On this episode of Yahoo Finance Presents, Yahoo Finance’s Pras Subramanian sat down with ‘You Bet Your Life’ and ‘Jay Leno’s Garage’ host Jay Leno in Los Angeles, to discuss his massive car collection, the booming future of the electric vehicle market, his new game show ‘You Bet Your Life’, and a new venture as a live comedian.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: So you couldn’t come to LA without visiting the most– one of the more preeminent car collections in the country or maybe in the world, Jay Leno’s Garage. Jay Leno, thanks for having us here. I really appreciate it.
JAY LENO: Well, thanks for being had. I appreciate it.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: So, you know, I wanted to talk to you about– we’re here for the auto show, but I want to talk to you more about–
JAY LENO: Mm.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: –big picture stuff in the industry. A lot happening in 2021– an EV boom, a lot of traditional manufacturers trying to pivot that way.
JAY LENO: Right.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: What’s your kind of big takeaways this year as we kind of come to an end?
JAY LENO: Well, you know, the nice thing is, at least, as far as on the American side, American manufacturing is now being run by engineers. You know, in the ’70s, ’80s, even the ’90s, we brought Bill in from Whirlpool– he’s going to run the automotive division and Jim from Maytag– they’re not engineers. They’re market people.
I can remember when Chrysler was just turning out K cars just, just to turn them out, and hopefully, we’ll fix them under warranty. Luckily, all the companies now are being run by engineers. Mary Barra is an engineer. Mark Reuss at GM, he’s at Nurburgring every weekend testing cars himself, you know. Ford, you know– it’s really exciting.
I mean, I look at the new Corvette that just came out, and they built a $300,000 car for $65,000. I mean, the new Corvette has a bespoke engine, four cam, four valves, flat-plane crank, just like all the European exotics. It’s the most powerful, normally aspirated engine you can get. So I think the future looks pretty bright. As far as electric, that’s the future. I mean, right now, you’re in the golden age of internal combustion.
You know, steam ran everything from about 1810 to about 1911, and then eventually, gas engines came in. You know, there was a point between 1900 and 1910– is it going to be electric? Is it going to be steam? Or is it going to be internal combustion? Everybody had about a third of the market, and internal combustion– you know, sometimes, it’s not necessarily the best solution, it’s who gets there with the most product.
When VCRs first came out, Beta was superior. So VCR people figured, let’s just flood the market with VCRs, which people then put out VHS tapes. Even though it was not as good as Beta, it was the system everybody had and it became the way to go. But people knew electric was good in the early 1900s. It’s just that most people did not have electricity, and the home could not produce the amount of electricity– it would take maybe 36 or 40 hours to charge a car, so it just wasn’t practical yet. But it was still one of the best ways to power an automobile.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: So we kind of reached this tipping point where electric is basically the future in a lot of OEMs are going that way. But I got to talk about the big dog in the room. Sorry to use your production company name–
JAY LENO: Right
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: –but Tesla–
JAY LENO: Yeah.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: –they are, they crossed that trillion valuation, which is mind boggling for all of us.
JAY LENO: Well, I mean, they are probably 8 to 10 years ahead in battery technology. I mean, to me, the genius of Tesla– you know, Elon brought his roadster here in 2007. It was only one or maybe two prototypes, and he said to me at that time, where we’re building infrastructure, we’re going to build charging stations all up and down the highway. And I was going, yeah, that’ll happen. You know, it just sounded like pie in the sky.
But he was really the first one to– because even now, you have mainstream manufacturers, we have a new electric car. Where do you charge it? Oh, you can charge it anywhere. Well, no, you can’t. You need designated charging, you know, especially, if you’re a unique brand. You need your brand, whereas Tesla did that. You can now drive a Tesla across the country in some cases for free because it’s solar power, so I give them a lot of credit. I think they deserve that valuation because they are that much more ahead. Everybody doing it now is sort of copying Tesla. Because if you remember prior to this, electric cars were nice, but they were slow, and they were, quote, “big golf carts,” you know, that type of thing.
I brought my Tesla– I have one of those Tesla Plaids– it is the fastest accelerating vehicle on the planet. Oh, and you’re saving the planet, too, by the way. OK, truth be told, I bought it for the performance, but I like the environmental side that goes with it. So you, you win.
For new technology to succeed, it can’t be equal. It’s got to be superior, and until just the last five years, electric cars didn’t quite have the range. Now, they do. Now, 400 seems to be the base number, just about. I think, in another company, it’ll be 600, 800, you know, even 1,000 is possible.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: Yeah, you’re kind of talking about getting that range anxiety and putting it away.
JAY LENO: Yeah.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: So you have that Model S Plaid. I just saw it out here–
JAY LENO: Right.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: –amongst your other cars.
JAY LENO: Right.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: That’s basically your daily driver now, right? What’s it been like living with that car?
JAY LENO: It’s been great. I had a regular P90 before this. I had that for seven years. It never went to the dealer, really, for anything. It never broke. It was fine. I put a lot of miles on it, then the Plaid came out, which is superior, so I sold it. I mean, I think I paid– what’d I pay for that car? $130,000, and I got $95,000 for it seven years later.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: Seven years later.
JAY LENO: Yeah, so that’s, that’s pretty good.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: That’s pretty good value. You know, I got to– before we exit this EV discussion, I just got to talk about Rivian. That’s another big company that just, no, I shouldn’t say, big. It’s big from market cap point of view, but it’s only had, I mean, a couple hundred in sales. What’s your take on that? Is that the new Ford F-150 challenger?
JAY LENO: Well, I think, General Motors has a Hummer out, and I am not a Hummer guy. I’m not a rolling coal, three ton vehicle guy. But you know, this was very impressive. You know, we drove it way out in the desert in California here, about two hours outside of LA. And I’m driving along, and I see a deer. And the deer just goes like this.
I mean the deer stood still. I just went by it. There was no noise. There was no smell. Because I was really in the desert by myself, just crunching along, and I could hear ringing. I mean, I heard dirt bikes that were easily a mile or so away like, where’s that annoying, where’s that coming? I couldn’t see him, but I could hear them. And I thought, oh, how annoying that is. and here I am in this 10,000 pound vehicle that makes no noise at all. It goes 350 miles on a charge, has the latest tech. It’s impressive. It’s impressive.
I’m curious to see how Rivian does, and again, you know, the car business is really hard because you can know electronics, but you might not know the car business. So I give Elon a lot of credit for turning out as many cars as he can. We’ll see how the other people do. I wish them all well, you know, but right now, I tend to go with the originator.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: So speaking of cars, we’re in a garage with a ton of cars. [INAUDIBLE], but a good amount of cars.
JAY LENO: Well, that would be, each car is actually almost two tons, so that’s, a ton would be half a car.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: A half a car.
JAY LENO: Yeah.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: So anything new in the collection recently? Anything you’ve sold recently?
JAY LENO: I don’t sell anything. That’s ridiculous. Get out. Sell something. No, I like to save them all. No, you know, I don’t necessarily buy rare exotic cars. I buy cars that I like. Cars that remind you of your childhood. You know, we do our car show– not so much the YouTube show. That’s more about the technical aspects, but the CNBC show– everybody has a car story, maybe, when you and your dad went every Sunday for ice cream, and I have the memories of riding in that car, you know. It just brings back a certain feeling.
And a lot of times, I’ll buy the story as often as I buy the car. It’s not a car I’m interested in, but oh, it’s one owner, and the– your daughter was born in this car? And then you drove her to her wedding, and oh, well, that’s a great story. so that’s part of the romance of it to me.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: So are there any cars that sort of slipped away that you wish you could have bought or missed and [INTERPOSING VOICES].
JAY LENO: Well, there are all kinds of cars that slipped away. The race is not over, you know. I’m happy with what I have like– we ought to be happy with what you have, just make sure you have enough. That’s my thing. No, I enjoy everything that I have. I mean, I enjoy working on them. I enjoy the mechanical-ness of them.
You know, I’m in a business that’s subjective. Some people think you’re funny. Some people think you suck, OK. And they’re both right. If I don’t make you laugh, then obviously, I’m not doing the job, but, oh, that guy’s laughing. But when you have something that’s broken, and you fix it, and you start it up, and it runs, no one can say it’s not running. You see– oh it’s running now. Yes, I fixed it. You see, it’s running now. And that’s sort of the, the cathartic sort of thing about working on things. You have a beginning, middle, and end. In show business, you don’t really. What is the end? It’s the next project? Is it you know? But when you fix something, and it’s running, and oh, then you’ve accomplished something.
I mean, there’s a great sense of accomplishment when a car breaks down on the road, you open the hood, and you fix it, and you go, oh, you feel like you’ve done something now. Yeah. Most modern cars really can’t do that. When they go, well then, you can call the tow guy, but that’s about it.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: Something about that– working with your hands, and take your mind off everything else, and just the flow of that whole working in a car, I think that’s why you mentioned the YouTube channel, where you actually focus more on the–
JAY LENO: Right
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: –technical things. And for me, when I had a car, I loved that aspect of working on the car, even the smallest little thing, so I could see why that is.
JAY LENO: Right, right.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: There’s an appeal there, right, that’s like an ancillary to your normal show–
JAY LENO: Right, right.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: –the YouTube channel. So I want to ask you about season nine of “Jay Leno’s Garage.” How’s that going? I know you got a bunch of interesting things. You took that Tesla out and broke a land speed record. Isn’t that right?
JAY LENO: Well not a land speed, a quarter-mile record that only lasted–
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: A day?
JAY LENO: –day or something like that.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: Yeah.
JAY LENO: I think they got some hunger striking employee, who was about 100 pounds lighter than I was. He beat me by a hundredth of a second, but that was funny, that was fun.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: So season 9 is going well. Is there anything coming up that we should keep an eye on?
JAY LENO: No, we’re just starting our next season. I hope, hopefully, pretty soon, so we’ll keep it going. It’s fun. It’s really light. There’s no politics involved. It’s like– that’s like with the game show “You Bet Your Life”– everything is politics now, and I’m so divi– everybody so divided. Everything is a conspiracy.
But, you know, I think there’s more that unites us than keeps us apart. Like on the game show, we get two people who have never met, from different walks of life, and they have to team up to play the game and win. And it’s fun to watch them helping one another to get to a common goal. You just don’t see people working together towards a common goal.
You know, when I turn on the news, and I see people fighting over infrastructure, why do we need clean water, and roads, and bridges? This is ridiculous. I just, really? We’re fighting over the fact, you don’t want to fix a bridge? I mean, I get the poli– OK, you don’t want to, but really, it’s a bridge. Cars are falling off the bridge, going in the water. Why, why are we not– why aren’t we all working together? Where’s the WPA? You want to bring people in and give them. Ah, I don’t know. It boggles my mind.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: So you mentioned the new show “You Bet Your Life.”
– It’s time for “You Bet Your Life.” Here’s your host, Jay Leno.
JAY LENO: All right. Say, hello, to Kevin Eubanks. Kevin, come on out.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: How did it, how did it come out? Why, what made you decide to reboot that show?
JAY LENO: Well, you got offered different shows, but most game shows go, the capital of Ubekistan is? You know, which is not really fun to do because I don’t know the capital of Ubekistan. I don’t even know if there is a Ubekistan. I don’t even know if I just made that country up. That’s what I mean. That’s why I don’t want to do a game show, plus I’m dyslexic, so doing, to this day, I can’t watch “Jeopardy” because I go, because it’s in the form of a que– what? It just confuses me.
So this is just– really, it’s just an offshoot of what we used to do on “The Tonight Show”– “Jaywalking.” We find people, and we talk to them. And my proudest thing about doing that on “Jaywalking,” and the whole 22 years we did it, we never had anybody say, oh, you made me look stupid. You edited it, so I look like an idiot. No, you let people hang themselves. We just– can we ask you some questions? OK, who’s the first president? Abraham Lincoln. Well, that was very good. Yeah, and then they tell me what idiots the other people are. I mean, yeah, it’s fun, and that’s, that’s what I like. That’s what I like.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: I got to say “Jaywalking” was one of my favorite segments on your show, “The Tonight Show,” back in, back in those days. You are also, now, going out, and doing live comedy, doing shows, how is that going? Do you find it, you know, you said, you don’t want to tread too deep on political issues, and it’s a lot of minefields out there. Is it hard to be funny these days as a comedian?
JAY LENO: You know never explain, never complain. If people don’t think something is funny, you can’t convince them, yes, it is. There was a time and it’s– if you watch, go to even WC Fields movies from the ’30s, the racist jokes, and the audience is, haha laughing, and you go, people are stunned now, or sexist jokes, or whatever it might be– I mean, I was watching– you know, I was watching something on Amazon, it was a Danny Thomas special, 1952, and Danny goes out, and he says, they say someday we might have a woman president. Can you imagine that? Women throwing the hat in the ring. Have you seen the hats these women are wearing now? It’s crazy.
And then they had a skit where the woman is like putting doilies out, and you go, oh my, god, oh, you would get killed.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: Mhm.
JAY LENO: You’d be beaten to a pulp. OK, we’ve changed. We don’t do that anymore. If people don’t find it funny, can it be frustrating for a comedian, a joke you’ve told for years, and years, and now, it’s not working anymore? Hey, welcome to show business, pal. That’s what it is.
So to me– look, I’ll always side with the comedians. I think you have the right to say whatever you want, but what you have now is democratization of media. I have a microphone. Uh-oh, now, everybody in the audience has a microphone. Do they have the right to speak back at me? Duh, yeah, OK. Should I complain about it, no. You know, I mean, that’s, that’s where– it’s always been you’re on stage, you can’t say anything. Well now, they can get on Twitter, or do whatever they want, and if they don’t like you, they let you know. Is that fair? I have no idea. It just is. So you figure out a way to work around it.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: So one last quick question.
JAY LENO: Yeah.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: How does it feel to be back in front of actual fans and people in attendance for your shows?
JAY LENO: Well, great. I was, I was still doing sh– you know, I would do Zoom shows, and things like that. It wasn’t bad, you know. I’m one of those– Look, I was lucky. This happened near the end of my career. Not to be– if this is the beginning, it would be awful because if I didn’t do the show, I didn’t eat. I didn’t pay the rent. I had to get some kind of a job. I’m not in that position.
There are people far– everybody is far worse off, so to me, to have any sort of complain about it, you know. And it’s not like I’m here and everybody moved ahead. The world stopped. Everybody’s in exactly the same place they were two years ago, when it started. OK, and now we’re coming up. You know, so it’s not like– I was in an accident, in the hospital for two years, and the world has passed me by. The world just stopped. Now, we catch up and resume. If that makes any sense.
PRAS SUBRAMANIAN: Well, we’re here, and you know, we’ve diversified from comedy to cars. And you know, “Yahoo Finance,” we love that kind of stuff, so, Jay, thanks again for joining us.
JAY LENO: Thanks for having me on.