Last year we featured a post about the unfortunate case of Texas plumber Mark Oberholtzer. In need of a better truck for his business, he took his old Ford F-250 to a local dealership and traded it in for a newer model. The plumber didn’t give the transaction a second thought until about a year later when the complaints started rolling in. Due to the extraordinarily complicated nature of the global auto resale market, Oberholtzer’s truck somehow ended up in the hands of militants fighting in Syria. A terrorist Twitter account posted a photo of the vehicle with a machine gun mounted in the bed, prompting thousands of angry Americans to call the number printed on the door.
Oberholtzer endured months of abuse from people who saw the viral picture, harming his business and his reputation. As a result, in December 2015 the plumber filed a $1 million lawsuit against the dealership that bought his truck. Oberholtzer claims that this ordeal could have been avoided if the new owners had simply removed the decals for his plumbing company, especially the telephone number. Instead, Oberholtzer’s lawyer claims that the Texan received more than 1,000 calls on the first day the picture appeared. He heard many more complaints in the weeks to come, described by his lawyer as “in large part harassing and contain[ing] countless threats of violence, property harm, injury and even death.”
According to the lawsuit, Oberholtzer began removing the decals from his truck once a deal had been struck. A dealership employee stopped him, however, claiming that he could damage the truck’s paint job. The staffer then assured Oberholtzer that the decals would be properly removed before the truck was resold. That never happened, of course, eventually leading to this ugly episode that caused the plumber to close his business temporarily and leave town. While the Texan could soon receive damages for his suffering, unraveling the twisted knots of the global auto resale market is not nearly as simple. In fact, the Treasury Department has gone so far to ask Toyota why their trucks often seem to end up in the hands of militants. After all, if a big auto company can have so much trouble navigating the global auto market, maybe it’s not such a surprise that a small Texas dealership could get fooled, too.
- What sort of regulation could the government put in place to prevent auto sales to foreign militants?
- Have global supply chains become too large and unwieldy for businesses and governments to understand?