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The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

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

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

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


SELLING AIR.
by Editor
14 Sep 2020 at 10:10am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. It is becoming readily apparent that the denizens of Silicon Valley who covet becoming players in the automobile business all have a distinguishable – albeit fatal – flaw. They firmly believe that their brilliance will overcome all obstacles, that their mental acuity and visual clarity lies just beyond us mere mortals, and that the sheer force of their will guarantees a level of success only dreamed about by countless other automotive dreamers that came before them.

I have, of course, seen this before. The “Smartest Guy (or Gal) In the Room” syndrome is not only alive and well in this business, it’s thriving. From Detroit to auto centers around the globe, it’s a particular affliction that churns and burns white hot. The most acute level of this syndrome rises to “Unctuous Prick” status, a stratum reserved for such luminaries as Sergio, “Captain Queeg” Akerson and St. Elon. But there’s a whole new cadre of future alumni of Unctuous Prick University emerging – some practicing right here in the Motor City – and unremarkably enough, they’re finding purchase in Silicon Valley.

The latest spear carrier for the “Smokin’ UPs” is one Peter Rawlinson, the ex-Tesla operative who is now CEO of Lucid Air, a startup BEV company that’s promising to be the auto industry’s next world beater by offering a seductive combination of performance, range and pure unadulterated brilliance sure to humble every other car company around the world.

To say that a giant, unending reserve of hubris is part and parcel of the new UP mindset goes without saying (and we can all thank St. Elon for unleashing that “holier than thou” mindset on this business). But what Lucid is promising is purposely designed to make mere mortal car companies cower in fear, that to keep continuing down their desultory path will be futile, tragic and ultimately unrewarding. 

What is Lucid boasting? A new $700 million factory in Arizona where it will build the Air Dream Edition, the ultra-luxury launch sedan that promises to be an engineering tour de force. It claims to deliver over 1000HP, a zero-to-60 mph time of around 2.5 seconds and an eye-popping range of 517 miles on a single charge. But that’s not all. Lucid is saying that the Air Dream Edition’s 900-volt electrical system can be charged at the rate of 20 miles per minute. Needless to say, these are all benchmark numbers, at least on paper.

Lucid is promising that the Air Dream Edition is jam-packed with a level of technology that no one in this business has ever seen or thought of before. But then again, this is also consistent with the UP/Silicon Valley mindset: if they didn’t think of it then it can’t possibly have existed before, or anywhere else for that matter. Remember, their vision is absolute, their brilliance is unquestioned, and the rest of us will have to be content with living on the crumbs of their residual thoughts. 

And how will these super BEVs reach the public? Lucid plans around 20 “studios” and an online presence where the eager populace will be allowed to investigate becoming a part of the sure-to-be “Lucid Cult” whereupon all rational thought is abandoned by the eager early adopters so that they can bathe in the glow of Lucid’s brilliance.

But the future Lucid-worshipers are going to be paying a heavy price for the chance to be in “the club.” And even though the following numbers are projections and should be taken with a tour of the vast underground salt mines in southeast Michigan, they expose the UP mindset to a tee: We can charge through the nose, because bathing in this kind of unbridled brilliance and traveling on this rarefied road comes with a substantial toll. After all, not just anyone can be a part of “the club,” and if you want to the be first on the block to have a Lucid, it will cost you, dearly. 

And this is underscored by the fact that the Lucid Air Dream Edition – scheduled to arrive next spring – is projected to cost $169,000. The Air Grand Touring, due to arrive next summer, will cost $139,000. The Air Touring – at $87,500 – is slated to arrive one year from now. The plain old Air is promised for some time in 2022, at $80,000. (It’s funny, but the “standard” Air being two years away is telling: I predict it won’t appear – if it appears at all – before 2024.)

Needless to say, I remain heavily skeptical on the timing of the Lucid product cadence, because it’s based on the specious notion that absolutely nothing will go wrong, that the countless engineering details will unfold without problems, and that getting the production process off of the ground flawlessly will be a fait accompli. As anyone in this business knows, it rarely happens that way – as in never. There will be a long list of unforeseen issues and major problems to deal with, and if the launch date of the Air Grand Touring slips, I will not be surprised in the least.

None of this Lucid business – or even its existence – is guaranteed, of course, much to the chagrin of the shills who are already beating the drum on Lucid’s behalf. Because being The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread remains a fleeting reality in this business. One moment you’re The Future, the next moment you’re an afterthought, and the fall can take place in the proverbial blink of an eye.

It’s ironic, because “Selling Air” has been a time-honored tradition in this business, especially with marketers here in the Motor City. It’s a tradition that suggests that when you don’t have anything to sell, you make it up as you go along, which is where the concept of “Selling Air” came from in the first place.

In Lucid’s case, even though “Selling Air” takes on an entirely new dimension, the time-honored realities that have vexed this business for well over a century are bound to raise their ugly heads.

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


WHAT A BEAUTIFUL WORLD IT WILL BE.
by Editor
9 Sep 2020 at 8:28am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Emerging from the Labor Daze, I am reminded of Donald Fagen’s words in “I.G.Y.” (see this week’s “On The Table” -WG):

“What a beautiful world this will be, what a glorious time to be free…“ 

Mr. Fagen’s idyllic musings from 1982 were remarkably upbeat, a vision of the future punctuated by hope. A few years ago, I envisioned the future as well – in 2030 – and it looked something like this:

I stepped out into the darkness, wandering around in a world that looked, well, remarkably as it looks today. I noticed a few stray autonomous vehicles doing their rote routines, with their blue LEDs indicating what they were. But they were – not surprisingly – insignificant, part of the thrum of a new reality, but only a bit part.

And as the darkness lightened slightly, I started to see the ebb and flow of traffic on Woodward Avenue. Some avant-garde designs were noticeable – aero shapes punctuated by their wildly diverse lighting systems – but they were clearly full-zoot luxury machines. Other cars were decidedly less adventurous, a mix of small- to medium-sized conveyances that really didn’t look all that much different from today. And yes, the traffic flow was dominated by SUV-like vehicles still, the American consumer having long ago abandoned any thought of going back to a typical passenger car.

The sounds were diverse too. A mix of BEV whine, hybrids and yes, full-on ICE machines as well. It was obvious that the prognostications of a complete transition to BEVs were dead wrong. The “grand transformation” was clearly a work in progress, with scores of people happily clinging to their piston-powered vehicles for two reasons: cost and the freedom of movement with no limitations. I did notice that as I walked past the local Speedway gas station/convenience store, a row of quick charging stations for BEVs had been added. They were empty now, but the gas pumps were already busy…

Has my vision changed? Only slightly. It’s clear now that the push to electrification is picking up speed, whether we’re ready for it or not. But if I see one more future electric vehicle from a manufacturer smoking tires or blasting down a drag strip I’m going to puke. I get it, with instant torque and a lot of power you can go crazy, but in reality, it’s apropos of nothing.

I see manufacturers going back to the old playbook that goes something like this: In order to get people to adapt to the coming electric future you first have to capture the hearts and minds of enthusiasts by demonstrating flashy performance numbers and compelling visuals. You know, sell the sizzle before real-world consumers get to the point of “How much is that a month?” But I don’t think that’s going to work like it did in the old days. Smokey burnouts have nothing to do with the performance of electric vehicles in bitter cold for instance, when the efficacy of real-world battery performance comes into play.

What really matters is range – still – convenience and speed of charging, a comprehensive infrastructure that works, and, of course, price. As a driving enthusiast, the high-performance aspect of electric vehicles is somewhat intriguing and entertaining but let me emphasize that word somewhat. It’s the day-to-day performance of electric vehicles in the real world that will determine the wide-based adaptation of them. 

As for the supposition that consumers will happily charge their electric vehicles at home and it will all be good? Yes, that may be true for a lot of people but it’s only part of the equation. Convenience and speed of charging on the road will be a major factor. And when it comes to infrastructure, what about consumers living in apartments who don’t have access to convenient power? That’s when the ability to go up to the local Choke ‘n Coke and get juice for the daily commute – with speed – comes into play.

But then again, the reality of the COVID-19 world we live in now and hopefully the post-COVID-19 world we will eventually enjoy is that it’s all different. GM just announced that it doesn’t plan on having salaried employees physically present until next July. Yes, you read that correctly, next July. I mean, what the hell? To say that everything is different now doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Talk to enough people and you discover that working remotely has become a strain. People are beginning to discover that the constant thrum of Zoom calls hangs over daily life with a din that never stops. And some are missing the personal interaction and the feeling of being present other than on a screen with your slippers on. (Not for PMD, of course. He has been working remotely since 1999. Only I call it for what it is: reclusive. -WG). 

Will it ever get back to people being present in an office? Without a proven vaccine, I just don’t see that happening. So, we’re in this for the foreseeable future. And speaking of The Future, I prefer to share in Mr. Fagen’s optimism. We will get through this and we will come out on the other side smarter and better. To dwell in The Land of the Crestfallen any more than we have to seems like a giant waste of time and energy.

What a beautiful world it will be, indeed.

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


FU-KING MOTORS: FUTURE PRODUCT PIPELINE.
by Editor
1 Sep 2020 at 1:46pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Our colleagues over at Automotive News have a recurring feature called “Future Product Pipeline,” in which they dissect and interpret the future product offerings from all of the auto manufacturers – import and domestic – selling vehicles here in the U.S. We enjoy reading these stories if only because we imagine the assignment requires ferreting out legitimate information through the smokescreen of disinformation offered by the manufacturers. We’re quite certain that some of the projected product entries several years out amount to pure conjecture with a large dollop of wishful thinking and flat-out fantasy on the part of the manufacturers thrown in for good measure.

At any rate, since this seems to be the season to forecast future products, I thought it might be a good idea to see what my friends at Fu-King Motors are up to. We last had an update with Mr. James “Jimmy” Fu (now 72) and Mr. S. L. “Sonny” King last April 1, in the memorable AE interview with “Al Cantara.” 

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

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

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

As for the Future Product Pipeline for Fu-King Motors, I have pieced together some salient details, although it took three, lengthy, Basil-Hayden-fueled Zoom calls to do so. With much yelling – always the yelling – and the incessant disco pop playing LOUDLY in the background.

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

2020 (2nd Half): To quote Sonny: “Forget the 2nd Half, 2020 is over.”

2021 (1st Half): The long-awaited debut of the Fu-King Gargantuan, the six-wheeled, all-electric SUV is designed to humiliate the new Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, the upcoming all-electric Hummer and “anything Ford has up its sleeve to counteract the Dodge,” according to Jimmy. Flaunting some incredible numbers: 2000HP; 7000 lbs., electric step ladders (“not steps, ladders,” Jimmy insists) and “a look that will humiliate all that other crap out there,” added Sonny. When I asked about the price, Jimmy and Sonny answered in unison: “Enough to make grown men cry!” 

2021 (2nd Half): Another unexpected debut: The Fu-King Motors KickBoxer. This is the boys’ answer to the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco with “unequaled” off-road performance. Boasting a carbon-fiber unibody and a kaleidoscope of different versions, including a pickup and one cryptically referred to as the “RumRunner Edition” (“it can conceal forty gallons of Bourbon!” Sonny chimed in), the KickBoxer will be powered by an all-aluminum, 2.0-liter, fuel-injected, Twin-Turbo, flat eight-cylinder motor that delivers 600HP. When asked if this could possibly be construed as overkill, Sonny quickly replied: “We will introduce our competitors to the concept of getting their asses kicked!” 

2022 (1st Half): The all-electric semi-truck that looks eerily like the Bison advanced long-haul trucking concept that GM Styling created for the 1964 World’s Fair is a definite go for late in the 1st Quarter. When I was shown photos of the concept, I thought they had resurrected the designers who did the original Bison it looks so close to the original (see below). But this truck will be a hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric heavy truck with a range of “700+ miles,” according to Sonny. The name? “Convoy.” (It seems that Jimmy and Sonny are huge fans of the original “Smokey and The Bandit” movie and the whole C.B. radio era in the U.S.)


(GM)

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

2022 (2nd Half): It’s clear that the development of the Fu-King Motors supercar has been fraught with problems from the beginning. That it has taken its toll on Jimmy and Sonny is obvious, as whenever I mention it their usual exuberant dispositions turn decidedly glum. First envisioned as a high-performance, hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric hypercar, the machine - code named “Bandini” - has been reimagined as a BEV aimed squarely at Gordon Murray’s T.50. Said to have 1+1 seating and a curb weight of 1900 lbs., Jimmy and Sunny are mum on any further information, which is unusual for them, although I know they’re constantly bickering about the details. Which means you can bet that the 2022 time frame is not even close to happening.

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

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

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


THE FLYING CAMARO.
by Editor
24 Aug 2020 at 11:04am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Editor’s Note: That Peter has lived a charmed and at times crazy automotive life is an understatement. The son of Tony DeLorenzo, the legendary GM PR chief who ruled from 1957 to 1979 – GM’s glory days – Peter was exposed to the business – and the legends of the business – from a young age. As he likes to say, “The legends that you read about in books today were either hanging out in our driveway or interacting with our family all the time.” People like Bunkie Knudsen, Ed Cole, Bill Mitchell and Zora Arkus-Duntov, just to name a few, and there were countless others as well. But that is just one dimension to Peter’s automotive life. Even though he was a little hesitant to do so two weeks in a row, today he recounts another one of his favorite stories from the formative years that made The Autoextremist what he is today. - WG

 

Detroit. To say that the ‘50s and ‘60s were a different era in automotive history is not painting a proper picture of just how different it was. Detroit was much more of a freewheeling mindset back then. Car executives were bold, decisive, conniving, creative and power-hungry personalities who inevitably went with their gut instincts – which could end up being either a recipe for disaster or a huge runaway sales hit on the streets. The only committees you'd find back then were the finance committees – and they never got near the design, engineering, marketing or even the advertising unless there was some sort of a problem. These Car Kings worked flat-out and they partied flat-out, too, ruling their fiefdoms with iron fists, while wielding their power ruthlessly at times to get what they wanted – and rightly so in their minds – as they were some of the most powerful business executives on earth. In short, it was a world that was 180 degrees different from what goes on today.

Growing up immersed in this business was indeed surreal, but even back then I realized that I had been dropped in an alternative universe – an automotive nirvana punctuated by V8s, open pipes, flashes of chrome and the hottest cars of the era. We reveled in it and made the most of every moment, whether it was me riding shotgun with my brother as he – ahem – was teaching himself how to drive fast, or me going for rides with Bill Mitchell in one of the latest GM Styling concepts – including the ’59 Corvette Sting Ray racer, to this day my all-time favorite car – to the times when I started getting behind the wheel myself.

We had borrowed an early production ‘66 Shelby GT 350 Mustang from Ford PR one weekend (GM and Ford PR swapped cars all the time back then – yeah, I know, talk about a different time and a different era), and my brother Tony decided it was time for me to start learning how to drive – and drive a stick at the same time – and the Shelby Mustang seemed like the perfect vehicle to accomplish that. So, we went to an empty shopping center parking lot, plotted out a course, and I drove for a good hour, getting more proficient by the minute. Needless to say, I absolutely loved it. The only problem was that I was a good eighteen months from being able to get my learning permit, and once I started driving, I. Could. Not. Stop.

Because of my parents’ GM travel schedules – they were away a lot – I found the cars sitting in the garage unattended to be too much of a temptation. Why not take them out for a few minutes? What could possibly go wrong? My favorite was an Electric Blue ‘67 Camaro SS coupe that my oldest sister had at the time. Even though it was an automatic, I found it to be quite entertaining, and I started taking it out all the time. 

Now, given that I had been riding shotgun with my brother in countless exploits, I decided that I would set out on my own course of high-speed learning. And my absolute favorite thing to do was to take the Camaro out at night, especially during and after a fresh snowfall, so I could drift around corners in our neighborhood. What made it even better was that our little suburban enclave was patrolled by only two cops (one each shift), and since we referred to them as our “Barney Fifes” we knew their habits and their schedules better than they did, and you can guess what the likelihood of ever getting caught was. But, of course, those nighttime adventures weren’t enough, so, I started driving matter-of-factly, as if I already had my license. And I got bolder and bolder. My nighttime drifting exploits transitioned to me searching out construction sites for new neighborhoods during the day, because the roads were already laid out and paved, and there was usually no one around, a tactic my brother pioneered. 

I found one neighborhood development in particular to be most tantalizing. If I turned off the main road, I could accelerate up to a sweeping, uphill left-hander and drift through it with the power on – in the dry, at almost 50 mph – and safely get through it. I did it several times and regaled my buddies about it. So, one day, as we were waiting for another interminable school day to end, one of my buddies said, “Hey, I want to see this ‘track’ you’ve been racing on. Why don’t we follow you so we can see you take the corner?” Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, so, why the hell not? So as soon as school let out, I went home and got the Camaro out and I proceeded to my private race track with two carloads of my buddies in tow. 

As you can probably imagine, things didn’t work out as planned (No? We are shocked. -WG). I went barreling into the turn faster than I ever had before, because I was determined to put on a show for my friends. I was flying, all pumped up with teenage adrenaline, only to discover as I turned into the apex of the corner that a truck had pulled out of the construction site only moments before, leaving deep tire tracks of mud all over the road. 

You can imagine what happened next.

My painful lesson in “zero grip” was about to unfold as the Camaro instantly washed out to the right, sending me off the road. And before I could do anything, I was staring at a four-foot high (at least) and twelve-foot wide mound of dirt with nowhere to go. I hit it square-on (fortunately), and I was launched into the air. It was one of those “hello sky” moments as I got a brief look at the cloudy afternoon horizon punctuated by an eerie silence, before the Camaro landed with a massive thud on the other side. To hear my buddies tell it, all they recall seeing was the bottom of the Camaro as it disappeared over the dirt pile. The car, amazingly enough, was only slightly damaged, with the front valance crushed and the left rear corner slightly banged up. Although I was highly embarrassed, my buddies thought it was the coolest thing ever, and we managed to convince a construction guy to help us pull the Camaro out of the mud with a rope.

The story gets even more surreal from there. I called Tony, told him what happened, and we hatched a plan to take the Camaro down to Hanley Dawson Chevrolet to get it fixed before my sister came home from out of town. The dealership did a terrific job, but it wasn’t ready by the time my sister got home, so we made up some story about an oil leak that needed to be fixed, and we brought the Camaro home two days later.

But, of course, my sister wasn’t fooled. She knew something wasn’t right, especially given the fact that the two of us were involved. But she wasn’t able to determine exactly what was wrong with our story. It was only later that we realized that the body shop put the wrong front valance panel on the car. Her Camaro had hideaway headlights. The valance panel was for a Camaro with fixed headlights. She never noticed and we never said a word.

It is just one of those stories that never gets old retelling, and the “Flying Camaro” will always be a memorable part of me. 

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


FAST TIMES IN HOT CARS.
by Editor
18 Aug 2020 at 11:41am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. Creating the content for this Internet magazine every week can be a grind, as our readers well know. But it can also be pretty exhilarating at times too. Especially when I bring up remembrances of fast times in hot cars. I have regaled our AE readers with many of those stories from along the way, but the beauty of it all is that I never seem to run out of ‘em, even after 21 years.

Even though I had my own adventures with my blistering fast go-kart – the infamous “Orange Juicer Mk I” – that’s not how it all started. To say we had the opportunity to experience a charmed automotive life growing up is an understatement. My father, Tony, was leader of GM Public Relations in the company's heyday, from 1957 to 1979, so many of the GM legends you've only read about - Ed Cole, Bunkie Knudsen, Zora Duntov and Bill Mitchell - just to name a very few, weren't just historical figures, but they were living, breathing, larger-than-life figures who played a role in the cadence of our automotive lives. (You can read one of Peter's most-requested columns, about Bill Mitchell, here - WG) 

By the time my brother Tony got the automotive bug (he is eight years my senior), our household was crawling with the latest and fastest cars GM made. Bunkie Knudsen sent over a hot Pontiac for my mom to drive every summer, usually a red Bonneville or Catalina convertible with the highest horsepower drivetrain Pontiac offered at the time (at first 389’s with 3x2s, then a series of 421’s). Bill Mitchell customized a '63 Corvair for us that had the Turbo engine in it before it was even offered to the public (we, of course, immediately took it down to the Detroit Dragway to see what it would do). 

Ed Cole loaned us his personal driver one weekend, which was a '61 409 Chevy with a manual gearbox (how's that for an executive company car?). And then there were the Corvettes. My, oh my. There were so many I'm not sure I can recall them all, but suffice to say, the weekend Ed Cole sent over his personal driver for us to drive, which was a fuel-injected '63 Sting Ray Coupe in Sebring Silver - before the car was officially introduced - was one of many, many highlights.

But that's not all. Tony worked at Pontiac one summer - when the Pontiac Motor Division was actually in Pontiac - and discovered an interesting little black sports car in the executive garage. Lo and behold it was an early Shelby Cobra, so early in fact that it didn't have the side vents and it had the original Shelby Cobra emblem on the nose (pre-snake), and it was powered by the 260 cu. in. Ford V8. And it sat there week, after week, after week. Since John DeLorean was Pontiac's General Manager at the time - and another of GM's legends we were on a first-name basis with - Tony finally got up the nerve one day to send him a message through his secretary, asking if he could "borrow" the Cobra some weekend. And the answer came back, "sure." Needless to say, one weekend turned into damn-near every weekend that whole summer, and we ran the shit out of that magnificent Cobra, dusting everything in sight on Woodward Avenue and everywhere else too.

Tony's automotive bug started to turn toward sports car racing, and, well, we innocently asked "big" Tony if he could order a Corvette company car for the summer. As Tony says, "He made two errors: 1.) He agreed to do it and 2.) He let us order it!" And order it we did: A Black/Black 1964 Corvette Sting Ray Coupe with Heavy Duty finned drum brakes; Heavy Duty gearbox; knock-off aluminum wheels and radio delete. Little did our dad know that we planned to take it to SCCA Driver's School in Watkins Glen, New York, so Tony could get his SCCA license. So, the moment we got it we took the interior carpeting out, took the bumpers off, removed the spare tire carrier, and then we had a roll bar put in and we were good to go. Or so we thought. While Tony was sitting at his desk at Chevrolet Sales Promotion (his summer job) a few days later, the phone rang. This is how he remembers it:  

"Hello?" 

"Tony, this is Zora Duntov."  Yikes, it was the God of the Corvette calling. "Your father has ordered a heavy-duty Corvette. Who is going to drive it?"  

"Uh… He is?!!"  

Silence.  

"Who is going to drive it?"  

"Um, I am." 

“What are you going to do with it?”  

"Uhhh… I'm going to go to a SCCA driver’s school at Watkins Glen." 

“Ok.” 

And “God” hung up. But not before requesting that we drop the car off at Chevrolet Engineering in Warren so he could "take care of a few things." Two weeks later we went back to get the car, and Zora took us out to the little test track that sits inside the Tech Center. And there it was, it was the same Corvette but it sat lower and it was wearing the biggest Goodyear Blue Streak racing tires that could fit inside the fenders on the knock-off wheels. Zora also pointed out that the stock exhaust system underneath now had flanges just in front of the mufflers. Those flanges had been put on by Bill Mitchell's famous Styling Garage mechanic, Ken Eschebech, so that once we got to Watkins Glen, we could attach 4' long straight pipes designed to hang on special hangers, so that they would shoot straight out the back. Because, well, you can't run a Driver's School at Watkins Glen with standard mufflers, right? Zora was a genius.

But those changes were just the tip of the iceberg. The car had been completely gone through, including the brakes, the suspension and sure enough, the engine. In retrospect, we were convinced that Zora had yanked the engine and thoroughly went through it and tweaked it, because the thing was a rocket. 

That trip to Watkins Glen was an adventure unto itself. We arrived very late one night at the rustic Glen Motor Inn, and the proprietor - the one and only Vic Franzese - checked us in, but not before he could show us his beautiful Lotus 11 in the motel garage. The school went exceptionally well for Tony; at one point the Chief Instructor went to ride a couple of laps with him and emerged muttering something like "he's doesn't need any more instruction" - and that was the beginning of his racing journey. The return trip was eventful, too, as we were so tired by the end of the weekend that we said, "screw it" and left the straight pipes on, rattling hearts and bones all the way back to Detroit. 

There's more. It was getting toward the end of that summer, when dad informed us that the car had to go back to Chevrolet to be put back into stock condition (he had discovered that the “stock” Sting Ray didn’t appear to be “stock” anymore). It turns out that our oldest sister's boyfriend at the time, who lived in Chicago, had expressed interest in buying the car. We took the roll bar out, piled the stock components in it and voila! It returned two weeks later as if none of it happened, with dad saying: “When that car comes back to the house, don’t touch it!” We didn't. The sad end to this chapter? The guy in Chicago had it for two days. On the second night it was stolen, stripped - and totaled.

But as I said, that was the beginning of my brother’s Corvette racing adventure, and the beginning of many more “fast times in hot cars” stories to come.

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

(The DeLorenzo Racing Archives)
The infamous black "Zora-ized" 1964 Corvette Sting Ray coupe at the SCCA Driver's School in Watkins Glen, New York, June 1964. Note those wonderful straight pipes looming out the back; the crackling sound they provided is still fresh in my memory.


THE GRAND TRANSITION WILL LEAVE SOME CONSUMERS BEHIND.
by Editor
11 Aug 2020 at 8:23pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. It was interesting to read reports from Reuters about the Lucid Air, the luxury EV sedan that is coming next year with an “independently verified” range of 517 miles, according to company operatives. Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson told Reuters reporters Ben Klayman and Paul Lienert that the Air will initially be priced “well north of” $100,000. 

That sounds wonderful and all, but it’s clear that this Grand Transition to BEVs is going to be led by six-figure vehicles. To be sure, I have nothing against these manufacturers asking all the money for their hard-won engineering prowess and crushing development costs, because generating profitability from these show pony BEVs is the name of the game. 

And yes, these $100,000+ spectacucars will draw tremendous attention by luring consumers into showrooms and setting the tone and tenor for the eventual mass adoption of BEVs, at least that’s the plan, anyway. And it’s certainly not the first time that flash and wow have been used to generate buyer interest in this business.

I am reminded of a similar strategy – albeit in a prehistoric time in this business long before the dawn of the EV era - when sexy, attention-grabbing performance cars in the 60s and early 70s lured people into showrooms in droves. A family could check out the latest and greatest hot cars even though Mom and Dad ended up purchasing a more mundane model. For example, how many Chevrolet sedans were sold by the sales pitch that there’s a little bit of Corvette in every Chevy? And how many less-sexy Fords were sold by the presence of a red-hot Mustang in the showroom? That’s just the way it worked, and it worked extraordinarily well.

But the difference for the coming all-electric era is that affordable BEV choices will be hard to come by. Unless you consider prices of $70,000 and up affordable. Yes, there will be less expensive choices, like the next-generation Chevrolet Bolt and other BEV product entries from Chinese, Korean, Japanese and German manufacturers, but it’s not going to be nearly enough. Not even close, in fact. 

I know what the manufacturers will say: “These spectacucars represent the tip of our technological spear, and this ultra-advanced BEV technology will eventually trickle down to all of our BEV product entries at various price points,” or something like that. And they do have a point, because that is exactly how it is supposed to work. A company develops all of the technology for its spectacucars and then amortizes the cost of that technology across an entire range of products to come. It has worked that way for decades in this business – at least for the mass manufacturers – and that isn’t about to change. (The luxury manufacturers? That’s a different story altogether. They charge an arm and a leg while leveraging their Brand Image for all that it’s worth because that’s just how they roll. And that isn’t about to change either.) But it’s also apparent to me that with this Grand Transition to BEVs aimed at the well-heeled buyers in ConsumerVille first, the reality for a lot of consumers is that they will be left out and forced to stick with ICE vehicles for the foreseeable future, simply because they will continue to be reasonably affordable. 

But then again, what is reasonably affordable? The average price of a new car these days is around $37,000, and the average car payment is now more than $500/month. But talking about a $70,000+ BEV and up from there is a substantial leap, and a leap that simply is out of the question for a lot of people.

I have often commented about affordability in this business and I will continue to do so. But affordability in the BEV era is a completely different equation. The latest painful lesson in this regard? Audi has cut the price of its 2021 E-Tron SUV (we don’t write “e-tron” around here because it is lame. -WG) by almost $9,000 because it has been basically sales-proof (and it’s still $66,000, even after the price cut). But then again that’s what Audi gets for rushing a product to market that was underdeveloped and overpriced. And unless the E-Tron gets a total rethink it will not only be sales-proof, its technology will be obsolete vis-à-vis the competition as well, like yesterday. In other words, a giant strudel bowl of Not Good.   

What is the right equation for real people in the BEV era? The first manufacturer that is able to build a stylish, nicely equipped, compact SUV, crossover, or sedan with 350 miles of honest-to-goodness range and price it at $35,000 – all-in with no tax credits – is going to set this business on its ear. I won’t be holding my breath, because it’s two years away at the earliest.

This Grand Transition? It is not only going to leave some consumers behind, it’s going to be a painful one too.

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


FORD GOES LONG. AND WRONG. AGAIN.
by Editor
4 Aug 2020 at 2:16pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As I predicted a long time ago, Jim Farley will replace Jim Hackett as Ford’s CEO, effective October 1. This move was a fait accompli the moment Joe Hinrichs left the company in February. Thus, another transition begins for Ford, a company that has been on a roller-coaster ride since the day Alan Mulally left. 

Hackett was the little-known furniture company executive and FoB (Friend of Bill Ford) who was handed the reins of the company in the wake of Mark Fields’ departure. Fields had succeeded Mulally, but it all went wrong for him in due time, so Bill tapped Hackett to run his family’s company. Now, if Bill had his druthers, Mulally would be just now getting ready to retire; he wanted the ex-Boeing executive to remain CEO basically for life. And although this was a view that was shared by many, alas it wasn’t to be. So, Bill alighted on the notion that Hackett could be "The Guy." And for some fleeting moments, Jim showed flashes that he could be "The Guy" but only intermittently. Hackett’s esoteric pronouncements (I dubbed him “Professor Moon Beam”) and his vision of the future – defined by connected cities et al. – and Ford’s role in it were all deemed well and good, but meanwhile the machine that defines Ford wasn’t being served. Hackett, by all accounts a decent, smart and well-meaning guy, just didn’t have the depth and breadth of experience to make a real difference at Ford. And his role at Ford predictably amounted to yet another transition, one that lasted three years.

So, now what? The one thing Ford desperately needs more than anything else right now is a chief executive who understands this business inside and out and can guide Ford through perilous waters. And Bill Ford has decided that Jim Farley is "The Guy." Needless to say, longtime readers of this website know that I vehemently disagree with Ford’s decision.

Farley, the former Toyota wunderkind who was responsible for the launch of the Scion brand, has developed quite the notorious reputation at Ford as one who is unfettered by rational thought and unburdened by accountability, and who has a penchant for going completely off the rails. Known for his prodigiously short attention span and burdened by an excruciatingly painful interpersonal awkwardness, Farley’s belligerent, condescending style of dealing with underlings, along with his classic “parachute in, helicopter out” M.O. that has defined bad actor executives for decades in this business became his calling card. 

It gets worse. Farley has long considered himself to be “the smartest guy in the room” at Ford, much to everyone’s endless chagrin, because the reality is that he isn’t. It’s a carefully crafted facade that is hollow to its core. This was confirmed by the fact that Farley became known as "The Two Jims" because interactions with him became a meandering crapshoot, hinging upon whether people encountered the "good" Jim or the "bad" Jim on that particular day. Needless to say, when the "bad" Jim was unleashed, Farley left a trail of bad feelings and highly questionable decisions in his wake. 

Now that Bill Ford has decided that Jim Farley is “The Guy,” it’s no secret that seasoned executives are cowering under their desks because an emboldened Farley, unfettered and untethered, has all the makings of an unmitigated disaster. Am I picking on Farley? Hardly. I have only scratched the surface in describing this ego maniacal character, and now that he has been given the CEO reins, he could wreak havoc on the company’s future for years. 

Ford’s PR Chief – Mark Truby – who worked closely with Farley during his European stint, told me three years ago that he believed Farley would eventually be CEO. True to his word, Truby and his eager PR minions have been preparing for this day for going on eighteen months now, leaving no stone unturned in a scorched earth offensive to bury Farley’s “Two Jims” persona once and for all. This charm offensive – or should I say smarm offensive – has disgusted Ford insiders and left them in head-shaking disbelief.  

In fact, reading some of these PR-abetted stories that have showed up in the media, the uninformed might think that Farley walks on water, possesses the riveting intellect that occupies a space in the stratosphere beyond mere mortals, has never put a wheel wrong in his entire career, and is now logically anointed “The Guy” as Hackett prepares to wander off into the sunset. These pieces were designed to portray a wonderfully benign Farley, an executive whose rise has no perceptible limit, and whose enduring warmth is something that people crave to bask in. This "humanization" campaign of Farley is unmitigated bullshit, of course – and it has nothing to do with the "real" Jim Farley – the one hordes of people at Ford have grown to loathe with a level of disgust that is palpable. 

This announcement from Ford makes me fear for the very future of the company. In fact, as I’ve said previously, the company has embarked on a Highway to Hell. I think Ford has five years – tops – to make it. And I am not optimistic. At that juncture the family could very well be forced to make a deal to sell the company, or have their share significantly reduced in some sort of orchestrated takeover. That’s how dire I view this situation to be.

Yes, it’s about The Product in this business; it always has been and it always will be. And Ford definitely has some new products to talk about. “The Franchise” – the new F-150 truck – is an incredible cash machine second to none in this business and it should continue as such. And the upcoming Bronco due next spring should be – if Ford doesn’t screw up the launch – a slam dunk, grand slam, home run. (I don’t rate the all-electric Mustang Mach-E crossover nearly as highly because at this point it can only be described as a giant “We’ll See.”)   

But then again as successful as the new F-150 and Bronco should be, the cash burn going on in Dearborn is unfolding at a devastating cadence. How bad is it? At one point it was estimated that Ford was losing upwards of $161 million per day. And there is no amount of “fireside chats” with analysts – something that top Ford execs have tried of late in order to persuade them that the Dearborn automaker will be okay – that can mask that fact. No matter how many cool products the company has coming, when you’re burning through that kind of cash, time is the enemy, and Ford's third quarter performance should be telling. Right now, the sands of time are whistling through the hourglass at a furious rate for Ford. 

Three years ago, I had this to say about the future of Ford – projecting to the year 2030 – in a column entitled Runnin’ Down A Dream: “The VW Group long ago established itself as the largest automotive conglomerate in the world. The news? Its working agreement with the Ford Motor Company had evolved into a full takeover, as Ford’s restructuring was stalled by its perpetually late product cadence, ineffectual leadership and having pissed away billions trying to become a mobility company. And for the first time in its history Ford was no longer controlled by the Ford family, although the family still maintained a significant - but notably reduced - presence in terms of stock and influence.”

Today, I wouldn’t change anything about my prediction. Well, maybe one thing: I don’t think we’ll have to wait until 2030 to see the Ford Motor Company inexorably changed for good. The denouement will come – one way or the other – by 2025. 

In The Last Worthless Evening, Don Henley sings about “Time, time, ticking… ticking away” in a wistful lament, and his melancholy refrain somehow seems sadly appropriate right about now with everything that’s going on in the world. Time is still ticking away for the Ford Motor Company, whether anyone over in Dearborn wants to admit it, or not. 

As for Jim Farley being CEO? When everything is factored in, he is simply the wrong person, at the wrong time, at the wrong car company.

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


NISSAN'S SLOW ROLL TO OBLIVION.
by Editor
28 Jul 2020 at 3:12pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. Look at the photo below carefully. Study it. Let it sink in. It’s the Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. corporate brain trust in Yokohama on Tuesday declaring an annual operating loss for the second straight year. It’s also a picture of abject mediocrity in its purest form.

How bad is it for Nissan? The Japanese automaker is forecasting an operating loss of 470 billion yen ($4.5 billion) as reported by Reuters, which, according to Nissan’s own data, makes it the company’s biggest loss since as far back as 1977. It also happens to be much larger than consensus estimates of a 262.8 billion yen loss from 20 analysts polled by Refinitiv, as reported by Reuters.

That’s not all. Nissan predicts revenue will plummet to 7.8 trillion yen ($74.1 billion) and that its global vehicle sales will fall 16 percent. All of this comes after a comprehensive restructuring plan was unveiled in May, which slashed models and production capacity. This, of course, was after the removal and subsequent arrest of former CEO Carlos Ghosn, which went down in 2018.

I have been writing about Nissan’s serial incompetence for years. The company’s three-steps forward, five-back model cadence was a recurring nightmare. Too often its products were mediocre, and because of that they languished in this market unless scorched-earth incentives were used to move the metal. And Ghosn’s aggressive approach to expansion in markets that couldn’t care less about Nissan made things even worse (his infatuation with the Renault partnership and the failing Mitsubishi linkup didn’t help things, either). This formula of mediocre products + razor-thin profit margins = a brand that was going nowhere, everywhere. And this burgeoning quagmire was compounded by the fact that the company’s marketing strategy became so dependent on those incentives in this market in particular that Nissan couldn’t extricate itself from the cycle.

Nissan allegedly is the No. 2 Japanese automaker behind Toyota, but it doesn’t even remotely deserve that moniker. The company was long a ship of fools before Ghosn arrived, it was heightened during Ghosn’s tenure, and after Ghosn was forcibly removed the ship began to list badly. Everything company operatives said, or touched, seemed to go wrong. Promises of “new beginnings” were made about as frequently as the financial quarters went by. New product offensives fizzled with brutal regularity, so there was nothing left to do except pile on even more incentives, because that strategy kept the plants open and kept Ghosn off of the U.S. executives’ backs. 

But now that Nissan’s Japanese operatives got what they wanted, which was Ghosn’s ostracization and removal, it has become painfully apparent that they really don’t have a clue as to what to do. Or as we like to say in The Biz: They. Got. Nothin’. So, in time-honored industry fashion, Nissan executives have resorted to throwing things up against the wall to see what sticks – and nothing ever does – which is just like old times.

Time, money and excuses are running out for Nissan. The brand itself has become crusty and undesirable, and its products are old and getting swallowed up by much more competitive entries, especially from the Korean automakers. In short Nissan is an also-ran brand and a classic reminder that there are no guarantees in this business. Just because a brand has been around a long time doesn’t mean a thing. The history of this business is littered with one-hit wonders, ego-driven glorious failures, sure things that somehow went wrong, and sometimes companies that had their time in the sun and just faded away.

Nissan has reached that point. It had – at times – what can be considered a good run. Its glory days were memorable, especially in this market when it was still called Datsun, but those moments were fleeting and seem like a long time ago. That’s because it was. Since then the company has been mired in mediocrity and held captive by mercenary prophets spouting false promises, and internal bickering, which sapped the life out of the company. In short, Nissan has been on a slow roll to oblivion, even though no one there seems to understand or believe it. 

Look at the three executives below. They’re Nissan's Sunshine Boys, still insisting that Nissan has a chance. But you can see in their eyes that their hearts aren’t in it, that they’re just going through the motions because that’s what they’re required to do. Well, it’s not working.

Times change, and the ebb and flow of this business continues on unabated. Nissan is headed to the dustbin because company operatives couldn’t get their heads out of their asses long enough to see clearly and focus on what’s important in this business.

And what is that, exactly?

It’s about the product. It has always been about the product. And it always will be about the product.

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

(Nissan)

The Sunshine Boys.


NAMING RIGHTS.
by Editor
21 Jul 2020 at 3:02pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. There is much hand-wringing going on in this business at this very moment – yeah, I know, how is this different than any other day? – and this twisting consternation concerns the fact that Cadillac is going with all-new vehicle names for its electric future. Cadillac is setting sail in a completely new naming direction, and the public will get the first glimpse of the new strategy on August 6th, when GM’s luxury division unveils its first fully electric production vehicle, a crossover called the Lyriq. And that is just the beginning – a hand-build ultra-luxury sedan called the Celestiq is coming down the road.

Vehicle names ending in “iq” will define the new generation of all-electric vehicles from Cadillac. This shift from internal-combustion engines (ICE) to full battery electric vehicles (BEV) will mark a complete transformation for the Cadillac brand by 2028. 

What does it all mean? Vehicle names have been a signature part of this business from Day One. Some brand names revolved around the names of the founders – Bentley, Bugatti, Buick, Chevrolet, Daimler, Ford, Ferrari, Honda, Oldsmobile and Porsche, to name just a few – while other names happened organically and were powered by word of mouth, like Ford’s Model T or the Duesenberg Model J and its variants. There have also been names that earned their spurs over time, like Aston Martin, Audi (which sprang from Auto Union), Honda and Jaguar. 

And, of course, other names became famous individual models of existing brands. Like the Chevrolet Corvette, Corvette Sting Ray and Silverado; BMW 2002; Datsun 240Z; Ferrari Testa Rossa and GTO; Ford GT, Mustang and F-150, Mercedes-Benz 300SL; Jaguar XK120, D-Type, XKSS and E-Type; Jeep Wrangler; Pontiac Bonneville, GTO and Firebird; Porsche 911 and Speedster. And the list goes on and on. 

(At one point, Oldsmobile, which was in the throes of one of this industry’s most historic sales runs with its Cutlass model, started adding the Cutlass name to almost everything. There was the Cutlass S, Cutlass Supreme, Cutlass Salon, Cutlass 4-4-2, Cutlass Vista Cruiser station wagon, Cutlass Calais, Cutlass Ciera, etc. Don’t laugh, Oldsmobile sold over a million Cutlass-named vehicles a year at its peak.)

The German manufacturers – Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz – went all-in for the alphanumeric names, which were loosely based on the vehicle architecture and engine size. And that was fine until the American manufactures started copying it – and screwing it up – but the Germans still do it for the most part, although Audi has gone completely off the rails of late in trying to distinguish the various engine sizes on its vehicles. What a mess.

Alfa Romeo has refreshingly stuck with names for its Giulia sport sedan and Stelvio crossover. It fits perfectly with its “march-to-a-different-drummer” product vision too. And Dodge has homed in on its high-performance muscle niche with its Charger and Challenger, to great effect. And last but not least, the Ram truck has bulled its way into pickup truck contention.

And case you’re wondering, the naming merry-go-round continues unabated to this day. Ford is dusting off its “Mach” moniker and attaching it to its new BEV crossover, which will be named the Mustang Mach-E, and that in and of itself is shocking (especially when you see how mundane the Mach-E is in the flesh). And shades of Cutlass, Ford is going to develop a herd of vehicles with the name Mustang attached, just in case you missed the point of Ford hammering the Mustang name hard into the market beyond its iconic pony car. And unless you’ve been submerged for a while and hadn’t heard, Ford has resurrected one of the iconic names in this business – Bronco – and plans on going after Jeep with a corral full of Bronco-based SUVs beginning late next spring.

Ironically enough, when Porsche decided it had to change with the times and play for keeps in the SUV and sedan segments – which was a remarkable departure for the sports car maker – it didn’t rely on old names for its new products at all. Instead, it went with Panamera for its four-door luxury-performance sedan, Cayenne for its larger SUV, and Macan for its more compact SUV. And now, Porsche has charged into the burgeoning luxury BEV segment with its fully-electric Taycan sedan. New names all, and Porsche hasn’t suffered in the least, while still selling its 718 and 911 sports cars.

So, with the aforementioned in mind then, I think Cadillac is making the right move with this dramatic departure from its traditional names for its new BEVs, and I applaud it. 

As much as I love the classic Cadillac monikers – Eldorado, DeVille, and Fleetwood to name a few, and even the more recent Cadillac Concept names such as Cien, Ciel, Elmiraj and Escala – it really doesn’t matter. The sad truth is those names might resonate with a fading generation, but the Cadillac five years from now will be a completely different automobile company. 

Cadillac wants to be - as it has been at times in the past - the purveyor of ultra-luxurious, technically advanced, dramatically styled and distinctly American SUVs, crossovers and sedans, but its products will be aimed at a new generation of environmentally savvy and demanding buyers, and its historical names will be placed gently on the shelf and retired, and rightfully so.

Time keeps ticking, ticking away on this generation, and change is inevitable. But I am excited for the compelling products that are lining up for the next generation. I hope they enjoy them as much as I think they will. 

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

(Cadillac)
The Cadillac Lyriq in concept form.



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