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The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

THE UNITED STATES OF MEDIOCRITY.
by Editor
25 Feb 2024 at 7:35am
Editor's Note: This week, Peter unloads on the dismal state of America as we've come to know it. In On The Table we contemplate a $90,000 pickup truck from Stellantis, which is the new height of absurdity. We also take another look at that gorgeous Ferrari 250 Testarossa, the new Toyota Land Cruiser and the 300th Porsche 911 reimagined by Singer. And our AE Song of the Week is the searing "One Headlight" by The Wallflowers. In Fumes, we bring you the next chapter of Peter's latest popular motorsports series with "The Muscle Boys, Part VI." And finally, in The Line, we update the latest motorsports news. Enjoy! -WG




By Peter M. DeLorenzo   

Detroit. It’s no big revelation that we’re living in the midst of the most inelegant age in American history. Everything about life as we know it today is infested with rancor, outrage, dismissiveness, relentless self-promotion, unwarranted “celebrity” status and rampant boorish behavior everywhere we look.

It’s sue me, sue you; fuck me, fuck you. It’s mindless video blurbs that garner ridiculous amounts of attention while raking in obscene amounts of money. And for what, exactly? We’re being inundated by a seemingly relentless shit storm of fluff generated by mindless people pumping out vapid videos signifying nothing and amounting to less than zero - except for those stupefying profits, of course.

I have often contemplated where it all went wrong for our current societal makeup; the “whys” and the “wherefores” and the “WTFs?” But it’s really no use. It’s like we’re on a runaway train to StupidVille, and even if we don’t want to go along for the ride we’re dragged along unwillingly through piles of crud while being bombarded with one illiterate proclamation after another.  

Serious discourse has been permanently sidelined by belligerent musings and dumbbell comments by legions of Unctuous Pricks who actually think they matter and are worth listening to. They’re not, of course, but after all, the stupidity seems to be the point. Why make sense when you can make noise instead? Why add worthwhile discussion points when you can blow up the conversation with nonsensical and crude rejoinders that add nothing of value or substance?

Yes, all of this royally pisses me off. I’d like to say we’re better than this, but are we really? I’m not so sure. The degradation of our educational system over the decades is starting to wreak havoc on our daily lives. Stupidity has emerged as a sick badge of honor, the new currency of the misinformed and the ill-prepared. This has traveled far beyond the “everybody gets a trophy” trope too. We’re now existing in a lowest common denominator world punctuated by “who cares?” and “what’s it to you?”

Is there a way out of this? I am really fearful that there isn’t, or if there is, the window of opportunity to do something about it is rapidly closing. Paying teachers more and emphasizing the teaching of critical thinking is fundamental, but it’s only the beginning. A real premium must be placed on the accumulation of actual knowledge - there will never be a practical substitute for that. And a 30-second read on the Internet or a feverish trip through social media will never constitute learned behavior, either, especially when people can’t tell the difference between what’s real and worthy and what is just so much bile.

Living in this Land of Self-Aggrandizement is debilitating and depressing. People who shouldn’t be given the time of day are assigned substance and value on a whim, which is both offensive and unwarranted. And the fact that some are even bestowed with celebrity status because of it is simply unconscionable and unforgivable.

David Byrne (of the Talking Heads) once famously said in “Life During Wartime”:

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco
This ain't no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey-dovey
I ain't got time for that now

Indeed, the clock is ticking on what used to be the American conceit. We’ve become the United States of Mediocrity, an airy, vapid wasteland of unserious people spewing flat-out stupidity 24 hours a day. The collective “we” dines on a cotton candy menu devoid of substantive ideas and purpose. Fewer and fewer things have true meaning and retain genuine, legitimate value because people are all too busy with relentless self-absorption and the pursuit of “more” to pull their heads out of their asses and actually see where this is all going. And oh, by the way? That downward spiral is accelerating.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again before I stop creating content for this website, but this country needs an enema. It needs a total rethink and a brutal reminder of what matters, because we’ve become a rumbling, bubbling, stumbling paean to mediocrity and an embarrassing homage to “less than” and “why bother?”

And if you don’t see it as a giant, steaming bowl of Not Good, I don’t know what to tell you.

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

 


Editor's Note: Click on "Next 1 Entries" at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. - WG
WELCOME TO THE ?REGRETS AND APOLOGIES? TOUR.
by Editor
18 Feb 2024 at 7:46am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter exposes Ford and GM's "Regrets and Apologies" tour, as both of their CEOs backpedal and make excuses for dumb decisions and flat-out wrong assumptions. In On The Table we take a look at the 300th Porsche 911 - a 1990 911 Targa (Type 964) - reimagined by Singer. And we provide details for the Petersen Automotive Museum's annual Ferrari Cruise-In on Sunday, Feb. 25. We also take another look at Chrysler's vision for its EV future - the Halcyon Concept - which begs the question, "Why this, why now?". And our AE Song of the Week is the fabulous "The Passenger" by Iggy Pop. In Fumes, we bring you the next chapter in another of Peter's popular motorsports series with "The Muscle Boys, Part V." And finally, in The Line, we preview the 2024 F1 entries from Honda, Mercedes-AMG, Ferrari and Aston Martin, along with the 2024 Formula 1 and World Endurance Championship programs from Alpine Motorsports. We also look at Honda's brand-new livery for the 2024 MotoGP season. Onward! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. It wasn’t all that long ago that certain Detroit automakers were awash in optimism while predicting an EV Future brimming with blue skies and unlimited profitability. The automakers in question were quite certain that they would ace “The Grand Transition” to EVs by becoming tech-savvy titans, creating digital wonder wagons that allow them to monetize everything that moves, multi-tasking their way to a New Era for the automobile industry. Detroit would become America’s new shining city on a hill, rivaling Silicon Valley in technical wonders and American exceptionalism. In turn, the two companies in question firmly believed that they would create a new breed of plugged-in, turned-on, shiny happy consumers scurrying about their day with broad smiles while basking in the glow of the wonder of it all.

Well, a funny thing happened on the way to creating automotive nirvana. The two automakers in question – Ford and GM – screwed up big-time, and now they’re paying for it in no uncertain terms.

First up on the 2024 "Regrets and Apologies" Tour is Ford CEO Jim "I'm a genius just ask me" Farley. Remember it was Farley who insisted that Ford would be the industry’s new technical wonder, a tech-savvy juggernaut that would launch wave after wave of can’t-miss EVs into the market that in turn would propel Ford into a stratosphere of riches and, oh by the way, canonize the Ford CEO and elevate him to a lofty plateau commensurate with his considerable ego. But lately, we find the CEO formerly known as the “boy wonder” stumbling over his explanations and turgid excuses for abject failure. Farley, who long ago took up permanent residence in Unctuous Prick University – despite the constant PR blather insisting that he otherwise was a decent guy just shy of being saintly – admitted that he should have paid more attention to the company's quality issues and its inability to launch vehicles with a modicum of consistency.

Oh my, really? This is all he’s got at this juncture, with Ford now reeling from Farley taking his eye off of the ball? This is the biggest "duh" of this or any other year in the history of this business. The High-Octane Truth is that Farley had one job to do when he took the reins of Ford, and not only did he not understand the assignment, he blew the whole thing to smithereens, while being woefully misguided as to the true state of Ford, which is a company incapable of launching a quality product without major missteps, and a company with such deep issues inside of its bureaucracy that it is functionally paralyzed. Instead, Farley occupied himself with chasing Big Shiny Objects like becoming an industry EV leader so he could rub shoulders with the SillyCon Valley hucksters and become lauded like one of them. Farley so desperately wanted to cement his legacy – cough, hack – and be viewed as Ford’s New Age Savior, that he has cost the Ford Motor Company dearly. Now, Farley's stumbling around, backpedaling his way through endless excuses and public mea culpas, insisting that he will do better. Sure. Like the Beatles said; “I got to admit it’s getting better, a little better, all the time (it can’t get no worse)…”

Farley clearly still has Bill Ford’s support, at least for now. But things change in this business all the time. As we like to say around here, it’s a giant “we’ll see.”

And what can be possibly said about GM CEO Mary "Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions, Zero Congestion" Barra? She bet the Silver Silos that GM could flip the proverbial switch and become a big-time player in EVs literally overnight, only to discover that it's one thing to project confidence while touting lofty goals, but it's quite another to actually be able to deliver on them.

GM's True Believers cranked flat-out to deliver on their engineering targets, dealing with challenge after challenge while trying to deliver on Barra’s endless boasts. But in the course of doing do, a lot of missing pieces were exposed, especially the company’s lack of software knowledge and the fundamental issues of EV manufacturing capability. And, of course, the problems mounted. The Ultium battery packs encountered serious assembly problems, critical software issues shelved the highly-touted Chevrolet Blazer EV with a "stop sell" order. And in its latest embarrassment, the company’s class-leading Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups have been parked at assembly plants due to more critical software issues.

And last but certainly not least, let's not forget Barra’s enduring fascination with GM’s Cruise autonomous vehicle division, which Barra relentlessly touted but which has ended up costing the company billions – all of which was compounded by the fact that a pedestrian in San Francisco hit by another vehicle was thrown into the path of a self-driving Cruise car and dragged about 20 feet.

While Farley and Barra' s "Regrets and Apologies" tour churns on, both CEOs are insisting that they have gotten religion and that everything will be fixed. Farley contends that he's focused on the "right" issues now, and Barra insists that GM has the essential ingredients in place and that it's just a matter of execution at this juncture. I call bullshit on all of it. Both companies are struggling mightily to catch up with their myriad problems, and "wishing and hoping" doesn't constitute a viable strategy. In fact, it’s a giant, steaming bowl of Not Good.

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


Editor's Note: Click on "Next 1 Entries" at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. - WG
THE SUPER BOWL, CONTINUED.
by Editor
12 Feb 2024 at 10:54am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter talks about the ads we liked – and didn't like – in this year's Super Bowl. In On The Table we take a look at Chrysler's vision for its EV future - the Halcyon Concept - and we detail the new Aston Martin Vantage. We also preview the extensive updates to Porsche's all-electric Taycan for 2025. And our AE Song of the Week is "Don't Let the Old Man In" by Toby Keith. In Fumes, we bring you the next chapter in another of Peter's popular motorsports series with "The Muscle Boys, Part IV." And finally, in The Line, we look at Aston Martin's 2024 F1 machine - the AMR24 - along with the 2024 Formula 1 and World Endurance Championship programs from Alpine Motorsports, and the new – and unfortunately named – RB VCARB 01 F1 car. Enjoy! -WG

 

By Peter M DeLorenzo 

Detroit. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The Super Bowl started slow and finished in a frenzy. Since I’m what can be called a hardcore football enthusiast, I won’t bore you with my thoughts on the game, suffice to say I enjoyed the hell out of it and I’m sorry the season is over (there’s always the UFL in March! – WG).

And then, of course, there was some advertising worth noting on the game too. Make no mistake, despite all the criticisms of the event, and all of the relentless touting of the Internet marketing action as being “the thing” there is nothing, I mean nothing that comes close to the advertising opportunity to reach the biggest audience of the year. And I expect the audience numbers from Sunday night’s Super Bowl to set a record. (Editor's Note: It was announced late Monday that Super Bowl LVIII was the most-watched program in television history, with an average of 123.4 million viewers tuning in to see the Chiefs' 25-22 overtime win over the 49ers. -WG)

The Super Bowl is the thing for the advertisers with the cojones to place ads on the game. This year, a :30 spot cost $7 million. That’s serious ca$h-ola. Plus, if you do a :60, not only does the cost double, but inevitably there are other costs involved – especially if an advertiser employs a celebrity – that can easily push the financial commitment to produce a :60 spot on the game to approach $20 million. Needless to say, it’s not for the faint of heart.

With that in mind then, some clients and their ad agencies are creatively adept at it and are repeat advertisers; some are first-time players stepping up to the plate, and some just suck at it. (Evidence? The RFK ad was a disgrace and a flat-out embarrassment, for instance.)

With another Super Bowl marketing extravaganza in the books, the spots ran the gamut from tearjerkers to awkward product reaches, and from welcomed, laugh-out-loud creativity to sober, religious pleas for unity. 

Longtime readers of this website know about my background in advertising. It began as a noble pursuit for me, an exhilarating, high-wire act fueled by a passion for creativity in an arena revolving around the idea of going for it. All the time. At least that was the case at the beginning of my career. There was a camaraderie in being on the lowest rung of the totem pole in the creative department at a big-time ad agency. You worked relentlessly hoping for a morsel of positive reinforcement from the creative elders, and if all else failed, the parties were wild and memorable. But nothing lasts forever, and the ad biz devolved into a cacophony of sycophants, spineless weasels and mediocrity peddlers, and that was just on the agency side of things. The client side was exponentially worse. And by a lot.

Which is why I launched this website going on almost 25 years ago, because I had a lot to say about the Ad Biz and the Auto Biz, and still do. But there’s no use denying it: I still love parts of the business, because when it’s “on” there’s nothing better or more satisfying. Sure, a lot of it was like waiting around the firehouse “on call” in-between fires. Then, when a life-or-death assignment came up, you’d work for 30 days straight and think nothing of it. In fact, that was the most intoxicating part of the business.

I’m offering this perspective for a reason, because I have the utmost respect for the creative teams, account teams and production houses responsible for the work I am going to discuss today. The Ad Biz is a singular pursuit that requires passion, diligence and an overwhelming desire to do great work. With this in mind then, let’s begin...

Spots we liked include the Mountain Dew Baha Blast spot with Aubrey Plaza and Nick Offerman; the Dunkin “DunKings” spot with Ben Afleck, Matt Damon, Tom Brady, Jack Harlow, Fat Joe and Jennifer Lopez; Uber Eats featuring Jennifer Aniston and a bunch of other stars; Dina and Mita (with Jenna Ortega) for Doritos; Beyonce for Verizon; Tony Romo with Mr. T for Skechers; “Dr. Umstick” for Drumstick; a spot to scare you shitless about AI from Microsoft touting its Copilot; and we’re always a sucker for the Budweiser Clydesdales and their ‘Old School Delivery” spot, complete with a classic track from The Band; Zach Braff, Donald Faison and Jason Momoa for T-Mobile; Dan Levy, Lil Wayne, SNL’s Heidi Gardner and Jeff Goldblum for Homes.com; LL Cool J and Lainey Wilson for Coors Light “Chill Train”; Tina Fey for Booking.com; Michael Cera for CeraVe; Chris Pratt as “Mr. P” for Pringles; and finally the trailer for “Wicked” featuring Ariana Grande and Cynthia Erivo is spectacular.

But what about the car spots? BMW weighed in with “Talkin’ Like Walken” for the all-electric i5, featuring Christopher Walken (with a guest appearance by Usher). Christopher Walken is one of my all-time favorites, but this spot was an annoying waste of his talents. Watch it here

Toyota presented an eminently forgettable spot entitled “Dareful Handle” for the Tacoma. Toyota operatives would have been better off taking the money and burning it in a bonfire behind Toyota headquarters in Texas for a company get-together. What a waste of time and money. Watch it here

Kia delivered an emotionally riveting spot – and a much more successful creative execution – for its all-electric EV9 called “Perfect 10.” It is very well done. Watch it here

But taking the top spot among the auto ads on the Super Bowl is "An American Love Story" from Volkswagen. Created in partnership with Volkswagen's longstanding creative and advertising agency, Johannes Leonardo, and set to Neil Diamond's legendary song “I Am… I Said,” the spot "is a vivid, nostalgic tour of the brand’s 75-year history in America, beginning with the arrival of the first Type 1 vehicles—fondly nicknamed “The Beetle”—imported by Dutch businessman Ben Pon in 1949," according to VW's PR minions. Calling it "an epic tale about how an underdog with big dreams is not only embraced but becomes part of the very fabric of American culture," agency ECD Jonathan Santana nails it. This spot is just about perfect. The choice of Neil Diamond is inspired and unexpected, and it works exceedingly well. But about three quarters of the way through, when we reach the contemporary/future products section, things start to unravel. The footage starts to feel a bit forced, and it certainly lacks the emotion of the Beetle nostalgia tour that preceded it. But overall, through both historical and recreated footage, "An American Love Story" is just that - a heartfelt tribute to the role that VW and specifically the Beetle have played in American culture. 

And the last line is just perfect: “We shape its metal. You shape its soul.”

Watch the two-minute extended cut here (VW ran a :60 version on the game, which was okay, but it comes nowhere close to having the emotional resonance of the two-minute version). 

Finally, given everything we know about the Super Bowl and its marketing power, let's not forget the spot that started it all, and what I consider to be – to this day – the greatest commercial to ever appear on the game: "1984" for Apple. Watch it hereAnd read a very interesting piece in the New York Times about how it came about here.  

Look for the Lions in next year’s Super Bowl...

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


Editor's Note: Click on "Next 1 Entries" at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. - WG
THE PENDULUM SWINGS.
by Editor
4 Feb 2024 at 9:08am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter returns to the auto wars after last week's Detroit Lions column, and talks about the pendulum swinging back from the "all-in on EVs" push to a more realistic path going forward, with hybrids coming back into focus as the formidable alternative. In On The Table we present a machine you don't see every day, the fantastic 1961 Porsche RS61, which will be "unobtanium" to all but a select few. And our AE Song of the Week is by The Big Bopper with his magnificent "Chantilly Lace." In Fumes, we bring you the next chapter in another of Peter's popular motorsports series with "The Muscle Boys, Part III." And finally, in The Line, Lewis Hamilton is going to Ferrari after this season, which is the quintessential definition of a Big Fu-King Deal. We're on it. -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. The swirling maelstrom continues unabated in the automobile business. The latest evidence? One minute the anticipation for a Brave New EV World is off the charts; the next minute we see that the backpedaling away from the “all-in on EVs” mantra has well and truly begun.

Just maybe a 100 percent EV target was not the smartest thing in the world, and just maybe the weak-kneed regulators/legislators in Washington, California and in other shiny happy parts of the country are beginning to understand that mandates are never a good thing and never work to the benefit of the consumer. Wait a minute, what am I thinking? The government types will never, ever learn that High-Octane Truth about mandates and such, because it’s what they do best, besides accomplishing absolutely zero in every other aspect of their “jobs.”

At any rate, the most highly visible backpedaling going on in the business as you read this is at General Motors, with CEO Mary Barra’s touchy-feely “fantasyland” mandate of “Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions, Zero Congestion” being shelved in favor of – you’ll never guess – a return to considering hybrids. This is so beyond ironic it isn’t even remotely funny. Why? GM had a truly exceptional hybrid in its extended-range EV, the Chevrolet Volt, and they killed it off deeming it expendable because, after all, EV nirvana was right around the corner. Dumb Move No. 1. Then, GM killed off the only real positive action it had in the EV space by “retiring” the Chevrolet Bolt, without any real cohesive plan to replace it. Dumb Move No. 2. After GM’s True Believers raised their hands and said, “Ahem, WTF are we doing?” cooler heads prevailed, and a plan was put into place to make GM’s advanced Ultium EV platform part of a new-generation Bolt, which is to miraculously reappear sometime next year.

In case you were wondering, these unfolding scenarios aren’t funny because GM has a long history of killing off/retiring vehicles just when they were actually reaching a point of developmental maturity and noteworthy overall performance. How this trend has continued throughout generations of regimes at GM is really one of the mysteries of this business, yet here we are.

While GM is performing an all-hands-on-deck pivot to resurrecting hybrid technologies throughout its product lineup, two companies in particular are basking in the glow of some seriously smart product plans: Honda and Toyota. These Japanese automakers have invested vast sums in hybrid technology and sprinkled it throughout their product portfolios. And it has paid off handsomely and continues to pay huge dividends in the market for these two automakers. Not to say it has been an easy road for these two auto companies by any means, as consumer tastes shifted back and forth between performance and economy. But the efficacy of hybrids – the exceptional real-world mileage without range limitations – has been proven time and time again. And with the latest multiple horror stories of EV motorists being stranded with dead batteries in the recent shot of brutally cold winter weather, hybrids have all of a sudden returned to the front burner of consumer consideration, as well they should.

Another sign the pendulum is swinging away from EVs? California has reported two down quarters in a row for EV sales, and this in a state that leads the nation in EV sales. Is it a trend? If it happens for a third straight quarter, I will be ready to say “yes.” In the meantime – speaking of mandates – we’re talking about a state that has a zero emissions mandate for all new cars sold by 2035. (I’d say the odds of that mandate sliding backward or being radically modified altogether are extremely high, much to the chagrin of certain enclaves in that state that won’t be happy until everyone has been forced into “driving” flatulence-powered balsawood clown cars.)

Still, with all of this going on, the massive Hyundai-Kia conglomerate is continuing its inexorable push into producing more and more EVs. I say good for them; that’s the company’s plan and it is sticking with it. Other manufacturers, like Audi, BMW, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, are continuing to hedge their bets between ICEs, hybrids and EVs, because it’s the smart thing to do.

In the end – and I’ve said this repeatedly – EVs will be just one part of the transportation equation, along with hybrids, fuel cells, hydrogen fuel and hydrogen-powered fuel cells. Oh, and let’s not forget that one essential technology that refuses to go away and that continues to show radical improvements by the day: The Internal Combustion Engine. This just in: ICE vehicles will be part of the transportation equation for decades.

So, it’s clear with the pendulum swinging back from 100 percent EVs to hybrids and everything in-between that the manufacturers who anticipated that this EV thing might not go as planned are the ones who will be the best prepared to take advantage of the situation, whichever way it goes. 

The rest? Well, if they can’t get out of their own way, they better go ahead and just duck.

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

 


Editor's Note: Click on "Next 1 Entries" at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. - WG
AMERICA?S TEAM? NOT NOW. NOT EVER.
by Editor
29 Jan 2024 at 11:24am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter suspends his usual commentary about the auto industry to offer some perspective on the Detroit Lions, and what the team – and its excruciating loss in San Francisco – really means to the people around these parts. He also takes on Porsche's latest foray into EVs in On The Table with thew new Macan, along with Cadillac's continued commitment to building V-Series machines. And our AE Song of the Week is "Brand New Key" by the recently departed Melanie. In Fumes, we bring you Peter's popular series "The Muscle Boys, Part II" – when big block V8s ruled the racing world. And finally, in The Line, we bring you the latest results from the IMSA Rolex 24 at Daytona. Onward. -WG

 

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. Well, let’s just say that the Detroit Lions game was exceedingly disappointing. To come out executing at a high level in every phase of the game in the first half and then to suffer a total collapse in the second half was just too cruel for words.

The reason I’m writing about it is that you have to understand just how much the travails of the Lions over the decades have ripped the guts out of this town. Yes, we have the Tigers and the Red Wings, but this has always been a football town first and foremost, and we have lived – and usually died – with the Lions in excruciating ways, including that winless, 0 for 16 season, which wasn’t all that long ago.

For me personally it has been a hard road. I first went to a Lions game at the old Briggs Stadium (and later, Tiger Stadium) on October 15, 1961. My dad took me to the game when the Lions were playing the Los Angeles Rams. The Lions won, 14-13 and I was hooked. My dad knew the legendary Lions announcer Van Patrick, and we were fortunate to visit the Rams and Lions locker rooms with him before the game. It was the first of many fabulous Sundays spent at that old dark, drafty and cold stadium (complete with the 20-foot galvanized steel “troughs,” which served as urinals in the bathrooms).

Our seats were in the equivalent of upper deck in right-center field if we were attending a Tigers game, but for the Lions the seats were damn-near perfect, overlooking one of the 40-yard-lines on the Lions side. And when I say “overlooking” I mean exactly that. The beauty of the old Briggs-Tiger stadium was that, unlike our modern stadiums, the stadium didn’t spread out away from the action. The outfield stands went straight up from the field, so our vantage point was exceptional.

The most memorable game I have ever attended – and to this day hands-down the most exciting – was the Thanksgiving Day game against our long-standing rivals, the Green Bay Packers. The Pack was rolling, and they brought their all-stars and undefeated season to play the Lions at (now Tiger) Stadium. And lo and behold, it turned out to be a crushing defeat for The Pack, and still, to this day, the most memorable win in Detroit Lions history, even more so than their three NFL championships in the 1950s. The Lions sacked Bart Starr eleven times, and the Lions won 26-14, spoiling the Packers’ undefeated season. It was the most electric big-game atmosphere I have ever experienced, and the crowd stood the entire game – you couldn’t even hear yourself talk. It was fantastic, riveting and spectacular, and as I said, the most memorable Lions day ever.

This town has ebbed and flowed with the Lions as they lurched through mediocrity punctuated by stellar performances, including by Barry Sanders, the best running back to ever play the game (if you ask people here anyway). The move to the stadium in Pontiac was a mixed bag, as the Silverdome – as it became to be known – was sterile and frankly a dump. The fans were detached from the action, and it just wasn’t the same. The move back to downtown Detroit at Ford Field was a huge step in the right direction, as at least the place has some character to it.

But still, we suffered through season after season with the lingering collective refrain around these parts being “the same-old Lions” as the team stumbled relentlessly as it tried to show some meaningful progress. But it was inevitably not to be, until Dan Campbell was hired as coach three years ago that is.

Then, everything seemed to change. The first season under the ex-tight end Campbell (2021) the Lions were 3-13-1; then they were 9-8 in 2022 after knocking the Packers from the playoffs in the last game of the season at Lambeau Field; and finally, 12-5 in 2023.

And then the NFC Playoffs, culminating in the game last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. That the Lions looked like the team everyone thought they could be in that first half was immensely gratifying, but for me it was filled with trepidation as well, because in my gut I knew that the 49ers were far too good to let that first-half performance stand. And, unfortunately that was exactly the case.

But the way the Lions lost was beyond excruciating. Defensive lapses, poor play calling, dropped passes, lucky breaks (that deflected pass that was caught by the 49er player) and just a huge letdown by the team when they absolutely couldn’t afford it. For long-suffering Lions fans around these parts and across the state, it was just beyond painful. It wasn’t just a loss; it was a crushing, breathtaking, gut-wrenching body slam to the senses.

But in spite of all of this, the things I can do without is all of the relentless post-game hand-wringing. The woulda-coulda-shoulda of all of it is just stupid and a giant waste of time. Coach Campbell called the game exactly like he did the entire season, good and bad. It is what it is, and it can’t be reversed in some cosmic time warp, so we will all move on. At least we should anyway.

Oh, and one more thing, this business of calling the Detroit Lions the new “America’s Team” is just too much unmitigated bullshit for me. That’s not who we are by any stretch of the imagination.

As I’ve written previously: The deal on Detroit is this:

Is this a tough town? Unquestionably. Are things on an upward trajectory? If you’re purely looking at the automobile industry that lives here, yes and no. But when looking at the health of the city and its environs, and the deep-rooted problems that plague this city and its educational system, the ones that are preventing this city from doing anything but a dismal, two-steps forward, five-back self-defeating dance of "progress," then we have a long, long, long way to go.

Yes, as a town and as a region we do have a long way to go. But this is who we are, and this auto thing is what really matters to us. We don’t need sympathy, and the glossy stories of late are nice but they will never define us, or what it’s really like to be here and be from around here.

We’re a state of mind that’s filled with countless contradictions, and our great history is offset by some lurid realities.

We’ve contributed much to the American fabric, yet we have a historical propensity to make things brutally tough on our day-to-day well-being.

We’ve brought this country a sound like no other and a gritty, gutty context that’s second to none, yet we’ve created countless problems for ourselves, most all of them self-inflicted.

We created the “Arsenal of Democracy” when our country needed it most, yet we allowed a movement based on fairness to become a disease based on entitlement and rancor.

We’ve contributed much to this nation's progress and standing, yet we can’t seem to get out of our own way at times, which is infuriating and debilitating.

But thankfully, the story never really ends for Detroit. At least not yet anyway. We’re still standing, warts and glaring faults and all. And you can forget the recent glory stories about our renaissance, because we don’t really need ‘em to validate us.

We know who we are. And we know that the perception isn’t often favorable. And we get that. But still there’s an exuberance and spirit here that no Super Bowl appearance can ever capture.

It’s a Detroit thing, or if you must, a Dee-troit thing. And we’re proud of what that means.

But “America’s Team”?

Not now. Not ever.

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

 


Editor's Note: Click on "Next 1 Entries" at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. - WG
THE EMPEROR?S NEW CLOTHES ? THE FIAT ?DROP? EDITION.
by Editor
21 Jan 2024 at 8:44am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter takes on FIAT and the latest "brilliance" pouring forth from its CEO, Olivier Francois. In On The Table, we look at the stunning Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa that is coming to auction next month at Sotheby's. We also preview Jeep's first global battery-electric vehicle (BEV), the all-new, all-electric premium Jeep Wagoneer S (yawn). And our AE Song of the Week is "Why" by Annie Lennox. In Fumes, we bring you Peter's "The Muscle Boys" - when big block V8s ruled the racing world. And finally, in The Line, we bring you the latest IMSA results from the Roar Before the 24 at Daytona. Enjoy! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. It wouldn’t be the auto biz, at least as it’s practiced here, without an appearance by Olivier “I’m a genius just ask me” Francois, the man who carries the weighty title CEO of FIAT and global chief marketing officer of Stellantis. After all, Francois has distinguished himself – at least intermittently – with some memorable Super Bowl spots, the best of the bunch being “Farmer” for Ram truck from 2013, which used the iconic words and voice of Paul Harvey. It was, quite simply, the best automotive commercial of the past decade, and it did wonders for the Ram truck brand and also pumped up Francois’s already considerable ego.  

Francois fancies himself as a musical genius as well, and he loves hanging around with celebrities, thinking the rub-off makes him a star too. It doesn’t, because celebrities – musical or otherwise – love the money first and foremost, and Francois gets to call them “friend” during and after their collaborations, which is something that he clearly craves. I would best describe Francois as the “King of Borrowed Interest,” as he orchestrates existing creative to suit his sensibilities and project whatever brand he’s paying attention to at the moment.   

And Francois’s brand of the moment is the semi-iconic (at least if your automotive flavor runs Italian), always forlorn and woefully pathetic FIAT – the car company that has enjoyed intermittent interest in this market, but that has remained eminently forgettable throughout its latest renaissance. Remember when The Bombastic One (aka Sergio) promised dealers that FIAT would lead the way to riches for them while dangling Alfa Romeo franchises as a reward for a job well done? Yeah, nobody else does either, except of course, those dealers who are still smarting from pissing away real money on brick and mortar for FIAT dealerships that turned out to be a monumentally stupid investment. 

FIAT is Francois’s latest vanity project, and this just in and in case you’re wondering: everything he involves himself in is a vanity project. After all, if it isn’t about him, he really has zero interest in it. In this case, Francois thinks that his laying of his hands on the FIAT brand will immediately push the brand to “buzz” status, and his reputation will grow even larger, at least in his mind anyway. 

And what is the FIAT brand bringing to the table? A reimagined and fully-electric 500, which is rechristened as the 500e, “100 percent electric, 100 percent Italian,” according to Stellantis PR minions. The little 500e is said to weigh 3,000 lbs. and have a 149-mile range. The 500e is part of the “Dare Forward 2030” that Stellantis is touting, which projects 50 percent in EV sales in North America by 2030, and 100 percent in EV sales in Europe by 2030. (That all sounds well and good, just don’t plan on making any inroads in the Chicago market, or anywhere else where the thermometer gets near zero.) 

On paper, the 500e may make sense to some. After all, its sticker price will be $32,500, and as I’ve written repeatedly, affordability is the most important factor in the market now and it will continue to be going forward. The manufacturers who understand that are going to be successful. Unfortunately, in the 500e’s case, it can only be considered a third or fourth car for most consumers due to its miniscule size. There will be exceptions of course, especially for the consumer who doesn’t need range and only needs a car on occasion. Then it might just workout fine. But reality suggests that those buyers will be few and far between. 

But, and there’s always a but when it comes to Francois, he’s counting on his marketing genius to create an otherworldly buzz for the 500e, which is no surprise since it has been his “M.O.” since Day One. His big idea? FIAT will do “drops” of the 500e like Nike does shoe releases. Of course, pushing $150.00 shoes is a lot different than trying to create myriad special editions of a car that most people would be hard pressed to consider to begin with. The naiveté of this plan is plain as day to everyone except Francois, of course. But since he has pronounced it as the path to marketing success for the FIAT brand going forward, his boot-licking minions have no choice but to pronounce it “good” as well, even if they’re all laughing on the inside.  

Make no mistake, FIAT as a brand is a complete afterthought in the North American market. Francois and his minions will attempt to make some noise, but it will be full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Yes, they might gain some sales in the “smile states” but beyond that, this effort will be yet another nonstarter for a brand that doesn’t belong here. As a matter of fact, FIAT is already AE’s Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking for 2024, and we don’t expect that to change, even if it is only January. 

But Francois will tout its success anyway, as the sales hover around negligible, because after all, everything he touches turns to gold, didn’t you know? Just don’t look too deep after the fact because you’ll swear you’re reading a new chapter of The Emperor’s New Clothes.  

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

(Stellantis)

The FIAT 500e.

 


Editor's Note: Click on "Next 1 Entries" at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. - WG
GM DOUBLES DOWN ON STUPID.
by Editor
14 Jan 2024 at 8:31am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter continues his dissection of GM's serial incompetence with an explosive analysis of the current situation with marketing and advertising. If you missed last week's Rant, check it out here. (Let's just say 2024 is looking quite promising for The High-Octane Truth.) In On The Table, we have an update on the state of the once-vaunted Detroit Auto Show. We also feature news about the collaboration between Lamborghini and Italian leather goods purveyor Tod's. And we're re-running the preview of Honda's new global EV series from CES, because, well, they're just too awful to miss. Our AE Song of the Week is "From The Beginning" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. In Fumes, Peter details two of the early race successes of the legendary competition Cobra. And finally, in The Line, we're getting ready for the Roar before the Rolex 24. Enjoy! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. The rumors started rumbling two weeks ago, traveling all the way to the West Coast and back again (given the fact that the ad community is nothing but tight-knit, inter-connected and gossipy at all times, it's no surprise): GM was about to upend its marketing and advertising operations in the interest of, you guessed it, drastically slashing costs. Now, the company won’t say anything even remotely like that, preferring to couch it in terms of “modernizing,” which is one of the key words being bandied about. You can add other “spin” terms like “streamlining” and “more customer focused” to the company’s marketing lexicon as well, but make no mistake, as GM CMO Norm de Greve is said to be up to his eyeballs in crafting a way forward for the company’s marketing operations, this marks a fundamental shift and, from my perspective, a giant bowl of Not Good. 

It’s important to understand the factors driving this fundamental transformation. Remember, this comes on the heels of the massive UAW contract that GM agreed to last year, which is said to add as much as $900 to the price of each vehicle (depending on the estimate you wish to believe), and which the company has already gone on record as saying that it would do everything possible not to pass those costs on to their customers. To make matters worse, CEO Mary Barra’s ill-fated over-commitment to GM’s EV play and its Cruise debacle has cost the company dearly, with the payoff from the company’s EV commitment pushed back years. 

An obvious place to start? Marketing and advertising. You have to understand something about GM’s tortured relationship with advertising and marketing. The company’s attitude about marketing and advertising ebbs and flows with the players involved. When a strong CMO is actively in play, the role of marketing and advertising takes its rightful place in the daily operations of the company. When things are good, image-wrangling is a consistent priority, and creative thought and memorable executions reach the public frequently. This is an ideal situation that the company and its advertising agencies have enjoyed only in fleeting moments.  

And this “fleeting moments” business is an important distinction. It’s common when things are going well for company operatives to wax eloquently about the true “partnerships” they have with their advertising agencies – two of which include Commonwealth/McCann for Chevrolet and Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett for Cadillac – and how wonderfully collaborative these relationships are. And that’s all well and good, until it isn’t. When things aren’t going so nicely, however – due to poor sales, poor product, overall poor market performance, piss-poor executive decisions and the ever-popular “sun spots” excuse, etc. – it’s common for corporate operatives to fall back on framing their relationships with ad agencies in “supplier” terms, which means the collaborative nature shifts to a (usually) belligerent “what have you done for us lately?” exploration of cost-cutting, or in dire circumstances, even the consideration of new ad agencies. 

In GM’s case, besides the UAW contract excuse and Barra’s highly-questionable calls on Cruise and EVs, the more dominant factor behind this push is that Barra has succumbed to certain members of the board – ex-Silicon Valley geniuses, just ask them – who have insisted from the get-go that GM’s relationship with marketing and advertising was all wrong, and that cost-savings and better engagement with consumers could be accomplished with fundamental changes. Barra devoting too much time listening to these Silicon Valley ex-pats was the reason that former CMO Deborah Wahl got bounced, which was a rash and reprehensible decision and which immediately changed the dynamic on that board. Instead of taking the directors’ input under advisement, Barra overreacted and jettisoned Wahl, which meant that all of a sudden, those ex-Silicon Valley brainiacs had real leverage. 

And the result of that leverage is what we’re seeing happening at GM right now. I’m hearing all kinds of ugliness emanating from GM of late – how the agencies are under scrutiny, how everything connected to marketing, advertising and media spending is under review, etc., etc. (GM spends around $4 billion a year on advertising by the way), and how de Greve will be presiding over the radical reconfiguration/transformation with the focused idea being radical cost cuts.  

But by far the most disturbing news with this Sturm und Drang going on at GM is the word that GM is considering bringing part of its agency operations in-house, which would trigger nothing short of an absolute disaster. There is no positive scenario that could come from this. None. Less than Zero, in fact. As I mentioned previously, GM already has a fleeting and at times highly-strained relationship with marketing and advertising to begin with, but bringing any creative functions in-house would kill the last shreds of creativity from ever seeing the light of day. The dumbing down of creative ideas would be immediate and devastating, and every single piece of advertising to come out of GM would resemble one of their tedious Tier 2 or Tier 3 ads. (Unfortunately, there’s a rabid faction within GM that would love to have this level of “control” over the advertising. And if they get their way, GM would become a retail-specific marketer, but just how many ways can you say “how much is that a month?”) 

Another thing to know about GM’s CEO is that she already has a piss-poor relationship with advertising and marketing. She’s never been comfortable with it, she frankly doesn’t get it at times, and now that she’s listening to the dulcet tones and dire thought balloons of ex-Silicon Valley “geniuses” who have infested GM’s board, she’s about to send GM into the Dark Ages at the very moment when the company can least afford any misfires in the image-wrangling disciplines.  

Don’t think so? GM has been on a negative roll with its EV imperative, which Barra has attempted to shove down not only the dealers’ throats, but consumer throats as well. Except that GM has convincingly demonstrated that it can’t build its promised array of EVs even remotely close to the cadence that it so desperately needs. And even when they do, software recalls or “stop sales” edicts bring the whole thing to a screeching halt. 

It’s no secret that Barra’s “fantasyland” mantra of “Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions, Zero Congestion” has been a notorious non-starter from the beginning. People don’t believe it because it’s simply not believable. At this critical moment, GM needs more, not less creative thinking. The company needs to return to giving customers a reason for considering a GM vehicle in the first place, and these marketing moves are in no way, shape or form the way to go about doing that. 

Crippling its marketing and advertising functions to generate cost cuts has disaster written all over it.  

Quite simply, GM is doubling down on stupid.  

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

 

 


Editor's Note: Click on "Next 1 Entries" at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. - WG
THE CLOCK IS TICKING ON MARY BARRA AND GM.
by Editor
7 Jan 2024 at 10:09am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo  

Detroit. As the new year gets under way, the churn and burn has started all over again. We’re awash in glowing sales reports piling up from the end of last year, and you can just feel the sense of optimism building through the press releases from the various manufacturers. But I can only cringe at this news, because it takes all of about five minutes for industry honchos to start high-fiving in the hallways and making assumptions that the bad times are over and that nothing but good tidings are ahead. 

That this has been proven to be flawed thinking in this business over the decades has been well documented. Industry executives taking the path of least resistance by making (wrong) assumptions that things are all figured out, while conveniently ignoring the various elephants in the room is like a cottage industry that never fades away. And the biggest of the elephants? The Detroit 2 + 1’s continued wrestling with the EV “thing.” 

Surprisingly enough, there is a cadre of Detroit-centric executives who believe that they have the EV “thing” all figured out, that it’s only a matter of time before everything comes good and the “Grand Transition” – promising untold profits and a new golden era for the industry – is well under way. Except that it isn’t. A long litany of problems keeps coming to the fore. Battery assembly issues? They’re still happening with alarming frequency. Supply chain issues? Still present and accounted for. And the jarring inability to actually produce EVs with any noteworthy cadence is an ongoing mess. Add to that the perpetual infrastructure problems, the kaleidoscope of recurring charging nightmares and the fact that actual consumer desire to own an EV is lagging far behind the auto manufacturers’ future plans to build their business around the mass adoption of them, and you have a giant bowl of Not Good. 

One manufacturer in particular is struggling with this “Grand Transition.” In a noteworthy piece last month, Mike Colias reported in The Wall Street Journal a story headlined with the following: Mary Barra Spent a Decade Transforming GM. It Hasn’t Been Enough. The subhead was even more dire: The CEO pushed GM hard into electric and driverless cars. The finish line keeps moving farther away.  

Ouch, Baby.  

The lengthy article spent considerable time tracing Barra's hard-earned ascension to the top, but it also documents Barra's Bad Bets on driverless technology and her over-committing to EVs in excruciating detail, when the company wasn't even close to being ready.  

First, the driverless technology part. Under Barra's direction, GM poured $8 Billion into the San Francisco-based driverless startup, Cruise. It has proved to be an unmitigated disaster. The tech startup pulled about 400 robot taxis off the streets of San Francisco and a handful of other cities last October after one of its driverless vehicles collided with a pedestrian who had been struck by another car and dragged her 20 feet. And then at the end of last year, Cruise announced that it had exited a slew of executives and laid off about one quarter of its workforce. There is no upside to this story. Even though GM suggested that $50 million in revenue was possible from Cruise by 2030, driverless technology is not only stalled, it is turning into a bottomless money pit, and GM's ass is hanging out in the breeze on this one, big time.  

As for the EV "thing," Barra made a huge and very public commitment to her "zero crashes, zero emissions, zero congestion" mantra to the tune of $35 Billion to be spent on development between 2020 and 2025. This combination of driverless technology and 100 percent EV production would be arriving by 2035, with 400,000 GM EVs on the road by 2023. In fact, Barra insisted that 2023 would be "a breakout year" for GM's EVs. This proved to be not even remotely feasible, and it was flat-out ridiculous. GM sold just 854 of its King Kong Hummer EVs in 2022. Let's consider that again. 854. Besides the aforementioned Cruise debacle, Barra's constant pronouncements that GM's EV technology would be prolific and widely accessible were a humiliating non-starter. GM made huge commitments to battery factories, and then production problems meant that it couldn't assemble batteries at a pace that was even close to being acceptable. Gaining access to key supplies was problematic as well. The ultimate result? GM simply couldn't build their EV portfolio with even a shred of a proper cadence. (And in the most recent development, GM issued a "stop sell" order on December 22 on its highly-touted new Chevrolet Blazer EV for owner-reported software problems.)

All together now: This is Not. Very. Good. for Barra. Colias also reported that in an interview in December at a media event, Barra said she continues to have confidence in both the electric and driverless-car parts of her strategy. She is sticking with a goal of producing one million EVs in North America in 2025, and she still has faith that Cruise can lead the driverless race. “As you go through a technological transformation like this,” she said, “there’s going to be ups and downs.”  

Ups and downs? GM's problems aren't just "ups and downs," they're a continuous series of rolling miscalculations and show an alarming pattern of serial incompetence. Barra's only salvation in all of this? GM’s bottom-line performance has surged under Barra, as Colias reported, and GM's higher-margin business lines like trucks and SUVs are gushing profits. During Barra's tenure, operating profit nearly doubled from previous levels and consistently tops rivals. GM has beaten Wall Street earnings forecasts in 34 of the last 35 quarters. But, and this is a very large but, all of GM's notable profits have come from ICE-powered vehicles. Barra's delusional commitment to the EV "thing" has been a disaster for GM. Yes, she could be applauded for trying to get out in front of the "Grand Transition" but she – and GM – are so far out over their skis on this that it is becoming dangerous for the company.  

One saving grace for GM in all of this? One year ago, the company committed $1 Billion to four engine assembly plants that will build the sixth-generation of its small-block V8. A mistake at the dawn of the EV Era? Hardly. This move – which flew completely under the radar – will be crucial to GM’s continued profitability and success. The ICE Era has decades to go, in case you were wondering. 

It is clear that Mary Barra has accomplished a lot of good things in her tenure at GM, but nothing lasts forever, even for the first female CEO of a major car company. The clock is ticking on Ms. Barra, and the next eighteen months will prove to be pivotal for her and GM.  

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for our first week back in 2024. 

 

Editor's Note: Click on "Next 1 Entries" at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. - WG


IGNORE THE SPINELESS WEASELS, BOOTLICKERS AND THE SHALLOW MEN. AND PAY NO ATT...
by Editor
19 Dec 2023 at 7:08pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. It has been a hell of a year, to put it mildly. In addition to the usual kaleidoscope of shit that’s part and parcel of the Swirling Maelstrom that churns and defines this industry on a daily basis, an entirely new dimension to the ongoing Shit Show reared its ugly head: The EV “thing” became a thing. A very big thing. And the hand-wringing over the EV “thing” never stopped.  

Auto companies went all in – you know who you are – going deep on the “It Won’t Be Long” mantra that we’d all be shiny happy consumers reveling in the day-to-day efficacy of EVs in no time. Except a funny thing happened on the way to EV Nirvana: 1. The “show pony” six-figure EVs were relatable – and affordable – only to a select few. 2. Speaking of EV affordability – or lack thereof – consumers genuinely interested were forced to scramble to find EVs that were at least somewhat realistically affordable. That didn’t go well for too many buyers. 3. The infrastructure for charging – except for the Tesla superchargers that were accessible – was not only almost nonexistent, but the few that were available were either not working or underperforming. And the concept of servicing the infrastructure that was in play was either woefully lacking or nonexistent as well. Clearly, plans for maintaining the EV charging infrastructure were an afterthought in the “Grand Transition.” And 4. With lengthy charging times and the aforementioned piss-poor infrastructure, the idea of realistically going on a road trip with an EV became not only instantly problematic, it was no damn fun. (And before all of you EV True Believers raise your pitchforks, the email we have received about this issue – even from the hardcore EV-ers – was decidedly grumpy about the reality of road-tripping in an EV. As in, Not. Very. Good. -WG) 

Meanwhile, certain automakers – again, you know who you are – were so far over their skis with their commitments to the EV “thing” that big trouble ensued almost immediately. CEO after CEO got up in front of the salivating media and promised all sorts of things, boasting of many clean factories that would be churning out a wide range of EVs to eager EV buyers in no time. Except the fervor didn’t last long. Chasing down the raw materials was one thing; assembling the battery packs with a modicum of efficiency was another. And then actually building the vehicles added an entirely new – and shaky – dimension to the EV “thing.”  

The result? Costs skyrocketed and product plans blew up, which destroyed any sense of a reasonable product cadence for these companies. EV models promised for 2024 began to slide. Late ’25 became the new time frame, and then – wait a minute, well, on third thought – they started talking earnestly about late ’26. And now we’re hearing the first rumblings of, you guessed it, ‘27! 

The fallout has been swift and unrelenting. Ford just informed suppliers that it’s slashing production of its F-150 Lightning pickup in half for ’24. And other manufacturers are blowing up their EV product plans trying to anticipate what’s next. Meanwhile, EV zealots both from within and outside the industry are saying there’s no problem with demand for EVs, that it’s a vicious plot by the anti-EV cabal that exists “out there.” Except that dealers – both import and domestic – are watching as EVs are piling up on their lots and, to make matters worse, EV resale value is flat-out dismal. 

So, how’s that “Grand Transition” to EVs going, exactly? To be charitable, it’s an excruciating work in progress and realistically, I see the percentage of EVs in this market not reaching 25 percent until 2032, or after. This will be a long, hard road, and as I’ve stated repeatedly, the manufacturers who are vigorously investing in and pursuing new-generation ICE vehicle programs – while selectively competing in viable EV segments – will be the ones that not only survive, but thrive. 

Oh, and by the way, I started a fire a few weeks ago by calling out this phenomenon of stupid vehicles running rampant on the streets and byways of this country right now. The giant trucks and SUVs that are passing for everyday transportation these days are just embarrassingly stupid. It’s hard to imagine that these manufacturers and their salivating customers have gotten to the point of thinking that it’s perfectly okay to be rolling down the highway in a 6,000-lb. – and more – vehicle, that it is somehow acceptable.   

This just in: It isn’t.  

Little did I know (Well, we kinda knew. –WG) that it would cause much hand wringing and gnashing of teeth across the land. It seems that a lot of people were in deep agreement with the premise that these leviathan trucks and SUVs masquerading as daily drivers are peak stupidity, and cringe when encountering them in their day-to-day travels.   

Another dimension to this phenomenon? The aggression displayed by too many of the drivers manning these land yachts. I don’t know what’s triggering it exactly, but I’ve noticed that a high percentage of these drivers engage in egregiously stupid maneuvers, seeming to say, “As a matter of fact, I do own the frickin’ road.” That it’s not a good look is obvious; that I’ve witnessed too many risky, flat-out dangerous moves is simply unacceptable.   

Am I painting with too broad of a brush? No, because I’m clearly not lumping all truck and SUV drivers in this category. It’s just a development on our streets and byways that can’t be ignored.   

And then we heard from the faction that I describe as “The Cold Dead Hands Posse.” As in, “I will drive whatever the hell I want and no one’s going to tell me otherwise.” And we can relate to that sentiment, because we’ve said from the beginning here at AE that people should drive what they like and like what they drive. And we still stand by that. But commenting on the descent into stupidity that I’m seeing on the roads was bound to spark comments from both sides of the issue, and I not only expected it but, going on 25 years here, I am used to it by now.    

Needless to say, I would love to see a burgeoning streak of rational thought creep into people’s car buying decisions. Do you really need a giant “show pony” 6,000-lb.+ pickup as a daily driver, just to pick up a few bags of mulch in the spring and do assorted other tasks throughout the year that could be accomplished in a more normal-sized vehicle? No, you don’t, but again, who am I kidding? We’re going to continue down this road until there’s a major “adjustment” in the market, unfortunately. That could happen with a significant, unexpected financial disruption to the economy, or some sort of world-altering event that would change everything. I want neither of those things to happen, but a few smarter vehicle choices would indeed be welcome.  

There’s one more thing that I need to mention as far as these Peak Stupidity times we’re living in. I have beat on this drum for years now, but car and truck pricing and the lack of affordability has reached the critical stage. For the people who can afford to spend $100,000-plus on a vehicle without thinking about it, I’m sure they might be dismissive of the concept of affordability as being irrelevant to their circle of concern. But that would be a mistake, because the lack of affordability in our vehicles should be everyone’s concern.   

Why bother getting worked up over this? Because, short of shopping the select few models offered by Honda, Kia, Hyundai and Chevrolet, the average buyer’s choices for affordable new vehicles are severely limited.   

This is not only stupid, it’s not sustainable.   

I keep excoriating the domestic-based manufacturers to wake up in this regard, but I’m not seeing any signs of it. Ford needs to build more Mavericks, but they seem incapable or unwilling to do it. Chevrolet needs to offer a price leader Colorado that still has a modicum of desirable equipment, but there’s nothing in the works. And GM CEO Mary Barra has promised a new Chevrolet Bolt for 2025 with built-in Ultium EV technology, which is great news, but what would be even better news is if this upcoming advanced technology Bolt was priced at or below the price of the 2023 Bolt. I won’t hold my breath. 

The fact that our domestic automakers are basically ignoring this affordability issue is not only monumentally stupid, it will bite them in the ass over the long haul. Buyers will simply stop shopping these domestic automakers and wander away to other brands for their transportation needs. And this just in: They won’t be back.  

The AE Stupid Meter is pretty unforgiving. People involved in this industry need to wake up and start actively doing something about these issues, and quick.  The clock is indeed ticking.  

That said, it’s time to get into our AE Year in Review. WordGirl is going to open the proceedings with something new this year: her carefully curated Top Ten Rants for 2023. 

Editor's Note: If 2023 in the auto business felt like the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, that's because it was Groundhog Day. Except instead of being a "fantasy/comedy" like the movie, this year was a relentless reality show, complete with elements of boredom, frustration and despair. That said, we here at AE did our best to bring you the High-Octane Truth each week, in all of its apocalyptic glory. As we combed through the past 12 months for the highs and lows, a few Rants stood out and now comprise my Top 10 Rants for 2023. Here you go! -WG  

THE EXCITABLE BOY. Peter's alternate persona makes a rare appearance in this look behind the curtain at what drives the Autoextremist. 

LOST. A look at just how far the business has fallen from its glory days.  

IT IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. A poignant reminder to savor the life that is right here, right now. 

THE AE BRAND IMAGE METER: THE "WE TOLD YOU SO" EDITION. A perennial favorite - the Autoextremist's no-holds-barred take on automotive brands. 

AMERICA WIDE OPEN. It's more important than ever to think about what Independence Day really means. 

SOUL SURVIVOR. A true AE classic - Peter's in-depth look at the iconic and gone-too-soon Pontiac. 

RAGE AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT. A bittersweet look at the waning of the ICE Age, complete with a few of Peter's favorite ICE machines.   

THINKING 'BOUT THE TIMES I DROVE IN MY CAR, PART I. This now-legendary column reminds us of the inescapable role the automobile has played in defining who we are. 

RUNNIN' DOWN A DREAM, PART II. Fast-forward to 2035 in Peter's dream about what will be going on in the industry. 

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. EV Nirvana is upon us! Or is it? Who knows!  

Thank you! And don't forget to check out our Best of "On The Table" for 2023. And now, Peter wraps up this past year. -WordGirl 

 

I would have loved to have been at the final brand naming meeting, because they obviously missed having someone there who could clear his or her throat and exclaim: “Uh, WTF are you morons thinking?” Yes, every once in a while, when you think that this business couldn’t possibly get more mired in mind-numbing boredom and tedious corporate inertia, a lightning bolt of pure absurdity strikes with no warning whatsoever. So, there I was, at my desk, contemplating what my first column for the new year would be about – and frankly not coming up with anything interesting – when a gift emerged out of the blue. Sony Honda Mobility unveiled the brand name for its new line of EVs at CES in Las Vegas, which will start arriving in 2026: Afeela. Are you afeeling me? Afeela is the brand name that Sony and Honda alighted upon to present its EVs to the public? Afeela is the brand name that Sony and Honda will stake their joint technical prowess on? Afeela is the brand name that will inspire consumers to take a serious look and maybe even buy? In the immortal words of the great Vince Lombardi: “What the hell is goin’ on out there?!?” Straight from the “You Just Can’t Make This Shit Up” File, Sony and Honda provided everyone with a piñata of endless laughs and ridicule, and it was damn-near priceless. 

 (A LIGHTNING BOLT OF PURE ABSURDITY - 1/11/2023) 

 

Well, well, well. Ford’s “I’m a genius just ask me” CEO, offered up a monumental mea culpa to financial analysts for the company’s abysmal performance in 2022, after the company posted a crushing $2 Billion loss for the year. Jim Farley did his best, fall-on-his-sword presentation to the analysts and media by stating: “This has been humbling for both me and the team.” No. Shit. Dot. Com. 

Let me remind everyone for the hundredth time that Farley was to be “The Savior” who was appointed by Chairman Bill Ford to lead the Ford ship to the Promised Land, a fantasy world akin to an idyllic state of mind awash in bunny rabbits, rainbows and endless profits. Instead, the “Boy Wonder” has run the whole enterprise aground.  

In case you’re wondering, this was not only a spectacular embarrassment for Farley and his minions; it was a shocking report from a company boasting the F-150 pickup (both ICE and EV versions), the Bronco SUV, and the Mach-E EV. Remember, this was a company that thrived on the constant drumbeats generated by its PR minions, who touted the company’s “can’t-miss” product lineup at every opportunity – in other words, every day ending in a “Y”. This company-generated PR “noise” was then projected into the media landscape with considerable help from the Detroit Free Press (aka The Ford Times). It was not uncommon for newspaper readers in this town – at least the ones who are left – to be burdened with a 5,000+ word piece on Ford and Farley, which seemingly occured every other week. Tedious doesn’t even begin to cover it. 

(A GIANT BLUE OVAL OF NOT GOOD. – 2/8) 

 

In fact, too often the road to reinvention is riddled with broken dreams left smoldering by the side of the road. And some executives are meant to find that out the hard way. Indeed, the smarter auto executives are focusing on the fundamentals of designing, engineering, developing and building vehicles first. All of their vehicles. It does no good to brag about future EV projections if you can’t take care of the basic fundamentals – the blocking and tackling of this business – right now. EVs are the shiny objects filled with promise and potential, but ICE vehicles pay the bills, and they will continue to do so for years to come. These smarter execs will also take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, whether they be in EVs or with ICE vehicles. They will steadfastly avoid skipping a step, because understanding the past, they know that would prove to be costly, on too many levels. The road to reinvention is paved with good intentions, but it is an unruly one. But then again, it is meant to be. Nothing is given or preordained and certainly nothing is guaranteed, for individuals or companies. 

(THE ROAD TO REINVENTION. – 2/15) 

 

And there’s one final excuse for the CEO Monsters that we’ve well documented over the years – the always popular and predictable, “It Won’t Be Long Now!” mantra. This phrase is right in line with “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” as in, “Don’t dwell on those piss-poor financial numbers, ignore the fact that we can’t launch a vehicle to save our life – and when we do the quality and recall incidents are so prevalent that they destroy our bottom line every single quarter – because it’s all good! It really is! We’ve got sensational products coming, including EVs that will turn the marketplace on its ear! Things may look bleak now, but trust us, It Won’t Be Long Now!” 

Ah yes, it won’t be long now, indeed. Even though a company continues to wallow in mediocrity that shouldn’t in any way diminish the notion that its “I’m a genius, just ask me” CEO has it all figured out. After all, don’t be hatin’ on us because we have the best team in place that will allow us – soon enough, just you wait and see – to rule the automotive world.  

If I were to deliver a “State of the Auto Industry” speech today, it would revolve around two specific themes: 1. How delusional thinking is still running rampant in the business today. And 2. How the “It Won’t Be Long Now!” mantra continues to wreak havoc on this business on a daily basis. 

All together now: Not. Very. Good. 

(CEO MONSTERS AND THE “IT WON’T BE LONG NOW” MANTRA. – 2/22) 

 

 

I often wonder about this crazy automobile business, and when I do, the same question keeps coming up over and over again: Why? As in, why is it that it always seems to be a revelation to operatives in The Biz when compelling design sells cars and trucks? Is it really that hard? They can digest all of the strategic marketing analysis that is available to them, they can formulate a logical “can’t miss” marketing strategy that covers all contingencies and accounts for all variables, and yet they often ignore the one mitigating factor that will make or break a product launch: Design. 

It doesn’t matter how sound a marketing strategy is, and how many millions of dollars have been spent to get to that point, because if the vehicle in question has something visually lacking, it will arrive in the market with a thud. This is especially true in this “look-alike” era, where so-called crossover/SUVs share the same basic shape configuration and struggle to find some worthwhile visual differentiation. On the other hand, there’s Ferrari… 

(Ferrari)

The Ferrari 296 GTB.

(Ferrari) 

The Ferrari Roma.

(Ferrari)

The Ferrari Purosangue. 

Yes, I get it, it’s easy to post Ferrari pictures and talk about outstanding design, but that’s exactly the point. There’s a reason that Bill Mitchell, the GM design legend, brought the latest Ferrari models to the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, and parked them in the GM Styling viewing courtyard. It was to inspire his design troops and expose them to what was going on in the design centers of Italy. And it worked. Mitchell was considered to be the master of bringing design concept looks to the mainstream automobile business here in the U.S., and GM dominated the market because of it in its heyday.  

GM is leading with design statements again from Corvette and Cadillac, but the Korean manufacturers have the bit in their teeth too, and they’re leading with compelling mainstream designs of their own. But as I said, too often auto companies come up short when they bring designs to the public, which makes me wonder why? 

Here’s another question: Why is that automobile dealers regularly squander the hundreds of millions of marketing dollars spent by the manufacturers to position their products? I’ve seen manufacturers nurture and fine-tune their brand images down to the very last detail, making certain that all possible contingencies are accounted for and properly vetted, only for the whole thing to come apart at the dealer level because of a bad in-person experience. After all of the rah-rah dealer shows in Las Vegas, complete with the obligatory group-think buy-in and nodding approvals from the dealers in attendance, they go back to their dealerships and allow the whole thing to come apart because of their tactics that are, how shall I say this, incongruous with the brand image at every level. I’ve seen countless examples of this over the years too. 

Nothing blows up a brand image more convincingly - and with stunning immediacy - than a dealer who conducts its business with an ingrained egregious attitude aimed at extracting as much short-term profitability as possible from prospects, while completely forgoing any sense of brand image whatsoever. Yes, this is the car business after all, as dealers will say, and consumers have to be savvy before they walk through our doors. Really? There’s a reason a majority of car-shopping consumers despise setting foot in a dealership. Simply put, it’s because bad things happen there. And it has gotten much worse in these supply-challenged times we’re living in. 

Don’t like the “take-it-or-leave-it-because-someone-behind-you-will” situation? Tough. Don’t like the fact that all of the cars on a dealer’s lot are pretreated with some sort of “mystical” ceramic coating that you didn’t ask for and don’t want to the tune of $1,000 extra? Too bad. I have nothing against a dealer’s ability to make a profit - that’s the name of the game after all - but there’s a fine line between making a profit and flat-out exploiting consumers, and too often dealers are operating on the wrong side of that line. 

I am seeing that because of the high interest rates and the free fall in used car prices (although they seem to be firming up a bit) that some dealers are softening their stance and actually trying to work with consumers as much as possible, knowing that these are difficult times for everyone, as they value the fundamental concept of gaining repeat business. But who’s kidding whom here? All it takes is one unscrupulous rogue dealer – and the negative word-of-mouth fallout that ensues from their actions – to blow up a $100 million marketing campaign. After all, it’s hard to embrace high-minded concepts from a manufacturer like “we provide an uncompromised experience that will envelope you in luxury” – or something like that – when a dealer is playing Hose-O-Rama on a consumer’s head. (And true to form, dealers are already squawking that the high interest rates are cutting into their ability to make money on F&I, a source of pure, unfettered profits. To that I say, Boo-Fucking-Hoo.) 

There are plenty of other “whys?” of course. As in: 

Why is a “legacy” auto company that claims to be an essential part of the American fabric at every opportunity simply unable to launch a vehicle without myriad problems showing up? The systemic failures are mind-blowing at this juncture, and the excuses are indeed wearing thin. 

Why does the U.S. Government continue to allow Tesla to operate with impunity? The major recall just announced over Tesla’s “full self-driving” technology isn’t enough. The consumers who paid $10,000 for a technology that didn’t come close to offering what was promised by its Blowhard-in-Chief should be paid back that money in full. Period. After all, people died using this alleged technology. Until there are real consequences for this ongoing Muskian nightmare, it will continue to be a complete travesty. 

Why is the EV infrastructure lagging behind BEV development? I have thought about this a lot, and I have to say that I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s three things: 1. The idea of a competent EV infrastructure was thought of too late in the process. 2. The cost and technical expertise needed to support and service new and existing EV charge points was never built into the equation. And 3.There wasn’t enough profit potential visible. Unless and until these points are addressed, the whole EV “thing” is going to take time, a long time, to come together. 

Why do certain auto manufacturers continue to underwrite NASCAR at this point? And what again is the point exactly? Does the internal explanation revolve around the concept that a certain level of image wrangling needs to be maintained? I’m not buying that for a second. The NASCAR imperative seems to exist within these companies out of sheer “we’ve always done it” inertia. And that simply isn’t good enough. The OEMs could easily cut their financial involvement in NASCAR by 75 percent and guess what? The NASCAR Circus would figure out a way to go on. 

Why do the EV startups (Lucid, Rivian, Fisker, etc.) get most of the attention from the automotive media? And why is the collective media surprised when those same startups have serious problems and are unable to meet even a fraction of their original production/sales goals? This is recurring unmitigated bullshit that needs to stop if the auto media wants to retain a shred of integrity. Memo to the carpal-tunnel challenged scribes: Call these companies out right from the start and adopt a giant “we’ll see” skepticism before the bullshit pile gets too high to get out from under. Because the way you’ve been doing it makes you look foolish. 

(WHY? – 3/1) 

 

The concept of AI car repossessions may bring a laugh now, as in, sure, but make no mistake, this is just one more step along the way to the driving equivalent of a vanilla shake with a shot of mediocrity. Let’s say you want to take your family to the Badlands National Park one summer in The Future, with a few unplanned stops along the way? And what if, in order for all of this to work, and in keeping with the idea of applying technology across a broad spectrum of the populace – to the lowest common denominator, in other words – the nanny technologistas in the government went ahead and created the National Bureau of Electronic Movement (NBEM), a clearinghouse of sorts to monitor the burgeoning transportation needs of the collective “us.” And let’s say that in order to plan that sort of a family vacation, you would first have to apply to the NBEM, plotting out your trip to the smallest detail, leaving no charge, food, bathroom or snack stop left out. 

Sounds delightful, right? No? I’ve gone too far – off the deep end, in fact – and I’m projecting a societal development that will never happen? Don’t be so sure. The rapid development of AI is swallowing everything having to do with our life as we know it whole. The indiscriminate onslaught of AI, which is often portrayed as something akin to a benign force for good, is incredibly naïve and flat-out wrong. With each “next step” AI development that promises to get us closer to a societal nirvana where things are no longer bad, or hurtful, or negative, or challenging, I cringe, because we are getting one step closer to having our basic freedoms compromised or removed altogether as being irrelevant compared to the “greater good.” 

You can laugh now, but I don’t find it funny in the least. Robot-motoring is not something I aspire to. And it’s not something you should aspire to, either. 

(DRIVING A VANILLA SHAKE WITH A SHOT OF MEDIOCRITY. – 3/8) 

 

 

Memo to automakers everywhere: Beware of Geeks bearing imaginary gifts. It will cost you dearly. Right now, the automakers in this town are falling all over themselves sucking up to and acquiescing to hordes of so-called “tech” people who are inundating their halls and having an inordinate amount of sway with people who should know better. Just one example? The CEO at that car company in Dearborn has been dangerously under the influence of these ex-Silicon Valley-types, and it has proved to be costly, with the positive results missing in action from the get-go. But then again, there’s no one over there tapping him on the shoulder saying, “Excuse me, but I believe you’re resolutely full of shit,” so the carnage will continue. 

One area in particular is being overrun by these geeks, and that is the marketing arena. There are some higher-ups in this town who think that because of the fallout from the great tech explosion there are hordes of “gifted” people available who are ready, willing and able to dispense their “wisdom” on this business, especially when it comes to marketing. But it is a Fool’s Errand of the first order. Why? Just as everyone has an opinion about what makes a great vehicle, there are plenty of “armchair experts” out there bringing their whims and biases about how to market cars and trucks to the Motor City. That some of these geeks have been given a wide berth in this town is embarrassing, wrongheaded and wildly off the mark. Misguided people who have no business dispensing marketing advice being given weight and influence at this juncture is an indictment of where this business finds itself right now. It is both silly and pathetic, and it’s going to cost these companies millions in mistakes and do-overs.  

Why? Part II. Because, the automobile business is one of the most complicated endeavors on earth, and just because a person has seen a version of success in the tech industry, does not mean that whatever accrued expertise he or she brings to the table is necessarily applicable to a business that isn’t easily defined by knee-jerk reactions, or subject to the whims of an “armchair” marketing expert. 

(BEWARE OF GEEKS BEARING IMAGINARY GIFTS. – 3/22) 

 

Am I shocked that this happened at Tesla? Not in the least. Fueled by the most unprincipled leader in all of American business, a person who has regularly thumbed his nose at laws, restrictions and safeguards designed to rein in technology and/or bad behavior, we’re talking about a company that has functioned as a corporate outlaw from the very beginning. The fact that this company has consistently promoted its “Full Self Driving” option when, in fact, it didn’t even approach the capabilities promised, is unacceptable. And the fact that they charged $10,000 for it is even worse. But the most egregious thing this company did was to enlist its owners – some of whom were unwitting participants – into doing so-called “beta” testing of the fundamentally unproven option out in the real world. And it is beyond unconscionable. This is no laughing matter, either. Because whether blind consumer belief in St. Elon’s Big Lie about “FSD” or out of sheer personal stupidity and/or irresponsibility, people actually died while engaging this technology. There’s a reason Tesla is now under the gun from NHTSA for this despicable behavior, and as I have stated before, I expect the company to pay a heavy price – running into the billions of dollars – for operating with the integrity of a scofflaw.  

So again, reading that some Tesla employees found amusement in eavesdropping on the personal lives of its customers through the onboard camera systems on Teslas is no surprise. But I would like to point out that if, let’s say, a domestic automaker did anything even approaching this behavior, you can be sure that company would be hauled before Congress for a public whipping, humiliation and “consequences.” 

But there have never been any real consequences for Musk’s car company, and that’s the point here. The fact that Tesla has operated outside the bounds of respectability since Day One has been well-documented. It has accumulated a long list of incidents of corporate malfeasance, but it has managed to escape serious consequences because of a combination of Messianic fervor from Muskian devotees blind to the underlying bad behavior at work, to Wall Street-types who have consistently ignored the ugly realities being deployed by the company in order to hyper-inflate its stock price and capitalize on it. 

This car company is made in the image of one of its co-founders – someone who is decidedly lacking in character, someone who believes he is smarter than everyone else and needn’t be bothered with conforming to the “mundane” laws that guide mere mortals. In other words, it is a full-blown Muskian Nightmare. And it’s a pathetic commentary about where we are today in terms of this technological imperative that is consuming us on a daily basis. That we’ve probably reached the point of no return with all of it shouldn’t surprise anyone. 

(IT’S NOT VERY GOOD, IS IT? – 4/12) 

 

 

I should point out the other dimension to this whole charging thing and that is that there’s an attitude “out there” among the EV cognoscenti that suggests that consumers should be prepared to alter their thinking about road trips and get used to the idea of 20-minute – minimum – stops for recharging on the road. I’m sorry, but WTF? I don’t care what kind of EV charging “oasis” with shopping, entertainment, food, coffee and whatever other accoutrements associated with ideal road tripping is created, let me make this perfectly clear: consumers will not put up with 20-minute charging as a matter of course in their EV travels. The fact that there are prevailing thoughts among EV acolytes in this industry that this should somehow be acceptable and “the cost of EV ownership” is wrong-headed and flat-out dumb. I’ve said it before, and I will probably say it a thousand more times: Unless and until a consumer can pull off of a freeway and fully charge their EV in the same time it takes to fill up a current ICE vehicle with gasoline, then this whole “EV adoption” thing is going to be excruciatingly slow and play out over the next decade, not next week. 

(ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT. - 4/26) 

 

The darkness beckons at 3:00 a.m.
A cup or two or three to jump-start me
The news is weird, spinning like a top
On one side, sketchy optimism
On the other, the ugly reality
Believe your eyes, not the stories 

On the way to the EV Promised Land
The bumps and grinds and promises
Are getting to be a bit too much
The Future is starry bright, if we just hang on
But '24, '25, '26?
Who has that kind of time? 

Flying cars and IPOs
Takeovers in the search for more control
The bootlickers and the shallow men
Hankerin’ for another piece
Elbows out juggling empty lots
Something tells me we’ve lost the plot 

It’s all happening
Everything all the time 

The media goes on genuflectin’
Not even pretendin’
Why bother askin’ when no one’s watchin’?
The newly anointed King can do no wrong
Pay no attention to those flyin’ roofs
They’re just a blip on the way to sainthood 

The Sturm und Drang oozes
It’s the Swirling Maelstrom writ large
The chaos is the juice, or is the juice the chaos?
Pay no attention to that PR Man Behind the Curtain
The tongue is forked, the agenda is clear
And don’t kid yourself, the chips still set the tone 

The bad taste is palpable
The wait is long and debilitating
Even Godot has come and gone
But don’t worry, it won’t be long now
Wide-open promises, unlimited profits
Just don’t ask when or how 

It’s all happening
Everything all the time 

It’s all about the content, stupid
Leveraging everything that moves
There’s gold in them thar subscriptions
Revenue for the taking
Stop calling it a car company
It’s a tech company in the making 

Forget about Old School
There’s no future in old
The sooner we get with the program
And leave the past behind
The better off we’ll be
It’s as simple as a-b-c 

The Wall Street Willies call the shots
It’s all about what they’re gonna say and do
Thumbs up and the stock soars
Thumbs down and we told you so
What about the consumers?
As long as they’re payin’ their monthlies, who cares? 

It’s all happening
Everything all the time 

The prognosticators are having a field day
Making it up on the fly
Forget about tea leaves
Now it’s watching chip dust through an hour glass
Do they really know what’s coming?
Or are they just spewing by the by? 

We’ll get it all sorted out
Or so they say
But who is “they” anyway?
What have they ever done to deserve
More than a glance and a glimpse
As we ride on by? 

Batteries on the brain
Cheaper better faster
Smaller lighter longer
The ICE Era is over
Or sometime soon
It was a good long run, Baby 

It’s all happening
Everything all the time 

Too many promises
Too much optimism
Waiting for a trigger
So everything comes good
I’ve seen this movie before
It never ends well 

The hucksters have come out of the woodwork
New companies in name only
It’s gonna be great
Until the inevitable wreck
When there’s no “there” there
What did you expect? 

In the meantime, the dealers
Are hangin’ by a thread
This crisis is messin’ with their heads
They can’t sell what they don’t have
Empty lots, empty promises
Can we interest you in a ‘17 Lexus? 

The darkness hovers
Just as black at 5:00 a.m.
How can that be?
And what have we learned?
Nothing new, nothing much
It’s complicated 

It’s all happening
Everything all the time 

(IT’S ALL HAPPENING. – 5/3) 

 

So, at the end of this discussion a giant question remains. Is the car enthusiast thing becoming a lost cause? Are we forced to accept the sanitized version of “racing” called F1? And, while we’re at it, are we really going to slink off and wait for EVs to put us out of our collective misery once and for all? Are we all – collectively – going to join the go-along-to-get-along hordes being farmed over to EVs even though serious questions remain about the plundering of raw materials, the lack of a fundamental infrastructure and the substitution of one source of power (gasoline) for another (coal)? I don’t think so and not by a long shot, thankfully. It doesn’t hurt to take a step back and remember the following very important points: 

You have to love the car business. Well, let me rephrase that. Some of us immersed in this seething cauldron of runaway egos, shortsightedness, intermittent brilliance and, remarkably enough and against all odds, indomitable spirit, love this business. (Then again, when it comes right down to it, it depends on the day.) 

We love it for the unbridled creativity demonstrated by its True Believers, who keep stepping up to the plate and swinging for the fences. We love it for the relentless 24/7 churn – and associated weariness – that it entails (even though everyone complains about it, they wouldn’t have it any other way). 

We love it for the brief shining moments when an exceptional design or product advancement emerges to remind us all of what turned us on about the business in the first place, even though those moments are fleeting, at best. 

But then again and truth be told, we love to loathe it too. It can’t be helped. We despise the carpetbagging mercenaries who seem to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune moments to wreak havoc on this business. Oh, you know who I’m referring to, several of whom were even present and accounted for in Miami over the weekend. We cringe at the legions of spineless weasels that populate almost every corner of this business and the dutiful, sniveling minions who project a positive demeanor but who wallow in serial, abject mediocrity at every turn. That part of the business is always depressing and tedious, there’s no doubt. 

But yet, we press on. And for good reason too. 

Yes, the overhyped, overblown and overrated aspects of this business, which we loathe, aren’t going away any time soon. But fortunately, the fundamental enthusiasm displayed by the True Believers and everyday enthusiasts alike who still like – make that love – everything to do with the automobile isn’t going away any time soon, either. 

Thank goodness. 

(F1’S “GREED CIRCUS” WRIT LARGE, AND OTHER HIGH-OCTANE TRUTHS. – 5/10) 

 

Let’s just call it for what it is: Hosing on Demand. Wading into this swirling maelstrom – three years too late and woefully out of touch with consumer perspectives per usual – comes the automobile industry, whose collective “Big Idea” to accelerate future profitability is to monetize just about everything that moves in your vehicle. Want heated seats? It’ll cost ya. Want a heated steering wheel? It’ll cost ya. Want advanced connectivity and the latest access to entertainment, mapping and communication? It’ll cost ya. Want your advanced performance and safety systems to be engaged and ready? Well, let’s see, that’s a package that will definitely cost ya – every damn month.  

(HOSING ON DEMAND. – 5/17) 

 

As most longtime readers know, I have gradually become even more aggravated with the state of the so-called car "thing" as it exists today. It's clear that the car enthusiast culture – or what's left of it – has been overrun by con artists, clueless marketing twerps, greed merchants, poseurs and too many (but not all) in the media who display more go-along-to-get-along, "Thank you sir, may I have another" cheerleading than your average SEC school. Where is it all going? Nowhere good, I'm afraid.  Right this minute there are shiny happy auto marketing troops gathering out in Pebble Beach, patting themselves on the back that they're present and accounted for at Monterey Car Week, even though the research gleaned and goodwill bestowed to prospects amounts to a giant bowl of Not So Much. As for the few brighter lights at the car companies who realize that the million-dollar bills they accrue at Pebble Beach really don't add up to much of anything quantifiable, they're unfortunately offset by the marketers who are whining because they aren't there and who can't wait to get out there next year. So, it seems that the cycle will continue.   

(SWINGING DICKISM WRIT LARGE: WELCOME TO MONTEREY CAR WEEK. – 8/16) 

 

 

So, let me get right to it. The High-Octane Truth about the strike is that it doesn’t really matter what the “percentage” of the wage increase negotiated by the UAW is. And it doesn’t really matter what COLA allowances are determined, or what any of the other various demands are that Fain is making.  Why? Because Detroit, as we know it or knew it – is dead. The automakers based here are operating on a crushing cost deficit to competitors like Tesla, as well as the Korean, Chinese and Japanese manufacturers. And that deficit will not shrink with this next labor contract. Instead, it will grow larger. The collective Detroit-based manufacturers are going to be saddled with per-hour labor costs that will make them even less competitive, at a crucial time in the industry when the alleged “Grand Transition” to EVs is supposed to be picking up steam and sucking every bit of cash that the auto companies can muster.  

None of this makes me happy in the least. The thought of that Unctuous Prick in Chief – the Muskian Nightmare himself – lapping up more market share makes my skin crawl. And watching this industry, which has dominated this region and been part of the industrial fabric of this nation for 125 years, become marginalized is excruciatingly painful to me.  

Where is it going? The car companies based here are going to have to rely on making excellent ICE vehicles for many, many years to come in order to survive, while they launch BEVs in fits and starts. I predicted that the “Grand Transition” would be fraught with peril for the automakers based in this region. That is the ugly reality, and I wish it wasn’t the case, but it’s the High-Octane Truth.  

(THINGS TO DO IN DETROIT WHEN YOU’RE DEAD. – 9/20) 

 

Is all of this sustainable for Jeep? Nine consecutive down quarters suggests that it isn’t. I have seen flat-out greed consume auto manufacturers over the years, and the formula is always the same, which goes something like this: Initial success x an over-optimistic expansion of a brand xwildly aggressive pricing = diminishment of a brand and ultimately, certain market disaster. Jeep finds itself in the crosshairs of a bad situation caused completely by its own flat-out greed. If Jeep operatives aren’t careful – and don’t wake up and change course – they won’t be able to extricate themselves from this downward spiral.  

(FLAT-OUT GREED THREATENS TO DERAIL AN ICONIC AMERICAN BRAND. – 10/11) 

 

But wait, there’s more stupid to discuss. The current marketing of pickup trucks seems to thrive on stupidity. Take the words “tough,” “adventure,” “America” and “American Built” along with some other go-to words, put them all in the Giant Advertising Cliché Hopper and voila! – a new truck commercial emerges. Is this bad? I’m not sure if "bad" is the right adjective in this case. It’s expected, predictable, formulaic, rote and unimaginative. It’s also a study in abject mediocrity. I’ve often wondered – and this goes for all three of the domestic-based truck manufacturers plus Toyota - why these manufacturers continue to show their trucks blithely pounding the off-road landscape into submission. I guess that the hoary notion of “tread lightly” is no longer a thing. Instead, these manufacturers show their trucks engaging in stupid off-road behavior every chance they get. I understand the fact that off-road "cred" is the thing nowadays when pushing trucks and SUVs, but it grew tedious years ago, and it seems to be getting worse and more pronounced with each new commercial. To what end, exactly?  

(THE AUTOEXTREMIST STUPID METER, PART I. – 12/6) 

 

Speaking of stupidity, we can't close out the year without mentioning a particularly stupid move - so stupid, in fact, that we've decided to create an all-new award for it. The AE Award for Peak Stupidity 2023 goes to GM for their decision to drop Apple CarPlay from their vehicles in favor of GM's proprietary infotainment system. This bone-headed move, first reported way back in the spring, resulted in a swift and deserving backlash. As usual, the company bumbled and stumbled through their reasons for doing this, mostly recently landing on "safety" as their justification. Let's call it what it is - a shameless and brazen money grab - not to mention a gigantic data grab. GM has gone on record saying it anticipates earning $25 Billion - with a "B" - from subscriptions by 2030. So it's money, money, money - and data, data, data, pure and simple. There are now legions of people who will cross GM off their shopping lists forever. This has disaster written all over it for GM, and it's unmitigated bullshit to boot. (Is it just me, or does it seem like peak stupidity is not only "having a moment" - it has basically become standard operating procedure in the auto biz? -WG)

 

So, we’ve come to the end of another year of Autoextremist.com. Creating content for this website can be exhilarating, debilitating, depressing and yes, even flat-out fun at times. Or all of the above, all on the same day. I learned early on that the reality of doing this website means that, if I write something people agree with, I’m a hero. If I write something that people disagree with, I’m an asshole. Such is life when you’re a national commentator who is expected to offer up a new column every week.  

Not that I’m complaining – actually, far from it. People who knew me before AE know that I’m exactly the way I was way back when. Someone who was gifted a living, breathing history of this business, and who was willing to offer commentary and perspectives that others would either shy away from or wouldn’t think of verbalizing out loud. And someone who never ever suffered fools, gladly or otherwise.  

I still get excited about the best things that define this business: The creativity by all of the talented men and women involved in the actual designing of vehicles inside and out. It’s a true art form, and there is nothing, and I mean, nothing more breathtaking than taking a walk through a design studio and experiencing the brilliant work on display. It gives you a feeling of hope for The Future that’s difficult to put into words, even for me. 

And then there’s the feeling from a vehicle that has been developed, nurtured and polished to a high degree in every facet of the game. Superb steering, confident braking, remarkable cornering, and, of course, responsive engine and transmission performance. Wheeling a remarkable machine bristling with those qualities never gets old – in fact, if you haven’t experienced it in a while you owe it to yourself to get behind the wheel and have at it. It’s reaffirming. And if it isn’t, maybe it’s time to engage in a different pursuit. 

Yes, I still find the business exciting, but I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that some parts of this business piss me off more than ever. Serial incompetence is still rampant in this business. Classic mistakes are not only still being made, they’re being repeated by executives and organizations that should know better. It’s a weird Auto Twilight Zone where what came before never happened and where every day is a new day. Sometimes it seems that there has been no accrued knowledge of any sort, and we’re being forced to witness a slow-rolling train wreck that could have easily been avoided.  

Yes, this inexorable automotive march continues. To where, no one really knows for sure. The EV thing is definitely coming, and it will still be coming fifteen years from now. Make no mistake, the developments in battery technology, weight reduction and charging speed are unfolding at a furious pace, and the seemingly insurmountable problems of today will give way to radical solutions in ten years. But that means that the ICE Reality will continue unabated for a long time to come, and as I’ve stated repeatedly, that is a very good thing as far as I’m concerned.  

Where does all of this leave AE? Autoextremist.com has sharpened my focus and my thoughts even more, and helped me realize that there are no free rides or guarantees in life. I am lucky in that I found something in Autoextremist.com that has kept me motivated and sharp for going on 25 years. And I truly appreciate the fact that I have it, because despite all of the negatives going on in this business today, I still believe in the essence of the automobile.  

Yes, the 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 still 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.  

And finally, in case you're wondering, I’m still hungry. I still want more from this business because I believe it is always capable of more. We’re on the precipice of monster changes in this industry, and I expect that some legacy companies will not exist in their current form within five years. Again, constant change is the nature of the game.  

And I still believe in the True Believers. I believe in their vision, their dedication and their endless capacity to dream of what could be, because without them this business would cease being viable. 

We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved here, and extremely thankful for the support, for the kind words and for all of the True Believers we’ve met along the way.

It has been all-encompassing. It has been tough. And it has been, at times, soul-sucking exhausting. But if I had a do-over, I would do it all over again. Because even though it has been a relentless grind, I am very proud to say that we’ve made a difference and we’ve made a lasting impact. We set out to influence the influencers in this business, and that is exactly what we did and will continue to do. It has been one glorious ride. 

WordGirl and I thank you for listening and, as always, thanks for reading. We wish the best to you and yours for this Holiday Season and a Happy and Peaceful New Year. We will see you back here on January 10, 2024. 

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for 2023. 

 

 

 


Editor's Note: Click on "Next 1 Entries" at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. - WG



THE AUTOEXTREMIST STUPID METER, PART II.
by Editor
11 Dec 2023 at 11:37am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter delivers another searing installment of the Autoextremist Stupid Meter. In On The Table, we take a look at the new Mercedes-AMG SL 63 S E PERFORMANCE. And our AE Song of the Week is "Holiday Road" by Lindsey Buckingham. In Fumes, we're re-running the final chapter in Peter's series about Jim Hall's Chaparral Cars racing team, and we've included links to the entire series in case you missed an issue! And finally, in The Line, we preview IMSA's Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) classes in 2024, and we take a look at Proton Competition’s Porsche 963 now that Mustang Sampling is returning to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2024. Enjoy! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. It was another interesting week here at AE World Headquarters (Interesting? That’s one way of putting it. -WG), with the unveiling of the Autoextremist Stupid Meter causing much consternation and hand-wringing throughout the land. It seems that a lot of people were in deep agreement with the premise that these leviathan trucks and SUVs masquerading as daily drivers are peak stupidity, and cringe when encountering them in their day-to-day travels.  

Another dimension to this phenomenon that I failed to mention last week is the aggression displayed by too many of the drivers manning these land yachts. I don’t know what’s triggering it exactly, but I’ve noticed that a high percentage of these drivers engage in egregiously stupid maneuvers, seeming to say, “As a matter of fact, I do own the frickin’ road.” That it’s not a good look is obvious; that I’ve witnessed too many risky, flat-out dangerous moves is simply unacceptable.  

Am I painting with too broad of a brush? No, because I’m clearly not lumping all truck and SUV drivers in this category. It’s just a development on our streets and byways that can’t be ignored.  

And then we heard from the faction that I describe as “The Cold Dead Hands Posse.” As in, “I will drive whatever the hell I want and no one’s going to tell me otherwise.” And we can relate to that sentiment, because we’ve said from the beginning of AE that people should drive what they like and like what they drive. And we still stand by that. But commenting on the descent into stupidity that I’m seeing on the roads was bound to spark comments from both sides of the issue, and I not only expected it but, going on 25 years here, I am used to it by now.   

Needless to say, I would love to see a burgeoning streak of rational thought creep into people’s car buying decisions. Do you really need a giant “show pony” 6,000-lb. pickup as a daily driver, just to pick up a few bags of mulch in the spring and do assorted other tasks throughout the year that could be accomplished in a more normal-sized vehicle? No, you don’t, but again, who am I kidding? We’re going to continue down this road until there’s a major “adjustment” in the market, unfortunately. That could happen with a significant, unexpected financial disruption to the economy, or some sort of world-altering event that would change everything. I want neither of those things to happen, but a few smarter vehicle choices would indeed be welcome. 

One more thing as far as these Peak Stupidity times we’re living in. I have beat on this drum for years now, but car and truck pricing and the lack of affordability has reached the critical stage. For the people who can afford to spend $100,000-plus on a vehicle without thinking about it, I’m sure they might be dismissive of the following conversation as irrelevant to their circle of concern. But that would be a mistake, because the lack of affordability in our vehicles should be everyone’s concern.  

As I’ve stated several times before, I consider the Ford Maverick to be the most significant vehicle that Ford has brought to market in the last five years. No, not the Mach-E or Lightning EVs, or even the new Mustang (which is sweet, by the way), but the Maverick. Why? Because of its basic affordability. The standard Maverick XL has a starting price of $23,400, and yes, of course it goes up from there, but I continue to applaud Ford for bringing this vehicle to market, even though they have under-produced it since its introduction. 

So, I decided to go to the Ford website and price out a 2024 Ford Maverick pickup. I chose the XLT with the 2.5-liter hybrid, which starts at $27,815. To that I added the XLT Luxury Package, which includes: 8-way Power Driver and 6-Way manual passenger seats; 400W/110V Inverter (Cab Outlet with USB in Rear Console + Bed Outlet); Full-Size Spare; Heated Mirror with Body-color Skull Caps; Heated Seats; Soft-Vinyl Wrapped Heated Steering Wheel; LED Box Lighting; Remote Start System; Trailer Hitch with 4-Pin Connector and Modular Hard Drop-in Bedliner. This adds $2275 to the price. I then added the Hard Trifold Tonneau Pickup Box Cover for $1180.  

Is that it? Yes, except for the $1595 destination charges and the $645 Acquisition fee, which brings the grand total to $33,510. Even though that’s a far cry from the base price, I still think it’s reasonable. (I could have started with the Lariat with the hybrid, but that starts at $34,135.) 

Why do this exercise? Because, short of shopping the many models offered by Honda, Kia, Hyundai and Chevrolet (Trax), the average buyer’s choices for affordable new vehicles are severely limited.  

This is stupid. And it’s not sustainable.  

I keep excoriating the domestic-based manufacturers to wake up in this regard, but I’m not seeing any signs of it. Ford needs to build more Mavericks, but they seem incapable or unwilling to do it. Chevrolet needs to offer a price leader Colorado that still has a modicum of desirable equipment, but there’s nothing in the works. And GM CEO Mary Barra has promised a new Chevrolet Bolt for 2025 with built-in Ultium EV technology, which is great news, but what would be even better news is if this upcoming advanced technology Bolt was priced at or below the price of the 2023 Bolt. I won’t hold my breath.

The fact that our domestic automakers are basically ignoring this affordability issue is not only monumentally stupid, it will bite them in the ass over the long haul. Buyers will simply stop shopping these domestic automakers and wander away to other manufacturers for their transportation needs. And this just in: They won’t be back. 

The AE Stupid Meter is pretty unforgiving. People involved in this industry need to wake up and start actively doing something about these issues, and quick. 

The clock is ticking. 

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


Editor's Note: Click on "Next 1 Entries" at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. - WG




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