The Latest Auto Extremist
THE BEAST IN ME.
12 Apr 2021 at 12:36pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. When I last visited this theme a couple of years ago, the year 2030 was upon us. As I stepped out into the darkness in the throes of another sleepless night, I found myself wandering around in a world that looked remarkably as it looks today. I noticed a few stray autonomous vehicles doing their rote routines, with their blue LEDs indicating what they were. But they were – not surprisingly – insignificant, part of the thrum of a new reality, but only a bit part.
And as the darkness lightened slightly, I started to see the ebb and flow of traffic on Woodward Avenue. It was reassuring to see that it still hummed with activity. Some avant-garde designs were noticeable – aero shapes punctuated by their wildly diverse lighting systems – but they were clearly full-zoot luxury machines. Other cars were decidedly less adventurous, a mix of small- to medium-sized conveyances that really didn’t look all that much different from today. And yes, the traffic flow was dominated by SUVs and trucks still, the American consumer having long ago abandoned any thought of going back to a typical passenger car.
The sounds were diverse too. A mix of BEV whine, hybrids and yes, full-on ICE machines as well. It was obvious that the prognostications of a complete transition to BEVs were dead wrong. The “grand transformation” was clearly a work in progress, with scores of people happily clinging to their piston-powered vehicles for two reasons: cost and the freedom of movement with no limitations. I did notice that as I walked past the local Speedway gas station/convenience store, half the gasoline pump islands had been replaced by quick-charging stations for BEVs. They were empty now, but the gas pumps were already busy.
But as that dream began to fade, the realization that time had accelerated again overwhelmed me. It was with certainty that I could sense that things had fundamentally changed. As Don Henley once said, “Time keeps ticking… ticking away,” and I found myself immersed in a new world, ten years on.
But was it actually happening? As you get older, they say sleep seems to become more fleeting. There “they” go again. All-knowledgeable, all-powerful and all-tedious. It turns out “they” don’t know jack shit, a secret society seemingly dedicated to cluelessness and misinformation that wreaks havoc on everyday life with impunity. To borrow a catchphrase from John Boehner, “they” can go fuck themselves.
Despite the societal headlong rush into EVs, it turns out that my dreams are still not battery-powered. They are fuel-injected and raucous, a cacophony of thumping V8s, boosted flat-sixes and screaming V12s, playing out in a kaleidoscope of frenzied images and frantic video POVs that piece together a lifetime. There is little rhyme or reason, no detectable pattern and the furthest thing from a chronological order that you can possibly imagine. They are nightmarishly chaotic and, in some cases, achingly real.
It turns out that the leap from 2030 to 2040 is dramatic and for some, like me, frightening.
I found myself in a gray-tinged room, with a simple rectangular table in the center flanked by three chairs on one side and one on the other. Cameras were visible, as was a one-way glass picture window. I was facing two bureaucrats from the State of Michigan – a man and a woman (“Mr. Baker” and “Ms. Worley”) – and one representative from the Feds, a female agent named “Ms. Carmichael.” I had no time to figure out why I was there, before they began questioning me, but “Ms. Carmichael” said I could call her by her first name, which was “Tessa.” I declined.
Ms. Carmichael: “Mr. DeLorenzo, on the night of April 10, 2040, you were apprehended on the I-696 expressway for speeding, is that correct?”
“Yes,” I said.
Ms. Carmichael: “We are joined today by the State of Michigan, represented by Mr. Baker and Ms. Worley, who have brought with them all of the salient details from this incident for the purposes of this meeting, including the visual and audio recordings from the State Police Robotics Division, which have thoroughly documented that night.”
Then without missing a beat, they played a series of HD color videos of the event. You could see my jet black 2024 Corvette Z06 as clear as a bell, with my registration and insurance information projected on the screen – along with my driver’s license labeled “RESTRICTED” - as I blew through the various camera angles and checkpoints.
I didn’t say a word.
Ms. Carmichael: “Mr. DeLorenzo,” she continued in a voice free from nuance or tone, “Not only were you in an unauthorized vehicle, your speed was registered, verified and documented over a six-mile stretch as varying between 195 mph and 206 mph. Do you deny any of this?”
“No,” I said. I mean, what could I say, “It wasn’t me?” They even had enhanced video of me behind the wheel, slowed down and magnified. I looked super-focused at least.
Ms. Carmichael: “You are aware, of course, that this particular expressway is limited to three types of vehicles: the far-right Green Lane for piloted BEVs and Hybrids, the middle Orange Lane for guidance-optional assisted vehicles, and the left Blue Lane for fully autonomous vehicles. Yes?"
“Yes,” I said. The roadways had become heavily skewed to minimizing involvement behind the wheel, apparently, and I was clearly doing the exact opposite, flagrantly violating the rules in an extreme way.
Ms. Carmichael: “Mr. DeLorenzo, you’re also aware that because of your age you’re no longer allowed to drive any vehicle of any kind. Your license says “RESTRICTED” because it is only functioning as a national I.D. But I’m not telling you anything new, correct?"
“I get tested twice a year,” I was agitated now. “I go through certified high-performance driving programs every year. I have a long list of recommendations and verifications from accredited sources. I’ve forgotten more than you people will ever know about driving." (I loved using the phrase “you people” with bureaucrats.) "I don’t understand why this is a problem, or why it is being held against me.”
Ms. Carmichael. “Nevertheless, Mr. DeLorenzo, those self-certification programs are irrelevant to this discussion. You have intentionally flouted the law, and apparently this isn’t the first time, according to your record, is that correct?”
Ms. Carmichael: “Because of your long list of transgressions behind the wheel, and this latest and most egregious incident, I have no choice but to send you to the Driver Attitude Redirection Bureau for no less than six months, or until we are satisfied that you have been redirected properly. Are you clear as to what is expected of you?”
My mind wandered. This was a death sentence. “DARB” was developed by the Masters of Silicon Valley and deployed in 2035 in Sacramento, and the results were so positive after a year – according to government operatives – that the program was expanded nationwide. At “DARB” they put you in EV simulators that are programmed to run a different course every day – a mix of residential streets, urban and suburban landscapes and freeways – and you’re required to drive by the book, while adhering to every law – with various surprises thrown in – for eight frickin’ hours a day. And each time you make a mistake you receive an electric shock through the steering wheel, which varies in degree depending on the perceived offense. An old friend of mine cracked up one day after four months of this torture, apparently. He stood on the go-pedal hard, and after five minutes of going flat-out through that day’s route, blowing through intersections and running cars off of the road, the shock delivered was so severe it vaporized him. The only thing they found was a trace of his right shoe.
Ms. Carmichael: “Mr. DeLorenzo? Do you comprehend what is expected of you? You have been ‘zeroed-out.’ You are being removed from the societal landscape until you demonstrate that you can function according to the rules. It’s completely up to you if you are able to return to the Real World.”
The Real World? Fuck me. I can’t wait to get a hold of that EV simulator. Rest assured, they won’t find a trace of me.
Then, I woke up with a start. The sounds of “The Beast in Me” by Nick Lowe (listen here) flowed from my phone.
And I was ready to face the day…
The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bonds
Restless by day and by night, rants and rages at the stars
God help the beast in me
The beast in me has had to learn to live with pain
And how to shelter from the rain
And in the twinkling of an eye might have to be restrained
But God help the beast in me
Sometimes it tries to kid me that it's just a teddy bear
Or even somehow managed to vanish in the air
And that is when I must beware of the beast in me
That everybody knows
They've seen him out dressed in my clothes
Patently unclear, if it's New York or new year
God help the beast in me, the beast in me
And that’s the High-Electron Truth for this week.
THE FLYING CAMARO.
5 Apr 2021 at 1:02pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Editor’s Note: That Peter has lived a charmed and at times crazy automotive life has been well-documented. The son of Tony DeLorenzo, the legendary GM PR chief who ruled from 1957 to 1979 – GM’s glory days – Peter was exposed to the business and the legends of the business from a young age. As he likes to say, “The legends that you read about in books today were either hanging out in our driveway or interacting with our family all the time.” People like Bunkie Knudsen, Ed Cole, Bill Mitchell and Zora Arkus-Duntov, just to name a few, and there were countless others as well. But that is just one dimension to Peter’s automotive life. Today, he recounts another one of his mind-bending stories from the formative years that made The Autoextremist who he is today. - WG
Detroit. To say that the ‘50s and ‘60s were a different era in automotive history is not painting a proper picture of just how different it was. Detroit was much more of a freewheeling mindset back then. Car executives were bold, decisive, conniving, creative and power-hungry personalities who inevitably went with their gut instincts – which could end up being either a recipe for disaster or a huge runaway sales hit on the streets. The only committees you'd find back then were the finance committees – and they never got near the design, engineering, marketing or even the advertising unless there was some sort of a problem. These Car Kings worked flat-out and they partied flat-out, too, ruling their fiefdoms with iron fists, while wielding their power ruthlessly at times to get what they wanted – and rightly so in their minds – as they were some of the most powerful business executives on earth. In short, it was a world that was 180 degrees different from what goes on today.
Growing up immersed in this business was indeed surreal, but even back then I realized that I had been dropped in an alternative universe – an automotive nirvana punctuated by V8s, open pipes, flashes of chrome and the hottest cars of the era. We reveled in it and made the most of every moment, whether it was me riding shotgun with my brother as he – ahem – was teaching himself how to drive fast, or me going for rides with Bill Mitchell in one of the latest GM Styling concepts – including the ’59 Corvette Sting Ray racer, to this day my all-time favorite car – to the times when I started getting behind the wheel myself.
We had borrowed an early production ‘66 Shelby GT 350 Mustang from Ford PR one weekend (GM and Ford PR swapped cars all the time back then – yeah, I know, talk about a different time and a different era), and my brother Tony decided it was time for me to start learning how to drive – and drive a stick at the same time – and the Shelby Mustang seemed like the perfect vehicle to accomplish that. So, we went to an empty shopping center parking lot, plotted out a course, and I drove for a good hour, getting more proficient by the minute. Needless to say, I absolutely loved it. The only problem was that I was a good eighteen months from being able to get my learning permit, and once I started driving, I. Could. Not. Stop.
Because of my parents’ GM travel schedules – they were away a lot – I found the cars sitting in the garage unattended to be too much of a temptation. Why not take them out for a few minutes? What could possibly go wrong? My favorite was an Electric Blue ‘67 Camaro SS coupe that my oldest sister had at the time. Even though it was an automatic, I found it to be quite entertaining, and I started taking it out all the time.
Now, given that I had been riding shotgun with my brother in countless exploits, I decided that I would set out on my own course of high-speed learning. And my absolute favorite thing to do was to take the Camaro out at night, especially during and after a fresh snowfall, so I could drift around corners in our neighborhood. What made it even better was that our little suburban enclave was patrolled by only two cops (one each shift), and since we referred to them as our “Barney Fifes” we knew their habits and their schedules better than they did, and you can guess what the likelihood of ever getting caught was. But, of course, those nighttime adventures weren’t enough, so, I started driving matter-of-factly, as if I already had my license. And I got bolder and bolder. My nighttime drifting exploits transitioned to me searching out construction sites for new neighborhoods during the day, because the roads were already laid out and paved, and there was usually no one around, a tactic my brother pioneered.
I found one neighborhood development in particular to be most tantalizing. If I turned off the main road, I could accelerate up to a sweeping, uphill left-hander and drift through it with the power on – in the dry, at almost 50 mph – and safely get through it. I did it several times and regaled my buddies about it. So, one day, as we were waiting for another interminable school day to end, one of my buddies said, “Hey, I want to see this ‘track’ you’ve been racing on. Why don’t we follow you so we can see you take the corner?” Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, so, why the hell not? So as soon as school let out, I went home and got the Camaro out and I proceeded to my private race track with two carloads of my buddies in tow.
As you can probably imagine, things didn’t work out as planned (No? We are shocked. -WG). I went barreling into the turn faster than I ever had before, because I was determined to put on a show for my friends. I was flying, all pumped up with teenage adrenaline, only to discover as I turned into the apex of the corner that a truck had pulled out of the construction site only moments before, leaving deep tire tracks of mud all over the road.
You can imagine what happened next.
My painful lesson in “zero grip” was about to unfold as the Camaro instantly washed out to the right, sending me off the road. And before I could do anything, I was staring at a four-foot high (at least) and twelve-foot wide mound of dirt with nowhere to go. I hit it square-on (fortunately), and I was launched into the air. It was one of those “hello sky” moments as I got a brief look at the cloudy afternoon horizon punctuated by an eerie silence, before the Camaro landed with a massive thud on the other side. To hear my buddies tell it, all they recall seeing was the bottom of the Camaro as it disappeared over the dirt pile. The car, amazingly enough, was only slightly damaged, with the front valance crushed and the left rear corner slightly banged up. Although I was highly embarrassed, my buddies thought it was the coolest thing ever, and we managed to convince a construction guy to help us pull the Camaro out of the mud with a rope.
The story gets even more surreal from there. I called Tony, told him what happened, and we hatched a plan to take the Camaro down to Hanley Dawson Chevrolet to get it fixed before my sister came home from out of town. The dealership did a terrific job, but it wasn’t ready by the time my sister got home, so we made up some story about an oil leak that needed to be fixed, and we brought the Camaro home two days later.
But, of course, my sister wasn’t fooled. She knew something wasn’t right, especially given the fact that the two of us were involved. But she wasn’t able to determine exactly what was wrong with our story. It was only later that we realized that the body shop put the wrong front valance panel on the car. Her Camaro had hideaway headlights. The valance panel was for a Camaro with fixed headlights. She never noticed and we never said a word.
It is just one of those stories that never gets old retelling, and the “Flying Camaro” will always be a memorable part of me.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
DUMBASSERY, BROUGHT TO YOU BY VOLKSWAGEN.
29 Mar 2021 at 8:37pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. In the prehistoric days, you’d say that the news came over the wires – wow, that sounds dated now, right? – so let’s just say the news came down from the cloud like a lightning bolt on Monday afternoon. As first reported by CNBC, a leaked Volkswagen press release dated April 29th announces that Volkswagen in the United States would, from here on out, be called Voltswagen.
Yes, you read that correctly. CNBC goes on to report that this name change would be a “public declaration of the company’s future-forward investment in e-mobility,” according to the VW press release. Apparently, this is no April Fool’s joke, as several sources confirmed that the upcoming release was authentic. The name Voltswagen would appear as a badge on all EV models, while gasoline vehicles will only have the company’s instantly recognizable – and classic – “VW” emblem. The release also says that the iconic VW logo would appear on a light blue background on EVs, while the VW logo on ICE-powered vehicles would appear on a dark blue background.
I suppose now would be a good time to take a step back, do a few deep breathing exercises, and sit quietly in the corner to reflect on what exactly is happening here. Oh, who am I kidding? In the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, "What the Hell is going on out there?!?!"
I get the fact that these auto manufacturers are embracing the transition to EVs at a furious clip, but clearly VW operatives here in the U.S. have decided that hitting their once and future customers over the head with this twist on their iconic name will ensure that they know that these actually are electric vehicles. I would have been more understanding if they had gotten the rights to use an image of Reddy Kilowatt on their electric vehicles; at least a sense of the legendary VW whimsy would be present and accounted for.
But this? This smacks of a VW operative/ad agency brainstorming session gone completely off of the rails. What thought process brought them to this fresh hell? Taking one of the iconic names in the history of the automobile business, messing with it, and then smugly smirking to themselves – and you know they are – saying something like, “Wow, that’s pretty damn clever,” is a level of delusional hubris that can only be found in three places: Hollywood. Washington, D.C. And the Auto Biz.
And it’s not even all that clever. In the ad game, we used to describe it as “one of those ideas that should have never seen the light of day.” Or, “it should have never left the conference room.” And indeed, this is one of those ideas. It might have (weakly) passed muster as a digital headline, or for a show-pony billboard on Sunset Boulevard, but actually changing the name as it appears on their EVs? How about NO?
Listen, I know VW is still chasing the bad taste and the crushing financial hangover from the Diesel fiasco in their nightmares, but this is beyond ridiculous. VW operatives turning their backs on 90 years of history is akin to BMW relegating the “Bimmer” nickname to the dustbin of history and going with “Glimmer” to refer to their EVs instead. Or Bentley suddenly going with BENTLEV. It just doesn’t compute. Or, Coca-Cola going with “Electric Coke.” Or, “Arm and Hammer” going with “Knuckles and Sockets.” Or John Deere changing its name to, oh, I don’t know, let’s say, “Horace Conduit.”
As in why? What is the point, exactly? Consumers aren’t stupid. Does anyone actually think that in today’s tedious world of 24/7 information saturation, word won’t somehow trickle out that most, if not all, of VW’s new vehicles in this market will be EVs within five years? Not a frickin’ chance.
If VW operatives stopped with using the different color backgrounds on the VW logos to distinguish between their EVs and ICE vehicles I’d say, fine, makes sense, seems logical, do it. But putting all of their cards on the table and changing their legendary name to Voltswagen just to make a definitive point? It’s just flat-out dumb.
This move will buy two things for VW: 1. Confusion. And, 2. A Big Fat Yawn. As in, no one could possibly be bothered to give a shit. Judging by the boatloads of hubris flying around Herndon, Virginia, these days, I am sure VW operatives are so far down the road on this that they’ve forgotten what the brand even used to stand for.
Gimmicks don’t have much of a shelf life in this business. Never have, never will. But this is far beyond that. This is dumbassery of the first degree.
And that’s the High-Electron Truth for this week.
Editor-in-Chief's Note: On Tuesday (March 30th), VW confirmed that the company is not changing its name to Voltswagen and that it indeed was an elaborate April Fool's joke/prank. The free publicity was probably worth $25 million or so, but the damage to VW's relations with the professional automotive media is incalculable. This is the company, after all, that is still reeling from the DieselGate fiasco, when it purposely rigged its Diesel-powered cars to cheat on the EPA emissions testing procedure in order to pass the test, resulting in hundreds of thousands of cars being driven around that exceeded emissions standards. The VW Group did this, all the while touting - and heavily marketing - its "clean diesels" as if they had figured out what other automakers couldn't, or wouldn't, do. As it turns out, it was all a lie, and because of it VW has paid $40 billion - and counting - to settle lawsuits and damage claims resulting from the most egregious and calculated fraud in automotive history. The word as to why this "joke" happened is that VW operatives were feeling slighted by all the publicity that other automakers were getting for their EV vehicle plans, and they wanted to get attention for their efforts to go fully-EV by the end of this decade. Well, they got attention all right, the wrong kind. My informal polling with colleagues in the auto media suggests that this "stunt" has backfired, and in a big way too. VW is now not only mistrusted, it is flat-out loathed, and these working professionals aren't going to forget this anytime soon. In case you were wondering, are we going to take down this column now? No. Now they're even guiltier of dumbassery. - PMD
DOES ANYBODY REALLY KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?
23 Mar 2021 at 1:44pm
Editor's Note: Since Peter is attending to some other pressing issues this week, we're reprising one of his most-requested columns. We have updated "On The Table," "Fumes" and "The Line" for your reading pleasure, however, and we will add to those columns - as the need arises - the rest of the week. Enjoy. -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. With those lyrics from one of Chicago’s early hits barely audible in the background at 1:30 Tuesday morning, I’m not sure the time is right to think about… time. But here we are.
We can make good time, we can attempt to compress time (yeah, right), we can use time to our advantage, we can watch the time and we can fret about time. We can change the time but only on our clocks, because it keeps ticking. And ticking. And ticking.
The time goes by fast, or so “they” say. But what about when things seem to take forever? What about when the guy in front of you at the bank is getting a boat loan? At the drive-through window? What about when time stands still? Then again there’s a time for everything, either that or the time is now, at least sometimes anyway.
We can glance at it, look at it, lose track of it and run out of it. We can schedule it and attempt to manage it, but who’s kidding whom? Time manages us. It dictates our days, weeks, months and years. It tells us when to leave, when to get there, how to plan ahead and how to save the date.
Yes, we can go back in time, if only in our thoughts and memories and images. Or we can certainly dream about time, should we choose to. I fantasize about time traveling between seconds, where I live for moments or years in a totally different time and place, and then I’m back a second later. I’d have drinks with Ulysses S. Grant. I’d be a fighter pilot in a WWI dogfight. I’d be a crew member for the Lotus Team at Indianapolis in 1963. I’d be there when Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein. I’d investigate the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde through the fog-shrouded streets of London. I’d race a Ferrari in the Targa Florio. I’d be there when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. Tripping through time, lost between seconds.
There’s the inevitably of time, of course, as in the classic “time waits for no one.” Time is short, but is it really? Chris Rock famously said that life is long if you’re not happy. Truer words were never spoken. Time drags without passion or purpose. The drudgery of the day-in, day-out rote regurgitation of life can crush anyone’s soul.
You can lament bad times and remember good times. You can keep time, do time and squander time, but that wouldn’t be making the best use of your time, now, would it? What would we do without time? Would we live by the movement of the sun like our ancestors? Would life slow down if our lives weren’t dominated by schedules, appointments and… time?
(I’m somewhat amused by the impact of the TikTok craze. Frittering away time to the beat of social drums? What a perfectly contemporary concept, and monumental waste of… time.)
The inexorable march of time consumes our every waking moment; in fact, it looms over our heads like a giant Big Ben hanging in the sky. And what can we do about it, exactly? Not much.
Let me clarify that. Time shouldn’t hang over our heads, just the opposite in fact. Time should be cherished. It should be relished and exulted in. Savor every moment, because it turns out that is the best use of our time.
I’ll leave it to Chicago to close things out:
Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?
If so I can't imagine why
We've all got time enough to die
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
A JEEP TOO FAR.
15 Mar 2021 at 6:31pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. I suppose it had to come to this. With the oversized vehicle frenzy reaching a crescendo in this market right now, the arrival of a new Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer – which I assume will be able to proudly link their gigantic side mirrors with other parade-float-sized vehicles of their ilk to steamroll across the highways and byways of America accompanied by The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back – is proof positive that we have reached Peak Giant Stupid SUV in this nation.
While the Jeep press material for the Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer seems to scream “heritage” and “Premium American Icon” every other sentence, these bloated Jeeps have about as much in common with their forebears as, oh, never mind, they have nothing to do with the Jeep brand persona at all. Suggesting that these blunderbuss-class vehicles have anything to do with Jeep “heritage” is a gross insult to Jeep Nation.
Why do they even exist? Jeep operatives are trying to milk the Jeep franchise for all it's worth, and if that means cashing in on the waning salad days of the Monster Truck phase that a large segment of American consumers seem to be bumbling through, then so be it. But please spare me words like “icon” and “premium” because they have nothing to do with these monstrosities.
No, these revenue-generating monster “Jeeps” are all about three-row seating, that elusive canard that manufacturers spend countless hours and hundreds of millions of dollars on so that they can shout from the tallest mountain top that they have it – even though the number of consumers who actually use the feature remains miniscule. In fact, I would argue that more money has been spent on this feature by the U.S. auto industry over the last decade – to less effect – than any other product feature offered.
Here’s a direct quote from the press release: “We are ready to start a new exciting adventure with a model that wrote some of the most iconic pages in the history of the American automobile,” said Christian Meunier, Jeep® Brand Chief Executive Officer. “Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer are born from the Jeep brand, but they have a flair of their own, building on a rich heritage of craftsmanship and refinement, while offering new levels of sophistication, comfort and legendary 4x4 capability, as well as a new level of customer service.”
To that I say, “Huh?” I got lost somewhere between the “wrote some of the most iconic pages in the history of the American automobile” and “building on a rich heritage of craftsmanship and refinement.” Are we talking about the same history of the American automobile? The one that saw Jeep marketers glue “genuine wood-look” vinyl on the side of Wagoneers and call it good? And, what “craftsmanship” and “refinement” are we talking about, exactly? The buck-board ride, the slapdash levels of assembly quality, or not even a whiff of refinement? That’s rich, all right.
I’m not against auto companies making serious ca$h-money in this town, because that’s the name of the game. But we’re talking about a company that just dropped $12 million large (or thereabouts) on a two-minute Jeep movie/commercial on the Super Bowl featuring Bruce Springsteen and his own, personal, beat-up Jeep Wrangler. You remember, right? The one called “The Middle”? I somehow don’t think that the spot, which talked about “making it to the mountaintop” and “our light has always found its way through the darkness” and “there’s hope on the road ahead” has anything remotely to do with the brand premise of a $100,000+ Jeep Grand Wagoneer. Nope, not one bit.
Instead, what it says about the Jeep operatives out in Auburn Hills is that they’re adhering to the founding principles of their dearly departed leader, the Chief Carpetbagging Mercenary who didn’t hesitate to suggest that the American car buyers were dupes who will buy anything if wrapped in a good enough box.
I believe they have made a gross miscalculation, however. Yes, sure, they will make money off of the first-on-the-block types – you know, the American auto buying public with a predilection for gigantic in everything they consume and who just have to have the latest and biggest, but when that temporary euphoria wears off, then what?
And by the way, where is Stellantis when it comes to BEVs? Anyone? Bueller? It has to be said that one electrified Wrangler doesn’t constitute serious BEV momentum, in case you were keeping score. This company is nowhere when it comes to BEVs, and it is going to be a real serious problem by 2025.
I will say one thing about the ladies and gentlemen out in Auburn Hills who work on the Dodge brand, and that is when it comes to the Muscle brand persona of their Dodge cars, at least they’re authentic to their very core. They wave their Freak Flag high, and make no apologies for who they are and what they stand for. Even though we’re in the waning days of the ICE era, I commend that. Knowing who you are is half the battle in this business.
For Jeep operatives, however, it’s just the opposite. The new Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer are blatant, cynical ploys masquerading as the latest and greatest Jeep, when they have nothing to do with the Jeep brand persona, at all. The “authenticity” is completely missing in action. These two giant SUVs are, in fact, new low points in Jeep brand history.
They’re simply a Jeep too far.
And that’s the High-Electron Truth for this week.
The 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
OUR MOTOR MEMORIES PLAY TRICKS ON US.
8 Mar 2021 at 12:26pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. With the rise of bringatrailer.com and other sites devoted to moving classic and even newer, of-the-moment automobiles, inevitable comparisons are going to be made between the older machines vs. the more contemporary automobiles of today.
The absurd prices being paid for some of these older “classics” are staggering. I’m not talking about the true exotica, like 50s and 60s Ferrari models and 60s and 70s Lamborghinis, because those machines occupy a stratosphere that few enthusiasts are able to participate in. No, I’m talking about fairly ordinary older machines that are bringing truly extraordinary prices. Who would have thought an extremely low-mileage Acura Integra R would bring $65,000 on BaT? Or, older pickup trucks pushing $100,000? Or Camaros, Mustangs, Chevelles and VW buses, just to point out a few? Not to mention the older Porsche 911 prices, which passed the absurd level at least a decade ago.
But a difficult question needs to be asked at this juncture. Was it really better back in the day? Were the machines of our past really that much more desirable in reality, or was it just in our minds?
Let’s take a look at one huge part of our motor memories: The Muscle Car era. Let’s face it, few automobile eras have been written about more than the Muscle Car era, which took place roughly from 1964 to 1970. This era was powered by legendary machines like the Pontiac GTO and 421 cu.-in. Catalinas and Bonnevilles; Dodge and Plymouth HEMIs; SS Chevelles and Camaros, Boss and Cobra Jet Mustangs, and on and on. Even relatively pedestrian Chevrolet Impalas and Ford Galaxies could be equipped with 427 cu.-in. V8s back then.
Yes, it was a glorious, Golden Era of Speed, but the High-Octane Truth is that although the cars were able to go fast in a straight line, they generally couldn’t stop worth a damn and they handled like crap. I had countless experiences in the finest high-performance cars back in that era, and the ugly reality is that braking and handling were merely concepts – theories to be glossed over by the manufacturers and the enthusiast publications. It really came down to two basic questions back then: How fast? And how much?
Yes, of course, there were exceptions. The 289 and 427 Cobra, the Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray and a few others actually stopped, steered and handled with relative aplomb along with their blistering performance, but that era was defined by big horsepower and not much else. So, when I see some of these prices for the older machines on BaT – $155,000 and counting for a 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429 this week, for example – I have to cringe, because any contemporary high-performance Mustang is so much better in every way than that car that it’s not even worth discussing. There’s simply no relevant comparison that can be made. In terms of performance, handling and braking, a contemporary GT350 Mustang is simply in a different dimension than that Boss 429, so there has to be another reason why someone would shell out $150,000+ for a grossly nose-heavy Mustang that goes – but not as fast as today’s Mustang – and doesn’t stop or handle worth a damn.
The cruel reality is that our motor memories play tricks on us. It was a fleeting moment in time in our formative enthusiast years when the sun was brighter and the sky was bluer. Everything seemed to be on an upward trajectory back then, and the machines that defined that era are permanently etched in our collective memories as soul-stirring monsters that left an indelible impression that sticks with us to this day. But again, the reality was so much different. I can’t tell you how many hard-core enthusiasts I’ve talked to over the years who recounted lengthy stories to me about the one car that they lusted after in their youth, and then, after finally getting their hands on their dream machine, how an empty disappointment soon came over them. The idea of the car was one thing, while the reality of actually driving a decades-old machine left a lot to be desired.
Then there’s always the discussion about a car’s “soul” and how some machines still hold up to this day. I am a True Believer in that, but frankly, the machines from the Muscle Car era don’t do it for me. Would I actually go out and buy a HEMI from the 60s when I can go out and get a 392 Challenger or Charger today that would clean its clock by every measure? Or spend $65,000 on a '69 Camaro instead of buying a current one? No, I would not. Yes, I like to look at the old stuff at the endless car shows, but putting real money down for one? Nah.
And, as most AE readers know, I love Corvettes. I love the ‘57, the ’58, the ’62, the immortal ’63 Sting Ray and, of course, the ’69 L88. But unless you’ve driven one of those 50s machines in particular, you don’t realize just how far we’ve come in terms of car building. To say they don’t drive all that well is the understatement of this, or any other year. Would I still love to have a Sting Ray? Oh, hell yes. And I’d leave it untouched, because it’s a design and industry icon. But I would be sorely tempted to do the RestoMod road racing treatment on the others. Would I consider a new Corvette? Absolutely, but it’s just not in the cards.
Back to that “soul” question. AE readers also know that I love the Porsche 911 and have had several over the years, with the mid-‘70s to the mid-‘80s 911s being my favorites. In the case of the 911, the new ones do nothing for me (except for the current 911 RSR race cars – that’s a completely different story). Yes, I can appreciate the sheer performance of the current 911 and especially the hot GT2 and GT3 versions, but the reality for me is something less altogether. It’s not just the cost factor – which is knee-buckling and unobtanium – and the fact that the cars are so good as to be almost antiseptic; it’s the sheer size of the new 911 that bothers me. They’re huge, there’s just no way of getting around it. The older 911s were light, responsive and compact, and they were demanding to drive. There was no relaxing behind the wheel of an older 911, you had to be fully engaged all the time or it could and would bite you in the ass, but the experience was fantastic. I loved it and I miss it to this day, and I find myself watching the driving videos posted by sellers of the older 911s on BaT just to remind myself of just how special it was to drive them. For me it never gets old, and one of the few cases where it was better back then, in my estimation. But talk about unobtanium. When it comes to older 911s, the price for going back in time is crushingly out of reach.
In conclusion, as we’ve said for years around here, buy what you like and like what you buy. But a gentle reminder – your inflated expectations will rarely pan out the way you think they will. That’s because our motor memories play cruel tricks on us, even if sometimes it’s simply too hard to resist.
And that’s the High-Electron Truth for this week.
FOR THE PLAIN UNVARNISHED HELL OF IT.
1 Mar 2021 at 4:31pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. While the Sturm und Drang continues over the transition to Battery Electric Vehicles, the pushback from people who either don’t believe it will ever happen or don’t believe that it should happen seems to be gaining strength by the day. The reasons are many: The infrastructure isn’t there and won’t be there for years to come. Range continues to be a perceived problem. Charging remains an issue, both for the time it takes and because it in fact excludes apartment dwellers en masse. The list goes on from there. Some people are just disinclined to entertain BEVs under any circumstance, when it comes right down to it.
And I get it, I really do. As someone who grew up immersed in some of the finest high-performance ICE machines ever built, envisioning a world that doesn’t echo with the sound of hungry V8s rumbling across the landscape is simply hard to imagine.
But then again, as I’ve said repeatedly, those machines will be around for decades to come. They will be collected, nurtured and preserved indefinitely. And that is a very good thing from my perspective.
And I’m not calling it “The Grand Transition” for nothing. It’s not as if your local Donuts, Lotto ‘n Gas station is going to disappear overnight, taken over by charging islands. It is going to take time. A long time. But it’s also clear that for a large portion of the driving population, BEVs will become a staple in every geographical region here in the United States. And I am fine with that.
But even with BEVs, I see the car “thing” continuing. The onset of BEVs doesn’t mean that the car “thing” will go away. In fact, it might be a good time to take a step back and understand what this car “thing” has meant to this nation.
How did the car “thing” evolve from desiring faster horses, to the building of transportation that transformed the world? What propelled the automobile from being an extravagant convenience to a cultural touchstone that’s such an inexorable part of the American fabric that even the most hostile of the anti-car hordes can’t seem to dampen our collective enthusiasm for it?
Is it the fashion statement? The fundamental sense of motion and speed? The image-enhancing power that automobiles possess? Or all of the above?
If anything, I keep going back to the one thing that’s undeniable about our collective love for the automobile, the one thing that no computer simulation - no matter how powerful or creatively enhanced - can compete with. And that is the freedom of mobility. And that will not change in the upcoming BEV era.
The ability to go and do, coupled with the freedom to explore and experience is not only a powerful concept, it is fundamental to the human experience, which is why the automobile in all of its forms remains so compelling and undeniably intoxicating.
That the automobile has progressed from a device built around convenience and comfort to something more, much more, is easy to understand. The rush of freedom that we’ve all experienced in our first solo drives in an automobile is something that cannot be duplicated or brushed aside. It is ingrained in our spirit and etched in our souls.
I have talked to the most strident anti-car people over the years. But even for those who merely like to inform me that “I’m not into cars” inevitably, after acknowledging that it’s fine that they don’t share my passion for the automobile, something very interesting happens.
If the conversation is allowed to percolate long enough, every single anti-car person I have encountered in going on twenty-two years of doing Autoextremist.com comes around to saying something like, “Well, there was this one car that my uncle (or aunt, or friend, or brother, or father, or grandfather, etc.) had that I’ll never forget…” And they then proceed to tell me about a car that is so indelibly carved in their memories that they start talking about it in detail, including where they were, how old they were, who was with them, where they were going, what happened, etc., etc., etc.
For even those most dispassionate about the automobile – at least on the surface anyway – I find there are always stories if you dig a little deeper. Stories of coming of age, of adventure, of harrowing close calls, of love, and life and lives lived. And memories. Countless, colorful memories that live on forever.
The automobile business itself can be mind-numbingly tedious at times, as I’ve well-documented over the years. And it is without question one of the most complicated endeavors on earth, made up of so many nuanced ingredients that it almost defies description. But the creation of machines that are safe, reliable, beautiful to look at, fun to drive, versatile or hard working – depending on the task they’re designed for – is more than just a cold, calculated business. It is and has been an industrial art form that has come to define who we are collectively.
The automobile obviously means more to me than it does for most. I grew up immersed in this business, and the passionate endeavor surrounding the creation of automotive art has never stopped being interesting for me. And it is very much art, by the way. Emotionally involving and undeniably compelling mechanical art that not only takes us where we want to go but moves us in ways that still touches our souls deeply.
As I’ve reminded everyone many times over the years, I for one will never forget the essence of the machine, and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams.
One of our favorite pieces of automotive prose was written by poet, critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, James Agee. It appeared in a piece he wrote for Fortune in September 1934. You can read the entire passage below, but this is the part of it that resonates the most for us:
"Whatever we may think, we move for no better reason than for the plain unvarnished hell of it. And there is no better reason.”
For the plain unvarnished hell of it, indeed.
And that’s the High-Electron Truth for this week.
The characters in our story are five: this American continent; this American people; the automobile; the Great American Road, and the Great American Roadside. As an American, of course, you know these characters. This continent, an open palm spread frank before the sky against the bulk of the world. This curious people. The automobile you know as well as you know the slouch of the accustomed body at the wheel and the small stench of gas and hot metal. You know the sweat and the steady throes of the motor and the copious and thoughtless silence and the almost lack of hunger and the spreaded swell and swim of the hard highway toward and beneath and behind and gone and the parted roadside swarming past. This great road, too; you know that well. How it is scraggled and twisted along the coast of Maine, high-crowned and weak-shouldered in honor of long winter, how like a blacksnake in the sun it takes the ridges, the green and dim ravines which are the Cumberlands, and lolls loose into the hot Alabama valleys . . . Oh yes, you know this road….All such things you know….God and the conjunction of confused bloods, history and the bullying of this tough continent to heel, did something to the American people -- worked up in their blood a species of restiveness unlike any that any race before has known. Whatever we may think, we move for no better reason than for the plain unvarnished hell of it. And there is no better reason. So God made the American restive. The American in turn and in due time got into the automobile and found it good. The automobile became a hypnosis, the opium of the American people...
23 Feb 2021 at 3:22pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
"Pete, do you ever get tired, of the driving?"
"Lately, I sometimes get very tired, you know? Very tired."
That was Yves Montand – as French racing driver Jean-Pierre Sarti – talking to James Garner – as American racing driver Pete Aron – in the 1966 film "Grand Prix" after a particularly devastating Monaco Grand Prix, which left one of their fellow drivers, Brian Bedford – as British racing driver Scott Stoddard – badly injured and clinging to life in the hospital. That brief conversation encapsulated the euphoric highs and the devastating lows of the sport – two factors very much still applicable today.
Montand’s character was the veteran lead Ferrari driver, someone who had seen too much death and destruction, and who was growing tired with each new incident. Garner’s character was the confident younger driver, albeit a bit cocky, and too hell-bent on success to really hear what “Jean-Pierre Sarti” was saying. This conversation occurred right at the end of the first main sequence of the movie, and by the end of the riveting film, “Pete Aron” would find out what the French Grand Prix driver was talking about.
I have often said that when I grew tired – really tired – of creating the content for this website, I would hang up my spurs and move on to other writing pursuits. I haven’t reached that point, at least not yet. I must admit, I am exhausted all of the time, too often zombie-like because of little or no sleep and the high expectations that we have established with our readers, which is the direct result of the extraordinarily high editorial standards we have set for ourselves. It would be easy to re-run more columns because, after all, we have going on 22 years of content to choose from, but that doesn’t sit well with us. Yes, we do it occasionally, but “phoning it in” has never been part of our modus operandi around here.
But, given all of that, however, I am tired of a few things of late. Very tired. To wit?
I am tired of the Ford PR hype machine running amuck almost daily. The constant bleating, ably assisted by the Detroit Free Press – which seems to be an active arm of Ford PR by the way – seems to be designed to take our attention from the problems behind the curtain, such as launch issues and quality problems. In other words, the fundamentals of this business.
Ask any supplier – at least the ones willing to speak – about Ford’s incessant product launch problems, and it’s clear that systemic failure haunts the automaker like a black cloud. And surprisingly, it’s usually not the launch itself, but it’s the run-up to the launch – about 36-48 months out – when things start to go bad. This is the traditional Ford “We’re the Smartest People in the Room and Don’t You Forget It” phase, wherein Ford operatives demand that suppliers design and engineer their products the “Ford Way,” because as the OEM, “we’re inherently smarter than anything you can come up with anyway.”
Except for the fact that this isn’t remotely the case. The “Ford Way” is in fact a Highway to Hell based on how not to do things right, a slap-dash, haphazard death march of incompetence that grows exponentially until the company is left with reworking and fixing football fields of cars and trucks after they're built.
What is the “Ford Way” you might ask? The “Ford Way” revolves around the company belief that not only is it smarter than its suppliers, but any solution the suppliers come up with Ford can not only do it better and quicker, but cheaper too. And, of course, the reality is that anytime Ford touches anything it takes twice as long and costs twice as much (if not more). Until Ford accepts the fact that it’s this fundamental issue that is holding the company back, it will never get out of its two steps forward – and five back – dance of mediocrity. And until the esteemed automotive media stops giving Ford a free pass for just showing up, the Fog of Misinformation will continue.
But sure, let’s hype that electric SUV/Crossover like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread – as if no BEV existed before it – and let’s keep beating the drums suggesting that their CEO walks on water (as if). That way, we can forget about that little problem of F150 windshields coming loose.
There are countless other things that I am tired of too. Here are just a few. The Swirling Maelstrom that defines Tesla for instance, as the hype vortex continues to suck all rational thought out of previously rational people. I am encouraged, however, that with each passing day formidable BEV competitors are emerging that are going to turn St. Elon’s blissful daze into a certified living nightmare (see this week’s “On The Table” -WG). It can’t happen soon enough, in fact.
While I’m at it, I am tired of GM not getting enough credit for its pioneering BEV, the Chevrolet Bolt. A 259-mile range, in case you haven’t noticed, is a real-world number that works. Yes, the Bolt represents GM’s yester-tech EV technology as compared to the stunning array of Ultium battery-powered vehicles that are coming, but GM has been in-market with these cars for a long time. With a little marketing help – as opposed to none at all – the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV will provide a perfect transition to GM’s next BEV chapter.
And finally, I am tired of the hype for hype’s sake. It’s rampant everywhere, but best exemplified in the five-second “news” bursts on social media. No follow-up reading bothered with, not even an attempt at understanding the issues at hand; just ready-fire-aim, all day and each moment of every day.
Living in this world requires a modicum of participation, of digging through The Fog of Misinformation to get at the facts, and then, spending time to understand what’s real and what isn’t. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
I am reminded of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, because the words still resonate today, if not more so:
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
I am especially tired of these hollow tales told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
And that’s the High-Electron Truth for this week.
Jim Garner in "Grand Prix."
16 Feb 2021 at 1:04pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
We’ve reached the point in this young year where everything is in play. Assumptions are worthless, gut feelings are suspect, at best, and a cloud of doubt hangs over everything.
What, you might ask? You mean the best and brightest who are hard at work on the future of this business have doubts? Yes, even the True Believers who are swelled with confidence from previous product successes have doubts. Every day, in fact. That’s why they question things every step of the way, and it’s because they’ve come to understand that hard-won assumptions learned from previous projects don’t always apply. Especially in this “Grand Transition” to electrification.
This cloud of doubt even hangs over the readers of this website. As highly knowledgeable enthusiasts and automotive consumers of all stripes and passions, the doubt plainly oozes from the emails we receive. As in, a majority of them are not buying this transition to electrification one bit. Oh, it sounds good for quite a few of them – at least on paper – and the environmental benefits are clearly understood and embraced, but the practical realities of EV ownership are simply not showing up on their radar screens (except for the Tesla zealots, of course).
And even though my acquisition of a Chevrolet Bolt several months ago has allowed me to learn about – and embrace – the positives of EV driving and ownership, I understand where the negative perceptions about electrification are coming from, to a point. But beyond range anxiety – which with every new EV that arrives in-market is frankly a moot point, especially in the urban environment – and the perceived challenges of charging (which is rapidly improving by the day), what else is there?
Price? Yes, Tesla put paid to the notion that EVs are affordable early on, because of the high price points of its Model S and X models. But even though the Model 3 and the Model Y can still be pricey when optioned-up, price really isn’t the factor it used to be for that manufacturer. And even though the new Ford EV crossover* can be optioned-up to be considered “pricey,” at least its base price is realistic. (*We refuse to call it by its given name. Not sorry. -WG)
And GM is doing its part by strategically cutting the price of its revamped 2022 Chevrolet Bolt and new Bolt EUV as well. Although our readers have weighed in with disappointment that GM didn’t go far enough with the design changes on the Bolt – a recurring criticism – the value of these excellent EVs is undeniable, especially in the larger scheme of things. Yes, manufacturers are rolling out pricey, “show pony” EVs at a prodigious rate to grab attention and headlines, but as EV technology becomes mainstream, the manufacturing efficiency will accelerate, and EVs will become competitive in all segments, price-wise.
It seems that every day now we’re seeing a manufacturer announce its definitive commitment to EVs. GM and VW have already come out swinging with very aggressive plans for an all-electric future across all of their various divisions. This is very real, folks. I keep saying that, but judging by comments from our readers they’re refusing to believe it. The latest manufacturer to go “all-in” on EVs? None other than Jaguar, which announced it will be an all-electric brand by 2025. And Land Rover will follow suit by 2030. Other manufacturers from around the world are offering new EVs seemingly every quarter, so again, this “Grand Transition” to EVs is picking up speed.
Although in Ford’s case, its spending is lagging behind despite protestations otherwise. The $29 billion figure Ford gave for EV and AV spending by 2025 is clearly fiction, and everybody in this business knows it. In fact, the real number is closer to $14B less than that. Yet they persist, for fear of looking bad (which only makes it worse). But then again, Ford’s smarm offensive of late – aka “don’t pay any attention to that ugliness behind the curtain” – isn’t looking so hot. The company’s decision to not invest in its own battery cell manufacturing capability has blown up in their face, as they've ended up in the middle of squabbling cell suppliers. Now, Ford is left holding the bag, and it's going to cost them dearly. But that’s not all. Ford’s blatant lies about how smoothly its product launches are going doesn’t wash. The company conveniently blames the chip shortage and Covid-19 issues with suppliers, but the fact remains that there is considerable downtime as Ford battles the recurring problem that it never seems to get out from under, and that’s the inability to launch its products without massive problems and the needed – and obligatory – post-production “fixes.” All together now: Not. Very. Good. These issues alone would cast a company in a cloud of doubt. In Ford’s case it’s just February. But I digress.
Getting back to this EV thing, all I can say to our committed enthusiast readers out there who are not accepting of the idea that EVs will be the future of this industry is put your doubts aside and go drive one, and from any manufacturer you choose. I would recommend that you forget about the $100,000+ “show pony” EVs and drive the lowest price point EV you can get your hands on.
You all implicitly understand the “whys” and “wherefores” of these machines’ existence by now, so, concentrate on the “fun to-dive” factor instead. That should go a long way toward alleviating any doubt you may have.
And that’s the High-Electron Truth for this week.
FEAR AND LOATHING AT THE SUPER BOWL. AND A FEW WTFS THROWN IN FOR GOOD MEASURE.
8 Feb 2021 at 12:25pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Yes, another Super Bowl marketing extravaganza is in the books. And per usual, the spots ran the gamut from tearjerkers to awkward product reaches, and from welcomed, laugh-out-loud creativity to a sober, political plea for unity.
Longtime readers of this website know about my background in advertising. It began as a noble pursuit for me, an exhilarating, high-wire act fueled by a passion for creativity in an arena revolving around the idea of flat-out going for it. All the time. At least that was the case at the beginning of my career. There was a camaraderie in being on the lowest rung of the totem pole in the creative department at a big-time ad agency. You worked relentlessly hoping for a morsel of positive reinforcement from the creative elders, and if all else failed, the parties were wild and memorable.
But nothing lasts forever, and the ad biz devolved into a cacophony of sycophants, spineless weasels and mediocrity peddlers, and that was just on the agency side of things. The client side was exponentially worse. And by a lot.
Which is why I started this website almost 22 years ago, because I had a lot to say about the Ad Biz and the Auto Biz, and still do.
But I can’t deny it; I still love parts of the business, because when it’s “on” there’s nothing better or more satisfying. Sure, a lot of it was like waiting around the firehouse “on call” in-between fires; then, when a life-or-death assignment came up, you’d work for 20 days straight and think nothing of it. In fact, that was the most intoxicating part of the business.
I’m offering this perspective for a reason, because I have the utmost respect for the creative teams, account teams and production houses responsible for the work I am going to discuss today. The Ad Biz is a singular pursuit that requires passion, diligence and an overwhelming desire to do great work. With this in mind then, let’s begin…
First off, I will mention a few non-auto commercials. I really liked the Cheetos spot with Mila Kunis and Ashton Kucher, and the “Drake from State Farm” spots. And I should mention that I can’t for the life of me figure out why the USA Today Ad Meter rated the Rocket Mortgage spots No. 1 and No. 2. I mean, really? As in, WTF? Mediocrity is bliss, apparently. Not Good.
Now for the car spots. The Toyota ad about U.S. Paralympic Champion Jessica Long, the second most decorated Paralympian in history, called “Upstream” ripped your heart out and stomped on it emphatically at the end. As Toyota PR minions presented it: “The 60-second spot features Long swimming through milestone scenes over the course of her life, starting with a depiction of the Russian orphanage from which she was adopted. The camera then cuts to her parents (played by actors) receiving the emotional call that they would be adopting a baby girl, but with the news that her legs would need to be amputated due to a rare condition. The scenes following show a young swimmer depicting Jessica, hands on hips ready to compete, knowing she’s different from other children, yet remaining resilient. The spot continues with Jessica competing in her quest to greatness, overcoming all obstacles as she becomes a Paralympic legend.”
“Perseverance, grit and overcoming the odds contributed to my success and my hope is that people feel inspired and uplifted by this emotional spot,” Jessica Long commented. Mission accomplished.
Next up? GM delivered a spot starring Will Ferrell (with Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina). The premise of “No Way, Norway” hinges on the fact that Norway has more EVs in its fleet (over 50%) than the U.S. – by a long shot – and Ferrell decides to do something about it. The spot is hilarious, and it features the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq (with a cameo by the Hummer EV super truck at the end). The spot helps project the fact that GM plans on bringing 30 EVs to market globally by 2025, and that its new Ultium battery platform will be one of the most advanced in the world. That the spot is completely unexpected from GM makes it resonate even more, and it is calculated to change the perception of the company going forward as it begins the corporate transition to EVs. It works extremely well, and it signifies that the “new” GM has a pulse and is willing to have fun while reinventing itself, which is a clear departure from its past.
The other spot from GM was “Edgar Scissorhands,” a story continuation of Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands” (from 1990), which again uses the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq EV, only this time to demonstrate its Super Cruise hands-free driver assistance feature. The spot stars Timothée Chalamet, as Edward Scissorhands’ son, Edgar, and Winona Ryder, reprising her role as Kim, who is also Edgar’s mother. In the spot, Edgar, who has inherited his father’s shears for hands, finds many of life’s tasks difficult. To make them a little easier, Kim presents him with a new Cadillac Lyriq with Super Cruise, which allows him to confidently let go of the wheel – and not trash the interior – when the system is engaged.
Though not nearly as successful as the Will Ferrell spot, “Edgar Scissorhands” has its place. Critics jumped all over it with their talking points revolving around the fact of “why use nostalgia to sell an advanced new EV with an advanced new feature” or something like that. I can see that perspective, at least somewhat, but until Cadillac makes serious inroads with attracting younger buyers – which it is beginning to do – a large portion of its buyers – of a certain age – will enjoy this spot because they loved the original film. So, it works.
And for what it’s worth, Tim Burton, who approved the ad concept, weighed in: “It’s rare when a work you’re proud of continues to live on and evolve with the times, even after 30 years. I’m glad to see Edgar coping with the new world! I hope both fans and those being introduced to Edward Scissorhands for the first time enjoy it.” So, there’s that.
The final spot I am going to talk about today is the latest epic from FCA’s (I mean Stellantis) Olivier Francois for Jeep, called “The Middle," featuring Bruce Springsteen. Make no mistake about it, this “spot” isn’t an ad at all. Rather, it’s a two-minute political film ostensibly about bringing the country together. Francoise courted Springsteen’s manager, Jon Landau, on-and-off for ten years trying to get Bruce to agree to be in a commercial, but the answer was always a hard “no.” But when Francois shared an idea by the Doner ad agency, the answer this time was “yes.”
It is a beautifully shot (by Thom Zimny) and brilliantly written (by Michael Stelmaszek, with extensive editing by Bruce himself) mini-film, featuring Bruce’s voice over and with music produced by Ron Aniello. Shot in and around the geographical center of the Continental United States in Kansas, and in other locations – using Springsteen’s personal Jeep to great effect – the mini-film plaintively exhorts America to come together, for the good of the country.
But again, it isn’t a commercial; it is almost a continuation and very much in keeping with some of Bruce’s appearances in political spots for the Democratic party last fall. Landau, when asked by Chris Jordan, of the Asbury Park Press, why Bruce decided – for the first time ever – to do the spot, said:
“It was the right idea at the right time. It also helped that once we agreed to do it, Jeep let us work the way we always do. They hired our favorite director, Thom Zimny, our favorite cinematographer, Joe DeSalvo, and our favorite music collaborator, Ron Aniello. There was no difference between how “The Middle” was made and how he made “Western Stars” and (“Bruce Springsteen's Letter to You”). Bruce was intimately involved with every detail and personally approved every single shot.”
So, there you have it. Francois finally got Bruce Springsteen to appear in a commercial that wasn’t a commercial at all, and a Jeep was in it to make sure we knew it was supposed to be about Jeep (it wasn’t). But it was a grandiose undertaking that resonated with some and probably alienated the far right (which was a very good thing now that I think about it). But there was one glaring problem at the end of the spot. The map of the United Stated omitted the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; it was nowhere to be seen. And this from a Detroit-based ad agency? WTF, ladies and gentlemen.
And that’s the High-Electron Truth for this week.
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