Ridiculed Mexico carmaker hopes to have the last laugh

The maxim that every cloud has a silver lining was never truer than for Mexico's Mastretta car company, which gained world attention after being ridiculed on a British television show.

Now Mastretta hopes to parlay its new-found fame into greater car sales, even though the popular BBC program "Top Gear" dismissed the cars produced by the Mexican carmaker as "lazy", "feckless" and "flatulent" - qualities it said paralleled the national character.

The company's marquis vehicle - the sleek sports car Mastretta MXT - was also derided as little more than a giant "tortilla" on wheels.

The resulting imbroglio became a full scale diplomatic incident, with Mexico angrily demanding a retraction from the broadcaster.

The show is one of the BBC's most popular, with a global audience of some 350 million viewers - to the initial chagrin of the company's general manager Carlos Mastretta.

"It was a real annoyance, because in truth, the show used the car as a pretext to make comments said to be humorous, but which in reality were xenophobic, discriminatory and racist," Mastretta said at the company's factory in Ocoyoacac, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Mexico City.

But the controversy has had the unexpected up-side of bringing the formerly obscure auto maker to international prominence.

Suddenly Internet traffic on the company's website shot up, and there was even an increase in visits to the factory.

Better still, orders for the MXT are beginning to pour in.

"I have various agreements with distributors in Europe and we're in initial talks with countries in Latin America like Brazil and Chile," said Mastretta.

He added his company also was beginning to receive inquiries from the United States.

For more than two decades Mastretta has been a leading designer of public transportation vehicles, which is the way even most Mexicans are familiar with the firm.

"I've known of the Mastretta company for years, but I didn't know about this car," said Jose Melgarejo, 32, a longtime fan of all things automotive.

"I first heard about it through the controversy over the Top Gear program, and so I came to have a look at the car," he said.

The MXT is returning to the company's creative roots, said Mastretta, whose Italian forebears founded the company and whose father learned the art of auto-making from the legendary Enzo Ferrari.

The high performance vehicle aims to give some better known sports cars a run for their money in the performance department. Engineers began work on the MXT in 2005 with government and private funds, and now are putting the finishing touches on the car.

The MXT accelerates from 0 to 100 kilometers (62 miles) in 4.6 seconds, has a top speed of 230 kilometers per hour and a sticker price of around $60,000, Mastretta said.

Mastretta explained that production volume for the first year will be 100 units, gradually increasing production to 400 and 500 units in the third and fourth year.

The BBC said hundreds of Mexicans had contacted its Spanish-language website BBC Mundo to complain about the remarks on Top Gear, which Mexico's ambassador to London decried as "outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults".

The broadcaster issued an apology, but at the same time defended the jokes about the country as being part of British humor.

"The show has explained they were making comic use of a stereotype; a practice with which regular viewers of Top Gear will be familiar," the broadcaster said.

Mastretta is convinced that once production gets underway, the car will be a hot seller - including in the country whose mocking remarks engendered so much dismay.

"In a month and a half it will be in Great Britain," said Mastretta who might well have added that he'll see who will have the last laugh.

sem/sg/jkb-ns

 

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