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The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

BEATING A DEAD (FLYING) HORSE.
by Editor
20 Feb 2018 at 10:35am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away I actually had high hopes for the Genesis luxury brand from Hyundai, because the stars seemed to be lining up in its favor. The fledgling luxury brand had the deep resources of Hyundai behind it, and, to the company’s credit, it had gone out of its way to hire some of the best and brightest automotive talent available in the business. This seemed to demonstrate that Hyundai finally had the desire to play the luxury game properly, understanding that it would not only take considerable amounts of cash to fund the effort, but that it would require a fundamental fortitude in order to compete at the highest level over the long haul, which it had not yet demonstrated up until this point. 

So this, by Hyundai’s account anyway, was truly a brand-new day, and Genesis would become a force to be reckoned with in the luxury business in no time. And if you had seen any of the PGA’s Genesis Open from the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles over the weekend, you might have gotten the impression that Genesis is a real live luxury brand, with endless – and tediously repetitive – TV commercials to prove it, demonstrating its mettle, stating its purpose and offering its qualifications as a genuine automotive luxury brand to ConsumerVille.

But the requisite product look and features brought to life by slick TV commercials aren’t what they seem in this case, and if you dig a little deeper you will come to understand that Genesis is a brand in chaos, with a retail component that is in complete disarray. I’m not going to regurgitate all of the gory details here, but suffice to say Hyundai officials at first decided that Genesis would be sold at top-performing dealerships instead of going the all-new brick-and-mortar route, like Lexus did when it started here. But there were complications, starting with the fact that Hyundai already had a Genesis model in place at its dealerships. In typical fashion, Hyundai operatives decided to flip a switch and introduce the new Genesis division while its dealers still had the “old” Genesis model on their lots. (And let’s not forget that their previous top luxury model, the Equus, was still hanging around, which only added to the confusion.)

So, let’s review, shall we? The model previously known as Genesis became the new Genesis G80, while the top-line Equus would now become the Genesis G90. Capisce? If you think that sounds kind of confusing, you’re absolutely right, and Genesis sales – and the Hyundai dealers selling the new brand – suffered. The launch of the new Genesis brand was an unmitigated disaster, with piddling sales and only sporadic interest from consumers. 

What was the problem? Were the cars worthy? Yes, given the parameters needed to play the luxury game the cars came heavily equipped in standard form, were well executed, and cost thousands less than comparable entries from BMW, Mercedes and Lexus, especially the top-line G90. But it wasn’t enough. Why? Hyundai operatives have a long, dismal history of deciding how things will go for them in whichever segments they choose to play in and believing that they will automatically succeed, because a.) They want it to be that way and besides, b.) How could it possibly be anything otherwise? It’s that ugly “we’ll just flip a switch” mentality that rears its head every time with anything having to do with Hyundai. There’s this steadfast belief among Hyundai operatives that suggests that they’re the smartest guys in the room, and that they will not fail. And when they do, the executives in place – usually Americans – are jettisoned for not delivering unrealistic goals and assorted pipe dreams.

So back to the current chaos being unleashed behind the scenes with Genesis. Now, Hyundai operatives have decided that they do want separate Genesis showrooms, so they’re going around the country taking the Genesis franchise back from dealers in order to have a much smaller, more exclusive and more luxurious footprint for Genesis. That’s all well and good, but the proven reality for any launch of a brand – luxury or otherwise – is that you have a window of twelve to eighteen months to get it right. That means you have to decide on the image that you want to convey and then you have to demonstrate a focused consistency throughout the launch, making sure every last detail is accounted for. And since Hyundai has been stumbling around for going on three years poisoning the launch of the Genesis brand with its fits and starts and focused inconsistency, it has most decidedly blown its window of opportunity.

When I perused the Genesis website the company takes great pains to put their “Vision and Mission” for the brand in prominent position. It states the following:

We strive to create the finest automobiles and related products/services for connoisseurs around the globe. Our team of talented individuals around the world is led by our company’s values, where respect for one another in the quest of finding the best solutions for refined individuality dominates our work ethos.

Yes, of course, you could plaster those words on any luxury automaker’s website, but in this specific case they ring hollow. Connoisseurs around the globe? Please. And spare us the regurgitation of company values, because clearly the Hyundai work ethos counts for absolutely nothing at this point.

Hubris, arrogance and serial incompetence have defined the Hyundai modus operandi for so long that I’ve lost track. They operate in this vacuous netherworld of two steps forward and five back, and yet they insist on singing the “we got it goin’ on” song to themselves in a aria that is relentlessly off-key and stale. That Hyundai operatives have blown the launch and now re-launch of the Genesis brand was surprising only in its scope and its rapid descent into mediocrity.

I am reminded of those ominous words of narration by Joe Pesci’s character – Nicky Santoro – in “Casino.” I’m paraphrasing him here, but I can imagine Hyundai operatives sitting around a conference room table right now saying, reluctantly: “We fucked it all up.”

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


BRAND SPANKING.
by Editor
13 Feb 2018 at 1:49pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. Navigating the shoals in the automotive marketing game is a full-time and often thankless task. Beyond the enormous complexity involved with the fundamentals of launching an automotive brand, nurturing a brand over time is extremely difficult, as several factors often conspire to blow up even the most solid marketing plans.

Those factors include roller-coaster market conditions, the economy, a particular product cadence (or lack thereof), the efficacy of the product itself, and my perennial favorite: serial incompetence. Any one of those factors can derail even the most competitive products in the market, but if all of those factors somehow come together at once, it can prove to be disastrous.

There are a few brands right now that are wrestling with their very reason for being. Some have been floundering for a long time and are looking for a serious boost, some have achieved hollow success through questionable means, and some are just flat-out clueless and searching for brand relief any way they can get it. 

Let’s start with Nissan. The Japanese brand that roared into the U.S. market as Datsun and achieved notable success with some feisty products and one of the all-time great advertising themes – “We Are Driven” – (they never should have changed the name to Nissan, by the way, but that’s another column) lost its way in a big way when Carlos Ghosn put his spurs into the brand. 

One of the most overrated executives in the auto business, Ghosn pushed U.S. Nissan dealers into a churn-and-burn frenzy in order to achieve absurd sales targets and market share, and consequently the Nissan brand was degraded to the point that Nissan dealers became the Beacon of Hope for subsidized payment shoppers, aka “How much is that Altima a month?”

Just this week, in an interview that appeared in Automotive News, Nissan Motor Co. CEO Hiroto Saikawa lamented the fact that Nissan’s “M.O.” of massive incentives and fleet sales in order to meet Ghosn’s overly optimistic sales and market share targets had taken its toll on the Nissan brand, resulting in diminished brand value and reduced profitability.  

Gee, who would have thunk it? That’s only the biggest “Duh” of this or any other year. Nissan has been going down this road for years, thanks to Ghosn, and now the new guy tasked with revitalizing the brand has his work cut out for him.

Saikawa told Automotive News that he is giving Denis Le Vot, the Frenchman from Renault who took over as chairman of North America just one month ago a couple of months to come up with a plan so that Nissan can begin implementing short-term and midterm fixes in the fiscal year starting April 1.

"We have to first improve the brand value and profitability," Saikawa told Automotive News last week after Nissan reported that operating profit plunged 50 percent in the last three months of 2017. "Hopefully, we will be able to reach a very solid point in two years. This is the first mission for the new chairman."

Except what does Nissan stand for, exactly? Technology? No, the democratization of technology has absolutely swallowed this business whole, and Nissan’s ability to differentiate itself in that area is simply a fool’s errand. How about engineering expertise? Again, no, and that’s thanks to Carlos Ghosn’s relentless commoditization of the brand. No, what Nissan stands for now is ridiculously cheap payments – especially on the Rogue and Altima – and that’s pretty much it. Ghosn’s “churn-and-burn” strategy has been a complete disaster for Nissan in this market.

It sounds like Mr. Saikawa actually believes that there is a giant switch that can be flipped in order to jack up brand value and profitability by reducing incentives and fleet sales. And that it can all happen in two years. But I have news for the brain trust at Nissan headquarters: the negativity associated with Nissan’s obsession for pushing massive incentives wasn’t something that happened overnight. It has been going on for years and it has absolutely killed the brand’s value. In fact, I would venture to say that Nissan’s brand value is simply nonexistent at this point. 

What’s the short-term solution for Nissan? There isn’t one. It’s a long-term strategy that must revolve around building and selling outstanding products, and then increased brand value (and the much-desired resale value to go along with it) should be the ultimate result. But it’s clear to me that Nissan executives are delusional about the time it will take to move the needle, and that’s a giant bowl of Not Good.

Then there’s Kia. It’s no secret that the brand has been floundering. It has too many models that are basically indistinguishable from equivalent Hyundai models, and its brand image is somewhere between “How much is that a month” and “It’s a good buy for what you get.” Not exactly enough to hang your hat on in today’s cutthroat marketing world. 

But now Kia is out to change all of that. And to do that they’ve put all of their marketing eggs – and borrowed a bunch more to boot – toward the launch of its new Stinger sports sedan. Now, it’s not a shock to see the fanboys in the automotive media positively gush over the Stinger, because the overriding tendency for them is that anything new is better, and the latest is always greatest. So the Stinger is the here and now, at least for now.

Does the Stinger seem noteworthy? In some respects, yes, its suite of performance ingredients qualify and its specs seem substantive, although its exterior design is painfully derivative and nothing to write home about. Kia management operatives, however, believe that the Stinger has the elusive magic beans and will usher the brand into The Light of All That Is Wonderful and Good when it comes to automotive marketing, and that it’s the company’s ticket to a completely new elevated stratum for the brand. 

Really? That’s a lot, even if the Stinger were a testament to glorious autodom, which it decidedly isn’t.

A decent effort, yes, but the cold, ugly reality for the Stinger is that it exists in its own hermetically sealed vacuum within Kia, and because of that it can’t possibly carry the water for the brand. Can we expect that from this day forward all new Kia models will have a little bit of Stinger in them like a true “halo” marketing plan is supposed to work? Uh, how about no? Because in order to do that Kia operatives would have to completely alter the course of the brand going forward, ripping up existing product plans as they go. And I don’t see that happening, because until further notice the Stinger is a one-off in the Kia brand portfolio, an island unto itself, and it’s going to stay that way no matter how much Kia operatives believe that they have stumbled across the Holy Grail.

There’s that “flipping the switch” thing again. Marketers in this business have an inherent belief that they can change course with impunity and that things will work out in their favor. I appreciate the optimism but it’s remarkably naïve. If Kia really wanted to change course, it would embark on a ten-year plan to transform the brand, but that’s a laughable notion, especially given the utter lack of patience Kia executives have demonstrated in the past.

And then, there’s Subaru. This month, the Japanese brand is celebrating 50 years of selling vehicles in the U.S. To say that the brand’s success has been meteoric really isn’t accurate. Its growth has been slow but steady, and it has nurtured its brand and its customers along the way with impressive products and an unfailing consistency in messaging. And the dividends are piling up, with Subaru accruing a mountain of good will and increased sales that aren’t in danger of cooling off anytime soon. 

Perhaps the other two aforementioned auto brands should pay attention to what Subaru is doing, because it’s simply how it’s done when it comes to automotive marketing. 

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


FCA?s EMBARRASSING DISPLAY ON THE SUPER BOWL.
by Editor
5 Feb 2018 at 8:55am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As longtime readers of this website know, I have the utmost respect for those toiling in the advertising business. Having worked in the business myself for more than 22 years, it is one of the toughest and at times one of the most enjoyable pursuits a person can engage in. Not that the ad biz is a touchy-feely stroll through Lollipop Land, by any means. The ugly reality is that it is also a constant battle fraught with clashing egos, blatant ineptitude and pitiful political theater that plays out in excruciating fits and starts. And this is only magnified in automotive advertising, where serial incompetence - usually on the client side - plays a prominent role.

After saying that, I reserve particular ire for those in the advertising pursuit who squander opportunities by letting unbridled hubris get in the way of creating advertising worthy of its biggest stage. What FCA unleashed on the Super Bowl in four out of five spots (more on the one that mattered later) was simply unmitigated crap brought to you by the self-appointed smartest guy in the room, none other than Olivier “I’m a genius, just ask me” Francois, Sergio Marchionne’s handpicked Guy Friday of Marketing. 

Now to be fair, Francois has been responsible for some terrific spots over his tenure, my favorite being “Farmer” from a couple of years ago, which used the stirring words and voice-over of the late Paul Harvey to great effect in a Ram truck spot. “Farmer” was an example of what great advertising in its most glorious form can be: Powerful, stirring and memorable. But what Francois unleashed on this year’s Super Bowl wasn’t even close to that, in fact, Francois demonstrated unequivocally that his time in the marketing arena has come to a much-needed close, as FCA proceeded to stink up the joint with spots that either were grossly ineffective, pegged my personal advertising Wince Meter, or both.

Starting with a spot for Ram trucks called “Built to Serve," which used words from Martin Luther King Jr., Francois went to the well one more time in search of this year’s “Farmer.” Except it backfired, horribly. Why? FCA’s agency cherry-picked Dr. King’s own words from a sermon that he delivered 50 years ago at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was, remarkably enough, a diatribe against rampant consumerism, particularly mentioning overspending on cars. He even went so far as to chastise those who “are so often taken by advertisers.” Uh, WTF? Francois offered up a lame excuse that he had the complete approval from the Martin Luther King Jr. estate, but that is no excuse. The outcry and outrage on social media was deservedly swift and unrelenting. This was a complete disaster of a spot, one that upon closer inspection was shockingly cynical and blatantly offensive.

Then there was “The Road” for the Jeep Cherokee, which FCA said in a release. “… quietly draws an interesting parallel between roads and the idea of operating within someone else’s expectations.” Except that the highfalutin words in the release attempted to make more of the spot than was actually there. In fact, there was no “there” there.

Another spot, “Jeep Jurassic” actually used borrowed interest - and Jeff Goldblum - from Jurassic World to sell Wrangler, and it was instantly forgettable. By the time I saw this spot, a slow smoldering rage was beginning to build, because FCA had simply blown untold millions on a disastrous marketing effort on the Super Bowl, and it was embarrassing.

But nothing prepared me for the out-and-out disaster that was “Icelandic Vikings” for the new Ram truck which, more than any other spot, spoke to Olivier Francois’s unbridled hubris and woefully flawed thinking. The release from FCA was telling, in that it said the 60-second spot was filmed in Iceland “to ensure authenticity, given the country’s natural and heroic scenery, which was complimented by its low light and frigid look.” Really? What they should have said is that “the agency came up with an idea that would burn an atrocious amount of cash and give everyone a free trip to Iceland” because that would have been closer to the truth. Tell me what the net takeaway of this spot was supposed to be again? Anyone? Bueller? It wasn’t clever in the least and it wasn’t heroic by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, it was an overblown, overhyped, self-indulgent mess; and an egregious waste of time and money and a pathetic misuse of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” to boot. This is exactly the type of spot that gives the advertising profession a bad name. Nicely done, you unmitigated hacks.

And finally, there was one spot – out of five – from FCA that was actually worth seeing. The “Anti-Manifesto” spot for the new Wrangler was brilliant in its 30 seconds of simplicity, actually demonstrating the romance of capability in an immediate, powerful way. 

Directed by Jeff Zwart (RadicalMedia) for Arnold Worldwide, the voice-over was spare and to the point: “How many car ads have you seen with grandiose speeches over the years … making claims to some overarching human truth? Companies call them ‘manifestos’. There’s your manifesto.”

It’s funny, but those words slam Olivier Francois right between the eyes. Spots with grandiose speeches making claims to some overarching truths? Those are exactly the kinds of spots that light Olivier Francois’s fire and speak to his massive ego, only this time the joke is on him. Nicely done, in this case. 

There were other auto spots on the Super Bowl, but they were all instantly forgettable, a mishmash of messages and non-messages that signified nothing. (The Kia spot with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler for the Stinger was a complete waste of time and money, with a USA Today cover wrap, too, in case you missed it. That Kia marketing operatives continue to think they’re going to move the needle with that car is astounding and remains one of the current mysteries of the marketing world.)

Ah well, there is no accounting for taste in the ad biz. When marketing and agency types get it right, it’s pretty damn great; but when it all goes horribly wrong, it’s excruciating and embarrassing. 

Olivier Francois’s considerable ego got in the way this time around. In fact, it blinded him to the point that after spending massive amounts of money on five spots for the Super Bowl, only one was worth the time of day. 

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


SELLING AIR TAKES ON A NEW URGENCY IN THE MOTOR CITY, PLUS FIVE (EXASPERATING...
by Editor
29 Jan 2018 at 3:44pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Now that the auto show hoopla and manufactured hype from the associated events has cooled, it’s clear to me that the ugly reality of this business has set in – yet again – and it is cold and unforgiving.

The reality for the collective “Detroit” is that it finds itself right back where it was before the temporary euphoria of the auto show clouded otherwise semi-rational auto executives’ thoughts. Yes, for a moment everything was beautiful, but add up the sum total of the content in the speeches and bloviating that went on in Detroit over the last two weeks, and it amounts to pretty much nothing. 

The evidence of the nothingness that went on in the Motor City was rampant. Here is a sampling of those (paraphrased) thoughts. Fill in your favorite car company as you see fit: 

“We feel that we are clearly positioned to take advantage of the transportation future, no matter what direction it takes.” 

“We are making massive investments in electrification and autonomy, which will hammer our balance sheet in the short term, but we should be good about three to five years from now.” 

“We are buying companies left and right in order to accumulate intellectual property, which will protect us in the connected future.”

“We are preparing for the day when the automobile will supplant the smartphone as the life platform of the future, and we aim to play a pivotal role in this development.”

A lot of the blue-sky pronouncements made in Detroit over the previous two weeks went beyond the usual blather, because the level of delusional thinking being projected was downright scary. The Pope of Silicon Valley – Elon Musk – can get away with it because, well, Wall Street is enamored with anyone who bends reality for their own financial gain; it’s the gift that just keeps on giving. But auto executives spewing their views on the autonomous future and their companies’ role in it? Uh, not so much. Why? Because it comes off as an egregious form of audio-visual desperation, like freshly energized-for-no-reason nerds trying to be like the cool kids in high school. Projecting manufacturing-centric automobile companies as the solution for our transportation future is extremely difficult image-wise, especially when Silicon Valley theorists and people who specialize in “selling air” for a living are writing the “rules.” (More on this later.)

With that in mind then, here are Five High-Octane Truths about the car business right now that jumped out at me over the last couple of weeks:

1. Data is not the new oil. The car companies in a headlong rush to accumulate data on consumers are kidding themselves and it’s a fool’s errand. This goes back to the idea that some well-meaning executives actually believe down to their monogrammed shirts that the connected automobile will supplant the cell phone as the personal communication device of the future. They envision an idealistic, Shiny Happy Future where our automobiles remember our favorite restaurants, our favorite place for a cup of coffee, our favorite dry cleaners, the best place for organic snacks and so on, and that somehow this knowledge will drive owner loyalty and revenue back to the automakers that will translate into untold billions in profit. But the idea that we will all just lap this up like there’s no tomorrow is ridiculous. The automobile will never replace the cell phone on the human connectivity scale, because that ship has sailed. The auto manufacturers creating huge data farms in order to glean countless bits of information about consumers that in their minds will change the world are in for a rude awakening. This is unmitigated horseshit on a grand scale, folks, and the car companies who are immersing themselves in this pursuit are in for a rude awakening.

2. The UAW is toast. The ugliness of the pay-to-play scandal that has grabbed this business by the scruff of the neck is not going away anytime soon. In fact, it is growing, with more indictments expected. The news that FCA officials paid more than $1.5 million to UAW officials and employees to sway union contract negotiations is part of a wider $4.5 million corruption scandal involving the foreign-owned automaker. The Feds said last week that the FCA executives’ actions were intended to corrupt UAW contract negotiations to favor Fiat Chrysler and that the corruption was more widespread than previously disclosed. In fact it lasted for years. Perhaps this type of payola may be standard operating procedure in Corporate Italia, but it doesn’t fly here, and with the UAW on very thin ice as it is, the outcry from the rank and file is growing louder by the day. Wouldn’t be ironic if on Sergio’s way out of town his henchmen were responsible for destroying the UAW too?

3. Are these guys really that stupid? Why yes, yes they are. The news, reported by the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper and Bloomberg, that the Volkswagen Group, Daimler and BMW sponsored tests that exposed 25 people as well as monkeys to diesel exhaust fumes – which can cause respiratory illness and cancer – at a clinic used by the University of Aachen, rocked the auto world on Monday. The report, citing annual reports from the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector, or EUGT, which closed last year, followed a report from the The New York Times that confirmed the tests using monkeys. Daimler immediately condemned the experiments “in the strongest terms” but, really? As in WTF? Were theses companies that driven to save the Diesel that they would acquiesce to such nonsense, or were they just following orders?

4. The Answer to the Question that Only a Few People Are Asking. The mid-size truck segment is as flat as a pancake, yet Ford and Jeep are jumping in (albeit in over a year) to go up against the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline and the Nissan Frontier. What gives, exactly? Is the demand there? Not really, but the automakers playing in that segment are afraid of being left behind. Of what, I’m not really sure. If a car company really wanted to make a splash in this segment it would come in with a product entry that was bare bones and priced aggressively, costing thousands less. That’s not happening and it’s the wrong move.

5. Buick’s station wagon to nowhere. Buick operatives are positively giddy about its new Regal TourX, its “don’t-call-it-a-station-wagon-call-it-a-crossover” entry into the market, insisting that they will attract buyers from Audi, Subaru and Volvo, except that I can assure you that buyers/drivers of those cars are about as likely to visit a Buick showroom as the Lions are of winning the Super Bowl next year, no matter what Buick marketing operatives have talked themselves into believing. On the one hand I can actually appreciate the kind of unbridled optimism displayed in small doses here, but on the other hand I recoil at the sheer, flat-out lunacy and delusional thinking. In fact it’s frightening when you spend too much time thinking about it. 

Aw well… getting back to this aforementioned “selling air” business. It’s not that auto executives aren’t proficient in “selling air,” some are quite adept at it as a matter of fact, but still, suggesting that the automobile manufacturers can pivot with a dramatic certainty and become technology companies overnight is simply not going to happen and is a totally unrealistic notion. 

And frankly, they don’t have to either. Instead of trying to become something they’re not and will never be, the auto companies need to maximize their expertise in manufacturing and mass production and be an essential part of the solution for our transportation future without being marginalized into irrelevance by it.

But this is anathema to the current "Detroit” mindset. How dare I have the temerity to suggest that the collective “Detroit” doesn’t have the talent or the wherewithal to compete in this arena, right? Let’s back that up a bit because this is not what I’m saying. There’s no question that the talent in this region is prodigious (as the denizens of Silicon valley have become well aware of). What I am saying is that yes, of course, “Detroit” could become experts in this arena well down the road, but at what ultimate cost? Does that mean “Detroit” should subjugate its knowledge accrued over a century to all of a sudden become what they really don’t have to be, or should be?

The short answer? No. We are going to be living with cars and trucks powered by ICEs (Internal Combustion Engines); Hybrid electric vehicles with ICEs; and Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) for decades to come. Let me say that again, for decades to come. Yes, autonomous and ultra-connected vehicles will play a role in the overall transportation equation going forward, but it will not be the dominant role. Instead, their impact will be confined to urban centers, delivery vehicles, and other select situations where favorably applicable. 

Does this suggest that the car companies throwing around money like drunks at a bottler’s convention in the hopes of catching up to Silicon Valley is a smart strategy? Are car companies that ignore their areas of expertise in the hopes of being part of a transformative transportation initiative guaranteed untold riches and success? Clearly they are not.

The automobile companies who keep things in perspective going forward will be the ones that survive, plain and simple. The auto companies that get caught up in the frenzy will be crippled if not eliminated all together.

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


THE DETROIT AUTO SHOW IS DEAD. NOW WHAT?
by Editor
22 Jan 2018 at 2:07pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Yes, I can hear well-intentioned people all across this city choking on their cornflakes right about now. How could I? How could I knock the one event that – allegedly – defines this city? How could I have the temerity to suggest that the one big event in this town every year has somehow lost its focus and lost its way and no longer serves its purpose?

It’s easy, actually, because the Detroit Auto Show has been on a downward spiral for years now, and to pretend otherwise is exactly the particularly pungent form of head-in-sand thinking that has brought us to this point. And this goes far beyond renaming the show, although the hoary “North American International Auto Show” moniker has been a joke for at least five years, if not more. No, this goes to the very core of what’s wrong with what once was a must-see auto show. 

Way back when, the Detroit Auto Show started out as a strictly regional show created by the local dealer associations to generate buyer interest in January and February, the two worst sales months of the year. And it plodded along just fine in that role. The pivot came about when industry leaders grew tired of seeing the big shows – Frankfurt, Paris, Geneva – garner all of the headlines and all of the attention. This was the Motor City, damn it, and we deserved to have an elevated stature for our auto show befitting the Motor Capital of the World, or so the thinking went at the time. Thus the new name with heavy emphasis on the word “international” made its debut in 1989 and it was good, at least for a while, anyway.

In fact, it was as if the NAIAS moniker was enough for everybody involved, that now that the once local car show had gone international, it had earned its rightful place on the annual auto show calendar, and it would just rumble along unencumbered and unthreatened by challenges and challengers, no matter where they came from. But this business – big surprise – is constantly changing and boiling, which is why I have semi-affectionately named it the “swirling maelstrom.” And the Detroit Auto Show clearly hasn’t changed with it.

The first discordant notes came with the timing of the Los Angeles Auto Show, and for years balancing the L.A. and Detroit shows, which bumped against each other on the calendar, was a real problem. But then the L.A. show was moved to November so that crisis was averted, at least temporarily. Then new headwinds laid waste to the Detroit show. First of all, the emergence of the Consumer Electronics Show as a place where automobile companies wanted to see and be seen caught everyone associated with the Detroit show completely off guard. Yes, it corresponded with the digitizing of the known world and the automobile’s important role in all of that but all of a sudden the CES, which came just a week before the Detroit Auto Show, was completely stealing the Detroit show’s thunder.

But there was another emerging factor that proved to be equally as damaging to the Detroit Auto Show, if not more so, and that is the fact that automobile companies began skipping the Detroit show altogether. The reasons given were costs – putting on a major auto show display is extravagantly expensive – and marketing, as in what were the most important markets for certain manufacturers, and did the Detroit Auto Show really work with what they were trying to do? And clearly the answer to those questions didn’t work in the Detroit show’s favor. 

As an example of this let’s take Porsche, for instance. Porsche’s largest sales market globally is the state of California, no other market is even close in fact (although China is gaining steam). The other important market for Porsche is the northeast, especially in terms of the media attention generated at the New York International Auto Show. So Porsche made a business decision based on the most important sales markets here in the U.S., and Detroit (and Michigan) just didn’t make the cut. 

The Detroit show organizers downplayed the decision by Porsche (and the decisions by other auto manufacturers that decided to skip the show) and went along, business as usual, but the result is that for the last several years the show floor at Cobo Hall has been punctuated by black holes, spaces that were left empty by no-show auto manufacturers. Now, there has been attempt by show organizers to fill those spaces with supplier displays, but the bold-faced effect is that the Detroit Auto Show now looks and acts like a second-tier show.

And make no mistake, it is.

Yes, the show organizers have made an attempt at counteracting the CES by beating the drums for its “AUTOMOBILI-D” but who’s kidding whom here? Even though this region is one of the technical hotbeds of the world, the notion that the show organizers can flip a switch and make the Detroit Auto Show a player in the mobility discussion overnight is naïve and grossly optimistic. And competing with CES? It’s just not going to happen.

So, with that background, what can be done? Here are a few comments and recommendations:

1. First order of business is to change the official name of the show to the Detroit Auto Show. This should have happened five years ago but it needs to happen now. 

2. Next, the Detroit Auto Show needs to move from its traditional January date to June, immediately following the IndyCar weekend at Belle Isle. I am tired of hearing the media attendees at the press days complain about the weather. But I’m not tired of what they’re saying – because it’s dead accurate – I’m tired of hearing about it because it can be easily addressed with some calculated planning. And all of the naysayers who insist that it can’t be done are exactly the reason that the Detroit Auto Show is stuck in neutral. Everything associated with the Detroit show right now – the media attention, the charity preview, the positive affects on the economy – can take place in June when visitors will not only take away a much better impression of this city, they can see this city in a completely new light.

3. If Detroit Auto Show organizers don’t take the first two steps, there is no hope whatsoever of this show ascending to the top tier of auto shows again. Right now the top tier consists of Frankfurt/Paris (conducted on alternate years, still the most important two shows on the calendar), Los Angeles (because of the importance of the vast California market), Geneva (small, but high-quality reveals and intros) and New York (in the media center of the U.S.). CES isn’t an auto show but it has decimated the Detroit show because of its position on the calendar. Chicago is a retail show, a place where consumers actually look over the vehicles they’re thinking of buying. So, where does that leave Detroit? How about floundering and gasping for air? Detroit isn’t important enough to be considered an “international” show anymore; in fact it has taken a giant step backwards to being a regional show for U.S.-based automakers again. No one wants to hear this, but it’s the reality that has unfolded over the last half-dozen years and to pretend otherwise is to function with a level of delusion that is simply not healthy for anyone.

4. And then there’s the notion that auto shows in general have outlived their usefulness. This isn’t an illusion. It’s not just Detroit that has lost its luster and lost manufacturers, other major shows have experienced some of this too. Global manufacturers have grown tired of the costs associated with mounting a proper effort because those costs have multiplied exponentially over the last decade, and they’re realizing that there are more creative ways of getting their message out to consumers. (I still believe in auto shows as a place where people can actually see, feel and touch the vehicles in question, and you only have to spend a few hours at the public days of a show to be reminded of this. And I hope that never goes away.)

The 2018 version of the Detroit Auto Show was a lackluster exercise almost completely devoid of excitement. A lot of people attributed that to the fact that there were not enough concept cars from the manufacturers and that made for a dull show. There is some truth to that. People go to movies for the escapism and entertainment. Similarly, when people go to auto shows – even those people connected to the various car companies and suppliers here who are beyond jaded – they like to kick the tires of the vehicles they could buy or dream to buy of course, but they also like to see creativity and blue-sky stuff. That was decidedly lacking in Detroit and it hurt the show tremendously.

I realize this will be a highly unpopular column around these parts (gee, there’s something new –WG), because if we go by what those in the local media have reported the 2018 Detroit Auto Show was another grand slam home run and runaway success. But this kind of “homerism” by the media is just kicking the can down the road. 

I will assure you that if the Detroit show organizers continue on their merry way – which is to do more of exactly the same – the show will become exactly what it started out to be, a localized show for the people in the industry and the local dealers.

Maybe that would suit some just fine, but not me. It’s not befitting of the Motor Capital of the World and it’s not representative of the talent and creativity that lives and works here.

The Detroit Auto Show as we know it is dead, long live the new Detroit Auto Show. 

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


UNBRIDLED OPTIMISM FOR NO APPARENT REASON, ASSORTED PHANTOM THREADS AND ENOUG...
by Editor
16 Jan 2018 at 9:31pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. After being hammered with relentless frigid weather for a record twelve – count ‘em – days around these parts, the assembled multitudes comprised of the card-carrying carpal-tunnel-burdened wretches in the media (and assorted hangers-on of various stripes) descended on the Motor City for a few days of free booze, free food and some car reveals interspersed among the chaos of another Detroit Auto Show.  

With temperatures in the balmy teens and with a constant snowfall peppering the proceedings, once again the out-of-towners sentenced, err, sent, to Detroit could be heard asking themselves “why?” As in the immortal, “why me, why now?” that Nancy Kerrigan uttered when she was attacked in this very city 24 years ago. 

Ah well, enough of that. Complaining about the weather here and wishing the organizers would move the show to a more civilized time of year is a fool’s errand because it’s not going to change and it’s just not going to happen. We’re destined to endure this until the industry implodes from its own self-absorption or misguided meanderings, whichever comes first.

So let’s, shall we? 

Memo to car companies lost in the Cloud of What Could Be: You better pay attention to your core automotive business for the foreseeable future, because if you don’t, you won’t have to worry about What’s Next, because you’ll be What’s Gone. Speaking of misguided meanderings, the industry’s unwavering fascination with “What’s Next” is consuming all that is righteous and holy with this business. Normally levelheaded executives (at least as much as they can be) are so hell-bent on carving out a piece of the autonomous future for their companies that they’ve completely lost the plot. It’s fine to pontificate about the transportation landscape of the future, but the reality is much less sanguine. In fact it’s flat-out grim. With manufacturers developing well over a hundred BEVs (battery electric vehicles) for the market between now and 2022, the multi-billion-dollar question remains: Is the infrastructure going to be ready for anything close to what’s needed even under the very best scenario? How about, no? It isn’t even going to be close, in fact. So, the immediate future is gasoline-electric hybrids. That’s ICEs (Internal Combustion Engines) with electric motor support. It’s rational, it’s achievable, and it’s already here and deeply in play. As for the autonomous future, you can forget about it. We’re talking 20 years away, and even by then it will be only in severely limited use.  

A new level of stupid, brought to you by BMW. BMW opened its press conference with a video of an eight-hour drift that apparently set a new “Guinness World Record.” Yes, you read that correctly, as in, WTF? If there were any doubts out there that BMW has completely lost it, they were buried in one fell swoop. This was followed by a word from its CFO. Now, it doesn’t get any better than when a car company brings its finance guy up to bore everyone to death, I mean, really. (You’d be better off if you had your PR minions hand out forks so people could stick themselves in the eye at that point.)  And this guy didn’t disappoint. But when I heard the words “our clear strategic focus…” drone-drone-drone and “we deliver on our promises…” drone-drone-drone, it was most definitely time to leave. The media was just an afterthought at these proceedings apparently, because BMW was clearly preaching to its dealers at this press conference. And then after covering BMW’s entire product portfolio, from electric scooters and motorcycles to MINI – tah-dah! - they rolled out the relentlessly uninspired X2 to collective yawns. At that point it was please help us all and you have to be frickin’ kidding me. To top it all off, BMW had more models strewn around than I even thought possible, verifying the fact that they are trying to cover every niche out there, both real and mostly imagined. The net-net of it all was a boiling sea of confusion and a clear indication that BMW has decided that its product strategy is “let’s throw everything we got up against the wall and see what sticks.” Lovely. 

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The BMW X2.

Move it along, folks, there’s absolutely nothing to see here. Acura unveiled its new RDX prototype, and I must say, I’ve never seen more people with ADD in one place in my life, either that or the crowd was so bored with what they were seeing that they started staring at their phones and tapping away immediately. Why, you might ask? Because the lack of inspiration was palpable and the “new” about the RDX was hard to discern. Wait, were we lost and had we stumbled upon the Infiniti press conference instead? Good thing Acura had an NSX as well as one of its new Acura Prototype racers for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship there; at least people could wander off and see something worth looking at.  

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The Acura RDX Prototype. 

Yes, they look cobbled together and unfinished, what’s your point? Hyundai introduced its Veloster N and it became apparent to me that between this car and the Honda Civic Type R the Angry Ant School of Design has completely taken over the hot hatch market (the Veloster is going to make its debut in Marvel Studios “Ant-Man and The Wasp” so maybe that has something to do with it – see below). Don’t tell me about the performance of these cars because they’re so painful to look at that it’s borderline depressing. This isn’t a function-over-form thing, either. These machines look cobbled together and unfinished. And that’s being kind. There has to be a better way.

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The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N. 

(Hyundai)

We’re in search of a look. Anyone? Bueller? Nissan has been flopping and floundering about when it comes to design for so long that we gave up hope that they’d ever emerge from The Darkness a long time ago. This is the latest attempt by Nissan to come up with a new SUV design language, the Xmotion Concept. Here it is in a few words: Chunky. Aggressive. Busy. Ungainly. Needs More Work. And Trying Too Hard. (At least the interior was weirdly cool.) Combine this with the fact that the assembled Nissan production models on the show floor were so tedious and uninspired that they were instantly forgettable, and nothing has really changed when it comes to Nissan. I hesitate to say that they need to go back to the drawing board/computer screen and start over, because they always seem to peg the Wince Meter when they do. Ah well, not everyone can have it goin’ on in this business.

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The Nissan Xmotion Concept.

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It’s about trucks, it has always been about trucks, and it will always be about trucks. The new Chevrolet Silverado, the new Ram from FCA, and of course the all-conquering, King Kong Ford F-150 represent more R&D, engineering firepower, technical know-how, sheer imagination and ingenuity than any other mainstream products in this business. Oh, yeah, and more profits, too, as in lots and lots of cold hard cash. The pickup truck segment is The Straw That Stirs The Drink in this business, and the first manufacturer to forget that fact will be doomed to a life of misery. You can talk about autonomy and “future cities” all you want, but this is where the action will be in this business for a long, long time to come. As for the new trucks, it’s more of the same for Silverado, only better in every way. And the Ram is also better, but FCA designers took a more conservative turn in its front-end design, which may not please Ram loyalists. Yet, who’s kidding whom here? They’re going to crank ‘em out and sell them hand-over-fist. That’s how America rolls.

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The new Chevrolet Silverado (see more in “On The Table”). 

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The new Ram.

It may be a well too far, but it’s our well, damnit. Amidst its future cities discussion led by Professor Hackett, Ford introduced a new Bullitt to the Mustang Faithful. Appropriately tricked out in Dark Highland Green, the limited-edition Mustang Bullitt features a 5.0-liter V8 with 475HP and 420 lb.-ft. of torque and has a top speed of 163 mph. The Mustang Bullitt has subtle chrome accents and the interior highlights include a white cue ball shifter, 12-inch all-digital LCD instrument cluster and available RECARO® black leather-trimmed seats with unique green accent stitching. That’s all fine and dandy, but the real issue here is how much longer can Ford go to the Mustang Bullitt well? The demographic interested in this machine is, to be charitable, dying off, but apparently Ford thinks it’s worth doing one more Bullitt, one more time. Will there be a next one? I would be surprised, as the people interested in nostalgia rods are going to be gone with the wind. The other big news for Ford at the show was the introduction of the new Ranger mid-size pickup (see pics in “On The Table” –WG). By all accounts a fine effort, but there may be trouble on the horizon. First of all, there is no question that the Ranger will cannibalize F-150 sales; that’s just inevitable. Secondly, the growth potential of the mid-size truck market itself is questionable; in fact it will probably be miniscule. And finally, the Ranger won’t be out until one full year from now, which adds up to a mid-size pickup bed of Not Good.

(Ford)

The 2019 Mustang Bullitt.

That’s all well and good, but we’re going to need a lot of NZT to get past that front end. Lexus PR minions waxed eloquently about the new Lexus LF-1 Limitless SUV concept, saying, “Like molten metal being forged into a fine Japanese sword, the lines of the Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept have the potential to shape the future of a flagship luxury crossover for Lexus.” It does have a beautifully rendered profile and side sculpting, and the back end is very nice, especially with its avant-garde taillight design, but then it goes completely off the rails when you get around to the front end. Maybe they needed more molten hot magma from Dr. Evil, or, sticking to the movie theme, a whole bunch of NZT from Limitless. At any rate, an excellent effort from Lexus designers that almost hit it out of the park. 

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The Lexus LF-1 Limitless.

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A dumb non-name, but a stunningly beautiful design effort from Infiniti. Yes, shocking, I know, a concept from the Nissan Empire that actually bristles with taste and style. The Infiniti Q Inspiration is a gorgeous-looking machine (albeit difficult to see in the photographs) that oozes an icy cool sex appeal from almost every angle. I say almost because the front end is a little challenging, but it’s not a big enough negative to mark down a superb overall design effort from Infiniti. Kudos to all involved. 

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The Infiniti Q Inspiration.

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(Infiniti)

“What’s the Point of Having Fuck You Money if You Never Say Fuck You?” Tough, improbably desirable, undeniably cool and a little nonsensical, the redesigned Mercedes-Benz G-Class was the one production-ready vehicle at the show that people couldn’t get enough of or say enough about. I spent 30 minutes around this vehicle at one point and the appeal was universal, with the typical comment being, “I’ve always wanted one of these.” Extremely well executed – especially the interior - but pricey and out of reach for 99 percent of the consumer-buying public, the G-Class is a flat-out hit nonetheless.

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The Mercedes-Benz G-Class.

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Other quick takes? The new VW Jetta is very nice, at least for the people who actually want a car. The new VW Tiguan is worth a closer look if you’re interested in that kind of vehicle. The Corvette ZR1 looks sensational in the flesh. The Lexus LC 500 Coupe is the closest thing to having a concept car on the street and it still looks great from any angle. The Jeep Wrangler looks like a Jeep with more stuff, and the Jeep Cherokee is a decent refresh. There was more at the show (the dancers at the GAC reveal were special), but not important enough to mention here.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on my favorite carpetbagging mercenary, one Sergio “I’m the G.O.A.T” Marchionne. He had yet another storytelling time with the media at the Detroit show, whereupon he crowed in no uncertain terms that he now has no plans to sell FCA, or split up FCA for sale, or anything of the kind. 

Not so fast. 

Marchionne is all fat, sassy and happy with the profits rolling in from selling Jeeps and Ram trucks, but remember one thing about Sergio, he’s a brilliant deal maker. This “FCA is off the table” is a negotiating tactic, pure and simple. FCA doesn’t have a plan to speak of – even though Sergio is supposedly going to release one – beyond 2020. Make no mistake, if a company comes up with the money – around $20 billion or thereabouts – Sergio will turn the lights off and head to Metro Airport so fast it will make your head spin.

There was a lot of grumbling among the assembled media that the spread of off-site events on Saturday and Sunday made the actual media days on Monday and Tuesday superfluous. In fact several commented to me that if this trend continues then the media days should be cancelled altogether and the media commitment should be confined to the weekend. I can’t say that I disagree. It’s pretty much a Dead Air Circus on Tuesday, (although the new IndyCar reveal on Tuesday morning was worth it), so something has to give. As I said earlier, moving the show on the calendar seems to be so daunting that every time I bring it up people run screaming from Cobo Hall. And that’s too bad because I heard more bitching about the weather from the out-of-towners this year than any other year.

But using off-sites to conduct the media days exclusively isn’t a foolproof solution either. GM has fallen into the very bad habit of importing “brand enthusiasts” to their press conferences, which generates lots of wild applause and cheering whenever a product is revealed or something is said that portrays the product in a winning light, but it basically gets in the way of having a media event. (The Chevrolet Silverado event at Eastern Market was a perfect example of this.) In fact it blows it up entirely. I think GM should rename their press conferences “brand events” and be done with it; at least the media wouldn’t have any illusions about what they’re being invited to.  

The Detroit Auto Show, version 2018, wasn’t quite the same as it ever was, but it wasn’t exactly riveting either. I guess somewhere in between will have to do for now, at least until the powers that be get a new idea.

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


WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT AT THE DETROIT AUTO SHOW.
by Editor
8 Jan 2018 at 9:29am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As this brave New Year of 2018 begins for the auto industry, next week’s Detroit Auto Show is first on the agenda. What started as a local dealer-oriented auto show way back when to pump up sales in the doldrums of January and February, and then progressed to renaming itself the “North American International Auto Show” in a quest for global importance, the Detroit Auto Show is a fixture on the automotive calendar.

Being a fixture, however, doesn’t necessarily translate into gravitas or sustainable value to the greater industry as a whole. Detroit isn’t a “retail” show like the Chicago show, where real people look over real vehicles to buy. And it’s not a trendsetting show like the Consumer Electronics Show or even L.A., or a mainstream media-centric show like New York. Let’s face it: the Detroit Auto Show is a metal and carbon fiber-filled dog-and-pony show staged more for industry players than anything else. 

Staged in the city that is the de facto capital of southeast Michigan, a region filled with myriad car companies and countless suppliers that eat, sleep and breathe this business in a relentless 24/7 cadence, the Detroit Auto Show is the quintessential definition of a “hometown” auto show.

That many car companies are now skipping the Detroit show because its importance to their business has waned dramatically over the years is a fact that can’t be swept under the rug. And the reality suggests that despite this region’s importance to the traditional auto industry and the future of this industry, the Detroit show is hanging by a thread. Yes, it certainly could chug along in its present state for quite a while, but it could just as easily slip into becoming a Tier 2 auto show that comes in a decided fourth behind CES, L.A. and New York too. In fact, it's probably already there.

Be that as it may, I would like to give our readers a guide to what to expect at the Detroit Auto Show (the media days begin next Sunday), because other so-called auto-oriented media sources may mislead you to believing things that just aren’t true. (Shocking, I know.)

It May Be Vaporware But It’s Our Vaporware, Damn it. The Detroit Auto Show is now making hay with the whole “mobility” thing – or as they officially call it, “AUTOMOBILI-D” – which has become the new mantra for the industry, at least in certain quarters. This push is the direct result of the collective “Detroit” hell-bent on not ceding future transportation solutions to Silicon Valley, and the urgency surrounding this push has otherwise intelligent professionals scurrying about throwing ideas and concepts against the walls to see what sticks. What does this mean, exactly? Well, unfortunately it means that there will be countless, pseudo-intelligent discussions and presentations next week about The Future of Mobility and the promise of autonomous vehicles. And that much of the flotsam and jetsam being bandied about will be total, unmitigated bullshit should be of no surprise to anyone. We’re talking vaporware, folks, but vaporware at such a highfalutin’ level that it will seem like The Answer. Please step back, turn around quietly and walk away, because vaporware – no matter how polished and presented by earnest CEOs – is still vaporware.

From The “We Really Mean It This Time” File. Expect various well-meaning auto executives to get up in front of the carpal-tunnel-afflicted wretches of the assembled media and: 1. Bask in the glow of their recent sales success and promise more to come (please pay no attention to those fleet sales behind the curtain). Or, 2. Insist that their latest attempt at coming up with yet another new Belchfire 8 (after previous Belchfire 8s were product disasters of historic proportions) will “redefine the segment” and “set the tone for the industry for years to come.” It won’t, but, hey, what’s an auto show without empty promises? And, 3. Beware executives who boast of unfathomable electric vehicle range when battery development still has a long, long way to go. They will couch these promises in the 2022 time frame thinking we’ll all forget what was said in January of 2018. Don’t worry, we won’t.

Don’t Kid Yourselves, Folks, This Business Is About Trucks, It Has Been About Trucks And It Will Be About Trucks Well Into Our Electric-Autonomous Future. The cold, hard High-Octane Truth about this business for the foreseeable future will be that the name of this game revolves around trucks, specifically pickup trucks. Trucks power the profitability for these automakers so that they can delve into their autonomous whims and dreams. Ford will debut a new “mid-size” Ranger pickup to add to their F-150 – the almost 900,000-sales-per-year juggernaut that hammers the rest of the industry annually – and it’s going to be formidable. (Ford is adding a Diesel option to the F-150, which will only add to its momentum.) Chevrolet will debut the long-overdue Silverado pickup, which is expected to be a dramatic step forward for the brand. And FCA will take the wraps off its new Ram pickup, which is expected to be good too. The amount of design, engineering and R&D that goes into these pickups is staggering. And anyone who thinks these vehicles are somehow frivolous or not serious machines is sadly mistaken. So this will be one dimension of the Detroit Auto Show that will be worthy of the attention.

No, You Aren’t Going To See The Mid-Engine Corvette. The new Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is a fantastic machine, an example of the brilliant work GM’s True Believers can do when they put their minds to it. And though it will be a momentous machine for years to come, the harsh reality is that the ZR1 will unfortunately be lost in the shuffle of anticipation. Truth be told, GM’s Best and Brightest have been hard at work on the eighth generation of the Corvette for four years now, which will finally be the mid-engine Corvette that GM has danced around for decades, and which the Corvette Faithful has fantasized about for at least that long. But you will not see the new mid-engine Corvette in Detroit this year (the latest spy photos have only added fuel to the anticipatory fire). The likely scenario will be that the vaunted “C8” will either make its debut one year from now in Detroit at the 2019 show, or GM will stage a media “fly-in” unveiling at a race track sometime late next summer.

Same As It Ever Was. In most respects, the 2018 version of the Detroit Auto Show will be the same as it ever was. The show floor will be filled with executives from the auto companies and their suppliers who harbor varying degrees of delusion and a level of self-importance that are pitiful and simply shocking to behold. In fact, the only business with more people boasting these previously mentioned “qualities” is Hollywood, and that’s saying something. 

And the assembled “media” at this show deserves some scrutiny, too, because the reality is that maybe 40 percent of those sporting media credentials next week will be actual working members of the media. The rest? Industry hangers-on, sycophants and media wannabes who basically run the gamut of nonessential combatants. And nothing, I mean nothing tops the audio-visual of some auto company hack (all puffed up and preening) being “interviewed” by a media-type with no visible affiliation of consequence. It never gets old, in fact.  

Ah well, thus it was ever so. We’ll have our take on the 2018 Detroit Auto Show right back here next Wednesday.

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


MOBILITY FIRESIDE CHATS, AUTONOMOUS GROUP HUGS, PITCHFORK-WIELDING TECHNO-HOR...
by Editor
16 Dec 2017 at 1:13pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. So, it has come down to this. Even though the autonomous zealots are quite sure where this is all going, the auto business is careening down a path of the unknown. We’re straddling a rolling dichotomy consisting of an idyllic vision of our transportation future made of generic pods that can be summoned at our whims, while reality suggests that our personal transportation options are likely to remain the same as what we’ve been used to for years to come. Sure, those options may be hybrid and electrified, but personal choice will still reign.

That doesn’t mean the noise will stop anytime soon, however. We are going to be inundated with tales of a Brave New Auto World by the pitchfork-wielding techno-hordes hell-bent on eradicating the automobile as a symbol of personal freedom, because they view this country’s fascination with and reliance on the automobile in all of its forms as a tragic malfeasance that destroyed our cities and warped our view – and way – of life.

But the reality is almost 180 degrees different from that. Every dimension of the American experience has been shaped by the automobile – the roads we used to explore the vast expanses of the unbridled majesty of this nation (and ourselves along the way); the music that provided much of the soundtrack for those journeys, the roadside attractions and the road food that went with them; the big cities and little towns along the highways and byways; and on, and on, and on. (Talk to anyone who has visited The Henry Ford museum recently and see what he or she has to say. In so many words, it will sound like this: The American experience is the automobile, and the automobile is the American experience.)

But that won’t stop some – namely, certain politicians in Northern California, Washington, D.C., and the Masters of the Universe in Silicon Valley – from insisting that this fundamental transformation of our transportation model can’t come soon enough. For those people who view the automobile and the automobile industry and everything associated with it as a national scourge that needs to be eradicated once and for all, it will be Sweet Victory, a fitting denouement for the filthy automobile, a march of progress that will benefit everyone. For these people the historical context of the automobile has been overwrought and overexaggerated from the beginning, and to finally put paid to the notion of the automobile’s wonderfulness is an accomplishment that they will giddily revel in for decades to come, because for them historical perspective is just old stuff about old, irrelevant people.

Oh well, enough about that. We shall see what we shall see. But I am quite confident that our personal transportation – and the personal freedom that comes with it – will remain vibrant and essential for decades to come. 

And now, for the subject at hand: The Autoextremist Year in Review (including "On The Table" and "Fumes") is one of our most anticipated issues every year, so we hope you enjoy it as much as we did putting it together. 

The one unequivocal, undeniable thing about this business that never gets old is that you just can’t make this shit up. So, back to this year of selling air business. There’s a brand-new auto company on the horizon, one filled with Shiny Happy Optimism, bright sparkly quotes and overreaching promises that will soon set the world afire with yet another $100,000 all-electric car. It even has a seasoned ex-BMW executive at the helm. The company is called Lucid, and the car it will bring to market by the end of by 2019, or um, oh hell, it’s better to not hold them to it, is called the “Air.” (Lucid ground to a screeching halt by the way.) ("WELCOME TO THE YEAR OF SELLING AIR. – 1/2/17)

Yes, it got that stupid. Things got so touchy-feely at one point that I thought we were being shown previews of a future Hallmark movie with the plot revolving around the fanciful – and lovely (in an “Old School” Olive Garden sort of way) – Autonomous Village, a very special place where shiny happy people who are kind and considerate live and everything is wonderful and beautiful because they had finally been freed from the drudgery of driving. (MOBILITY FIRESIDE CHATS, AUTONOMOUS GROUP HUG SESSIONS AND AN UNWANTED REMAKE OF SHAKESPEARE’S “MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.” WELCOME TO THE BRAVE NEW AUTO WORLD, FOLKS. AND BY THE WAY, WE JUST "GOTS" TO KNOW: WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE DETROIT AUTO SHOW? –1/11)

We know what we’re doing, why must you bore us with such stupid questions? If there were an annual award for arrogance in the auto world, Mercedes-Benz would win it going away, every year. Once again Dieter Zetsche got up in front of the carpal tunnel-impaired wretches in the press and did his usual “aw shucks, we’re Mercedes and you’re not” stump speech, this year emboldened by the fact that Mercedes won the U.S. luxury sales crown. But not before taking an opening shot at the Detroit Lions football team for no good reason. It wasn’t funny. (1/11)

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I just can’t wait for the AMG brand to be distilled down to a tape and stripe job with a logo slapped on the back. Nicely done, you unmitigated hacks. The big news in the Mercedes display was the fact that it’s clear that company operatives believe that if a couple of AMG models were good, dozens more would be even better, right? Wrong. Mercedes-Benz once again demonstrated its unequaled propensity for overkill by – as I predicted two years ago – running the AMG brand into the ground by hanging those letters on just about every car on the show floor, to the point that AMG is rapidly heading to a place where it doesn’t mean a damn thing. The only car they forgot to slap the letters on was the Smart, but stay tuned, they’ll probably screw that up too. The High-Octane Truth? They don’t know what they’re doing and they don’t know when to stop. (1/11)

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We’re Nissan, and we haven’t had an original thought in years. That is all. The fact that Nissan is openly cribbing the new Lexus design language for its Infiniti brand is so obvious it is painful. In Detroit they unveiled the Nissan Vmotion 2.0 concept, which doesn’t have even a fifth of the cohesive elegance and presence that the production Lexus LC500 has. There’s no point in asking what these guys are thinking, because clearly they’re not. (1/11)

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Say hello to our new models, Ka and Ching. Despite the singed eyebrows from the VW Diesel emissions cheating scandal, Audi keeps delivering profits to the VW Group hand over fist. And when you do that within the Evil Empire at VW, this is a very good thing because it means Audi is rewarded with a bigger slice of the development money pie. Thus, the debuts of the new Q8 concept and the SQ5 production car. As long as Audi keeps crankin’ things will continue along. Good times. (1/11)

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Take a bow, folks, you’ve officially descended into The Abyss of Mediocrity. A faction of the BMW propeller heads has decided to phone it in until someone tells them to stop, apparently. The new 5 Series is so uninspired, uninviting and distinctly underwhelming that it’s flat-out shocking in its blandness. It’s as if no one gives a shit over there anymore. The BMW 5 Series looks five years old right out of the gate. Make that ten. (1/11)

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We didn’t used to do derivative, but we’re finding it to be a comfortable space right now. GM showed the new GMC Terrain, an unfortunate mish-mash of me-too design gimmickry that was truly breathtaking. In a very bad way. The back ¾ rear detail is particularly offensive. Back in the day, GM Design would never do derivative, it was anathema and something that Bill Mitchell would never allow. Oh sure, he would draw inspiration from Italian designers, but he’d rather turn in his pen before copying a mediocre Japanese product. I detected a slide in GM Design with the overrated Buick Avenir concept, which was distinctly uninspired, followed by the Avista, which was GM Design’s homage to the Tesla, apparently. It all adds up to a giant Bowl of Not Good. I suggest that GM Design’s new chief, Mike Simcoe, better light a fire under his operatives and start emphasizing inspiration, originality and genuine vision before it’s too late, because once you go off the rails in the Design Game, it takes years to get it back. (1/11)

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Alfa Romeo called - they want their 3 Series copy back. I used to think that Kia had it going on, an emerging automobile company with unlimited potential. Bristling with international design talent and an improved engineering focus, Kia had all the attributes of a coming brand, or so I thought. Then, they dropped a steaming load of mediocrity on the Detroit Auto Show, and in one fell swoop they destroyed any momentum they had, as well as destroying any reason to take them seriously. Let’s review, shall we? The Alfa Romeo Giulia is a blatant copy of the BMW 3 Series. And now Kia decides that doing a blatant copy that blends the Giulia and the 3 Series is actually a good thing? And the name Stinger? Did we miss the memo that decided that it was cool to be stuck in 1967 again? Don Yenko is not amused. Maybe they should have perused a Dodge Dart catalog of yore and called it Swinger. I don’t care what the performance capability of this thing is, because it’s clear to me that they need someone in the decision making room with the cojones to speak up and say at the critical moment, “Uh, what the fuck are you guys thinking?” Until that happens, Kia goes back to Do Not Pass Go Land. (1/11)

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My “Best in Show” in a decidedly downbeat and very disappointing Detroit Auto Show was, hands down, the VW I.D. BUZZ. I said back when the Diesel emissions crisis hit that the only thing that would repair VW’s image in this country would be distinctive products that marched to a different drummer, machines that only VW could build. An all-electric, modern rendition of a VW Bus with autonomous capability for way down the road would be a great place to start. Some of the features of the BUZZ are not going to make production, but you could tell that the basic shape was production intent. And kudos has to go to the normally staid VW executives for going with the name “BUZZ.” A little fun was much appreciated at this gloomy show. A production version of this vehicle appears to be on the docket and viable for 2020. VW needs to move that date up ASAP, because this vehicle is a grand slam home run if I’ve ever seen one. (1/11)

Move the Detroit Auto Show? What, are you crazy? My summation of the Detroit Auto Show set off a firestorm of indignation among certain homers in the local auto media, a few PR minions at the auto manufacturers and others at the Detroit Auto Dealers Association (DADA), the group that is responsible for putting on the show every year. Now, it’s obviously not the first time I’ve managed to get factions in this industry’s collective shorts in a bunch - and I can assure you it won’t be the last - but the hue and cry generated by the unbridled temerity of my suggestion to move the show to a completely different time on the calendar (June, after the Grand Prix weekend) was just too much for some to bear, obviously.

Those opposed to the idea of moving the Detroit Auto Show are vehemently agitated about the alleged “disruption” it would cause, apparently, and insist that if such a cataclysmic event occurred our very way of life as we know it would be irrevocably harmed. One resident homer in the automotive press suggested that jobs would be destroyed, the money generated from the charity preview would be neutered, Cobo Hall would be decimated and chaos would ensue. Really? Let’s take a deep breath and look at this rationally.

Is it etched in stone on sacred tablets buried in secret catacombs underneath the city that Detroit would have this one and only auto show date on the calendar, and nothing else? Hardly. Was there a pact among the overlords who run the world’s auto shows that dictated that Detroit in January is the way it shall be and no deviation from “the plan” would be accepted or tolerated? No, of course not. ("DETROIT HOMERS AND THE RIGHTEOUS ORDER OF THINGS.” –1/18)

We will do what we want, when we want when it comes to our interactions with "you people" in the press because as a group you’re all just lazy dilettantes and we can and will manipulate you or the situation to a fare-thee-well and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. Or, words to that effect. There is an incredible arrogance rearing its ugly head among certain PR operatives that suggests that they’re smarter than everyone else – especially the people covering their respective companies – and because of that they feel entitled to trample on everything and everyone in their path if it means getting the results they want. Part of this toxic attitude stems from the overwhelming need to please company higher-ups, which the PR operatives in question believe can garner meaningful gold stars, and which will then translate into recognition and more money. I get that, to a degree, but when veteran PR practitioners are overly worried about gold stars there is serious cause for concern. But then again I think the root cause of it is far more cynical, depressing and dystopian than that. There is an incredible air of condescension hovering over PR-orchestrated media events of late. Not only is it blatant and out in the open, it’s chillingly matter of fact. (“ALTERNATIVE FACTS AND THE EXISTENTIAL CRISIS IN AUTOMOTIVE PR.” –1/25)

So pay attention, Mary and Mark, you’ve been officially put on notice. Sergio? Go get your shine box. When votes are needed, the auto industry “is crucial to the well being of America” (insert language along those lines). But after the election is over, the collective “Detroit” (aka the domestic auto industry) is just a plastic bag caught in the swirling maelstrom of the prevailing political winds. The new President clearly doesn’t give a damn about the auto industry, even though he insists just the opposite. He speaks with the proverbial forked tongue and he will always take the politically expedient path of least resistance. (“THE SWIRLING MAELSTROM TO THE FORE.” –2/1)

For the record, I can safely say that no songs will be written about autonomous pod cars. Can the industry sustain this dance? It has no choice. The automobile companies can’t just be part of the solution going forward, they must lead the discussion and determine the direction, because after being engaged in the transportation business for over a century, squandering that legacy isn’t optional. Besides, they have incredible operating margins dancing in their heads from these autonomous pod cars, and some believe we’re on the precipice of New Profitability the likes of which this industry has never seen. I am not buying into that, at least not yet. The theories all seem fanciful and wildly blue sky at this point, and the fact remains that no one really knows how it’s going to play out, despite all of the wildly aggressive projections from the hordes of card-carrying MBAs stumbling around this town. There’s no question the dawn of autonomy – though providing a measure of freedom in certain circumstances – will be the end of the automotive era as we know it. And if that Dystopian future can be held at bay for another 30 or so years, I’ll take it. (“THE NEW REALITY.” –3/1)

And the funny-sad thing in all of this is that Marchionne’s massive, aircraft carrier-sized ego simply won’t allow him to understand this reality. Being The Great Sergio, of course, he considers the PSA-GM deal vindication of his brilliance because he suggested several years ago that consolidation of this industry is inevitable. Not exactly an earth-shattering notion I might add, but now he thinks that auto companies should be beating down his door just clamoring for a linkup with FCA, and he is frankly flabbergasted that these companies don’t see the brilliance of his vision.

Why is that, you might wonder? Why do companies avoid Marchionne like the plague? As I said a year ago it’s because both people and corporate entities find him ferociously unpalatable, utterly loathsome and flat-out untrustworthy. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that some corporate entity won’t make a deal with him, but it will never be on Marchionne’s terms, not in this lifetime at any rate.

Marchionne serenely shuffles along to the dulcet tones of his own thought balloons, absolutely convinced that he can force his will on anybody and come out smelling like a bountiful Italian garden in spring. The hubris of this guy knows no bounds. (As I’ve said previously, I wouldn’t be surprised if, after he shuffles off to his post-FCA riches, he forms a new religious order solely based around the concept of hubris – known as the order of Hubrissiani Marchionnes - so he can sit around all day and regale his acolytes with stories of his brilliance. No vow of poverty required.) ("SERGIO GOES BEGGING, WHILE THE CLOCK KEEPS TICKING.” –3/15)

In fact, every time I say to myself, “They couldn’t actually be that stupid, could they?” I am reminded that yes, they actually can be. And too often are. I never grow tired of exposing the ugliness in this business, because it’s the carpetbagging mercenaries, the spineless weasels, the unctuous pricks, the cover-their-ass bureaucrats and the recalcitrant twerps who make this whole twisted automotive circus so compelling to cover. Having been exposed to decades of relentless mediocrity in this business, I have corralled a set of shockingly low expectations. And guess what? I am never disappointed. Yes, there are still hordes of True Believers around, men and women who eat, sleep and breathe this business, and who make a significant difference every single day. And thank goodness, too, because if it weren’t for them, the pod car era would be upon us sooner than we might think. (THINKING OUT LOUD. 3/22)

So excuse me when I don’t get excited at The Great Enlightenment that’s coming just over the hill. For the rest of us it will mark nothing less than the end of the American experience as we’ve known it. The automobile is so crucially linked to the industrial fabric of this nation that pretending otherwise is simply impossible to do. The reason the Silicon Valley Overlords have come calling to the collective “Detroit” is that this industry and this area have been this country’s center of expertise in manufacturing, materials and advanced technology for well over a century. The automobile industry has stepped up time and time again to support this nation at its darkest times, with the forming of the incredible “Arsenal of Democracy” being just one notable – and remarkable - instance.

But that’s just one dimension of the impact, because the automobile has played such an inexorable role in creating much of the culture of this nation that it is simply incomprehensible to contemplate America, as we know it, without it. The automobile’s influence on this country’s culture is almost incalculable. But then again it’s even more than that. It’s part of this country’s soul, it’s who we are and it’s where we’ve been and it’s where we’ve always wanted to go. It’s the fundamental freedom of movement and unleashing of the spirit, and it’s the mechanical embodiment of our hopes and dreams. In short, that distinctly American perspective, that wanderlust for seeing and doing and exploring that was fueled and driven by the automobile for over a century, is being buried alive, right before our eyes. (OUR AMERICAN WANDERLUST IS BEING BURIED ALIVE.3/29)

Car advertising sucks for the most part. Why is that? 1. Automobile companies are risk averse, especially when it comes to their image. Yeah, I know, there’s a shocker. Automotive companies are the last bastions of the quintessential “running scared” corporate mentality. Car companies are afraid of every doomsday scenario, every possible shift in the political winds, every litigious threat both real and imagined, basically they’re afraid of absolutely everything. And of course they bring that mentality to bear to each and every advertising/marketing meeting.

2. Automobile companies are teeming metropolises within CoverYourAssLand. Yes, this isn’t exactly news, either. For every touchy-feely pronouncement about the “enlightened” workplace and that business is usual isn’t business as usual, make no mistake it very much is business as usual. What is the first order of business on any given day of every mid- and upper-management executive at a car company? That’s easy, it’s making sure their boss looks good and it’s making sure their ass is covered no matter what the looming scenario, because the very last thing they want to have happen is to be caught up in the collateral damage when things go wrong. This doesn’t exactly lend to a proper mindset when considering creative work that projects an image for the company, now does it? In fact it sets up such a dismal playing field that as I said previously it’s a miracle that any good work gets through this gauntlet of abject mediocrity.

3. Speaking of abject mediocrity, too often marketers at the car companies aren’t marketing professionals at all. What, or more accurately, WTF? Yes, the sad truth for many car companies is that (allegedly) up-and-coming executives are assigned to the marketing function to be “seasoned” as part of the broadening of their experience within the company. I’ve sat in countless meetings where the cumulative experience of the executive in the room making calls on multi-million-dollar advertising amounts to a big fat zero. In fact one executive back in the day who was new to his assignment had the temerity to say to me before I presented crucial new creative, “I know what good advertising is. I watch TV.” That’s a true, unembellished story. WTF indeed.

4. Too many cooks lead to bad, lowest-common-denominator advertising. One of the most, if not the most, egregious behaviors that is rampant when it comes to automotive advertising and marketing is that these companies allow too many singularly unqualified people to weigh-in on creative work they wouldn’t understand even if you took the time to slow-walk them through it. When you have an executive who is allegedly in charge of the advertising who is unqualified, and then he or she invites more unqualified people to weigh-in at a pivotal go/no-go advertising meeting, chaos ensues, bad decisions or non-decisions are made, and inevitably the result is lowest-common-denominator advertising that's instantly forgettable and appeals to no one.

5. The best advertising is inevitably the result of a much smaller core group of people within a company who have meaningful marketing and advertising experience and who understand what they’re doing on a fundamental level. And this is an essential point: these executives also succeed when they have the full support of the top management of the company and are not meddled with. This is an almost unfathomable scenario, but the top management that understands that marketing may not be their strongest suit and allows – and even more important trusts - the people charged with the function to do their jobs ultimately gets the best image work on behalf of the company. But the reason this is a Unicorn Scenario is that top management is usually a cesspool of egomaniacal intransigence, and they hate being told to stand down and let the experts do what they do. They just feel compelled to put their fingerprints on the creative work, not for the good of the work but just because they can, which inevitably affects the work in a negative direction. (WHY CAR ADVERTISING BASICALLY SUCKS.” -4/5)

Welcome to the Land of Cray-Cray, where the sky is bluer and the grass is greener. The buzz revolves around the fact that the valuation of Tesla, the maker of electric vehicles that has rarely – as in never – made money being in the business of making cars, now has a market capitalization of $50.9 billion, which is $64 million more than General Motors. As David Welch pointed out in his excellent piece for Bloomberg, “GM expects to earn more than $9 billion this year and analysts predict Ford will generate adjusted profit of about $6.3 billion. On that basis, Tesla is expected to lose more than $950 million.” Read that back again slowly. And no, that’s not all; it gets even worse than that. Welch goes on to quote Alexander Potter, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos., who said the following: “Tesla engenders optimism, freedom, defiance, and a host of other emotions that, in our view, other companies can’t replicate.”

Wait a minute, is this is a financial analyst talking, or one of Elon Musk’s unpaid shills who dot the landscape and crawl out of the woodwork wielding pitchforks the moment someone has the temerity to slam their esteemed leader for his smoke-and-mirrors act? Well, both actually. Yes, Potter is not only an analyst who upgraded the stock on Monday, but also an analyst who has owned a Tesla for seven months and who added, “As they scramble to catch up, we think Tesla’s competitors only make themselves appear more desperate.” Catch up to what, exactly? Remember, folks, we’re talking about a car company that sold around 80,000 vehicles last year. For the record, GM sold more than 10 million. In the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, “What the hell’s going on out here?!?!”

If you’ve wondered why Tesla continues to be the darling of certain factions on Wall Street, against all rational measures of evaluation, I might add, you only have to re-read Potter’s telling quote to understand the madness. The valuation has nothing to do with any rational measure or reasoned perspective, it’s the Silicon Valley True Believers populating Wall Street who are completely intoxicated by the vapor trail left by the Muskian Vision of bunny rabbits and rainbows being propelled across the sky.

In other words, the Wall Street analysts buying into Tesla have veered off into The Land of Cray-Cray, where the sky is bluer and the grass is greener, and The Future will be forged by the visionary brilliance of Elon Musk, and all of those dirty, nasty – and old – smokestack car companies that form the industrial fabric of this nation will be relegated to the scrap heap once and for all, replaced by clean, incandescent factories made up of equal parts magic and group hugs. (“IN THE LAND OF SMOKEY MIRRORS, RATIONAL THOUGHT IS A RARE COMMODITY.” -4/12)

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The new Navigator seems to touch all the bases, but prying buyers’ hands away from the Escalade is an entirely different thing. The big news from New York, judging by the hordes of people crowded together at the press conference, was the debut of the production version of the Lincoln Navigator. Decked out in an unfortunate shade of “yachting” blue – listen, vive la difference and all that but it didn’t come off well, I dubbed it “Apologetic Blue” – the new Navigator is everything the Navigator faithful could want, and much more. But that isn't the question here, is it? The question is whether or not the new Navigator will conquest shoppers away from the acknowledged King Kong of domestic luxury SUVs, the Cadillac Escalade. (THE POST-NEW YORK AUTO SHOW BLUES. -4/19)

But in the face of a business that grows more rigid, regulated and non-risk-taking by the day, there are still lessons to be learned from the legacy of Bill Mitchell. If anything, we must remember what really matters in this business above all else – something he instinctively knew in his gut – and that is to never forget the essence of the machine, and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams. And that in the course of designing, engineering and building these machines everyone needs to aim higher and push harder – with a relentless, unwavering passion and love for the automobile that is so powerful and unyielding that it can't be beaten down by committee-think or buried in bureaucratic mediocrity. Bill Mitchell had an uncanny knack for getting the best out of the talented people around him. And he led the only way he knew how – and that was by fueling creativity with his passion and by the sheer force of his will. What he believed in is as true and vibrant today as it was in his era – and hopefully, at least in some quarters of a few car companies, that will always be the case. (“BILL MITCHELL – THE PASSIONATE DESIGN MAESTRO.” –4/26)

(GM Design)
Bill Mitchell stands next to two of the most iconic GM designs under his reign: The 1959 Corvette Stingray racer (XP87), and the 1961 Corvette Mako Shark (XP-755). A 19-year-old Peter Brock (who later went on to design the Cobra Daytona Coupe for Carroll Shelby), Larry Shinoda and Mitchell himself worked on the Stingray racer in 1957, which obviously influenced the fabulous '63 Corvette Stingray production car, and Shinoda and Mitchell worked on the Mako Shark concept. One of the countless anecdotes from the Mitchell era? He caught a Mako shark on a fishing trip in Florida and had it mounted on a wall in his office. He kept telling the designers that he wanted the paint job on the Mako Shark concept to look exactly like the shark on his wall, with the same color gradations. After Mitchell rejected several attempts at painting the XP-755 concept car and amid growing frustration, a few designers sneaked into his office late one night while Mitchell was out of town and removed the shark from his office wall. They then had the paint shop paint Mitchell's prized catch exactly like the latest paint job on the Mako Shark concept. They then put the shark back up on his wall and presented the new paint job on the Corvette Mako Shark concept to Mitchell, who pronounced it "perfect." –PMD

Some of the people toiling away in this pursuit are actually qualified and bring a certain sense of gravitas to the proceedings, but those executives are admittedly few and far between. Others are unfortunately assigned to the marketing function as part of a woefully misguided corporate effort to “round” executives’ experience resulting in ill-equipped operatives who stumble along wreaking havoc on everything and everyone in their path while attempting to learn the business of marketing by “feel,” which translates into making a bumbling mess of things over the duration of their assignment. That companies persist in this folly instead of recruiting and nurturing marketing talent remains one of the unsolved mysteries of this business. And unfortunately the rest, of course, are flat-out poseurs who inevitably turn up lost in the marketing desert in search of a clue. That there is such a wide range of talent in the auto marketing ranks is no surprise, because it’s indicative of the general reality for the business as a whole. But this gaping disparity between a few star performers and the rest in the automotive marketing arena can have a devastating affect on a brand’s image. (“THE AUTOEXTREMIST BRAND IMAGE METER VI: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE CLUELESS.” –6/7)

I am astounded that after all of these years “the best of Honda” doesn’t resonate as the focus of the Acura brand. Does Acura offer good cars and SUVs for the most part? Yes, of course, in fact some of them are truly excellent. But it isn’t enough, because the Acura brand image remains cloudy and unfocused to this day. And to make matters worse, there’s not enough differentiation from Honda’s regular lineup to justify the price. The Bottom Line? Where’s the juice with Acura? Why isn’t the passion that comes shining through in the NSX visible in the rest of the Acura lineup? (6/7)

Suffice to say I’ve seen this movie before, and it never ends well. Alfa Romeo remains a fringe brand with a wonderful history that was hijacked by carpetbagging mercenaries with visions of fantastic profits dancing in their heads. No brand can live up to that pressure, especially one whose historic peak was five decades ago. (6/7)

I have one question: How can a brand that has displayed the industry's most compelling concept cars of the last decade – with equally compelling names, by the way – stumble along with a bunch of cars in the market that have nothing going for them? Cadillac has a historical legacy unmatched by few automotive brands in the world, but many of de Nysschen’s initiatives are designed to suppress that fact, or ignore it all together. This is a giant wreath and crest of Not Good. Look at Cadillac’s lineup today - the ATS, the CTS, the XT5, the CT6 and the Escalade. (I left the XTS out intentionally.) Which one of these products has the can’t-mistake-it-for-anything-else street cred worthy of the brand? A hint: It’s the only one with a name. The XT5 is riding the SUV/Crossover craze somewhat successfully, but the rest? Damn-near dead in the water. (What about the CT6 you say? It’s technically impressive but uninspired and underwhelming.) Cadillac is another one of GM’s brands that has more going for it in China than anywhere else, and even though that’s an inevitable industry reality, the fact that this brand is squandering its legacy here is unconscionable. As an enthusiast, the superb Cadillac “V” cars are noteworthy and highly desirable, but they’re wasted in Cadillac showrooms because they have no context there, despite all of the money GM is pissing away on Cadillac’s so-called racing program, which is another foray into the Audi-ness of it all that isn’t working. (Now, take those “V” cars and remake them into Corvette coupes and sedans as part of the new Corvette Performance Division, and you’d have something, but that’s another column.) There are so many things wrong with Cadillac right now that I don’t know where to begin. I’m sure Cadillac will heel to de Nysschen’s push into AudiLand as long as he’s there, but it’s not the right path. In fact it’s not even close. What a waste. (6/7)

These stumblebums have taken a larger-than-life brand that has thrived over the years with some of the most heroic, memorable car advertising campaigns of all time, and turned it into a sick version of marketing “small ball.” Chevrolet’s once-proud image has been reduced to a series of glorified retail spots that insult our intelligence and annoy with equal aplomb. Throw in the insipid “most rewarded” angle and it’s a marketing cocktail that absolutely no one is interested in except the so-called “marketers” down at the Silver Silos, who are absolutely convinced that they have it goin’ on. This just in: They don’t. (6/7)

Once upon a time, the Corvette was the quintessential definition of a “halo” vehicle for Chevrolet. The notion that “there’s a little bit of Corvette in every Chevrolet” was used to great effect back in the day. Not so much today. Despite the fact that the Corvette is one of the best high-performance cars in the world, with an impeccable and accomplished record in racing, GM – and Chevrolet – really doesn’t do much with it. Oh sure, the enthusiast press and enthusiasts in general are well versed in the goodness of the Corvette, but you’d barely notice it exists at GM. It’s very strange in fact. It’s as if they’re afraid to talk about it too much or admit that it represents the very best thinking of GM’s True Believers. Why? Well, why ask why? It has been like this for the Corvette for decades. Despite this cloud of negativity, the Corvette name and image shine through. In fact it shares the top tier in our AE Brand Image Meter with five other brands. I am not kidding when I say that I would form a completely new GM Performance Division with the Corvette as the foundation. As long as Chevrolet marketers continue to squander the image of an American icon, why associate the Corvette with that relentlessly clueless marketing mediocrity? As I suggested five years ago I would take the Cadillac “V” cars and remake them as Corvette models, and I would add the outstanding Camaro into the mix too. If Mary Barra wants to be truly “visionary” she could start by shaking up GM’s “we’ve always done it this way” mentality and let GM’s exceptional performance cars have an arena that they can call their own. (6/7) 

Brand image? Fiat is dead to me. And everyone else too, apparently. The 124 Spider is a complete waste of time, no matter what the fanboys in the media say. Notice how Marchionne isn’t saying much about Fiat anymore? Remember when he was promising dealers the brand would be the stepping stone to untold riches once they started selling Alfa Romeos too? Fiat is the forgotten Italian brand that had its day in this market decades ago, that is until people started discovering that there were small cars out there that were light years better in terms of quality, reliability, desirability and overall value. Funny how nothing has changed. There are a lot of pretty smart dealers out there talking to themselves right now about how they could let Marchionne take them to the cleaners with the complete fiasco known as Fiat. Oh well. (6/7)

This is, in case you forgot, what flat-out greed looks like in the car business. The brand with the impeccable legacy and unequaled image, at least for the most part, seems to find a never-ending supply of moneyed fanboys and girls to seduce. That the true Ferrari enthusiasts are drifting off to other shiny automotive objects, or drifting off of this Mortal Coil permanently, is not lost on Ferrari management. Unfortunately for the proud, prancing horse brand and the enthusiasts who desire it, the term “management” means that the dreaded Marchionne is now in charge, which lends a certain unmistakable foreboding to the proceedings. What does it all mean? More tchotchkes, more Ferrari “Worlds” and ominously, much more volume, as in almost 50 percent more volume. I would have put Ferrari at the top of the AE Brand Image Meter along with the other select few, but as long as Marchionne is involved the chances of this brand being screwed up are better than 50-50. So the Ferrari brand is still red hot, at least for now, but how long that lasts remains to be seen. (6/7)

Hyundai showrooms are where consumers go to get financed, and get a deal. And that’s all. Such a once-promising brand, what the hell happened? Was it the constant cries of “we got it goin’ on!” which were part of the rote speech at every press conference that everyone grew tired of five years ago? Was it the Too Many Models Syndrome, which resulted in a confusing showroom filled with too many cars that blended together and that no one wanted? In fact it was all of the above, and more. The reality is that there’s no use telling Korean auto executives what to do. They know absolutely everything there is to know about absolutely everything, and if, as an American car executive in their employ you don’t concur, you are jettisoned in favor of someone who will. Hyundai has been careening around like this for years, and there’s no relief in sight. The other major problem that the powers that be at Hyundai would never admit to is that Kia and Hyundai are interchangeable in most consumers’ minds. And now that Hyundai is pushing its Genesis division that problem is even more pronounced. Brand image? Ugh. (6/7)

This exotic, high-performance Italian supercar brand is the one for knowledgeable enthusiasts who don’t worship at the altar of the Prancing Horse. Since the VW Group took over, everything about Lamborghini has been elevated, from the products to the brand image itself. In ancient times, the name Lamborghini wouldn’t have been uttered in the same breath as Ferrari. Now? There are plenty of enthusiasts out there who consider Lamborghini to be the most desirable exotic Italian sports car. (6/7)

Mini exists in its own little world, which seems to be shrinking by the day. The brand that was initially successful beyond all expectations has now fallen to earth with a thud. The powers that be at Mini have learned a very painful lesson, and that is that not every niche product idea they come up with is brilliant. I know it’s a bitter pill to swallow for most car executives, especially since they’re constantly reminded of their brilliance by hordes of bootlicking minions looking for their next promotion, but for Mini executives it had to be a humiliating blow. (6/7)

Can’t auto CEOs just be content with doing well without veering into talk about dominating the market? Ha! What was I thinking? Nissan has slowly but surely become a mainstream force in the U.S. market despite flying almost completely under the radar. And I can’t for the life of me understand why. Is it great products? No. In fact they’re mediocre and for the most part, hideous to look at. I mean, let’s face it, Nissan is building some seriously ugly looking vehicles. Is it brilliant marketing? Are you kidding? Nissan marketing is a dismal exercise in futility, and that’s on a good day. So what is it, exactly? The only rational reason – and I am paraphrasing a hoary adage by H. L. Mencken here – is that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. As in, mediocrity, when it comes to automobiles, is bliss for most consumers, because at the end of the day too many of them don’t understand the difference and couldn't be bothered to care. Confounding and tragic, but there you have it. And despite Carlos Ghosn’s promises of global dominance, nothing has changed to alter my assessment. For those who revel in abject mediocrity, Nissan is just the ticket. (6/7)

At least Porsche understands the task at hand. That’s more than most other companies can muster. Every time I think Porsche has lost it with a new model, they just keep digging deep to reestablish the brand. Thankfully, even Porsche’s savvy marketing operatives are acutely aware that this roll won’t last indefinitely without consistent efforts at shoring up the brand’s legacy. At times arrogant as it goes about marketing its brilliant array of vehicles, Porsche nonetheless delivers on its brand promise repeatedly and with unwavering consistency. The powers that be at the company know that the profitability from selling SUVs is a blessing, and that it gives Porsche the luxury to create ever more desirable sports cars and compete in major league races around the world. But it comes with a heavy cost too. And Porsche operatives understand that they have to fight and claw to maintain their grip on the soul of the company. (6/7)

The most successful brand that no one thinks about (except for its rabid owners), Subaru has attracted loyal followers by emphasizing function over fantasy, and detailed execution over smoke-and-mirror gimmickry. More important, unlike some other automotive entities we know, Subaru marketers understand what the brand is and what it isn’t, and because of this and its focused consistency, it has been rewarded with intense brand loyalty. Kudos to the Subaru marketers, because they clearly understand who its customers are and what the brand means to people. And this is no small feat, which is why Subaru has ascended to the top tier on the AE Brand Image Meter. (6/7)

To the green intelligentsia, Tesla is still The White-Hot Future. For the rest of us, well, it’s a great deal less. Nothing new here, either. Blue-sky thinking, old-time religion, and enough smoke and mirrors to last this industry a frickin’ lifetime, Elon Musk is a huge success, dammit, and don’t you dare forget it. Tesla is the car built for politicians in Washington and Northern California, and EcoSwells needing even more validation for whom they think they are. Remarkably enough, Tesla is still riding a generously positive wave, even though it doesn’t make any money to speak of, thanks to the denizens of Wall Street who have gleefully written off the domestic automobile industry as an expendable part of this nation’s past. (6/7)

As I’ve said previously, if this stuff were easy, everyone would have 30 percent market share and the streets in auto centers around the world would be paved with platinum. And when you listen to CEOs like Carlos and Sergio long enough, you get the idea that is exactly what they expect. But this just in: It doesn’t work that way, and when you have multiple manufacturers clamoring for the same slice of the pie and making the same sort of promises, something has to give, which means brand image becomes even more crucial.

Automakers who are in search of a brand image and understand the power that comes with having a solid one garner the tiniest bit of slack from me, because at least they know what they want and where they need to go. But the automakers that have a brand image and don’t have the first clue as to what to do with it, or worse - have squandered a great brand legacy because of cluelessness, ineptitude, or both - draw zero sympathy from me.

It’s duly noted that the companies that are overflowing with True Believers and that focus every waking moment on the integrity and the fundamental desirability of the product are doing very well right now in the brand image department, and they will continue to do so. (There are exceptions, of course, as inept marketing has a tendency to overwhelm great products. See the aforementioned Chevrolet example.) 

The rest? Well, for them flailing and floundering about seems to be standard operating procedure, if not a full-time career trajectory. And living in a world of reduced expectations is oddly comforting to them. Brand image is a fleeting thing, except for those brand marketers that understand how they got it, what it took to get it to that point, and what it will take to keep it. (6/7)

And to make matters even more daunting for Mr. Hackett, Ford, as a company, goes about its business wrapped in a suffocating culture that revolves around one remarkably ineffective and fundamentally flawed premise. What is that, you might ask? It’s the debilitating notion that the company can solve any problem and do anything – let me repeat, anything – better and cheaper than any outside entity. Translation? The Not Invented Here syndrome is a way of life at Ford. And what are the ramifications of this oppressively pervasive “NIH” syndrome? Because of its steadfast refusal to work with companies with more knowledge and intellectually accurate property, Ford is lagging behind other automakers. And not by a little bit, either. Ford has missed opportunity after opportunity – especially in the area of electronics and connectivity – because of the quaint and woefully misguided notion that it not only knows better, but it can do it better. And cheaper. The reality? When Ford sets its mind to doing something it usually takes twice as long and costs twice as much, if not more. And this ingrained wrongheadedness has led the company down the primrose path of mediocrity more times than I care to count. (I am absolving the True Believers at Ford, because they know what they're doing and are not a part of the NIH hordes.) Ford’s problems are not only systemic and part of a resolutely moribund culture; they’re deeply ingrained in the psyche of the company. Translation? A giant Blue Oval of Not Good. (MR. HACKETT’S QUIXOTIC QUEST. -6/21)

So what happened? To paraphrase Joe Pesci as Nicky Santoro in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino,” when he described their downfall with the haunting words, “Then, we fucked it all up.” BMW indeed fucked it all up, there’s no elegant way to put it. In other words, the little German automaker that marched to a different drummer and was renowned for building genuine driving machines with a distinct point of view got lost. And got greedy. 

Enjoying almost unfettered success, the powers that be in BMW management started to linger a little too long on their glowing press reviews and began thinking that they could do no wrong, which led them down the path of believing that they could get one of their products in damn near every garage in America. So a relatively simple BMW product lineup that consisted of a few sedans, coupes and a distinctive wagon here and there got swallowed up by a burgeoning product lineup that grew more cumbersome by the model year. 

BMW unleashed niche products on top of niche products that stepped on each other in the market. Their cars became bloated and heavy, and their crossovers and SUVs grew bigger by the day. Luxury and technology for technology’s sake replaced performance, and the distinct point of view that defined BMW slowly but surely began to slip away. 

BMW was no longer building “Ultimate Driving Machines” - instead they were building facsimiles of what the brand once stood for designed to extract as much money from consumers as possible. Yes, there were certainly some standout M cars unleashed over the years that reminded enthusiasts of how great BMW used to be, but for the most part BMW had traded in its hard-won authenticity for a volume play based on faux representations of what the brand once was, all for $699 (and up) per month. (BMW’S LONG, SLOW SLIDE INTO MEDIOCRITY. –6/28)

This business lives in a bubble of more built-in assumptions, rote regurgitations, etched-in-stone givens and mind-numbing inertia than most people immersed in it can even understand, let alone outsiders with even a casual interest. In fact the entire auto circus almost defies all rational explanation, which admittedly for some is comforting, while others find it infuriating. As I’ve often described it, the swirling maelstrom that is the auto industry churns and ferments in a staccato cadence of fits and starts. It can swing wildly between unfettered brilliance and incredible stupidity on the same day, and the net-net of it results in a three steps forward and five back dance of mediocrity. Anyone immersed in this business questions their involvement in it at least once a week, and if they don’t admit to that they’re flat-out lying. It can be one of the most soul-crushing pursuits that you can get yourself involved in, but every once in a while something really good or wondrous happens that keeps you coming back for more. (THE HIGH HARD ONES. –7/5)

The new reality? Last month it became official: Cadillac now sells more cars in the Chinese market than here in the U.S., and that is a reality that isn’t going to change, in fact it will only pick up speed in the coming years. A sign of the times? Sure, all rational thought simply points to the fact that the Chinese market is destined to be the dominant transportation market for decades to come. But I also see it as the death of one of the most storied automotive legacies in automotive history. And even though the Cadillac office in New York is filled with wonderful emblems and tchotchkes from Cadillac’s past to great effect, none of it really matters anymore. Will Cadillac still be here? Certainly. But make no mistake; the Chinese market will dictate the future direction and composition of the brand. I often fantasize that there should be two Cadillacs, the one marked by the coldly generic and un-engaging names of the current lineup that would be let loose in China for pure profitability. And the other composed of dramatically breathtaking design statements aimed at this market; “real” Cadillacs blessed with real names that reaffirm the brand’s glorious historical legacy to its core. Ah well, that is not to be. It’s a Technicolor pipedream of an era long since past. Cadillac has been sentenced to an inauspicious afterlife in China, and there’s no turning back now. (“???” –7/12)

Demon Frenzy? Nah. It’s just certain members of the media who should have known better being sucked into a Fog of War orchestrated by an FCA hierarchy hell-bent on creating a giant smoke-and-mirrors distraction. Nicely done. So as the FCA honchos and their chirping PR minions bask in the glory of the ridiculously over-the-top press coverage generated by a factory hot rod with a severely limited shelf life, while savoring putting one over on too many members of the automotive media (I mean, really, several of you should have your credentials lifted, or at least be banned from the next three press junkets for egregious stupidity), the fact remains that FCA is teetering on the brink of oblivion because the guy who’s running the joint has played fast and loose with the facts – and has operated in a self-created, egomaniacal parallel universe that has no basis in reality – since Day One. (ON DEMON FRENZY, SMOKEY BURNOUTS AND THE FOG OF WAR. –7/26)

I will tell you what the Model 3 is: It’s a testament to the fact that “Detroit” – aka the U.S. auto industry – collectively lost the PR war a long, long time ago. I wrote about this in my book Witch Hunt, which chronicled the bailout and subsequent bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler. Remember those Senate hearings when the CEOs of what used to be known as the “Big Three” were bludgeoned for hours? The recurring theme was that Detroit built crappy cars, the CEOs were stupid and the whole damn enterprise was collectively an embarrassment. I distinctly remember one Mitch McConnell piling on the CEOs and the U.S. automobile industry for being incompetent and worse in a withering display. The High-Octane Truth? Less than eighteen months before, that same Mitch McConnell was in Detroit with his hand out at a dinner organized on his behalf asking for, you guessed it, donations from the automobile companies. (But then again, if I were to go after the practicing scumbags in Washington we’d be here all frickin’ day.)

The point is that the lingering hangover from those hearings and the pain of the subsequent bankruptcies has never gone away. We have arrived at a point where everything about Tesla = Good. And everything about Detroit = Irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that The Cult of Elon has robbed people of all rational thought. It doesn’t matter that for many Tesla owners the reality of ownership has them mired in a quagmire of mediocrity and poor quality that would shutter other companies. And it doesn’t matter that Detroit is part of the industrial fabric of this nation, or that Detroit was essential in creating the “Arsenal of Democracy.” It doesn’t matter that the auto industry based here has been one of this country’s leading technological centers and still is right now (something that Silicon Valley has found out the hard way). It doesn’t matter that the U.S. auto industry (for the most part) is building the best cars in its history, some truly outstanding machines, in fact. What matters is that for a burgeoning group of consumers in this country – led around by the nose by the card-carrying Muskians in the media – the U.S. auto industry is inconsequential. And worse, it simply isn’t cool. (THE GREATEST PR SHOW ON EARTH. –8/2)

I’m going to talk about three things in this business that are overhyped, overblown and overrated. Things that need to be singled-out, dissected… and hammered:

1. Fear and Loathing at “Monterey Car Week.” I’m unhappy to report that right this minute there are shiny happy auto marketing troops out in Pebble Beach patting themselves on the back that they're present and accounted for at Monterey Car Week, even though the research gleaned and goodwill bestowed on prospects amounts to a giant bowl of Not So Much. As for the few brighter lights at the car companies who realize that the million-dollar bills they accrue at Pebble Beach really don't add up to much of anything quantifiable, they're unfortunately offset by the marketers who are whining because they aren't there and who can't wait to get out there next year. So the cycle is likely to continue. Yet automakers drop, collectively, at least a hundred million dollars like clockwork out in Monterey every year. Why? Because, as I’ve stated before, the lingering question hanging over the marketing troops isn’t “Maybe we ought to reevaluate this whole thing” but, “What happens if we’re not there?

2. The calculated feeding frenzy manufactured by the auto auction houses has decimated the fundamental enthusiasm that used to define car enthusiasts of all stripes. There, I said it. The whole auto auction game has graduated from being merely tedious to a threat to car enthusiasm itself. Speaking of something not making a lick of sense, the fevered business surrounding auto auctions has come to define the car “hobby” for a lot of people, which is a very bad thing. Why? Because it’s not about the cars anymore, or the fleeting moments in time that defined what those machines represented, or the memories they created for the enthusiasts who drove them. No, it’s about flat-out greed, pure and simple.

3. And last but not least there’s our very own “Dream Cruise,” the annual car happening in August that went from being a spontaneous celebration of the automobile to an event wearing a leaded cloak of marketing sameness as orchestrated by the manufacturers and suppliers. Yeah, it’s really too bad, but the High-Octane Truth about the Dream Cruise is that it simply doesn’t ring true anymore, as unpopular as that notion might be with some around these parts. The spontaneity that once bubbled up organically in the early years has been replaced by manufacturer displays, manufacturer “drive-bys” (the novelty of 50 cars of the same make driving up and down Woodward Avenue was never, ever, cool - trust me), and a rigid sameness that is as predictable as the local media coverage of the event, which is nothing but a regurgitation of the last decade’s worth (at least) of stories.

The Dream Cruise has been overhyped, overblown and overrated for years, just like Monterey Car Week. I reserve particular ire for some of the card-carrying members of the local media who fall over themselves trying to pump up the volume on the latest edition, when a sameness hangs over the proceedings in a giant haze of "we've seen this all before, right?" Then again, when the local media collectively defines the term journalistic “homers” it should be no surprise at all. Yes, the overhyped aspects of this business, which we loathe, aren’t going away any time soon. But fortunately the fundamental enthusiasm displayed by the True Believers and everyday enthusiasts alike who still like – make that love – everything to do with the automobile isn’t going away any time soon, either. Thank goodness. (THE OVERHYPED. THE OVERBLOWN. AND THE OVERRATED.” –8/16)

That’s why even as the ride-sharing and autonomy zealots raise their pitchforks in unison to the Dark Skies looming, the True Believers are doing what they do best, which is being true to their beliefs while comfortable in the knowledge that no matter where our future propulsion options take us, there are givens with the automobile and this freedom of mobility business, the most powerful of which is that emotionally compelling design is still - and will continue to be – the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator. In fact, this design imperative will grow even stronger from here on out.

You only have to look as far as what happened last week in Monterey, California, to understand this. There, in the flesh, with its mesmerizing shape, fluid lines and stunning presence, was the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet concept, the very embodiment of emotionally compelling design. Yes, it is a concept (powered by an all-electric drive system with an output of 750HP and a range of more than 200 miles), but still, this machine makes it very clear that the future of the automobile will not be comprised of colorless, faceless blob cars devoid of personality. Rather, the future of the automobile has almost limitless potential to project the freedom of mobility into exciting new dimensions and shapes.

This Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet concept is proudly unapologetic and steadfastly defiant against the winds of negativity blowing throughout this industry right now, and it stands as an eloquent rebuttal to the anti-everything zealots who are painting a relentlessly dark picture of the future. (AN ELOQUENT REBUTTAL. –8/23)

(Mercedes-Benz)

(Mercedes-Benz)

(Mercedes-Benz)

(Mercedes-Benz)

(Mercedes-Benz)

(Mercedes-Benz)

(Mercedes-Benz)

(Mercedes-Benz)

Here’s a thought: Wouldn’t we be far better off if the collective billions being blown on the autonomy craze were being spent on fixing this country’s woefully dilapidated infrastructure? I know, I know, fixing our bridges, roads and tunnels isn’t sexy enough for anyone, especially the swells in Silicon Valley. I get the fact that actually rolling this country’s sleeves up and attacking a looming national crisis isn’t glamorous. But the point needs to be made that unless and until our infrastructure issues are addressed, autonomous cars careening around on bad roads will be about as desirable as regular cars doing the same. In other words, it will still be a giant bowl of Not Good. (“END OF SUMMER BLUES.” –8/30)

And here we are three years into that plan, and what do the numbers indicate? In communicating with my friend and colleague Gary Vasilash, Editor-in-chief, Automotive Design & Production, who is an expert at scouring sales numbers and identifying trends, the numbers for Cadillac indicate that all is not well with GM’s investment. As Gary said, “According to GM, the average transaction price in August for Cadillac increased to $53,300. That’s good. And GMC hit a year-to-date ATP of $43,400. Not as good, but still solid. Yet it is interesting to note that GMC sold 47,718 vehicles in August and Cadillac 15,016.” Where is all of this going for Cadillac, you might ask? Nowhere good is the short answer.

GMC is operating as the not-so-little engine that could, marketing visually massaged (to differentiate them from the more mundane Chevrolet versions) luxury-oriented vehicles to new heights that push right up against Cadillac in the market. To its credit, GMC is not trying to pretend to be something it is not (although its advertising is still terribly lackluster), but it has found its niche in the market and within the corporation, and it’s delivering big-time profits for the denizens of the Silver Silos.

Cadillac? The turnaround of the brand was always going to take a long time; in fact I estimated three years ago that it would take the better part of a decade and a half. But three years into a five-year plan it’s not looking good. And pointing to the somewhat dubious success in China as vindication of “The Plan” isn’t cutting it. 

You can blame the insatiable consumer demand for SUVs and crossovers in this country for Cadillac treading water in this market. And you can blame the fact that Cadillac’s product cadence is woefully lacking in addressing this issue, with the first new crossover not expected until next spring and subsequent product entries lagging behind that. But the fact remains that de Nysschen’s strategy to remake Cadillac in Audi’s image has been an egregious miscalculation.

As I’ve said repeatedly in my columns over the years, in order to succeed, Cadillac must be allowed to be Cadillac. But the current Cadillac brain trust refuses to acknowledge that this is a viable path for the brand. In fact Cadillac execs go out of their way to trample on the legacy of the brand at every opportunity. (CADILLAC HAS ITS MOJO BACK? THE NUMBERS DON’T ADD UP. –9/6)

I will predict right now that the endgame in all of this is bound to get ugly, and anyone who assumes that this will all work out for the best and that these auto companies will be newly reimagined as fluent IT entities is being incredibly naïve. Misguided and misdirected, these nouveau digital “experts” at the car companies will preside over the dissolution of some long-entrenched, historically important automotive empires, as these companies get sucked into a swirling maelstrom that they will simply be ill-equipped to cope with and get swallowed whole. Listen to enough of these IT expert blowhards at the car companies long enough and you might think that we’re fortunate to be witnesses at the creation of a brave new automotive world. Au contraire. We’re present for the destruction of the automotive world as we know it, and it will happen sooner than you think. (PRESENT AT THE CREATION? HARDLY. –9/20)

There is some solace in that Marchionne’s notion of “merging” with an automaker was nothing more than the sugarplum dreams of an unrepentant egomaniac. There was never going to be a merger with anyone, because much to Sergio’s considerable chagrin, he was never going to have the upper hand. So now what? Well, it has come down to this: As you read this Sergio’s payday is being furiously negotiated. And the buyer? None other than the Hyundai Motor Group. For Sergio the Great, it couldn’t be a more perfect fit, but let me be blunt here, for Marchionne anyone who has the dough-re-me would constitute the “perfect fit.”

Hyundai has the major league cash it will take to buy out FCA. They will gladly take Jeep, Ram trucks and the minivan (and plant), and discard the rest. And what about those convicted hacks in Washington who will stomp their feet in protest at the very idea that an iconic American brand like Jeep might be sold to the Koreans? This just in: It matters not one iota. FCA is a foreign-owned company and there’s not a damn thing any one of those politicians can do about it, even though many jobs will be lost and many lives in this area will be disrupted.

Marchionne has been in a race against time to make some sort of deal before he leaves FCA sometime in 2019, so he can retire among his cronies back in Italy and remind them that he is and will always be “The G.O.A.T.” and that they should never, ever forget it (as they slurp their espressos in sleepy cafes awash in never-ending Italian sunsets and never-ending piles of cash). But at the bitter end Marchionne was nothing more than a calculated charlatan with a Brobdingnagian ego, and the only thing “great” about him is that he will go down as one of the greatest carpetbagging mercenaries in automotive history. (SERGIO POLISHES THE GOLDEN CANNOLI AS THE SALE OF FCA IS NIGH. –10/4)

The ugly reality? There is not a chance in hell that it’s going to happen. The automobile industry – domestic or otherwise – has never gotten over the fact that there has been a seismic shift to Silicon Valley when it comes to societal cool. Smart, handheld devices have transformed everything about the culture here and around the world, and even though the automobile companies are still an inexorable part of America’s industrial fabric and a center of technology and manufacturing expertise, the once ever-present automojo that dominated our culture isn’t there anymore. And it’s not coming back either.

So what to do? The automobile companies actually do know how to do some things better than The New Masters of the Universe in Silicon Valley. For instance the auto companies know how to mass-produce a wide variety of precision, complicated machines for a bewildering kaleidoscope of applications that transfer people safely, efficiently and in comfort to their destinations. In fact, most in Silicon Valley – except for St. Elon, of course – have acknowledged that fact both publicly and behind the scenes, so what’s wrong with the auto companies concentrating on that? What’s wrong with the auto companies continuing their pursuit of building the best machines possible while exploring new avenues of propulsion and efficiency? Sure, future automobiles should be ready to be connected – at the discretion of consumers – but connectivity in and of itself should never be the raison d’etre of these machines.

Not surprisingly, rational thinking and logic are in short supply in the auto biz of late, and “selling air” has progressed from being a perennial cottage industry in marketing to an all-hands-on-deck pursuit at the highest levels of these companies. And the Siren Song of Connectivity has lured normally smart auto executives into a zombie state, which has caused them to lose all touch with reality. These auto execs actually believe that they can be Masters of the Universe again, when in fact that chapter of the storied history of the automobile was closed over 50 years ago. The idea that connectivity is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the auto industry is preposterous. It may be boom times for “selling air” – but beyond that there is simply no there there. (BOOM TIMES FOR SELLING AIR.” –10/18)

Now that these advanced technologies - electrification, autonomy, connected vehicles, ride sharing, etc. - have been brought forward and put on the table, they’re being dissected, researched, developed, invested in and promoted as the second coming of our transportation future. But devoting billions to what will prove to be a narrow part of the transportation equation is a dangerous game, one fraught with considerable peril. And to see auto companies spending huge amounts of money trying to straddle both sides of the equation is painful to watch, because some of them won’t make it. Mistakes and miscalculations are inevitable, and it will prove to be far easier to succumb to the vagaries of the market because of the wrong bets or the wrong roads taken than it will be to guess right and come out ahead. The car companies that will be most vulnerable going forward will be those that ignore the considerable cash that can be made over the next couple of decades selling traditional cars and trucks, because that’s where the real money will be made. 

Some argue that we are on the precipice of a transformative mobility, one that will free us from the stifling binds of a moribund industry rooted in its past. And that’s all well and good, but this whole impetus is just getting started, and there is a long, long way to go. In fact, all it really means is that we’ve only reached the end of the beginning, and the next dimension of this business will play out in decades, not years. ("THE END OF THE BEGINNING.” –11/1)

So, as we wait for the death of the automobile and the industry as we know it, and suffer through this lingering interregnum, I have a message for the True Believers at all of the car companies: Don’t ever forget that you’re in the business of designing, engineering and building the best cars and trucks that you can possibly muster right now and in the foreseeable future. As long as you relentlessly execute to that goal, this industry will continue to not only be relevant and survive, and maybe even thrive. Because this just in: the Jetsons, at least until further notice, was just a cartoon. (THE LINGERING INTERREGNUM. –11/8)

And when the automotive world is inexorably altered, the brands that we’ve come to know and believe in with varying degrees of certainty will be severely altered, too, if not disappear outright. And to be honest, at this point, would you miss some of them? As the articles about the brave new transportation world just around the corner multiply, carefully nuanced discussion about the realities of what’s coming has given way to borderline hysteria. And now, as the snowball of commentaries turns into an avalanche, we’re being inundated with perspectives that cover the gamut from legitimate futurists to self-promoting hacks yearning for validity. I think it’s time to step back and take a deep breath. But at the same time, to suggest that everything will be the same is to wallow in a level of delusion that is simply hard to fathom, because the changes - though slower than the aggressive, “Ding-dong the automobile is dead!” zealots would like everyone to believe - are coming and they will indeed be dramatic, altering everyday life as we know it. So, let’s take a trip on the road to The Future, and see how your favorite brand – and brands that aren’t even a force yet – fare. 

Acura. Once upon a time this brand allegedly represented Honda’s best thinking, although it rarely lived up to that lofty goal. It turns out that the current NSX would be the last high point for the brand, as once Honda merges with General Motors in 2022, Acura will cease to exist. The only thing that will survive from Acura is the “calipers” emblem, which will now grace the front of Honda’s fuel cell and autonomous vehicles.

Apple. Arrogance intact – no big surprise – Apple enters the autonomous ride sharing market with its “Air” automotive brand. The big selling point, according to Apple, is the ghostly, almost translucent bodywork on its vehicles, which allows people to see how hip the owners are. 

Alfa Romeo. Before the St. Valentine’s massacre in 2019, when the Hyundai conglomerate buys FCA, lock, stock and espresso machines, Marchionne & Co. will spin off Alfa Romeo in the hopes that it will become a gold mine. Instead, it returns to being even more of a niche of a niche Italian brand than it is now, eventually fading from the American landscape by 2025.

Bentley. Abandoning all vestiges of its past, Bentley goes fully electric with autonomous capability for all of its vehicle offerings. Then, when its German overlords realize that no one really cares about electric Bentleys, they do an about-face and start churning out throwback ICE luxury-performance cars in 2026, to much industry-wide acclaim.

BMW. With “The Ultimate Driving Machine” advertising theme long since jettisoned to the dustbin of history, the automobile company once named BMW renames itself Happy Life. Churning out electric and autonomous vehicles to cover every possible market niche, as well as a few ICE-powered cars for the enthusiasts who still remember, Happy Life is acquired by Jaguar Land Rover in 2025, and is put to sleep in 2028 for being inconsequential and superfluous. 

Cadillac. After chasing every possible German-esque (aka Audi) automotive quality it could mimic over the years and squandering one of the most hallowed automotive legacies of all time, once Cadillac goes all-in for electric and autonomous cars it finally runs out of people who care about the brand. A hard-core group of True Believers left at GM attempts to resurrect the brand at the end of the next decade, but by then it’s too late. Cadillac dies a miserable, lonely death here in the U.S. – except for the Escalade (see below) – and it will be sold only in China, renamed Shining Light.

Chevrolet. The once-proud GM brand is split into two. One half is relegated to building faceless, colorless transportation devices for the masses, with the iconic bowtie emblem jettisoned in favor of a stylized “thumbs-up” logo, signifying its new moniker - “UP.” The other half makes profitable Silverado pickups and SUVS, where you can still find the prominently placed bowtie on the front and back.

Corvette. The hotbed of GM True Believers young and old, Corvette becomes the performance brand for the corporation. Churning out predominantly ICE-powered machines – from two-seat sports cars to sedans and coupes (Camaro) and medium and large SUVs (including the Escalade) - with hybrid assist, the Corvette brand becomes one of the last bastions for enthusiasts and cool stuff around the world. 

Ferrari. Thankfully existing as a full-blown ICE-powered high-performance brand with hybrid assist, Ferrari makes a comeback of sorts after Sergio Marchionne’s grand plan to turn Ferrari into an “all things for all people” brand is met with stiff resistance. After the company is removed from Marchionne’s control in 2023, Ferrari blossoms again, even though the least expensive Ferrari will cost $750,000 by then.

Ford. After pursuing every possible way to become a cell phone-like technology player, Ford does a “180” and goes back to building real cars, trucks and SUVs for real people. Driven by its historic ad theme “Opening the Highways to All Mankind,” Ford survives by being the honest American brand.

GMC. The other nostalgia brand in the GM portfolio, GMC soldiers on alongside Buick, although the “We Are Professional Grade” and “Like a Pro” marketing chatter is discarded in favor of the simple ad theme, “Faithfully.”

Honda. Once the powers that be at Honda acquiesced to the notion that they just couldn’t survive any longer by going it alone, its shocking merger with GM in 2022 turns out to be a very fruitful partnership indeed. Able to do a deep dive into shared technology, Honda comes up with a glittering array of advanced transportation vehicles that actually bristle with innovation, creative thinking and compelling design. Who knew?

Hyundai. After swallowing FCA whole for $20 billion, Hyundai lets Sergio & Co. keep the “F” and deletes the “C,” while retaining the Jeep and Ram Truck brands. While pouring more billions into both brands, Hyundai discovers that there’s an undeniable softening in the Ram Truck franchise, which is alarming, except that they can’t make enough all-electric Wranglers to keep up with demand, so the net-net of it is all good.

Infiniti. After power hungry Carlos Ghosn insists on making the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance the King of the Automotive World, the Infiniti brand becomes a casualty of the Fog of War and falls by the wayside. Consumers stopped caring after Ghosn started badge-engineering Leafs and calling them Infinitis, reminding automotive historians of the dark days of the Cadillac Cimarron.

Jaguar. Flush from making money hand-over-fist for years, the conversion to 80 percent fully electric and 20 percent ICE-powered Jaguars goes smoothly. Because of this seamless transition to its product portfolio and the fact that their products are just so damn good, plus its decision not to cater to the ride-sharing fleets, Jaguar’s viability in the market grows.

Kia. The Korean brand partner to Hyundai undergoes a tumultuous upheaval as its “all hands on deck” foray into becoming the Korean BMW falls flatter than a skinny pancake. Forced to reassess itself yet again, Kia decides to build transportation for the masses, but since it’s doing what any number of manufacturers are already doing, it gets lost in translation, ceasing to exist by 2028.

Lamborghini. The German-financed Italian supercar company finally eclipses Ferrari as the most desirable exotic automotive brand in the world. Committed to fully-hybrid performance, Lamborghini not only stays true to itself, it undercuts Ferrari at every turn with better design, higher performance and an ultra-cool factor that Ferrari took for granted and walked away from years ago.

Land Rover. After a disastrous foray into trying to become the most luxurious all-electric SUV lineup by 2025, Land Rover operatives shove the pendulum back and decide to go back to offering primarily ICE-powered machines with electric assist. Land Rover enthusiasts are ecstatic.

Lexus. Toyota management decrees that not only will Lexus be fully electric, but Lexus models will be exclusively hydrogen electric fuel cell-powered. To no one’s surprise they pull it off and Lexus not only survives, but thrives.

Lincoln. After chasing their tails while trying to become fully electric, Lincoln operatives go back to hybrid-electric drivetrains and build SUV variations in small, medium and large. Except for the upcoming giant, old school Continental, which will utilize the Navigator architecture to create the most imposing luxury sedan on earth.

Lotus. With an infusion of endless Chinese money, Lotus finally becomes the high-performance sports car player it has always wanted to be, much to Porsche’s chagrin. With slick ICE/hybrid assist drivetrains, Lotus matches Porsche segment by segment with competitive, compelling machines.

Lyft. The Lyft product portfolio revolves around a tall, phone booth-like appliance that it hopes will become the obligatory autonomous ride-sharing device the world over. Except that it’s so ugly that people refuse to be caught dead in them. 

McLaren. The British supercar manufacturer that marches to the beat of its own drumming will continue to build exotic hybrid supercars that revel in their non-Italian provenance. Its fans remain committed and enthusiastic. 

Microsoft. Running an open-sourced design competition, Microsoft comes up with an autonomous/ride sharing/flying car that resembles George Jetsons' ride. But it doesn’t fly and its default setting leaves operators stranded with a blank screen by the side of the road, waiting to reboot.

Mini. BMW finally runs out of variations on the Mini theme, with the brand going away in 2023.

Mitsubishi. The “Mitsubishi Miracle” never materializes because consumers ultimately couldn’t be bothered to give a shit, even with The Ghosnster calling the shots. End of the road by 2024.

Nissan. Shaking the leaves from the trees, Carlos Ghosn goes all-in for all electric, giving Nissan every piece of new technology that he can get his hands on. Except that all Nissan buyers want to know is how much that Altima is a month.

Porsche. The proud franchise of the VW Group leads with advanced technology, compelling designs, riveting high-performance and a desirability factor that remains sky high. It’s just going to cost a lot more to enjoy it.

Ram Trucks. For some reason the Ram Truck franchise gets lost in translation once the Hyundai Group gets its hands on it. The reason? In typical Hyundai fashion company operatives believe they know better and think they can do it better than it has ever been done before. Because of that the Ram Truck brand will be on the ropes by 2025.

Rolls Royce. Somehow the brand for people who continuously ask, “What’s the point of having fuck you money if you never say fuck you?” soldiers on with advanced technology only when it’s appropriate because after all, people who buy a Rolls Royce aren’t into being constrained by range limitations, or other such tedium.

Subaru. The brand grudgingly transitions to hybrid technology but only on its terms, and only if it can keep its rabid enthusiast base happy.

Tesla. The Grand Poobah his own self, Elon Musk, finally grows tired of the whole auto thing and winds down Tesla, selling off its technology to whoever will give him the most cash money for it. The beginning of the end was the disastrous Model 3 rollout, which craters the company once and for all. Tesla will continue to exist in other areas (batteries, home systems, etc.) but it will be out of the auto business all together by 2023.

Toyota. Akio Toyoda so desperately wants Toyota to not be left at the gate – any gate – that Toyota throws billions upon billions at any technology that even has a wisp of validity. Not exactly a focused strategy, but Toyota has enough cash to chase windmills, and in the end it will be there, one way or the other.

Uber. It will be taken over by Lyft. And nobody cares.

Volvo/Geely. This emerging automotive juggernaut will be equal to the competition in every transportation challenge that it puts its mind to. Behold the next great automotive empire, one that will grow in significance in the New Mobility economy.

VW. The world’s dominant automotive conglomerate – much to ol’ Carlos’s chagrin - VW will continue to dominate in all phases of the transportation/mobility game.

WAYMO. They think they can, they think they can, but will they? Or will they just keep demonstrating their gee-wiz autonomous technology on perfect, sun-baked roads in Arizona?

As you can see, some prominent brands will remain strong and thrive, while others will fade from the scene. Some of those will be dearly lamented, while others will hover somewhere near good riddance. This Brave New Brand World will hold many surprises yet to come. In the meantime, just consider this fair warning. ("A BRAVE NEW BRAND WORLD." -11/15)

Despite Elon’s latest show, the facts are these: Tesla is a failed enterprise by every conceivable measure. And building a few high-priced machines for The Enlightened Elite does not constitute anything more than a boutique car company with nowhere to go but down. The Model 3 was supposed to fix all of that, but that is just not gonna happen, by any stretch of the imagination. Not even close, in fact.

The net-net of this charade? The truck is a pipe dream, and frankly, other vehicle manufacturers will probably beat Musk to market with electrified trucks of their own. As for the sports car? Few people believe it will ever see the light of day, qualifying as even more of a pipe dream than the truck. At least the truck has a believable premise. The sports car is just more unmitigated bullshit and unbridled swingin’ dick-ism from America’s Master of Deception.

As I said last week, I predict that Musk, after being horribly embarrassed by the total failure of the Model 3, will finally grow tired of the whole auto thing and wind down Tesla, selling off its technology to whoever will give him the most cash money for it, so he can then focus on his real love – firing off rockets and colonizing Mars. Then we’ll all finally have something to be thankful for. (AMERICA’S MASTER OF DECEPTION.” –11/22)

As most readers know, I despise and detest every frickin’ award perpetrated by the automotive media. It’s a veritable Huckster’s Paradise simply devoid of credibility on even the most basic of levels, and, as most enthusiasts who actually read the “buff” books know, they’re blatant revenue-generating scams masquerading as achievements worthy of gravitas. (HUCKSTER’S PARADISE. –11/29)

Editor’s Note: Peter churns out column after column, week after week, and produces a body of work every year that is simply staggering when you really think about it. But every once in a while I feel it’s a good idea to find out what’s really on Peter’s mind. Not in column form, but through a series of rapid-fire, real-time questions. So I conducted an email interview for a frenzied hour on Tuesday morning (12/6, 7:30 a.m.) and ready or not, here he is, PMD, in all his unpluggedness. –WG

What are your thoughts about the headlong rush to autonomous vehicles and the insistence by these auto companies – especially GM – and suppliers that they’re poised to make boatloads of cash in The New Mobility Economy?

I am beyond skeptical. First of all, the efficacy of the technology is suspect, because it’s fraught with fundamental issues and recurring problems. Anyone who thinks that a magic switch will be flipped and that we’ll all be suddenly awash in autonomous cars careening around faithfully doing what they’re supposed to do is simply wishful thinking. As for the companies lining up to be a part of The New Mobility Economy by cranking out cars for the masses to be squired around town in, on paper it all sounds good. The reality will be much less than that.

GM is insistent that they will be in the thick of The New Mobility Economy and that they will win. What do you make of this?

GM has been insistent about a lot of things over the years that haven’t panned out. What’s different about this time? They’re talking a good game, with Mary Barra and Dan "I Am" Ammann getting all puffed up about GM’s bullish future but it all remains to be seen. They are making a calculated shift to this “New Mobility Economy” but what they’re really doing is turning GM into a commodity company. And that may not end well for them.

So, what about the future?

Anyone who thinks that the idea – and the freedom – of personal mobility will give way to a blissful national stupor dominated by robo cars is missing the mark. As I’ve said repeatedly, robo cars will have limited use and applications in urban centers, but beyond that this country is going to be moved by personal vehicles that people acquire of their own volition for decades to come.  

And then what?

I do see a “transportation dichotomy” looming. Some manufacturers will completely throw over to building mass-use autonomous cars, while other manufacturers will retain brands – especially luxury brands – for people who want them, because they will remain profitable. I think in the future people will have a “gray” car, meaning an appliance for when they absolutely need one for mundane duty, but they will also continue to seek out real cars that they actually desire to own. The car companies that squander the legacy of their brands will simply disappear into the fog. Take GM for instance. I can see GM management’s judgment being clouded on the bet that obscene profits will come their way through the promised ride-sharing explosion. But that is a recipe for disaster. The smarter automobile companies will identify brands that they absolutely will not relinquish, and then they will continue to nourish them well into the future. I have zero confidence that Barra and Ammann understand that.

And what about electric vehicles?

They’re coming hard and fast. And once the big players start cranking them out we’re going to see 25-30 percent market penetration in no time. But the fact that this country doesn’t have a cohesive plan for a national charging network is a travesty and simply inexcusable. I do think that hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric vehicles will be the ultimate winning technology.

What do you think of these new monthly vehicle subscriptions?

I think it's an interesting way of retaining brand loyalty, except that the prices as they're being quoted now are simply ridiculous. I will be interested in seeing what Lincoln does, as Lincoln executives have promised that their plan will be much more reasonable. A giant "we'll see."

You’ve been relentless in “Fumes” with a series of columns about The Future of Racing. Where do you think it’s going, ultimately?

Racing is in deep trouble. With the manufacturers chasing their tails on myriad mobility options, racing will continue to be pushed down the list of priorities. As I said a few weeks ago, all racing will become “vintage” racing, as the disconnect between what’s going on in our street vehicles and cars used in competition grows by the day. The only hope in all of this is that certain manufacturers will understand that there will be money to be made with high-performance cars and parts for decades to come, and the manufacturers who continue to play in the personal vehicle market will want to be there. 

What about the two very disparate racing series, Formula E and NASCAR?

Formula E is the flavor of the moment but the series is completely devoid of excitement. This just in: The consistent allure of racing since Day One has been the visceral appeal of the sound and the fury. The woefully benign sound signature of a Formula E machine has all the audio appeal of a slot car, as in Not Good. Next year, when Formula E will run their entire races on one full charge (the competitors change cars half-way through the races now), it may become more interesting, but now? No.

As for NASCAR I have nothing good to say about it. It’s a nostalgia racing play and its appeal is fading faster than the Lions’ hopes of making the playoffs. The declining spiral of NASCAR’s popularity is actually accelerating, yet the powers that be in Daytona Beach steadfastly refuse to do anything about it, and NASCAR’s chief enablers – the participating manufacturers – continue to be dupes of Brian France and his inept posse. NASCAR management’s relentless intransigence combined with the litany of repeated mistakes is killing that form of motorsport. It’s up to the participating manufacturers to extract meaningful changes from NASCAR, and that means – at the very minimum – a 25 percent reduction in that death march of a schedule. I’m not holding my breath. (PMD UNPLUGGED, PART I. –12/6)

What are your thoughts about Mary Barra, in terms of her performance so far? –RC, Nashville, Tennessee. 

I give her mixed marks. On the one hand she’s proven to be quite capable as a CEO, but on the other, I find some of her decisions to be on the ragged edge of being questionable. Walking away from markets is never a good thing, despite the long list of reasons given for GM’s decision to do so. I also think GM’s bet on The Future of the business has too much fantasy connected to it. It hinges on all sorts of things coming into play that really have no basis in reality. And that’s a recipe for disaster. Her performance yesterday at the Automotive Press Association event in Detroit was typical for Mary Barra - walking in the middle of the road, filled with platitudes, while carefully not saying much. Yes, I get it, much of an auto CEO’s life is about not really having a point of view and not saying anything that could be misconstrued, but at this point, I expect much more from her. And one last thing, the fact that she and Dan “I Am” Ammann have steadfastly refused to appoint a chief marketing officer for the company is a glaring mistake. The decision to have the divisions wander around in the marketing desert on their own has been an abject failure, especially given the insipid advertising they keep generating. I don’t know if she and Ammann are reluctant to add another million-dollar body to the executive suite because they’re deathly afraid of giving someone with serious marketing experience and a point of view the autonomy to make decisions, or what, but it’s an egregiously bad call and a giant, steaming bowl of Not Good.

What’s the deal, you haven’t said much about Elon and Sergio lately, are you going soft? –Hank J., Sausalito, California

I think I’ve pretty much covered those two, and I really don’t have much to add. Marchionne is positioning FCA to be sold and that’s the task given to him by his Fiat heirs/handlers, because they’re deathly afraid of running through – and out of – their money. And being the carpetbagging mercenary that he is he will do exactly that, most likely with Hyundai. As for Musk, for all of his brilliance and vision, the fact that he can’t build the Model 3 in quantity and with quality is an indictment of his entire automotive adventure. And his calculated distractions – an all-electric semi-truck! and I’m gonna launch my sports car to Mars! – are just that. And I love the fact that companies are already lining up to order his trucks, when he has demonstrated repeatedly that he can’t build his vision with any semblance of consistency or quality. Do they live under a rock, or what? I do have a new name for him though: Teslon. Because he has become the Teflon Tech Guru in that criticism bolstered with facts just rolls off of him. If I didn’t hear about either one of them ever again I’d be thrilled, but of course that’s not going to happen.

What do you really think is going to become of Cadillac? –J.H., Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Cadillac chief Johan de Nysschen has made it clear that he is not only remaking Cadillac in Audi’s likeness, but his favorite buzzword of late is “global” in that every decision made about the brand revolves around that premise. What does that mean, exactly? What that means is that Cadillac is well on its way to becoming a Chinese brand. “Global” is just another code word for China in de Nysschen’s lexicon, and to think otherwise is just delusional. Any hoary notions of Cadillac being one of the most iconic and authentic American brands is just that, they’re irrelevant to de Nysschen’s train of thought. Will the brand survive in America? Yes, because Cadillac is going to crank out enough crossovers to satisfy the insatiable demand for them by American consumers. As for the legacy and heritage of the brand, forget about it. De Nysschen doesn’t care, and apparently Barra and Ammann don’t care either. 

What do you think of the car companies and their obsession to turn cars into mobile shopping platforms to rival the cell phone? –WG

I think it’s total, unmitigated bullshit. This just in: Cars will never replace the cell phone. They won’t even come remotely close to doing that, in fact. And this harebrained notion that by turning your automobile into a mobile shopping platform it will somehow draw new – and younger – owners into the auto orbit is the dumbest thing I’ve heard of oh, in the last three decades. The auto companies need to get over themselves, because they will never rival the Tech Gods in Silicon Valley. It just will not happen. But the auto companies do one important thing that Silicon Valley doesn’t do, and that’s build complex transportation machines that actually serve their customers extremely well. They need to stick to that, and leave mobile shopping and game playing to cell phones. (PMD UNPLUGGED, PART II. –12/13)

And so, here we are, at the end of another tumultuous year. To say it has been wild ride is superfluous, because it has become standard operating procedure in this business. And the time for reflection is extremely short, because the Detroit Auto Show is just three weeks away. 

Today, approaching the nineteenth anniversary of this publication, I’m immensely proud of Autoextremist.com and what we’ve accomplished with it. And I’m even more proud to say that, despite countless imitators, Autoextremist.com is still the Incendiary Voice and still the force to be reckoned with in this business, while delivering the kind of commentary and insight that simply can’t be found anywhere else.

But that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied, or ready to call a truce with the industry and shuffle off into GoAlongToGetAlongLand to write about the calming effect of bunny rabbits and rainbows, and make wind chimes in my spare time. 

I start my week at 3:00 a.m. each Monday morning and I immerse myself in this business the rest of the time because I am passionate about what I do. The writing is almost all consuming, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. In order to bring it every single week like I do, you have to love it. And I do.

But it’s no secret that the overall tone and tenor of the business has become even more tedious right now, which I didn’t think was possible. I’m tired of hearing that we’re on the precipice of profound change when in fact this business has its future pretty much laid out for it for the next ten years, at least. The headlong rush into autonomous vehicles is a train everyone’s jumping on, even though no one actually knows where it’s going or understands how long it’s going to take to get there. I view even the most conservative predictions about the onset of autonomy to be wildly optimistic, and some of these companies are going to get caught out, big-time. And this is me not feeling sorry for them.

Electrification is real, but how much and how fast? The eagerly accepted vision of a utopian all-electric automotive fleet is a full-on pipe dream, as the internal combustion engine has a long, long, way to go in terms of even more efficient development and its longevity. And guess what? The massive infrastructure investment needed to support electric vehicles – imagine every single gas station in the country having to add quick-charge electric vehicle islands in order to cover 25 percent electrification of the U.S. market – is simply staggering. We’re not there yet. We’re not even close, in fact. And it’s not happening anytime soon either.

I am tired of the bullshit, however, and I’m tired of the repeated mistakes perpetuated by people in this business who should know better. I’m also tired of the fundamental intransigence and the relentless adhering to hoary irrelevance that plagues this industry at every turn. But I’ll never get tired of calling out the new “messiahs” du jour trying to shove their act down our throats.

In fact, I’m just getting warmed up. 

In closing, the winds of change blowing through this industry are ominous and cold. Seasoned, intelligent executives have convinced themselves that they’re on the cusp of a glittering, limitless future that will bury the traditional auto company model within the decade. Some of these executives are going to find out the hard way that their exuberant prognostications are not going to pan out. And because of that, some of the big-name auto companies that have become part of the American fabric will simply disappear. 

As Bob Dylan succinctly said, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. 

Wordgirl and I wish the best to you and yours this Holiday Season, and all the best in the New Year.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for the year 2017.


PMD UNPLUGGED, PART II.
by Editor
12 Dec 2017 at 11:44am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Editor’s Note: Part II of my “unplugged” interview with Peter occurred this morning (12/12, 9:30 a.m.). Though Peter is notorious for his early mornings, I got him to hold off until a more decent hour (a minor victory). We weren’t going to do a Part II, but because questions poured in from some of our readers, we decided to go ahead with it. We’re also including the previous questions/answers from Part I below Part II. So, here we go... –WG

What are your thoughts about Mary Barra, in terms of her performance so far? –RC, Nashville, Tennessee. 

I give her mixed marks. On the one hand she’s proven to be quite capable as a CEO, but on the other, I find some of her decisions to be on the ragged edge of being questionable. Walking away from markets is never a good thing, despite the long list of reasons given for GM’s decision to do so. I also think GM’s bet on The Future of the business has too much fantasy connected to it. It hinges on all sorts of things coming into play that really have no basis in reality. And that’s a recipe for disaster. Her performance yesterday at the Automotive Press Association event in Detroit was typical for Mary Barra - walking in the middle of the road, filled with platitudes, while carefully not saying much. Yes, I get it, much of an auto CEO’s life is about not really having a point of view and not saying anything that could be misconstrued, but at this point, I expect much more from her. And one last thing, the fact that she and Dan “I Am” Ammann have steadfastly refused to appoint a chief marketing officer for the company is a glaring mistake. The decision to have the divisions wander around in the marketing desert on their own has been an abject failure, especially given the insipid advertising they keep generating. I don’t know if she and Ammann are reluctant to add another million-dollar body to the executive suite because they’re deathly afraid of giving someone with serious marketing experience and a point of view the autonomy to make decisions, or what, but it’s an egregiously bad call and a giant, steaming bowl of Not Good.

What’s the deal, you haven’t said much about Elon and Sergio lately, are you going soft? –Hank J., Sausalito, California

I think I’ve pretty much covered those two, and I really don’t have much to add. Marchionne is positioning FCA to be sold and that’s the task given to him by his Fiat heirs/handlers, because they’re deathly afraid of running through – and out of – their money. And being the carpetbagging mercenary that he is he will do exactly that, most likely with Hyundai. As for Musk, for all of his brilliance and vision, the fact that he can’t build the Model 3 in quantity and with quality is an indictment of his entire automotive adventure. And his calculated distractions – an all-electric semi-truck! and I’m gonna launch my sports car to Mars! – are just that. And I love the fact that these companies are already lining up to order his trucks, when he has demonstrated repeatedly that he can’t build his vision with any semblance of consistency or quality. Do they live under a rock, or what? I do have a new name for him though: Teslon. Because he has become the Teflon Tech Guru in that criticism bolstered with facts just rolls off of him. If I didn’t hear about either one of them ever again I’d be thrilled, but of course that’s not going to happen.

What do you really think is going to become of Cadillac? –J.H., Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Cadillac chief Johan de Nysschen has made it clear that he is not only remaking Cadillac in Audi’s likeness, but his favorite buzzword of late is “global” in that every decision made about the brand revolves around that premise. What does that mean, exactly? What that means is that Cadillac is well on its way to becoming a Chinese brand. “Global” is just another code word for China in de Nysschen’s lexicon, and to think otherwise is just delusional. Any hoary notions of Cadillac being one of the most iconic and authentic American brands is just that, they’re irrelevant to de Nysschen’s train of thought. Will the brand survive in America? Yes, because Cadillac is going to crank out enough crossovers to satisfy the insatiable demand for them by American consumers. As for the legacy and heritage of the brand, forget about it. De Nysschen doesn’t care, and apparently Barra and Ammann don’t care either. 

What do you think of the car companies and their obsession to turn cars into mobile shopping platforms to rival the cell phone? –WG

I think it’s total, unmitigated bullshit. This just in: Cars will never replace the cell phone. They won’t even come remotely close to doing that, in fact. And this harebrained notion that by turning your automobile into a mobile shopping platform it will somehow draw new – and younger – owners into the auto orbit is the dumbest thing I’ve heard of oh, in the last three decades. The auto companies need to get over themselves, because they will never rival the Tech Gods in Silicon Valley. It just will not happen. But the auto companies do one important thing that Silicon Valley doesn’t do, and that’s build complex transportation machines that actually serve their customers extremely well. They need to stick to that, and leave mobile shopping and game playing to cell phones.

 

PMD UNPLUGGED, PART I.

Uwe Ellinghaus announced he is leaving his chief marketing position at Cadillac at the end of the year due to “personal reasons.” What do you think about that?

Multiple research surveys have been conducted over the last decade that indicate that the average tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer, no matter what the industry, lasts anywhere from 24 to 30 months, and then they get fired, resign, get another gig, or simply wander off into the dusk and don’t come back. This is not surprising. The burnout factor is extremely high and depending on the internal battles involved, the job can take a tremendous toll. The chief marketing job at Cadillac involves constant travel to Shanghai, so, even though I haven’t spoken to Uwe since the announcement, I would bet that had something to do with it. Uwe is genuine, and a very bright guy. That Johan de Nysschen decided to transform Cadillac into the spitting image of Audi is a strategic direction that I flat-out disagree with, but I do wish Uwe the best.

What are your thoughts about the headlong rush to autonomous vehicles and the insistence by these auto companies – especially GM – and suppliers that they’re poised to make boatloads of cash in The New Mobility Economy?

I am beyond skeptical. First of all, the efficacy of the technology is suspect, because it’s fraught with fundamental issues and recurring problems. Anyone who thinks that a magic switch will be flipped and that we’ll all be suddenly awash in autonomous cars careening around faithfully doing what they’re supposed to do is simply wishful thinking. As for the companies lining up to be a part of The New Mobility Economy by cranking out cars for the masses to be squired around town in, on paper it all sounds good. The reality will be much less than that.

GM is insistent that they will be in the thick of The New Mobility Economy and that they will win. What do you make of this?

GM has been insistent about a lot of things over the years that haven’t panned out. What’s different about this time? They’re talking a good game, with Mary Barra and Dan "I Am" Ammann getting all puffed up about GM’s bullish future but it all remains to be seen. They are making a calculated shift to this “New Mobility Economy” but what they’re really doing is turning GM into a commodity company. And that may not end well for them.

So, what about the future?

Anyone who thinks that the idea – and the freedom – of personal mobility will give way to a blissful national stupor dominated by robo cars is missing the mark. As I’ve said repeatedly, robo cars will have limited use and applications in urban centers, but beyond that this country is going to be moved by personal vehicles that people acquire of their own volition for decades to come.  

And then what?

I do see a “transportation dichotomy” looming. Some manufacturers will completely throw over to building mass-use autonomous cars, while other manufacturers will retain brands – especially luxury brands – for people who want them, because they will remain profitable. I think in the future people will have a “gray” car, meaning an appliance for when they absolutely need one for mundane duty, but they will also continue to seek out real cars that they actually desire to own. The car companies that squander the legacy of their brands will simply disappear into the fog. Take GM for instance. I can see GM management’s judgment being clouded on the bet that obscene profits will come their way through the promised ride-sharing explosion. But that is a recipe for disaster. The smarter automobile companies will identify brands that they absolutely will not relinquish, and then they will continue to nourish them well into the future. I have zero confidence that Barra and Ammann understand that.

And what about electric vehicles?

They’re coming hard and fast. And once the big players start cranking them out we’re going to see 25-30 percent market penetration in no time. But the fact that this country doesn’t have a cohesive plan for a national charging network is a travesty and simply inexcusable. I do think that hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric vehicles will be the ultimate winning technology.

What do you think of these new monthly vehicle subscriptions?

I think it's an interesting way of retaining brand loyalty, except that the prices as they're being quoted now are simply ridiculous. I will be interested in seeing what Lincoln does, as Lincoln executives have promised that their plan will be much more reasonable. A giant "we'll see."

You’ve been relentless in “Fumes” with a series of columns about The Future of Racing. Where do you think it’s going, ultimately?

Racing is in deep trouble. With the manufacturers chasing their tails on myriad mobility options, racing will continue to be pushed down the list of priorities. As I said a few weeks ago, all racing will become “vintage” racing, as the disconnect between what’s going on in our street vehicles and cars used in competition grows by the day. The only hope in all of this is that certain manufacturers will understand that there will be money to be made with high-performance cars and parts for decades to come, and the manufacturers who continue to play in the personal vehicle market will want to be there. 

What about the two very disparate racing series, Formula E and NASCAR?

Formula E is the flavor of the moment but the series is completely devoid of excitement. This just in: The consistent allure of racing since Day One has been the visceral appeal of the sound and the fury. The woefully benign sound signature of a Formula E machine has all the audio appeal of a slot car, as in Not Good. Next year, when Formula E will run their entire races on one full charge (the competitors change cars half-way through the races now), it may become more interesting, but now? No.

As for NASCAR I have nothing good to say about it. It’s a nostalgia racing play and its appeal is fading faster than the Lions’ hopes of making the playoffs. The declining spiral of NASCAR’s popularity is actually accelerating, yet the powers that be in Daytona Beach steadfastly refuse to do anything about it, and NASCAR’s chief enablers – the participating manufacturers – continue to be dupes of Brian France and his inept posse. NASCAR management’s relentless intransigence combined with the litany of repeated mistakes is killing that form of motorsport. It’s up to the participating manufacturers to extract meaningful changes from NASCAR, and that means – at the very minimum – a 25 percent reduction in that death march of a schedule. I’m not holding my breath. 

What do you really think of the Lamborghini Urus, the car we’re featuring in this week’s “On The Table”?

First of all, Lamborghini is my favorite supercar brand. The fact that the VW Group gets it and has actually nourished this brand to new heights is commendable. The SUV/crossover explosion in the market is a wave that shows no signs of abating, so wishing for a return to sanity is a waste of time. And I will say that the design of the Urus is compelling. But does anyone actually need an SUV with 650HP? No, but the Urus definitely is a Lamborghini, and for those out there who don’t want to take their Huracán out on bad days, it’s dead solid perfect.

And finally, you took a series of furious broadsides from a Motor Trend editor - which you agreed not to publish - over last week’s column. Do you have any further thoughts about that?

Not really. As I have said repeatedly, I loathe, detest and abhor any and all automotive “awards.” I think it’s all a load of unmitigated bullshit full of sound and fury signifying nothing. And anyone who actually believes that there isn’t a revenue component to these car awards is simply living in a dreamland. I don’t care how much the editors scrupulously put together their evaluations and vehemently insist that their integrity is unsullied and untainted by the commercialism of it all; the reality is that the marketing and promotion of those awards adds a substantive revenue dimension for the publication. As I said in “On The Table” last week, at the very least the M/T editors are guilty of woefully piss-poor judgment in canonizing a car that doesn't deserve any of the accolades it has been given. And if any of these self-righteous M/T editors bothered to check out even a sample of the comments out in the Internet, they'd realize that M/T's credibility when it comes to the COTY is at the very least highly suspect, if not out and out dismissed as a perennial revenue grab.

On a final note, the winds of change blowing through this industry are ominous and cold. Seasoned, intelligent executives have convinced themselves that they’re on the cusp of a glittering, limitless future that will bury the traditional auto company model within the decade. Some of these executives are going to find out the hard way that their exuberant prognostications are not going to pan out. And because of that, some of the big-name auto companies that have become part of the American fabric will simply disappear. 

As Bob succinctly said, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. 

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


PMD UNPLUGGED.
by Editor
5 Dec 2017 at 9:53am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Editor’s Note: Peter churns out column after column, week after week, and produces a body of work every year that is simply staggering when you really think about it. But every once in a while I feel it’s a good idea to find out what’s really on Peter’s mind. Not in column form, but through a series of rapid-fire, real-time questions. So I conducted an email interview for a frenzied hour on Tuesday morning (12/6, 7:30 a.m.) and ready or not, here he is, PMD, in his unpluggedness. –WG

Uwe Ellinghaus announced he is leaving his chief marketing position at Cadillac at the end of the year due to “personal reasons.” What do you think about that?

Multiple research surveys have been conducted over the last decade that indicate that the average tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer, no matter what the industry, lasts anywhere from 24 to 30 months, and then they get fired, resign, get another gig, or simply wander off into the dusk and don’t come back. This is not surprising. The burnout factor is extremely high and depending on the internal battles involved, the job can take a tremendous toll. The chief marketing job at Cadillac involves constant travel to Shanghai, so, even though I haven’t spoken to Uwe since the announcement, I would bet that had something to do with it. Uwe is genuine, and a very bright guy. That Johan de Nysschen decided to transform Cadillac into the spitting image of Audi is a strategic direction that I flat-out disagree with, but I do wish Uwe the best.

What are your thoughts about the headlong rush to autonomous vehicles and the insistence by these auto companies – especially GM – and suppliers that they’re poised to make boatloads of cash in The New Mobility Economy?

I am beyond skeptical. First of all, the efficacy of the technology is suspect, because it’s fraught with fundamental issues and recurring problems. Anyone who thinks that a magic switch will be flipped and that we’ll all be suddenly awash in autonomous cars careening around faithfully doing what they’re supposed to do is simply wishful thinking. As for the companies lining up to be a part of The New Mobility Economy by cranking out cars for the masses to be squired around town in, on paper it all sounds good. The reality will be much less than that.

GM is insistent that they will be in the thick of The New Mobility Economy and that they will win. What do you make of this?

GM has been insistent about a lot of things over the years that haven’t panned out. What’s different about this time? They’re talking a good game, with Mary Barra and Dan "I Am" Ammann getting all puffed up about GM’s bullish future but it all remains to be seen. They are making a calculated shift to this “New Mobility Economy” but what they’re really doing is turning GM into a commodity company. And that may not end well for them.

So, what about the future?

Anyone who thinks that the idea – and the freedom – of personal mobility will give way to a blissful national stupor dominated by robo cars is missing the mark. As I’ve said repeatedly, robo cars will have limited use and applications in urban centers, but beyond that this country is going to be moved by personal vehicles that people acquire of their own volition for decades to come.  

And then what?

I do see a “transportation dichotomy” looming. Some manufacturers will completely throw over to building mass-use autonomous cars, while other manufacturers will retain brands – especially luxury brands – for people who want them, because they will remain profitable. I think in the future people will have a “gray” car, meaning an appliance for when they absolutely need one for mundane duty, but they will also continue to seek out real cars that they actually desire to own. The car companies that squander the legacy of their brands will simply disappear into the fog. Take GM for instance. I can see GM management’s judgment being clouded on the bet that obscene profits will come their way through the promised ride-sharing explosion. But that is a recipe for disaster. The smarter automobile companies will identify brands that they absolutely will not relinquish, and then they will continue to nourish them well into the future. I have zero confidence that Barra and Ammann understand that.

And what about electric vehicles?

They’re coming hard and fast. And once the big players start cranking them out we’re going to see 25-30 percent market penetration in no time. But the fact that this country doesn’t have a cohesive plan for a national charging network is a travesty and simply inexcusable. I do think that hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric vehicles will be the ultimate winning technology.

What do you think of these new monthly vehicle subscriptions?

I think it's an interesting way of retaining brand loyalty, except that the prices as they're being quoted now are simply ridiculous. I will be interested in seeing what Lincoln does, as Lincoln executives have promised that their plan will be much more reasonable. A giant "we'll see."

You’ve been relentless in “Fumes” with a series of columns about The Future of Racing. Where do you think it’s going, ultimately?

Racing is in deep trouble. With the manufacturers chasing their tails on myriad mobility options, racing will continue to be pushed down the list of priorities. As I said a few weeks ago, all racing will become “vintage” racing, as the disconnect between what’s going on in our street vehicles and cars used in competition grows by the day. The only hope in all of this is that certain manufacturers will understand that there will be money to be made with high-performance cars and parts for decades to come, and the manufacturers who continue to play in the personal vehicle market will want to be there. 

What about the two very disparate racing series, Formula E and NASCAR?

Formula E is the flavor of the moment but the series is completely devoid of excitement. This just in: The consistent allure of racing since Day One has been the visceral appeal of the sound and the fury. The woefully benign sound signature of a Formula E machine has all the audio appeal of a slot car, as in Not Good. Next year, when Formula E will run their entire races on one full charge (the competitors change cars half-way through the races now), it may become more interesting, but now? No.

As for NASCAR I have nothing good to say about it. It’s a nostalgia racing play and its appeal is fading faster than the Lions’ hopes of making the playoffs. The declining spiral of NASCAR’s popularity is actually accelerating, yet the powers that be in Daytona Beach steadfastly refuse to do anything about it, and NASCAR’s chief enablers – the participating manufacturers – continue to be dupes of Brian France and his inept posse. NASCAR management’s relentless intransigence combined with the litany of repeated mistakes is killing that form of motorsport. It’s up to the participating manufacturers to extract meaningful changes from NASCAR, and that means – at the very minimum – a 25 percent reduction in that death march of a schedule. I’m not holding my breath. 

What do you really think of the Lamborghini Urus, the car we’re featuring in this week’s “On The Table”?

First of all, Lamborghini is my favorite supercar brand. The fact that the VW Group gets it and has actually nourished this brand to new heights is commendable. The SUV/crossover explosion in the market is a wave that shows no signs of abating, so wishing for a return to sanity is a waste of time. And I will say that the design of the Urus is compelling. But does anyone actually need an SUV with 650HP? No, but the Urus definitely is a Lamborghini, and for those out there who don’t want to take their Huracán out on bad days, it’s dead solid perfect.

And finally, you took a series of furious broadsides from a Motor Trend editor - which you agreed not to publish - over last week’s column. Do you have any further thoughts about that?

Not really. As I have said repeatedly, I loathe, detest and abhor any and all automotive “awards.” I think it’s all a load of unmitigated bullshit full of sound and fury signifying nothing. And anyone who actually believes that there isn’t a revenue component to these car awards is simply living in a dreamland. I don’t care how much the editors scrupulously put together their evaluations and vehemently insist that their integrity is unsullied and untainted by the commercialism of it all; the reality is that the marketing and promotion of those awards adds a substantive revenue dimension for the publication. As I said in “On The Table” last week, at the very least the M/T editors are guilty of woefully piss-poor judgment in canonizing a car that doesn't deserve any of the accolades it has been given. And if any of these self-righteous M/T editors bothered to check out even a sample of the comments out in the Internet, they'd realize that M/T's credibility when it comes to the COTY is at the very least highly suspect, if not out and out dismissed as a perennial revenue grab.

On a final note, the winds of change blowing through this industry are ominous and cold. Seasoned, intelligent executives have convinced themselves that they’re on the cusp of a glittering, limitless future that will bury the traditional auto company model within the decade. Some of these executives are going to find out the hard way that their exuberant prognostications are not going to pan out. And because of that, some of the big-name auto companies that have become part of the American fabric will simply disappear. 

As Bob succinctly said, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. 

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



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