The Latest Auto Extremist
OH, PENDULUM, WHERE ART THOU?
5 Nov 2019 at 8:47am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. As we rush headlong into the unknown with this electrification thing, and the corrupt union management thing, and another round of the subprime loans thing, the thing that bothers me most right now is the degradation of design that continues to play out before our eyes. As I’ve said repeatedly in this column, as we go forward with similar electrified propulsion systems, design’s role as the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator will become even more important. After all, if the whisper-jet power systems rely on artificially-tuned sounds, the only thing left to create brand character are the exterior designs themselves.
Compelling, beautiful design lures people in; it’s what makes people look and want to see more, and ultimately buy. Which is why I am more than a little concerned with where we are today with design. A quick tour of the latest "electrified" designs coming from auto manufacturers is frankly scary. Why? Everything looks alike. And the vehicles making their way around the American landscape are too often predictable, boring and uninteresting. I get the fact that we’re living in an all-SUV-all-the-time world, but it’s getting ridiculous out there. Here are a few examples of what electrification has wrought:
The 2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC. It doesn't exactly scream "Mercedes," does it?
The 2020 Audi E-Tron. Q5-inspired? Ugh.
The Infiniti Q Inspiration and Qs Inspiration forecast the brand’s new design strategy. We Can Wait.
The Nissan Ariya Concept. We Can Wait, Part II.
The Volkswagen ID. Space Vizzion Concept. Uh, huh?
And Ford has teased its concept for a “Mustang-inspired” electrified SUV that has been dubbed Mach-E although everyone in the automotive world hopes that this is not the final name. (Please say it isn’t so, Ford.) And "Mustang-inspired"? It sounds more than a little depressing frankly, but we'll classify it as a giant "we'll see" for now and leave it at that.
So, what the hell is going on out there? Even the future-look concepts are SUV/Crossover things that are as inspiring to look at as the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Check that, actually the cereal aisle has more vision and imagination in their box designs than I’m seeing in these rolling monuments to mediocrity. The easy explanation is that consumers are all the way gone for SUV/Crossovers. They’ve decided that they're more useful and more convenient to get in and out of, so, end of story. As in, why bother with anything else? And it’s clear that the design houses at the various automakers have pretty much given in to that reality.
Or is it? There’s a growing trend among younger car buyers when it comes to cars – at least the ones who haven’t entered the “having kids” stage – that indicates that the desire for sedans is coming back. It’s the old “we’d rather not drive what our parents drove” chestnut rearing its head.
Is it real? It’s too early to tell. (Full disclosure: a local couple took over the lease on my Alfa Romeo Stelvio. I am now driving a sedan.) The sameness of the SUV/Crossover Hell we’re living in right now is undeniable. The suburban slog around here is populated with massive pickup trucks and SUV/Crossovers. Audi? BMW? Cadillac? Mercedes-Benz? Porsche? Ford? Chevrolet? GMC? Buick? Does it really matter? They’re all variations on the same SUV/Crossover theme; they run together in a blur of alleged practicality – and hugeness – that has grown to be mind-numbing and relentlessly tedious. That’s why when a car like a Challenger or a Corvette rumbles by, or even a crisply executed sedan appears out of the blue, it’s almost a revelation.
Will the pendulum ever swing back? I am out there looking for it right now, but given the projected designs I am seeing for the Electrification Age I am more than a little concerned. Designers around the globe appear to be stuck in neutral designing variations on the rolling box theme, shifting a line here, playing with the greenhouse there and coming up with basically the same damn thing.
How uninspiring is that?
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
MONSTERS AND OTHER SCARY STUFF.
29 Oct 2019 at 3:49pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Now that the glowing, borderline euphoric reports about the new 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 are streaming in, it’s clear that the automotive enthusiast world is being gifted another 700HP+ (760HP to be exact) high-performance monster for the street.
That it’s the first GT500 that actually handles with aplomb and stops with equal ability to match its blistering performance – 0 to 60mph in 3.3 seconds and 10.7 seconds in the ¼-mile (or thereabouts) – is excellent news, since the Shelby GT500s of the past were nose-heavy blunderbusses that didn’t particularly live up to their vaunted reputations.
By all accounts the True Believers at Ford have delivered the best Mustang ever built – unless you fancy the normally-aspirated Shelby GT350, of course – and for a starting price of $70,000+ (although you can easily spend $20,000+ on options), it damn well better be.
That this seems to be Ford’s last gasp in the high-performance internal combustion arena, before it starts fumbling around with high-performance electrified crossovers – let’s hope the excruciatingly bad “Mach-E” moniker is just a code name for their “Mustang-inspired” SUV EV – is obvious. In fact, we’re witnessing the beginning of a clear demarcation in the automotive market as we know it, with the “new” represented by electrified vehicles of all stripes and the “old” being represented by internal combustion engine-powered vehicles.
Although I don’t think it will be that simple.
As I’ve stated many times before, “ICE” vehicles will be around for decades in various shapes, sizes and forms. And that will be especially true in the high-performance arena, where the sizzle and hum from electric EVs do not sit well with buyers who appreciate their high performance accompanied by a visceral soundtrack that hits the gut.
Yes, EVs can be blistering fast, that has been well documented time and again. But it’s how you go fast that will come into play for a lot of enthusiasts. Which is why cars like the new Shelby GT500 Mustang and the super-heated Challengers and Chargers from Dodge will continue to hold sway with enthusiasts for years to come. The same goes for the all-new mid-engine Corvette, and of course the exotics from Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren (and others). Porsche couldn’t possibly be hyping its new Taycan EV more, but the 911 and 718 sports cars will live on as ICEs, eventually with hybrid systems built-in, but that special sound will be part and parcel of the Porsche “aura” for the foreseeable future.
Back to this aforementioned clear demarcation thing. There are already pitchfork-wielding EV zealots out there vehemently denouncing drivers of ICE vehicles as pathetic Luddites who are clinging to the past. I suppose that is no surprise, after all why would we expect any different considering the uncivil behavior that passes for political discourse these days?
Before now the hoary formula proffered by the anti-car, anti-Detroit hordes was that Detroit = Bad, and everybody else, i.e., The Imports = Good. But Detroit got better at building cars and especially trucks and that formula is obsolete. Now, a new formula has emerged, which skips the anti-Detroit bashing altogether and which has EVs = Good, and everything else, specifically ICEs = Bad.
This abrupt demarcation may please the EV zealots, but it requires a suspension of belief that has no basis in reality. Yes, of course, EVs are coming, and a wide array of them in almost every segment you can think of too. But that doesn’t mean that the acceptance of EVs will be automatic, especially for lower-income buyers and people who live in apartment buildings with no easy access to overnight charging, to name two disconnects.
Just one example of the speculation about the degree of success that EVs will actually have? The entire industry is buzzing about VW’s major EV investment to the tune of over $50 billion, because it is either going to turn out to be the most brilliant thing the company has ever done post the Diesel debacle, or it could end up being a devastatingly slow starter that could cripple the company permanently. That’s the thing about demarcations these days. It’s rarely – if ever – a cut-and-dried proposition. Instead, it’s a divide with a huge gray area in-between, which will see some players succeed and others go down in flames.
I think EVs will have success in the higher-end segments and in very specific niche applications. For instance, Bollinger seems to have the right idea with its trucks in that they are starting with the premise that they have no intention of being all things to all people, and because of this “not for everyone” positioning the company has a good chance at being successful for buyers with access to horse country, hunting lodges and ranches, and who think nothing of spending thousands on a weekend hunting outfit, even though the only hunting they might do is for an older bourbon that no one else has.
As for the monster ICE machines, I say bring ‘em on. Because the day the sound and fury fades away is the day life as we know it will get darker and less interesting.
A scary thought indeed.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
THINGS THAT MAKE YOU ASK? WHY?
22 Oct 2019 at 8:43am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. We’re right back in the swirling maelstrom this week as the automobile business continues to careen between good tidings and bad news at a dizzying rate. On the one hand the GM strike seems to be over, with ratification from the UAW rank and file seemingly on track. But then it’s Ford and FCA’s turn in the barrel, and more strikes are not out of the realm of possibility. So, there’s that.
That this isn’t a business for the faint of heart has been well documented, and the difference between success and abject failure is razor thin. The success part is usually fleeting, a momentary day in the sun before “the grind” presses on. As for the failure part, the two most dangerous words in this business are complacency and mediocrity, because when those two pillars of ugliness take hold of an organization, bad things inevitably ensue.
And why is that? Why, in this day and age, after everything that has transpired in this business over the last decade, would complacency and mediocrity even have a place at the table? Why, indeed.
Let’s take Ford, for instance. As the naysayers seem to have faded into the woodwork about CEO Jim “The Professor” Hackett, with the media apparently having been been lulled into thinking that Hackett could be “the guy” (not yours truly, of course), all of a sudden Ford has another product launch debacle on its hand. Only this time it goes right to the heart of its profitability, with the new Explorer and Lincoln Aviator.
Are these good vehicles? No, they’re excellent vehicles, with impressive execution and an overall refinement that is noteworthy. And they’re crucial to the success of the company going forward. Yes, the vaunted F-150 is “the franchise,” but Ford needs these two vehicles to soar in this SUV-crazy sales environment that drives the market today. And to have these vehicles beset with problems is inexplicable. Yes, some are minor, but some are glaring faults with systems and electronics that simply shouldn’t be occurring. Why is this happening? There are rumors of personnel unrest in the Chicago assembly plant where the vehicles are built, but this isn’t the first time that Ford has had problems with the launch of a new vehicle. In fact, Ford has a checkered history with botched product launches, and to see this happening again is unacceptable.
Ford operatives are insisting that all is well now, and that the vehicles are being delivered to dealers as planned, but the question remains, why? With the new “enlightened” Hackett era allegedly taking hold at Ford, why did this happen? And the buck stops with Hackett, in case you’re wondering. He’s responsible and now all of the doubts about him have resurfaced and he’s right back where he started, which is under the gun. I’ve never been a believer in the Hackett “aura” and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. And the bad news for Ford is that the “whys?” far outnumber the answers at this point.
But of course, Ford is not alone in the “why?” business. You only have to look across town at General Motors to see that. Let’s consider the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, which is “the franchise” for GM. It generates tremendous profits for the company and it has been the bedrock for the Chevrolet division for decades. No, it hasn’t eclipsed the Ford F-150 in sales for four decades, but it was comfortably and solidly in the No. 2 position and combined with the extra juice delivered by the GMC Sierra pickup, it allowed GM to remain a formidable force in the market.
Until recently, that is, because FCA’s Ram truck has upended the status quo in the pickup segment and has passed Chevrolet to become the No. 2 pickup truck in the market. According to Automotive News, Silverado has 22.6 percent of the full-size pickup segment in the first nine months of this year. That’s down from 24.2 percent a year earlier. And Ram? It has 25.2 percent of the full-size pickup market after the first nine months of this year, which is up from 21.4 percent from a year ago. And those numbers don’t reflect the disruption from the strike. (For the record, Ford has 36.5 percent of the full-size pickup truck market, down from 38.6 percent a year ago.)
How did this happen, or better yet, why did this happen? Is the Silverado a good truck? No, it’s an excellent truck - the best-engineered pickup ever built by GM. But to a lot of customers, apparently, the Ram is that much better. For some reason, GM pulled back on the interior of the Silverado, figuring that buyers wouldn’t want or need some of the detailed features found on the Ram, including Ram’s massive 12-inch center stack screen. Whether this was a case of GM operatives figuring that “good enough was good enough” while making the obviously flawed assumption that pickup customers wouldn’t care, or it was simply a cost-tinged decision, it really doesn’t matter, because customers who got into a Ram instead of a Silverado are now out of the market for at least two to three years, and it will be very expensive for GM to get them back. If they can get them back.
This development in the full-size pickup truck market would have been inconceivable as little as three years ago, and the entire industry is looking at this and asking, “Why?” As in how could GM allow this to happen? How can GM squander a franchise like the Silverado and cede huge market share to a rival? Make no mistake, this is a crushing development for GM. Brand loyalty is usually ironclad in the full-size pickup segment, and to see these Chevrolet buyers wandering off to Ram - buyers who may never return - does not bode well for GM’s future profitability.
In case you're wondering, the “whys” will continue to vex this business as long as it exists. It’s a simple formula, actually: Complacency + mediocrity = loss of customers and market share. And from there the downward spiral begins.
Will Ford and GM get a handle on these “whys?” and back them up with solid answers and meaningful improvement? It’s a giant “we’ll see” at this point.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
THE SUN SETS ON THE GERMAN CAR THING.
15 Oct 2019 at 9:14am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. There is a lot of hand-wringing going on in The Biz right now about German luxury cars and their falling residual values. Automotive News even mentioned it in this week’s issue. One entity quoted in the piece suggested that Tesla was the culprit, insisting that the success of the Model 3 has turned the market upside down. Hardly. That statement is wrong-headed and flat-out silly, and not worth going into.
What’s really going on is that the years of egregious behavior on part of the German automakers is finally taking its toll, and it’s going to get uglier. But before we get into that, let’s remember the halcyon days when the German automakers created their reputations almost solely based on their legacy of performance on the Autobahn, a nirvana-like dream state that driving enthusiasts over here could only imagine, unless they took a trip over to Germany to experience it for themselves.
Back then, German cars felt different, looked different and hell, they even smelled different than what we were used to over here, especially since our domestic auto industry at the time was churning out craptastic monuments to mediocrity at a furious rate.
Everything about German cars back then was damn-near mesmerizing - the fit, the finish, the details, the quality and most important, the driving difference they offered. It was a whole ‘nother country in terms of the automotive spectrum, and American driving enthusiasts were hungry to partake.
And the ad themes resonated too: “Engineered Like No Other Car in The World” (Mercedes-Benz). “The Ultimate Driving Machine” (BMW). “There Is No Substitute” (Porsche). The campaigns were filled with Autobahn runs and idyllic coastal drives that implied that you were really missing something and your life would be better if you drove one of these glittering German high-performance machines. People bought into the German Car Thing in droves, and the American market was transformed because of it.
Remember the hilarious scene in Lost in America, the brilliant Albert Brooks film where he was talking on the phone to “Hans” at the Mercedes-Benz dealer about buying a Mercedes and Hans was explaining the details of the car and the cost? It was a minor scene early-on in the movie and then Albert’s character gets blown out of his ad job and he never actually buys the Mercedes, but it spoke volumes. The German Car Thing was actually a thing.
The German Car Thing swept everything in its path, especially at the domestic automakers, as they scrambled to crack the German car code with “Euro-like” entries of their own. American cars sprouted numbers instead of names, vinyl tops and white walls were ditched in favor of black wall performance tires and aluminum wheels, and the designs were heavily influenced by “the German look.”
That didn’t mean, of course, that the American entries had the substance of the German cars, but they scrambled to ride the wave anyway. When I was working at Pontiac’s ad agency back in the day, I remember sitting through a lengthy presentation by Pontiac operatives about how the Pontiac 6000 STE would be The Answer to the German Car Thing. (I fell asleep in the meeting only to be elbowed by a co-worker to wake up; it was that inspiring.)
And who could forget the ill-fated Cadillac Cimarron, the hastily put together and shockingly offensive effort by GM to capture the European wave? Based on the forlorn GM “J” cars (Chevy Cavalier, etc.), the Cimarron was an unmitigated disaster of badge engineering and an absolute low point for GM (one of many, it turns out).
There were other entries, of course. Ford jump-started its “Euro” efforts by actually importing its Mercury Merkur models from Germany. This seemed like a savvy idea on paper, but Merkur was almost dead on arrival in this market, performing listlessly until the experiment was ended in less than five years. And there were countless other “Touring” and “Sport” models unleashed from the domestic manufacturers too.
But the largely reactionary efforts did little to stem the tide of the German onslaught on the American market. And slowly but surely the realization came over the American automakers that in order to really compete, they had to actually design and build better cars – what a concept - which we can thank the German manufacturers for.
But the good times couldn’t last, because over time the German automakers got sloppy and greedy. Their collective arrogance deluded them into thinking that everything they touched would automatically turn to gold in the U.S. market. They started churning out models for every niche – both real and imagined – they could think of. Model proliferation became standard operating procedure, and they started playing in segments they had no business being in. Going down-market, the German manufacturers started peeling the luster off of their brand images, layer by layer, year by year.
And even worse, in their quest to generate more and more volume, the German automakers started playing big in the leasing game, becoming so dependent on incentivized leasing to prop up their sales that leasing now accounts for around 50 percent and above of monthly sales volumes for Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. (You’ve all seen the ads. the seductive - and illusory - lease number per month that sounds great until you factor in the down stroke, which adds at least $200-$300 per month to the total.) But those low payments have a devastating cost, resulting in highly depressed residuals at the end of the leases, which is where all of the aforementioned hand-wringing comes in.
This just in: It simply isn’t sustainable.
So where does that leave the German Car Thing? In tatters, frankly. The democratization of technology has made the finest ingredients in performance and safety available to any automaker that wants to pay for it. You only have to look as far as the elevated car making by the Korean manufacturers to see that. And the American manufacturers have elevated their games too. Not to mention Lexus, which remains formidable.
Unlike when the German wave first started, consumers have choices. And with the German automakers having moved down-market, they find themselves fighting myriad competitors for smaller – and less profitable – slices of the pie. You’re seeing “suites” of technology equipped on lower-cost models that used to be exclusive to the German luxury manufacturers, but that simply is no longer true. A consumer can get a tremendous car without paying the freight for what used to be a mythically attractive German luxury-performance machine.
The raison d’etre for The German Car Thing has all but been destroyed. Yes, of course, they still make outstanding machines, but you have to spend over six figures to get something really special.
Can this slide be reversed? I don’t see the German manufacturers reducing their collective sales volumes to restore their brand integrity. They’re simply too far gone down the high-volume road to turn back now.
The ugly reality is that greed ultimately killed The German Car Thing, and now they can put their sunglasses away, because their day in the sun is officially over.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
HAGGARD HACKS AND GLORIFIED VAPORWARE.
8 Oct 2019 at 5:02pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. While savoring the most beautiful weather of the year around these parts, I was jolted out of my Fall stupor by longtime reader Jim Jones, who hails from Missouri, and had this to say:
The “On The Table” column features the VW ID. Buzz van for what seems like the 809th time. While not blaming AE directly for this, I, for one, am getting weary of seeing this whatchamacallit splashed everywhere, on every venue or medium VW can find. So exactly WHEN will VW deem fit to bestow this and the other iterations of ID Buzz? Somebody? Anybody? Bueller?
Excellent point, Jim. One of our favorite sayings around here at AE is “It Won’t Be Long Now!” And it’s not a compliment. We grew to embrace this homegrown saying after sitting through countless auto show press conferences while watching an endless parade of executives get up in front of the assembled carpal-tunnel-burdened wretches in the press and promising that not only do they have it goin’ on, but that their flashy new products and guaranteed sales success are “just around the corner!”
This was rarely true, of course. The reality was that a Haggard Hack du jour from the fill-in-the-blank car company was dancing in front of his or her bosses – and the press – to save his or her job after a shocking decline in sales, blown product introductions, and our favorite go-to reason: serial incompetence.
A dead giveaway in these pressers is when said executive gets up to talk about a vehicle that is at least eighteen months away, but everyone in the room knows that’s only if the planets align just right and that particular car company manages to launch the first product in its recent history on time, on budget and with no issues. And given that particular car company’s past performances, the chances of that happening are slim. And none.
After sitting through one too many of these presentations – an exercise in Tedious Maximus, as Janice says (we don’t call her WordGirl for nothin’) – we developed our own phrase for automotive futility, aka “It Won’t Be Long Now!”
It has worked satisfyingly well for these past two decades of AE, and it is still shockingly accurate in this day of “perfect” (cough, hack) product launches and flawless products (How about no?).
We only have to look as far as the new and highly touted Lincoln Aviator, which by all accounts has the potential to be a standout entry in its segment, (and which has Matthew McConaughey beating the drum on its behalf in a series of ever more annoying TV spots that are bound to make you sick of it before you even see one in the wild), but I digress. Well, it seems that the greatest-thing-since-sliced-bread, brand-spanking-new Aviator has been plagued by a series of annoying issues big and small, as first reported in the Detroit Free Press.
These various issues have required Ford to bring the newly assembled Aviators back to its Flat Rock assembly facility – where the company has performed countless “fixes” on new product launches in the past – to deal with issues that are simply unacceptable for a new product in this day and age. Nothing ever changes with Ford it seems; it has this two-steps forward and five-back dance of mediocrity down pat when it comes to launching vehicles. But to hear the denizens of Dearborn tell it, the good times are right around the corner, and, you guessed it – “It Won’t Be Long Now!”
But bungled product launches are only one situation when our pet phrase resonates and is deliciously appropriate. The other, as referenced at the beginning of this column, is the constant drum beating about products that are so far over the horizon that even if you squint you can’t imagine them seeing the light of day.
The worst example happens to go to Ford – again – when they botched the return of the Thunderbird years ago. They showed it at the Detroit Auto Show as a concept; then at the following Detroit show they showed it again as a production version. Then they showed it again at the next Detroit show, because it was about to hit the dealers at any moment; except it didn’t because they had massive production problems, which completely botched the launch. By the time the actual production car had hit the dealerships it had been hanging around for three and one-half years and was correctly deemed as being yesterday’s news. No wonder it died a quick death.
And remember when GM first showed the return of the Camaro – as a concept – at the Detroit Auto Show? It didn’t come out for three long years after that and in the interim appeared in the Transformers movie franchise and showed up at other various car events. The initial impact of that memorable unveiling – when they brought out famous Camaro racing cars of the past – was lost because the surprise was totally gone. In that case it was, in fact, a long time. And I remain convinced that it seriously hurt the relaunch of the Camaro.
And now here we have VW beating its reincarnation of its famous microbus, the all-electric ID. Buzz. It’s cool, it has captured the hearts and the imagination of a lot of people – young and old alike – and it has generated ahem, tremendous “buzz” for VW. But what’s wrong with this picture? How about everything? No, not with the product, because if VW can’t get 350 miles of range out of it by the time it hits the streets, I will be shocked. It’s the reality of when the ID. Buzz will be available to the public, which is shaping up to be 2023. Yup, five years after it was first shown to the public and four long years from now.
I get it, VW is so desperate to put the massive negativity associated with the Diesel cheating scandal behind it that it is going all-in on electrification and the ID. Buzz is one of its glittering electric show ponies. But there is no way that VW can scream “It Won’t Be Long Now!” because this just in: the ID. Buzz might as well be glorified vaporware at this point.
And it doesn’t matter how many Nike appearances (see “On The Table” -WG) and other creative attempts at keeping the “buzz” going for the public VW comes up with, because the ID. Buzz will be ancient history by the time it finally hits the dealerships. And that’s a giant microbus of Not Good.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
THERE WILL BE A KIND OF HUSH ALL OVER THE WORLD.
30 Sep 2019 at 1:25pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. I never thought I would begin a column by referencing the Les Reed/Geoff Stephens composition made famous by Herman’s Hermits back in March of 1967, but there’s a first time for everything, I guess.
I was reminded this past week – yet again – that the fundamental transformation that’s about to swallow the automobile industry whole is upon us. We just survived the first week of gushing praise for the all-new, all-electric Porsche Taycan, and that was just from the first reviews trickling in. We’re going to be reading and hearing more about this new Porsche, and then it will start arriving on the streets and byways of America, which will be when the weight of this fundamental transformation to all-electric vehicles – including mostly electric Porsches – will start to get very real.
The radical transformation of Porsche, as the entire auto industry moves to electrification, will be the most interesting to watch, because the Taycan represents just the tip of the iceberg for the VW Group’s star performance luxury brand. Model year 2022 is when things really start to accelerate for Porsche. The Macan, which is Porsche’s biggest seller, goes all-electric in 2022. Think about that for a moment. Porsche is betting the farm that its biggest selling model will continue its sales momentum without missing a beat after it becomes fully electric. Not only that, the 718 Spyder and 718 Coupe will get electric versions as well in 2022, as Porsche slowly but surely moves toward becoming a mostly electric automaker.
Is there any doubt that Porsche can pull this off? If the early reports of the Taycan provide any indication, there is absolutely no doubt that Porsche can deliver on its all-electric promise. It’s clear that Porsche has the talent and the engineering expertise to design, build and execute the most attractive high-performance, all-electric cars in the world. But there is one part of this “sure thing” concerning Porsche’s all-electric future that I remain skeptical about, and that is the sound. Or lack thereof. This is one part of Porsche’s fundamental transformation to mostly electric vehicles that is not guaranteed for success.
If a Porsche takes the iconic “Tunnel of Trees” on M-119 north out of Harbor Springs, Michigan, and it doesn’t make any noise, was it even there? And what about that essential Porsche sound? It has been watered-down and degraded over time as Porsche keeps cranking out SUVs and 4-cylinder turbo 718s. In fact, let’s face it, except for the magnificent sound emanating from Porsche’s factory 911 RSR racing machines in the IMSA GTLM class, which reminds us all of what great Porsches sound like, the Porsche sound has been corrupted and damn-near neutered.
Even Porsche knows that it has a sound “problem” with its burgeoning line of all-electric vehicles. How do we know this? Because Porsche is offering what it calls Porsche Electric Sport Sound on the Taycan Turbo S and optional for the Taycan Turbo. (By the way, Porsche has decided that it will continue to use the “Turbo” and “Turbo S” model designations for its highest performance offerings, even though all-electric vehicles don’t have turbo anything. Makes absolutely zero sense to me.)
What is Porsche Electric Sport Sound? Porsche PR minions say that it "makes the vehicle's own drive sound even more emotionally charged and richer with its innovative character both on the outside and inside." (Emotionally charged and richer? They’re kidding, right? I loved my slot car set as a kid, but there was nothing emotionally charged about the sound of it, at all.) And those PR minions continued by saying, "disturbing noises from the drive architecture are deliberately minimized" while "harmonious, emotive sounds matching what the car is doing are amplified."
Translation? The Taycan sounds like a glorified slot car without a lot of acoustic help. Porsche will make Electric Sport Sound standard on the Taycan Turbo S and optional on the Turbo, with the driver being able to activate and deactivate it at will. And in case you’re wondering why Porsche couldn’t have made the option standard on all Taycans, well, why would we expect Porsche - which is known for having the most usurious option lists in the entire industry - to do anything different? But I digress.
Back to this fundamental transformation thing. The dawn of the Electric Era is going to be a jarring adjustment. The “emotionally charged and richer” part will consist of manufactured sounds that will be inner directed to the people inside the cars and SUVs (and in some cases projected so that pedestrians can hear an oncoming vehicle). As for the actual sounds of a BEV, there’s no real “there” there.
Don’t think that’s true? Have you watched a Formula E race lately? I would like to say that it’s like watching paint dry, but that would do a disservice to the beauty of the drying process. The all-electric open-wheel racing series has zero visceral appeal because it has no urgency of sound. Nothing resonates in your gut except for the dulcet tones of slot car sets from childhoods gone by.
And that’s what’s going to happen to our streets and byways. And please spare me the idea that the performance of the BEVs will make up for everything else that’s not quite right, because it just isn’t going to work that way. The new sound of silence that will permeate everything about everyday life will be a massive adjustment for everyone. And for a lot of people, that adjustment will be ongoing well into the future.
We are about to enter a quiet period where the guttural moans from muscle cars and the searing shrieks from exotic sports cars will become welcome respites from the sewing machine cacophony that will come to define the Electric Era.
As a kind of hush falls all over the world.
That’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
DUCK AND COVER.
25 Sep 2019 at 9:30am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Sometimes the automobile business makes you go hmmm… especially this week. The litany of bad behavior, wild-ass financial scams and other atrocities uncovered seems to be getting more bizarre by the day.
And if you’re wondering why, it’s the money, honey. Big piles of lucre. Rivers of it, in fact. And if you’re creative enough and brazen enough, you can tap into that cash with impunity. Well, almost. (For advertising agencies, the rivers of money dried up long ago; now they’re paid in Starbucks gift cards and donuts.)
A perusal of the news stories this week should give one pause, or something like that. Let’s start with VW, which seems to be destined to pay for the Dieselgate scandal for at least another decade. Prosecutors in Germany have accused CEO Herbert Diess, Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch and former CEO Martin Winterkorn of failing to inform investors in time about the financial impact of the diesel emissions scandal. They're all lawyered-up, of course, with Diess' lawyers saying that he would remain right where he is while vigorously defending the charges. VW’s tab for the never-ending Diesel cheating fiasco after four years is $33 billion and counting. That’s a lot of wiener schnitzel, folks.
But the woes for German automakers aren’t confined to VW by any means. German prosecutors have fined Daimler 870 million euros ($960 million) for "negligent violation" in yet another probe into selling “cheater” diesel cars (meaning cars set up to circumvent existing emissions requirements). Prosecutors found that the automaker – the parent corporate entity for Mercedes-Benz - sold approximately 684,000 vehicles that did not comply with regulations on emissions of nitrogen oxides, according to a statement from Daimler and Stuttgart authorities. Daimler reaffirmed its financial guidance in a classic, “What, us worry?” tone, saying the fine will not have a significant impact on third-quarter earnings. So, there’s that.
Then there’s the ongoing Carlos Ghosn kerfuffle, which is growing more sordid by the minute. A settlement between the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nissan and Carlos Ghosn was revealed this past Monday. Basically, the SEC action revolved around the fact that Nissan failed to disclose the more than $140 million that was to be paid to Ghosn in retirement, which was not paid, it turns out. The SEC also accused Ghosn of being in on a scheme to conceal more than $90 million of compensation. Ghosn’s trial doesn’t start until next year, but in the meantime, Nissan was fined $15 million, while Ghosn had to pony-up $1 million for the SEC settlement. Not chump change, by any means.
And, FCA, not wanting to be left out of the bad news this week, apparently, suffered its own broadside. According to Reuters, “A senior manager at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was charged in connection with the Justice Department's probe into excess emissions in diesel vehicles, according to documents unsealed Tuesday. Emanuele Palma, 40, a diesel drivability and emissions senior manager at FCA, was charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud, defraud the United States, violating the Clean Air Act and making false statements about the emissions system used on Fiat Chrysler's U.S. diesel vehicles, according to a grand jury indictment dated Sept. 18. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford entered a not guilty plea on Palma’s behalf. U.S. attorney Timothy Wyse wanted GPS monitoring of Palma because he considered the flight risk ‘severe,’ but he was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond.
Wyse said during the hearing that Palma "was the lead manager, the lead engineer of producing deceptive software that went into over 100,000 vehicles." Wyse said, "as a result of his engineering decisions, his management, his lies, that these vehicles on the road admitted dramatically higher pollutants then were allowed by law." Wyse said Palma then lied to investigators.
Not totally surprising, to be sure. After all, under Sergio, FCA was the corporate poster child for various misbehaviors, including the blatant over-inflating of its sales figures that went on for years. A giant mostaccioli bowl of Not Good.
In another dimension to the story of money and the auto industry, Ford is throwing in the towel in India. After two decades of wandering around in the desert and pissing away $2 billion in the Indian market, Ford reached less than three percent market share. In other words, we’re talking an unmitigated disaster for Ford. So, they’re partnering up with Mahindra & Mahindra in a joint venture in order to keep a toehold in the market. I say good luck with that, because Ford will still be throwing good money after bad, albeit at a much-reduced rate. Some companies never learn, apparently.
And, because you just can’t get enough of it, the GM vs. UAW debacle continues, with the burn rate of cash growing exponentially by the day. When will it end? No one knows. GM wants to have the freedom to use temporary workers as they see fit; and the UAW wants none of it. And so it goes.
We’ve clearly entered the “Duck and Cover” phase in this business. Past transgressions are coming to light, new issues are bubbling just below the surface, and the churn and burn of money marches on unimpeded. A caution to the auto executives out there currently enjoying their time in the sun: you might be next.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
16 Sep 2019 at 12:01pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Now that the UAW has decided to call a strike against General Motors, an ugly reality is being glossed over. Yes, of course, the most immediate facts of the situation are that both sides are far apart at this juncture, with the union fighting back against more plant closures, wanting to keep their health care coverage (the average UAW worker pays only a fraction of what other U.S. workers pay for health care due to the fact that Ford and GM supplant health care benefits to the tune of more than $1 billion per year), and wanting pay increases including more profit sharing.
On the other side of the ledger GM says it is offering the UAW more than $7 billion in U.S. investments over a four-year contract, an increase in pay and improved benefits, improved profit-sharing, a ratification payment of $8,000, and 5,400 jobs with the promise of the introduction of new electric trucks and the first “union-represented battery cell manufacturing site” in the United States, which would be in, or close to, the shuttered GM Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio.
Pretty typical stuff when it comes time for auto companies and the UAW to square off at contract time, except for the fact that the UAW concessions and get-out-of-jail-almost-free card that GM gained through its bankruptcy has rankled the union rank and file ever since. And those pissed-off feelings aren’t about to recede quietly.
But what isn’t typical is the fact that the UAW management representatives – at least the ones assigned to speak to the media – are trying to gloss over the fact that the United Auto Workers rank and file are being represented by a fraudulent and deeply corrupt management superstructure.
How corrupt? According to the Detroit Free Press: “Multiple national UAW leaders are implicated in a public scandal involving the alleged misuse of union funds. A criminal complaint alleges that UAW officials 'hid their personal use of UAW money without any legitimate union business purpose' in an embezzlement scheme that allowed them to spend union money at swanky hotels and golf courses. UAW Region 5 Director Vance Pearson, who was arrested Thursday, is facing six charges that include embezzlement of union money and money laundering. The FBI raided UAW President Gary Jones' Michigan home last month as part of the national corruption probe. Michael Grimes, a former UAW administrative assistant and executive board member of the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering last month. In total, nine people have been convicted in the investigation.”
This investigation is ongoing and could absolutely decimate the UAW management structure before all is said and done (by the way, the stacks of cash they confiscated from Jones' house totaled $30,000), and yet there was UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg, taking umbrage when a reporter asked him late last week where Gary Jones, the UAW President, was, saying: “I’m not his scheduler. Mr. Jones has a union to run. I don’t see you asking GM where (CEO) Mary Barra is at every press conference.”
In case you were wondering if this was the same old belligerent UAW, there’s your answer. Hey, Brian, in case you forgot, Mr. Jones doesn’t have a union to run anymore because he is too busy running scared from the Feds. In fact, the entire UAW management team is utterly devoid of credibility at this point, and to suggest otherwise is a complete joke. As for Ms. Barra, she has a company to run, and she’s doing it quite admirably, I might add.
Read between the lines, and the rank and file is royally pissed-off at its so-called management team. Here they are going into contract negotiations, and the union’s upper echelon managers have been exposed as running a major league grifting operation that has burned through millions of dollars on elaborate trips, big-dollar restaurant gorging, assorted prizes and wildly inappropriate self-gifting, and the accumulation of boatloads of cash, just because they could. There’s even a $2 million retirement party that was staged for a UAW bigwig in Las Vegas that has yet to surface, but I am sure it will in due time.
I feel for the UAW rank and file because they’ve been taken for a ride. The fact that these UAW management grifters have squandered their union dues and freely accepted cash from the National Training Center fund funneled to them by the auto companies looking for favorable contract terms for years is simply unconscionable and inexcusable.
I was hoping the people in UAW management positions would understand that the naïve notion that they will be able to separate their contact negotiations from the Federal investigation “distractions” is simply wishful and reckless thinking. But it’s clear by their ongoing comments that they not only just don’t get it, they have their heads in the sand about the scope and seriousness of this Federal investigation.
The ugly reality for the UAW is that this ongoing investigation could very well mean the end of the UAW as a functioning entity. So UAW management can squawk and preen and talk tough all they want, but the clock is ticking on their very existence, and they refuse to acknowledge that fact.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
THE FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS FOR GM?S NEW CMO? CHEVROLET.
9 Sep 2019 at 11:25am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Now that GM’s long national nightmare is over, with the company finally naming a real live Chief Marketing Officer for the first time in seven years, the stack of tasks facing Deborah Wahl is high. Eminently qualified in her expanded role after serving in the same capacity at Cadillac for the past eighteen months, and with many high-caliber stints in marketing before arriving at GM, Ms. Wahl brings years of ultra-quality experience to GM’s marketing function. In fact, she is the most qualified to serve in that role of any of the auto manufacturers, particularly here in Detroit.
But before we get into those tasks facing Ms. Wahl, it might help to go back and see how one of the largest corporations in the world did without a Chief Marketing Officer for seven years. In order to do that, we have to revisit the ugly Reign of Terror of GM’s previous CEO, Dan “Captain Queeg” Akerson, a card-carrying graduate of Unctuous Prick University who was appointed GM Chairman for simply raising his hand at a pivotal board meeting.
Thus, began one of the most tumultuous periods in GM history, with Akerson becoming an instant expert on the car business after a few meetings, while wreaking havoc and promulgating chaos everywhere he went. Akerson’s specialty was insulting and belittling executives in front of their peers (and behind their backs), which endeared him to exactly no one. He also openly held contempt for the industry and everyone in it, often bragging to his Washington, D.C., cohorts about his trying stint in the backwater of corporate America while having to work with lesser levels of intelligence. In short, he was the most loathsome individual ever to be given the reins of GM, and that’s saying something considering some of the truly bad CEOs over the previous decades.
With our memories refreshed, this was the time when Joel Ewanick served as CMO. Joel made the mistake of having one too many articles written about him in the Wall Street Journal, and if there was one thing that Akerson despised more than anything else, it was when any of his executives were interviewed or written about in the press. Maybe despised isn’t a strong enough word here, it made Akerson red-faced, spitting enraged. How dare anyone upstage The King?
It was around this time that Ewanick was tasked with establishing Chevrolet as a global brand. And what did Ewanick come up with as a way of doing that? Having Chevrolet sponsor the Manchester United soccer club, one of the most recognized sports teams in the world. Seems logical, no? So Ewanick made the deal, but along the way the idea of making Chevrolet a global brand fell by the wayside when GM reduced its footprint in Europe, which often happens with the vagaries of corporate decision making, especially at GM, and all of a sudden the big money ($560 million for five years) sponsorship of Manchester United made zero sense. Except that the deal had been signed, sealed and delivered.
It was then that Akerson, ably abetted by then chief counsel of GM legal (who shall remain nameless although who is equally loathsome), orchestrated Ewanick’s removal by accumulating a list of invented transgressions, including one that accused Ewanick of getting a “cut” of the Man U. deal. Except none of it was true. Akerson got his way of course, because no one had the balls to question The King, and Ewanick was sent packing. Immediately after the dismissal, Akerson ranted and raved to his subordinates that there would be “No more rock star CMOs at GM!” Translation? There would be no more appearances by a CMO – or any other executive at GM for that matter – in the media, because that was reserved for Captain Queeg himself. And then, shortly afterward, “No more rock star CMOs at GM” quickly transitioned to “No more CMOs, period” and GM flailed about without a Chief Marketing Officer for seven interminable years.
So, here we are. With the vestiges of Akerson’s Reign of Terror finally purged from the GM system, the newly enlightened management of GM has finally seen fit to address the Black Hole of GM marketing that has plagued the company for years with the promotion of Deborah Wahl to Chief Marketing Officer. As I wrote at the beginning of this column and in last week’s “On the Table,” Wahl is exceedingly smart and one of the industry’s best and the brightest, and she’s a brilliant choice for the role. But she has a tall order to gain control of GM’s marketing function, because that function has been rudderless and devalued for so long that it’s downright criminal. In fact, there are some players within the GM marketing troops who have been operating within their self-created fiefdoms for so long that it has been like the Wild West, with little accountability thrown in for good measure.
Nowhere is that more apparent than at Chevrolet. Still one of this industry’s top brands, and in the throes of a renewed product offensive, no one has done less with more than the so-called marketers at Chevrolet. What was once a beacon for captivating and iconic advertising campaigns like “See the USA in Your Chevrolet,” “Baseball Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet,” “The Heartbeat of a America,” and "Like A Rock” for Chevy truck, Chevrolet advertising has been reduced to an excruciating celebration of the mundane.
Chevrolet’s current advertising - the soulless and empty call to action “Find New Roads” campaign – is punctuated by some of the most grating and annoying advertising this business has ever seen. The campaign’s “real people” spots, which have been regularly skewed on YouTube and other social media outlets, are nothing more than glorified dealer spots that are taken to an egregiously offensive level.
I would recommend that Ms. Wahl start with Chevrolet first, because righting that brand’s marketing is by far GM’s most pressing need. The marketers there seem to be the most insular and the most convinced that they got it goin’ on, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. So, she will have her work cut out for her, that’s for sure.
That doesn’t mean that the other divisions don’t need attention too. The new Cadillac campaign for the XT6 shows real life for the brand, but they have to keep the marketing momentum going, because the upcoming products are too good and deserve the proper strategy and presentation. Buick? Not so much. The music in the Buick spots is relentlessly annoying, and unfortunately, that insipid jingle is the only thing memorable about them. And GMC is present and accounted for, but after the tailgate that does tricks, then what?
Deborah Wahl is the right person to lead GM Marketing, I just hope she is given the proper resources and the unwavering support by upper management to do the job.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
WRITE HARD, DIE FREE, PART III.
3 Sep 2019 at 10:39am
Editor's Note: When we embarked on this ride called Autoextremist.com, with whereabouts unknown way back when, little did we know we'd be here twenty years later. Today, we feel it's a perfect time to remind everyone what this site - and The Autoextremist - are all about. To do that, we need to travel back in time, to the beliefs that formed the foundation for this site, and that continue to drive us to this day. The world is a different place than it was that June day in 1999, but in so many ways, when it comes to this business, there’s a mind-numbing sameness about it all that is truly unbelievable. -WG
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Twenty years ago, when I became tired of what the ad biz had become, tired of the sycophants, the ass kissers, the spineless weasels and the other two-bit players who had turned what was once a pretty interesting profession into a vapid wasteland, I knew I had to do something different. I had also grown tired of seeing the auto business – as practiced here in Detroit – sink further into the Abyss of risk-avoidance-driven mediocrity and watching legions of so-called "executives" make horrendous, piss-poor decisions day after day on behalf of their respective auto companies.
As I watched the carnage unfold around me, I knew that something had to be said by someone who had firsthand knowledge of what was going on – someone who was in the trenches and on the front lines of the ongoing battle – and, of course, that someone turned out to be me.
And Autoextremist.com became my forum to say it.
As some of you insiders may know, Autoextremist originally was a concept I had for a new car magazine back in 1986. The print version of Autoextremist was going to target hard-core enthusiasts, while telling it like it is with a distinctive, combative. journalistic style. It would also be the first enthusiast car publication that wouldn’t accept advertising.
The state of the enthusiast car mags back then was a dismal parade of sameness that left me cold, and I was determined to breathe some life into the genre (and it is different today, how? –WG). But my ad career got in the way, and by the time I looked up it was the late spring of 1999, and I knew that if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it, so the time was finally right for Autoextremist. The Internet, of course, would replace the print magazine idea, but the essence of my original manifesto written back in 1986 remained unchanged.
And that's how this publication and "The High-Octane Truth" came about, whether people were ready for it or not. A lot has changed about this business over the ensuing years, but as I am continually reminded, then again, a lot hasn’t. I am certain of one thing, however, and that is my set of fundamental beliefs about this business hasn’t changed. I thought it would be a good time to reiterate what those beliefs are today, where I’m coming from, how I look at things and why I say the things I do.
I believe that the business of designing, building, engineering, marketing and advertising cars and trucks should begin with one simple premise – that the Product is King – and everything else has to flow from that fundamental fact. Cars and trucks should be exciting to look at, fun to drive, flat-out desirable and worth owning in all respects. If you (as an individual or a company) forget that fact, you will fail.
I believe people whose cumulative marketing experience basically consists of 1.) An MBA combined with 2.) A stint at the zone level (with the added "benefit" of P&G indoctrination -WG) and 3.) Being part of a rotational executive "rounding" stint through the system, shouldn't automatically be qualified to get near the serious business of marketing and advertising cars, let alone be able to tell an ad agency what's good or not good about an ad campaign that has just been worked on for the last 47 days straight. I would love to say that this situation has changed for the better, but it really hasn’t. Yes, certainly some marketers are eminently qualified to do what they do, but there are still too many instances where the opposite is true.
I believe that car company executives whose first order of business is to cover their own asses and then shamelessly promote themselves the rest of the time – while bringing absolutely nothing positive to the job at hand – should be encouraged to take that long "break" they keep droning on about in off-the-record moments. Please do us all a favor – and leave now. This assessment certainly isn’t confined to the automobile business by any stretch, because it also plagues corporate America at every turn.
I believe that a rampant, "let's not offend anyone" mentality taints every decision made by almost every car executive (yes, there are a few brilliant exceptions) working in the business today. And the sniveling backpedaling hasn’t abated one iota over the last two decades, I am sorry to say. If there’s even a hint of reactionary venom directed toward a campaign or an initiative, the time-honored response is to tuck their tails between their legs, do a public mea culpa and then crawl back into the woodwork. Really? All that time, effort, research and money expended was for naught because someone tweeted something that was negative? You arrived at a reasoned decision that made sense for the company and with one discouraging word your convictions go right out the window? This kind of spineless behavior is tedious and wrong (see below). (By the way Lowe’s called, backbones are on special today, Aisle 6.)
I believe that the typical car company executive's reckless and utter disdain for anything the least bit creative or provocative – while at the same time endorsing a process that consistently "dumbs down" the advertising and the product itself with a series of debilitating steps and hand-wringing meetings – directly results in the churning out of an endless stream of cars and trucks that are too often nothing more than monuments to tedium, mediocrity and bad management. Back then I called it "engineering to the lowest common denominator" – and it still stinks today.
I believe that politics permeates every decision in the car business down to the very last detail, ensuring that all butts are "covered" and that no one is left "exposed" to any ugly consequences. The business is still populated by people more worried about what their political standing "entitles" them to than about bringing to the table an attitude of "what can I do?" or "how can we make it better?" Accountability? Maybe that can be found in Aisle 6 too.
I believe – and this is etched in stone – that whenever the shit hits the fan and there is the least bit of advertising, marketing or product controversy, a car company will always do the wrong thing, and then turn around and blame the advertising agency or a supplier for their predicament at the drop of a hat. And that’s even more true today.
I believe that the ad agency side of the business has strayed as far away from being a creative environment as you can get, short of working at your average Gas and Suds. In many cases, it has deteriorated into a constant battle between The Wimps and The Twerps, people who are intent on taking over the agency and turning it into a cesspool of "Yes Men" and "Yes Women" who are more concerned with their political futures and the "process" than about working on great advertising and marketing. Advertising agencies have forgotten what their mission is, because they're spending 90% of their time, money, resources and effort on everything else under the sun except actually trying to make great advertising. And I believe that, in most cases, their clients are directly responsible for this revolting development – and that they ultimately get the advertising they deserve because of it. Yes, there are exceptions to this, when brilliant advertising somehow emerges from the Fog of War, but for the most part it is depressingly accurate.
I believe that runaway complacency on both sides (car companies and their ad agencies), combined with an atmosphere corrupted by an absolutely suffocating fear of taking any kind of risk (or standing behind it once you do), is killing the chance to get great work produced. Don’t think that’s the case? Take a look at the dismal state of car advertising today.
I believe that in too many cases in this business bad people are making bad decisions negatively affecting good people who know better, people who have been shuffled off to the side for political "considerations" (i.e., they have a backbone and a point of view – and they're not afraid to share it).
I believe that instead of a joyful celebration of the indefatigable nature of the American Spirit and the role the automobile has had, continues to have, and always will play, the business has become nothing but a pathetic caricature of itself – complete with bad actors and even worse props.
I believe that the glaring sameness of the so-called “enthusiast” car mags is still there and it’s still highly annoying. And there’s no denying that the days for the hard-copy print mags are severely numbered, and when the shakeout finally comes, it will be ugly.
I believe the state of automotive journalism has never been as weak as it is right now. There are too few writers worth going out of your way to bother with today, and that’s a flat-out disgrace. Automotive journalism (yes, of course there are notable exceptions) has devolved into a thinly disguised pay-to-play-for-access game. And it’s embarrassing.
As for the car biz itself, is it still about the Product? Absolutely. More so today than ever before. But if you don’t have the accurate, enticing and properly funded marketing firepower to put behind a new product, then it doesn’t matter how good it is, because it will be forgotten 120 days after its launch in this oversaturated automotive market we live in.
As for the execs making key decisions about the marketing and advertising at the car companies nowadays, I still see woefully underqualified individuals being given the reins on major marketing decisions, and it’s still baffling.
Are auto execs any more willing to take a stand these days? It’s intermittent when it happens, but there’s some noticeable movement in the right direction at least. I’s not nearly enough, however. And I’m sure a search party will have to be organized to find executives with backbones to shore up the ranks.
As for those “lowest-common-denominator” product decisions, I’m thankfully seeing that mentality fade into the woodwork. Detroit is creating some excellent new products right now, but getting people to care about them is an entirely different story altogether.
As for the whole ad agency vs. client thing, the profitability of the advertising business is being squeezed down to next to nothing, leaving agencies to fight over scraps while clients display the loyalty of your average fair-weather sports fan, In other words, the state of the ad biz when it comes to the auto industry is beyond pathetic. It’s no wonder that ad agencies have forgotten what their basic mission is – which is to deliver the best, most provocative communications on behalf of their clients that they can muster – in this toxic environment. Do clients still get the advertising they deserve because of it? Yes, of course they do.
Bad people are still making bad decisions negatively affecting good people who know better in this business, unfortunately. As for the “joyful celebration of the indefatigable nature of the American Spirit and the role the automobile has had, continues to have, and always will play...” thing? Well, let’s just say that it’s a work in progress.
That “Detroit” finally got product religion and is saying and doing all of the right things is commendable, but there’s still the lingering fear that this business as practiced here will slip back into bad old habits at any given moment. Those shining beacons of product light and creativity are still threatened by churning storm clouds defined by a “three steps forward, five back” cadence of rampant mediocrity. And that is sobering.
Add in the great unknown of the electrification transformation, the blissful predictions for the autonomous vehicle movement, the hopeful nirvana of ride sharing and the promises of untold profits in a new Emerald Auto City just over the hill, and well, to say I am beyond skeptical would be an understatement. Let's just call it a giant "we'll see" for now and leave it at that.
Now, almost half-way through our 20th year, I am proud to say that we’re still doing what we do best. We still take you "behind the curtain" to give you an up-close look at the Wizards, the Dullards and everyone else in between in this business. I still say what the others are only thinking (or whispering) in deep background or “off-the-record” conversations, and I will continue to do so. And this publication will continue to influence the influencers every single week, even though they're loath to admit it.
Delivering The Truth, The Whole Truth... and absolutely nothing but The High-Octane Truth has been an exhilarating ride.
Write Hard, Die Free indeed.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
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