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The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

GOODBYE TO ALL THAT.
by Editor
30 Nov 2021 at 12:59pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Enthusiasts knew this day was coming, but the harsh reality is finally beginning to set in: The modern-day ICE Muscle Car Era is coming to a close. With the entire auto industry collectively focusing all of its product development money on Battery Electric Vehicles – with top executives not envisioning a scenario where they would devote any money to future ICE products – traditional piston-powered high-performance machines will begin slowly fading into the twilight.

This was confirmed when Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis told Motor Authority at the L.A. Auto Show that the company’s supercharged Hellcats and the other 392 V8-powered Chargers and Challengers in its Hot Rod lineup will be produced through the end of 2023 and then, that’s it. “There’s two more years to buy a Hellcat, then it's history," Kuniskis said.

After praising the Dodge boys and girls at the Stellantis headquarters out in Auburn Hills for the last few years for keeping the Big Horsepower Faith alive – and keeping the loud pedal down – in spite of the daunting waves of EVs that seem to be washing over the business like a tsunami, the news that the end is nigh is both wistful and sobering.

It’s no secret that the last decade has brought enthusiasts an array of high-performance ICE machines that will go down in automotive history as the greatest this industry has ever seen. Remarkable machines from Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford – not to mention exotic supercars and production cars from the import manufacturers – have left an indelible mark on the landscape. Back in ancient times, 400HP to 500HP was considered other worldly, or something reserved for pure racing cars, but that turned out to be a mere speed bump on the road to 800HP, 900HP, 1000HP and even more. Never mind the exotics, the fact that you can put your hard-earned money down and drive a Dodge Challenger or Charger off of the showroom floor with near (or over) 800HP is simply mind-blowing, no matter what era you’re coming from.

What will replace theses rocket sleds? The Charger and Challenger are slated to move to an electrified STLA Large platform, which is capable of up to 500 miles of range. Dodge will unveil an electric concept car in 2022 that will signal what its electrified muscle car might look like in 2024.

What kind of horsepower will these machines have? I expect 700HP will be the base equivalent power, with 1100HP or more for the Hellcat versions. So, the smoky burnouts and ripping straight-line performance will be there, there’s no question. But the guttural roar and supercharged whine made famous by the Dodge muscle cars will be replaced by slot-car whizzy noises endemic to EVs, combined with projected electronically-enhanced sounds in the interior. 

In other words, it’s all over but the shouting, folks.

Make no mistake, the EV thing is cool and all, at least up to a point. They’re seamless and impressive and somewhat fun to drive, but the visceral thrill and unforgettable sound of ICE-powered high-performance machines will never be replaced. Yes, you can dial up incredible amounts of horsepower equivalents in the coming wave of EVs, but the lack of a defining, signature sound and the prodigious battery weight that comes with them will hinder every aspect of performance other than in a straight line. These are no dancing lightweights with cat-quick agility, to be charitable, no matter how much the manufacturers protest. These are leaden, cumbersome machines with severe limitations when it comes to dynamic performance.

We’ve already seen the realities of this in the Porsche Taycan, a bloated 5000 lb.+ heavyweight that is so far removed from the Porsche idiom that it’s borderline criminal. I know this will raise pitchforks from Porsche-ists across the land, but I don’t care, it’s the High-Octane Truth. (For the record, I don’t care for the bloated, heavyweight, “high-performance” ICE crossovers and SUVs, either. It’s a flat-out stupid, 5000 lb.+ vehicle segment, one that, to be honest, isn’t going away any time soon, much to my disgust.) 

Fortunately, the close of 2023 will only mark the end of the opportunity to order one of these famous Dodge Hot Rods “as new” from the manufacturer. I am confident that other manufacturers will continue to offer high-performance ICE machines from the factory through at least 2025, if not beyond. (At least I hope so, anyway.) I am also confident that the ultra-developed industry for ICE-powered high-performance machines will live on for decades to come, on the streets and on race tracks across the country, which for me, is a very good thing. No, make that an essential thing.

Thanks to my High-Octane life, my high-performance ICE memories go on forever.

There were my rides with design legend Bill Mitchell in some of GM Styling’s most famous concepts – the ’59 Corvette Sting Ray racer, ’62 Corvair Monza Super Sport, the Corvette XP-700, the Corvette Mako Sharks I and II, the Corvair Monza GT and SS – most with open pipes providing the unforgettable soundtrack.

There was the ’61 Impala SS with a 409 V8 and 4-speed that Ed Cole sent over to us for the weekend. It was his personal driver and at the time – the option hadn’t even been announced yet.

There was the White/Black ’62 Corvette that we “borrowed” from GM PR every weekend of that summer.

The ‘63 Black/Black 260 Cobra (one of the early ones without side vents and the original badging) that we “borrowed” from Pontiac Engineering almost every weekend.

The ’63 Silver/Black Corvette Sting Ray – again, Ed Cole’s personal driver – that he let us borrow for the weekend, before the Sting Ray was officially introduced.

The ’64 Black/Black fuel-injected Corvette Sting Ray that we gutted, put a roll bar in and drove to Watkins Glen so my brother Tony could attend a SCCA Driver’s School, but not before Zora Arkus-Duntov took it for two weeks and “massaged” it.

The ’64 Pontiac XP-400 convertible with a Mickey Thompson-prepared 421-cu. in. V8 supercharged with a 671 GMC blower. (It easily spun the tires in all four gears. With five people in it.)

The surprisingly wonderful sound of our Black ’65 Corvair – with open J.C. Whitney headers – that we raced in “A” Sedan all over the Midwest and East Coast. 

The ’67 Corvette Sting Ray L88 that was Tony’s first Corvette racing car. The sound of that bad-ass Corvette reverberated at SCCA races all over the Midwest. And all of the subsequent Owens/Corning Fiberglas Corvettes that were raced from ’68 through ’71 – there was no mistaking the sound of them and spanking the 427 Cobras made it all the better.

The ’69 Black/Black Corvette L88 roadster that we were going to turn into a “Daytona GT” and market to Corvette enthusiasts. My job was to “exercise” that car (with open headers, no less), and, needless to say, it was my distinct pleasure.

The ’73 Corvette that Tony put on the pole at Sebring for the 12 Hours (the race was an all GT event that year). It basically was a Can-Am V8, and the sound made the rest of the paddock stand up and take notice. Every time it went by.

All of the Can-Am races I saw in person, especially at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The sound of those Can-Am cars pouring down the Moraine Sweep was simply unforgettable with their high wings glinting in the hot sun. Simply mesmerizing.

And that’s not even a fraction of the memories I have. It’s no secret that all things being equal, I would take the sound of a high-horsepower V8 over the sound of any other ICE machine. At full-song they pound you in the chest and make your knees weak, and for that exact fleeting moment in time you feel more alive. Overstating it? Tell me that the next time you’re near a high-performance V8 that’s accelerating hard into the distance. There’s simply nothing else like it.

I will exit this mortal coil long before those unmistakable sounds go away, thank goodness. 

I do welcome the EV era, but there are certain things about the ICE age – the visceral thrills, the guttural sounds, the sheer mechanical force, the undeniable emotional connection – that are simply irreplaceable. 

I’m not ready to say goodbye to all that just yet.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.


Editor's Note: In case you're curious, you can watch this video of the late Jim Pace in a Can-Am McLaren vintage racer at Road America. It's one of Peter's most favorite videos and it captures that unmistakable V8 sound perfectly. -WG


IT?S ALL HAPPENING.
by Editor
22 Nov 2021 at 10:30am

Editor's Note: Peter and I were talking about this week's column, and the notion of doing a "thankful" column rang hollow. Not that we're not incredibly thankful for a lot of reasons - because we are - but things are so precarious and dark in our land right now that it somehow feels inappropriate. So, I decided we'd run this previous column, which displays a side of Peter that few people are aware of. The edgy Autoextremist needs no introduction, of course. But this column is special. Peter's Rant takes the form of an ode to this particularly fraught time in the business. Strange days indeed. (And don't forget to check out our all-new items in On The Table, Fumes and The Line.) -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit.

The darkness beckons at 3:00 a.m.
A cup or two or three to jump-start me
The news is weird, spinning like a top
On one side, sketchy optimism
On the other, the ugly reality
Believe your eyes, not the stories

On the way to the EV Promised Land
The bumps and grinds and promises
Are getting to be a bit too much
The Future is starry bright, if we just hang on
But '23, '24, '25?
Who has that kind of time?

Flying cars and IPOs
Takeovers in the search for more control
The bootlickers and the shallow men
Hankerin’ for another piece
Elbows out juggling empty lots
Something tells me we’ve lost the plot

It’s all happening
Everything all the time

The media goes on genuflectin’
Not even pretendin’
Why bother askin’ when no one’s watchin’?
The newly anointed King can do no wrong
Pay no attention to those flyin’ roofs
They’re just a blip on the way to sainthood

The Sturm und Drang oozes
It’s the Swirling Maelstrom writ large
The chaos is the juice, or is the juice the chaos?
Pay no attention to that PR Man Behind the Curtain
The tongue is forked, the agenda is clear
And don’t kid yourself, the chips still set the tone

The bad taste is palpable
The wait is long and debilitating
Even Godot has come and gone
But don’t worry, it won’t be long now
Wide-open promises, unlimited profits
Just don’t ask when or how

It’s all happening
Everything all the time

It’s all about the content, stupid
Leveraging everything that moves
There’s gold in them thar subscriptions
Revenue for the taking
Stop calling it a car company
It’s a tech company in the making

Forget about Old School
There’s no future in old
The sooner we get with the program
And leave the past behind
The better off we’ll be
It’s as simple as a-b-c

The Wall Street Willies call the shots
It’s all about what they’re gonna say and do
Thumbs up and the stock soars
Thumbs down and we told you so
What about the consumers?
As long as they’re payin’ their monthlies, who cares?

It’s all happening
Everything all the time

The prognosticators are having a field day
Making it up on the fly
Forget about tea leaves
Now it’s watching chip dust through an hour glass
Do they really know what’s coming?
Or are they just spewing by the by?

We’ll get it all sorted out
Or so they say
But who is “they” anyway?
What have they ever done to deserve
More than a glance and a glimpse
As we ride on by?

Batteries on the brain
Cheaper better faster
Smaller lighter longer
The ICE Era is over
Or sometime soon
It was a good long run, Baby

It’s all happening
Everything all the time

Too many promises
Too much optimism
Waiting for a trigger
So everything comes good
I’ve seen this movie before
It never ends well

The hucksters have come out of the woodwork
New companies in name only
It’s gonna be great
Until the inevitable wreck
When there’s no “there” there
What did you expect?

In the meantime the dealers
Are hangin’ by a thread
This crisis is messin’ with their heads
They can’t sell what they don’t have
Empty lots, empty promises
Can we interest you in a ‘17 Lexus?

The darkness hovers
Just as black at 5:00 a.m.
How can that be?
And what have we learned?
Nothing new, nothing much
It’s complicated

It’s all happening
Everything all the time

And that’s the High-Octane Electrified Truth for this week.


ACURA: WANDERING AROUND IN THE DESERT OF DESIGN MEDIOCRITY.
by Editor
16 Nov 2021 at 10:39am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. The hand-wringing about the new Acura Integra prototype unveiled last week has been over the top. Pitchfork-wielding partisans on both sides of the issue have been weighing in on whether or not the Integra prototype is worthy of praise, or derision. The Internet Fan Boys (some even in the “media”) have been singing the praises for the new Integra, saying that it’s a refreshing breath of fresh air and a return to glory for the moribund Acura brand. On the opposite side of the fence, the comments have been leaning toward the idea that the new Acura Prototype is “the answer to the question that no one is asking.”

For the enthusiasts out there, whose appreciation of automotive history goes back to 2010 (if that far), once-upon-a-time the Acura Integra was a driver-focused compact – produced from 1986 through 2006 – that couldn’t be further from its more conservative Honda siblings. The emphasis was on performance and fun-to-drive for the Integra, with excellent dynamics and a typically great Honda engine. And all of those qualities were magnified even further in the high-revving and high-strung Integra Type-R. It’s no secret that the Integra did more to establish Acura as a performance brand than even the vaunted NSX did. Why? Because it was affordable. And for 2022, the brain trust at Acura has decided the time is right for the brand to introduce a new Integra. 

Full disclosure?  I love Hondas. Especially the current Civic. I love the way they feel, I love their engines, I love the structural solidity, and most important, I love them because the fun-to-drive quotient is really high. So, the haters out there can put their pitchforks down (at least for 20 seconds), because I’m sure that Honda will make certain that any machine that wears the Acura Integra nameplate will be a worthy, fun-to-drive entry into the market. 

The Integra Prototype – painted in Indy Yellow Pearl borrowed from the NSX – "is a strong indication of the exterior design of the all-new 2023 Acura Integra, which will be priced around $30,000 when it arrives at Acura dealers next year," according to Acura PR minions. (There is no “strong indication” about it. That is the car. -WG) The 2023 Integra will become "the new gateway performance model in the Acura lineup, a premium sport compact with an evocative five-door design and fun-to-drive spirit," the minions continued. It will be the first-ever factory-turbocharged Integra and it will be able to be ordered with an available six-speed manual transmission, limited slip differential and high-output 1.5-liter engine, with VTEC®. “The Integra is one of the most iconic models in Acura's history,” said Jon Ikeda, Vice President and Acura Brand Officer. “This new Integra will continue to deliver on the original's unique aspirational yet attainable market position, with emotional performance and style, combined with the versatility and utility sought after by today's buyers.” (2023 marks the first time the Integra will be built in America, when it begins mass production next year at the Marysville Auto Plant in Ohio, by the way. It will be built on the same production line as the Acura TLX.)

So, everything is cool with me about the idea of a new Integra. I just can’t say the same for the current state of Honda/Acura Design. When the Acura Integra made its debut, it was a different time and a different era. And suggesting that Acura can go back and recreate the buzz of that era is naive, at best. The new Integra was designed in Japan, and it shows. Acura PR minions describe it this way: "... the new Integra's bold exterior styling features a dramatically sloping roofline and liftback tailgate, giving it a distinct coupe-like road presence." 

I beg to differ. The new Acura Integra design is derivative, boring, uninspired and a major disappointment. But it has the embossed Integra name under the driver's side headlight and passenger's side taillight, so there's that. (Wow.) Something has been wrong with Honda/Acura Design for a long time now (the exception being the new NSX, of course.) Honda/Acura designers keep trying to rouse enthusiasts with various design “signatures” on its product lineup – the grille openings, slats, creases, etc. – but they seem to fall flat every damn time. 

Other than the NSX, there is no emotionally compelling reason to desire an Acura. There is just nothing about them that draws you in, and the design of the new Integra does absolutely nothing to change that perception. Expecting more from Honda/Acura designers these days is giving them much more credit than they deserve. It is a fool’s errand, in fact. Design mediocrity seems to be their consistent M.O.

A common litmus test for enthusiasts is to ask this question: When you close the door and walk away from your ride, do you glance back at it for another admiring look? Or do you press the “lock” button and just keep walking? Needless to say, if I were driving the new Integra, I wouldn’t even give it a second glance.

I love driving Hondas, but I sure don't like looking at them. 

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

(Acura images)



BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARDER-TO-GET-TO PLACE.
by Editor
9 Nov 2021 at 9:59am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. Mr. Zevon’s lyric in our AE Song of the Week got me thinking this morning. Describing this churning, burning, seething cauldron of turmoil that the automobile business has become as the “swirling maelstrom” doesn’t even begin to cover what’s happening right now. 

We exist in a maniacally weird limbo where the promise of The Future is couched in boundless superlatives of a Shiny Happy existence filled with evergreen pastures, cobalt blue skies and whisper-jet quiet Battery Electric Vehicles smiling at the planet as they whoosh by. We’re asked to be patient as super-luxury electric vehicles approaching (and exceeding) $200,000 set the tone for what’s to come, even though these vehicles are as remote as super-luxury ICE vehicles are to real-world consumers today. 

We’re being asked to get pumped up about an Electrified Future when the infrastructure for on-the-go charging is still sketchy and will likely remain that way for years to come. What about at-home overnight charging? That’s all well and good, of course, unless you live in an apartment building with no access to charging, overnight or otherwise. But wait, won’t people be able to pull up to the many EV charging stations that will replace gasoline stations any minute now? I have a couple of questions about that. Has anyone actually seen an EV charging station of The Future being built in their neighborhood? Has the headlong rush to add EV charging islands at existing gas stations even begun?

So, there’s that. But reading between the lines, there is no question that developments in battery technology and charging are accelerating at a rapid pace. It seems like there is a major “breakthrough” rumored every month, promising unheard-of range and super-accelerated charging times, way beyond anything that exists today. These developments are welcomed and good, of course, and make me believe that a lot of these EV issues will be sorted out, and in a hurry too.

But – and there is always a “but” – the raw material supplies necessary to produce these batteries at the volume levels needed are becoming a major, 24/7 worry. In some cases, nations – hostile or otherwise – are hoarding the raw materials they have on hand, or if they do part with them, they are charging through the nose to hand them over. One area of battery development in response to this situation is to come up with different chemistry less dependent on hard-to-come-by raw materials. This is all well and good, too, but when? And how much? And will this new battery technology originate in the U.S.? All signs suggest that the answer to that last question is “yes,” but the “when” and “how much” are still very much in question.

Oh, and let’s not forget the whole silicon chip shortage, because that’s not going away either. In fact, as I’ve said previously, the chip “thing” is going to last late into 2022, and don’t be surprised if it’s not until mid-2023 that the problem sorts itself out. What about the U.S.-based chip manufacturing facilities promised to alleviate the problem? You know, the solution bandied about by Washington politicos who know absolutely zilch about the car business? Well, how does 2026 sound? Because that is the soonest we’ll even get a whiff of one.

The dealers, who are under the gun, (but then again, they’re always under the gun) have adapted. A least those who survived have. But the chip “thing” has fundamentally changed the way people go about buying/leasing vehicles. The days of deep discounting are over, at least for the foreseeable future. It’s “sticker-plus” and it has rocked the car-buying experience in this country to its core. The new mantra? “Don’t want to pay that? Fine, there are five people behind you who will.”

While this waiting for the Grand Transition to EV Nirvana continues, it’s apparent that ICE-powered vehicles are even more crucial than ever. Why? Because those ICE-powered trucks, SUVs and crossovers (and a few sedans) are where the profits are being generated to sustain the manufacturers through the transition, which realistically will go on well past 2030. Yes, you read that correctly, well past 2030. In fact, 2035 is closer to reality. And even then, I don’t see EVs capturing more than 50 percent of the market at that point. Make no mistake, that is a lot of EVs, but still, this talk of achieving 100 percent EVs like flipping a switch? Nah, it isn’t that simple, and it’s not going to happen that way.

But a hopeful sign? This End of The ICE Age is giving us the greatest automobiles we have ever experienced. GM has three of those outstanding vehicles right now. The Chevrolet Corvette (and Z06) and the Cadillac CT4-V and CT5-V. These are the finest machines ever offered by GM – true milestone machines – and they will remain long-standing tributes to the deep commitment by the True Believers at GM Design, Engineering and Product Development. And make no mistake, GM’s ICE trucks and SUV/crossovers are the finest in the company’s history too.

There are outstanding ICE entries from all over the world as well. From exotic super cars and SUVs to highly-efficient machines with compelling designs and remarkable efficiency. So, there’s that.

But leave it to the True Believers at Stellantis out in Auburn Hills to wave their ICE Freak Flag higher than the rest. Dodge Brand Chief Executive Officer Tim Kuniskis has previewed the brand’s two-year business plan, which he dubbed “Never Lift.” And if you have to ask what that means then you shouldn’t be reading AE. The Dodge Never Lift plan will be news-packed, calling for a minimum of one product – or automotive-enthusiast-related announcement – every three months. “Never Lift” will be provide a 24-month road map to Dodge’s performance future. Yes, “Performance Future.” For the next 24 months at least, Dodge is going to stand on the gas with its ICE muscle cars and plans on announcing performance news every quarter. Operation 25/8 leads the Never Lift launch with a massive eight-week, 25-dream-car giveaway, with details to be released on Nov. 12, 2021. The 25/8 dream-car giveaway will enlist the support of 25 superstars from the worlds of sports, music and automotive, with each offering muscle-car enthusiasts a chance to drive off with the new Dodge of their choosing. Amazon will also take part in the giveaway.
 
“More than gas, more than batteries, what fuels our run to tomorrow is attitude, a belief that we can always push harder, run faster and flat-out over-deliver on behalf of the brand and the Brotherhood of Muscle,” said Kuniskis. “25/8 recognizes the spirit that makes Dodge, well, Dodge."

Nicely said. But wait, he’s not finished.

According to Kuniskis, Dodge is looking for an “ambassador” of Never Lift who embodies the spirit of the founding Dodge brothers.
 
“The Dodge brothers were scrappy go-getters. Never content to follow the trends, they were the seekers of a better, faster, more outrageous way of doing things,” said Kuniskis. “And we’re looking to hire someone just like them as an ambassador of Never Lift.”  Among the job’s benefits? Kuniskis listed a Hellcat to drive, $150,000 salary, a wardrobe and a business card that carries the title “Chief Donut Maker.” Dodge will provide more details of the Chief Donut Maker program on Jan. 12, 2022. (The line forms to the right.)

There was a lot more to this announcement, including Dodge bringing back “Direct Connection” as the name of its factory-backed performance parts business, and some dealers becoming “Dodge Power Brokers,” but you get the idea. (Dodge also promised an all-electric high-performance car by 2024, but that can wait as far as I’m concerned.)

So, there you have it. We’re bound to exist in this limbo between a rock – ICEs – and the harder-to-get-to place - the promised Magical EV Future – for the rest of the decade, at least.

And I’m fine with that, because I can wait.

And that’s the High-Octane/Electron Truth for this week.

(Stellantis)


PERSPECTIVE HAS LEFT THE BUILDING (A SLIGHT RETURN).
by Editor
2 Nov 2021 at 12:45pm
Editor's Note: This week, The Autoextremist expands upon the ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) Tesla saga. We're also including last week's Rant directly below it to give you the full picture. -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Editor-in-Chief's Note: From the latest entry in the "The Muskian Nightmare" File, comes word that Elon Musk has stepped in it yet again. I took several broadsides from St. Elon's faithful - along with some business journalists too - for my column about the Hertz-Tesla deal, to the tune of, "You're out of your fucking mind," "Wrong again" and the always predictable, "Why do Dinosaurs like you even exist?" Unlike most people who weighed in on "The Deal," I wasn't buying it. I wasn't buying the premise or the details; in fact, the efficacy of the deal just did not compute. That didn't stop the Wall Street-types who are already card-carrying members of the St. Elon Bootlickers Club from immediately canonizing Musk (aka The World's Most Obnoxious Human) - yet again - and running Tesla's valuation up to the status of a trillion-dollar company because, well, you know, everything is just so damn perfect when it comes to P.T. Musk that the carpetbagging mercenaries on Wall Street just couldn't help themselves.

That's not all. Mark Fields - the interim CEO of Hertz - basked in the glow of all the attention and the endless huzzahs that rained down on the deal. He couldn't have asked for better publicity for Hertz if he tried, given that the whole rental car category currently stinks to high heaven because of its blatant price gouging, and the fact that consumers are decidedly less-than-amused about rental cars in general. But, of course, as anything having to do with Musk tends to go - which in this Internet and Twitter age is sketchy at best -  lo and behold on Monday night, Musk opened his big Twitter mouth in response to some comments from the TwitterVerse and immediately sent the gains ginned up by the initial announcement (said to be around $300 million) into a tailspin with the following knee-jerk comment: "If any of this is based on Hertz, I’d like to emphasize that no contract has been signed yet. Tesla has far more demand than production, therefore we will only sell cars to Hertz for the same margin as to consumers. Hertz deal has zero effect on our economics." (The latest on this, as of Tuesday morning, is that Hertz is insisting that deliveries have already started; so either Hertz is making that up, or Musk is so out of the loop in Tesla's day-to-day affairs that he even has less credibility - if that's even possible - than he already has when it comes to his "remarks.")

A couple of things. 1. It's clear that Musk is far more sensitive to the idea that he signed a deal to dump Tesla Model 3s into fleet service than he cared to admit. That's exactly what this deal is about. Forget about the latest sales numbers, because the ugly reality is that demand for Tesla is, in fact, slowing. Not that the Tesla intelligentsia would even comprehend such a thing, because they couldn't possibly believe it. And 2. The idea that Tesla could produce 100,000 vehicles specifically for Hertz is a pipe dream. A Hertz spokesperson said this morning that figure is only "an initial order." Really? That's a giant "we'll see" as we like to say around here. Even if everything went absolutely perfect, which so far is a nonexistent concept when it comes to Tesla production, there is no possible way Tesla could even come close to fulfilling this deal in a reasonable amount of time. In fact, the idea is flat-out laughable.

I'm sure Mark Fields is acutely aware of all of this, but remember, in this 24/7 social media-saturated world we're immersed in, he has already won. Even if Tesla can't come through - which is highly likely to be the case - Fields has got the buzz-boost he wanted. As for all of the other ins and outs of the deal: the infrastructure build-out at Hertz locations; the major quality issues that plague Tesla vehicles (including the almost constant recalls); the rapidly increasing heat coming from NHTSA, which, as I pointed out last week, is not going to go well for Tesla and could end up costing the company billions with "B"; and the fact that the typical consumer who rents a car is not used to making allowances for charging, etc. - all of these add up to a recipe for disaster.

Not that anyone is going to comment on these realities, besides me, of course. The Muskian Acolytes embedded in Wall Street and in the automotive journalism profession - you know who you are - are too heavily invested in the Tesla Bubble to allow even a shred of negativity to creep into the proceedings. They're all-in for Tesla, even if at times there's no rhyme or reason attached to their fervor. St. Elon can do no wrong, his pronouncements carry the weight of Moses, and nary a discouraging word or thought is anywhere to be found. Well, as I said last week - in the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn - you can include me out.

That's the High Octane/Electron Truth for this week.

 

PERSPECTIVE HAS LEFT THE BUILDING.

By Peter M DeLorenzo

Detroit. (Posted October 26, 2021) After sorting through the giddiness, the collective huzzahs! And the gushing pronouncements, it would probably be a good idea to take a step back and consider the so-called “Hertz/Tesla Deal” from a different perspective. 

The aforementioned huzzahs have been well-documented by now. In reporting for Bloomberg, Keith Naughton and Dana Hull wrote this:

“Hertz Global Holdings Inc.’s 4.2 Billion deal with Tesla Inc. is about more than just an order for 100,000 cars. It’s about vaulting electric vehicles into the mainstream. Not only does Tesla get a huge order at a premium price, it gets a way for the EV-curious masses to test-drive its Model 3. Hertz, meanwhile, gets to tap into the growing interest in EVs while aligning itself with the industry’s leader and sexiest brand. Tesla also will benefit from exposure in a splashy Hertz ad campaign starring seven-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady.”

Mark Fields, Hertz’s new interim chief executive officer (and a former CEO of Ford Motor Co.), said in an interview: “This is an opportunity not only to fix the business, but also to employ a strategy that allows us to play a central role in development of the modern mobility industry… One of our objectives is to lead in the adoption of electric vehicles.”

Okay, that’s a lot to chew on, but, a couple of things: First of all, if any other automobile manufacturer announced that they were shuffling off 100,000 vehicles to the rental car companies, industry analysts would immediately pounce all over the news by saying something like, “to me, this smells like a demand problem.” And guess what? It is. You can couch it any way you want to in an attempt at glossing over what is really happening, but it doesn’t wash. This is a convenient way for Tesla to book some volume and prop up its cash flow, plain and simple. 

But did the industry analysts on Wall Street cut through the Muskian fog to get at what’s really going on? No, of course not. They have their heads (most of them, anyway) so far up Elon’s ass that perspective left the building years ago when it comes to anything having to do with Tesla. In fact, they pushed Tesla’s valuation into the stratosphere on the news of the Hertz/Tesla deal, to the point that Tesla is now a Trillion-dollar company.

How wild is that? According to The Wall Street Journal, “Tesla’s valuation has soared unusually quickly. It took less than two years for Tesla’s market value to grow from $100 billion to $1 trillion, according to Dow Jones Market Data. By contrast, it took Amazon more than eight years to cover that ground.” 

Read that statement to yourselves again. I don’t know about you, but to me that is just unbridled insanity, especially for a company that’s about to come under severe scrutiny from the National Transportation Safety Board because of the safety deficiencies in its relentlessly promoted driver assistance technologies. I would be shocked if Tesla isn’t nailed for egregious malpractice over this, as it is the only auto manufacturer in the world that has allowed its customers to be the beta-testers for a system that has never worked as advertised. Trust me on this one, folks, this is not going away, and Tesla’s liability could soar into the billions.

And what about Hertz? I read all of Mark Fields’ statements on this deal, and it’s clear that he’s pushing the altruistic angle of this all the way. It gets his company off of the mat in terms of the investment community, it projects Hertz as a forward-looking company that’s helping the consumer public’s acceptance of EVs, and it give Hertz an entry into the roster of “happening” companies’ discussion, which would go a long way toward improving its image, at least that’s the plan.

And make no mistake, Hertz – like all rental companies – has a huge image problem. It’s no secret that 2020 decimated a lot of industries, and the rental car business was no exception. No travelers translated into severely reduced revenue, which caused the rental companies to cancel orders for thousands of cars, which in turn caused a major shortage of available rental cars in 2021, which caused the rental companies to employ ruthless pricing tactics in line with the laws of supply and demand. In other words, their customers got screwed, with rental prices often soaring to three and four times “normal” rates.

Needless to say, complaints from consumers about rental car prices have been loud and pervasive. Anyone who has traveled this year has experienced this, too, including me. It was a giant bowl of Not Good.

So, on top of all the other stated reasons, Mark Fields is making a grand gesture on behalf of Hertz, hoping that it will change the discussion completely. A giant “we’ll see” as I like to say. Oh, and one more thing: It’s about that $4.2 billion number being passed around, and the idea that Hertz would be paying premium prices for premium-equipped Model 3s. Let me be very clear on this: I’m not buying this for one single minute. Anyone who knows Mark Fields knows he doesn’t pay sticker for anything, so despite St. Elon’s protestations otherwise, there is no way in hell that Hertz is paying full boat for those Tesla Model 3s.

Just a reminder: perspective is out there, you just have to dig deeper for it.

And that’s the High-Octane/High-Voltage Truth for this week.


PERSPECTIVE HAS LEFT THE BUILDING.
by Editor
26 Oct 2021 at 1:20pm

By Peter M DeLorenzo

Detroit. After sorting through the giddiness, the collective huzzahs! And the gushing pronouncements, it would probably be a good idea to take a step back and consider the so-called “Hertz/Tesla Deal” from a different perspective. 

The aforementioned huzzahs have been well-documented by now. In reporting for Bloomberg, Keith Naughton and Dana Hull wrote this:

“Hertz Global Holdings Inc.’s 4.2 Billion deal with Tesla Inc. is about more than just an order for 100,000 cars. It’s about vaulting electric vehicles into the mainstream. Not only does Tesla get a huge order at a premium price, it gets a way for the EV-curious masses to test-drive its Model 3. Hertz, meanwhile, gets to tap into the growing interest in EVs while aligning itself with the industry’s leader and sexiest brand. Tesla also will benefit from exposure in a splashy Hertz ad campaign starring seven-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Brady.”

Mark Fields, Hertz’s new interim chief executive officer (and a former CEO of Ford Motor Co.), said in an interview: “This is an opportunity not only to fix the business, but also to employ a strategy that allows us to play a central role in development of the modern mobility industry… One of our objectives is to lead in the adoption of electric vehicles.”

Okay, that’s a lot to chew on, but, a couple of things: First of all, if any other automobile manufacturer announced that they were shuffling off 100,000 vehicles to the rental car companies, industry analysts would immediately pounce all over the news by saying something like, “to me, this smells like a demand problem.” And guess what? It is. You can couch it any way you want to in an attempt at glossing over what is really happening, but it doesn’t wash. This is a convenient way for Tesla to book some volume and prop up its cash flow, plain and simple. 

But did the industry analysts on Wall Street cut through the Muskian fog to get at what’s really going on? No, of course not. They have their heads (most of them, anyway) so far up Elon’s ass that perspective left the building years ago when it comes to anything having to do with Tesla. In fact, they pushed Tesla’s valuation into the stratosphere on the news of the Hertz/Tesla deal, to the point that Tesla is now a Trillion-dollar company.

How wild is that? According to The Wall Street Journal, “Tesla’s valuation has soared unusually quickly. It took less than two years for Tesla’s market value to grow from $100 billion to $1 trillion, according to Dow Jones Market Data. By contrast, it took Amazon more than eight years to cover that ground.” 

Read that statement to yourselves again. I don’t know about you, but to me that is just unbridled insanity, especially for a company that’s about to come under severe scrutiny from the National Transportation Safety Board because of the safety deficiencies in its relentlessly promoted driver assistance technologies. I would be shocked if Tesla isn’t nailed for egregious malpractice over this, as it is the only auto manufacturer in the world that has allowed its customers to be the beta-testers for a system that has never worked as advertised. Trust me on this one, folks, this is not going away, and Tesla’s liability could soar into the billions.

And what about Hertz? I read all of Mark Fields’ statements on this deal, and it’s clear that he’s pushing the altruistic angle of this all the way. It gets his company off of the mat in terms of the investment community, it projects Hertz as a forward-looking company that’s helping the consumer public’s acceptance of EVs, and it give Hertz an entry into the roster of “happening” companies’ discussion, which would go a long way toward improving its image, at least that’s the plan.

And make no mistake, Hertz – like all rental companies – has a huge image problem. It’s no secret that 2020 decimated a lot of industries, and the rental car business was no exception. No travelers translated into severely reduced revenue, which caused the rental companies to cancel orders for thousands of cars, which in turn caused a major shortage of available rental cars in 2021, which caused the rental companies to employ ruthless pricing tactics in line with the laws of supply and demand. In other words, their customers got screwed, with rental prices often soaring to three and four times “normal” rates.

Needless to say, complaints from consumers about rental car prices have been loud and pervasive. Anyone who has traveled this year has experienced this, too, including me. It was a giant bowl of Not Good.

So, on top of all the other stated reasons, Mark Fields is making a grand gesture on behalf of Hertz, hoping that it will change the discussion completely. A giant “we’ll see” as I like to say. Oh, and one more thing: It’s about that $4.2 billion number being passed around, and the idea that Hertz would be paying premium prices for premium-equipped Model 3s. Let me be very clear on this: I’m not buying this for one single minute. Anyone who knows Mark Fields knows he doesn’t pay sticker for anything, so despite St. Elon’s protestations otherwise, there is no way in hell that Hertz is paying full boat for those Tesla Model 3s.

Just a reminder: perspective is out there, you just have to dig deeper for it.

And that’s the High-Octane/High-Voltage Truth for this week.


THEY DID IT THEIR WAY.
by Editor
19 Oct 2021 at 9:01am

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. The Carroll Shelby story – and legacy – have been well-documented from all angles over the years. No saint by any means – thank goodness – and a larger-than-life Texas character, Shelby will be inextricably linked with the golden era of American road racing until the end of time. As it should be.

The essence of the Shelby Legacy to me is what Shelby and his band of California hot-rodding geniuses accomplished. It is simply mind-boggling to contemplate and a singular achievement that will stand the test of time. The birth of the Cobra and the subsequent five-year run of triumphs by Shelby American on the world racing stage will never be repeated or recreated in this era of ROI racing and corporate political hand-wringing. 

How can it be? The time of Shelby and the rise of the Cobra represented such a different time and a different era for this country that there is no scenario that could be put together today that would even come close to it. This country was still very much on an upward trajectory, and the burning question back then was “Why not?” as opposed to today’s too-often-heard refrain of “Why bother?” 

And the way things fell into place for Shelby was simply magical.

Think about it. Shelby was a retired race driver who really had nothing much else going on, except that he had an idea. And that idea was to stuff an American V8 into a lightweight foreign sports car chassis, thinking that he would be able to show the established powers that be in sports car racing a thing or three. That meant Ferrari – because Enzo had treated Shelby with such condescension back in Shelby’s driving days that he never forgot it – and Chevrolet and its Corvette, because Shelby gave GM first crack at his idea but was dismissed, being told Chevrolet would never authorize a competitor to the Corvette.

Brashly carrying that basic idea around with him like a crucible of hope, Shelby then heard that Ford had developed a new lightweight V8 with tremendous performance potential. And to say that the rest was history, glosses over the greatest era in American racing history.

There was absolutely zero chance that the Shelby Cobra would arrive meekly on the American scene. It was not only immediately the fastest sports car in America, it was an instant, in-your-face humiliation to Chevrolet, thanks to the fact that it was hundreds of pounds lighter than the now oh-so-stodgy Corvette. 

But the Cobra was much more than that. There was an air of edgy, anti-establishment defiance about it that was simply unmistakable and that reflected back directly to Shelby himself, the black-hatted Texan who made a career out of operating on the edges of acceptability. I’m not so sure Ford really understood what they were getting themselves into, but when it became clear that Shelby’s hot little Cobra was the instant buzz of the automotive world, they didn’t spend much time hand-wringing about it.

And Ford deserves a lot of credit here. This was a company that committed to its “Total Performance” marketing campaign throughout most of the 60s and achieved victories around the world in virtually every major racing arena. They wanted to bury the once-conservative image of the company once and for all, and they did it in magnificent fashion. But perhaps the company’s greatest achievement during that era was that they let Carroll Shelby and his gang of racing iconoclasts do their thing. 

Back to Shelby and that five-year period of momentous achievement. He relegated the Corvette to second-tier status literally overnight, both at the racetrack and on the street. GM’s Zora Arkus-Duntov had to come up with the incredible lightweight Corvette Grand Sport racers to counteract the Cobra but by then it was too late, because the racing world was about to make its wholesale shift to mid-engine racing cars. And Shelby repeatedly humiliated Ferrari on its home turf, racking up race wins at prestigious events all over Europe, until Shelby American became the only American racing organization in history to score a World Championship in sports car racing. 

The fact that Shelby did it with his merry band of California hot-rodders and the best homegrown driving talent in American history made it all that much sweeter. It just can’t be stated enough: theirs was a singular achievement that will remain in the pantheon of great automotive performances for all time.

It may be sacrilege to some for me to say this, but what Shelby achieved after that (separating his car forays from his notable charitable contributions, of course) really didn’t come close to the achievements of that magnificent era, but then again, how could it?

And Shelby was careful – at least in his later years – to acknowledge that he had the pure luck to have some of the most talented people working with him in American racing history. That wasn’t always the case of course, unfortunately. The glowing remembrances upon his passing left an awful lot out, and for years it was no secret that Shelby left a bitter taste in the mouths of a lot of those talented individuals who contributed to his legacy, because not surprisingly, it was always about Carroll. But he made peace with his compatriots in due fashion, so there’s no need to dwell on it now.

What Shelby and his team were able to accomplish began with the fundamental and indelible concepts of creativity, ingenuity, dedication and perseverance. There were no shortcuts involved. Rather, it was a relentless desire to push the envelope as far as it would go and then go even further than that. And never, ever quit. 

Success in this business will continue to be defined by the True Believers, those talented men and women in product development, engineering and design who actually are involved with making automobiles as great as they possibly can be on a day-in, day-out basis. 

(The financial types can’t do it - in fact, they were never meant to do it. It’s just that too many in this business have lost sight of that fact or don’t want to ascribe to the reality of that statement. But it’s a High-Octane Truth that will remain self-evident in this business indefinitely.)

As for those True Believers in this business actually charged with the responsibility of making great cars, they need to only look as far as the original True Believers – the quintessential “maverick” Carroll Shelby and his heroic collection of hot-rodder geniuses – for inspiration.

They did it their way. 

And they did it with a passion and dedication that I believe will resonate in this business for many years to come.

It’s the Carroll Shelby Legacy that I prefer to remember the most, and the one that will endure the longest.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

(Photos courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Carroll Shelby drives a Ferrari 4.9 (next to Marvin Panch in his No. 98 Ford "Battlebird") at the New Smyrna Beach Airport Races, in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, in 1957. 

Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby talk before a night pit stop at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1966.

Ford's Don Frey and Carroll Shelby at the end of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1967. Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt dominated in magnificent fashion in their Shelby American-entered Ford Mk. IV after the European press said they would break early. 

Carroll Shelby at Le Mans in 1965. 

(Dave Friedman)
The great Dan Gurney crests the hill in his Shelby American Cobra at the famed turn 7 at Riverside International Raceway (California) during a three hour endurance race in 1963.

(Dave Friedman)
The first Cobra 427 race car is readied for a Riverside test at Shelby American's Venice, California, facility in late 1964.

(Dave Friedman)
The first competition Shelby Mustang GT350 R is readied for a Riverside test in 1964.

(Dave Friedman)
Bill Krause at speed in the very first Cobra race car in its very first race during the L.A. Times Grand Prix in Riverside, California in late 1962. Krause was leading when the left rear hub broke and put him out of the race, but the writing was on the wall for Corvette: The Cobra was the new hot thing.

(Dave Friedman)
The first production Cobra being assembled at Dean Moon's shop in Sante Fe Springs, Calif., in 1962. 

(Dave Friedman)
Venice, California, 1963. Carroll Shelby with the three Shelby American Cobra team cars that would win the 1963 USRRC Manufacturer's Championship, before they were shipped to Sebring.

(Dave Friedman)
One of the True Believers, brilliant race and development driver extraordinaire Ken Miles at the 24 Hours of LeMans, in 1966. Miles' contributing role in the success of Shelby American was almost incalculable.

(Dave Friedman)
Carroll Shelby at the wheel of a brand new Cobra production car in Venice, California, 1963.


THE SOUL-SUCKING, JUICE-SAPPING, CANDY APPLE NIGHTMARE.
by Editor
12 Oct 2021 at 10:53am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. I am sitting here awash in the unending platitudes roiling the Internet about the new GT version of the Ford Mach-E crossover. As best as I can determine, judging by the gushing praise being slathered on Ford’s electric crossover, it is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that doesn’t even begin to cover the over-the-top verbiage being assigned to the styling-challenged conveyance. 

It’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff in this instance, meaning, it’s hard to determine if the commentators in question are just enamored with the first blush of wheeling an EV around, or if they are able to put the usability and performance in perspective with the cost.

One guy who has had plenty of exposure to EVs, certainly enough to put things in perspective, is Mark Phelan from our local Detroit Free Press. In reading his initial review of the $62,185 GT version and the $68,500 Performance version – the one that adds a cool $5,000 for all the tricks – Phelan had this to say: 

The EPA rates the GT at 270 miles on a charge, the GT Performance at 260.

A lot of people pretend the Mach-E GT only competes with electric SUVs like the Tesla X and Audi E-tron. By those standards, its price, power and performance clearly come out on top. But the Mach-E doesn’t live in a fantasy land where everybody drives EVs. Not yet anyway. It also needs to win buyers from sporty gasoline-powered midsize SUVs.

It still pencils out well for performance and value, but like many SUVs, charging time remains a potential issue. Most EV owners do 65%-85% of their charging at home, according to Ford’s data. That’s a clear win for an electric vehicle — owners start every day with a full battery, based on EPA estimates of 10.1 hours charging time at 240 volts.”

Got it, that pretty much sums up the positives – and the negatives – for EVs. But then Phelan’s comments get really interesting:

“The Mach-E’s competitiveness on long highway drives remains an open question, though. Independent tests cite 47-52 minutes to charge to 80% at a 150 kW (400v) DC charger. That’s slower than the best competitors, leaving room for improvement.”

And therein lies the heart of the matter for the transition to EVs in this country. “Leaving room for improvement” is code for we’re not there yet. As in, it’s one thing to operate an EV in the city and in urban environments. I know, I had one – a Chevrolet Bolt EV – and it was certainly capable, competent and unexpectedly, really fun to drive. And I see no compelling reason why an EV wouldn’t work for most motorists for their typical driving needs.

But – and there is a very large “but” in this case – it’s one thing to boast of driving range because that seems to be settling in at over 300 miles on average for most EVs from here on out. And that’s fine, because for most people in urban areas, where they can charge overnight, that should be plenty of range. 

But what about 45 minutes to an hour (or more) for a charge on the road, where there’s an added complication looming if the charging stations are occupied, or for some reason not working at the time?

That is flat-out unacceptable. Spare me the argument that goes something like this: “It not all that inconvenient; you can eat, use the restroom, etc., it’s not that big of a deal.” Really? Have you taken a road trip of late? Or, do you want to pretend that all of the driving trips you’ve taken, where the need to get there supersedes the length of the fuel stops, didn’t really happen that way? You’re kidding yourself and it’s unmitigated bullshit too.

The EV thing is great, for a lot of aforementioned reasons and especially for the given realities of urban usage. They will work just fine. But to pretend that charging times aren’t a factor – unless you’re spending well into six figures – is pure folly. Yes, I’ve read countless stories by the EV fanboys about traveling cross-country and how that it is basically “no problem,” but who’s kidding whom here?

I will give you a prime, real-world example: It’s about 375 miles between here and Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, the home of Road America, aka “America’s National Park of Speed.” If you make decent time – and that’s a highly questionable concept due to the never-ending construction along the way – it should take between eight and eight-and-one-half hours to make the trip. And it’s not all that pleasant of a drive until you get through Chicago, which is always fraught with issues depending on the time of day you pass through. Given that, stopping for more than a quick gas stop and maybe a bathroom break is all you want to do. It’s not the kind of drive you want to turn into nine or ten hours in order to charge-up. 

This is where the realities of EV driving and ownership come into sharper focus. Everything is shiny-happy when it comes to considering the transition to EVs. The key players want you to believe in the concept, and we’re being promised that it will be a Brand-New Day. And judging by the way this industry is hell-bent on going All-EV-All-The-Time, this is where we’re headed. That’s fine with me – I guess. But until the charging times drop dramatically, this transition is going to be excruciatingly slow.

As for the fact that a lot of auto-journos and wannabe auto journos are canonizing the Mach-E GT and its variations (how ‘bout those prices, folks?) for its performance, let me be crystal clear on this: Just because an EV is blistering fast doesn’t make it a desirable high-performance or track car. I’ve said repeatedly that without the visceral appeal of the sound that goes with contemporary performance cars, the “performance” EVs are a soul-sucking exercise, and there is no amount of computer-enhanced interior audio programs that are a suitable substitute for the lack of those sounds.

For the record, just in case you think I’m piling on Ford’s EV crossover, I drove a Porsche Taycan, and I was so underwhelmed and disappointed that it was painful. Bloated at over 5,000 lbs., the Taycan is about as far removed from the Porsche ideal as you can possibly get. Even with the enhanced cockpit audio that you can dial up, there is no “there” there. And without that, it becomes crystal clear that it’s a soulless conveyance with a Porsche badge and a Porsche price tag to boot. But yeah, people are lining up for them, which is their prerogative, I guess, but “include me out,” as Samuel Goldwyn once famously said.

One more thing, Ford operatives had the Mach-E “Performance” painted in a candy apple-like red for the assembled media. I guess this is supposed to make it a certifiable performance/dream machine, or something like that. But there’s no amount of candy apple red paint that can make the Mach-E anything more than a glorified crossover with a horsey badge.

Instead, it’s a soul-sucking, juice sapping, candy apple nightmare. 

And that’s the High-Octane/Electron Truth for this week.


IT?S ALWAYS SOMETHING.
by Editor
27 Sep 2021 at 6:17pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. It looks like the “swirling maelstrom” – aka the auto business as we know it – is slowly but surely grinding to a halt, or damn close, anyway. Sales are down because the microchips are missing in action, and the cars and trucks just aren’t being built. 

As reported by Automotive News, Cox Automotive is forecasting that U.S. light-vehicle sales volume this month will fall to its lowest September level since the Great Recession. Cox is predicting that sales volume will drop to 1 million units in September, down 26 percent from a year earlier. The last time September volume fell below 1 million was in 2009. There have only been three months of below 1 million volume in the past decade, according to Cox.

To say that this is sobering news is an understatement. Beyond the sales – and profits – that are blowing in the wind for the automakers, suppliers are being decimated too. Drive around this town for any length of time and you see office buildings for just about every major automotive supplier you can think of. The auto industry permeates this town and the broader region to a degree that you really can’t imagine unless you live here. 

It’s not called the “Motor City” for nothing, folks. 

This is a “company” town unlike any other company town you can think of (except for maybe Hollywood, which still leads in the self-absorption business by a mile). This bears repeating, because the auto business is pervasive. Executive moves dominate the local news and often show up on the front page of the two local newspapers The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. And local TV coverage of this industry is just as intensive, if not more so. One way or another, the vast majority of the people who live in this region have either direct or indirect connections to the industry. So, to say that this microchip crisis is perilous to the standard of living around here is another huge understatement.

When you mention the Great Recession in conjunction with the automobile business, it brings back desperate memories of 2008-2009 when this industry basically was forced on the ropes as sales evaporated and two of Detroit’s major automakers were forced into bankruptcy. 

So, none of this is funny for people around here.

The ironic thing is that sales were robust last spring, with cars and trucks flying off of the lots. That was when the business and the country were trying to emerge from the coronavirus coma, so it was good. Very, very good. Consumers were buying everything that moved, literally. But if you’ve been around this business long enough, you know that sizzling sales usually have an end date. And the euphoric highs are always punctuated by the devastating lows. 

So, when the chip “thing” emerged – on top of the virus variant – the high was doomed to not last, and this business was headed for another deep low. Now? As I said earlier, things are grinding to a halt. Dealers are literally “selling air” because they don’t have any vehicles on hand. In a quick perusal of dealer websites in this area, the average new car inventory seems to fluctuate between 10 and 20 vehicles, total. Even for a rural, small-town dealer this would be problematic. But for these giant dealer groups around here? It is simply devastating. 

The euphoria of a receding pandemic was short-lived. This business is facing yet another crisis, not long after a brutal 18-month period that changed this business forever.

No one is unaware of what’s going on around here. The storm clouds have been brewing for months now. The constant coverage in the aforementioned local media has been a combination of feel-good puff pieces about how great things are in the business – complete with the typical executive genuflection profiles and overhyped car intros – punctuated by a constant drumbeat of sobering explanations of how the microchip crisis is a giant bowl of Not Good.

To say that people around here – from the shop floors to the executive suites – have been put through the wringer is not really accurate. This town has been living on the edge for a good 24 months now. And before that, the lingering memories of that devastating two-year period in the last decade are still fresh, complete with scars to prove it.

It’s not like we’re surprised by all of this, however, because if you’ve been around this business long enough you quickly come to understand that you can't get comfortable. But the reality for this town and this region is that this is who we are, and try as we might not want to admit it sometimes, this auto thing is what really matters to us. 

We’re not looking for sympathy, because we know what it’s really like to live here and be from around here. We’re a state of mind that’s filled with countless contradictions, and we’re well aware that our history is offset by some lurid realities.

We’ve contributed much to the American fabric, yet we have a historical propensity to make things brutally tough on our day-to-day well-being.

We’ve brought this country a sound like no other, and a gritty, gutty context that’s second to none, yet we’ve created countless problems for ourselves, most all of them self-inflicted.

We created the “Arsenal of Democracy” when our country needed it most, yet we allowed a movement based on fairness to become a disease based on entitlement and rancor.

We’ve contributed much to this nation's progress and standing, yet we can’t seem to get out of our own way at times, which is infuriating and debilitating.

But this isn’t the end, because the story never really ends for Detroit. At least not yet anyway. We know who we are. There’s an exuberance and spirit here that remain intact, through every dip and dive of this giant roller coaster called the auto business. 

Yes indeed, it is always something. But we wouldn't have it any other way.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.



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