (The Critical Path, 1996, etc.)—to motorcycles. He sets out to examine the peculiar role that Harley-Davidson has played in the creation of the culture of motorcycles and "hogs" in particular. The emphasis is more on people than machines, although the history of the company is a critical part of this undertaking. An early pioneer in motorcycle manufacturing, Harley-Davidson developed some unique technical concepts and survived numerous boom-and-bust cycles in the country's economy and its own industry. The fabled turnaround of this enterprise in the 1980s is covered, yet there is not much explanation of how it occurred. Most of the book deals with motorcycle enthusiasts, including a long history of celebrity riders and especially "bikers," scattered clumps of individualists who find Harley-Davidson motorcycles the ideal symbols for vague ideas about rebellion and freedom. Somewhere along the way, the company decided to promote this antiestablishment symbolism rather than fight it, but in a carefully controlled manner designed to appeal to would-be riders within the establishment itself. Most of the corporate coverage is thin and lacks substance. The author prefers to focus on the culture of Harley fans rather than on the company. Yates does develop an appealing momentum when talking about ownership of Harleys in foreign countries, including Japan and Greece. Unfortunately, this information is too short and comes at the end of the book. Although Yates's prose offers nothing in the way of persuasive argument, it is colorful, as when aping the argot of bikers. Referring to the competition from overseas, for instance, he lambasts "rice burners" and "Jap scrap" as machines that may represent technological perfection but lack soul. Rambling, rarely insightful, and ultimately disappointing. Generates little original analysis about the Harley phenomenon. (16 pages photos, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 12, 1996

Yates, as the proverbial fly on the wall, observes the internal workings of Chrysler, from the boardrooms to the assembly lines, at a critical moment in its recent history. Long-time automobile observer Yates, a regular contributor to Car and Driver and other magazines, was allowed unlimited access to the Chrysler Corporation from 1992 on, just when the company was preparing its follow-up to its phenomenally successful minivan line. Chrysler, which had enjoyed fat sales since the 1984 introduction (and invention) of the minivan, had grown soft in its triumph; designers were still relying on the old K car design for new models, and quality control was at an all-time low. Chrysler's next car would make or break the company. Yates ably reconstructs the endless meetings and virtual reinvention of the assembly line that occurred over the next few years. The line was shifted to the Japanese method of kan ban, or ``just in time'' inventory control, which also allowed control of costs by having parts suppliers key their production to Chrysler's needs. Chrysler also took on and turned around AMC/Renault—where workers still used vacuum tubes available only from the Soviet Union—by restoring the Jeep. Yates is at his best when he details the actual building of cars: the repetition of trials, the methods of applying paint, and the sizes of the nuts and bolts. He also admires the ingenuity of the Chrysler engineers, who were under enormous pressure not only to make a new car quickly but also to make it cheaply. The other aspects of Chrysler's history (for example, lee Iacocca's legacy and the corporate infighting under the shadow of Kirk Kerkorian) are less well rendered, but it's the engineers and the assembly line workers, after all, who eventually built Chrysler's new pride and joy, the Town & Country. An informed history of a company in turmoil and the inside story of America's obsession, for better or worse, with cars. (9 pages b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >