Saturday, January 20, 2007

Horizontal Drop

In this Lexus commercial, a Lexus is seemingly dropped from a helicopter, while another Lexus on the ground drives under it before it hits the ground. The voiceover says "Gravity will propel this Lexus IS over 4000 feet in a matter of seconds. This Lexus IS will attempt to cover the same distance even faster. The Lexus IS 350. So much for gravity."

The version online that I linked to does not have any disclaimer text, but the version aired on TV says in small print at the beginning: "Based on horizontal drop. Aerial sequence simulated. Professional driver on closed course. Do not attempt."

I have two issues with this. First, what is a horizontal drop? Horizontal motion wouldn't be a "drop" at all, right? So maybe they mean that the car was dropped in a horizontal orientation. But if that is all it means, why do they need to say it?

Second, "do not attempt?" How would you attempt this even if you wanted to? I guess you'd call up your helicopter pilot friend who has both a Lexus and a huge helicopter and say, "Hey, I have this great idea, could you pick up your Lexus with your helicopter and drop it from 4000 feet while I try to drive under it? It will be awesome, just like in that commercial!" And he would say, "Wow, that sounds great! Let's try it on the street in front of your house. I'll be there in 10 minutes! Make a video so we can put it on YouTube."

And then you wouldn't drive quite fast enough, and the second Lexus would land right on top of you, killing you instantly. Then your family would have to sue Lexus because the commercial promised that the car would be great for that sort of thing.

Then in court the lawyer for Lexus would say, "Please look at Exhibit A here, where it says to use a horizontal drop, and do not attempt. The plaintiff did attempt this, and he didn't even use a horizontal drop, as directed." Then the judge would say, "Mr. McFlimmigidgie, please explain to the court what a horizontal drop is." And the lawyer would smile and say, "Of course, your honor, it is one where the car drops from side to side instead of down from above." There would be murmuring in the courtroom at this point. The neighbor, sitting in the audience would say, "I told him to use a horizontal drop, but he wouldn't listen, the poor bastard."

The trial would of course go on for another two weeks, filled with testimony from experts on dropping things from helicopters, but in the end the jury would come back to that phrase "horizontal drop" and find for the defendant. Case closed.


Chuck Butcher said...

I know, it's a stupid commercial but horizontal orientation during drop is how they can manage to "beat" the falling car. Frontal surface area (facing wind) is hugely important in determining acceleration and top speed. An object falls at 32 ft/sec/sec due to gravity and neglecting wind resistance; and terminal velocity is determined solely by wind resistance. If it were "dropped" like a bullet they couldn't make the claim. Now my 1962 Chevy II Nova could beat it, but not their can. It wouldn't sound nearly as impressive if they had to drop it from over a mile up.

So, who cares?

Peter said...

As a former plaintiff's personal injury lawyer, I would argue that the disclaimer was too small.

I would win. On appeal, I would argue public policy: do we want Lexii dropping from helicopters, narrowly missing stunt drivers? Witness the recent VW commercial where the strange engineer catapults the tricked-out car. Television has become too real; people are way too prone to suggestion. It's like copycat crimes. I concede that only a small percentage of people may begin tossing cars around like this. Even so, the cost to society is prohibitive.

Seth said...

Based on ignoring air resistance, you have a little less than 16 seconds before the car impacts. that means gravitational rates result in reaching 172.5 mph within those 16 seconds to beat the car... i think even the nova would need to worry

perhaps if its being raised at a high speed, released while moving up and gets a fair amount of air resistance could this work, but the obvious solution is simple and also shown in the tv ad: the car started moving ahead of the drop. sure, many sports cars can attain the needed acceleration in the "0 to 60" sense, but what about the acceleration as its horizontal speeds are also slowed by the air?