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The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

DESIGN MATTERS.
by Editor
26 Jul 2021 at 6:00pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Last week’s column about “blandtastic” design stirred the pot yet again among the AE faithful as well as with industry insiders. Some readers were stunned at the profile similarities on display from the different manufacturers, which is understandable when you’re really able to see them juxtaposed against one another. 

But then again, it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise. The members of the design community have mimicked and frankly ripped off each other for decades now. The design schools have contributed to this phenomenon by churning out graduates taught with similar perspectives who then go to work at the manufacturers’ design houses. Yes, of course, safety standards and interior packaging requirements come into play, but the systematic blandness that has overrun what should be the most exciting part of the business has resulted in a homogenization of design that is debilitating. 

As I’ve often said, design is the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator, and in the transition to the EV Age, compelling design will become even more critical. With similar battery platform designs – aka “the skateboard” – and other technical commonalities such as range and charging capability, the look and street presence of vehicles will directly affect consumer desire. That’s not to say that interior design isn’t important, because it certainly it is – after all, that’s where we spend all of our time when driving. But exciting, breakthrough interiors will never be enough on their own; you first have to lure the consumer in for a closer look, and it’s the exterior design that does that, no matter how impressive the interior is.

Since Day One of the automotive design business, which started with the “Art and Colour” department at General Motors in the 1930s under Harley Earl’s direction, the concept of design “reach” has been an ongoing battle. The easiest thing to do in the design business – before Earl arrived on the scene – was to stay the course, do a few tweaks and call it good. This attitude sustained itself more often than not over the previous decades. But in Detroit’s heyday, roughly from the mid-50s to the early 70s – when GM Styling (now Design) often set the tone for the entire mainstream automobile industry – every year was a momentous year, because "design reach" were the operative words of the day. Staying in place was not an option back then, and each year a series of breakthrough designs was unleashed on the long-since-lost “Announcement Day,” with the manufacturers vying for consumer attention with designs that made the previous year’s lineup instantly obsolete. (Planned obsolescence wasn’t always a bad thing.) And, Bill Mitchell, Earl’s gifted successor, was the absolute Maestro at it. 

Understanding this and despite what I presented last week, all is not lost, however, as evocative designs – though few and far between – still have a way of surfacing, which is a very good thing. Given what I know, I have a few comments on what’s out and what’s coming…

(BMW)

I was super critical of BMW’s move to the overexaggerated front-end in the past, but I will give BMW designers this: 1. At least they have a distinct point of view that is directly influenced by memorable designs from the earliest beginnings of the company. And 2. The front end and the non-functioning grille actually work best on their crossovers/SUVs. That doesn’t mean I am exactly warming up to the look, but I get it. If there were ever a graphic demonstration of "design reach," this is it.

(BMW)

The front end on their electric SUVs will have other functions – to house myriad sensors, etc. – and from a road presence perspective there will be no mistaking when a BMW is coming at you.

(BMW)

I don’t like the front end on the coupe and sedans – it looks added on and unattractive, but I will admit that the racing version is not bad. Not bad at all.

(Mercedes-Benz)

Mercedes-Benz has the direct opposite problem from BMW. This is the company’s new all-electric flagship, the EQS 580 4Matic. This top-of-the-line, $150,000+ luxury sedan lays claim to be the most aerodynamic production car in the world, with a Cd of just .020. It is loaded with a plethora of gee-whiz stuff, which I won’t go into right now, but there is nothing gee-whiz about its design. In fact, it is instantly forgettable. Given the all-new, clean computer screen opportunity of designing for the EV future, this is what Mercedes-Benz designers come up with? Ugh.

(Mercedes-Benz)

One thing about the new EQS that does resonate is the interior. The 56” MBUX Hyperscreen display is really good, but in this case, they’re not first. GM’s wide, almost full-dash display in the ’21 Cadillac Escalade arrived first, and the upcoming super-luxury flagship from Cadillac - the Celestiq - will have an even wider full screen display. But for now, I will give M-B credit – this I.P. is super-slick.

(Hyundai)

This is what Hyundai says about the new IONIQ 5 EV: “The futuristic-looking Hyundai IONIQ 5 is based upon Hyundai’s breakthrough Electric Global Modular Platform (E-GMP), which delivers faster charging, increased driving range, superior handling and more interior space. In addition to revolutionizing sustainable mobility, the IONIQ 5 offers an interior that provides a whole new in-car experience – redefining living space and moving space. Environmentally friendly materials, such as eco-processed leather and recycled yarn, are used extensively in the IONIQ 5.” This crossover/hatchback thingy is getting a lot of attention of late. For good reason? Maybe. The shape is certainly not breakthrough, but the overall execution is concept-car-like. And it definitely has a distinct point of view. Will it deliver? That remains a giant “we’ll see.”

(Hyundai)

The IONIQ 5 interior is of the contemporary “minimalist” school of interior design, with everything packaged on screens. Not exactly an unexpected approach, but it seems clean, simple and no doubt ultra-functional. Full disclosure? I like gauges, either in place or virtually presented. And I like the new, now-obligatory screens when they look like old-school instrumentation, or can at least be programmed to look like it. That said, I’ve grown to appreciate - and really like – head-up displays, especially if they’re executed well.

(Hyundai)

The exterior surface detailing on the IONIQ 5 is its compelling drawing card. This car will resonate with buyers once they see it in real time. No, not exactly a breakthrough shape overall, but the exterior design will draw people in to learn more.

(Hyundai)

The rear view of the IONIQ 5 is decidedly ho-hum, which is directly the result of the modified crossover box shape. Not a deal breaker, but not its best view by any stretch.

(Porsche)

Now, for something completely different from, of all car companies, Porsche. This is what they have to say: “Insight: Interior of the Renndienst Study. The designers at Style Porsche in Weissach journey far into the future of mobility. They think and design visions for the day after tomorrow in order to derive steps for tomorrow. They ask themselves how far they can expand Porsche’s design language and to which products it could be applied. This is how the Renndienst came into being. A minivan; a family-friendly interior design concept for up to six people. Challenges such as these keep the designers’ world of ideas fresh.” How about, no? After discussing "design reach" earlier, this is a classic example of a territory that has no business being explored by Porsche, unless the car company completely walks away from anything remotely resembling its founding principles. This is one of those conceptual ideas that should have never seen the light of day. As in, WTF? And why?

(Porsche)

Oh look, yet another execution of a future van interior. No thanks.

(Porsche)

Cringeworthy doesn’t even begin to cover it. “We thought about how we could still give a distinctly Porsche flair to a passenger compartment that is so far removed from the classic sports-car interior,” said chief designer Michael Mauer. “And how autonomous driving could be designed,” Mauer explains. The second aspect is certainly worth discussing. After all, sports cars are a symbol of self-determination. “We don’t assume that our customers want to give up using a steering wheel,” says Mauer. Oh, why not? When you’re this far gone, does it really matter? This will go down in our “Answer To The Question That Absolutely No One Was Asking” Hall of Fame.

Talking about giants like Earl and Mitchell earlier might seemly oddly out of touch when it comes to talking about the design challenges of today, but I think that is a narrow-minded perspective. As I’ve reminded my readers previously, there are car people from many disciplines slogging away at every car company on the planet. And an elite few of them may have even managed to rise to the top in their respective car companies with their spirit and passion intact, which is no mean feat in this day and age.

But in the face of a business that grows more rigid, regulated and non-risk-taking by the day, there are still lessons to be learned from the legacy of Bill Mitchell in particular. If anything, we must remember what really matters in this business above all else – something he instinctively knew in his gut – and that is to never forget the essence of the machine, and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams. 

And that in the course of designing, engineering and building these machines, everyone needs to aim higher and push harder – with a relentless, unwavering passion and love for the automobile that is so powerful and unyielding that it can't be beaten down by committee-think or buried in bureaucratic mediocrity.

I just hope there are enough visionary leaders in the design community to push the discipline to new heights, while keeping the excruciating missteps to a bare minimum.

Because Design Matters, probably more so now than at any other time in automotive history.

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


BLANDTASTIC DESIGN? LOOK AROUND YOU.
by Editor
19 Jul 2021 at 12:49pm

Editor's Note: As we await the all-EV future, the designs of today continue to be less-than inspiring. For an industry that prides itself on design (and that certainly has the talent), the current vehicle offerings leave a lot to be desired. This week, The Autoextremist reprises his discussion of this sorry state of design affairs in the auto industry. -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Audi)
The Audi E-Tron Sportback: Searching for even a shred of visual interest? You won't find it here.
(BMW)
BMW was one of the co-conspirators – along with Mercedes-Benz – of the “four-door coupe.” This is the X4 M. Even if you squint it doesn't inspire... much of anything.
(Mercedes-Benz)
The Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 Coupe: Just because it has a giant three-pointed star plastered on the front doesn’t make it good. (Porsche) The Porsche Cayenne GTS Coupe: No, the shot doesn't point in the same direction as the others, but you get the idea. Even Porsche couldn’t resist the "art" of visual blandness, apparently. (Ford)
The Ford Mustang Mach-E: No, it hasn't grown on me one bit. Not a shred of originality in sight, and it looks even more uninspiring on the road. “A Mustang for the Next Generation!” according to Ford. To that we say, UGH. (Photo courtesy of greencarreports.com) Putting an exclamation point on this discussion: The Tesla Model Y.

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

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


IT?S NOT CALLED BRAND POSITIONING HELL FOR NOTHIN?.
by Editor
11 Jul 2021 at 2:03pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Automotive marketing, like the business itself, is one of the toughest endeavors in the world. While from the outside it may look easy, it is anything but that. Yes, the product is paramount, but if the launch is bumbled and the communication about that product is garbled or less than it should be, a golden opportunity is wasted, and marketing operatives are left “looking for new challenges.”

One of the major problems about marketing – and advertising – is that a lot of people know what’s good after the fact. It’s easy to pick out brand strategies that are successful and why, and it’s easy to identify a commercial that airs and pronounce it “good.” But committing to a focused brand strategy, and then identifying advertising creative that supports and enhances that strategy is extremely difficult. Sometimes it’s even a go-with-your-gut crapshoot, because all of the research that can be mustered beforehand only reveals so much.

I’ve written about – and rated – many marketing strategies and advertising campaigns on this site for 22+ years now. There have been a few thoroughly outstanding campaigns, along with some truly excellent efforts, many decidedly average ones unfortunately and, of course, a cornucopia of craptastic campaigns that should have never seen the light of day. 

One thing these marketing campaigns all shared from the start was that the initial work began from a brand positioning statement. Sounds simple enough, right? Put together a group of words that best projects what the brand represents to the real world and voila! That’s easy, isn’t it? Except it is definitely not. Why? These carefully crafted statements are intensely fought over by an array of fiefdoms entrenched on the client marketing side, and, of course, by their counterparts at the advertising agencies. Everybody wants a piece of these statements on both sides of the aisle, so when an agreement is finally reached, it’s a minor miracle. 

That’s just step one. But amazingly enough, all of that hard work to come up with those brand positioning statements can instantly go off the rails when those brand statements end up creeping into the actual advertising. This usually happens when clients become attached to the brand positioning language because it makes them feel good about their respective brands – and themselves. But when that happens, it usually never ends well. Brand positioning statements are just that, and they're not meant to end up in the advertising. But it happens all too frequently, and it results in “less than” advertising that doesn’t do justice to the brand. And I'm being kind.

So, given this background then, I have to applaud Stellantis operatives for having the cojones to present brand positioning statements for all of the brands under their watch last Thursday, with emphasis on their lineup of future EVs. This was no coincidence, either, as the perception that Stellantis is exactly nowhere with their EV plans is an actual thing, and the company wanted to put to rest that train of thought out in the media sphere.

Mission accomplished? Not exactly. Though it was refreshing to see Stellantis “put it out there,” so to speak, that doesn’t mean they got the results they wanted. Let’s take a look…

Jeep: "Zero emission freedom." Not exactly accurate; in fact, it’s not even close. Plug-in hybrids will dominate Jeep’s “zero emission” premise for the foreseeable future, with the product rollout taking years at least, and that’s if everything goes well. Sorry, but that doesn’t translate to “zero emission” in my book. Stellantis teased fully-electric Jeeps by 2025, but will that come to fruition with noteworthy volume? A giant “we’ll see.”

Ram: "Built to serve a sustainable planet." Hmm, really? Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares suggested that the brand will be prepared if there actually is a mass market for electric pickup trucks in a couple of years. In the meantime, that statement is unmitigated bullshit.

Chrysler: "Clean technology for a new generation of families." To this I say, huh? That Stellantis is clinging to the notion that there’s a place in the world for the Chrysler brand based on whether or not they can keep building minivans that people want is quaintly misguided. That there wasn’t much promised beyond the words in the brand positioning statement suggests to me that this is one brand – despite its myriad accomplishments – that could easily be relegated to the dustbin of history. And Tavares know it.

Dodge: "Tear up the streets… not the planet." Stellantis operatives openly admitted that it has pretty much reached peak HEMI V8-power in its current Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger muscle cars. And with Stellantis committing to be part of the coming EV era for real, they will be transitioning to something called "eMuscle" cars by 2024. But unless they stop showing burnouts in their advertising – the biggest one-trick pony image of the last decade – which isn’t even remotely good for the planet, this is going to be one very painful transition. 

Alfa Romeo: "From 2024, Alfa becomes Alfa e-Romeo." To this I say, WTF? The fact that the Alfa “serpent” is becoming a power plug doesn’t pique my interest in the least. Stellantis inherited this premium brand, but I don’t think the transition to EV is going to go well. In fact, this very well could be the one brand that doesn’t survive the “Grand Transition” to EV.

DS Automobiles: "The art of travel, magnified." Sounds interesting enough. Launched in 2014, this obscure premium brand (until further notice at least) is said to revolve around the ideas of craftsmanship and "French savoir-faire." It will participate in the premium group at Stellantis with Alfa Romeo and Lancia. Why do I feel a train wreck coming on?

Lancia: "The most elegant way to protect the planet." Even though Lancia has had its day(s) in Italy, the idea that it survives as an “elegant” EV is another stretch for Stellantis. 

Maserati: "The best in performance luxury, electrified." Wow, talk about a brand positioning statement that could be applied to any number of luxury manufacturers. It’s now clear to me that Stellantis doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping the Alfa Romeo, DS, Lancia and Maserati brands in existence as luxury EVs. This is classic automotive arrogance in all its glory. Maybe Tavares should have introduced the following brand positioning statement for the company’s EV future: “We’re Stellantis and you’re not.”

Opel/Vauxhall: "Green is the new cool." In the immortal words of John McEnroe: “You can’t be serious!” I don’t care if this German brand plans on becoming fully electric by 2028; that brand positioning statement sounds easily a decade old. To this I’ll add, why bother?

Fiat: "It's only green when it's green for all." Cute, and wildly optimistic. EVs simply aren’t all that affordable yet. And this Italian mass-market brand has been on life support for decades now. But in an EV world? Goodnight and good luck.

Abarth: "Heating up people, but not the planet." This is just flat-out embarrassing. No further comment necessary.

Peugeot: "Turning sustainable mobility into quality time." Unless you plan on building autonomous vehicles for the masses, like next week, what a way to ruin this former flagship brand. At this point, Tavares should have called “timeout” on the meeting and left.

Citroen: "Citroen electric: Well-being for all!" I don’t know, maybe “Shiny Happy EVs” would work better.

Again, this stuff isn’t easy, but there was really no urgent or compelling reason for Stellantis to hang its collective corporate asses in the breeze and go on record with this nonsense. Couldn't they have just presented a technical white paper delineating the scope of its planned EV technologies without identifying the brands that this future technology would be applied to? I would suggest a couple of things to Stellantis: 1. Work on the brand positioning statements closer to when you actually have real products to talk about. Maybe it will broaden your horizons and make better sense, because it's clear that there is a lot of vaporware here. 2. Stop thinking you have the firepower to sustain and differentiate multiple luxury EV brands. You don’t, and you won’t be able to either.

The carefully crafted image of Tavares is that he’s a smart guy. But I’ve known plenty of allegedly smart people in this business who thought they could juggle multiple luxury brands better than anyone else. And most of them failed miserably. He should really take note and stop listening to the dulcet tones of his own thought balloons for once.

It’s not called Brand Positioning Hell for nothin’.

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


FOREVER FU-KING MOTORS.
by Editor
6 Jul 2021 at 4:28pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. A call at 3:00 a.m. doesn’t often bode well. It’s either some unexpected – and unwanted – bad news, or it’s a wrong number. Either way, it’s usually Not Good. But my early Monday morning call was something else altogether – it was none other than Mr. James “Jimmy” Fu and Mr. S. L. “Sonny” King on speaker. I figured out it was those two right away because of the Asian pop music on “11” in the background, which was almost drowning them out. (But as you know, they actually prefer that, because yelling is their prime mode of communicating.) 

We quickly switched to a Zoom call where I could see an array of dancing models awash in LED lights throbbing in the background, which admittedly was oddly comforting at this point, because if they ever felt the need to tone it down the world would become an even darker place. More on this later.

I updated AE readers about Fu-King Motors last fall, and before that in the memorable AE interview with “Al Cantara.” And though our longtime AE readers are probably very familiar with Jimmy and Sonny by now, we have a lot of new readers due to my elevated Twitter presence (@PeterMDeLorenzo), so I thought it might be a good time to provide some background about the dynamic duo. 

Mr. James “Jimmy” Fu and Mr. S. L. “Sonny” King have operated in the shadows of the gigantic Chinese industrial machine for years. But that hasn’t stopped these two flamboyant and remarkable characters from becoming legends in and out of China. Mr. Fu started manufacturing model cars and trucks in the late 70s. In fact, many of the model cars our readers played with in their youth probably came from Mr. Fu. And 50 years later, I have pieced together and 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 elaborately detailed wheels and uncannily accurate tires on Mr. Fu's model cars. Though the two have had knock-down, drag-out disagreements almost from the very beginning – always with the yelling – the two have been partners in Fu-King Motors – and best friends – for going on more than five 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. Jimmy was happy to provide me with an update of their Fu-King Motors fleet. They sold-off one of the three Purple Dodge Demons (each modified to deliver 1000HP) to one of their best, long-term suppliers (whose son promptly wrapped it around a light pole). The two original “narrow-hipped” 427 street Cobras remain, along with the matching ‘68 L88 Corvettes. The two new Corvette C8s (one black, one white) are already gone. Jimmy gave his black one to his administrative assistant, and Sonny gave his white one to his latest girlfriend. No worries, Jimmy pointed out, because they each have an upcoming Z06 on order. Their favorite hot rods (and our readers’ favorites, judging by the mail we’ve received) are a couple of custom-built Willys Gasser replicas from the ‘60s powered by race-prepared Chevy 502 big-blocks. These ultimate bad-ass machines – with open headers – are reserved for terrorizing the neighbors in the middle of the night. 

Their fondness for Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon gave way to Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon a couple of years ago, but they let me know that they are now drinking cases of champagne by the week because, as Sonny said, “the girls like it.” And, of course, they still absolutely love their twin Gulfstream G650s (Jimmy’s is Jet Black with dayglo orange stripes; Sonny’s is Chaparral White with Midnight Blue stripes).

But the main reason for the call, which they got to about 20 minutes in, was that Jimmy and Sonny wanted to give me an update on the Fu-King Motors future product cadence. The fact that they used the word "cadence" was a bit shocking, but Sonny said that was because they liked the way I use the word in my columns, so they use it all the time. “It’s all about Cadence! Cadence! Cadence!” Jimmy shouted, while they each banged the table in unison. So, after sorting through the yelling and trying to piece together the details in between the disco-pop blaring in the background, we finally wrapped up the call at 4:30 a.m. I was exhausted, but I never get tired of hearing from Jimmy and Sonny. In fact, they want me to come for an extended visit, but I told them I would have to have my affairs in order before I would even consider it. I mean, really.

So, as best as I can tell, the timeline for what Fu-King Motors has coming has been pushed back considerably. “Was it the chip crisis?” I asked. And they both chimed in, “No, it was the champagne… and the girls!”

2022: To quote Sonny: “Forget 2021, it is over.” “What is coming in 2022?” I asked. “Press conferences!” they said in unison. “Dog and Monkey shows!” Seems logical, at this juncture. “We dangle the bait and flip the switch!” I could have pointed out a few linguistic disconnects at this point, but I didn’t bother. 

2023 (2nd Quarter): The long-awaited debut of the six-wheeled, all-electric Fu-King Gargantuan SUV is for real, they both insisted. The Gargantuan is designed to humiliate the upcoming all-electric GMC Hummer EV and “anything Ford has up its sleeve to counteract the Dodge Durango Hellcat,” according to Jimmy. Flaunting some incredible numbers: 2000HP; 10,000 lbs. and with retractable 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 what they had told me before: “Enough to make grown men cry!” 

2023 (4th Quarter): Another unexpected debut: The Fu-King Motors KickBoxer. The boys’ answer to the Jeep Wrangler 392 and new 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, now 3.0-liter, fuel-injected, Twin-Turbo, flat eight-cylinder motor that delivers 800HP. When asked if this could possibly be construed as overkill, Sonny quickly replied: “We would like to introduce our competitors to custom cans of Whup-Ass!” 

2024 (1st Quarter): 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 of ‘24. 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.” (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. (“We just watched it again Saturday night,” Sonny added.)


(GM)

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

2026 (1st Quarter): The development of the Fu-King Motors supercar has been fraught with problems from the beginning. With Jimmy and Sonny constantly at each other’s throats over the direction of the concept, it’s no surprise that it exists only in their minds at this point. Oh hell, let’s just call it for what it is: a giant Black Hole of Vaporware. The toll it has taken on Jimmy and Sonny is obvious, as whenever I mention it their usual exuberant dispositions turn decidedly dark. 

First envisioned as a high-performance, hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric hypercar, the machine – code named “Bandini” (which I came up with) – had been reimagined as a BEV aimed squarely at Gordon Murray’s T.50 with 1+1 seating and a curb weight of 1900 lbs. But now that Porsche and Rimac Automobili have formed a new joint venture called Bugatti Rimac to build a future hypercar, Jimmy and Sonny are apoplectic.  “Porsche and Remulac!” Jimmy pounded on the table. (I pointed out that it was Rimac, not Remulac, to no avail.) “This is nothing but a German-Italian nightmare! As you like to say, it’s notgonnahappen dot fricking com!” The subject brought Jimmy and Sunny to a rare moment of silence, although the stereo was still cranking LOUD (this time with “Jump Around” by House of Pain). 

Then Sonny pitched in: “We need you to give us direction! No Zoom either! We need you here! We’ll have a third Willys built just for you! Any color you want!” Now that was tempting.  

When I asked about products beyond 2026, the boys just shrugged and happily chimed in again in unison, “It’s a giant we’ll see as you like to say!” And, when asked if they had any plans to import their products to the U.S., the answer was once again a resounding, “Never!” Asked why, they answered again in unison, “Too much bullshit, too much aggravation.” 

At that point all I could say was, “I concur.” And I hope they never change.

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


THE MOST CYNICAL CAR COMPANY IN THE WORLD.
by Editor
28 Jun 2021 at 9:56am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. It’s no secret that Toyota has been on a 50+ year quest to pass itself off as an American car company. I wrote an entire book about it in fact: The United States of Toyota. Toyota operatives have slowly but surely weaseled the company’s way into American life over the decades, with the goal becoming part of the American fabric. And for the most part, it has worked out tremendously well for the Japanese automaker.

Toyota is so embedded into the American fabric that many consumers have forgotten that it is a foreign-owned entity. Toyota has built factories here, it sponsors major sporting and other high-visibility events, and there’s no question that its “Toyota-thons” sales events changed the shape of automotive marketing in this country forever. 

It’s also no secret that Toyota operatives targeted Chevrolet as their goal. In fact, they wanted to usurp Chevrolet’s role in the American consumer consciousness. Toyota wanted to become “America’s car company,” and much to GM’s chagrin, the company has been largely successful at doing that. 

Now, make no mistake, Toyota didn’t do this by marketing and PR magic alone. The company forged its reputation by building exceedingly reliable – although not the least bit exciting – high-quality products that put the domestic automakers to shame, at least early on. And America’s car-buying consumers flocked to them. While the domestic automakers wrestled with the fundamental shift in the competitive landscape and desperately tried to transform the quality and desirability of their products, the import manufacturers, especially Toyota, became an undeniable force to be reckoned with.

Toyota is ultra-competitive in every segment except full-size pickup trucks. It led the industry shift to more fuel economy with the Prius and has never looked back. Toyota also led the shift by American consumers to the offerings from the import automakers, and this market has been forever altered because of it. Ford, GM and Stellantis build far more competitive products now to be sure, but the domestic industry has never really recovered from the inroads that Toyota and other import manufacturers have made.

Today, Toyota is not only a mainstay in the U.S. market. It is one of the auto industry pillars here and around the globe, and one of the largest automotive conglomerates in the world. But in its quest to become all things to all people in this market – while consistently pawning itself off as a U.S. automaker – Toyota has developed a homegrown arrogance and cynicism about what it views as its place in the world, which rears its ugly head every so often. And over this past weekend, we got a full-blown dose of that arrogance and cynicism that no amount of PR “spin” can negate.

According to a detailed report by Axios, 34 companies have donated at least $5,000 to the campaigns and leadership PACs of one or more election objectors this year. (If you need to be reminded, “election objectors” are representatives who openly challenge the legitimacy of this country’s most recent Presidential election, aka “election conspiracy” theorists.) Notable companies on that list included Koch Industries (big surprise), AT&T, health insurer Cigna and tobacco company Reynolds American.

But the biggest donor by far to the election objectors? You guessed it: Toyota. The Japanese automaker gave $55,000 to 37 election objectors (all members of the GOP, of course). According to Axios, that equates to a quarter of the bloc that voted to nullify President Biden's win after the Capitol siege. In fact, Toyota gave more than twice as much — and to nearly five times as many members of Congress — as the No. 2 company on the list, Cubic Corp., a San Diego-based defense contractor. The Japanese automaker's donations this year included a February contribution to Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican who has been one of Congress' most vocal election conspiracy theorists. Biggs also helped organize the "Stop the Steal" rally prior to the Capitol attack.

Now, make no mistake, corporations have played both sides of the fence when it comes to political contributions since, well, they started keeping records of such orchestrated giving. They all do it, and no corporation – auto or otherwise – is not guilty of it. But Toyota’s actions in this particular situation is egregiously dubious and comes down hard on the wrong side of this fundamental issue. Toyota is basically fueling and funding election conspiracy theorists, and the company is doing it right out in the open (although it is doubtful that they wanted any of this to come out).

And what does Toyota have to say about this? In what will go down as one of the dumbest PR quotes in the history of PR quotes, a Toyota spokesperson told Axios (in an email) the following:

"We do not believe it is appropriate to judge members of Congress solely based on their votes on the electoral certification." 

Read the statement again. Really? You mean to tell me that Toyota doesn’t believe there’s a reason to disqualify out of hand the whack-job conspiracy theorists who cling to a lamebrained notion that has been proven time and again to be flat-out false? (I expect a huge mea culpa from Toyota today in a desperate attempt at “walking back” this statement. The trouble is, there’s no walking back this ridiculous statement. Toyota is deeply buried in its own stupidity on this one.)

I get the fact that Toyota, after years of laying the groundwork to become part of the American fabric, could become woefully jaded to the point that it somehow loses its way and starts believing the fantasy it has created for itself as to its place around here. But this?  This kind of behavior is simply inexcusable. 

Far from the pious, “aw shucks” believers who promote themselves as being part of the “American fabric” – a canard that it is so desperate to project and convey at every opportunity – Toyota has been exposed as a company made up of carpetbagging mercenaries who will stop at nothing to throw around some money on the chance that they will gain a favor down the road.

It is officially the most cynical car company in the world.

And that is the High-Kilowatt Truth for this week.


HYPE, INC.
by Editor
22 Jun 2021 at 3:50pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. We’re living in a strange Twilight Zone-like moment in the automobile business. As we sit here waiting for the “Grand Transition” to Battery Electric Vehicles to come to fruition, manufacturers are scrambling to keep and hold your attention, even if the EVs they’re bringing to market are months, if not years, away. 

Setting aside the current silicon chip crisis, which has resulted in empty dealer lots and sticker – and above – prices, we’re seeing ads for vehicles that are barely on the horizon. And we’re also having to endure orchestrated PR-hype campaigns from the various auto manufacturers, aided and abetted, of course, by certain card-carrying members of the media who just can’t help themselves. 

The question I’m getting the most right now is “Why?” As in, why the constant hype over EVs that are so many moons away? And why the intense PR barrage talking about budgeted plans and programs that won’t be online until 2025 and 2026 – and beyond?

And the simple explanation? Wall Street. After a steady diet of hype generated by the ongoing Muskian Nightmare, which they have lapped up with glee and, in turn, boosted Tesla stock to ridiculous levels, it has been proven that the denizens of Wall Street absolutely love EV hype, no matter what shape or form it takes. And the other manufacturers definitely want in on that action, especially if it means boosting stock prices.

Though this business has always been about The Product, and always will be about The Product, beyond that, boosting the stock prices of these companies is what it’s all about. It not only makes shareholders happy, but it just makes everything easier for these companies. And if they have Wall Street-types in their pockets –lapping up every hint, fantasy “what if” projection and battery-laden thought balloon – then these manufacturers get rewarded with aggressively elevated stock price targets and bullish outlooks. And that translates into serious ca$h-ola.

But there’s no doubt that this hype-fest has its limits. For instance, it has gotten to the point that the hype begets more hype, with the number of advanced reservations taken for future products being touted as a bellwether of success to come and a reason to jerk the stock price up even more – at least according to Wall Street – even though it has basically nothing to do with anything other than a $100.00 refundable deposit made on a whim. The current EV frenzy is so warped right now that Wall Street has been guilty of bidding up EV startups that don’t even offer a whiff of a product beyond a digital image and a few platitudes and promises. Or even less than that. (Lordstown Motors is a different deal. Let’s call that the “bait-and-switch” hype. There’s no question that company’s fifteen minutes are up.)

So, understanding all of this, the portrayal of Cap’n Jimmy as the New Messiah of the auto biz as crafted by Mark Truby’s PR minions and embellished by the Detroit Free Press ad nauseam is going to continue. After all, it has worked sensationally well with the Wall Street-types. It has boosted Ford’s stock value, and as long as enough EV models – and even better, EV battery plants – are mentioned, Wall Street is good with that. Make that very good.

A similar reaction from Wall Street has embraced GM, as it announced plans last week to build its third and fourth Ultium battery plants to support its wave of new EV models to come, and upped its total spending on new EV technology to $35 billion from 2020 through 2025. Needless to say, Wall Street lapped that up like parched dogs after a 5k run.

But then again, it’s a funny thing about hype. It’s easy to generate, and it’s easy to absorb and react to positively with a bullish burst of optimism from the practicing swells on Wall Street, which translates into euphoric statements after analyst calls and rosy predictions from the more notorious and self-absorbed analysts. But even the most creatively crafted hype has a shelf life of, oh, about five minutes in this 24/7 media-saturated world we exist in today. And even though the denizens of Wall Street may give their blessings to the latest maneuvers coming from Detroit and anoint a New Messiah (no matter how undeserved), it won’t take very long before the inevitable chorus of “What have you done for us lately?” descends over the Motor City like a black cloud of doubt.

That means if there’s a hint of a missed product intro date, or if there’s even a rumor of fundamental product issues that translate into a less-than-stellar – or even a flat-out botched – launch, all of that hype will have gone for naught and count for absolutely nothing. In fact, the negative reaction will be profoundly worse due to that original hype because Wall Street-types don’t like to be made to look like fools (even though it’s a role they’re often seemingly comfortable with).

Where does all of this leave the car-buying consumer? As you might imagine in big, fat, limbo. In fact, between the shortage of cars due to the chip crisis and the endless wait for the new wave of EVs yet to come, consumers are left having to deal with an entirely new dimension of Hype, Inc. That means seeing ads for cars that won’t be available for 12 to 36 months (or more), as automakers continue jockeying to control mindshare by projecting strength and technical prowess as they tease their future products. (As I’ve been saying for a long time now, 2025 is going to be huge.) So, if the Hype, Inc. wars don’t interest you and the EV future is too far out ahead to worry about, you’re left to scrounge around dealer lots to find something to drive.

Good luck.

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


RAGING AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT.
by Editor
14 Jun 2021 at 10:20am

Editor's Note: This week, we're re-running a column that shows Peter at his most reflective about the impending shift from the ICE Age to our EV future. Like many of our AE readers, I have mixed feelings about the whole thing (and this from someone who has owned two Volts), mostly because the whole EV story feels anticlimactic to me at this point, since we've been hearing about the coming 'revolution' for more than a decade now. So in the meantime, this week's Rant invites us to revel in the pure joy of the automobile and build a garage of our own personal ICE favorites. For if you are reading this, you are surely one with The AutoExtremist. Also, please check out On The Table, Fumes and The Line. -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(digitaltrends.com)

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

(GM)

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

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

(mecum.com)

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

(legendarymotorcar.com)

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

(Richard Michael Owen/Supercars.net)

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

(hiconsumption.com)

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

(mecum.com)

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

(bjmotors.biz)

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

(Lamborghini)

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

(GM)

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

(Dodge)

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

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

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

As Dylan Thomas famously wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


CAP?N JIMMY?S LOVE BOAT.
by Editor
5 Jun 2021 at 10:17am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. It never ceases to amaze me that The Motor City is still a company town like no other (well, except for Hollywood, which is its own special brew). Unless you live around here, it's hard to understand what I'm talking about, but once again I've been presented an opportunity to paint for you a vivid picture of what I mean. Last Thursday (June 3rd), the Detroit Free Press - or is it the Detroit Ford Press? Or, is it the Ford Free Press? - actually ran a story (above the fold, no less) with the headline: "Lightning's bonus: A full spare." The gist of the story is that Ford's new Lightning EV pickup is the only one of the coming EV pickups to have been designed to accommodate the placement of a full-size spare tire. Yes, you read that correctly. That this "news" would merit a front-page placement and a full page inside is almost incomprehensible and flat-out tedious beyond belief. But that's what passes for journalism these days at the Freep, as it is nicknamed, and in this crazed company town. No, you just can't make this shit up, but little did I know this was just the warmup for what was to come.

Late the afternoon before, Ford PR chief Mark Truby put out a lengthy – and breathless – email statement about how Ford was realigning its PR department for the new world. Not a huge surprise, as corporate kumbayas have been de rigueur for a while now. In this era of corporate responsibility, if a major corporation isn’t wearing some cause, or stance, or crafted persona on its sleeve in full view of the public, well, something’s just not right. And I think this is generally a beneficial development and constitutes proper corporate citizenship. After all, trying to contribute something to the greater good is a worthwhile endeavor.

But sometimes, as in most things when corporations get involved, things can go awry, and in a hurry. And when it comes to car companies, there’s always a chance that things can go off the rails with blazing speed. 

Given that, the big news with this PR announcement from Ford was that the company had hired Caroline Adler Morales, who previously toiled for former President Barack – and Michelle – Obama. With a long and illustrious career in the political arena, Morales has been given the title of “director of stakeholder advocacy” at Ford, which Truby explained thusly: "In this role, she will be responsible for bringing our purpose to life through great initiatives and creative communications, helping us become far more intentional about showing our values to the world."

"We want to be a company that is not only known for products and services but we want our corporate character to shine through," Truby continued. And then, this is when it got sketchy. "You want to be part of the cultural conversation. We want to build advocacy — like when you think of Patagonia, Disney and even Tesla. They're very intentional about helping others tell their story and about building fandom and support, whether in the environmental community or people who just love Broncos or Mustangs or F-150s," Truby said. 

"We have the potential as a brand to have even more love and support and advocacy from the public than what we do. But we have to be intentional about it. At the highest level, Caroline will be working on those types of strategies — from corporate giving to ESG — environmental, social and governance priorities."

Oh, really? The PR minions over in Dearborn can’t possibly believe this mumbo jumbo, can they? Love and support and advocacy from the public? You have got to be kidding me. I know certain high-ranking members of the Dearborn-based automaker have lofty, bordering on the touchy-feely, opinions of themselves and Ford’s place in the world, but this is laughable, and unmitigated bullshit of the first order. (Even China's President Xi Jinping wants to do a rebrand so that his country becomes more "lovable." It's like a plague.)

That would have been enough, thank you very much, from Ford for one week, but then the lamentable Phoebe Wall Howard weighed in with a gushing, 2500-word online piece late Friday afternoon (and, of course, it appeared on Page 1 in Sunday's Freep) with the blaring headline: “Ford stock was cheaper than a sandwich. Now shareholders are gloating.”

Now, it’s no secret that Howard has been, shall we say, CEO Jim “Jimmy Har-Har” Farley’s biggest booster, but now even other members of the usually compliant media that cover the auto biz whom I talked to were saying out loud, “WTF?” As in, what gives with Howard and Ford? Another said, “This is just getting fucking ridiculous.” Or, as one observer said to me succinctly, "Why don’t they just call the Freep the Ford Free Pass?"

Here are a few highlights: 

“Ever since Ford CEO Jim Farley made his much-anticipated Capital Markets Day presentation on May 26, industry analysts have raved, Ford's stock spiked and has held steady.

He talked about billions in new investments, keeping promises and being a disruptor.

While new products play a significant role in the stock surge, faith in Farley is an essential element, analysts and shareholders often say — before and after Ford's investor calls.”

She goes on to quote Margaret O’Mara, a professor of history at the University of Washington, who sees a direct comparison between Farley and the company founder — who employed Farley's grandfather. (Which right away should tell you that O’Mara, author of “The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America," clearly doesn’t know jack-shit about the automobile business.)

"I think a lot about how Henry Ford himself was the face of the brand and himself an innovator," O'Mara said. "He was like Steve Jobs later at Apple, producing something for the masses that had been a boutique product for a few, and figuring out ways to make the product accessible and transformative."

"It's an interesting parallel that I think Farley is trying to pick up on," she said.

Off the rails? This train of thought is stopped dead in the desert, waiting for the rest of the railroad to get built. Comparing Farley to what Jobs did at Apple is ha-ha laughable. And flat-out wrong.

"There were a lot of computer companies and Apple wasn't the leader. But they did ads that really were designed to enlarge the market beyond tech enthusiasts and explain how this computer was going to transform your life — in education, home finance and different ways the computer had not been understood as a tool.

"That's a really great parallel to Ford," O'Mara said. 

No, actually it isn’t, Margaret, but just go on making a complete fool of yourself. 

During his investor presentation last month, Farley said Ford is transforming from a traditional automaker that does build-and-sell transactions "to a lifelong, always on, customer relationship ... Our ambition is to lead the electric revolution. We really mean that."

Well, Farley may really mean that, but no one with a properly jaundiced eye believes a word of it. 

Then, Howard went on to tout the efficacy of the new F-150 Lightning EV pickup, which she has done so much since its intro, you’d think that no other pickup truck ever existed. I won’t bore our AE readers with that sidebar, but suffice to say it redefined the definition of tedious. But that was just a warmup for more Farley bootlicking.

“Yet Farley often downplays expectations, which seems to play to his favor. He's an under-promise, over-deliver and exceed-expectations kind of guy.” 

Really? Farley is a consummate bullshit artist, and he always has been. I’ll give him this much: He’s smart enough to know when a gift has landed in his lap, and to exploit it for all it's worth. It has defined his entire career. He’ll just engage the power of his smarm offensive and put it on display – ably abetted by Truby’s PR minions and Howard – so that the people who don’t really know the inside story of his career will never know any better. 

Howard seems to have the unique ability to conjure up a rogue’s gallery of so-called “experts” to provide quotes for her stories. Like this one:

"Ford is ... supremely hedged by continuing to offer internal combustion, hybrid and EVs in a situation where being hedged will not only save the company but make it stronger," said market analyst Jon Gabrielsen. "GM is standing naked as a jailbird with all bridges behind them burned. This is pragmatism and wisdom versus hype."

Really, Gabrielsen? Are you watching the same business, or are you just making it up as you go along? The fact of the matter is that GM is much better positioned than Ford when it comes to the ICE vs. EV balance. Yes, GM CEO Mary Barra has made a deep commitment to EVs, but in the meantime GM is going to bury Ford over the second half of this year with more inventory and more profits with a plethora of hot-selling vehicles. The second half of 2021 is shaping up to be a nightmare for Ford, and Ford has even admitted as much. 

(Oh, and by the way, the real Bronco, as opposed to the faux Bronco Sport? It was supposed to be oozing out of showrooms in May, then it was June, and now Ford has delayed it yet again. This has been the recurring theme for this company for at least a decade. Apparently Farley’s “genius” is unable to crack that code.)

In a rare admission by Howard, who never ever has had even a remotely negative word to say about Farley, she says toward the end of her latest paean to Farley and Ford that critics of Farley inside the company complain he is all hat and no cattle. 

Ding, ding, ding!! Those critics inside the company are pissed off, because they know the real Jim Farley, not the manufactured sheen proffered by Truby and Howard. And they loathe him as much as any CEO who has ever bumbled down the halls of Ford, and that includes Jacques “I’m the smartest man in the world” Nasser. But does Howard expand on that? Oh hell no. Instead, she comes back with… “But external observers share a different opinion.” And then proceeds to quote another chip-genius, who weighs in with:

"I love everything coming out of Ford lately. I’m finally hearing them talk like a Silicon Valley company instead of a stodgy old-world company," said Russell Hancock, president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a consortium of business and government leaders working to address regional challenges. "When California passed clean air laws with higher smog standards Silicon Valley companies went out and hired engineers. Detroit companies hired lawyers. That’s always been the rap on Detroit."

"Tesla's CEO wasn't thinking about selling cars; he wanted to solve a planetary crisis," Hancock said. "That meant creating an electric car that excited passion. Suddenly Detroit is turned on its ear. And Detroit is totally getting it." Memo to Mr. Hancock: How can I put this gingerly? We don’t care what you think of “Detroit.” And by the way, in the immortal words of John Boehner: Go fuck yourself.

Howard can’t help herself, apparently. She says, “The public has witnessed that disruption innovation in autos is not just a dream.” And then she proceeds to quote yet another instant auto expert who apparently just crawled out from under a rock:

"When people have been thinking about cars, the only disruption to date has been Elon Musk and Tesla. He created this vision no one could believe. He created a signal effect that anything was possible," said investor Melissa Bradley, a business professor at Georgetown University and managing partner of 1863 Ventures. "There’s a new level of belief and expectation within the car industry that Farley is willing to capture. It's pretty f-ing awesome."

Yes, yes, Melissa, absolutely no one thought of EVs before Musk, and Farley is the only CEO with the vision and foresight to pick up that mantle. What a bunch of bullshit. Again, par for the course for one of Howard’s “experts.”

And here’s one more contribution from the peanut gallery: "When people see measured approach, there’s a sense of security that wasn’t there with (previous CEO Jim) Hackett," said Marcus Hudson, executive director of the Calderone Advisory Group based in Birmingham (Michigan), which advises suppliers in the automotive industry. Farley's approach resonates, he said. "It's a master class in risk management."

Again, really? Farley makes one speech in front of the investor community, and he’s anointed the industry savior, someone who can walk on water and lead Detroit to the Promised Land? I will say this, I didn’t think much of the investor “community” – or the industry “experts” in academia – before this. But this article and Howard’s wrangling of these so-called “experts” who come off sounding like a passel of ill-informed clowns damn-near put me over the edge.

And so, dear AE readers, that pretty much sums it up. No reporter, and I mean no one, has come close to genuflecting on behalf of a car company to the excruciatingly syrupy level that Phoebe Wall Howard has on behalf of Ford. And this piece will go down as the most disgusting journalistic BJ in this town’s history.

But it has also painted a wonderful picture for me. With the sun setting low over the Detroit River, I can see Mark Truby, with a team of PR minions gathered around, babbling about Ford’s purpose in life, plus a bunch of investor hacks and wannabe industry experts from academia, all on board Cap’n Jimmy’s Love Boat as it sets sail in search of even more accolades. With First Mate Howard gushingly reporting every move, of course.

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


I?M NOT FINISHED.
by Editor
1 Jun 2021 at 9:53am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Twenty-two years ago, I opened the very first issue of Autoextremist.com with the following:

The Bare-Knuckled, Unvarnished, High-Octane Truth. 

You've come here for a reason. You're either curious, bored, or in some internet-fueled haze that's taken over your body and turned you into a quivering jellyfish that has lost all concept of time and space. Well, for whatever the reason, welcome. I'm not going to sit here and make promises about what Autoextremist.com will or won't do for you. I will say, however, that you will not read anything like it when it comes to the weird world of automobiles, because the people here are the most committed automotive enthusiasts in the world. So much so, that we operate in a dimension that other so-called "car people" find bewildering and even frightening. The Truth will do that to people. Especially in Detroit, which is one of the strangest places on earth. This place is dominated by the automobile companies. Ford in Dearborn. DaimlerChrysler in Auburn Hills. And of course, General Motors, who appropriately enough, has taken over the monolithic Renaissance Center on the Detroit river. And we mean dominated. People outside of this city can't comprehend how dominant and pervasive the automobile business is in this town. It is stifling. Oppressive. Demented. And flat-out crazy. Executive changes merit front page space in the daily newspapers and lead stories on the local TV news. It is beyond being a "company town." It is a company philosophy. A company social structure. Company clubs. Company communities. Company morality. And of course, company cars. And it isn't just the car companies themselves. It's the multi-billion-dollar juggernaut suppliers like the Lear Corporation, all the way down to the guy who knew how to work a lathe pretty well, who is now knocking down a million a year out of some skanky building in Madison Heights. Yup, it's crazy alright. Which brings me to our lead story for Autoextremist.com No. 1... 

It's hard to understand the impact of those words now, but believe me, this was revolutionary stuff at the time, unheard of and totally unexpected. After the first emails went out announcing the website – I had stumbled upon a media list from a car company’s PR department and used it to great effect – the buzz grew exponentially. I wrote about things that the mainstream automotive press would only talk about in off-the-record or deep background conversations with PR operatives, usually at the bar when no one else was listening. I wrote about subjects that were taboo, blatantly calling out major screwups, and horror of horrors, calling out the individuals responsible and naming names. Oh my, that just wasn’t done around here. 

Indeed, for me, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The ad biz had become overrun by spineless weasels, recalcitrant twerps and enough bloviating fools to make my skin crawl, and that was just on the client side. The agency side had its own rogues’ gallery of unrepentant, unmitigated assholes, egomaniacal empty suits, and a laundry list of vacuous, small-minded “Leader-Emperors” with no clothes who specialized in daily humiliation and condescension because it made them feel better. It wasn’t pretty. 

And after three months of doing this site under an assumed name, it was time to go. (At my last meeting at Campbell-Ewald, the head of the agency closed the meeting with, “Hey, have you guys read that website Autoextremist.com? I know he’s in advertising, because he knows too damn much.” A few nodded yes. I remained silent, thinking to myself, “I gots to go.”)

As I have told my readers many times, there was no “plan” with AE. It was just me and WG creating commentary and content that was laser-accurate and uncomfortably scary to this town. Remember, this was a place that was used to existing in a “bubble” of rote press release regurgitation and endless softball stories passing for “coverage" of the auto industry. Everyone was walking around in a blissfully unaware stupor – that is, until we came along. 

One thing that absolutely drove the upper hierarchy of the automotive companies bonkers and still does was the fact that I had the unique ability of knowing the auto executive mindset like no other. I knew what they thought and why they were thinking it almost before they did. It was an innate ability that I developed over the years after being exposed to countless executives in this business. And to be blunt, it scared the shit out of them. I lost count of the executives who have told me personally over the years something like, “I don’t know how you do it, but it’s like you’re in the room with us.” This was usually followed by, “I don’t like what you write about us but it’s so damn accurate and you’re usually right, which really pisses me off.” 

Everyone was convinced I had moles everywhere, especially Sergio and his minions out in Auburn Hills. The reality? I just knew what those guys were thinking before they even thought it. And it indeed pissed them off. Sergio even sent his PR minion out to have dinner with me and scope me out. The guy actually used the word “inconsequential” to describe me to my face, and it was one of the most unpleasant dinners I’ve had in my career – and I’ve had a bunch of ‘em – but if I was so “inconsequential” why did FCA management come to a halt to pore over my latest column about them as soon as it hit the Internet? I’ve had several people who were “in the room” out there back in those days confirm to me that they were convinced I had a mole, because, “It was uncanny how you nailed what was really happening.” But I digress.

Creating content for AE every week has been exhilarating, debilitating, gratifying, frustrating and relentless. Usually all in the same day, in fact. And some days it has been “a pride swallowing siege” to quote a favorite line by Cameron Crowe. Having said all of that, it still doesn’t quite cover what it has been like over these 22 years. When I say relentless, you really have no idea. Because of the way we’ve conducted ourselves over the years our readers have come to expect a level of quality in our content that isn’t expected in other auto sites. It can be a burden, yes, but it also depends on how you look at it, because it also is a source of immense pride for us that we have established a very high standard. So, relentless it is, but frankly, at this point, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So here we are. Yes, I have been thinking seriously about stopping the website or putting it on hiatus. Reaching the end of an era in any pursuit is fraught with peril and consumed by endless hand-wringing. Was it as good as we thought it was? Or was it even better than we realized? That’s for others to judge at this point. The thought of stopping has been a burden unto itself. When I got bounced from one of my previous advertising gigs, I took great pains to say that I refused to be labeled by who I was and it was good to be just “me” without the title.

But who’s kidding whom here? After 22 years I am The Autoextremist. It’s who I am, it’s what I do, and it will be my persona until I’m not an active participant on this planet anymore. And that is definitely not a burden. In fact, I am proud of the moniker.

We have accomplished a great deal with this website. We have rattled the sacrosanct cages, we have reduced grandiose executives to the egomaniacal weasels they truly are, and we have focused on the act of designing, engineering and manufacturing the automobile, which is still one of, if not the most, complicated endeavors on earth.

Needless to say, I don’t plan on going gently into the night. As Dylan Thomas famously wrote:

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

I will hammer whatever I have for all it’s worth and make every single moment count with Autoextremist.com from here on out. And I’m happy again to defer to another giant - Robert Frost - at this point: 

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

So, we go on, with great pride and renewed focus and fortitude. WordGirl and I want to thank all of our readers for reading and listening over the years. And, thank you for all of the kind words that you sent to us in Reader Mail

It has been a fantastic, glorious run, but I’m not finished. Not by a long shot.

And that’s the High-Kilowatt Truth on our 22nd Anniversary.

 

Editor's Note: Please go to "On The Table" for more on our 22nd Anniversary, and check out "Fumes" and "The Line" for our coverage of the Indianapolis 500. -WG

Just for fun.

 


WATCHING THE WHEELS.
by Editor
25 May 2021 at 9:47pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Editor’s Note: Next week (June 1) marks 22 years of Autoextremist.com. Since next week’s issue doesn’t fall on the actual day, it looks like we’re going to mark the milestone over the next two weeks, judging by Peter’s column today. I’ll let you in on a little inside knowledge too. I have no idea if this website will continue after next week’s issue. Peter and I have gone back and forth about the possibility of bringing this site to a close over the last few months, and frankly, it’s a tossup at this point. I know Peter has other interests involving writing, but he still loves bringing this site to life every week and he still loves bringing it, period. So, here we are, 22 years later. I will never forget that April morning when Peter called, furious at what had just transpired in a creative meeting with the Chevrolet client, fed up with his own agency's “executive” stumblebums and their serial incompetence, and telling me, “I can’t do this shit anymore.” I then reminded him that it might be time for Autoextremist and that we could do it on the Internet instead of messing around with a print magazine. Six weeks later we were up and running. And now, it's our 22nd year. -WG

 

Detroit. Longtime readers have heard this story before, so I’m not going to regurgitate all of it. How I grew up in a serious car family rooted in the heyday of Detroit, with a special emphasis on anything and everything to do with GM; how I hammered away in my automotive advertising/marketing career for over two decades, trying to make sense and make a difference in an environment - and a town - that was rapidly descending into a giant sinkhole of irrelevance; how I came up with the idea for a car magazine called “Autoextremist” in 1986 that wouldn’t have any advertising so we could say exactly what needed to be said about the cars and the business of designing, engineering, building and marketing cars; and how I had to shelve that idea because I was still toiling away in the midst of my ad career. And how, disgusted with what car advertising had become – both with the clients and ad agency side of the equation – and tired of watching “Detroit” wallow in its own serial incompetence, I resurrected that car magazine idea thirteen years later and honed and polished it for the Internet.

The result? Autoextremist.com debuted on June 1, 1999, as a weekly Internet magazine featuring my perspectives, insights and commentaries on all things automotive: specifically, the people, the products, the marketing, and all of the good, the bad and the ugly that entailed.

Working under a pseudonym while my ad career was winding down, my “Rants” in Autoextremist.com blew the lid off of the oppressively staid auto business as practiced around these parts – as well as the rote press release regurgitation that passed for news coverage back then – and changed the way the business was covered, talked about and assessed.

My early columns – “White Boy Culture,” which was our debut, excoriated what the Detroit mindset had become and why it was contributing to the industry’s descent into madness, and “The Sad Saga of Saturn,” blew the lid off of the fiefdoms and the egomaniacal game-playing that dominated GM’s rigidly obsolete culture and contributed to the demise of the once-promising Saturn division – set the tone for what was to follow.

As I said in my book The United State of Toyota, Autoextremist wasn’t for everybody, and needless to say, it wasn’t for the faint of heart: "From Day One, the real essence of Autoextremist.com was the fact that I said what others were merely thinking or would only discuss in 'deep background' and in 'off-the-record' conversations. It was never a 'touchy-feely' publication that coddled its readers and genuflected at the feet of the car companies. There's plenty of pabulum in this world. And if becoming a lifetime member of the 'Milquetoast & Crumpets Afternoon Tea & Automobile Society,' while sitting around the fire chatting about Renault Dauphines floats your boat, there are plenty of other automobile publications out there to satisfy your primordial need for blandness. But that's not Autoextremist.

I continued: “Born out of a defiance and frustration with the status quo that I believed was stifling creativity and squeezing the very life out of the automobile business - particularly as practiced here in the Motor City - and then fueled by my passion and vision for how great the business could become again and what was necessary in order for it to get there, Autoextremist.com was not only a labor of love for me personally - it became an influential force to be reckoned with in this industry with an impact far beyond my most vivid imagination."

And today, on the eve of the 22nd anniversary of this publication, I am immensely proud of Autoextremist.com and what we’ve accomplished with it. And I’m even more proud to say that, despite countless imitators, Autoextremist.com is still the force to be reckoned with and still the destination for the kind of commentary and insight about this business that simply can’t be found anywhere else.

I should pause here to say that it hasn’t always been easy. We set a high standard here from the very beginning, and at times “bringing it” every week has proven to be difficult. The odd hours, the intermittent – at best – sleep, the relentless cadence knowing that the moment an issue is finished I have a few hours before I start thinking about the next one – it has been a relentless grind. But then again, if I had to do it all over again, would I have done it any differently? Not a chance. When I left advertising, it was time to go, and even though the only “plan” I had was to say what needed to be said about this industry, I think it worked out pretty well.

Observing this industry after being immersed in it from a young age has given me a perspective that not many can bring to the table, and I am grateful for that. My insights into the auto executive mindset have been well-documented – as WordGirl says, “It’s like a gift” – but I doubt if some of those execs on the receiving end of my searing insights appreciate it. Too bad.

It’s no secret I’ve been edgy of late. I know I should be mellowing, according to what “they” say, but that just isn’t happening. My fury is growing, in fact. I am impatient with the Grand Transition to electrification. Every vehicle announcement of late is so premature that it is laughable. Any time a model year is given for a vehicle to arrive in-market you can add another year to that. As I’ve said before, at this rate 2025 is going to be bangin’. If we’re still awake for it, that is.

No matter what, the industry wheels keep churning. But pay attention, promises are being made that can’t be kept. A reminder: Just because a car company has a glittering press conference does not mean that they will be able to follow through in a given time frame. That has been a proven fact of life in this business time and time again. And electrification or no, that is not about to change. I am gratified about one development of late, however, and that is that people are finally realizing that mainstream autonomous vehicles are decades away, and I view that to be exceedingly good news.

After creating the content for Autoextremist.com all of these years, I am reminded of one of my all-time favorite songs - Watching The Wheels - written by John Lennon from the album “Double Fantasy” (1980). I have been thinking about this song a lot lately. It makes me think about what life might be like on the other side…

People say I'm crazy
Doing what I'm doing
Well, they give me all kinds of warnings
To save me from ruin

When I say that I'm okay
Well, they look at me kinda strange
Surely you're not happy now
You no longer play the game

People say I'm lazy
Dreaming my life away
Well, they give me all kinds of advice
Designed to enlighten me

When I tell them that I'm doing fine
Watching shadows on the wall
Don't you miss the big time, boy?
You're no longer on the ball

I'm just sitting here
Watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

Ah, people asking questions
Lost in confusion
Well, I tell them there's no problem
Only solutions

Well, they shake their heads
And they look at me as if I've lost my mind
I told them there's no hurry
I-I'm just sitting here doing time

I'm just sitting here
Watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go

And that’s the High-Electron Truth, 22 years on.



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