President Trump regaled political donors this week with a strange story about a "bowling ball test" that he says Japan uses to unfairly block imports of American cars. "That’s where they take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and they drop it on the hood of the car," he told donors in Missouri. "And if the hood dents, then the car doesn’t qualify. ... It's horrible the way we're treated." In its original coverage of the statement, the Washington Post added, "It was unclear what he was talking about." Others were similarly perplexed. "I have no idea what he was talking about," a director at the research firm Center for Automotive Research tells NBC News. "I've never heard of such a test," a Honda spokesperson tells the Japan Times. "If we did that, I think our cars would also dent."
So what was Trump talking about? "Obviously, he's joking about this particular test,” White House press chief Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday, adding that the remark was "illustrative of creative practices” used to block American products. Not everybody was buying that explanation, and Post reporter Josh Dawsey tweets that the president has previously brought up the supposed test in meetings. Colleague Philip Bump at the Post digs in, suggesting that perhaps Trump has morphed this Nissan ad into reality. A possibly more plausible explanation he offers is that the tale stems from an actual test Japan conducts in which a "head-shaped object" is fired at the hood of a car, the idea being to measure potential damage to a pedestrian. (Trump's comments about bluffing Canada's Justin Trudeau made the bigger headlines from the speech.)