Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Dodge Kahuna is a
righteous monstrosity

Many eyebrows likely would be raised if the automobile industry came out with vehicles such as the Ford Mother Superior, Lincoln High Priest, Chrysler Ayatollah, Nissan Rabbi or the Pontiac Apostle.

In fact, to avoid any political, cultural or religious backlash, automakers usually go out of their way to give new cars the most inoffensive names imaginable, such as the omni-impotent sounding (and equally visually inert) Element by Honda.

Dodge, either through a misdirected sense of derring-do or simple ignorance, however, has rolled out an ugly brute of a concept car called the Kahuna.

The Kahuna "blew in like a warm Pacific breeze" to last year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit. We know this because several completely independent and objective auto news Web sites such as the Ultimate Car Page and Car Design News specifically note that the Kahuna "blew in like a warm Pacific breeze." Even Info Motori, the Italian "magazine di informazione motoristica" says the Kahuna blew warm and breezelike into the trade show.

It's uncanny that independent auto writers would latch onto the same breezy phrase, but I'd be the last one to suggest they are in cahoots with car manufacturers and merely regurgitate press releases from the Detroit mother ship. I'd be the last one mainly because there'd be a long line ahead of me saying it. The indisputable analysis seems to be that, warm breeze or not, the Dodge Kahuna blows.

AND IT DOES. On many levels. On the visual level it's supposed to be a "Next Wave Cool" (Onda Siguiente Fresca) version of a '60s surfer "Woody" station wagon. It looks more like a large, wood-paneled, metal suppository with wheels.

What's more offensive, at least to a growing number of Hawaiians, is that Dodge cavalierly appropriated the term "kahuna," the Hawaiian word for "priest," without any sensitivity to its religious and cultural importance to a group of people. Where is the Dodge Rabbi, Monsignor or Swami?

One truly independent Web site for Chrysler enthusiasts ( calls the Kahuna "incredibly ugly" and then points out that the name is offensive to Hawaiians and refers readers to a petition being drawn up to protest the name.

I suspect Dodge hit on the name Kahuna because it sounds cool and has long been associated in a generic sense with the California surfing culture, as in "the Big Kahuna." One of the car's designers told reporters "kahuna" means "master," which it doesn't. That doesn't say much for the Dodge Research Department. Or maybe it says a lot.

The good news is that even the auto industry media pimps concede the Kahuna likely won't go into production, mainly because whoever thought it up had to be an idiot. In the interest of truth in advertising, it should have been called the Dodge Lolo.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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