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Kai Ryssdal: As Chrysler and the rest of the American auto industry struggles to get traction in those key foreign markets, there is some good news. We sent reporter Rico Gagliano to Sweden — land of the safe, dependable Volvo — to check out a growing craze for one not-so-practical U.S. automotive export.
Rico Gagliano: A bright summer morn in the little city of Gothenburg, Sweden. Birdies sing in the trees. Here comes the tram.
Cars are discouraged in the sparkling clean city center. Nearby stands Ullevi soccer stadium. It doubles as the largest solar power plant in the country. And inside Ullevi?
Announcer: Gothenburg, Sweden! Welcome to Monster Jam!
Ten giant trucks on six-foot tires scream around a dirt track. Airbrushed on their side panels are names like “Grave Digger” and “Maximum Destruction.”
They kick up tornadoes of soil. There’s a smell of burning tires, something the people of Gothenburg may have never experienced before. They love it.
Back in the ’70s, American farmers started competing to determine whose tractor was the most badass. Monster Trucks are their offspring. The fiberglass hot rods can and do crush puny regular cars into steel pancakes. They are big, loud, silly, scary, obnoxious — and therefore, even more American than apple pie.
Yet for the last four years, the company Live Nation has been selling out Monster Jams in stadiums all over mild, enlightened Europe.
Dave Cordovano: It exceeded our expectations.
Dave Cordovano is a director of marketing at Live Nation. He says last year, Monster Jam sold 3 million tickets worldwide. Europeans bought just 250,000 of those, but growth, like the show, is explosive.
Cordovano: The first year we went over we performed in three cities. It’s now grown to 12. So in those four years, we’ve tripled the business over there.
Gothenberg’s hosting two sold-out shows in one day.
Outside Ullevi stadium, I asked this Swedish teen: What’s the appeal?
Swedish Teen: Big cars. That’s . . . all.
Well, that was easy. But bringing the show to Europe wasn’t. Beforehand, Live Nation showered Euro cable with Monster Jam TV shows to familiarize audiences with trucks like “Monster Mutt” — it looks like a dog — and “Escalade.” It’s a . . . really big Escalade.
Director of Operations Roy Janson says there were logistical issues, too:
Roy Janson: You know, here in the U.S., we’ve got Crown Victorias and Chevy Caprices and big cars. The problem in Europe, though, is finding big cars to crush.
Another not-so-big thing in Europe? The Swedish Monster Truck Association. Yes, there is one.
Conny Carlsson: My name is Conny Carlsson, and I’m chairman of the Monster Truckers in Sweden. We have been Monster racing in Sweden for about 20 years.
Gagliano: Do you race?
Carlsson: I race, and I have a new truck. It’s called “Mean Farmer.” And it’s brand new.
Gagliano: Why is it called “The Mean Farmer?”
Carlsson: I am a farmer in my profession.
Carlsson’s gotta keep his day job, ’cause you can’t make a living as a Swedish Monster Trucker. The Association only has about 200 members. Luckily, one of them happens to be Thor.
Announcer: From Gothenberg, welcome Anders Flugor, and Thor! The first Swedish truck ever to compete in a Monster Jam event!
Thor features an airbrushed likeness of the Viking God, holding his mighty hammer aloft with lightning bolts shooting out. And to me, the only thing that could be more awesome is if it was blasting Led Zeppelin.
[Music: “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin]
The freestyle competition begins.
Announcer: Start your engines!
Each truck gets a minute and a half to show what they’ve got. Thor screams onto the track and goes into a crazy spin, whirling in place like a 10,000-pound top.
Around and around. Oh my God, my ears are getting punished right now.
That’s when it hits me. This is globalization — enacted in what are kind of like giant SUVs, the universal symbol of modern capitalism.
Fifty-five seconds, he does a jump . . . oh, a wheelie! Oh, I want this guy to kick so much butt.
Then, at 37 seconds, Thor’s engine dies.
Gagliano: Oh, you gotta feel bad for Thor. There’s some guys looking at the engine. Not acting like a thunder god right now.
Announcer: Folks, he did a great job on his first Monster Jam freestyle. Let him hear you: Anders Flugor and Thor.
So unlike the regular car industry, the U.S. remains dominant in Monster Trucks. But make no mistake: the emerging Monster markets are coming. And next time, it could be America that gets crushed like a Peugeot.
In Gothenberg, Sweden, I’m Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.
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