The Latest Auto Extremist
A MASTER CLASS IN GREED.
6 Jul 2020 at 10:17am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. It’s no secret that Porsche has leveraged its brand cachet for all it's worth. The once-humble little car company founded on the idea of building lithe sports cars has grown into an automotive touchstone and one of the most profitable car companies in the world.
That Porsche was forced to stray far from its roots, however, was inevitable. After all, building legendary sports cars and fantastic racing cars – and achieving major racing victories across the globe – could only take the company so far before the realities of survival became the single most important issue facing the company.
Becoming part of the VW Group juggernaut allowed Porsche to have a solid foundation of financial stability, but even that wasn’t enough. So, the company embarked on a strategy that Porsche operatives believed would allow it to survive – and thrive – well into the future. Starting with the Cayenne SUV and further expanded with the Macan SUV, Porsche focused on the hottest market segment and made the transition from being a sports car maker that happened to dabble in SUVs, to an SUV maker that happened to still build sports cars for the True Believers willing to invest in the brand. And now, Cayenne and Macan account for more than 60 percent of Porsche sales worldwide.
But being part of the VW Group has brought new pressure to bear on Porsche. VW is going all-in on electrification of its vehicle lineup, and Porsche is expected to contribute mightily to that effort. Which is why the company is offering its new, fully electric Taycan. But there’s proof that this transition is going to be costly for Porsche, because the company is pulling the plug on its factory-supported Porsche 911 RSRs in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the end of the season. The symbolism of this move was hard to miss. Porsche is walking away from its raison d’etre – competing at the highest level of major league sports car racing – in order to devote all of its engineering focus and energy to building more EVs throughout its product lineup. That Porsche still makes brilliant sports cars – the 718 and 911 - is duly noted, and they will for years to come. Slowly but surely, however, Porsche is transforming into something else altogether, and where the company will end up will be interesting to watch.
One thing that will never change at Porsche, apparently, is the fact that they employ the most creative – and flat-out usurious – pricing and option structure in the business, which is the reason it is one of if not the most profitable car company in the world. Now, to be clear, I have no problem with car companies making money; it’s the name of the game, in fact. But Porsche’s pricing approach has been to gouge both its True Believer enthusiasts and its new SUV aficionados with equal ruthlessness. It’s nothing short of a Master Class in Greed.
For today’s discussion, I will give just one example of Porsche’s prodigious fleecing of its customers, but you can certainly extrapolate this across its entire product lineup. Let’s take a close look at the new Porsche Cayenne GTS Coupe, which has experienced saturated automotive media coverage of late.
To call the Cayenne GTS Coupe a “coupe” is disingenuous, at best, because it’s just a four-door Cayenne with a slightly faster back, and less rear headroom. But this trend is not new, as BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been flogging this notion for years. I guess some would could call it “sporty,” but I loathe that description when it comes to automobiles, so I’ll just leave it here.
The new Cayenne GTS Coupe has a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 with 453HP and 457 pound-feet of torque, coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive. It also weighs just under 5,000 lbs. So, there’s that. It has a lot of other stuff, too, which I’m not going to get into. But the base price is a staggering $111,850 with destination charges included.
So, let’s build our Cayenne GTS Coupe from there. I think I want the optional color, “Chalk.” That’s an extra $3150. Adding the 22” Cayenne Sport Classic wheels in High Gloss Black (includes wheel arch extensions in exterior color) will set you back $2770. I will go with the 8-way Sport Seats in Black Leather, which is not extra (wow.)
From there I’m going to add the Lightweight Sport Package, which includes the Sport Design Package in exterior color; Carbon Interior Package; Heated Multifunction Sport Steering Wheel in Race-Tex; Carbon Fiber Roof; 22" GT Design Wheels in Satin Platinum; Leather Interior in Black/ Silver Houndstooth; Air intake grilles in Matte Black; Airblades in Matte Black; Rooflining in Race-Tex; Rear diffuser in Carbon Fiber and a Sport Exhaust System with Center Mounted Tailpipes, all for – gulp - $9140.
Adding the Assistance Package, which consists of Surround View; Head-Up Display; Porsche InnoDrive incl. Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Traffic Jam Assist; Lane Keep Assist (LKA) incl. Traffic Sign Recognition and Night Vision Assist adds $6250.
Odds and ends? Upper rear wing in High Gloss Black: $570. Exterior mirrors painted in High Gloss Black: $660. Under door puddle light projectors: $330, (but requires the addition of Ambient Lighting for $430). Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC): $3590. Rear Axle Steering including Power Steering Plus: $1620. LED-Matrix Design Headlights in Black incl. Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus (PDLS+): $1200. Auto Dimming Mirrors (Seriously?) $420. Comfort Access: $940. Vehicle Keys Painted (Chalk) including One Key pouch in leather: $540. Power Sunblind for rear side windows: $450. Central Tachometer in Chalk: $420. Cargo management System: $420. Smartphone compartment with wireless charging: $690. And Burmester 3D High-End Surround Sound System: $7000.
All for a grand total of $150,190. And I left a whole bunch of other stuff off the list that could have been added too. Remember, the base price started at $111,850. Porsche has single-handedly created and refined this way of fleecing its customers over decades, charging for every detail that other luxury manufacturers regularly make standard. Oh sure, other manufacturers aren’t blameless in all of this, because they have been doing it for years as well. But none of them have mastered the art of extracting mountains of cash from its True Believer faithful like Porsche has. In fact, to paraphrase one of its ancient advertising themes, Nothing – and no other car company – comes even close.
Is Porsche to blame that a lot of its buyers gobble up the Porsche option list like patrons of an all-you-can-eat Las Vegas buffet? No, of course not. But then again, to me it says a lot about the cynicism within Porsche – that they relish the fact that they can gouge their customers with impunity and extract mountains of money from buyers who just can’t help themselves and who long to be the Biggest Tools in the Shed.
It’s a Master Class in Greed brought to you by Porsche. And it’s pathetic.
As for me, if I were in the market for a high-performance SUV (I'm not), I would take a long, hard look at ordering a new 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat with 710HP, which will probably cost easily half as much.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
WRITE HARD, DIE FREE, CONTINUED.
26 Jun 2020 at 12:00pm
Editor's Note: When we embarked on this ride called Autoextremist, with whereabouts unknown way back when, little did we know we'd be here more than twenty years later. And we certainly could never have predicted the current state of our country and our world. With another Independence Day upon us, we feel it's a perfect time to remind everyone what this site - and The Autoextremist - are all about. To do that, we need to travel back in time, to the beliefs that formed the foundation for this site, and that continue to drive us to this day. The world is a different place than it was that June day in 1999, but in so many ways, when it comes to this business, there’s a mind-numbing sameness about it all that is truly unbelievable. (We've published a bit early this week to take a small break for Independence Day.) -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Twenty-one years ago, when I became tired of what the ad biz had become, tired of the sycophants, the ass-kissers, the spineless weasels and the other two-bit players who had turned what was once a pretty interesting profession into a vapid wasteland, I knew I had to do something different. I had also grown tired of seeing the auto business – as practiced here in Detroit – sink further into the Abyss of risk-avoidance-driven mediocrity and watching legions of so-called "executives" make horrendous, piss-poor decisions day after day on behalf of their respective auto companies.
As I watched the carnage unfold around me, I knew that something had to be said by someone who had firsthand knowledge of what was going on. Someone who was in the trenches and on the front lines of the ongoing battle and, of course, that someone turned out to be me.
And Autoextremist.com became my forum to say it.
As some of you insiders may know, Autoextremist originally was a concept I had for a new car magazine back in 1986. The print version of Autoextremist was going to target hard-core enthusiasts, while telling it like it is with a distinctive, combative. journalistic style. It would also be the first enthusiast car publication that wouldn’t accept advertising.
The state of the enthusiast car mags back then was a dismal parade of sameness that left me cold, and I was determined to breathe some life into the genre (and it is different today, how? –WG). But my ad career got in the way, and by the time I looked up it was the late spring of 1999, and I knew that if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it, so the time was finally right for Autoextremist. The Internet, of course, would replace the print magazine idea, but the essence of my original manifesto written back in 1986 remained unchanged.
And that's how this publication and "The High-Octane Truth" came about, whether people were ready for it or not. A lot has changed about this business over the ensuing years, but then again, as I am continually reminded, a lot hasn’t. I am certain of one thing, however, and that is my set of fundamental beliefs about this business hasn’t changed. I thought it would be a good time to reiterate what those beliefs are today – especially after the last week - where I’m coming from, how I look at things and why I say the things I do.
I believe that the business of designing, building, engineering, marketing and advertising cars and trucks should begin with one simple premise – that the Product is King – and everything else has to flow from that fundamental fact. Cars and trucks should be exciting to look at, fun to drive, flat-out desirable and worth owning in all respects. If you (as an individual or a company) forget that fact, you will fail.
I believe people whose cumulative marketing experience basically consists of 1.) An MBA combined with 2.) A stint at the zone level (with the added "benefit" of P&G indoctrination -WG) and 3.) Being part of a rotational executive "rounding" stint through the system, shouldn't automatically be qualified to get near the serious business of marketing and advertising cars, let alone be able to tell an ad agency what's good or not good about an ad campaign that has just been worked on for the last 47 days straight. I would love to say that this situation has changed for the better, but it really hasn’t. Yes, certainly some marketer are eminently qualified to do what they do, but there are still too many instances where the opposite is true.
I believe that car company executives whose first order of business is to cover their own asses and then shamelessly promote themselves the rest of the time – while bringing absolutely nothing positive to the job at hand – should be encouraged to take that long "break" they keep droning on about in off-the-record moments. Please do us all a favor – and leave now. This assessment certainly isn’t confined to the automobile business by any stretch, because it also plagues corporate America at every turn.
I believe that a rampant, "let's not offend anyone" mentality taints every decision made by almost every car executive (yes, there are a few brilliant exceptions) working in the business today. And the sniveling backpedaling hasn’t abated one iota over the last two decades, I am sorry to say. If there’s even a hint of reactionary venom directed toward a campaign or an initiative, the time-honored response is to tuck their tails between their legs, do a public mea culpa and then crawl back into the woodwork. Really? All that time, effort, research and money expended was for naught because someone tweeted something that was negative? You arrived at a reasoned decision that made sense for the company and with one discouraging word your convictions go right out the window? This kind of spineless behavior is tedious and wrong (see below). (By the way Lowe’s called, backbones are on special today, Aisle 6.)
I believe that the typical car company executive's reckless and utter disdain for anything the least bit creative or provocative – while at the same time endorsing a process that consistently "dumbs down" the advertising and the product itself with a series of debilitating steps and hand-wringing meetings – directly results in the churning out of an endless stream of cars and trucks that are too often nothing more than monuments to tedium, mediocrity and bad management. Back then I called it "engineering to the lowest common denominator" – and it still stinks today.
I believe that politics permeates every decision in the car business down to the very last detail, ensuring that all butts are "covered" and that no one is left "exposed" to any ugly consequences. The business is still populated by people more worried about what their political standing within the company "entitles" them to than about bringing to the table an attitude of "what can I do?" or "how can we make it better?" Accountability? Maybe that can be found in Aisle 6 too.
I believe – and this is etched in stone – that whenever the shit hits the fan and there is the least bit of advertising, marketing or product controversy, a car company will always do the wrong thing, and then turn around and blame the advertising agency or a supplier for their predicament at the drop of a hat. And that’s even more true today.
I believe that the ad agency side of the business has strayed as far away from being a creative environment as you can get, short of working at your average Gas and Suds. In many cases, it has deteriorated into a constant battle between The Wimps and The Twerps, people who are intent on taking over the agency and turning it into a cesspool of "Yes Men" and "Yes Women" who are more concerned with their political futures and the "process" than about working on great advertising and marketing. Advertising agencies have forgotten what their mission is, because they're spending 90% of their time, money, resources and effort on everything else under the sun except actually trying to make great advertising. And I believe that, in most cases, their clients are directly responsible for this revolting development – and that they ultimately get the advertising they deserve because of it. Yes, there are exceptions to this, when brilliant advertising somehow emerges from the Fog of War, but for the most part it is depressingly accurate.
I believe that runaway complacency on both sides (car companies and their ad agencies), combined with an atmosphere corrupted by an absolutely suffocating fear of taking any kind of risk (or standing behind it once you do), is killing the chance to get great work produced. Don’t think that’s the case? Take a look at the dismal state of car advertising today.
I believe that in too many cases in this business bad people are making bad decisions negatively affecting good people who know better, people who have been shuffled off to the side for political "considerations" (i.e., they have a backbone and a point of view – and they're not afraid to share it).
I believe that instead of a joyful celebration of the indefatigable nature of the American Spirit and the role the automobile has had, continues to have, and always will play, the business has become nothing but a pathetic caricature of itself – complete with bad actors and even worse props.
I believe that the glaring sameness of the so-called “enthusiast” car mags is still there and it’s still highly annoying. And there’s no denying that the days for the hard-copy print mags are severely numbered, and when the shakeout finally comes, it will be ugly and long overdue.
I believe the state of automotive journalism has never been as weak as it is right now. There are too few writers worth going out of your way to bother with today, and that’s a flat-out disgrace. Automotive journalism (yes, of course there are notable exceptions) has devolved into a thinly disguised pay-to-play-for-access game. And it’s embarrassing.
As for the car biz itself, is it still about the Product? Absolutely. More so today than ever before. But if you don’t have the accurate, enticing and properly funded marketing firepower to put behind a new product, then it doesn’t matter how good it is, because it will be forgotten 120 days after its launch in this heavily oversaturated automotive market we live in.
Are auto execs any more willing to take a stand these days? It’s intermittent when it happens, but there’s some noticeable movement in the right direction at least. I’s not nearly enough, however. And I’m sure a search party will have to be organized to find executives with backbones to shore up the ranks.
As for those “lowest-common-denominator” product decisions, I can thankfully say that mentality has faded into the woodwork. Detroit is creating some excellent new products right now, but getting people to care about them is an entirely different story altogether. It’s a full time job that never ends.
As for the whole ad agency vs. client thing, the profitability of the advertising business is being squeezed down to next to nothing, leaving agencies to fight over scraps while clients display the loyalty of your average fair-weather sports fan. In other words, the state of the ad biz when it comes to the auto industry is beyond pathetic. It’s no wonder that ad agencies have forgotten what their basic mission is – which is to deliver the best, most provocative communications on behalf of their clients that they can muster – in this toxic environment. Do clients still get the advertising they deserve because of it? Yes, of course they do.
Bad people are still making bad decisions negatively affecting good people who know better in this business, unfortunately. As for the “joyful celebration of the indefatigable nature of the American Spirit and the role the automobile has had, continues to have, and always will play...” thing? Well, let’s just say that it’s a work in progress.
That “Detroit” finally got product religion and is saying and doing all of the right things is commendable, but those shining beacons of product light and creativity are still threatened by churning storm clouds defined by a “three steps forward, five back” cadence of rampant mediocrity. And that is sobering.
Add in the great unknown of the electrification transformation, the blissful predictions for the autonomous vehicle movement, the hopeful nirvana of ride sharing and the promises of untold profits in a new Emerald Auto City just over the hill, and well, to say I am beyond skeptical would be an understatement. Let's just call it a giant "we'll see" for now and leave it at that.
Twenty-one years on, I am proud to say that we’re still doing what we do best. We still take you "behind the curtain" to give you an up-close look at the Wizards, the Dullards and everyone else in between in this business. I still say what the others are only thinking (or whispering) in deep background or “off-the-record” conversations, and I will continue to do so. And this publication will continue to influence the influencers every single week, even though they're loath to admit it.
Delivering the Truth, The Whole Truth... and absolutely nothing but The High-Octane Truth has been an exhilarating ride.
Write Hard, Die Free indeed.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
NASCAR?S PROBLEM IS OUR PROBLEM.
22 Jun 2020 at 1:44pm
Editor's Note: As reported by Jenna Fryer of the Associated Press: "The noose found hanging in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway had been there since at least last October, federal authorities said Tuesday in announcing there will be no charges filed. U.S. Attorney Jay Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said its investigation determined “although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.” A crew member for Richard Petty Motorsports discovered the noose Sunday at the Alabama race track. NASCAR was alerted and contacted the FBI, which sent 15 agents to the track to investigate. They determined no federal crime was committed. -WG Editor-in-Chief's Note: If you think this changes my basic thoughts on racism, the Confederate flag, and the fear-mongering, hate-spewing occupant of the Oval Office, you would be sadly mistaken. The essence of my column remains, and I firmly stand by every word. -PMD
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. CAUTION: For all of you out there with the attitude of “I should stick to cars,” I am not going to apologize for this column. And frankly, if it bothers you that I would deign to write something “off topic” well, I don’t frickin’ care what you think. You’re welcome to change the channel if you don’t like what I have to say.
The news that a noose was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage at the Talladega Superspeedway Sunday night – before the rain-delayed NASCAR Cup race was scheduled to take place Monday afternoon – blew up the news cycle and deservedly so. Wallace, who drives for Richard Petty Motorsports, is the only African American driver who races full time at the top level of NASCAR. It was direct pressure by Wallace that led NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its tracks and events just two weeks ago. Anyone who knows anything about the history of NASCAR knows that this was a hugely transformative decision, as Confederate flags have been brought to its tracks and displayed by its fans for decades.
And anyone who has read my columns over the years – especially in “Fumes” – knows that I have been NASCAR’s fiercest national critic. The “stock car” racing organization that has been so resistant to change has been repeating the same mistakes over and over again for more than a decade as it watched its in-person attendance, fan interest and TV ratings plummet in a seemingly unending downward spiral. Being mired in the past has been somewhat of a specialty for the denizens of Daytona Beach, and it’s only when events have conspired to force the issue that NASCAR operatives have been dragged haltingly toward the future. But in this instance, I have nothing but praise for the powers that be in NASCAR for finally moving to expunge a symbol of hate that has been ingrained in its aura almost from its beginning. This significant move was bound to alienate some in its fan base, but NASCAR operatives knew that this was the right time to do so, as the nation is moving inexorably away from its hideous racist past and forging a new way forward.
For his part, Wallace has worn “I Can’t Breathe/Black Lives Matter” T-shirts before races this past month, and on June 10, he raced at Martinsville in a car with #BlackLivesMatter displayed on the side. Wallace has been a courageous and principled leader in this burgeoning movement for change in NASCAR, which is why the appearance of a noose in his team’s garage Sunday evening was so despicable and unacceptable.
(Photo by Wilfredo Lee/USA Today)
But as I mentioned earlier, this was bound to cause consternation among the most vociferous and hardest of the hardcore faithful in NASCAR’s fan base. The people who couch fervor for the Confederate flag as some sort of sickly skewed tribute to their “heritage” when the reality is that it’s a blatant symbol of white supremacy and hate. And has been for years and years. That a parade of Confederate flag-waving NASCAR “fans” showed up outside of the Talladega Superspeedway in the run-up to Sunday’s postponed race was almost to be expected; this is the Deep South, after all. But still, it didn’t make it acceptable or easy to see by any stretch. It was a flat-out disgusting display that underscored just how far we have to go in this country, which is a long, long way.
(Marvin Gentry/USA Today sports)
The scene outside Talladega Superspeedway last weekend.
(Marvin Gentry/USA Today sports)
Here is part of what Wallace had to say on Twitter Sunday night: “Today’s despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism.” Truer words were never spoken, and Wallace’s eloquent response was in stark contrast to the reprehensible rhetoric we’ve had to put up with as a nation amidst the worst pandemic in a century, and the most severe epidemic of race-driven policing incidents in recent history.
That this rhetoric has been fueled and propagated by the current occupant of the Oval Office is a monumental disgrace. This third-rate TV hack has made a mockery of the office of the President of this great nation; he has blatantly allowed the closeted white supremacists festering in the shadows to have a voice in the national discussion, which is unconscionable and inexcusable. He doesn’t even attempt to hide his anti-black, anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant agenda anymore; he is nothing but a rogue actor who stumbled into the office ill-equipped for the gravity it carries and undeserving of the adulation he now expects. He is a preening, vacuous fool with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and he is an insult to everything this great country stands for. It is no wonder that the white supremacists feel emboldened by this pitiful excuse for a “leader” – his only concern is himself. Nothing he does is for the good of the country. Nothing. It’s all just a relentless nightmare of a Shit Show.
In a column I wrote on October 27, 2015, entitled “Seriously, Is This Best We Can Do” I had the temerity – according to a long list of haters – to delineate what was wrong with then-candidate Trump. I said the following:
“Are we, as a country, going to sit back and allow this third-tier ‘celebrity’ and belligerent, classless, no-talent, lying hack to get anywhere near the office of the President of the United States?
Are we going to sit back and let this boorish, low-life, hate-mongering, nouveau dick lead this nation going forward? (I’m sorry, is ‘dick’ too crude a word for you? Remember we’re talking about an unctuous prick that has left nothing but pithy one-liners, lies and misstatements in his wake. The word is more than appropriate.)
I have sat back and watched this bombastic publicity hound chew the airwaves spewing lies about the auto business (if he’s telling such egregious untruths about the auto business and then doubling down on it, what else is he lying about?) and refrained from commenting on it, but I can’t abide this for one damn second. The Dude does not abide.
Seriously, is this the best we can do? I will answer that for you: Oh Hell no.
Yes, I admit that Trump was initially amusing with his off-the-cuff quips and chirps about the cesspool that defines Washington, but all that amounted to was a humorous diversion and nothing more. That isn’t going to fly in the White House.
This country deserves better. Much better.
We have serious problems that are growing exponentially by the hour. Our manufacturing base is being threatened by global competitors that don’t play fair, or even worse, by any rules whatsoever. We have friends acting like enemies and enemies masquerading as friends. We are being threatened by enemies that want to destroy us and everything we stand for because our very existence is a threat to their dark vision of a dead world. And the paralysis in Washington among our stumblebum politicos is a dismal disgrace and an insult to every American.
Donald Trump is nothing more than a minor bit player in this circus, one who is relentlessly ill equipped to be President, but he has managed to dominate the airwaves and the media because of his empty, reactionary rhetoric and this country's sick infatuation with ‘celebrity.’ And it is embarrassing and depressing that we, as a country, have indulged him this far.
Well, it needs to stop here and it needs to stop now.
We can do better and we must do better.”
I knew when Trump gave the most embarrassing and indefensible inauguration speech in Presidential history that we, as a people and a country, were in serious trouble. The Grifter-In-Chief and his posse of sycophants, white supremacists and serial incompetents have taken this nation down a long dark road, a road punctuated by Confederate flags and “very fine people on both sides.”
And it is disgusting.
What Bubba Wallace has had to put up with is disgusting, too, and the direct result of a Presidency that has failed this great nation at every turn. And the ugly reality is that NASCAR’s problem is our problem. The collective “we” as a nation of concerned citizens who want to finally relegate this country’s racist past to the dustbin of history has to fight and claw for every inch of progress against an administration that flaunts the rule of law and blatantly discriminates against minorities at every opportunity.
And at this point, there is only one solution to this mad kaleidoscope of vitriol and racism that is suffocating the life out of this great nation. And it is this:
On November 3rd vote as if your life – and the future of this great nation – depends on it.
Because this just in: It does.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
THINGS NOT WORTH WORRYING ABOUT.
16 Jun 2020 at 7:30am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. In the midst of this Sturm und Drang that our nation is going through, it’s hard to focus on the mundane or the day-to-day. It’s also hard to focus on this business as it fights to get rolling again, lurching forward in fits and starts. In spite of this, I’m already hearing – albeit faintly – the obligatory industry refrain of “It Won’t Be Long Now!” as promises are being made and boasts are being laid on the table by various manufacturers.
Take Nissan, for instance. The new Nissan Rogue is laden with technology and is promised to be Nissan’s mainstream salvation in the market, and to say that it is critical to the brand’s survival in this market is an understatement. But the Rogue is so decidedly uninspired that expecting hordes of new buyers to return to Nissan’s showrooms is an NZT-fueled pipe dream. In other words, the Rogue will return to its payment-driven lot in life in short order.
That’s not the only news coming from Nissan, unfortunately. Bloomberg is reporting that Carlos Ghosn may have been set up, something he claimed from the start of his ordeal. According to previously unreported internal emails, the campaign by top Nissan executives to topple Ghosn started almost a year before Ghosn’s arrest in late 2018 for alleged financial misconduct. The effort was motivated in part, according to Bloomberg, by opposition to the former chairman’s push for greater integration between the Japanese automaker and longtime alliance partner Renault, the new information reveals. The most damning evidence reveals that “… the documents and recollections of people familiar with what transpired show that a powerful group of insiders viewed his detention and prosecution as an opportunity to revamp the global automaker’s relationship with top shareholder Renault on terms more favorable to Nissan.”
Oops. Talk about a giant miso soup bowl of Not Good. I have said it frequently in the past and I will say it again: Nissan’s very survival is in question. The company is in dire straits financially, and every move it makes of late is either the wrong move, or insufficient to make a difference. I can easily see the company succumbing to its serial incompetence and being absorbed by another automaker. And given its current state, I wouldn’t miss Nissan in the least. It’s just not worth worrying about.
Then there’s Ford. The big news is, of course, the arrival of the Bronco. Easily three years late, the Bronco has been in discussion within the halls of Dearborn for six excruciatingly long years. Jim Farley, the Ford COO/Frat Boy in Chief, insists that the Bronco will be a “much superior product” to Jeep. Well, after taking as long as Ford did to get its act together, I certainly hope so. Jeep has enjoyed a free run for years in this market, especially after GM abandoned the Hummer brand during its bankruptcy. The True Believers out in Auburn Hills have done a tremendous job in keeping the Jeep franchise thriving, but there’s no question that some stiff competition from the True Believers at Ford will be welcomed by all.
But being Ford, not everything will come together smoothly for the launch of the Bronco, apparently. The giant media reveal is slated to take place on July 9, when I’m sure grandiose promises will be made and certain bootlickers in the media will heap praise on the Bronco calling it the greatest thing since sliced bread. As I said earlier, it better damn well be. There’s so much riding on the Bronco that any misstep will be magnified one hundred times over. But one minor detail? July 9 is one O.J. Simpson’s birthday – you know, the guy who was driven around in a white Bronco back in 1994 for an hour on national television. And you know the rest of the story. Oops. Ford PR minions insist that Simpson’s birthday is purely coincidental, and that they are going ahead with the Bronco reveal on July 9 (Ford PR has since announced that the Bronco reveal will be moved to June 13. -WG) Ultimately, it’s another thing not worth worrying about.
Next up? The Austin American-Statesman is reporting that Elon Musk is negotiating with the city of Austin, Texas, for an incentive package in order to put a Tesla plant in the area to build its electric pickup truck and Model Y. Travis County Commissioners were slated to discuss the matter on Tuesday (June 16) but unless St. Elon pulls one of his usual Muskian Nightmare moves and opens his mouth – which usually never goes well – I wouldn’t be surprised if Texas is the new home of a second U.S. Tesla plant. I wonder if there has been any accrued knowledge about car building by Musk and his minions, or will the new plant also be a model of abject labor inefficiency? It’s a giant “we’ll see” at this point and one more thing not worth worrying about.
And then there’s Toyota. The company that has built its brand strength by being all things to all people is preparing, once again, to redirect its path down the performance road. Automotive News has reported that the new GR Yaris series features a 268HP version aimed directly at the enthusiast market. There are no plans to bring the little monster here, but it allegedly signals that Toyota is giving high-performance another run. We’ve heard all of this before, of course. It goes something like this: Toyota launches a concept or even a production vehicle with great fanfare, suggesting that the “new” Toyota will be a performance-oriented brand. It never lasts, of course, because the fuel of the Toyota machine is mainstream cars and trucks, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon.
Toyota also introduced a refreshed Lexus IS this week, with a host of changes and detailed improvements, particularly in the suspension for improved handling. That’s all well and good, but the new Lexus IS is on old architecture and in 2019 – pre-pandemic – its sales were down a sobering 35 percent. Toyota and Lexus are able to field some fine performance-oriented machines, but buyers aren’t flocking to them. That can be directly attributed to the realities of the Toyota/Lexus Brand Image. And it’s another thing in the giant scheme of things – especially amidst our current chaotic national situation – not worth worrying about.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
A BMW TOO FAR; AND INTRODUCING THE AUTO INDUSTRY?S NEWEST LIFESTYLE BRAND.
7 Jun 2020 at 11:44am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. According to our Autoextremist calendar, this week is normally reserved for our AE Brand Image Meter. But given that the entire industry has been basically on hold for the last four months, and brands have been filling the airwaves and the Internet with messages about how much they care about everything, we’re going to save our Brand Image Meter column for later in the year.
That doesn’t mean, however, that brand image is far from my mind. It’s still one of the most important – and most fragile – aspects of this business. It can take years for an auto manufacturer to establish a discernible image, and a good one is not won easily. It takes a focused consistency on the brand that endures through myriad new product updates and introductions and the usual carousel of seemingly endless executive changes.
It’s easy to tick off the brands that have enjoyed considerable success over the last decade: Jeep, Porsche, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Range Rover and Rolls-Royce, just to name a few. That there is a natural ebb and flow to these brands’ image success is undeniable, but for the most part they have remained consistent and have reaped the sales benefits – and repeat buyers – because of their elevated brand images.
But then again, nothing is guaranteed in this business and indeed, nothing lasts forever. And this week, I am painfully reminded of that fact with two brands in particular: BMW and Porsche.
That BMW always seems to be teetering on brand suicide has been a recurring theme in my columns for a decade. In its quest to be in every garage in America, BMW has naturally devolved to wallowing in the most dreaded branding mistake in this business: Being All Things to All People. BMW executives have followed the downtrodden path of “if one SUV/Crossover thingy is good, then a dozen more must be better!” for so long now that it’s no wonder they must have difficulty remembering what BMW once stood for.
Then again, what does BMW stand for? Any residual goodness of its legendary 2002 sport sedan has been long gone for four decades. And BMW purists might vociferously protest this take, but the hoary argument that BMW is just taking advantage of the market and in doing so it allows the company to still build cool cars for the traditional BMW enthusiast just doesn’t hold up. Why? Because BMWs have grown bigger, fatter and sluggish. They’re overly laden with technology for technology’s sake, and that direction has been costly in terms of drivability and most important - just plain old fun behind the wheel.
It’s only semi-funny that every time BMW does something that’s even remotely positive BMW fanboys insist that it is an indication that company operatives are finally rediscovering their roots. It never lasts, unfortunately. BMW seems to be locked in a one-step forward, three-steps back dance of mediocrity that perpetually mires the company in a suspended state of animation. BMW operatives can’t remember what BMW once stood for because they simply don’t have a clue.
The latest evidence of this? The all-new, second-generation BMW 4 Series Coupe. That BMW designers have been flirting with disaster for years now due to their infatuation with increasingly large and toothy grilles is well-documented. The new 7 Series sedan and giant X7 SUV are rolling blunderbuss-caliber monstrosities that seem to exist in a parallel universe that places a premium on circus wagons.
Upon first glance, the new BMW 4 Series from a rear, 7/8 angle view is an elegant update of their current coupe design form. It is crisp and nicely rendered. Not bad, right? But when you get around to the front, all Hell breaks loose.
This is what BMW's PR minions say: "The vehicle’s design and engineering teams wanted to deliver the ultimate driving experience in a beautiful and low-slung package that ensures the 2021 4 Series Coupe stays at the top of its segment." This is what I say: This is such a design abomination from the front - even though the photographers tried their damnedest to conceal the sheer ugliness of it - that it is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. How did this Bucky Beaver design escape the friendly confines of the BMW design studio? Didn’t anyone – Bueller? – have the cojones to stand up and say in a meeting, “Uh, excuse me, but what the hell are you guys thinking?” Obviously not. I attribute this monumental design atrocity to three things: Stubbornness. Arrogance. And hubris. Otherwise known as the Trifecta of Not Good. Any shred of optimism that BMW was going to get its act together anytime soon has been convincingly buried in one fell swoop.
But as depressing as BMW’s current state is, I am much more worried about the latest developments coming out of Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen. That Porsche has been the poster company for anticipating and adapting to market shifts – their shift to SUVs saved the company – has been well-documented. Porsche fanboys insist that if Porsche hadn’t taken that action, the company wouldn’t be able to build the hard-core enthusiast sports cars or go racing, which is the lifeblood of the company. Let’s just say that argument used to hold up, because racing is no longer the lifeblood of the company, apparently.
Last week, the company announced it was pulling its vaunted Porsche 911 RSR GTLM racing machines (below) out of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in North America at the end of this season. The reason given was the financial fallout due to the coronavirus pandemic, but there’s much more to this story than meets the eye.
First of all, the Volkswagen Group is so committed to all-electric vehicles for its future product portfolio that it is becoming readily apparent that development of their ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles is taking a back seat, even at Porsche. The tone of the release was that Porsche would be back, but ominously, the company seems to think that its Esports involvement will suffice going forward. And even if the company does return to top-line GT racing, it will be at least three years before that happens given Porsche’s previous history of racing pullbacks and reengagement.
But that’s just one dimension to this. More distressing than the news that Porsche was withdrawing from its “lifeblood” – racing – was the announcement of what it calls the 2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4S Heritage Design Edition, which will be the first of four special Heritage Design models.
Why should this Porsche be any more significant than previous Porsche special editions? After all, it is no secret that Porsche has the most usurious pricing strategy/option list in the business, and it never hesitates to exploit its fan base to extract every last dollar possible. The operatives at Porsche are the preeminent greed merchants in this industry, and that's saying something when there's an industry full of 'em. Limited to 992 models worldwide, the 2021 Porsche 911 Targa 4S Heritage Design Edition is supposed to evoke memories of Porsche models from the 50s. This is what Oliver Blume, Chairman of the Executive Board of Porsche AG had to say about it: “We are evoking memories of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s in customers and fans with the Heritage Design models. No brand can translate these elements into the modern day as well as Porsche, and, along the way, we’re fulfilling the wishes of our customers. With the exclusive special editions, we are also establishing a new product line which represents the ‘lifestyle’ dimension in our product strategy.”
Really? Let's stop right there, because when Porsche starts talking about "lifestyle dimensions" the brand is in serious trouble. I am not going to bother to regurgitate all of the "exclusive" details, because they're too tedious and contrived to mention, but suffice to say, this brand direction is a new low for Porsche. How much? The 2021 911 Targa 4S Heritage Design Edition has an MSRP of $180,600, not including a $1,350 delivery, processing and handling fee. It is expected to reach U.S. dealers in late 2020. Along with the introduction of the special edition, certain interior elements will be available as part of the Heritage Design package for all current 911 models. But wait, if you really want to be The Biggest Tool in the Shed, Porsche Design has created a high-quality chronograph, also a limited edition, which will be offered for sale exclusively to customers purchasing the special model. The 911 Targa 4S Heritage Design edition chronograph will set you back another $14,000, and it can be purchased at authorized Porsche dealers exclusively by owners (aka The Biggest Tools) of the 911 Targa 4S Heritage Design Edition.
It's no secret that when auto manufacturers start playing out the string with a brand, they start coming up with special editions to extract every last dollar out of their brand faithful. Porsche is no different in that regard. What’s different here is the at the same time Porsche is walking away from its “lifeblood” – which is competing at the top level of international GT racing – it is openly talking about the new “lifestyle dimension” of its product strategy. It’s an ominous move in the wrong direction. Nicely done Porsche, you unmitigated hacks.
As I said earlier, nothing is guaranteed in this business and indeed, nothing lasts forever. But when you’re a top brand and you lose focus, it’s damn-near unforgivable in my book. And a giant bowl of Not Good.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
TWENTY ONE YEARS OF THE HIGH-OCTANE TRUTH.
2 Jun 2020 at 1:40pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. This issue marks the 21st Anniversary of Autoextremist.com. To say it has been a long, strange trip doesn’t even begin to describe the roller-coaster ride it has been creating this publication every week. It has been at times grueling, at times immensely gratifying, but always a relentless grind. When you endeavor to create this kind of publication every week and do it at a very high level to our own exceedingly high standards, there’s just no getting around that fact.
But then again, we wouldn’t have it any other way. June 1, 1999, was a very long time ago. I could say that it has gone by in a blink of an eye, but that wouldn’t be accurate in the least. I am often reminded of Cameron Crowe’s brilliant script for the film Jerry McGuire, when Tom Cruise’s sports agent character screams in frustration at how difficult it is to represent his client, played by Cuba Gooding Jr.: “It’s an up-at-dawn, pride swallowing siege!"
And yes, sometimes it has felt that way. The day-in, day-out of Autoextremist.com can be intimidating, because there’s no “phoning it in” around here. When I open to a blank screen at my usual 3:00 a.m. to begin a new week of AE, sometimes it is just daunting and overwhelming. But make no mistake, creating AE has been moments of flat-out fun too. And that’s a good thing because if it wasn’t fun or worthwhile, WordGirl and I would have packed it in years ago.
And speaking of years ago, this is how I opened my column in our very first issue of Autoextremist.com:
You've come here for a reason. You're either curious, bored, or in some internet-fueled haze that's taken over your body and turned you into a quivering jellyfish that has lost all concept of time and space. Well, for whatever the reason, welcome. I'm not going to sit here and make promises about what Autoextremist.com will or won't do for you. I will say, however, that you will not read anything like it when it comes to the weird world of automobiles, because the people here are the most committed automotive enthusiasts in the world. So much so, that we operate in a dimension that other so-called "car people" find bewildering and even frightening. The Truth will do that to people. Especially in Detroit, which is one of the strangest places on earth...
I came out with guns blazing, of course. Was there really any other way? Thus, began the editorial adventure of Autoextremist.com. I realize I’m now considered “ancient” because we only update the site once a week (we were never interested in the drill of posting content 24/7 -WG), but there’s no denying that the influence of Autoextremist.com still resonates throughout the industry as much, if not more, than ever.
And let’s not forget that before AE arrived on the scene the coverage of this industry was a rote dance of PR minion regurgitation combined with a few salient quotes from executives dutifully covered by acquiescing reporters. It was done this way because everything was based on reporters gaining “access” to said executives, which was the lifeblood of their jobs. Whether they were believable quotes or not, editors demanded quotes to flesh out the stories, and if the reporters played ball with the PR minions, access – and interviews – were granted. This all went well as long as the reporters didn’t rock the boat and write a “tough” story. If that happened, the offending reporter would be called on the carpet by the Chief PR Minion and placed in “jail” with access denied until further notice.
That pretty much ended with the first issue of Autoextremist.com. Before AE came along PR minions and reporters would have conversations that were for “deep background only” or completely “off the record.” We changed all of that. I laid bare those deep background conversations and exposed the inner workings of this business in my columns. I even named names in a business that wasn’t big on accountability. After all, it was easy to hide behind the bureaucracy and play “duck and cover” when the blame could be placed in the hopper of mediocrity and covered up with those dreaded words: “It was a corporate decision.”
From the moment Autoextremist.com arrived on the scene there was no denying that the automotive journalistic landscape was inexorably altered. We watched as the tone and tenor of other publications got grittier and more combative, and observed as reporters wrote more “tough” stories.
Needless to say, the dawn of Autoextremist.com admittedly caused much consternation and hand-wringing in this business. PR minions of all stripes were not happy if their charges were singled out, even if they quietly chuckled with glee when I nailed an executive who was known for serial incompetence. And the executives were beside themselves because I knew too much; it was like I saw deep into their souls and was reading their minds with uncanny accuracy. And they didn’t like it. At all.
The fact that I used a nom de plume for the first three months of the site just added more fuel to the fire. Soon enough, “the green car” on our masthead started showing up on auto company computers, as well as at suppliers and ad agencies. Autoextremist.com was the talk of the town. As the CEO at my last ad agency (Campbell-Ewald) wondered out loud at the end of a meeting, “Hey, have you guys read this Autoextremist guy? He’s gotta be in advertising; he just knows too damn much.” I left that ad agency not too long afterward.
We talk about the influence of Autoextremist.com because its reach has spread throughout the industry, and throughout the motorsports industry as well. And it has been extremely gratifying to see. Just one example of the influence of Autoextremist.com? At the height of Sergio’s reign my columns struck such terror in the hearts of the executives out in Auburn Hills – and were so deadly accurate – that everyone out there raced to their computers the moment my column was posted as they spread like wildfire throughout FCA headquarters. I can’t tell you how many FCA executives confided to me after the fact that my columns were so chillingly accurate, that they were convinced I had moles at the very top of the company. I didn’t. I must admit that I do have an uncanny ability to capture the inner depths of the auto executive mindset, however.
Autoextremist.com has been quite the trip. When we started the site 21 years ago, I had no plan beyond the fact that I had something to say and I needed a forum to say it. It turns out that after having grown up immersed in the heyday of this business in a decidedly privileged automotive childhood – and combining that with my own experiences in marketing, advertising and motorsports – I had plenty to say. And I still do.
After all, how many pursuits allow you to make a mark… and leave a mark?
WordGirl and I would like to thank everyone for coming along for the ride all of these years.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth, 21 years on.
The original - and still our favorite - Autoextremist logo.
FOR NO BETTER REASON, INDEED.
25 May 2020 at 12:30pm
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, it’s interesting to see articles appearing praising the automobile in these social distancing times we find ourselves in. Cars and trucks are being used for mobile birthday parties, community gatherings and even the revival of drive-in movie theaters. It’s as if the entire country has rediscovered our American mobility culture that has powered this country for well over 100 years.
It seemed like just yesterday that we were being inundated with tales of how ride sharing would rule our immediate future and autonomous pod cars that could be summoned at our whims would be de rigueur in the not-too-distant future. The anti-car zealots were rubbing their hands with glee at the imminent demise of the automobile, because those evil mobility devices responsible for all of the world’s sins – both real and imagined – would soon be relegated to the dustbin of history.
And then the pandemic happened, and now all of a sudden, cars – with their unique social distancing properties built-in - are cool again. I for one am not surprised that this has happened. But it’s a good time to take a look at our car culture and ask a few pertinent questions.
How did the car “thing” evolve from desiring faster horses, to the building of transportation that transformed the world? What propelled the automobile from being an extravagant convenience, to a cultural touchstone that’s such an inexorable part of the American fabric that even the most hostile of the anti-car hordes can’t seem to dampen our collective enthusiasm for it?
Is it the fashion statement? The fundamental sense of motion and speed? The image-enhancing power that automobiles possess? Or all of the above?
If anything, I keep going back to the one thing that’s undeniable about our collective love for the automobile, the one thing that no computer simulation - no matter how powerful or creatively enhanced - can compete with. And that is the freedom of mobility.
The ability to go and do, coupled with the freedom to explore and experience is not only a powerful concept, it is fundamental to the human experience, which is why the automobile in all of its forms remains so compelling and undeniably intoxicating.
That the automobile has progressed from a device built around convenience and comfort to something more, much more, is easy to understand. That rush of freedom that we all experienced in our first solo drive in an automobile is something that cannot be duplicated or brushed aside. It is ingrained in our spirit and etched in our souls.
I have talked to the most strident anti-car people over the years, and they love to say, “I’m not into cars,” but it’s weird, because inevitably, after acknowledging that it’s fine that they don’t share my passion for the automobile, something very interesting happens.
If the conversation is allowed to percolate long enough, every single anti-car person I have encountered in the 21 years of doing Autoextremist.com comes around to saying something like, “Well, there was this one car that my uncle (or aunt, or friend, or brother, or mom, or dad, or grandfather, etc.) had that I’ll never forget…” And they then proceed to tell me about a car that is so indelibly carved in their memories that they start talking about it in detail, including where they were, how old they were, who was with them, where they were going, what happened, etc., etc.
For even those most dispassionate about the automobile – at least on the surface anyway – I find there are always stories if you dig a little deeper. Stories of coming of age, of adventure, of harrowing close calls, of love, and life and lives lived. And memories. Countless, colorful memories that live on forever.
The automobile business itself can be mind-numbingly tedious at times, as I’ve well documented over the years. And it is without question one of the most complicated endeavors on earth, made up of so many nuanced ingredients that it almost defies description. But the creation of machines that are safe, reliable, beautiful to look at, fun to drive, versatile or hard working – depending on the task they’re designed for – is more than just a cold, calculated business. It is and has been an industrial art form that has come to define who we are collectively.
The automobile obviously means more to me than it does for most. I grew up immersed in this business, and the passionate endeavor surrounding the creation of automotive art has never stopped being interesting for me. And it is very much art, by the way. Emotionally involving and undeniably compelling mechanical art that not only takes us where we want to go but moves us in ways that still touch our souls deeply.
As I have reminded everyone often in writing this column, I for one will never forget the essence of the machine, and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams.
On occasion, we’ve run an excerpt from one of our favorite pieces of automotive prose, which poet, critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, James Agee wrote for the September 1934 issue of Fortune. You can read the entire passage here, but this is the part that resonates the most for us:
"Whatever we may think, we move for no better reason than for the plain unvarnished hell of it. And there is no better reason.”
No better reason, indeed.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
YOU CAN?T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT.
19 May 2020 at 1:45pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Wishing things would go better - and faster - through this pandemic is a fool’s errand, apparently. Things will unfold at their own pace, whether we want that to be different or not. The slow re-openings are going to feel painfully slow, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m good with it.
I’m in no rush to get back to the way things were, frankly. It’s as if the entire country needed a much-needed timeout – from everything – to take stock, to be reminded of what’s really important, and to become reacquainted with the fragility of life. But there is no doubt that the way this “break” unfolded has been nothing but tragic. The death count is almost incomprehensible, and the economic calamity grows by the day as well. So, to pretend it’s somehow all sweetness and light is unwarranted positivity, at best. But press on we must.
So, I thought I’d craft a wish list of how I’d like to see things go in this “grand reawakening.” Some of it will be car industry specific, of course, but some of it will be life specific too.
I would like to see the end of usurious financing in the auto industry. I know, good luck with that. Every time this business faces a crisis, the auto manufacturers somehow deem that the return of 84-month financing to lure unsuspecting buyers in is an unspoken right, and it is flat-out wrong. They should rename it “Upside Down Financing” and be done with it, because it exploits buyers who unfortunately should know better into signing up for a loan on a vehicle that will ultimately be worth less – much less – than what they owe on it half-way through the term. Sure, for the small percentage of buyers out there who keep their vehicles ten years or more it might make a shred of sense, but for the vast majority of buyers in question it means signing up for financial jeopardy right out of the gate. And it’s unmitigated bullshit.
I would like to see more of an emphasis on recycling on a national basis. One thing I have noticed with this giant “stay at home” initiative is that the streets and sidewalks around here are much cleaner. Let’s face it, it’s human nature in this most consumer of consumerist societies to use. Everything is consumed at a furious pace and with little rhyme or reason too. My mom used to rail about the “gross national product” being just gross, and now I realize she was way ahead of her time in her thinking. She was recycling long before anyone else too. Is this perspective an indictment of our capitalist/consumerist society? Oh, hell no. We are who we are and it is part of who we are as a country, there is just no getting around that. But maybe it would be a nice break once in a while if we didn’t leave a trash heap in our wake wherever we go, or after every event. I just find it hard to believe that some parts of this country still don’t have a cohesive recycling program at this juncture. How can this be? Is recycling inconvenient and costly? Yes, but in my estimation, it is more than worth it. I would like to see this country step up to a national emphasis on recycling, and that means everything – especially with packaging materials – should be up for renewed scrutiny. I have been reminded during this forced break that we live in an incredibly beautiful country, and there have been countless examples of that through breathtaking photos taken from across this great nation appearing in social media. Ignoring our environment and our place in it has grown tiresome, and it is not a good look. Will this ever change? Unlikely, but there’s always a shred of hope.
Speaking of the environment, will the electrification of our vehicle fleet ever become a reality? Stepping away from the debate as to the source of electricity used to charge electric vehicles for a moment – predominantly coal-fired power plants* – and the fact that a large faction of people continue to insist is exactly the reason that electric vehicles don’t deserve the accolades that electric vehicle advocates ascribe to them, the move to electrification for our nation’s fleet is going to gradually pick up speed. The initial electric vehicle selection is going to be pricey, unfortunately, which I believe is counterproductive to gaining consideration from consumers, but this will change over time. The Chevrolet Bolt is still a most attractive package in terms of overall cost and performance (although the nonexistent marketing for the Bolt damn-near made it invisible), and if we see more of that class of electric vehicle, I think consumers will be swayed. Sure, the high-roller electric cars are cool and everything, but that’s not even close to the heart of the mainstream market, and incentives will need to return to the BEV space to jump-start consumer interest. The more exposure consumers get to BEVs, however, the more the desire for this type of vehicle will grow, but there’s no doubt that cost will remain the biggest consideration for the foreseeable future. Another interesting aspect of these quarantine times we’re living in, however, is that people have been driving much less than before. And now, a 225–300-mile range for a BEV doesn’t seem to present an obstacle at all for a lot of people. (And there’s no doubt that the general lack of inactivity contributed to a massive 17 percent reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions too, it was just announced on Tuesday. This brief but welcome dip is expected to be erased as soon as the activity resumes, but it is noteworthy nonetheless.) This will definitely be interesting to watch, but the net-net of this is that BEVs are coming, folks. And in a big way. (*As several readers have pointed out, coal-fired power plants are rapidly disappearing, which is a very good thing. -PMD)
So where does the auto industry go from here? When the economy slowly comes back to life, crossovers, trucks and SUVs will continue to hold sway for most consumers, and for myriad reasons. Gas remains relatively inexpensive, ingress and egress with these vehicles is vastly preferred by an aging population, and let’s face it, American consumers like larger vehicles. They just do. And thus it ever was, in fact.
Economy cars will hold steady simply because of the price point, and as I’ve said repeatedly, affordability will grow more crucial by the month in this business. As for those manufacturers that suggest that their used cars will cover the affordability issue, well that’s simply not going to cut it. My prediction? The first manufacturer that addresses the affordability issue with a BEV is going to win big. But fans of sedans will continue to see their choices reduced, as sedans fade in importance and from view. That ship has sailed, unfortunately.
Super-luxury and luxury high-performance cars will continue to roll along in their very specific niche, but the price of admission to that club is going to continue to go up exponentially. It seems that the price of individual expression and swinging dick-ism has been a part of this business almost from the beginning, and that isn’t about to change anytime soon.
As for the Big Picture for this business, it’s clear to me that some auto manufacturers – and suppliers – aren’t going to make it out of this pandemic alive. And as I’ve said previously, significant consolidations and absorptions are on the horizon. Some of them will be minor to be sure, but I expect some of them will be earth shattering as well. This industry is headed for an undeniable rocky road, and on several fronts too.
As for the Autonomous Vehicle space, it will remain a limited play for far down the road, much to the chagrin of the players who continue to dump millions upon millions into the idea. Make no mistake, the idea of consumers embracing these communal auto pods in a post-coronavirus pandemic environment is pretty much laughable. It is just notgonnahappen. dot. com.
As we come out of this purple-quarantined haze, I am hoping that things will not only be better, but that they will stay better. I am hoping that lessons will not only have been learned but taken forward with a renewed sense of purpose. I have my severe doubts, to be sure, but I at least hold out hope for a better day.
Because as Mick and Keith wrote: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time, well, you might find, you get what you need.
I sincerely hope that’s the case. For all of us.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
LOST IN TRANSLATION.
12 May 2020 at 2:02pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. In a couple of weeks (June 1st), we will mark 21 years of creating and producing Autoextremist.com. Although I am going to reserve most of my comments about the occasion for that anniversary issue, some things have been on my mind of late that I feel are worth talking about now.
In the course of doing this website, I have learned a few things. Not surprising, as when we first started AE there was no plan. Some longtime readers may even recall back in the very early days that there was a link on our site to a “business plan” which, when clicked on, directed readers to a blank page. It was mildly humorous but very true; there was no plan other than to give my perspectives and insights on subjects that no one else would touch.
Yes, of course I had some preconceived notions when starting AE, because I had been immersed in the business from a young age, and my subsequent professional experience contributed to a lot of my thinking and the approach I took in creating content for the site. But there were some revelations along the way, which I am going to talk about today.
First of all, I began AE with the rock-solid perspective that the Product is King, and as far as I am concerned it always has been and always will be. That is still very true. You only have to look as far as the new Chevrolet Corvette to understand what that means. It is quite simply the finest automobile that has come from General Motors, and it represents everything that company has learned so far about what it takes to build a legitimately superb machine.
You would think that it shouldn’t be that hard to accomplish this, but to get a giant organization to focus on a product and then execute it to the nth degree remains the toughest challenge in this business. It is fraught with peril and pitfalls; things go wrong all the time, there are setbacks and crossroads, and the budget considerations always loom large. A kaleidoscope of diverse elements has to come together just right to achieve success. But then again, it’s eminently doable with the right combination of True Believers involved.
Ah yes, another of my favorite subjects: The True Believers. The hardcore enthusiasts throughout the industry who bring the best of their abilities to bear on their assignments day-in and day-out. Every company has them too. These are the men and women who are called upon to bring the critical, all-hands-on-deck projects to fruition. They represent the Best and the Brightest that these companies have to offer, and they make the difference as to whether a product is merely good, or a certified grand-slam home run. Go over the list of vehicles from each company that are worth praising, and you can bet that the True Believers in Design, Engineering, Product Development and all of the other key disciplines were involved from start to finish. That’s how The Good Stuff gets built in this business, and thus it was ever so.
But I’ve also painfully observed over the years that the finest work from the True Believers can get lost in a fog of mediocrity. No, it’s not that they get watered down, or that egregious cost cuts are glaringly left exposed to detract from the overall execution – yes, that does happen on occasion, depressingly enough – but it’s that great products can be let down by amateurish or flat-out piss-poor marketing.
The one irrefutable lesson I’ve learned from doing this website for more than two decades is that even the finest products can be destroyed by disastrously misguided product marketing campaigns. I naively believed at one point that if you had a kick-ass product, success in the market would be automatic, that it was almost a foregone conclusion. But that just isn’t the case.
Now, to be sure, if you don’t have an outstanding product, success in the marketplace is a non-issue, because you can’t get there without it. But the biggest disappoint for me – well, at least one of them anyway – is that even the most brilliantly-executed product will languish in the market if the marketing strategy is off, or the advertising sucks. Having a focused and fearless marketing-advertising campaign is just as essential as having a great product. In fact, without that crucial component I have seen many finely-executed cars languish in the market and eventually fall by the wayside. And, to paraphrase Chris Rock, that just ain’t right.
Does this ever smooth its way out, you might ask? After all these years is it really that hard for all of the elements to come together, including marketing and advertising? Yes, it really is that hard.
The business of designing, engineering, manufacturing and selling automobiles is one of the most complicated endeavors on earth. It’s also one of the most capital-intensive pursuits there is, but then again you already knew that. There are no givens in this business and no “attaboys” for trying, and assumptions can only carry you so far, before they let you down.
Yes, the Product is still King, but if any one component fails to live up to the far-reaching goals established for the product in question, the whole thing can get lost in translation and collapse with a thud of mediocrity.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
TICK, TICK, TICK. TIME IS RUNNING OUT ON FORD.
5 May 2020 at 3:23pm
By Peter M DeLorenzo
Detroit. Another week has gone by on top of the absurd week that came before it. And the one that came before that. And so on. That people are losing track of time and space while lost in the throes of this relentless pandemic has been well-documented. And contributing to that lost feeling is the relentless drip of bad news, news that is becoming more and more unbearable because of a depressing cocktail of abject terror, an egregious dereliction of duty on the part of what currently passes for our national government, and the rampant absurdities of our new life at every turn. In fact, there isn’t a facet of America that hasn’t been affected by this lethal scourge - COVID-19.
For those with even a modicum of societal awareness, this is not a drill and it is not some movie script. With 70,000 Americans dead and that number accelerating at a dizzying rate, any semblance of what came before in American life has been trampled, permanently. And the fact that there are millions out there who haven’t gotten the memo just adds to the absurdity.
As for the automobile business? Plans to reopen the plants and get back to work are coming together. And development programs that were chugging along in fits and starts will pick up speed again in earnest. But does anyone really know what will happen once the giant spigot opens up again?
I am seeing a lot of conjecture and an occasional boast here and there about things “getting back to normal” in no time, but once the short-term pent-up demand for cars and trucks is exhausted – I figure about August - then what? With national unemployment figures whistling past 30 million people and rising rapidly, how important do you think an automobile purchase is in the giant scheme of things? Especially when rent and food are in play?
As for the auto business, the pendulum seems to be swinging wildly between ugly Doomsday scenarios and Pollyannaish pronouncements. On the one hand, you have analysts projecting the idea of auto companies running out of time – and money – and being bought and absorbed. On the other, you have auto executives like Jim Farley at Ford, who just spent $1 million on Ford stock last week in a calculated show of confidence to send a message to anyone who’s paying attention – especially to Wall Street-types – that Ford’s COO has supreme confidence that the company will come out on the other side of this crisis leaner, meaner, stronger and better.
But I have serious doubts about that. Yes, Ford has the punch of “The Franchise” – the F-150 truck – which is an incredible cash machine second to none in this business, but as successful as the F-150 is, the cash burn going on in Dearborn is unfolding at a devastating cadence. How bad is it? One estimate has Ford losing upwards of $161 million per day. And there is no amount of “fireside chats” with analysts – something that top Ford execs have tried of late in order to persuade them that the Dearborn automaker will be okay – that can mask that fact. Needless to say, it’s ugly times right now in Dearborn, and it’s getting uglier by the day.
Besides, Farley’s “grand gesture” really wasn’t all that impressive in the giant scheme of things. How is that, you say? As Farley has memorably said to anyone close enough to listen (me included), “I have plenty of money,” and that is a true, albeit a truly obnoxious statement. As a matter of fact, a million here and there to Ford’s soon-to-be CEO (he’s slated to replace Jim Hackett) is chump change. It might have pleased Bill Ford and certain members of the Ford family who still give a shit about what’s going on at The Company, but to those who know, the likelihood of that “grand gesture” ringing hollow in the fall is very real.
No matter how illustrious the F-150 franchise is, or how many cool products the company has coming – the new Bronco to name one – when you’re burning through that kind of cash, time is the enemy. And right now, the sands of time are whistling through the hourglass at a furious rate for Ford.
Two-and-one-half years ago, I had this to say about the future of Ford – projecting to the year 2030 – in a column entitled Runnin’ Down A Dream: “The VW Group long ago established itself as the largest automotive conglomerate in the world. The news? Its working agreement with the Ford Motor Company had evolved into a full takeover, as Ford’s restructuring was stalled by its perpetually late product cadence, ineffectual leadership and having pissed away billions trying to become a mobility company. And for the first time in its history Ford was no longer controlled by the Ford family, although the family still maintained a significant - but notably reduced - presence in terms of stock and influence.”
And today, I wouldn’t change anything about my prediction. Well, maybe one thing: I don’t think we’ll have to wait until 2030 to see the Ford Motor Company inexorably changed for good. The denouement will come – one way or the other – over the next eighteen months.
In The Last Worthless Evening, Don Henley sings about “Time, time, ticking… ticking away” in a wistful lament, and his melancholy refrain somehow seems sadly appropriate right about now with everything going on in the world.
And time is ticking away for the Ford Motor Company, whether anyone over in Dearborn wants to admit it, or not.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
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