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The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

HUBRIS REVISITED.
by Editor
15 Jan 2020 at 8:27am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Fourteen months ago, I wrote a column entitled “The Untouchable Goes Down” on the heels of the news that Carlos Ghosn, the all-knowing and all-seeing leader of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, would be fired from his position for underreporting income and misusing company assets – to the tune of millions of dollars – and that he had been arrested by Japanese authorities, which came as a complete shock to the business. But perhaps “complete shock” isn’t really accurate, certainly not as far as I was concerned. Having been around high-level auto executives since childhood, I have been exposed to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (aka the Unctuous Pricks) when it comes to auto executives and the auto executive mindset. 

Now that Ghosn has escaped the “Guilty Until Proven Guilty” Japanese justice system, such as it is, in a ballsy move that I must say was impressive and ripe for a movie treatment, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my take on the spectrum of auto executive behavior I have come across over the years.

As you might imagine, the good ones share similar traits: A steady brilliance, clear thinking, the ability to listen, vision, a focused consistency, and the ability to stay ahead of the curve by grasping the details while keeping the Big Picture in mind. These executives lead with clear purpose and an unwavering drive, and their stellar example results in the ability to inspire and get the best out of people. It sounds easy, but it definitely isn’t, because the truly good ones only come along once in a while.

The opposite end of the spectrum, remarkably enough, is not all that far from the good side. In fact, the executives on the “ugly” side of the spectrum share many of the same “good” traits. And that's why these executives are the most dangerous, because they lull people into thinking that they are something that they are most definitely not. These executives are usually diploma-carrying graduates of Unctuous Prick University, and they mix a particularly nasty cocktail for themselves every morning made up of one-part arrogance and one-part hubris. 

These executives, if you pay attention, are easy to spot. They thrive on the notion that they are a Master of the Universe, that they harbor a kaleidoscope of gifts that make them the smartest guy or girl in the room – any room. They love to create a legendary aura for themselves, carefully crafted by their PR minions and then disseminated to the press in drips and drabs, so that the media can dutifully report details as scoops to help manufacture the legend. 

You should be familiar with this by now, as recent leaders both within and outside this industry have been a party to it: The incredible schedules. The intensive, long hours. The ability to multitask on a scale that’s beyond mere mortals. The need for little sleep. The behind-the-scenes berating and verbal abuse of direct reports. And the slow but steady belief in their burgeoning press clippings, which results in a suffocating arrogance that permeates everything with its stench.

That these executives eventually become toxic and overbearing is usually The End Game for their respective companies. The domination of all things with impunity by these “ugly” executives becomes an extreme liability because they inject themselves into every facet of the enterprise, leaving their companies with little or no recourse to do anything about it.

I heard the same stories and witnessed the same behavior with the former CEO of FCA, obviously. But Ghosn has always been a particularly hard case, hoodwinking his fellow Japanese and French executives into believing that perhaps he did really walk on water, and that to have the temerity to question him usually led to an executive’s swift demise. 

I saw through his act almost from Day One, and I winced every time I read another glowing review about the “brilliant” Ghosn. And it was all there too. The incomprehensible schedule. The almost incomprehensible depth and breadth of knowledge. The ability to keep multiple balls in the air that would flummox mere mortal executives. The carefully crafted aura of The Legend. 

And it was all unmitigated bullshit, as the news of the day proves. Ghosn’s arrogance was boundless, and his hubris was uncontrollable. He was just the latest in a long line of Unctuous Pricks in this business who was allowed to run roughshod over everyone around him and not only lived to boast about it but thrived on every last morsel of the legend that was created around him. So, of course he skimmed millions, and of course he thought he could get away with it. Because when all was said and done, he was above it all. 

As I said fourteen months ago: He. Was. Untouchable.

Now, Carlos Ghosn is yet another cautionary tale in a long line of cautionary tales that this business has been subjected to over the decades. It’s a story that has played out time and time again: The arrogance. The hubris. The manufactured aura. And then, the inevitable denouement.

He will sit and stew in Lebanon, insisting that he will participate in a fair trial conducted there, but who’s kidding whom? Lebanon has no extradition agreement with Japan, and I don’t believe for one second that a trial will ever take place. 

Ghosn is gone, and he won’t be missed.

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


THE STORIES ON DECK FOR 2020.
by Editor
6 Jan 2020 at 10:50am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As the new year gets rolling, it’s readily apparent that the Sturm und Drang going on in the auto industry will continue unabated. It’s unavoidable, simply because the massive transition to battery electric vehicles is going to be rocky, jarring and relentlessly unpredictable. 

And this just in: In case you’re wondering, 2020 will not be the year of the electric vehicle as some experts have suggested. No, it will be another gradual step in the transition for an industry reeling, reacting and planning for models that are slated for ’22, ’23 and ’24. Make no mistake, this will be such a dramatic transformation that by 2030, BEVs will dominate the product plans – and production – for all of the major manufacturers.

Lingering questions will remain, of course. The pace of battery development will continue to accelerate, bringing down costs. And this will be a significant part of making the BEV transformation possible. I believe, however, that the charging infrastructure will lag the arrival of these BEVs, and this will continue to be an issue. The dominant charging regimen will continue to take place at private residences, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. The day you start seeing charging “islands” at gas stations across the country is the day the infrastructure transition will start to make believable traction.

But if 2020 is going to be another ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) dominated year, what are some of the stories that I expect will dominate the news cycle?

Yeah, We Got Nothin’. That Nissan’s downward spiral is accelerating is no big secret, but the depth and breadth of the implosion could have far reaching – and permanent – consequences. Nissan’s honcho executives du jour are making all kinds of promises about “a new beginning” for the brand, with new breakthrough designs and an emphasis on product, product and more product. But who’s kidding whom? Nissan dealers in the U.S. are extremely nervous if not flat-out pissed off about the constant churn of executives and the dismal sales numbers. Some are even wondering if Nissan can remain a viable player in the market in the future. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Nissan could be forced to drastically curtail its operations here if some sort of miracle doesn’t materialize. Nissan execs are at the “let’s throw everything up against the wall and see what sticks” stage, which is a giant bowl of Not Good and inevitably leads to nowhere. The reality is that “Hail Mary” passes have never accounted for much in this business, and Nissan is teetering on the bring of disaster.

We Only Kinda Sorta Said That It Would Be Ready in December of 2020. Ford operatives are shouting from the rooftops that the Mustang Mach-E BEV is sold out through advanced orders that are piling up at a feverish rate. And that’s all well and good, but promises that Mach-E deliveries will actually start next December are unmitigated bullshit. Ford has demonstrated repeatedly and convincingly that they are incapable of launching a vehicle without serious issues, and having to fix those vehicles after the fact has become standard operating procedure for the Dearborn-based automaker. Add to that dismal track record the complexities of launching an all-new battery electric architecture and you have a recipe for disaster. Industry insiders already have correctly surmised that the Mach-E carries the stench of a product that has been rushed into being, and there’s nothing about it that indicates otherwise to me. Yes, Ford might squeeze one out next December 31st to say that it achieved its goals by the date promised, but don’t look for it in any meaningful quantities before the spring of 2021.

We Started the Segment, And We Aren’t Ceding It to Anyone. The new Cadillac Escalade is going to reestablish Cadillac at the top of the luxury SUV segment. After cooling their heels while listening to all of the accolades piling up for the new Lincolns – especially the Navigator – the True Believers at Cadillac went about their business designing and developing the best Escalade imaginable. The new Escalade starts with a sophisticated independent rear suspension, which will transform the dynamic performance for Cadillac’s flagship. That’s huge news unto itself, but look for the new Escalade to set the table for GM Design’s dramatic push into elevating the look, feel and quality of its interiors. While this transition to BEVs continues to play out, make no mistake, the new Escalade will be a hugely important – and profitable – vehicle for GM. 

A New SUV Will Make Break or Break the Genesis Brand. Hyundai’s foray into the luxury segment has been plagued by fits and starts, which was exacerbated by some piss-poor decisions that contributed to dealer-level chaos. The cars are quite good, but American luxury consumers aren’t exactly embracing Genesis to the extent that they do Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Audi, et al. That is about to change, or Hyundai certainly hopes it does. The new Genesis GV80 SUV will arrive here in the summer of 2020. Hyundai has correctly surmised that it has only one shot and a very narrow window of opportunity in one of the most crowded segments in the business, so expect lots of content, aggressive pricing and a very high-profile advertising and marketing campaign to go along with it. How important is the GV80? It will determine whether Genesis lives or dies in this market; it’s that crucial.

These are just some of the important stories you’ll be hearing about in 2020. There will be plenty of others as well, along with some intriguing questions such as, how will Roger Penske transform the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 and the IndyCar Series now that he is control? How hot will the new Corvette be in the market and for how long? (A quick answer? Scalding hot and for a long time to come.) How long will the pickup truck phenomenon keep its momentum? Will the new Bronco be a hit for Ford, or will they find a way to botch that too? Will the new June date for the Detroit Auto Show matter? Or has the ship sailed for auto shows in general? 

And on and on and on... 

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for the first week in January.


HAGGARD HACKS, RECALCITRANT TWERPS AND THE USUAL SUSPECTS. DUCK AND COVER, LA...
by Editor
12 Dec 2019 at 4:37pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. The 20th year of Autoextremist.com was another memorable trip through the swirling maelstrom that defines this business. With its usual ups and downs and backwards and sideways maneuvers, this year in the auto industry was its most frantic yet. 

Without further ado then, our best words from 2019... excerpted from our Year in Rants.


At the opposite end of the spectrum, those aforementioned wide-open spaces? They can be beautifully breathtaking. Moab. The Painted Desert. The Grand Canyon. The Badlands. Yosemite. Yellowstone. The Continental Divide. Joshua Tree National Park. Glacier National Park. Big Sur. We daydream about them, write about them, photograph them and paint them. They make us feel alive and invigorated, they can make us feel incredibly small and inconsequential, too, but they are oddly life-affirming and precious at the same time. (Everyone should drive across this great country at least once to be immersed in those wide-open spaces; it remains the quintessential American experience.) 

Our relationship to space says a lot about who we are and how we live life. I tend to avoid confined spaces, much preferring the wide-open spaces both in the physical realm and in thought. Needless to say, a narrowly defined path never really suited me. Tom Petty had it right when he said, “The sky was the limit.”

As it should be. (“Into The Great Wide Open.” December 11th)


The inexorable march of time consumes our every waking moment; in fact, it looms over our heads like a giant Big Ben hanging in the sky. And what can we do about it, exactly? Not much.
 Let me clarify that. Time shouldn’t hang over our heads, just the opposite in fact. Time should be cherished. It should be relished and exulted in. Savor every moment, because it turns out that is the best use of our time. (“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” December 4th)


Why was I asked to meet him (Iacobelli)? He said that my series of columns about FCA and Marchionne “were so devastatingly accurate that the company virtually stopped to digest them whenever they came out.” And given my writings, he felt that "you are the only person who I can trust to tell the inside story of what really went on, preferably in a book." My columns were so pointedly accurate that, “they were convinced that you had insiders at the very top levels of the company secreting info to you.” (I didn’t.) And that, “Marchionne and his crew had a complete meltdown over your columns on a regular basis.” (I knew this to be true, as I had been told this multiple time over Marchionne’s reign.)


Over those two meetings, Iacobelli presented a devastating account of just how deep the payoffs to UAW officials actually were. The FCA-UAW training centers were a complete joke, with UAW members reporting to the centers to do nothing, if they bothered to show up at all. And the tales of payments for plane trips, vacations, binges in Las Vegas and myriad other gifts, cash and prizes were eye-opening, including a $2 million retirement party for an outgoing UAW executive that was staged in Las Vegas. Iacobelli said approximately $250,000 a month was spent keeping the UAW officials in line, in some months less, but in some months much more than that. And it was all designed to extract favorable considerations from the UAW, which translated into reduced labor costs to FCA.

And Iacobelli named names. In fact, every single UAW official revealed by the Feds so far as having been either indicted or under scrutiny was mentioned by Iacobelli. He said, “they were all on the take and were all going down,” and he was dead right. And make no mistake, Marchionne was up to his eyeballs in every bit of it, according to Iacobelli. In fact, given what he said – including Marchionne gifting expensive watches to key UAW officials with a carefully-worded note attached so they couldn’t be construed to having any value - I surmised that Marchionne would have been indicted if he hadn’t passed away, and Iacobelli didn’t disagree with my assessment. (I never spoke to Iacobelli again, but I still think it would make for a fascinating book that would probably destroy what passes for the UAW these days.) (“Three Things.” November 27th)


It’s clear to me that this “Cyber Truck" is going to be a niche of a niche vehicle. It is no threat to what the mainstream truck manufacturers are doing, and besides, they will have fully-functional electric pickups of their own by late 2021. (Musk claims that the Tesla “Cyber Truck” will appear in 2021 but given his highly-dubious track record I wouldn’t expect it until 2022, if not later.) 

And let me reiterate this notion of fully functional. The “Cyber Truck” is a long way from being that (the “protective glass” demo that went awry already underscored that, live and in color). Again, given Musk’s track record of letting buyers do the final development on its vehicles, to say it will trickle out in fits and starts is an understatement. The people who don’t blindly buy into the pronouncements from Dear Leader Musk understand this. The rest? Well, they already have a picture of the “Cyber Truck” as their screen savers; not much you can do with that, or them. The Muskolytes believe in whatever Musk tells them to believe and they will blindly proclaim their love for the Dear Leader, so that they might bathe in his brilliance.

The Tesla “Cyber Truck” will be a “pickup” for elitist swells who truly believe they have it goin’ on. In fact, the entire BEV pickup space is going to be carved into little niches (see Bollinger, etc.). So, if you want to pretend that you’re an F22 pilot, Tesla has your number. As for the rest of the real pickup buyers out there? I’m sure they’ll do just fine without it. (“Three Things.” November 27th)


And the third thing?
 Try, at least for a moment, to do your part to quell the rancor and chaos that has become part and parcel of our daily life here in America. Try to put aside the knee-jerk reactions and aggressive pronouncements; try to savor the moment of peace and be thankful for the blessings that you do have, instead of harboring resentments for what you don’t. 


Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. (“Three Things.” November 27th)


Ford, like every other automaker, is hell-bent not to be left behind in the BEV race, because that would mean a death sentence, a sign that it is desperately unhip and even worse, irrelevant. So instead of crowning its emboldened thrust into the “next” market with a new nameplate that would signal a new Ford, they hang the Mustang name on it from out of the blue, to the collective groans of “huh?” Right now, Ford gets the participation award for coming up with a “me-too” electrified crossover with a patently stupid and ill-advised moniker. And that’s it. But rather than leave you with that thought, I’ll leave you with this: Ford is calling the Mustang Mach-E a 2021 model, which will be out one year from now. Rest assured, given Ford’s dubious track record of blown product launches of late, the likelihood of a Mach-E hitting dealer showrooms in any meaningful numbers before the spring of 2021 is slim. And none. (“Ford Gets A Participation Award For The Mach-E. Now what?” November 20th)



Well, there was one more episode still worth grinning about after all of these years. After we had been running for hours in 85-degree heat and we were all covered in oil residue and sweat, a local township cop car pulled into the driveway at about four o’clock in the afternoon. We were ready to go out for one more run and he knew it. Stone. Cold. Busted. The young (thank goodness) officer got out of his car and paused for a moment. Now, needless to say, we weren’t supposed to be running the Orange Juicer on the street, but it was so damn addictive we couldn’t help it. So, the officer says, “Nice kart. Now you boys weren’t running it through the neighborhood today, were you.” We all answered in unison, “No, sir.” Then, with a big grin he said, “I didn’t think so.” And he got in his car and left. (“The Saga Of The Orange Juicer.” November 13th)



The sameness of the SUV/Crossover Hell we’re living in right now is undeniable. The suburban slog around here is populated with massive pickup trucks and SUV/Crossovers. Audi? BMW? Cadillac? Mercedes-Benz? Porsche? Ford? Chevrolet? GMC? Buick? Does it really matter? They’re all variations on the same SUV/Crossover theme; they run together in a blur of alleged practicality – and hugeness that has grown to be mind-numbing and relentlessly tedious. That’s why when a car like a Challenger or a Corvette rumbles by, or even a crisply executed sedan appears out of the blue, it’s almost a revelation. Will the pendulum ever swing back? I am out there looking for it right now but given the projected designs I am seeing for the Electrification Age I am more than a little concerned. Designers around the globe appear to be stuck in neutral designing variations on the rolling box theme, shifting a line here, playing with the greenhouse there and coming up with basically the same damn thing. How uninspiring is that? (“Oh Pendulum, Where Art Thou?” November 6th)


I think EVs will have success in the higher-end segments and in very specific niche applications. For instance, Bollinger seems to have the right idea with its trucks in that they are starting with the premise that they have no intention of being all things to all people, and because of this “not for everyone” positioning the company has a good chance at being successful for buyers with access to horse country, hunting lodges and ranches, and who think nothing of spending thousands on a weekend hunting outfit, even though the only hunting they might do is for an older bourbon that no one else has. As for the monster ICE machines, I say bring ‘em on. Because the day the sound and fury fades away is the day life as we know it will get darker and less interesting.

A scary thought indeed. (“Monsters And Other Scary Stuff.” October 30th)


In case you're wondering, the “whys” will continue to vex this business as long as it exists. It’s a simple formula, actually: Complacency + mediocrity = loss of customers and market share. And from there the downward spiral begins. (“Things That Make You Ask… Why?” October 23rd)

 
But the good times couldn’t last, because over time the German automakers got sloppy and greedy. Their collective arrogance deluded them into thinking that everything they touched would automatically turn to gold in the U.S. market. They started churning out models for every niche – both real and imagined – they could think of. Model proliferation became standard operating procedure, and they started playing in segments they had no business being in. Going down-market, the German manufacturers started peeling the luster off of their brand images, layer by layer, year by year.

And even worse, in their quest to generate more and more volume, the German automakers started playing big in the leasing game, becoming so dependent on incentivized leasing to prop up their sales that leasing now accounts for around 50 percent and above of monthly sales volumes for Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. (You’ve all seen the ads. the seductive - and illusory - lease number per month that sounds great until you factor in the down stroke, which adds at least $200-$300 per month to the total.) But those low payments have a devastating cost, resulting in highly depressed residuals at the end of the leases, which is where all of the aforementioned hand-wringing comes in. This just in: It simply isn’t sustainable. (“The Sun Sets On The German Car Thing.” October 16th)

 
The reality was that a Haggard Hack du jour from the fill-in-the-blank car company was dancing in front of his or her bosses – and the press – to save his or her job after a shocking decline in sales, blown product introductions, and our favorite go-to reason: serial incompetence. A dead giveaway in these pressers is when said executive gets up to talk about a vehicle that is at least eighteen months away, but everyone in the room knows that’s only if the planets align just right and that particular car company manages to launch the first product in its recent history on time, on budget and with no issues. And given that particular car company’s past performances, the chances of that happening are slim. And none. After sitting through one too many of these presentations – an exercise in Tedious Maximus, as Janice says (we don’t call her WordGirl for nothin’) – we developed our own phrase for automotive futility, aka “It Won’t Be Long Now!” (“Haggard Hacks And Glorified Vaporware.” October 9th)

 
Back to this fundamental transformation thing. The dawn of the Electric Era is going to be a jarring adjustment. The “emotionally charged and richer” part will consist of manufactured sounds that will be inner directed to the people inside the cars and SUVs (and in some cases projected so that pedestrians can hear an oncoming vehicle). As for the actual sounds of a BEV, there’s no real “there” there. Don’t think that’s true? Have you watched a Formula E race lately? I would like to say that it’s like watching paint dry, but that would do a disservice to the beauty of the drying process. The all-electric open-wheel racing series has zero visceral appeal because it has no urgency of sound. Nothing resonates in your gut except for the dulcet tones of slot car sets from childhoods gone by. And that’s what’s going to happen to our streets and byways. And please spare me the idea that the performance of the BEVs will make up for everything else that’s not quite right, because it just isn’t going to work that way. The new sound of silence that will permeate everything about everyday life will be a massive adjustment for everyone. And for a lot of people, that adjustment will be ongoing well into the future. We are about to enter a quiet period where the guttural moans from muscle cars and the searing shrieks from exotic sports cars will become welcome respites from the sewing machine cacophony that will come to define the Electric Era. As a kind of hush falls all over the world. (“There Will Be A Kind Of Hush All Over The World.” October 2nd)

 
We’ve clearly entered the “Duck and Cover” phase in this business. Past transgressions are coming to light, new issues are bubbling just below the surface, and the churn and burn of money marches on unimpeded. A caution to the auto executives out there currently enjoying their time in the sun: You might be next. (“Duck And Cover.” September 25th)

 
The ugly reality for the UAW is that this ongoing investigation could very well mean the end of the UAW as a functioning entity. So, UAW management can squawk and preen and talk tough all they want, but the clock is ticking on their very existence, and they refuse to acknowledge that fact. (“Strike Out.” September 18th)

 
So, here we are. With the vestiges of Akerson’s Reign of Terror finally purged from the GM system, the newly enlightened management of GM has finally seen fit to address the Black Hole of GM marketing that has plagued the company for years with the promotion of Deborah Wahl to Chief Marketing Officer. As I wrote at the beginning of this column and in last week’s “On the Table,” Wahl is exceedingly smart and one of the industry’s best and the brightest, and she’s a brilliant choice for the role. But she has a tall order to gain control of GM’s marketing function, because that function has been rudderless and devalued for so long that it’s downright criminal. In fact, there are some players within the GM marketing troops who have been operating within their self-created fiefdoms for so long that it has been like the Wild West, with little accountability thrown in for good measure. Nowhere is that more apparent than at Chevrolet. (“The First Order Of Business For GM’s New CMO? Chevrolet.” (September 11th)

 
Now, almost half-way through our 20th year, I am proud to say that we’re still doing what we do best. We still take you "behind the curtain" to give you an up-close look at the Wizards, the Dullards and everyone else in between in this business. I still say what the others are only thinking (or whispering) in deep background or “off-the-record” conversations, and I will continue to do so. And this publication will continue to influence the influencers every single week, even though they're loath to admit it.

Delivering The Truth, The Whole Truth... and absolutely nothing but The High-Octane Truth has been an exhilarating ride. (“Write Hard, Die Free, Part III.” September 4th)

 
The tedium of everyday life doesn’t warrant the use of the word “journey.” Dragging your ass to the local Gas ‘N Flask for a cup of coffee and a gut bomb that’s allegedly healthy on the way to work doesn’t constitute a “journey.” Roaming the aisles at Costco may be mildly amusing, but a “journey?” Hardly. Standing in line at the Post Office may feel like a “journey” but you know it isn’t; it’s just another tedious civic requirement that bites us in the ass, like a visit to the Secretary of State’s office. (Okay, visiting the SOS office isn’t a journey, it’s sanctioned torture for all who enter.) And then there’s the whole thing about the journey being the destination, or is it the destination is the journey? I get confused with all of this journeying. Why ask why? I do know that every car commercial these days is some sort of journey of discovery. A journey that will reconnect us with our souls on the way to finding out that this is one fine automobile! (“Amazing Journeys.” August 28th)

 
Let’s face it, the “hobby” has turned into a nightmare. The notion of “important” collectible automobiles with notable “provenance” that were lusted after for the sheer thrill of being next to one of the most coveted machines ever built fell afoul of the scammers and speculators years ago. Greed became the “hobby’s” cottage industry, and values were regularly skewed to an unconscionable level as a matter of course. This trend redefined the term “stupid money” and took it to an entirely new level. My go-to barometer for all of this was the absurd run-up in prices for air-cooled Porsche 911s. Yes, prices have appeared to have finally softened – albeit only slightly - after a half-decade of out-of-control frenzy, but still, $100,000+ for an old 911 is de rigueur, and it still basically sucks. The second big story to emerge from Monterey Car Week was the rise of the hypercar. What is a hypercar, exactly? Good question. These are fantasy machines that really have no rhyme or reason. There is no connection to any road-going reality with these machines because the idea of driving them on the street is beyond laughable. The manufacturers love to boast that these hypercars allow them to showcase their technological might and creative vision, but that is unmitigated bullshit. No, these bespoke projectiles are designed to extricate as much money as possible from fools who have too much money. (Swinging Dickism Writ Large.” August 21st)

 
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, but maybe even thrive.  

Because this just in: the Jetsons, at least for now and until further notice, was just a cartoon. (The Lingering Interregnum, Part II.” August 7th)

 
But Fairy Tales have never found purchase in the car business. In fact, this business is littered with bad stories and even worse outcomes that started out bathed in sweetness and light and boundless optimism. Nissan is paying for the years of abuse in the way it conducted its business, especially here in this market. It cranked out volume and shoved it down its dealer throats. And the rest? It was dumped in rental car fleets to pump up the numbers. Nissan lived off consumer incentives in the U.S. market for years, because that was the only way they could meet Ghosn’s ridiculous sales projections. And the products were too often middling to mediocre and sold not because of their inherent goodness, but because it was a “deal,” which made matters worse. (The Week That Wasn’t.” July 31st)


 

(Chevrolet images)

In summary, my negative comments about the rear of the car can’t take away from the fact that I think this new Corvette is an incredible achievement and a testament to the True Believers at GM Design, Engineering and Product Development. And even though there are quite a few hardcore Corvette traditionalists out there who decry the loss of the old front engine configuration, this is a spectacular machine by every measure: visual appeal, performance, engineering detail and outstanding value. And it will appeal to owners of competitive makes - including Porsche, with its skyrocketing prices - for the first time. Until further notice, the new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is the most seductive combination of design, performance and value available in the market. (“The New Corvette.” July 24th)


 
As I said when we first introduced our Brand Image Meter seven years ago, when it comes to the power of brands and the inescapable importance of brand image: “It’s the one thing that car companies – both good and bad – cannot escape. How a brand is perceived can make or break a car company, regardless of how long and illustrious a run that brand has enjoyed up until any given point in time, because one false move or one discordant note can be crippling in a matter of months.”

Not surprisingly, none of that has changed, and image wrangling is now the Number 1 priority in this business. Why? The democratization of technology and luxury has allowed auto manufacturers the world over to have access to the crucial ingredients that make automobiles desirable. And with supplier expertise greater than ever, any car company can dial up a witch’s brew of ingredients to compete in almost any segment they set their sights on. But does having the right cocktail of ingredients mean that success will be guaranteed? Not a chance, because the expertise of the rest of the organization in terms of design, engineering and product development comes into play. And even if the entire package is indeed thoroughly executed to the highest standards, the last and most meaningful ingredient – brand image – has to be there in order for the effort to come together. (“The Autoextrenist Brand Image VIII: The Throw Me A Frickin’ Bone Edition.” June 5th)


 
I am lucky in that I found something in Autoextremist.com that has kept me motivated and sharp for 20 years. And I truly appreciate the fact that I have it. We’re very proud of what we achieved here, and extremely thankful for the support, for the kind words and for all of the True Believers we’ve met along the way. It has been all-encompassing. It has been tough. And it has been, at times, soul-sucking exhausting. But if I had a do-over, I would do it all over again. Because even though it has been a relentless grind, I am very proud to say that we’ve made a difference and we’ve made a lasting impact. We set out to influence the influencers in this business and that is exactly what we did and will continue to do. It has been one glorious ride. (“Twenty Years.” May 24th)

 
To me the end of model proliferation for model proliferation’s sake is a very big deal. It has been such a part of this circus for so long that for the industry to now walk back from it is a measure of just how much the industry is in the throes of definitive change. We’re not talking about a few wispy clouds in the industry’s coffee these days. No, these churning, 70,000-foot thunderheads are ready to unleash their fury on this business for decades to come. (“Thunderheads.” May 19th)

 
If Nissan’s Japanese executives actually believe they can extricate the company from this mess in a short period of time, they are sadly misguided. Because of product cadence, poor product execution and a vacuous marketing strategy, it will take the better part of a decade for Nissan to get back on track. Suffice to say, Nissan’s continued presence in this market is not guaranteed by any stretch. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the company is merged or absorbed, because it’s clear that Nissan’s Japanese executives spend most of their time searching for a clue. And in a business that runs on “what have you done for us lately?”, that’s just not going to cut it. (“Nissan Craters.” May 15th)

 
The companies stocked with True Believers, the ones unafraid to dream, the ones focused on delivering the best in all aspects of this business - Design, Engineering, Product Development, Marketing - will succeed. It not only requires savvy management, it requires a complete cessation of the normal bureaucratic cesspool that paralyzes these companies, which means loosening the reins of the True Believers so that they can do what they're capable of doing. When it comes to The Future of this business, I will bet on the companies who value their True Believers, because those companies who refuse to do so will be ringing their death knells. (“Here’s To The Ones Who Dream.” May 1st)


That these established and assorted fringe manufacturers are lining up to create these hypercars cars is ludicrous, but if they can fleece enough customers to make it worth their while, well, I guess you can’t blame them. But the hype surrounding these vehicles has become so tedious that it’s getting painful. They don’t call them hypercars for nothing, apparently. The aforementioned discussion is just the beginning of the chaos in this business right now, unfortunately. We have the ongoing trucks/SUVs/crossovers vs. “traditional” sedans hand-wringing; then there’s the looming economic slowdown that’s already starting to get its hands around the industry’s collective necks; the price of fuel is going up and no one is really sure what that will do to this nation’s obsession with “big” vehicles (but needless to say it can’t be good); and then there’s the $500-billion question concerning the marketing of Battery Electric Vehicles, as in, can you convince enough consumers to buy in to the all-electric conceit? Let me rephrase that, because the bet better work or there’s going to be a lot of blood on the tracks. Seals and Croft once sang, We Will Never Pass This Way Again, and as it applies to the car business at this point in time, truer words were never spoken. It really is the confluence of everything, all at once. (”The Confluence Of Everything.” April 17th)

 
It really comes down to this: if the average consumer can’t find transportation that’s desirable, safe and affordable, where does that leave our transportation future? It’s fine to paint a rosy picture of shiny happy electrics and seamless autonomous vehicles careening across the landscape in a blissful stupor, but real people with real mobility needs are being priced out of the market, and it’s happening faster than auto executives even imagined it would. That’s why I bristle at most of the blue-sky future projections about where we’re going in terms of mobility. This transition is going to be a long and painful one, and the near-term needs of consumers desiring affordable transportation are being squeezed by the gross profits being generated by luxury pickup trucks and SUVs, and the insatiable desire by auto executives to keep the train going. But as automotive history has shown us, trends come and go. Styles and types of vehicles get hot and grow cold, and the resulting roller-coaster ride is always memorable (and excruciating for some). The companies that can ride the wave and be ready for what’s next, at least within reason, are the ones that will live to fight – and succeed – another day. (“Affordability: The Next Frontier.” February 12th)


And “Detroit”? It’s doubling down on giant, luxurious $75,000+ trucks and more and more SUVs, because that’s what keeps the whole enterprise in cash flow and that’s what it does best, and it is what consumers want, at least for now. And then there are the high-performance machines from GM, Ford and FCA, because when they put their minds to it, their True Believers can compete with anyone in the world. 
But how long can this continue? The auto companies here are preparing for a downturn. How deep and how long that downturn is remains the question of this day and every day. But the halcyon days of people overspending their bank accounts for the latest wonder truck are coming to an end, and when that happens, watch out. Which brings me to the third dimension to this lingering Motor City Haze. And that is the sinking feeling that the pall hanging over everything around here has an “End of Days” quality to it. That whatever happens from this day forward the collective “Detroit” will be swallowed up by changing market conditions and deep-pocketed competitors in a world with no interest in history, or legacy brands, or anything else for that matter. And that if the Detroit-based car companies survive, they will do so with a drastically reduced footprint, with all of the associate negatives that entails. (“The Motor City Haze.” February 6th)


Sugarcoating things has become an unfortunate pastime in everyday life, it seems. Especially around here, where the excuses are masked in tedious platitudes and “it won’t be long now” empty pronouncements. As in, “Our roads are a little rough at this time of year.” Translation? The roads around here are brutal, cratered facsimiles of roads that cost Michigan motorists millions of dollars every year in wrecked tires, wheels, suspensions and windshields. It stopped being funny two decades ago. 
Or, ”We’re rebuilding for the future and we’re confident that we’re on the right track.” Translation? The last time the Lions won an NFL Championship was 1957. The team has been rebuilding ever since. Nothing ever changes either. Or, “Our product cadence has lagged in certain instances a little bit but we’re back on track and right where we need to be.” Translation? We haven’t been accurate or on time with our product cadence in a decade. It’s a recurring Shit Show measured out in fits and starts that never gets better. Every time we think we’re back on track we take two steps back. Thus, it was ever so. How about this? “Our advertising has delivered what we needed it to do and we have the best consumer research numbers in our history.” Translation? We’ve been throwing ideas up against the wall for so long now that we don’t even bother trying to create impactful national advertising. We just do glorified dealer advertising in a national wrapper and call it good. Our dealers don’t seem to care one way or the other (or don’t know the difference, take your pick) and we don’t either. And we save so much money doing it this way we look like heroes internally. The Final Translation? There’s nothing good about “a little bit.” Not even. It’s a half-assed hedge that glosses over reality and guarantees mediocrity. It’s about shirking responsibility and avoiding accountability. I never thought that in my lifetime that having a point of view would be a scarce commodity, but it in the times we live in that definitely seems to be the case, which makes Autotextremist.com rarer by the hour. (“Not Even A Little Bit.” January 30th)

 

(Dodge images)
Rather than go back and regurgitate what was a decidedly downbeat Detroit Auto Show last January, I thought I’d mention the one vehicle worth talking about again. You may wonder, given the somber realities of the "half" of a 2019 Detroit Auto Show, was there an Autoextremist "Best in Show"? Why yes, yes, there was. And it had nothing to do with the featured displays that I discussed previously. In fact, this machine isn't even new, having been unveiled at the 2018 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. The Dodge Super Charger is a concept car that was designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the second-generation Charger, produced from 1968 to 1970. The Super Charger is a resto-mod that combines the design of the original Dodge Charger with modern Mopar high-performance parts. It is wider, with a slightly longer wheelbase than the original machine, but the key detail is that it showcases a new 7.0-liter Hemi V8 crate engine called the "Hellephant" that cranks out 1,000HP and 950 lb-ft of torque, which customers can buy from FCA in 2019. The Super Charger was created specifically to showcase this monster crate engine. It was dubbed Hellephant as a tribute to the original Mopar 426 Hemi engine, which was nicknamed “Elephant” due to its size and power. The Hellephant is also the first 1,000HP crate engine offered by an OEM automaker. 

Politically incorrect? Absolutely. Wildly inappropriate given the oncoming, touchy-feely BEV revolution? Certainly. But it's a stunning monument to Bad-Assery that shouldn't be swept aside or put in a dark corner. This just in: ICE-powered vehicles are going to be around for a long, long time to come. Kudos to the True Believers out in Auburn Hills for creating such a magnificent machine. (January 16th)


 
Finishing up the Autoextremist Year in Words, I have to say this: Auto executives in this business deal with what I like to call "The Seething Cauldron" in different ways. Some studiously avoid getting caught up in the negatives and go about their business using their accumulated knowledge and skill. Most of these executives qualify as the True Believers, because they steadfastly believe in the mission and deliver to the best of their ability every day. They understand implicitly that the age-old industry adage “You’re only as good as your last hit” is very much alive and well.

The other guys and girls? They’re the hand-wringing specialists and the serial hedgers and prevaricators. Part of the Legion of Recalcitrant Twerps who still find purchase somewhere in the system. Don’t hold them to it, whatever it is, because their consummate skill is to get lost in the crowd when the heat is on.

The Seething Cauldron is most intense in this business right at this very moment. Executives’ careers are on the line, with the best and the brightest bound to be rewarded, while the slippery scam artists and faux geniuses are destined to be hammered and held accountable. Come to think of it, this is really no different than at any other time in the business, except now, the heat is intensified and the consequences are magnified, with the very future of these companies on the line.

I recall that famous line from The Godfather Part II, which sums it up best: “This is the business we’ve chosen.” And there doesn’t seem to be a damn thing anyone can do about it.

On that note Wordgirl and I wish you all a happy, safe and peaceful Holiday season. We’ll see you back here on Wednesday, January 8th.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for 2019.


INTO THE GREAT WIDE OPEN.
by Editor
10 Dec 2019 at 1:43pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Last week my column was about time, and a surprise for our readers too. The fact is that writing strictly about cars and the auto business can get tedious at times. This man can’t live on cars alone. Even though I grew up in the business, worked in the business and am still immersed in the business, I have plenty of other interests, so, I offer no apologies. I will zig and zag at times from here on out, just to keep things interesting, at least for me.

I mean, what’s in the news now that hasn’t already been pounded into the ground? The coming BEV revolution, even though no one is ready for it, especially real live mainstream buyers? It’s the biggest fundamental change in this business in more than 100 years, and no one can predict how it will go. It’s a giant “we’ll see” and the 2022–2025 time frame will tell us a lot. Some companies are quietly hedging their bets, while others have their asses hanging so far out in the breeze that if the BEV revolution doesn’t happen as planned it could have dire consequences. What else? The corrosive level of corruption that permeated the upper echelons of the UAW? Was that really a surprise to anyone? Hardly. The only surprise was the depth and breadth of the scale of the corruption. And the huge piles of money involved.

So, if last week was about time, this week will be about space - a concept we all deal with every day and throughout our lives. Some of us crave wide open spaces, and some of us would like to trip the light fantastic and actually go into space. Some desire their own space and need a wide berth to function properly. Others aren’t so claustrophobic and welcome close contact.

Our spatial relationships have been upended over the last two decades. Office hierarchy gave way to cube farms, and now people just wander around and plug in wherever they feel like it. Or they sit out in the open, until they have to go to a conference room to make a phone call. (I am happy to report, however, that there are serious rumblings about the pendulum swinging back and that actual offices are making a comeback. It couldn’t happen soon enough as far as I’m concerned.)

Some of us can space out at a moment’s notice, lost in a daydream or some lingering “woulda-coulda-shouldas.” Others are just spaced-out as a matter of course, or go through life intentionally detached from reality. To those people space isn’t an esoteric concept; it’s just Tuesday.

Our lives may be dictated to by the digits of a clock, but we’re consumed by the concept of space. Floor space at an auto show is crucial. The right retail space can make or break a business. Parking spaces can be like gold. Our personal space can be invaded, or flat-out ignored by individuals or crowds on subways and planes. The square footage of an apartment can add up to be a costly space. We make things evenly spaced when the situation demands it. Or we can cast things to the wind when we just… space out.

Space can be deep, or lost in, or somewhere we’ve never gone before. It can be explored, studied, charted and traveled. It can be observed and viewed through a telescope or by way of satellites. Or, by putting a man on the moon and just being there.

A blank space on a sheet of paper or a canvas can either be an inspiration for creativity, or a daunting millstone that shuts a person down and prevents things from getting started. We can space things out so that we don’t become overwhelmed. A space can be unoccupied, or we can rent storage spaces because we don’t have enough… space. We rarely have such a thing as too much space, however. Because space can be limited. Or confined. Or restricted. Or at a premium. Or only available on a first-come, first-served basis.

A space can be solemn, haunting and sad too. Arlington National Cemetery. Gettysburg. Shiloh. Antietam. Manassas. Vicksburg. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Tragic reminders of the fragility of life and all those who died to protect our freedoms.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, those aforementioned wide-open spaces? They can be beautifully breathtaking. Moab. The Painted Desert. The Grand Canyon. The Badlands. Yosemite. Yellowstone. The Continental Divide. Joshua Tree National Park. Glacier National Park. Big Sur. We daydream about them, write about them, photograph them and paint them. They make us feel alive and invigorated, they can make us feel incredibly small and inconsequential, too, but they are oddly life-affirming and precious at the same time. (Everyone should drive across this great country at least once to be immersed in those wide-open spaces; it remains the quintessential American experience.) 

Our relationship to space says a lot about who we are and how we live life. I tend to avoid confined spaces, much preferring the wide-open spaces both in the physical realm and in thought. Needless to say, a narrowly defined path never really suited me. Tom Petty had it right when he said, “The sky was the limit.”

As it should be. 

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


DOES ANYBODY REALLY KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?
by Editor
4 Dec 2019 at 8:24am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. With those lyrics from one of Chicago’s early hits barely audible in the background at 1:30 Wednesday morning, I’m not sure the time is right to think about… time. But here we are. 

We can make good time, we can attempt to compress time (yeah, right), we can use time to our advantage, we can watch the time and we can fret about time. We can change the time but only on our clocks, because it keeps ticking. And ticking. And ticking.

The time goes by fast, or so “they” say. But what about when things seem to take forever? What about when the guy in front of you at the bank is getting a boat loan? At the drive-through window? What about when time stands still? Then again there’s a time for everything, either that or the time is now, at least sometimes anyway.

We can glance at it, look at it, lose track of it and run out of it. We can schedule it and attempt to manage it, but who’s kidding whom? Time manages us. It dictates our days, weeks, months and years. It tells us when to leave, when to get there, how to plan ahead and how to save the date. 

Yes, we can go back in time, if only in our thoughts and memories and images. Or we can certainly dream about time, should we choose to. I fantasize about time traveling between seconds, where I live for moments or years in a totally different time and place, and then I’m back a second later. I’d have drinks with Ulysses S. Grant. I’d be a fighter pilot in a WWI dogfight. I’d be a crew member for the Lotus Team at Indianapolis in 1963. I’d be there when Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein. I’d investigate the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde through the fog-shrouded streets of London. I’d race a Ferrari in the Targa Florio. I’d be there when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. Tripping through time, lost between seconds.

There’s the inevitably of time, of course, as in the classic “time waits for no one.” Time is short, but is it really? Chris Rock famously said that life is long if you’re not happy. Truer words were never spoken. Time drags without passion or purpose. The drudgery of the day-in, day-out rote regurgitation of life can crush anyone’s soul.

You can lament bad times and remember good times. You can keep time, do time and squander time, but that wouldn’t be making the best use of your time, now, would it? What would we do without time? Would we live by the movement of the sun like our ancestors? Would life slow down if our lives weren’t dominated by schedules, appointments and… time? 

(I’m somewhat amused by the impact of the TikTok craze. Frittering away time to the beat of social drums? What a perfectly contemporary concept, and monumental waste of… time.)

The inexorable march of time consumes our every waking moment; in fact, it looms over our heads like a giant Big Ben hanging in the sky. And what can we do about it, exactly? Not much.

Let me clarify that. Time shouldn’t hang over our heads, just the opposite in fact. Time should be cherished. It should be relished and exulted in. Savor every moment, because it turns out that is the best use of our time. 

I’ll leave it to Chicago to close things out: 

Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?
If so I can't imagine why
We've all got time enough to die

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


THREE THINGS.
by Editor
23 Nov 2019 at 11:22am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. The swirling maelstrom otherwise known as the AutoVerse was in full-throated roar this week, with a kaleidoscope of stories that captured everyone’s attention. 

First up? The GM lawsuit against FCA, which accused the Italian-owned automaker of bribing UAW officials to gain advantages in their contracts over the years of Sergio Marchionne’s reign, which negatively affected GM’s competitive position, big-time. GM was accusing FCA of underhanded dealings from the moment Marchionne took control of the company. Was this a surprise? No. After all, from the moment Marchionne was gifted FCA by the U.S. government it was clear that he was willing to manipulate the system in any way possible, or that he could get away with. As I wrote in my column “An Unfortunate Denouement” (7/23/18):

“Make no mistake, Marchionne & Co. did not endear themselves to anyone in the trenches with the real nitty-gritty dealings of this business. Again, if it weren’t for the True Believers out in Auburn Hills, none of this latest Chrysler ‘miracle’ wouldn’t have gotten off the ground, something that some of the homers in the automotive media don’t even bother mentioning.

I was also interested to read the glowing comments from certain dealers over the weekend, who insisted that without Sergio they’d be out of business. That may be true, but what about the dealers who bought into Sergio’s promises of world domination, but first they had to spend money on new brick and mortar for Fiat stores? And if they did that, they would be first in line to get a glittering array of Alfa Romeo products, the brand that would be ‘the next Audi.’ I noticed that none of those dealers were asked for quotes, because there were countless numbers of them that lost their shirts because of Sergio’s calculated carnival barking. 

And what about the constant shenanigans that FCA pulled with their sales reporting? Marchionne was so hell-bent on showing an uninterrupted monthly sales increase that the company misreported sales figures for six years, all the way back to 2011. It was another reminder of Marchionne’s almost unlimited hubris, that if he said it enough and pounded the table enough, the automotive media would believe it and dutifully spread the word accordingly. And he was right, until FCA got caught, and then Marchionne was strangely silent. 

I have just barely touched upon all of Marchionne’s misdeeds at the helm of Chrysler. He was an absolute tyrant behind the scenes and easily in the Hall of Fame for Horrible Bosses. His egomaniacal insistence that only he knew what was best and only he knew what needed to be done lead to a withering 30+ direct reports, taking micromanaging to unheard of heights.

Oh well, enough. I only wish the serial offenders in the automotive media would have deigned to expose ‘the other Sergio’ because there are at least two of him. And the less appealing one is petty, belligerent, egomaniacal and forever ungrateful.”

But of all the sins Marchionne perpetrated on this business, his calculated manipulation of the UAW was most egregious. Interestingly, the name Alphonse Iacobelli was mentioned in GM’s lawsuit dozens of times in its 95 pages. As vice president of employee relations for FCA, Iacobelli was directly involved in carrying out Marchionne’s plan to keep UAW officials beholden to FCA, before he left the company and went to work for GM as executive director of labor relations for eighteen months. Iacobelli was terminated from GM after he was charged with multiple crimes during his FCA tenure, and he is now serving a 66-month sentence in federal prison in Morgantown, West Virginia.

After a few cryptic emails from him that were sent to our website, I met Iacobelli (at his request) twice in August 2018 at a Starbucks in Rochester, Michigan. I approached the meeting with no preconceived expectations; I knew what he was charged and convicted of – he was awaiting sentencing – but I was willing to listen to what he had to say. And having never met him before, he struck me as someone who had been humbled and humiliated. He didn’t offer any excuses for his conduct, instead he offered details of the circumstances, having brought a three-inch thick stack of documents that included emails and meeting notes, with a remarkable level of detail. 

Why was I asked to meet him? He said that my series of columns about FCA and Marchionne “were so devastatingly accurate that the company virtually stopped to digest them whenever they came out.” And given my writings, he felt that "you are the only person who I can trust to tell the inside story of what really went on, preferably in a book." My columns were so pointedly accurate that, “they were convinced that you had insiders at the very top levels of the company secreting info to you.” (I didn’t.) And that, “Marchionne and his crew had a complete meltdown over your columns on a regular basis.” (I knew this to be true, as I had been told this multiple time over Marchionne’s reign.)

Over those two meetings, Iacobelli presented a devastating account of just how deep the payoffs to UAW officials actually were. The FCA-UAW training centers were a complete joke, with UAW members reporting to the centers to do nothing, if they bothered to show up at all. And the tales of payments for plane trips, vacations, binges in Las Vegas and myriad other gifts, cash and prizes were eye-opening, including a $2 million retirement party for an outgoing UAW executive that was staged in Las Vegas. Iacobelli said approximately $250,000 a month was spent keeping the UAW officials in line, in some months less, but in some months much more than that. And it was all designed to extract favorable considerations from the UAW, which translated into reduced labor costs to FCA.

And Iacobelli named names. In fact, every single UAW official revealed by the Feds so far as having been either indicted or under scrutiny was mentioned by Iacobelli. He said, “they were all on the take and were all going down,” and he was dead right. And make no mistake, Marchionne was up to his eyeballs in every bit of it, according to Iacobelli. In fact, given what he said – including Marchionne gifting expensive watches to key UAW officials with a carefully-worded note attached so they couldn’t be construed to having any value - I surmised that Marchionne would have been indicted if he hadn’t passed away, and Iacobelli didn’t disagree with my assessment. (I never spoke to Iacobelli again, but I still think it would make for a fascinating book that would probably destroy what passes for the UAW these days.)

So, GM is taking the extremely aggressive move of suing FCA for manipulating contracts and altering its competitive position to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to gain advantages over its competition, specifically GM. Marchionne believed he could operate outside the bounds of the system and believed he could manipulate the playing field to his advantage with impunity. Accountability was never a working part of Marchionne’s vocabulary, because like an Emperor, he made up his own rules as he went along. But facts are stubborn things, and this time I believe accountability is going to finally catch up with FCA. 

And given what I know, I wouldn’t bet against GM on this one and I applaud the company for going after the carpetbagging mercenaries at FCA. GM has the goods on FCA, and it’s going to get ugly.

The other thing this week? Well, of course it’s Tesla’s “Cyber Truck.” With a typically overhyped reveal – a Elon Musk specialty, or Muskian Nightmare, depending on your point of view – the “truck” was unveiled to the usual assortment of Muskolytes, hangers-on, and a few objective members of the motoring press, at least those who hadn’t been given IVs of the Muskian Kool-Aid beforehand. 

As I commented on Twitter: Ask a designer and “Design Reach – projecting into new shapes and forms – is one of the toughest tasks to accomplish. When it works it’s a revelation; when it fails miserably it’s an instant abomination. Needless to say, the “truck” doesn’t work for me on any level. It’s a fantasy truck, designed to appeal to those who regret they never had the chance to go to fighter pilot school. 

It’s clear to me that this “Cyber Truck" is going to be a niche of a niche vehicle. It is no threat to what the mainstream truck manufacturers are doing, and besides, they will have fully-functional electric pickups of their own by late 2021. (Musk claims that the Tesla “Cyber Truck” will appear in 2021, but given his highly-dubious track record I wouldn’t expect it until 2022, if not later.) 

And let me reiterate this notion of fully functional. The “Cyber Truck” is a long way from being that (the “protective glass” demo that went awry already underscored that, live and in color). Again, given Musk’s track record of letting buyers do the final development on its vehicles, to say it will trickle out in fits and starts is an understatement. The people who don’t blindly buy into the pronouncements from Dear Leader Musk understand this. The rest? Well, they already have a picture of the “Cyber Truck” as their screen savers; not much you can do with that, or them. The Muskolytes believe in whatever Musk tells them to believe and they will blindly proclaim their love for the Dear Leader, so that they might bathe in his brilliance.

The Tesla “Cyber Truck” will be a niche of a niche, a “pickup” for elitist swells who truly believe they have it goin’ on. In fact, the entire BEV pickup space is going to be carved into little niches (see Bollinger, etc.). So, if you want to pretend that you’re an F22 pilot, Tesla has your number. As for the rest of the real pickup buyers out there? I’m sure they’ll do just fine without it. 

And the third thing? Try, at least for a moment, to do your part to quell the rancor and chaos that has become part and parcel of our daily life here in America. Try to put aside the knee-jerk reactions and aggressive pronouncements; try to savor the moment of peace and be thankful for the blessings that you do have, instead of harboring resentments for what you don’t. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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


FORD GETS A PARTICIPATION AWARD FOR THE MACH-E. NOW WHAT?
by Editor
18 Nov 2019 at 11:08am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. The big hyped show had the now-obligatory orchestrated Tesla-esque presentation, including the cheering minions and the be-there-or-be-square manufactured “event” quality. And, of course, the sniveling members of the press, who ran the gamut from rabid bootlicking enablers – It’s revolutionary! It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread! (you get the idea) – to a few who had the temerity to actually offer some reasoned perspective. (In other words, it’s a giant “we’ll see” until further notice.)

It even had a Hollywood celebrity on hand – actor Idris Elba – to kick off the show, claiming his fealty to Ford was long-lasting and real, which completely fell flat when the actor and Bill Ford participated in a painfully stilted and forced interview/conversation on stage.

The Ford Mustang Mach-E is yet another new electric crossover (about the size of the Escape) with all of the currently accepted ingredients present and accounted for: rear- or all-wheel-drive; available in both standard-range (75.7 kWh lithium-ion battery) and extended-range (98.8 kWh battery), which has a “targeted” EPA-estimated range of at least 300 miles in rear-wheel-drive configuration (the batteries feature 288 lithium-ion cells in the standard-range version and 376 lithium-ion cells in the extended-range); the battery is located on the floor between the vehicle’s two axles and secured inside a waterproof battery case surrounded by crash-absorption protection; the batteries are liquid-cooled to optimize performance in extreme weather and to improve charging times; the Mach-E is targeting 332 horsepower and 417 lb.-ft. of torque, with other versions getting more (see pics and more info in “On The Table” -WG). 

The Mach-E also features a Tesla-esque interior, featuring a do-everything center stack that is supposed to represent Ford’s advanced “connected” vehicle configuration going forward. (They made the mistake – Mistake No. 1 – of calling it the “next-generation” SYNC. Ford’s signature system has been a glaringly weak link ever since they launched it despite overhauls, fixes and improvements. So why not ditch that compromised – at best – name for this alleged “revolutionary” new Ford?)

So, that about covers the basic ingredients, but it's only the beginning of my thoughts on Ford’s Tesla fighter.

First of all, what about the fact that it’s called Mustang Mach-E? Longtime readers of this website know I have advocated that GM leverage the Corvette image and brand name for an expanded lineup of vehicles for years, in order to go toe-to-toe against Porsche in the market, with the ultimate goal of creating an all-new performance division for GM. I still feel that way. So, why does it feel different for Ford?

I have written about the Mustang being “the soul” of the Ford Motor Company for a decade, with the F-150 being “the franchise.” Make no mistake, the F-150 has been directly responsible for the Ford Motor Company’s profitability for so long now that to imagine the Ford Motor Company without it would be to imagine that the company went out of business. But the Mustang is the remaining link to Ford’s “glory days” of the 60s, when Ford’s “Total Performance” racing/marketing onslaught transformed the company image. (Yes, of course, the Ford GT does that, too, but on a much more limited scale; for most people, the Mustang is Ford’s approachable mainstream sporty car entry.) 

But to call this frumpy looking crossover – squint and it looks like 20 other crossovers in the market – a “Mustang” is so egregiously wrong that it makes me cringe. Let me make this clear: I learned to drive a stick-shift in a 1966 Shelby Mustang GT350. We raced an ex-Bud Moore Mustang Boss 302 in the ’71 Trans-Am season with my brother Tony at the wheel. In short, I know Mustangs, and the Mach-E is no damn Mustang. In fact, it’s a crushing disappointment and an insult to the legacy of the Mustang, especially when you have the blistering fast and perfectly brutal looking new Shelby GT500 Mustang just hitting the streets. 

The fact that Bill Ford got up on stage Sunday night and said that the Mach-E had “soul” is borderline absurd. The Dude does not abide. And no matter how much Ford sound engineers play with the dulcet sewing machine tones of their upcoming BEV, the Mach-E is in no way, shape or form a Mustang. It won’t sound like one, it doesn’t look like one, and just because you can dial up the battery power to make it super fast, it’s not going to feel like one either. 

Ford, like every other automaker, is hell-bent not to be left behind in the BEV race, because that would mean a death sentence, a sign that it is desperately unhip and even worse, irrelevant. So instead of crowning its emboldened thrust into the “next” market with a new nameplate that would signal a new Ford, they hang the Mustang name on it from out of the blue, to the collective groans of “huh?” 

Right now, Ford gets the participation award for coming up with a “me-too” electrified crossover with a patently stupid and ill-advised moniker. And that’s it. But rather than leave you with that thought, I’ll leave you with this: Ford is calling the Mustang Mach-E a 2021 model, which will be out one year from now. Rest assured, given Ford’s dubious track record of blown product launches of late, the likelihood of a Mach-E hitting dealer showrooms in any meaningful numbers before the spring of 2021 is slim. And none.

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


THE SAGA OF THE ORANGE JUICER.
by Editor
12 Nov 2019 at 2:35pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. When “No Particular Place to Go” came over my satellite radio this week, Chuck Berry’s ode to driving took me back a way. A long way back. Because lately, I’ve been thinking about those fleeting moments of my car life. It’s like my fuel-injected, Technicolor dream with a Kodachrome blur thrown in; plus, an accompanying soundtrack that never grows old. 

Our dedicated readers have heard many of my car stories; the Corvette and Cobra adventures riding shotgun with my brother; the surreal moments with GM Design legend Bill Mitchell riding in many of GM’s most memorable concept cars from the 50s and 60s; the racing years as my brother pursued his competition dreams; and on and on. But there are always more stories to regale you with, and this week seemed like a good time to share a few of them.

Only a few of my close friends know about the infamous Orange Juicer. I found an ad in the local paper (I was thirteen) for a Bug go-kart with a McCulloch Mac 6 engine. The kart was beat up and not running, but to me it was a little rocket ready to be brought back to life. The Mac 6 engine was a worthy motor that when right was capable of blistering speeds back then. So, I spent the winter stripping the kart of its ugly green metallic paint; I had my mom drive me down to Ruttman’s in Dearborn to drop off the engine for a rebuild and get some parts ordered, and I slowly but surely created a little jewel of a racing go-kart. 

And when it came time to decide on a color, I went with a bright orange that I applied myself using several spray cans. When finished, I loaded up the go-kart and took it to back to Ruttman’s and they did the final assembly on it. I had ordered a very trick butterfly aluminum steering wheel, a chrome gas tank that hugged the back of the seat, and Ruttman’s put all new front steering, aluminum pedals and brakes on it to complete the build.

When my friends and I unloaded it in the driveway – my mom went inside pretending that whatever was going to happen would be okay – we stood over it thinking it was by far the coolest thing we had ever seen. But starting it would prove to be, ahem, a bit problematic. The Mac 6 was race prepped, and to say it was reluctant to start was an understatement. We must have pulled on that cord at least twenty times, with only a few grunts from the motor to show for our efforts. But, finally, it snorted alive, and afraid it was going to stall out, I jumped in it and took off down the driveway and out into the street.

Now, back then our neighborhood was an endless series of wide, perfectly paved roads with switchbacks, hairpin turns and a few long sweepers mixed in. In other words, it was perfect for a go-kart with a race motor and kids too young enough to know better, or care. So, I gassed that kart for all it was worth, and as most enthusiasts will tell you, there’s nothing – nothing – like a go-kart for the sure thrill of what driving is all about. I was sliding it through corners and powering out of them in oversteer mode as I went screaming through the neighborhood – and I mean scream, that Mac 6 was LOUD – and then turned back so I could blast by the driveway for the benefit of my buddies. I turned around and headed back and saw the big grins on all my buddies’ faces, but none was bigger than mine. 

I hopped out of it and said that it felt really fast. And then I paused for a moment and announced, “I’m going to call it the ‘Orange Juicer’” and everyone stood there reverentially and pronounced it good. We then topped off the tank and checked the oil and found out the hard way that if cold starting the Orange Juicer was a bitch, trying to get it started when hot was damn-near impossible. Once we got it going again, I let my friends drive it, only this time we never allowed the engine to stop between driver changes until we shut it off for the day. And it survived that kind of beating just fine. We terrorized the neighborhood for several days in a row.

It turns out that little go-kart was blistering fast. My brother paced it one day with his car at 65 mph, and through the neighborhood of 25 mph speed limits at just two inches off the ground, believe me, that was fast.

Oh, there were a few incidents to be sure. At one point the chain snapped and almost took one of my buddies' right ear off. And another time an irate neighbor threw a rake at one of my other buddies as he blasted by, he was so pissed-off, but other than that it was a sensational time. 

Well, there was one more episode still worth grinning about after all of these years. After we had been running for hours in 85-degree heat and we were all covered in oil residue and sweat, a local township cop car pulled into the driveway at about four o’clock in the afternoon. We were ready to go out for one more run and he knew it. Stone. Cold. Busted. The young (thank goodness) officer got out of his car and paused for a moment. Now, needless to say, we weren’t supposed to be running the Orange Juicer on the street, but it was so damn addictive we couldn’t help it. So, the officer says, “Nice kart. Now you boys weren’t running it through the neighborhood today, were you.” We all answered in unison, “No, sir.” Then, with a big grin he said, “I didn’t think so.” And he got in his car and left.

We all laughed like a bunch of jackals knowing we had just escaped certain death, or at least trouble with a capital “T.” From then on, we took the Orange Juicer to a local elementary school a few blocks away to run it because it turned out it had a circular drive that if driven just right formed a perfect little oval track. Even my brother relished taking the Orange Juicer out for some laps back then.

Was there an Orange Juicer Mk II? Why yes, there was. But it was a bright orange Chevrolet panel van that was used primarily to move band equipment around in. That generated a whole new set of adventures, as you might imagine. 

Will there be an Orange Juicer Mk III? You just never know. I often fantasize about a bright orange early 70s Porsche 911. Or an Arancio Borealis Lamborghini Huracan or a Papaya McLaren, but there will never be another Orange Juicer Mk I. 

And maybe that’s how it should be.

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


OH, PENDULUM, WHERE ART THOU?
by Editor
5 Nov 2019 at 8:47am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As we rush headlong into the unknown with this electrification thing, and the corrupt union management thing, and another round of the subprime loans thing, the thing that bothers me most right now is the degradation of design that continues to play out before our eyes. As I’ve said repeatedly in this column, as we go forward with similar electrified propulsion systems, design’s role as the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator will become even more important. After all, if the whisper-jet power systems rely on artificially-tuned sounds, the only thing left to create brand character are the exterior designs themselves. 

Compelling, beautiful design lures people in; it’s what makes people look and want to see more, and ultimately buy. Which is why I am more than a little concerned with where we are today with design. A quick tour of the latest "electrified" designs coming from auto manufacturers is frankly scary. Why? Everything looks alike. And the vehicles making their way around the American landscape are too often predictable, boring and uninteresting. I get the fact that we’re living in an all-SUV-all-the-time world, but it’s getting ridiculous out there. Here are a few examples of what electrification has wrought:

(Mercedes-Benz)

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC. It doesn't exactly scream "Mercedes," does it?

(Audi)

The 2020 Audi E-Tron. Q5-inspired? Ugh.

(Infiniti)

The Infiniti Q Inspiration and Qs Inspiration forecast the brand’s new design strategy. We Can Wait.

(Nissan)

The Nissan Ariya Concept. We Can Wait, Part II.

(Volkswagen)

The Volkswagen ID. Space Vizzion Concept. Uh, huh?

(Ford)

And Ford has teased its concept for a “Mustang-inspired” electrified SUV that has been dubbed Mach-E although everyone in the automotive world hopes that this is not the final name. (Please say it isn’t so, Ford.) And "Mustang-inspired"? It sounds more than a little depressing frankly, but we'll classify it as a giant "we'll see" for now and leave it at that.

So, what the hell is going on out there? Even the future-look concepts are SUV/Crossover things that are as inspiring to look at as the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Check that, actually the cereal aisle has more vision and imagination in their box designs than I’m seeing in these rolling monuments to mediocrity. The easy explanation is that consumers are all the way gone for SUV/Crossovers. They’ve decided that they're more useful and more convenient to get in and out of, so, end of story. As in, why bother with anything else? And it’s clear that the design houses at the various automakers have pretty much given in to that reality. 

Or is it? There’s a growing trend among younger car buyers when it comes to cars – at least the ones who haven’t entered the “having kids” stage – that indicates that the desire for sedans is coming back. It’s the old “we’d rather not drive what our parents drove” chestnut rearing its head.

Is it real? It’s too early to tell. (Full disclosure: a local couple took over the lease on my Alfa Romeo Stelvio. I am now driving a sedan.) The sameness of the SUV/Crossover Hell we’re living in right now is undeniable. The suburban slog around here is populated with massive pickup trucks and SUV/Crossovers. Audi? BMW? Cadillac? Mercedes-Benz? Porsche? Ford? Chevrolet? GMC? Buick? Does it really matter? They’re all variations on the same SUV/Crossover theme; they run together in a blur of alleged practicality – and hugeness – that has grown to be mind-numbing and relentlessly tedious. That’s why when a car like a Challenger or a Corvette rumbles by, or even a crisply executed sedan appears out of the blue, it’s almost a revelation.

Will the pendulum ever swing back? I am out there looking for it right now, but given the projected designs I am seeing for the Electrification Age I am more than a little concerned. Designers around the globe appear to be stuck in neutral designing variations on the rolling box theme, shifting a line here, playing with the greenhouse there and coming up with basically the same damn thing. 

How uninspiring is that?

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


MONSTERS AND OTHER SCARY STUFF.
by Editor
29 Oct 2019 at 3:49pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Now that the glowing, borderline euphoric reports about the new 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 are streaming in, it’s clear that the automotive enthusiast world is being gifted another 700HP+ (760HP to be exact) high-performance monster for the street. 

That it’s the first GT500 that actually handles with aplomb and stops with equal ability to match its blistering performance – 0 to 60mph in 3.3 seconds and 10.7 seconds in the ¼-mile (or thereabouts) – is excellent news, since the Shelby GT500s of the past were nose-heavy blunderbusses that didn’t particularly live up to their vaunted reputations. 

By all accounts the True Believers at Ford have delivered the best Mustang ever built – unless you fancy the normally-aspirated Shelby GT350, of course – and for a starting price of $70,000+ (although you can easily spend $20,000+ on options), it damn well better be.

(Ford)

That this seems to be Ford’s last gasp in the high-performance internal combustion arena, before it starts fumbling around with high-performance electrified crossovers – let’s hope the excruciatingly bad “Mach-E” moniker is just a code name for their “Mustang-inspired” SUV EV – is obvious. In fact, we’re witnessing the beginning of a clear demarcation in the automotive market as we know it, with the “new” represented by electrified vehicles of all stripes and the “old” being represented by internal combustion engine-powered vehicles.

Although I don’t think it will be that simple. 

As I’ve stated many times before, “ICE” vehicles will be around for decades in various shapes, sizes and forms. And that will be especially true in the high-performance arena, where the sizzle and hum from electric EVs do not sit well with buyers who appreciate their high performance accompanied by a visceral soundtrack that hits the gut. 

Yes, EVs can be blistering fast, that has been well documented time and again. But it’s how you go fast that will come into play for a lot of enthusiasts. Which is why cars like the new Shelby GT500 Mustang and the super-heated Challengers and Chargers from Dodge will continue to hold sway with enthusiasts for years to come. The same goes for the all-new mid-engine Corvette, and of course the exotics from Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren (and others). Porsche couldn’t possibly be hyping its new Taycan EV more, but the 911 and 718 sports cars will live on as ICEs, eventually with hybrid systems built-in, but that special sound will be part and parcel of the Porsche “aura” for the foreseeable future. 

Back to this aforementioned clear demarcation thing. There are already pitchfork-wielding EV zealots out there vehemently denouncing drivers of ICE vehicles as pathetic Luddites who are clinging to the past. I suppose that is no surprise, after all why would we expect any different considering the uncivil behavior that passes for political discourse these days?

Before now the hoary formula proffered by the anti-car, anti-Detroit hordes was that Detroit = Bad, and everybody else, i.e., The Imports = Good. But Detroit got better at building cars and especially trucks and that formula is obsolete. Now, a new formula has emerged, which skips the anti-Detroit bashing altogether and which has EVs = Good, and everything else, specifically ICEs = Bad. 

This abrupt demarcation may please the EV zealots, but it requires a suspension of belief that has no basis in reality. Yes, of course, EVs are coming, and a wide array of them in almost every segment you can think of too. But that doesn’t mean that the acceptance of EVs will be automatic, especially for lower-income buyers and people who live in apartment buildings with no easy access to overnight charging, to name two disconnects.

Just one example of the speculation about the degree of success that EVs will actually have? The entire industry is buzzing about VW’s major EV investment to the tune of over $50 billion, because it is either going to turn out to be the most brilliant thing the company has ever done post the Diesel debacle, or it could end up being a devastatingly slow starter that could cripple the company permanently. That’s the thing about demarcations these days. It’s rarely – if ever – a cut-and-dried proposition. Instead, it’s a divide with a huge gray area in-between, which will see some players succeed and others go down in flames. 

I think EVs will have success in the higher-end segments and in very specific niche applications. For instance, Bollinger seems to have the right idea with its trucks in that they are starting with the premise that they have no intention of being all things to all people, and because of this “not for everyone” positioning the company has a good chance at being successful for buyers with access to horse country, hunting lodges and ranches, and who think nothing of spending thousands on a weekend hunting outfit, even though the only hunting they might do is for an older bourbon that no one else has.

As for the monster ICE machines, I say bring ‘em on. Because the day the sound and fury fades away is the day life as we know it will get darker and less interesting.

A scary thought indeed. 

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



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