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The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

IT GOES ON.
by Editor
24 Nov 2020 at 12:48pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. We have arrived at the point in The Year Like No Other with enough ennui to fill Ford Field to the rafters. To say that this year has been a relentless Shit Show is the understatement of the century. It has been a kaleidoscope of out-of-control fires, nasty weather events, a surging, insidious virus and a suffocating political rancor that hangs over everything like a giant black cloud. Needless to say, it has been a Tidal Basin of Not Good.

The fact of the matter is that we all have something to be thankful for. We all have people in our circle who make a difference and who need to be recognized and appreciated, and this Thanksgiving seems to be the perfect time to do that. For a lot of people, gathering will not be possible, but contacting the people who matter in your life at this very moment in time might be the most giving thing we can do. 

We all have to remember that life is hard for a lot of people, and this pandemic has made it even more so. The hoary saying “count your blessings” is never more relevant than it is right now. The fallout from the impact of the virus has decimated livelihoods, entire industries have been destroyed or irrevocably altered, and the collateral human damage has been heartbreaking.

And the fact is that none of it can be swept under the rug, either. This year, this miserable 2020, has been and will continue to be in our faces until it ends, and even then, the stench of The Year Like No Other will linger well into 2021. 

Despite that crushing laundry list of bad tidings, we have reason for renewed hope and understanding. Granted, the idea of optimism at this juncture seems to be a quaint – and utterly useless – notion, but wallowing in The Darkness doesn’t seem to accomplish anything either.

Again, we have plenty to be thankful for. The men and women on the front lines of this ongoing virus crisis cannot be thanked enough. It is just not possible to adequately convey our appreciation for what they do, the relentless dedication they display day after day as they care for our loved ones is just staggering to contemplate. And our teachers, who in the face of daunting challenges insist on doing what they love to do, are examples for all of us as to how to conduct ourselves. And there are countless others in our lives whom we encounter, the police and fire personnel; the postal workers; the delivery people; the people who power our grocery and convenience stores. It’s easy to take all of these people for granted, but after what we’ve endured this year that should never be the case again.

And last but certainly not least, the men and women in our military who dedicate themselves to a higher calling every single day on our behalf. Words of thanks are simply not adequate for what they do, but they need to know that they are appreciated and we are deeply thankful for each and every one of them.

The one thing that I think is worth taking away from what has been a remarkably miserable year is that life as we know it must go on. We must persevere and make every moment count, because to succumb to the constant thrum of bad tidings is not a value-added pursuit. We must soak in those moments – a beautiful sunrise, a reason to laugh and smile, a warm feeling in our hearts, etc. – no matter how fleeting they might be, in order to appreciate the gifts that we have. 

No, life isn’t easy. Especially this life in 2020. But life can and should be savored as much as we can. Appreciate things. Appreciate people. Appreciate loved ones. Appreciate what we have and leave those things that we don’t have on the side of the road, because ultimately it doesn’t matter.

Remember this one simple thing: Life goes on, so, let’s make the most of it. I’m happy to defer to Robert Frost at this point: 

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on." 

-Robert Frost

I hope you and yours have a peaceful Thanksgiving.


THE 100 GRAND BAR.
by Editor
16 Nov 2020 at 4:51pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Given that everything is well and truly out of sorts right now (you mean out of control, right? -WG) or better yet, “Over Under Sideways Down” as The Yardbirds once famously sang, how did we arrive at this point? I mean, how did we arrive at this point in time in the car business, where $60,000 is considered a mid-priced vehicle, and $100,000 is now the accepted average price for the upper end of the market? Yes, I get it, time marches on and all that, but wasn’t it less than a decade ago when vehicles priced at $100,000 and up were reserved for the Aston Martins, Bentleys, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other exotica of the auto world? 

Now, the average price of a loaded pickup truck or a full-zoot American SUV is approaching $75,000. If you get a loaded Super Duty version of one of those pickups from Chevrolet, Ford or Ram you’re easily pushing six figures. 

Other examples I came across while perusing dealer lots? The new 2021 Cadillac Escalade Platinum costs over $100,000. A Cadillac Escalade ESV Premium Luxury Platinum costs $110,095. A typical Range Rover is well over $100,000 on the sticker. A 2021 Land Rover Range Rover P525 HSE Westminster LWB was $128,165. And if it’s a Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR it’s $135,000+. A 2021 Audi Q8 Prestige 55 TFSI quattro is $93,000. The Porsche Cayenne S is over the six-figure mark, a Cayenne GTS is over $120,000, and I saw a Cayenne Coupe Turbo S E-Hybrid that topped out at $178,970! (There’s no point talking about the 911, because it’s over $100,000 as a starting point. And Panamera ($120,000+) and Taycan ($140,000+) can easily go up to push $200,000 from there.) 

A Lincoln Navigator Black label is over $100,000 on the sticker. A BMW M8 Gran Coupe Competition is $175,045 (the “base” is $140,000+). A Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class AMG GLE 63 S will cost you $134,000, an E-Class E 63 S costs at least $165,000, a G-Class G550 can set you back $169,000, and there’s always the S-Class AMG S 63 at $195,000.

This is the new normal, apparently. Yes, I have seen all of the statistics - the growth of personal wealth and disposable income, along with the desire of affluent consumers to say “WTF?” and spend big money on their personal transportation choices to “cocoon” during this pandemic while rediscovering the concept of hitting the road and embracing the idea of road trips they never took back in the day. Yes, I get all of that, because hitting the road is always a good thing.

But 100 Grand becoming the new threshold for luxury auto manufacturers from here on out is still a little hard to swallow. Wasn’t it just a couple of years ago when prices in the $80,000 range were eye-opening? Yes, it was.

But then again turning back the clock isn’t going to happen either, so 100 Grand has become the price of entry. It is the new luxury-performance bar.

I’ve been wondering about all of this because I am in deep talks with my friends Mr. James “Jimmy” Fu and Mr. S. L. “Sonny” King, as they try to determine pricing for their new product line. 

As longtime AE readers may recall from a column last September, Jimmy and Sonny have operated in the shadows of the gigantic Chinese industrial machine for years. But for readers new to AE, I will gladly shed some light on these two flamboyant characters so they can have a more complete picture of who they are. Mr. Fu started manufacturing model cars in the late 70s, and it has now been confirmed that he controls every toymaking concern in China through a labyrinthian network of mom-and-pop factories and several other large conglomerates that he lords over. Mr. King became partners with Mr. Fu after initially supplying the elaborate wheels and carefully detailed tires on Mr. Fu's model cars. The two have been partners for going on more than four decades now.

I first got to know Mr. Fu and Mr. King after they approached me at the Los Angeles Auto Show years ago. Apparently, they had stumbled upon Autoextremist.com after they first became familiar with the Internet, and they regaled me with the fact that they both learned English by having my ‘Rants’ columns translated for them. When I first met them, it turned into an uproarious encounter as they blurted out some of my patented phrases that they had learned phonetically, like ‘notgonnahappen.com,’ ‘halle-frickin'-luja' and 'the Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking.' (How they learned that last one remains a mystery to me.)

Mr. Fu and Mr. King have remained in close contact with me ever since. As I’ve gotten to know Jimmy and Sonny, their frenetic pace and boundless energy never cease to amaze me. The Zoom calls I receive at 3:00 p.m. my time are usually booze-filled stream-of-consciousness rants by Jimmy with Sonny yelling things over his shoulder, accompanied by stylish model types dancing to disco music in the background at their secretive Shanghai lair. And their appetites appear to be even more boundless. In fact, Jimmy is still fond of aspiring female pop stars, while Sonny is a very generous sponsor of a female gymnastic academy. Fast American muscle cars are overflowing in their underground garage, which is an enthusiast's cornucopia of greatest hits, including three Purple Dodge Demons (each modified to deliver 1000HP); two original “narrow-hipped” 427 street Cobras; matching L88 Corvettes; two new Corvette C8s (one black, one white); and a couple of custom-built Willys Gasser replicas from the 60s powered by race-prepared Chevy 502 big-blocks reserved for terrorizing the neighbors in the middle of the night. I have noticed that their fondness for Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon has been supplanted by Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which is a recent change, but, as they remind me often, they absolutely love their twin Gulfstream G650s (Jimmy’s is Jet Black; Sonny’s is Chaparral White).

Since that September column, when I pieced together some salient details of the Fu-King Motors future product portfolio (although it took three, lengthy, Basil-Hayden-fueled Zoom calls to do so, with much yelling – always the yelling – and the incessant disco pop playing LOUDLY in the background,) I have been consulting Jimmy and Sunny about the pricing of their upcoming products.

So, as best as I can tell, here is the timeline – and the projected pricing – for what Fu-King Motors has coming:

2021 (Now pushed back to the 2nd Quarter): The long-awaited debut of the Fu-King Gargantuan, the six-wheeled, all-electric SUV is designed to humiliate the new Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, the upcoming all-electric Hummer and “anything Ford has up its sleeve to counteract the Dodge,” according to Jimmy. Flaunting some incredible numbers: 2000HP; 7000 lbs., electric step ladders (“not steps, ladders,” Jimmy insists) and “a look that will humiliate all that other crap out there,” added Sonny. When I asked about the price, Jimmy and Sonny answered in unison: “Enough to make grown men cry!” So, what, exactly, is “enough to make grown men cry?” Jimmy laughed heartily at my hand-wringing over the new $100,000 threshold and said – with not a nanosecond's hesitation – that the Gargantuan would have a base price of $699,999. Gulp.

2021 (Now pushed back to the 4th Quarter): Another highly anticipated debut - The Fu-King Motors KickBoxer – is the boys’ answer to the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco with “unequaled” off-road performance. Boasting a carbon-fiber unibody and a kaleidoscope of different versions, including a pickup and one cryptically referred to as the “RumRunner Edition” (“it can conceal forty gallons of Bourbon!” Sonny chimed in), the KickBoxer will be powered by an all-aluminum, 2.0-liter, fuel-injected, Twin-Turbo, flat eight-cylinder motor that delivers 600HP. When asked if this could possibly be construed as overkill, Sonny quickly replied: “We will introduce our competitors to the concept of getting their asses kicked!” So, how much will it cost to kick your neighbors’ asses in their precious Wranglers and Broncos? Sonny, who was the driving force behind this program, priced it at $199,000 saying, “There is so much technology in this beast that enthusiasts will beg to get on the waiting list. You want to make a splash at cars and coffee? We got your splash right here!"

2022 (Now Q3): The all-electric semi-truck that looks eerily like the Bison advanced long-haul trucking concept that GM Styling created for the 1964 World’s Fair is a definite go for late in ‘22. When I was shown photos of the concept, I thought they had resurrected the designers who did the original Bison it looks so close to the original (see below). But this truck will be a hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric heavy truck with a range of “700+ miles,” according to Sonny. The name? “Convoy.” (It seems that Jimmy and Sonny are huge fans of the original “Smokey and The Bandit” movie and the whole C.B. radio era in the U.S.) How much? $500,000, all-in.

(GM)

The Bison heavy truck concept from GM Styling was designed for the 1964 World's Fair in New York.

2023 (This has been pushed back to 2023, if happens at all): It’s clear that the development of the Fu-King Motors supercar has been fraught with problems from the beginning. That it has taken its toll on Jimmy and Sonny is obvious, as whenever I mention it their usual exuberant dispositions turn decidedly glum. First envisioned as a high-performance, hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric hypercar, the machine - code named “Bandini” – has been reimagined as a BEV aimed squarely at Gordon Murray’s T.50. Said to have 1+1 seating and a curb weight of 1900 lbs., Jimmy and Sunny are still mum – and decidedly glum – on any further information, which is unusual for them, although I know they’re constantly bickering about the details. Which means you can bet that even the 2023 time frame is not even close to happening, and they haven’t stopped bickering long enough to even talk about the pricing yet. Although from what I’ve seen so far, it will cost $2 million, minimum.

When I asked about products beyond 2022, the boys mimicked what I often say, chiming in again in unison, “It’s a giant we’ll see!” And, when asked if they had any plans to import their products to the U.S., the answer was a resounding, “Never!” Asked why, they answered again in unison, “Too much bullshit, too much aggravation.” 

At that point all I could say was, “I concur.”

And I am reminded of those immortal words of The Wicked Witch of the West: 

Oh, what a world! What a world! 

What a world, indeed.

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


High Boltage.
by Editor
8 Nov 2020 at 12:26pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Well, it has been an interesting week, to say the least. Some readers out there took great umbrage with my adventure with the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, suggesting that The Autoextremist was dead, R.I.P. WordGirl predicted as much, saying that I would be pilloried relentlessly for having the temerity to experience BEV ownership for myself. She was right, of course (she usually is). 

But for those out there insistent that this marks the end for The Autoextremist, all I can say is that reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. I certainly don’t have to prove my automotive credibility after creating content for this site for going on 22 years. I’m not being boastful in saying that my accumulated automotive experiences have been beyond noteworthy, and I savor each and every moment and take none of them for granted. My experience with some of the most legendary high-performance cars alone is enough to fill three books, so, I don’t feel it necessary to justify my automotive existence or pay much attention to those who suggest I’m “dead” for going electric. In fact, going electric may be the most extreme thing I could have done at this juncture.

So, for being a V8 guy through and through, how is the Bolt so far? I have a few thoughts in no particular order. First of all, the look of the Bolt is crisply executed and looks more substantial in person than you might think, especially in the “Summit White” color I have. And from what I know about the next-gen Bolt that’s coming, the size of the Bolt will increase slightly as it evolves to more of a crossover look.

I find the interior, which has been criticized, to be better in some respects than the reviews indicate, but there are some faults. I think the aesthetics are quite good overall, but I would prefer that the materials were more adventurous. I applaud the interior design team on the Bolt for pushing the envelope a bit, but they didn’t push it enough for my tastes. (My frame of reference in this case is the interior of the under-appreciated BMW i3, which I still consider to be the leader in this department and by quite a bit, even more than Tesla.) Functionally, the interior of the Bolt is quite good. The instrumentation is clean and ultra-legible, and the center-stack presentation is contemporary and instantly informative. The one glaring aspect of the Bolt interior that needs addressing are the seats; they’re too thin and not supportive enough. I expect the next-gen Bolt interior to be much better than the current one. I will be very disappointed if it isn’t.

But the one thing that the AE readers want to know, especially those who would only relinquish their V8s if and when their cold dead hands are pried off the steering wheels, is what about the driving? How does the Bolt feel? I think the basis for their queries are justified in that they’re starting from the perspective that somehow the Bolt is some sort of “toy” and not a real car. 

Let’s begin right there. The one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that the Bolt is definitely not a toy. The sum total of the engineering involved in the Bolt is thorough and substantial. It is a very impressive machine to drive. The usual descriptors for BEVs apply: Seamless. Silky smooth (kudos to Adam Sandler’s “Zohan”). Eerily quiet. And, of course, ultra-responsive due to the instantaneous torque that comes with an electric motor.  

I said this last week and I will reiterate it here, the Bolt qualifies as an AE-approved vehicle for exactly this reason: It. Is. Fun. To. Drive. As in, if GM isn’t working on an “RS” version for the next-gen Bolt I will be shocked. I’ve driven the Bolt exactly like I would any other car at my disposal. In the urban slog and out on the freeways in the Detroit Metro area, the Bolt has been a satisfying performer; it is composed and present even cruising at 80-85 mph. The Bolt could easily be a VW GTI fighter with the right tuning, and that’s saying something because the GTI remains my all-time favorite daily driver. With the accelerating developments in GM’s battery technology, combined with the usual array of suspension and braking tweaks that the True Believers in GM Engineering can do, I see no reason why a Bolt RS couldn’t be a compelling product entry down the road. I know I would certainly consider driving one.

But maybe the most interesting thing about driving the Bolt? Its Regen braking feature. You can put the Bolt in "D" and drive as you normally would in any automatic transmission-equipped car, or you can put it in "L" - which activates the Regen braking feature. With Regen engaged, when you take your foot off of the juice pedal the Bolt slows immediately - it also activates the brake lights - without touching the brakes, and as it does it puts juice back in the battery. The faster you're going, the more juice gets put back in the battery when you de-accelerate. It takes a while to get used to, as you think you're not going to slow for an upcoming stop light and then you end up stopping well short, but once you get the hang of what's going on, it's a thing of beauty. I always drive the AE Bolt in "L" - it's that good. And efficient.

And so, this will be the last update of the new AE Bolt for a while. I will be doing updates in our “On The Table” column periodically in the coming months so that you’ll know how it fares in the BEV-sapping cold of our winter here, but so far it has proven to be an impressive machine. As for those of you out there insisting that The Autoextremist is over and done with - who says that I haven’t already ordered a V8-powered machine to augment my fleet? (Man can’t live by electrons alone, apparently, at least not yet. -WG) But even if I did, you’re not going to know about it. After all, I find it liberating and oddly invigorating to be “over.” Or as our friend Dr. Bud so eloquently put it: “The more you know, the more you just never know.” 

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

(AE photo)

The AE Chevrolet Bolt photographed in front of the Birmingham, Michigan, public library.


GONE ELECTRIC.
by Editor
2 Nov 2020 at 3:24pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Yes, I have gone electric. I picked up a 2020 Chevrolet Bolt last Friday (not supplied by the manufacturer, just to be clear – WG), in what some would consider a radical departure for The Autoextremist. And believe me, it is. This is not a drill. The Bolt will serve as my daily driver for the foreseeable future.

How did I arrive at the decision? It wasn’t easy, but I have been contemplating this move for quite some time now. And no, I never for a second entertained the thought of getting a Tesla; the Bolt is at a price point that I can comfortably deal with and besides, it was built about 25 miles up the road from here at GM’s Lake Orion Assembly facility. We like to look after our own around here when we can.

A few things need to be said at this juncture. I have never underestimated the quality of the engineering represented in the Bolt, because in a lot of respects it is truly outstanding. GM’s True Believers worked on this machine, and you can tell that from the moment you get in and drive it down the road. Yes, the usual electric driving characteristics that you’ve all read about for years are present and accounted for: It is seamless, it is quiet, it is remarkably responsive, it is quick, and above all, it is actually fun-to-drive. That last part is absolutely paramount to me, and in my brief time with it the Bolt delivers.

As for the decision not being easy, as longtime readers know I am an American V8 connoisseur, and I will never get tired of the sound and fury at the touch of your right foot in a proper RWD V8 machine. To me, it is the essence of high-performance, even more so than V10s or V12s, although don’t get me wrong, I love those engines just as much, especially in yesterday’s (better) F1 cars. So, before selecting the Bolt I took a long hard look at two V8-powered machines in particular: a 2021 Chevy Camaro LT1 Coupe and a 2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Widebody (in Black, of course). 

No, I don’t need no stinkin’ superchargers, I am a normally-aspirated guy all the way, and both of these cars fit the bill perfectly. The 455HP Camaro LT1 is more affordable, and they’ve cleaned up the looks of it considerably, especially in the front end. And it is a full 600 lbs. lighter than the huskier Dodge. That is a lot. But the 485HP Challenger Widebody is bad-assery personified. It just looks the part, even if it weighs a porky 4200 lbs.

I was initially leaning toward the Camaro because of its lighter weight and clear affordability advantage, but in the end it was a toss-up, because if I was going out on a high automotive note, I was going out with a big bang. But then I remembered that famous line by The Boss in Born to Run:

“The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive…”

Ain’t that the High-Octane Truth? Yes, I could stand on the gas in either one of these machines in a blast up to 140 mph in an exuberant “merge” on the freeway, or rip through my favorite exit and entrance ramps, or just hammer up Woodward Avenue for the sheer hell of it. But is that all there is? Were those fleeting moments of V8 bliss worth everything else that comes with it? Like thirsty gas bills and pay-through-the-nose insurance?

“… Beyond the Palace, hemi-powered drones scream down the boulevard

Girls comb their hair in rear-view mirrors, and the boys try to look so hard… “

I love every bit of Bruce’s incredible imagery in his signature song (one of them anyway -WG), because I have lived it. All of it. I have lived more automotive lives than most people could only dream of. I grew-up in Detroit’s Golden Era, and I was fortunate enough to experience an incredible array of mind-boggling machines in real time and in-period that were only available to read about in car magazines or coffee table books for a lot of other enthusiasts. I got to live through America’s greatest road racing era – from SCCA and FIA sports car racing and on to Can-Am and Trans-Am in the 60s and early 70s.

And my aim and my memories are true. I savor every last moment of my experiences and they are as vivid as if they happened just yesterday. And that is no exaggeration. People often comment on my ability to remember my experiences down to the very last detail. It is a gift that I never get tired of and I will never take for granted. It is a distinct privilege to have that treasure chest of memories at my disposal any time I want to tap into them.

But - and there’s always a “but” - the more I thought about it, the more I began to think that it was time to turn the page. As a society, we’re collectively about to embark on a New Age of transportation. Will the ICE cars of previous glorious eras survive? Yes. And there will be parts (and gasoline) for them too. But the Battery Electric Vehicle revolution has begun and there’s no turning back. Yes, there is a raft of associated problems that will come with this transformation as many have pointed out, but remember, at the dawn of the ICE Age there was much hand-wringing about the problems of having gasoline “bombs” (automobiles) roaming our streets and byways. 

So, I am not going back, although I can go back in time – in my mind – anytime I care to. I am going forward. I am going to experience this “electric thing” for myself and for real. Will there be disappointments? I would imagine so. Will I miss those V8s. Very much so, but I will be able to experience those machines whenever I want to, hopefully.

For now, however, I am dialed in to my new Bolt EV. And in my brief time with it all I can say is that I am very impressed. And as I said before, the fun-to-drive aspect of it is its most surprising feature, along with its regenerative braking feature, which means it slows itself down while putting juice back in the battery – without using the brakes – or not much of them anyway. That took some getting use to, but now, I engage this feature all of the time. 

But the most remarkable thing about the Chevrolet Bolt? It’s the fact that GM was criminally negligent in not promoting and marketing this vehicle from the very beginning. This engineering tour de force – and it certainly is at its price point – was treated like an afterthought, an unwanted stepchild that never got the attention or proper nurturing. This machine laid the groundwork for the BEV transformation that is powering GM right now and into the future, and it deserved so much better. 

In the meantime, I plan on enjoying everything the Bolt EV has to offer, and I will keep you posted.

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


HERE?S TO THE SHOOTING STARS.
by Editor
27 Oct 2020 at 9:12am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” 

– Jack Kerouac, On the Road.

We’ve reached an inflection point in this mad, mad automobile industry. Creativity is at a new peak in Design, Engineering and Product Development. The onset of the BEV Age is demanding everything, all the time, out of everyone involved. It’s all hands on deck for the True Believers across the entire spectrum of the auto industry. 

You only have to look at one company in particular – General Motors – to see how everything has changed. It’s no secret that GM’s “best and brightest” engineering talent has been assigned to the company’s BEV development programs. That the majority of those people were involved in the development of the new Corvette – hands down the best car GM has ever built – says a lot about how Mary Barra, Mark Reuss & Co. see The Future. 

I have noticed that some DoomSlingers have started to come out of the woodwork to suggest that GM is way out front of the transition to BEVs, too far out front, to be more precise. That the company is leaving itself exposed to the vagaries of a driving populace that is still not one with the EV “thing” yet. These are the same people, of course, who made a cottage industry of mocking the Detroit automakers over decades for always lagging behind the curve, for always being behind the trends, for always playing catch-up. They’re the same people who suggest that the only worthwhile auto manufacturer is Tesla, that “Detroit” is collectively behind yet again, and that it would be better for all concerned if the “traditional” American automakers just faded away and allowed “hip” Tesla to become the only American automaker.

And that is so much unmitigated bullshit too. 

Last time I checked, Tesla is still having trouble building its vehicles without major quality issues. We’re not talking about glitches with the electronics – a common annoyance for all manufacturers – no, we’re talking about parts falling off. It’s hard to mask that with descriptions of “minor” issues – unless you’re a card-carrying member of the Cult of St. Elon – because there is nothing minor about parts falling off in this day and age. It is simply unacceptable by any measure. Can you imagine if some of the quality horror stories that have plagued Tesla had hit FCA, Ford or GM? The mainstream media and the politicians in Washington would be wielding their pitchforks with glee, demanding that “Detroit” be punished for their atrocities against humanity.

The notion that GM – or the VW Group, for that matter, which is also going “all-in” – is too far ahead of the oncoming BEV transition is laughable. It’s not just traditional industry lead times at play here, it’s the fact that the prevailing winds across the globe are blowing in the direction of fundamental change, and to deny that is simply akin to plunging one’s head in the sand. This can’t be dismissed as a “trend” or a “fad” either; we are moving into a new global sensibility that is picking up speed by the day. Consumers will slowly but surely come around to the efficacy of BEVs, while the last vestiges of the “ICE Age” play themselves out over the next couple of decades. Perhaps it will take more time in this country, but there’s no denying where this is going. So, are the companies going “all-in” to the BEV transition gambling with their futures? Guess what, these companies gamble with their futures every day, so this is nothing new; it’s just part of the game.

As I mentioned earlier, the transition to BEVs is demanding everything out of everyone involved, all the time. That this business isn’t for the faint of heart has been well documented in these pages. That it’s an “up at dawn, pride swallowing siege” (thanks, Cameron Crowe) is just part of the deal. The BEV imperative is placing new demands and new urgencies on the True Believers across the board. 

And right now, it’s time for these True Believin’ shooting stars to soar to new heights. Good enough isn’t even part of the lexicon for these people. Neither is complacency or going through the motions. These people push and strive as a matter of course. Yesterday’s breakthroughs give way to tomorrow’s starting points. Make no mistake about it, the dawn of the BEV Era will bring out the best out of the best and the brightest, which is why I am newly optimistic as to where this is all going.

Yes, a booming V8 will always remain close to my heart, but I envision that the dawn of the BEV Era will accelerate the possibilities for companies and consumers alike. Change in this case will be very, very good. 

Not that these companies need to be admonished to do so, but unleash your shooting stars and let them soar unimpeded. I firmly believe that the results will be breathtaking.

Oh, and one more thing.

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.


SAME AS IT EVER WAS.
by Editor
20 Oct 2020 at 12:42pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Today’s column will be, well, a little different and unexpected, because as long as we’re living in this automotive Twilight Zone between the end of the ICE era and the dawn of the BEV era, things are bound to be more than a little unsettled. Or boring. Or both. It seems like the entire industry is lost in that traditional mindset of "It won't be long now!" Translation? Give us another year and we'll be smokin'. In the meantime, have another SUV and you'll be fine. Or something like that. When even Mercedes-Benz creates an ugly-ass SUV and calls it a Maybach (see On The Table -WG), this industry is officially out of ideas. With that in mind then, I have a few questions for you (as inspired by one of my heroes, David Byrne) …

Go ahead and ask yourself
What am I doing?
Go ahead and ask yourself
And what is it for?
Go ahead and ask yourself
Am I going where I want to go?
Go ahead and ask yourself
Or am I just running in place?
 
Go ahead and ask yourself
Is this as good as it gets?
Go ahead and ask yourself
Or am I missing something?
Go ahead and ask yourself
Is this the life I signed up for?
Go ahead and ask yourself
Or am I going through the motions?
 
Go ahead and ask yourself
Am I spending my time asking why?
Go ahead and ask yourself
Or am I living for why not?
Go ahead and ask yourself
Do I have it finally figured out?
Go ahead and ask yourself
Or am I closer to where I started?
 
Go ahead and ask yourself
Have I stopped learning?
Go ahead and ask yourself
Or am I better than yesterday?
Go ahead and ask yourself
Are my regrets stifling my soul?
Go ahead and ask yourself
Or is my past fueling me forward?
 
You may ask yourself
Am I still writing chapters?
You may ask yourself
Or is it time for my next act?
You may ask yourself
Is this all there is?
You may ask yourself
Or am I good right here?
 
You may ask yourself
Is it time to run?
You may ask yourself
Or can I run but not hide?
You may ask yourself
Is this the best me?
You may ask yourself
Or a pathetic facsimile?
 
You may ask yourself
Am I ready for The Future?
You may ask yourself
Or am I mired in the way it used to be?
You may ask yourself
Will it really be all that new?
Or will it be the same as it ever was?

I’ll leave it to The Man himself, Mr. Byrne, to close things out:

You may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
You may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself
"My God! What have I done?"

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

Editor’s Note: Read more about David Byrne’s “Once In A Lifetime” in this week’s On The Table. -WG


LIVING ON A THIN LINE.
by Editor
13 Oct 2020 at 7:11pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. We seem to be, no, make that we are teetering on the edge here. We are between the darkness and the light, the future and the past, the old and the new, the known and the unknown. We are living in constant turmoil, consumed by a virus that shows no signs of abating and wondering what will come next. Navigating unchartered territory has become a way of life, and it’s not something we could have prepared for either. 

We have to admit that things were pretty predictable and expected for us right up until last March. You lived your life under whatever parameters that entailed. Whether it involved working or surviving, or just being, we all pretty much plowed ahead. Then everything came to a screeching halt with the pandemic. And now everything is different. The automobile business – like corporate America – changed dramatically overnight. Working from home not only became a thing, it is now the thing, and the thought of going back to the old way seems remote at this point. In fact, GM and Ford aren’t even considering going back to in-person working until next June, at the earliest. And I predict that date will slide too.

But it’s not just corporate America that has undergone a fundamental upheaval. All of the businesses we come in contact with on a local level have been thrust into upheaval as well. And a huge swath of those businesses will simply not survive. We’ve all seen it in our own towns, big and small, across the country. Family-owned businesses that became local traditions and have been part of the fabric of communities for decades have fallen by the wayside. We now see empty retail storefronts and vacant spaces where favorite restaurants used to be. Local signposts and touchstones have simply disappeared. 

Some people – with the operative word being some – seem to dismiss the turmoil roiling our daily lives with the statement that, “Yeah, but the stock market is kicking ass.” Yes, I suppose some people have done very well in the stock market over the last eight months, but there’s a huge number of people who are not doing well. The economic upheaval due to the pandemic is real, and for a lot of people “getting by” was a way of life, right up until last March. Then “getting by” was reduced to a crushing daily desperation for far too many of our fellow Americans.

As I alluded to before, this is not the American way of life we had become used to. No, we were not all Shiny Happy People blissfully skipping along, but whatever it was we were engaged in, we had carved out a path for ourselves that was, if not totally predictable, at least expected as part of our daily lives.

So, what’s next? Everyone wants to know. But the crystal balls have gone dark, and there are no algorithms in existence that will offer even a shred of enlightenment or solace at this juncture. The one comment that I used to hear a lot about two months into the pandemic was something like this: “I can’t wait for this to be over so we can get back to normal.” 

Now, that I can safely predict: There is no getting back to whatever was before. And we need another word because “normal” simply does not apply anymore. The swirling maelstrom of life as we’ve come to know it is now punctuated by daily turmoil and forged in uncertainty. Whatever our collective vision was for what our way of life should be will be blowin’ in the wind from here on out. I am reminded of a line Harold Ramis delivered in the movie Knocked Up: “Life doesn’t care about your vision. You just gotta roll with it.” Yes, it’s easy to say, but in reality, that’s exactly what we have to be prepared to do. 

The auto business is no different. I’m seeing predictions of runaway product success from certain auto manufacturers, and all I can say is that the aforementioned daily turmoil and uncertainty are bound to affect even the best-laid plans. I recommend that these companies have contingency plans for their contingencies, because whenever I hear that a product is a “can’t miss grand slam home run,” I cringe.  

Add to this seething cauldron of uncertainty the most contentious election in American history and it’s no wonder we have this overwhelming feeling of living on the edge. Indeed, as Ray Davies (The Kinks) so eloquently put it: We’re living on a thin line:

Now another century nearly gone, 
What are we gonna leave for the young? 
What we couldn't do, what we wouldn't do, 
It's a crime, but does it matter? 
Does it matter much, does it matter much to you? 
Does it ever really matter? 
Yes, it really, really matters. 

Living on a thin line, 
Tell me now, what are we supposed to do? 
Living on a thin line, 
Tell me now, what are we supposed to do? 

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


RAGING AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT.
by Editor
6 Oct 2020 at 4:23pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Reaching the end of an era in any pursuit is fraught with peril and consumed by endless hand-wringing about its place in history. Was it as good as we thought it was? Or was it even better than we realized? Or is the future so bright that the previous era will be relegated to a quaint but fleeting moment in time?

The endless assessments and evaluations of the Internal Combustion Engine era of the automobile have already begun. It was an era marked by historic developments and relentless achievements. It began with the celebration of a newfound reliability (as compared to the traditional horse power) and progressed through a kaleidoscope of advancements that fueled the idea of creating transportation for the masses, through to a glittering showcase of speed, power and luxury.

There’s no question that putting America on wheels accelerated the development of this vast country. The automobile and the business of manufacturing automobiles became an inexorable part of the industrial fabric of this great nation. And when called upon, the industry responded to the desperate manufacturing needs thrust upon us in World War II with unheard of speed and relentless dedication. And during the post-war era, when this nation was on a relentless upward trajectory, the automobile industry responded again with a dazzling display of innovation and creativity that helped power its way right through to the end of the last century.

But things don’t stay the same forever, and the pace of change in the world and the onslaught of new technologies affected the automobile industry as much, if not more, than anything that came before. The business became global in a 30-year span, a blink of the proverbial eye. And with that globalization came new pressures brought on by the population explosion, the depletion of essential resources and the burgeoning impact on our global climate, which cloaked the industry in a blanket of uncertainty.

The automobile industry has arrived at this point in time with a glowing track record of technical achievements, but there’s no doubt that with those accomplishments comes a legacy that has its share of negativity and low points.

No, the automobile isn’t the only source of pollution on the planet – certainly not when the overarching industrial pollution is taken into account – but it’s the most visible and by far the easiest target of politicians who believe the solution is just a finger-snap away, whether by legislative decree or by eliminating the problem altogether. It’s in this Big Picture arena that the automobile and the automobile industry find themselves in right now and for the foreseeable future – and to pretend otherwise is simply denying the fundamental reality of this time and place.

I welcome what’s coming, because I believe that technical innovation will transform what has been a transformative industry since its very beginnings and propel it – and us – to new and unimaginable heights. Will I miss the Internal Combustion Engine era? Oh yes, very much so. But we will celebrate the ingenuity, the technical achievements, the speed and, of course, the breathtaking style for many decades to come.

Assembling a garage of milestone cars from the ICE era would be fun, but I have never been a collector like that and at this point, I never will. But off the top of my head I have a few favorites, as you might imagine. The following is my list, but your list will probably be different. The beauty is there are no wrong answers.

(digitaltrends.com)

1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spider. What else would you drive down to the Amalfi Coast? It's simply one of the most seductive combinations of speed and style ever created. 

(GM)

1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray. Of the many achievements to come out of GM Styling under the great Bill Mitchell's tutelage, the Corvette Sting Ray remains a singular achievement and is still stunning to this day.

(GM)
Another one of Bill Mitchell's milestone cars: The 1963 Buick Riviera. I actually prefer the '65 with the hidden headlights, but you get the idea.

(mecum.com)

1964 Shelby American 289 Cobra. Shelby's original creation is still my favorite – compact, lithe and like a bolt of lightning in its day. I am lucky enough to have experienced it in its prime.

(legendarymotorcar.com)

1966 Shelby American 427 Cobra. Shelby took his original concept and said "more." The result? A better, wider chassis, better suspension, better steering and brakes, and, of course, big horsepower. It is still, to this day, one of the most ferocious sports cars ever built. (And no, not the "S/C" version; the street version with under car exhausts.)

(Richard Michael Owen/Supercars.net)

1966 Lamborghini Miura P400. Groundbreaking in design and engineering, the mid-engine Miura remains one of the most significant cars of its era. 

(hiconsumption.com)

1973 Porsche 911 RS. I have many "favorite" Porsches from over the years, including the present-day 718 GT4. But if I could have only one - actually, if I could only have one vehicle in my ICE Garage - the 911 RS would be it. 

(mecum.com)

2008 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. It was beautiful the moment it arrived and still is; it would be perfect when the weather doesn't allow you to drive the California.

(bjmotors.biz)

2019 Ferrari 488 Pista. The modern day Ferrari with just the right amount of technology, but not too much. The emphasis is on the driving, as it should be. And it is blistering fast.

(Lamborghini)

2020 Lamborghini Huracán EVO RWD. I have never imagined owning a Lamborghini, but if I had the opportunity, I would order one of these.

(GM)

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Yes, the new mid-engine Corvette is everything they say it is, and more. It's a tribute to GM's True Believers, who deserve all of the kudos coming their way. I would wait for the upcoming Z06 and enjoy it to the fullest.

(Dodge)

2021 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Shaker Widebody. I would need to have one, purely Bad Ass car in my ICE Garage, and no, I don’t need a Hellcat. The normally-aspirated 392 Hemi V8 would do just fine.

Yes, it’s a list, I’ll say that much. Is it complete? Oh hell no. But if this is the end of an era, and these are the cars in my ICE Garage to visit and drive while I motor around in the latest BelchFire Electric GT, then I would be exceedingly happy.

Needless to say, I don’t plan on going gently into the night. I will hammer whatever I have for all it’s worth and make every single moment count as the glow from the ICE era slowly fades into the twilight.

As Dylan Thomas famously wrote:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

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


WE HAVE REACHED THE NADIR OF DESIGN. AND IT AIN?T PRETTY.
by Editor
28 Sep 2020 at 10:38am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As longtime AE readers know, design is my favorite part of this business. There is nothing like being in one of the design studios and smelling the clay, seeing future vehicle explorations on wall after wall, and, of course, seeing advanced products up close and in the flesh.

The design function is one of the most creative parts of this business and, I would argue, probably its toughest. Designers inhabit a strange Twilight Zone where they’re touting upcoming product introductions with the media that they’ve been living with for four years or more, while at the same time they’re working on products that won’t be revealed for at least four (or five) years down the road. 

It has been put forth many times that automotive design is a fashion business, and in many respects that is very true. In the 1950s, the great Italian design houses had tremendous influence on the automobile business. In fact, GM Styling legend Bill Mitchell would often park the latest Ferrari in the design courtyard at the GM Technical Center so his designers would be inspired. It often worked, too, because during Mitchell’s reign GM Styling burnished its reputation as creating some of the most influential mainstream – and successful – vehicle designs in the world, including the Corvette Sting Ray, Buick Riviera, Cadillac Eldorado, Oldsmobile Toronado, several Pontiac models and many, many more.

Design is still very much a fashion business, but like everything else, today is markedly different. There are design schools all over the world churning out gifted future designers who have been given the kind of depth and breadth of experience that in past eras was very hard to come by. To say that today’s young designers hit the ground running is an understatement. In fact, many are able to make meaningful contributions right from the start of their careers.   

As in past eras, trends come and go, but it is amazing to see certain design “signatures” – whether they originated in Korea, China, Japan, Europe or the U.S. – sweep the business all over the world seemingly at the same time. Much of this can be attributed to the similar teaching methods and influences that young designers are exposed to coming up. The other reasons have to do with the fundamental parameters of the design package itself, meaning the specific drivetrain requirements, the passenger accommodations, the vehicle segment, etc., etc.

That all seems rational, right? I would agree that packaging dictates much of the look and feel of today’s vehicles, at least up to a point. But then again, how do you explain the look and feel – and the design sameness – of the vehicles below? What, do designers plug the parameters into a computer and out pops the basic shape and they go from there? Because that’s what it looks like to me.

I mean, really, how can designers stand behind this work and call it… good? I can just hear them now… “Ahem, given our Belchfire EV’s advanced powertrain and the passenger and cargo packaging requirements, we feel this ‘four-door coupe’ design presents the finest expression of our brand, blah-blah-blah…” Or something like that. 

Ah yes, the “four-door coupe.” This is the design trend originating in Germany that emerged from a battle of one-upmanship between BMW and Mercedes-Benz. And in design terms: it sucks. There is no such thing as a “four-door coupe” of course, but thanks to those two German luxury manufacturers we’re all stuck with this design abomination until further notice.

So, take a look at the cars below – forgetting the price points – and revel in the relentless sameness and the bland-tastic design executions.

(Audi)
The Audi E-Tron Sportback: If looks could thrill. Not. (BMW)
BMW was one of the co-originators – along with Mercedes-Benz, unfortunately – of the “four-door coupe.” This is the X4 M. (Mercedes-Benz)
The Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: Just because it has a three-pointed star doesn’t make it good. (Porsche) The Porsche Cayenne GTS Coupe: We couldn’t find a shot pointing in the same direction, but you get the idea. Even Porsche couldn’t resist, apparently. (Ford)
The Ford Mustang Mach-E: Not a shred of originality in sight and it looks even more uninspiring on the road. And Ford is calling it “A Mustang for the Next Generation.” Ugh. (Photo courtesy of greencarreports.com) Putting an exclamation point on this discussion: The Tesla Model Y.

Where is this all going? Nowhere good, apparently. The various design houses around the world have to shake off this relentless tedium and get back to the inspirational creativity of designing compelling automobiles. Because if they persist on this current path they might as well just turn in their pens and acquiesce to being replaced by computers. At least then we can rage at the machines instead of lamenting the fact that the design craft just ain’t what it used to be.

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

 

 

 


MEMO TO THE L.A. AUTO SHOW ORGANIZERS: BOO FRICKIN? HOO.
by Editor
22 Sep 2020 at 5:38pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Despite the fact that the COVID-19 crisis has pretty much decimated life as we know it, and the concept of having an actual auto show seems about as remote as having a crowd of 100,000 at University of Michigan stadium (aka “the Big House”) for a football game, the auto industry is still kicking and screaming with new product intros galore and the need to show them off.

It’s no secret, however, that auto shows have been on the endangered species list for a while now. Auto companies decried the cost involved, even though they brought it on themselves with their bigger and more elaborate displays designed to one-up the competition. So, naturally, they started to get picky about when and where they would show up, or they abandoned auto shows all together in favor of targeted, singular media events where they didn’t have to fight for attention with the hordes of other manufacturers. As the manufacturers pursued this path, they discovered that they were getting more bang for their buck by eliminating the cost of staging auto shows multiple times per year, which was really bad news for auto shows in general.

And as various shows around the world started to endure cancellations from auto manufacturers, the Detroit Auto Show seemed to be called out more than others for various transgressions, both real and imagined. The Motor City’s annual rite was deemed a “homie” show, favoring what was left of the Big Two plus One over the import manufacturers. (I will not dispute this; it has been that, for the most part.) And, to make matters worse, having the Detroit show in January when the weather here is, shall we say, approaching inhospitable didn’t exactly endear the show to the masses in the media expected to attend either.

After years of hearing the negatives about its show, the Detroit Auto Show organizers decided to finally take one major negative about their show out of the equation, and that was to move it to a new date in June 2020. It was going to be a “spectacular spectacular” with a combination of indoor and outdoor displays, and assorted happenings to make everyone fall in love – or at least heavy like – with the automobile all over again. In order to pull this new date off, the Detroit Auto Show didn’t have a January show in 2019 but would wait for the new “big bang” show in June 2020.

And it was all good, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and planning for the brand-new, high-concept Detroit Auto Show was shelved until 2021. Meanwhile, the two other major auto shows in New York and Los Angeles had their own challenges. (Chicago is a big show, too, but it is known as a “retail” show within the industry, with the emphasis on showing – and selling – production vehicles rather than on unveiling concepts and future vehicles. New York announced the cancellation of its show – which is traditionally right before Easter – until 2021, which was totally understandable. Then, like a bolt out of the blue, the organizers of the Los Angles Auto Show – which usually happens right before Thanksgiving each year – not only cancelled the show for 2020 due to the pandemic but also announced that they were moving the date to May 2021. 

As you might imagine, this decision was met with a resounding thud from all quarters. The auto manufacturers hated it because it meant three major auto shows in North America in three months – April, May and the new June date for the reimagined Detroit show. How would they apportion product debuts so closely together? Not to mention the expense and the logistical nightmares associated with slamming together three major shows back-to-back-to back. 

And the New York and Detroit auto show organizers were apoplectic for similar reasons, with the added headaches of scrambling for plum debuts for their particular shows seemingly an instantly insurmountable problem. The L.A. Auto Show organizers figured that their move was the masterstroke, thinking that placing their show right in the middle of the two other major North American shows would pay off handsomely. We could hear the high-fiving all the way back here.

Big mistake.

While the collective hand-wringing in the industry was growing to a cacophony of grumbling and bad words over the L.A. Auto Show’s blatant move for glory, the real masterstroke was unleashed by the Detroit Auto Show organizers just three weeks later. 

This week, Detroit Auto Show organizers announced that they would abandon their previously announced June date on the calendar and instead will step into the prime fall spot on the calendar left open by L.A.’s defection to May. Now, the Detroit Auto Show will take place September 24 - October 9, 2021, during two of the most beautiful months around here (the most beautiful months, as far as we’re concerned. -WG). This is a huge coup and it automatically establishes the Detroit Auto Show as – bang – the auto show in North America once again. 

Will this automatically revive the auto show’s role in this industry? Not necessarily, but the calendar makes more sense now than it ever has, and if the show organizers in Detroit keep their promises, we’re looking forward to a spectacular show.

Sometimes things work out for a reason, and this is definitely one of those times as far as the Detroit Auto Show organizers are concerned. Nicely done, ladies and gentlemen. 

Oh, and memo to the L.A. Auto Show organizers: Boo-Frickin'-Hoo.

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



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