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Trunk Monkey is a concept originally created in January, 2000 by Sean Sosik-Hamor for the automotive group of Subaru enthusiasts in the New England Subaru Impreza Club, or NESIC. The original concept of a "Trunk Monkey" was a small stuffed animal placed in the trunk of a vehicle which came alive and jumped from side to side to help distribute weight during "spirited driving maneuvers".
The Trunk Monkey television ads, loosely based on this concept, were created in 2003 by the advertising agency R/West in Portland, Oregon. Originally created for the Suburban Auto Group of Sandy, Oregon, the syndicated commercials are now the primary source of revenue for the agency. The series of commercials has been licensed to at least 45 car dealerships around the United States as well as New Zealand.
The commercials focus on the Trunk Monkey, a fictional dealer-installed option on cars. The optional feature consists of a live chimpanzee inside the trunk and a special button in the passenger compartment. The button is pressed in situations not found in the user's manual such as handling irate drivers in traffic, dealing with unruly children throwing eggs at the car, negotiating with highway patrol officers after being pulled over, helping deliver a child when a nearby hospital is not accessible, or dispatching a gang in the parking lot. The Trunk Monkey is also portrayed as an effective theft deterrent, as seen in one commercial where the chimpanzee knocks out a would-be car thief and throws him off a bridge. The chimpanzee also administers first aid to the driver after an accident. In addition, its security abilities are effective during a driver's daughter's first date or an alien invasion.
Sid Yost, of Amazing Animal Productions, who also goes by the name Ranger Rick Kelly, supplied chimpanzees for some of the Trunk Monkey ads. Sarah Baeckler, a primatologist, conducted an undercover investigation at Yost’s training facility. She reported that "The trainers use physical force to train the chimps and other animals as well but they punch them they kick them. They use weapons such as a sawed off broom handle that they called the ugly stick." Yost surrendered his chimpanzees and agreed to no longer work with non-human primates in settlement of a lawsuit alleging violations of the Animal Welfare Act and California Anti-Cruelty laws. Because of this, and other suspected abuses of chimpanzees used in these ads, animal rights group PETA has asked R-West to cancel the series of commercials.
Introduced by "Rasher" in 2005 in the southern UK as a slang term for field service engineer's labourers, Used as a term of endearment rather than insult, upon request the "Trunk Monkey" would spring from the van and perform mundane tasks such as dish building or carry tools, the trunk monkey would then return to the van to await further instructions.