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The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

WE?VE REACHED PEAK ?JUST SHOWING UP.?
by Editor
17 Feb 2020 at 4:55pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. All the rage of late has been the debate on whether we’ve reached “peak” car or not, that with the advent of ride sharing, mobility initiatives and ultimately, autonomous vehicles, the personal use of cars and trucks will eventually start to wane. Well, this just in: I’m not buying any of it. 

The power of the freedom of mobility is not only alive and well, it is thriving. Get away from the urban centers long enough and it is readily apparent that the lure of the open road is still vital and vibrant. Add to this the fact that younger people starting to have their own families have quickly come to the realization that in order to accomplish all of the things they have to get done – the appointments, the recitals, the sports teams, the errands, etc., etc. – they are required to have their own transportation suited to their specific needs that they can rely on. 

But let the pitchfork-wielding anti-car zealots have at it with their half-baked theories and their breathless urgency to force mass transportation solutions down everyone’s throats, because their blind belief that the day we all rely on generic pods to get through life is right around the corner is a fantasy that will go unrequited.

But there is a “peak” going on that has nothing to do with “peak car,” and that is the peak PR banter being generated over upcoming cars both real and imagined. In fact, I’ve never seen anything like it. From breathtaking numbers promised by super cars that don’t even exist (except in the various boutique car companies’ dreams), to promises of unheard-of range and performance by BEVs that haven’t been built yet, just showing up has taken on a new – and undeserved – credibility for these manufacturers.

It goes something like this: A manufacturer envisions a vehicle that will leap small buildings in a single bound (or something like that), with the carbon footprint over the life of the vehicle equivalent to a single decomposing leaf, complete with a promised range of 500 miles on a single charge (or a 250 mph top speed if it’s a supercar, or both, as the case may be), and a sales experience that basically whisks the vehicle to your door with just a signature. Add to this the inexperienced members of the mainstream press who hungrily bite hard on any news that promises unheard of fantastical performance numbers, and you have a recipe for disaster.

PR minions have figured out in this new age of instant communication fueled by the insatiable consumption of the Internet, that the mere mention of a vehicle complete with “projected” performance numbers is enough to generate the kind of buzz that heretofore used to be hard won with quantified substance and in-the-flesh proof of existence. 

Now? Manufacturers, from boutique to major, can generate huge impact and dominate the news cycle at least for a few days without even showing anything but a computer-generated image or video promising that The Future will be bright and that their ElectrifiedEight will redefine transportation for the next decade, if not more. It doesn’t matter that actual production timing is sketchy, because those little details seem to escape the mainstream media’s scrutiny every time. And it doesn’t matter that the manufacturer in question didn’t exist until a couple of years ago, because it is immediately assigned a gravitas rivaling an auto manufacturer that has been in business for 100 years, without having produced one vehicle.

This “peak showing up” is seriously out of hand, flat-out crazy in fact. All a manufacturer has to do is craft the right kind of press release with the right kind of visual support and it is immediately considered a player in the industry, just like that. And this is occurring despite seasoned industry observers pointing out that the car company in question either has no cash or is burning through cash at such a prodigious rate that there’s not a chance in hell that an actual vehicle can be produced, let alone a way of selling and servicing them.  

There’s little rhyme or reason to what’s going on and not even a shred of reality can be assigned to some of these alleged manufacturers. Here we are almost a quarter of the way through this new century and the concept of “selling air” has taken on a new urgency and a gravitas by default, fueled by people who don’t know any better – and sadly, some who do – this industry has been taken over by Sideshow Bobs looking for a big score based on rumor, conjecture and flimflam. 

How will all of this shake out? Just like it has over the last 125 years in this business. Substance eclipses promises, performance supersedes conjecture, and the ability of a manufacturer to design, engineer and develop a product in a timely fashion and with financial realities and deliverables in place always wins.

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


FORD?S HIGHWAY TO HELL.
by Editor
9 Feb 2020 at 12:30pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo
 
Detroit. (posted 2/7, 3:00 p.m.) "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way..."

No, Charles Dickens didn’t write about the automobile industry, but he might as well have, as the Sturm und Drang and the semi-controlled chaos that are now part and parcel of everyday life in this industry have become magnified with each passing month.

And nowhere is this more on display than at the Ford Motor Company. That Ford has fallen into a kind of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde swirling maelstrom of contradictory forces is no big secret. On the one hand, Ford is limned as a train station rehabbing, AI deal-making, Mustang Mach-E-purveying, F150-churning benevolent American icon. This is the Shiny Happy Ford, the car company brimming with indefatigable spirit and with roots that go back to the very beginnings of the auto business in this country.

That this version of the Ford image is carefully crafted and honed to a polished degree is no accident; this is the preferred image for the Ford Motor Company that chairman Bill Ford Jr. not only wants to portray but one that he believes in with all of his heart. And Ford lives up to that ideal in terms of the countless examples of financial support the company gives to the greater Detroit community. That is to be commended and is truly appreciated by the denizens of the Motor City.

But as I indicated, there are two sides to this story. Though Ford operates as Benevolence Inc. and wears its heart on its sleeve while doing so, the company can’t control everything in terms of image and the burgeoning reality of how outsiders view the company.

And the news from Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn early this morning didn’t help. Was it shocking? Oh, maybe for 30 seconds or so, but then again, it really wasn’t a surprise at all. Ford president Joe Hinrichs was being “retired” - at 53 – and Jim Farley was named Chief Operating Officer for the company by CEO Jim Hackett. That Hinrichs was forced out – taking the fall for the company’s dismal fourth quarter financial performance – was no secret, and the fact that Farley had become Ford’s new “golden boy” had already been telegraphed by a series of puff pieces in the media for going on well over a year now. This was after Bill Ford told me four years ago that Farley and Hinrichs "represented the future of the company."

More on Ford’s heir apparent in a minute, but before I get into that, the most pressing question must be asked: Why did Hackett, who presided over the near-cataclysmic financial results that rocked Wall Street, keep his job? I have been waiting for the Hackett miracle to come to fruition for three very long years now, but Ford’s in-house “Professor Moon Beam” has failed to impress at every turn. 

Why does Bill Ford persist in sticking with Hackett? Well, to his credit - or detriment - depending on how you look at it, Bill is loyal to a fault to people he believes in and trusts. Take Alan Mulally, for instance. Bill Ford had absolute confidence in Mulally, and Alan didn’t disappoint, delivering results and profitability while working diligently to fix the “behind the curtain” parts of the business that aren’t glamorous but are so desperately crucial to a company’s success.

Bill Ford didn’t want Mulally to leave and why would he? Bill slept easier knowing Alan was at the helm. After Mulally declined to stay on any longer, Bill channeled his beliefs into who he hoped would be Ford’s next savior, his friend Jim Hackett, an executive who brought a resume to the table that on the surface had nothing to do with running a giant auto conglomerate. Bill Ford alighted on Jim Hackett - who ran Steelcase furniture, with stops at the University of Michigan and in Silicon Valley thrown in for good measure - to be his new “Alan,” or hoped he would be at any rate.

Except it hasn’t worked out nearly as well as he’d hoped. Hackett marked his first year by making esoteric pronouncements on what organizations need and how Ford employees could do better at just being. And while Hackett was busying himself with lectures to the employees and the media on how organizations should run, the people who actually designed, engineered and produced the products were working diligently to keep Ford in the game. After Hackett’s first year of nothingness - and Wall Street’s growing impatience waiting for the “new” Ford - Hackett embarked on the now time-honored industry strategy to reduce costs within Ford with a scorched-earth ruthlessness, endearing himself to exactly no one. 

But the biggest issue Wall Street has is that the professorial, touchy-feely Hackett talks around and around, suggesting the best ways for things to happen, and the way everyone should feel while things are happening, but in true “I’ve-been-lost-on-campus-so-long-I-have-grown-completely-irrelevant-and-out-of-touch” fashion, he is nothing more than an expert air salesman at this juncture. And as we well know – or at least you should know by now – selling air counts for exactly zero in this business. “Selling Air” is the modern-day sequel to the Emperor’s New Clothes, and it’s much ado about nothing because, well, it’s much ado about nothing. So, as much as I loathe the calculated fleecing that’s part of Wall Street’s relentless M.O., the professional scammers there understand when they’re being broadcast to by an air seller, and they don’t much cotton to it. I don’t either. 

Now this has nothing to do about whether Hackett is a decent guy or not, because by all accounts he is, but it has everything to do with the projected image of the Ford Motor Company beyond this region. Here, we accept the fact that Ford does good things for the community, but “out there” in the real – and ever hard-core – investor world, it’s all about “what have you done for us lately?” And Jim Hackett talking about how things are going to be and how we should all feel while these things are happening understandably leaves everyone cold.

And now, at the end of Hackett’s third year in charge, Ford has suffered major screwups with its product launches and recalls, the company’s regions across the globe are in disarray – especially in China, which is Ford’s recurring nightmare – and the company just delivered a devastating quarter of bad news that has the industry talking and Wall Street-types shaking their heads. Tell me again why Hackett isn’t being shown the door? Oh, right, there’s that loyalty to a fault thing, and in this case it’s to the Ford Motor Company’s detriment.

The High-Octane Truth is that Hackett just doesn’t have the depth and breadth of experience to make a real difference at Ford. And right now, the one thing Ford desperately needs more than anything else is a chief executive who understands this business inside and out and can guide Ford through perilous waters. But that is neither here nor there at this juncture. The reality is that Joe Hinrichs got fired, and Jim Farley is now the heir apparent to replace Hackett whenever Bill Ford decides that his loyalty oath has reached its “sell-by” date. 

And what are we to make of Jim Farley? As I said in the beginning, the rise of Jim Farley was almost preordained when he was brought back from Europe three years ago. But who is Jim Farley, anyway? Let’s review, shall we? He is the former Toyota wunderkind who was responsible for the launch of the Scion brand, and who was brought in by Alan Mulally to be Chief Marketing Officer way back when.

And not unexpectedly, his debut at Ford didn’t exactly get off to an auspicious start. Farley didn’t waste any time transforming himself into an enfant terrible right out of the gate. Displaying a 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. - which has defined bad actor executives for decades in this business - became his calling card. Internally, Farley became known as "The Two Jims" and interactions with him became a crapshoot, hinging upon whether people encountered the "good" Jim or the "bad" Jim on any given day. Needless to say, when the "bad" Jim was unleashed, Farley left a trail of bad feelings and highly questionable decisions in his wake. 

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 façade that is hollow to its core. Farley’s bad executive behavior starts with his inability to listen, considering his own counsel to be by far the best source when it comes to decision making. And because of that, as well as a host of other annoyances, Farley left such a bitter taste in people’s mouths that when he was shipped off to run Ford of Europe several years ago the overwhelming sense of relief internally at Ford was palpable.

Blissfully unaware that he was universally loathed back in Dearborn, Farley seized upon his assignment in Europe, seeing it as a stepping stone to the executive suite at Ford. And the planets were aligned for him to come off as a hero there, too, because the European market had been in the doldrums for so long that the only way it could go was up. Steve Odell, who had been running Ford of Europe and had done all of the heavy lifting by closing plants and laying off people, set the table for Farley to succeed. And the inevitable happened, as Ford’s fortunes recovered in Europe along with the overall market. Farley took advantage of the opportunity and made sure all of the execs back in Dearborn could see what a genius he was, and unfortunately, too many fell for it.

And when Mark Fields was jettisoned from the company, not only did Bill Ford bring in Hackett, he brought Farley back from Europe and made Joe Hinrichs and Farley co-No. 2 executives reporting to Hackett. It proved to be a fateful decision, because at that very moment Farley decided that he was very much going to be The Guy.

An emboldened Farley, unfettered by rational thought and untethered by accountability, turned out – predictably – to be disastrous. With his eyes set firmly on Hackett’s job, the very worst of Farley returned to Ford headquarters, only now his most repugnant qualities were magnified and amplified, with no one seemingly able to rein him in.

Besides his now-signature belligerence and rudeness in full view, Farley started to get out ahead of his skis, making decisions that were puzzling at best and potentially harmful to the long-term health of the company. Having been gunning for Ford’s advertising agency – the WPP-owned GTB – for years for slights both real and imagined, Farley almost immediately put the massive Ford account up for review. This, after WPP/GTB had been involved with Ford for 73 years. Could the advertising be improved? Certainly. And there's a way to do that. But destroying a long, fruitful relationship to assuage Farley’s gargantuan ego was flat-out irresponsible and uncalled for.

Farley also commandeered company appearances in front of financial analysts, something completely beyond his ken, thinking that if he demonstrated his acumen there he would gain favor with Bill Ford and the board. And true to form, this proved to be a total disaster as well. Industry analysts are still talking about Farley’s cringeworthy performance at a Deutsche Bank Global Auto Industry Conference here in Detroit several years ago, where he came off as being someone who was flippant, woefully ill-prepared and not ready for prime time, and consequently Ford came off poorly too. Do you wonder why Ford can’t gain any traction on Wall Street? Farley’s dismal performance that night didn't do the company any favors.

Am I picking on Farley? Hardly. I have only scratched the surface in describing this egomaniacal character and his blatant power grab, and now that he has been given the reins and deemed to be the heir apparent, he could wreak havoc on the company’s future for years. And this simply shouldn’t be, of course. One bad actor shouldn’t be causing this much consternation and hand-wringing throughout the enterprise, threatening to jeopardize everything the Ford Motor Company stands for. 

The only good part of Ford’s announcement today was that Hau Thai Tang – Ford’s Product Chief – will still be a factor. That Thai Tang is extremely talented and capable, and one of the best and brightest at Ford is indisputable. In fact, he should be the future of the company, not Farley.

As I said earlier, Ford PR has been working overtime on pumping up Jim Farley’s image for well over a year now. It has been a charm offensive - or should it be smarm offensive - that has known no bounds. In fact, reading some of these stories, 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 solidly in the discussion to replace Jim Hackett when "Professor Moon Beam" wanders 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 latest "humanization" campaign of Farley is unmitigated bullshit - and it has nothing to do with the "real" Jim Farley - the one hordes of people at Ford have grown to loathe with a seething level of disgust that is palpable. 

This announcement from Ford makes me fear for the very future of the company. In fact, 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.

Because when everything is factored in, Jim Farley is simply the wrong person, at the wrong time, at the wrong car company.

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


THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY OF THE SUPER BOWL CAR ADS.
by Editor
3 Feb 2020 at 8:51am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. The Super Bowl has long been a battleground for advertisers looking to introduce a new product, burnish their image, or make a memorable statement about who they are, or at least who they think they are. 

Automotive companies have a checkered past when it comes to appearing on the big game, with some rising to the occasion with commercials that transcend the category and create a lingering buzz for the manufacturer in question. But those memorable auto spots have admittedly been few and far between over the years, because the norm is that car spots on the Super Bowl have too often been predictable, or worse, instantly forgettable.

It certainly isn’t easy for a car company to generate a positive impression on the biggest television event of the year. After all, it’s a creative environment that lends itself to raucous, laugh-out-loud spots or immersive, heart-wrenching commercials and not much in between. So, auto companies are up against it before they even contemplate the idea.

But still, if they show up, I feel compelled to write about them, and this year is no different. And yet again, the creative efforts brought forth for the biggest television/sports event of the year run the gamut from really good to embarrassingly bad.

I should point out that my continuing disappointment surrounding the Super Bowl car commercials is the fact that these car companies just can’t seem to contain themselves and end up releasing the ads before the game. The thinking behind this is that they can control the information flow and maximize the impact of the spots through social media. And that is flat-out wrong. Instead, these auto marketers dilute the impact of their spots immeasurably and hasten their spots departure to Afterthought Land. Only one manufacturer seems to get the idea that the impact of the creative execution lies in the surprise – and the buzz – of the moment. Read on…

Disingenuous, Thy Name is Audi. What can be said about this Audi spot besides that it’s grating, disingenuous and annoying? Well, plenty, actually. The :60 spot dubbed, “Let It Go” is a classic example of marketers completely blowing a golden opportunity on every level. Utilizing the actress Maisie Williams from “Game of Thrones,” far from an inspired choice by the way, and regurgitating the song “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen – a monument to musical tedium if there ever was one – this commercial plants Williams behind the wheel of an Audi e-tron Sportback only to find herself stuck at an intersection, which, according to Audi PR minions, “represents a crossroads of today’s preconceptions and old notions of consumption, success, and status. Williams chooses to reverse course and leave it all behind, breaking into the familiar lyrics of ‘Let It Go’ as she drives toward a more sustainable future. Along the way, fellow drivers, pedestrians, and others join in, representing the brand’s efforts to usher in a new era of sustainable mobility. The journey is a metaphor for how the decision to make more sustainable choices takes all of us doing our part.”  

Really, this from a car company that willingly cheated with their diesel emission software for nine frickin’ years, while touting “clean diesel” from the rooftops, as if they had discovered the Holy Grail? Now they think they can snap their fingers and start lecturing us – the German auto manufacturers just love to lecture the rest of the industry on how they’re technically superior – and suggest that the “old” way is obsolete and Audi is going to lead the charge toward the “new” way because they’re ultra-environmentalists all of a sudden? What a bunch of unmitigated bullshit. 

The VW Group – with Audi being their spear carrier – lied to the world for almost a decade and sold vehicles that spewed diesel emissions into the air with impunity, in effect running a calculated criminal enterprise, and now we’re supposed to just “let it go?” This is an annoyingly insipid spot on face value to begin with, but add in the backstory and it becomes despicable – and a flat-out disgrace. 

It was good for Chrissy Tiegen and John Legend, but what was the car again? The Genesis spot was supposed to bury our preconceived notions about “old” luxury and tell us about “new” luxury, but instead it turned out to be just a vehicle for the aforementioned Hollywood couple. As for the vehicle that the spot was supposed to be about – the Genesis GV80 SUV/crossover – Hyundai’s Genesis division is finally present and accounted for in the hottest segment in the market. Beyond that, crickets.

It’s baaack, with an all-electric vengeance. The GMC/Hummer spot was shocking for a couple of reasons. First of all, the horsepower, torque and performance numbers of this super-luxury truck are mind-bending. Secondly, any lingering notions of what the Hummer used to represent have been instantly relegated to the dustbin of history. There will still be people out there that will equate the Hummer with being a bad actor, but the rest of us – at least those who can afford one – will embrace the notion that the Hummer is the pinnacle in its category. I just wish the spot had been 60-sec. instead of 30-sec., and I wish the gist of the spot hadn’t been leaked out beforehand. This spot was more about the emphatic return of the brand, but the execution was good too.

Hyundai will park it for you. Hyundai’s optional “Smaht Pahk” function on its new Sonata got a fun intro in this spot. Featuring John Krasinski, Chris Evans, Rachel Dratch and David Ortiz, it was clever and well done, and I liked it. But one comment: This “Smaht Pahk” feature is great and all, except when Sonata owners are emboldened to park their cars in spaces too close for anyone else to get in or out of their cars. And in our typical high blood pressure cities, this might spahk more than a few confrontations.

Jeep’s “Groundhog Day.” This spot for the Jeep Gladiator was hands down the best car ad on the Super Bowl. Once again, Olivier Francois – the CMO of FCA – demonstrates that he understands the massive scale of the moment implicitly, and bringing Bill Murray back along with a few other key players from the original and much-loved movie was genius. And the fact that the spot was released at 6:00 a.m. on Groundhog Day was simply perfect. This commercial was so far ahead of the rest of the pack that nothing else was even close. Nicely done.

Kia Gives It Everything. “Tough Never Quits” for the Kia Seltos delivers a powerful message and it has an appealing tagline at the end: “Give It Everything. This was an excellent effort on behalf of the Korean brand.

Porsche’s nightmare. Did Porsche actually need to do a Super Bowl commercial? Is that really what this company needs at this juncture? My short answer: How about no?

First of all, it’s nice to see the Porsche museum and some of its iconic cars on screen, but the spot quickly deteriorates into an insipid car “chase” that is just painful to watch unfold.

Once the commercial gets into the car chase scenes, it’s as if any connection to Porsche’s vaunted “soul” is pitched right out the window and the spot devolves into a rote – and painful – regurgitation of every car spot of the last 30 years. It pegged the AE Wince Meter – our advertising barometer – as soon as the cars left the museum.

I’m sure that there are some Porsche enthusiasts out there who will love the spot simply because they get to glimpse iconic Porsches from the past that are on screen in the beginning of the commercial. And I can relate to that. But it would have been a much more impactful commercial if it had never left the museum, giving us looks at some of the great Porsches of the past while suggesting that the Taycan will soon take its place among the great Porsches of all time.

When I heard that Porsche was going to do a spot for the Super Bowl this is exactly what I was afraid of. In its quest to make the brand more approachable – always the death knell for luxury-performance auto manufacturers – Porsche operatives have managed instead to trivialize the brand, reducing it to an insipid car chase that suggests nothing but a giant waste of time and money.

Porsche’s night at the museum “Heist” commercial is not just a bad dream, it’s a nightmare. It’s a cautionary tale for all auto manufacturers and a reminder that contemplating an appearance on the most viciously competitive advertising arena in the world requires laser-like focus and – especially in Porsche’s case – an appreciation of who you are and what your heritage stands for. Porsche set out to make a statement and failed miserably.

Toyota’s Un-heroic Heroes. This was a mess of a spot on behalf of the new Highlander. Sometimes an ad agency – egged-on by clients who should know better – slips into and overreaching mode because it’s a spot for the Super Bowl. And unless it’s an impeccable idea that has true resonance, it usually fails miserably. This is one of those times.

As for the rest of the spots, I really liked the Google commercial called “Loretta.” It was just beautifully done. And, the Mountain Dew spot featuring Bryan Cranston; the NFL spot “Next 100”; the Rocket Mortgage spot with Jason Momoa; “Scout” from WeatherTech and Reese’s “Rock,” which was topped-off by the head-up-his-ass visual. Perfect. And a special award goes to every P&G spot on the game: collectively these were the worst ads on the game, and a quintessential waste of time and money. Ouch.

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


PORSCHE?S NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM TURNS INTO A NIGHTMARE.
by Editor
27 Jan 2020 at 8:37am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. With great fanfare, Porsche is appearing on Sunday’s Super Bowl for the first time in 20 years. Besides being the NFL Championship game, the Super Bowl has long been a battleground for advertisers looking to introduce a new product, burnish their image, or make a memorable statement about who they are, or at least who they think they are.

Automotive companies have a checkered past when it comes to appearing on the big game, with some rising to the occasion with commercials that transcend the category and create a lingering buzz for the manufacturer in question. But those memorable auto spots have admittedly been few and far between over the years, because the norm is that car spots on the Super Bowl have too often been predictable, or worse, instantly forgettable.

It certainly isn’t easy for a car company to generate a positive impression on the biggest television event of the year. After all, it’s a creative environment that lends itself to raucous, laugh-out-loud spots or immersive, emotionally heart-wrenching commercials and not much in between. So, auto companies are up against it before they even contemplate the idea.

So, when I got word that Porsche was going to appear on the Super Bowl for the first time, my first reaction was one of trepidation. Why? Well, for those aforementioned reasons certainly, but also, what could possibly be gained for a manufacturer like Porsche to appear on the broadcast?

We all know that Porsche is no longer that little sports car company of yesteryear. No, it’s now an SUV manufacturer that still reserves a part of its production for sports cars. This allows the operatives at Porsche to remain in touch with the company’s soul, at least that’s what they tell themselves anyway.

In fact, in the official press release, Klaus Zellmer, President and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, had this to say: “The spotlight and buzz around ads at this event make it a perfect venue for reaching new fans - in a fun way that connects with the game’s themes of performance and competition. A Porsche is always a driver’s car, and the playful chase in ‘The Heist’ draws a clear line through decades of models to the Taycan. They all share the same soul.”

It’s no secret that Porsche operatives are always concerned about losing touch with the company’s soul, despite the record sales – and profits – from Macans and Cayennes. As well they should be. Because Porsche’s little corner of its sports car heritage – bolstered by the existence of its 911s, 718s and its racing programs – is shrinking with each passing quarter. But a Super Bowl commercial? Is that really what this company needs at this juncture?

Here is more from the official Porsche press release, with Porsche PR minions working overtime on this one: “The spot is titled ‘The Heist.’ At its heart is a spirit of fun, mixed with a dose of racing competition. The Taycan as the newest member of the family shows off its own electrified Porsche soul. Filming locations in Germany include Heidelberg, the scenic Black Forest, and the Zuffenhausen district of Stuttgart where Porsche is headquartered. The chase originates at the renowned Porsche Museum. Many of the race cars, street cars, and one surprise vehicle are part of the museum’s collection.”

They should have quit right then and there, but no, they continued: “Why advertise during the game for the first time in more than 20 years? The Taycan, which launches Porsche into the era of electric power, is capturing the attention of new audiences. Now Porsche wants to introduce the core of the brand to those who may not be familiar with its 70-plus years of sports car DNA.” 

Let me repeat the question after all of that: A Super Bowl commercial? Is that really what this company needs at this juncture? My short answer after reviewing the spot many times over the last few days: How about no?

First of all, it’s nice to see the Porsche museum and some of its iconic cars on screen, but the spot quickly deteriorates into an insipid car “chase” that is just painful to watch unfold. (You can see an extended version of the spot here; it is cut to 60 sec. for the game. The added length certainly doesn’t help its case. -WG)

Once the spot gets into the car chase scenes, it’s as if any connection to Porsche’s vaunted “soul” is pitched right out the window as the spot devolves into a rote – and painful – regurgitation of every car spot of the last 30 years. It pegged the AE Wince Meter – our advertising barometer – as soon as the cars left the museum.

I’m sure that there are some Porsche enthusiasts out there who will love the spot simply because they get to glimpse iconic Porsches from the past that are on screen in the beginning of the commercial. And I can relate to that. But it would have been a much more impactful commercial if it had never left the museum, giving us looks at some of the great Porsches of the past while suggesting that the Taycan will soon take its place among the great Porsches of all time.

When I heard that Porsche was going to do a spot for the Super Bowl this is exactly what I was afraid of. In its quest to make the brand more approachable – always the death knell for luxury-performance auto manufacturers – Porsche operatives have managed instead to trivialize the brand, reducing it to an insipid car chase that suggests nothing but a giant waste of time and money.

Porsche’s night at the museum “Heist” commercial is not just a bad dream, it’s a nightmare. The company set out to make a statement and failed miserably. It’s a cautionary tale for all auto manufacturers and a reminder that contemplating an appearance on the most viciously competitive advertising arena in the world requires laser-like focus and – especially in Porsche’s case – an appreciation of who you are and what your heritage stands for.

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


MEANINGFUL WORDS AND THE QUINTESSENTIAL QUEST.
by Editor
21 Jan 2020 at 8:39am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Since we’re in this giant holding pattern as we wait for the Grand Transformation of our transportation fleet to begin, five words come to mind that we use often around here: It Won’t Be Long Now. In the past, these words were tossed around at auto shows by executives representing underperforming car companies as they promised that because of the new products they have coming over the next eighteen months or so, everything would get better. Alas, that wasn’t always the case for the car companies in question; in fact, it was a 50-50 proposition, at best. 

Currently, I see Nissan executives scrambling to save the brand in this market, but thankfully they aren’t even thinking about uttering those five words. Nissan is so far in the tank on all fronts that it will take a very long time to pull itself out of this downward spiral. Volume was pumped up for years and shoved down dealer throats, fleet dumps became the company’s lifeline, dealer margins disappeared, and the company’s products lacked focus. I’m not so sure the brand will survive here, it’s that bad.

And who was the executive neck-deep in Nissan’s relentless march to mediocrity, the guy who took marching orders from one Carlos Ghosn? Jose Munoz, the guy who incidentally is the relatively new Hyundai Motor America CEO. Munoz has been on a charm offensive with Hyundai dealers of late, but I will offer this note of caution to those purveyors of Hyundai products: Be careful what you wish for, because things are never what they seem with Munoz. His track record speaks for itself. 

Back to this Grand Transformation thing. There’s no question in my mind that BEVs could suit most urban dwellers just fine, as long as they have access to home charging. But who’s kidding whom, here? The infrastructure to support the massive shift to electric vehicles just isn’t there. Yes, it is expanding by the day, but, really? We have a long, long way to go before it’s a real thing. (Hint: When you start seeing islands at your local gas stations set aside for charging, that’s when you’ll know that progress is being made on a charging infrastructure.) And let’s not forget the ugly reality of owning a BEV in colder climates. The range is reduced by half. Yes, by half. And that conjures three other words we like to use around here: Not. Very. Good.  

But, make no mistake, It Won’t Be Long Now has taken on a new meaning for the auto industry. The headlong rush into BEVs has become the quintessential quest for all involved. The VW Group, still moaning over the giant fraud it committed with its diesel emissions debacle – and the estimated $40 billion with a ”B” that it cost the company – is putting its full industrial might behind BEVs on a scale that has the rest of the industry shaking its head. As in, VW’s bet is such an all-in commitment that anything less than a sensational outcome could cripple the company for years to come. But undaunted, the rest of the industry is scaling up its own BEV plans as well. Every manufacturer is promising incredible BEVs that will push us into the future at a furious pace, or, It Won’t Be Long Now, on the grandest of scales.

For consumers, the premise is that if we all wait long enough the sky will be bluer and the grass will be greener, and all things will come together as planned. Except we all know that is a not going to be the case. Because the “end of next year” as some manufacturers have promised will slide into the middle (or end) of 2022 at the earliest. But that’s not all. The large majority of this coming brace of new BEVs will start arriving well into ’23 and on into ’24 and '25. So, actually, it will be a long while before we’re tripping over BEVs in this market. Wake me up in 2030; it’s supposed to be a blissful BEV Land by then.

There are other words roiling around in my head this morning besides our favorite five. Words that have meaning well beyond what they suggest on the surface. For instance, I’m okay, which can mean everything from yes, I’m actually okay to, I am the furthest thing from being okay. Or, the classic, I’m fine, which usually means the direct opposite, especially between significant others. And then there’s the go-to, I’m good, which encompasses a vast spectrum of feelings.

Another personal favorite? One of the classic scenes in the Steven Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can has Leonardo DiCaprio - as the young master con artist Frank Abagnale – watching an old movie where the doctors on screen weigh in on a medical diagnosis with the words, “I concur.” DiCaprio’s character then employs the same words to great effect while posing as a young doctor in Georgia. 

The words I concur are succinct and convey an instant and emphatic meaning. We use the phrase often around here; in fact it seems to come in handy on multiple occasions. 

Is this Grand Transformation really happening? Yes, it is. Does anyone really know how it’s going to shake out? Not a chance. 

A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall, as Mr. Dylan said.

I concur.

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


HUBRIS REVISITED.
by Editor
15 Jan 2020 at 8:27am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Fourteen months ago, I wrote a column entitled “The Untouchable Goes Down” on the heels of the news that Carlos Ghosn, the all-knowing and all-seeing leader of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, would be fired from his position for underreporting income and misusing company assets – to the tune of millions of dollars – and that he had been arrested by Japanese authorities, which came as a complete shock to the business. But perhaps “complete shock” isn’t really accurate, certainly not as far as I was concerned. Having been around high-level auto executives since childhood, I have been exposed to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (aka the Unctuous Pricks) when it comes to auto executives and the auto executive mindset. 

Now that Ghosn has escaped the “Guilty Until Proven Guilty” Japanese justice system, such as it is, in a ballsy move that I must say was impressive and ripe for a movie treatment, I thought it would be a good time to revisit my take on the spectrum of auto executive behavior I have come across over the years.

As you might imagine, the good ones share similar traits: A steady brilliance, clear thinking, the ability to listen, vision, a focused consistency, and the ability to stay ahead of the curve by grasping the details while keeping the Big Picture in mind. These executives lead with clear purpose and an unwavering drive, and their stellar example results in the ability to inspire and get the best out of people. It sounds easy, but it definitely isn’t, because the truly good ones only come along once in a while.

The opposite end of the spectrum, remarkably enough, is not all that far from the good side. In fact, the executives on the “ugly” side of the spectrum share many of the same “good” traits. And that's why these executives are the most dangerous, because they lull people into thinking that they are something that they are most definitely not. These executives are usually diploma-carrying graduates of Unctuous Prick University, and they mix a particularly nasty cocktail for themselves every morning made up of one-part arrogance and one-part hubris. 

These executives, if you pay attention, are easy to spot. They thrive on the notion that they are a Master of the Universe, that they harbor a kaleidoscope of gifts that make them the smartest guy or girl in the room – any room. They love to create a legendary aura for themselves, carefully crafted by their PR minions and then disseminated to the press in drips and drabs, so that the media can dutifully report details as scoops to help manufacture the legend. 

You should be familiar with this by now, as recent leaders both within and outside this industry have been a party to it: The incredible schedules. The intensive, long hours. The ability to multitask on a scale that’s beyond mere mortals. The need for little sleep. The behind-the-scenes berating and verbal abuse of direct reports. And the slow but steady belief in their burgeoning press clippings, which results in a suffocating arrogance that permeates everything with its stench.

That these executives eventually become toxic and overbearing is usually The End Game for their respective companies. The domination of all things with impunity by these “ugly” executives becomes an extreme liability because they inject themselves into every facet of the enterprise, leaving their companies with little or no recourse to do anything about it.

I heard the same stories and witnessed the same behavior with the former CEO of FCA, obviously. But Ghosn has always been a particularly hard case, hoodwinking his fellow Japanese and French executives into believing that perhaps he did really walk on water, and that to have the temerity to question him usually led to an executive’s swift demise. 

I saw through his act almost from Day One, and I winced every time I read another glowing review about the “brilliant” Ghosn. And it was all there too. The incomprehensible schedule. The almost incomprehensible depth and breadth of knowledge. The ability to keep multiple balls in the air that would flummox mere mortal executives. The carefully crafted aura of The Legend. 

And it was all unmitigated bullshit, as the news of the day proves. Ghosn’s arrogance was boundless, and his hubris was uncontrollable. He was just the latest in a long line of Unctuous Pricks in this business who was allowed to run roughshod over everyone around him and not only lived to boast about it but thrived on every last morsel of the legend that was created around him. So, of course he skimmed millions, and of course he thought he could get away with it. Because when all was said and done, he was above it all. 

As I said fourteen months ago: He. Was. Untouchable.

Now, Carlos Ghosn is yet another cautionary tale in a long line of cautionary tales that this business has been subjected to over the decades. It’s a story that has played out time and time again: The arrogance. The hubris. The manufactured aura. And then, the inevitable denouement.

He will sit and stew in Lebanon, insisting that he will participate in a fair trial conducted there, but who’s kidding whom? Lebanon has no extradition agreement with Japan, and I don’t believe for one second that a trial will ever take place. 

Ghosn is gone, and he won’t be missed.

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


THE STORIES ON DECK FOR 2020.
by Editor
6 Jan 2020 at 10:50am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As the new year gets rolling, it’s readily apparent that the Sturm und Drang going on in the auto industry will continue unabated. It’s unavoidable, simply because the massive transition to battery electric vehicles is going to be rocky, jarring and relentlessly unpredictable. 

And this just in: In case you’re wondering, 2020 will not be the year of the electric vehicle as some experts have suggested. No, it will be another gradual step in the transition for an industry reeling, reacting and planning for models that are slated for ’22, ’23 and ’24. Make no mistake, this will be such a dramatic transformation that by 2030, BEVs will dominate the product plans – and production – for all of the major manufacturers.

Lingering questions will remain, of course. The pace of battery development will continue to accelerate, bringing down costs. And this will be a significant part of making the BEV transformation possible. I believe, however, that the charging infrastructure will lag the arrival of these BEVs, and this will continue to be an issue. The dominant charging regimen will continue to take place at private residences, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. The day you start seeing charging “islands” at gas stations across the country is the day the infrastructure transition will start to make believable traction.

But if 2020 is going to be another ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) dominated year, what are some of the stories that I expect will dominate the news cycle?

Yeah, We Got Nothin’. That Nissan’s downward spiral is accelerating is no big secret, but the depth and breadth of the implosion could have far reaching – and permanent – consequences. Nissan’s honcho executives du jour are making all kinds of promises about “a new beginning” for the brand, with new breakthrough designs and an emphasis on product, product and more product. But who’s kidding whom? Nissan dealers in the U.S. are extremely nervous if not flat-out pissed off about the constant churn of executives and the dismal sales numbers. Some are even wondering if Nissan can remain a viable player in the market in the future. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Nissan could be forced to drastically curtail its operations here if some sort of miracle doesn’t materialize. Nissan execs are at the “let’s throw everything up against the wall and see what sticks” stage, which is a giant bowl of Not Good and inevitably leads to nowhere. The reality is that “Hail Mary” passes have never accounted for much in this business, and Nissan is teetering on the bring of disaster.

We Only Kinda Sorta Said That It Would Be Ready in December of 2020. Ford operatives are shouting from the rooftops that the Mustang Mach-E BEV is sold out through advanced orders that are piling up at a feverish rate. And that’s all well and good, but promises that Mach-E deliveries will actually start next December are unmitigated bullshit. Ford has demonstrated repeatedly and convincingly that they are incapable of launching a vehicle without serious issues, and having to fix those vehicles after the fact has become standard operating procedure for the Dearborn-based automaker. Add to that dismal track record the complexities of launching an all-new battery electric architecture and you have a recipe for disaster. Industry insiders already have correctly surmised that the Mach-E carries the stench of a product that has been rushed into being, and there’s nothing about it that indicates otherwise to me. Yes, Ford might squeeze one out next December 31st to say that it achieved its goals by the date promised, but don’t look for it in any meaningful quantities before the spring of 2021.

We Started the Segment, And We Aren’t Ceding It to Anyone. The new Cadillac Escalade is going to reestablish Cadillac at the top of the luxury SUV segment. After cooling their heels while listening to all of the accolades piling up for the new Lincolns – especially the Navigator – the True Believers at Cadillac went about their business designing and developing the best Escalade imaginable. The new Escalade starts with a sophisticated independent rear suspension, which will transform the dynamic performance for Cadillac’s flagship. That’s huge news unto itself, but look for the new Escalade to set the table for GM Design’s dramatic push into elevating the look, feel and quality of its interiors. While this transition to BEVs continues to play out, make no mistake, the new Escalade will be a hugely important – and profitable – vehicle for GM. 

A New SUV Will Make Break or Break the Genesis Brand. Hyundai’s foray into the luxury segment has been plagued by fits and starts, which was exacerbated by some piss-poor decisions that contributed to dealer-level chaos. The cars are quite good, but American luxury consumers aren’t exactly embracing Genesis to the extent that they do Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Audi, et al. That is about to change, or Hyundai certainly hopes it does. The new Genesis GV80 SUV will arrive here in the summer of 2020. Hyundai has correctly surmised that it has only one shot and a very narrow window of opportunity in one of the most crowded segments in the business, so expect lots of content, aggressive pricing and a very high-profile advertising and marketing campaign to go along with it. How important is the GV80? It will determine whether Genesis lives or dies in this market; it’s that crucial.

These are just some of the important stories you’ll be hearing about in 2020. There will be plenty of others as well, along with some intriguing questions such as, how will Roger Penske transform the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indy 500 and the IndyCar Series now that he is control? How hot will the new Corvette be in the market and for how long? (A quick answer? Scalding hot and for a long time to come.) How long will the pickup truck phenomenon keep its momentum? Will the new Bronco be a hit for Ford, or will they find a way to botch that too? Will the new June date for the Detroit Auto Show matter? Or has the ship sailed for auto shows in general? 

And on and on and on... 

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for the first week in January.


HAGGARD HACKS, RECALCITRANT TWERPS AND THE USUAL SUSPECTS. DUCK AND COVER, LA...
by Editor
12 Dec 2019 at 4:37pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. The 20th year of Autoextremist.com was another memorable trip through the swirling maelstrom that defines this business. With its usual ups and downs and backwards and sideways maneuvers, this year in the auto industry was its most frantic yet. 

Without further ado then, our best words from 2019... excerpted from our Year in Rants.


At the opposite end of the spectrum, those aforementioned wide-open spaces? They can be beautifully breathtaking. Moab. The Painted Desert. The Grand Canyon. The Badlands. Yosemite. Yellowstone. The Continental Divide. Joshua Tree National Park. Glacier National Park. Big Sur. We daydream about them, write about them, photograph them and paint them. They make us feel alive and invigorated, they can make us feel incredibly small and inconsequential, too, but they are oddly life-affirming and precious at the same time. (Everyone should drive across this great country at least once to be immersed in those wide-open spaces; it remains the quintessential American experience.) 

Our relationship to space says a lot about who we are and how we live life. I tend to avoid confined spaces, much preferring the wide-open spaces both in the physical realm and in thought. Needless to say, a narrowly defined path never really suited me. Tom Petty had it right when he said, “The sky was the limit.”

As it should be. (“Into The Great Wide Open.” December 11th)


The inexorable march of time consumes our every waking moment; in fact, it looms over our heads like a giant Big Ben hanging in the sky. And what can we do about it, exactly? Not much.
 Let me clarify that. Time shouldn’t hang over our heads, just the opposite in fact. Time should be cherished. It should be relished and exulted in. Savor every moment, because it turns out that is the best use of our time. (“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” December 4th)


Why was I asked to meet him (Iacobelli)? He said that my series of columns about FCA and Marchionne “were so devastatingly accurate that the company virtually stopped to digest them whenever they came out.” And given my writings, he felt that "you are the only person who I can trust to tell the inside story of what really went on, preferably in a book." My columns were so pointedly accurate that, “they were convinced that you had insiders at the very top levels of the company secreting info to you.” (I didn’t.) And that, “Marchionne and his crew had a complete meltdown over your columns on a regular basis.” (I knew this to be true, as I had been told this multiple time over Marchionne’s reign.)


Over those two meetings, Iacobelli presented a devastating account of just how deep the payoffs to UAW officials actually were. The FCA-UAW training centers were a complete joke, with UAW members reporting to the centers to do nothing, if they bothered to show up at all. And the tales of payments for plane trips, vacations, binges in Las Vegas and myriad other gifts, cash and prizes were eye-opening, including a $2 million retirement party for an outgoing UAW executive that was staged in Las Vegas. Iacobelli said approximately $250,000 a month was spent keeping the UAW officials in line, in some months less, but in some months much more than that. And it was all designed to extract favorable considerations from the UAW, which translated into reduced labor costs to FCA.

And Iacobelli named names. In fact, every single UAW official revealed by the Feds so far as having been either indicted or under scrutiny was mentioned by Iacobelli. He said, “they were all on the take and were all going down,” and he was dead right. And make no mistake, Marchionne was up to his eyeballs in every bit of it, according to Iacobelli. In fact, given what he said – including Marchionne gifting expensive watches to key UAW officials with a carefully-worded note attached so they couldn’t be construed to having any value - I surmised that Marchionne would have been indicted if he hadn’t passed away, and Iacobelli didn’t disagree with my assessment. (I never spoke to Iacobelli again, but I still think it would make for a fascinating book that would probably destroy what passes for the UAW these days.) (“Three Things.” November 27th)


It’s clear to me that this “Cyber Truck" is going to be a niche of a niche vehicle. It is no threat to what the mainstream truck manufacturers are doing, and besides, they will have fully-functional electric pickups of their own by late 2021. (Musk claims that the Tesla “Cyber Truck” will appear in 2021 but given his highly-dubious track record I wouldn’t expect it until 2022, if not later.) 

And let me reiterate this notion of fully functional. The “Cyber Truck” is a long way from being that (the “protective glass” demo that went awry already underscored that, live and in color). Again, given Musk’s track record of letting buyers do the final development on its vehicles, to say it will trickle out in fits and starts is an understatement. The people who don’t blindly buy into the pronouncements from Dear Leader Musk understand this. The rest? Well, they already have a picture of the “Cyber Truck” as their screen savers; not much you can do with that, or them. The Muskolytes believe in whatever Musk tells them to believe and they will blindly proclaim their love for the Dear Leader, so that they might bathe in his brilliance.

The Tesla “Cyber Truck” will be a “pickup” for elitist swells who truly believe they have it goin’ on. In fact, the entire BEV pickup space is going to be carved into little niches (see Bollinger, etc.). So, if you want to pretend that you’re an F22 pilot, Tesla has your number. As for the rest of the real pickup buyers out there? I’m sure they’ll do just fine without it. (“Three Things.” November 27th)


And the third thing?
 Try, at least for a moment, to do your part to quell the rancor and chaos that has become part and parcel of our daily life here in America. Try to put aside the knee-jerk reactions and aggressive pronouncements; try to savor the moment of peace and be thankful for the blessings that you do have, instead of harboring resentments for what you don’t. 


Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. (“Three Things.” November 27th)


Ford, like every other automaker, is hell-bent not to be left behind in the BEV race, because that would mean a death sentence, a sign that it is desperately unhip and even worse, irrelevant. So instead of crowning its emboldened thrust into the “next” market with a new nameplate that would signal a new Ford, they hang the Mustang name on it from out of the blue, to the collective groans of “huh?” Right now, Ford gets the participation award for coming up with a “me-too” electrified crossover with a patently stupid and ill-advised moniker. And that’s it. But rather than leave you with that thought, I’ll leave you with this: Ford is calling the Mustang Mach-E a 2021 model, which will be out one year from now. Rest assured, given Ford’s dubious track record of blown product launches of late, the likelihood of a Mach-E hitting dealer showrooms in any meaningful numbers before the spring of 2021 is slim. And none. (“Ford Gets A Participation Award For The Mach-E. Now what?” November 20th)



Well, there was one more episode still worth grinning about after all of these years. After we had been running for hours in 85-degree heat and we were all covered in oil residue and sweat, a local township cop car pulled into the driveway at about four o’clock in the afternoon. We were ready to go out for one more run and he knew it. Stone. Cold. Busted. The young (thank goodness) officer got out of his car and paused for a moment. Now, needless to say, we weren’t supposed to be running the Orange Juicer on the street, but it was so damn addictive we couldn’t help it. So, the officer says, “Nice kart. Now you boys weren’t running it through the neighborhood today, were you.” We all answered in unison, “No, sir.” Then, with a big grin he said, “I didn’t think so.” And he got in his car and left. (“The Saga Of The Orange Juicer.” November 13th)



The sameness of the SUV/Crossover Hell we’re living in right now is undeniable. The suburban slog around here is populated with massive pickup trucks and SUV/Crossovers. Audi? BMW? Cadillac? Mercedes-Benz? Porsche? Ford? Chevrolet? GMC? Buick? Does it really matter? They’re all variations on the same SUV/Crossover theme; they run together in a blur of alleged practicality – and hugeness that has grown to be mind-numbing and relentlessly tedious. That’s why when a car like a Challenger or a Corvette rumbles by, or even a crisply executed sedan appears out of the blue, it’s almost a revelation. Will the pendulum ever swing back? I am out there looking for it right now but given the projected designs I am seeing for the Electrification Age I am more than a little concerned. Designers around the globe appear to be stuck in neutral designing variations on the rolling box theme, shifting a line here, playing with the greenhouse there and coming up with basically the same damn thing. How uninspiring is that? (“Oh Pendulum, Where Art Thou?” November 6th)


I think EVs will have success in the higher-end segments and in very specific niche applications. For instance, Bollinger seems to have the right idea with its trucks in that they are starting with the premise that they have no intention of being all things to all people, and because of this “not for everyone” positioning the company has a good chance at being successful for buyers with access to horse country, hunting lodges and ranches, and who think nothing of spending thousands on a weekend hunting outfit, even though the only hunting they might do is for an older bourbon that no one else has. As for the monster ICE machines, I say bring ‘em on. Because the day the sound and fury fades away is the day life as we know it will get darker and less interesting.

A scary thought indeed. (“Monsters And Other Scary Stuff.” October 30th)


In case you're wondering, the “whys” will continue to vex this business as long as it exists. It’s a simple formula, actually: Complacency + mediocrity = loss of customers and market share. And from there the downward spiral begins. (“Things That Make You Ask… Why?” October 23rd)

 
But the good times couldn’t last, because over time the German automakers got sloppy and greedy. Their collective arrogance deluded them into thinking that everything they touched would automatically turn to gold in the U.S. market. They started churning out models for every niche – both real and imagined – they could think of. Model proliferation became standard operating procedure, and they started playing in segments they had no business being in. Going down-market, the German manufacturers started peeling the luster off of their brand images, layer by layer, year by year.

And even worse, in their quest to generate more and more volume, the German automakers started playing big in the leasing game, becoming so dependent on incentivized leasing to prop up their sales that leasing now accounts for around 50 percent and above of monthly sales volumes for Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. (You’ve all seen the ads. the seductive - and illusory - lease number per month that sounds great until you factor in the down stroke, which adds at least $200-$300 per month to the total.) But those low payments have a devastating cost, resulting in highly depressed residuals at the end of the leases, which is where all of the aforementioned hand-wringing comes in. This just in: It simply isn’t sustainable. (“The Sun Sets On The German Car Thing.” October 16th)

 
The reality was that a Haggard Hack du jour from the fill-in-the-blank car company was dancing in front of his or her bosses – and the press – to save his or her job after a shocking decline in sales, blown product introductions, and our favorite go-to reason: serial incompetence. A dead giveaway in these pressers is when said executive gets up to talk about a vehicle that is at least eighteen months away, but everyone in the room knows that’s only if the planets align just right and that particular car company manages to launch the first product in its recent history on time, on budget and with no issues. And given that particular car company’s past performances, the chances of that happening are slim. And none. After sitting through one too many of these presentations – an exercise in Tedious Maximus, as Janice says (we don’t call her WordGirl for nothin’) – we developed our own phrase for automotive futility, aka “It Won’t Be Long Now!” (“Haggard Hacks And Glorified Vaporware.” October 9th)

 
Back to this fundamental transformation thing. The dawn of the Electric Era is going to be a jarring adjustment. The “emotionally charged and richer” part will consist of manufactured sounds that will be inner directed to the people inside the cars and SUVs (and in some cases projected so that pedestrians can hear an oncoming vehicle). As for the actual sounds of a BEV, there’s no real “there” there. Don’t think that’s true? Have you watched a Formula E race lately? I would like to say that it’s like watching paint dry, but that would do a disservice to the beauty of the drying process. The all-electric open-wheel racing series has zero visceral appeal because it has no urgency of sound. Nothing resonates in your gut except for the dulcet tones of slot car sets from childhoods gone by. And that’s what’s going to happen to our streets and byways. And please spare me the idea that the performance of the BEVs will make up for everything else that’s not quite right, because it just isn’t going to work that way. The new sound of silence that will permeate everything about everyday life will be a massive adjustment for everyone. And for a lot of people, that adjustment will be ongoing well into the future. We are about to enter a quiet period where the guttural moans from muscle cars and the searing shrieks from exotic sports cars will become welcome respites from the sewing machine cacophony that will come to define the Electric Era. As a kind of hush falls all over the world. (“There Will Be A Kind Of Hush All Over The World.” October 2nd)

 
We’ve clearly entered the “Duck and Cover” phase in this business. Past transgressions are coming to light, new issues are bubbling just below the surface, and the churn and burn of money marches on unimpeded. A caution to the auto executives out there currently enjoying their time in the sun: You might be next. (“Duck And Cover.” September 25th)

 
The ugly reality for the UAW is that this ongoing investigation could very well mean the end of the UAW as a functioning entity. So, UAW management can squawk and preen and talk tough all they want, but the clock is ticking on their very existence, and they refuse to acknowledge that fact. (“Strike Out.” September 18th)

 
So, here we are. With the vestiges of Akerson’s Reign of Terror finally purged from the GM system, the newly enlightened management of GM has finally seen fit to address the Black Hole of GM marketing that has plagued the company for years with the promotion of Deborah Wahl to Chief Marketing Officer. As I wrote at the beginning of this column and in last week’s “On the Table,” Wahl is exceedingly smart and one of the industry’s best and the brightest, and she’s a brilliant choice for the role. But she has a tall order to gain control of GM’s marketing function, because that function has been rudderless and devalued for so long that it’s downright criminal. In fact, there are some players within the GM marketing troops who have been operating within their self-created fiefdoms for so long that it has been like the Wild West, with little accountability thrown in for good measure. Nowhere is that more apparent than at Chevrolet. (“The First Order Of Business For GM’s New CMO? Chevrolet.” (September 11th)

 
Now, almost half-way through our 20th year, I am proud to say that we’re still doing what we do best. We still take you "behind the curtain" to give you an up-close look at the Wizards, the Dullards and everyone else in between in this business. I still say what the others are only thinking (or whispering) in deep background or “off-the-record” conversations, and I will continue to do so. And this publication will continue to influence the influencers every single week, even though they're loath to admit it.

Delivering The Truth, The Whole Truth... and absolutely nothing but The High-Octane Truth has been an exhilarating ride. (“Write Hard, Die Free, Part III.” September 4th)

 
The tedium of everyday life doesn’t warrant the use of the word “journey.” Dragging your ass to the local Gas ‘N Flask for a cup of coffee and a gut bomb that’s allegedly healthy on the way to work doesn’t constitute a “journey.” Roaming the aisles at Costco may be mildly amusing, but a “journey?” Hardly. Standing in line at the Post Office may feel like a “journey” but you know it isn’t; it’s just another tedious civic requirement that bites us in the ass, like a visit to the Secretary of State’s office. (Okay, visiting the SOS office isn’t a journey, it’s sanctioned torture for all who enter.) And then there’s the whole thing about the journey being the destination, or is it the destination is the journey? I get confused with all of this journeying. Why ask why? I do know that every car commercial these days is some sort of journey of discovery. A journey that will reconnect us with our souls on the way to finding out that this is one fine automobile! (“Amazing Journeys.” August 28th)

 
Let’s face it, the “hobby” has turned into a nightmare. The notion of “important” collectible automobiles with notable “provenance” that were lusted after for the sheer thrill of being next to one of the most coveted machines ever built fell afoul of the scammers and speculators years ago. Greed became the “hobby’s” cottage industry, and values were regularly skewed to an unconscionable level as a matter of course. This trend redefined the term “stupid money” and took it to an entirely new level. My go-to barometer for all of this was the absurd run-up in prices for air-cooled Porsche 911s. Yes, prices have appeared to have finally softened – albeit only slightly - after a half-decade of out-of-control frenzy, but still, $100,000+ for an old 911 is de rigueur, and it still basically sucks. The second big story to emerge from Monterey Car Week was the rise of the hypercar. What is a hypercar, exactly? Good question. These are fantasy machines that really have no rhyme or reason. There is no connection to any road-going reality with these machines because the idea of driving them on the street is beyond laughable. The manufacturers love to boast that these hypercars allow them to showcase their technological might and creative vision, but that is unmitigated bullshit. No, these bespoke projectiles are designed to extricate as much money as possible from fools who have too much money. (Swinging Dickism Writ Large.” August 21st)

 
So, as we wait for the death of the automobile and the industry as we know it, and suffer through this lingering interregnum, I have a message for the True Believers at all of the car companies: Don’t ever forget that you’re in the business of designing, engineering and building the best cars and trucks that you can possibly muster right now and in the foreseeable future. As long as you relentlessly execute to that goal, this industry will continue to not only be relevant and survive, but maybe even thrive.  

Because this just in: the Jetsons, at least for now and until further notice, was just a cartoon. (The Lingering Interregnum, Part II.” August 7th)

 
But Fairy Tales have never found purchase in the car business. In fact, this business is littered with bad stories and even worse outcomes that started out bathed in sweetness and light and boundless optimism. Nissan is paying for the years of abuse in the way it conducted its business, especially here in this market. It cranked out volume and shoved it down its dealer throats. And the rest? It was dumped in rental car fleets to pump up the numbers. Nissan lived off consumer incentives in the U.S. market for years, because that was the only way they could meet Ghosn’s ridiculous sales projections. And the products were too often middling to mediocre and sold not because of their inherent goodness, but because it was a “deal,” which made matters worse. (The Week That Wasn’t.” July 31st)


 

(Chevrolet images)

In summary, my negative comments about the rear of the car can’t take away from the fact that I think this new Corvette is an incredible achievement and a testament to the True Believers at GM Design, Engineering and Product Development. And even though there are quite a few hardcore Corvette traditionalists out there who decry the loss of the old front engine configuration, this is a spectacular machine by every measure: visual appeal, performance, engineering detail and outstanding value. And it will appeal to owners of competitive makes - including Porsche, with its skyrocketing prices - for the first time. Until further notice, the new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is the most seductive combination of design, performance and value available in the market. (“The New Corvette.” July 24th)


 
As I said when we first introduced our Brand Image Meter seven years ago, when it comes to the power of brands and the inescapable importance of brand image: “It’s the one thing that car companies – both good and bad – cannot escape. How a brand is perceived can make or break a car company, regardless of how long and illustrious a run that brand has enjoyed up until any given point in time, because one false move or one discordant note can be crippling in a matter of months.”

Not surprisingly, none of that has changed, and image wrangling is now the Number 1 priority in this business. Why? The democratization of technology and luxury has allowed auto manufacturers the world over to have access to the crucial ingredients that make automobiles desirable. And with supplier expertise greater than ever, any car company can dial up a witch’s brew of ingredients to compete in almost any segment they set their sights on. But does having the right cocktail of ingredients mean that success will be guaranteed? Not a chance, because the expertise of the rest of the organization in terms of design, engineering and product development comes into play. And even if the entire package is indeed thoroughly executed to the highest standards, the last and most meaningful ingredient – brand image – has to be there in order for the effort to come together. (“The Autoextrenist Brand Image VIII: The Throw Me A Frickin’ Bone Edition.” June 5th)


 
I am lucky in that I found something in Autoextremist.com that has kept me motivated and sharp for 20 years. And I truly appreciate the fact that I have it. We’re very proud of what we achieved here, and extremely thankful for the support, for the kind words and for all of the True Believers we’ve met along the way. It has been all-encompassing. It has been tough. And it has been, at times, soul-sucking exhausting. But if I had a do-over, I would do it all over again. Because even though it has been a relentless grind, I am very proud to say that we’ve made a difference and we’ve made a lasting impact. We set out to influence the influencers in this business and that is exactly what we did and will continue to do. It has been one glorious ride. (“Twenty Years.” May 24th)

 
To me the end of model proliferation for model proliferation’s sake is a very big deal. It has been such a part of this circus for so long that for the industry to now walk back from it is a measure of just how much the industry is in the throes of definitive change. We’re not talking about a few wispy clouds in the industry’s coffee these days. No, these churning, 70,000-foot thunderheads are ready to unleash their fury on this business for decades to come. (“Thunderheads.” May 19th)

 
If Nissan’s Japanese executives actually believe they can extricate the company from this mess in a short period of time, they are sadly misguided. Because of product cadence, poor product execution and a vacuous marketing strategy, it will take the better part of a decade for Nissan to get back on track. Suffice to say, Nissan’s continued presence in this market is not guaranteed by any stretch. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the company is merged or absorbed, because it’s clear that Nissan’s Japanese executives spend most of their time searching for a clue. And in a business that runs on “what have you done for us lately?”, that’s just not going to cut it. (“Nissan Craters.” May 15th)

 
The companies stocked with True Believers, the ones unafraid to dream, the ones focused on delivering the best in all aspects of this business - Design, Engineering, Product Development, Marketing - will succeed. It not only requires savvy management, it requires a complete cessation of the normal bureaucratic cesspool that paralyzes these companies, which means loosening the reins of the True Believers so that they can do what they're capable of doing. When it comes to The Future of this business, I will bet on the companies who value their True Believers, because those companies who refuse to do so will be ringing their death knells. (“Here’s To The Ones Who Dream.” May 1st)


That these established and assorted fringe manufacturers are lining up to create these hypercars cars is ludicrous, but if they can fleece enough customers to make it worth their while, well, I guess you can’t blame them. But the hype surrounding these vehicles has become so tedious that it’s getting painful. They don’t call them hypercars for nothing, apparently. The aforementioned discussion is just the beginning of the chaos in this business right now, unfortunately. We have the ongoing trucks/SUVs/crossovers vs. “traditional” sedans hand-wringing; then there’s the looming economic slowdown that’s already starting to get its hands around the industry’s collective necks; the price of fuel is going up and no one is really sure what that will do to this nation’s obsession with “big” vehicles (but needless to say it can’t be good); and then there’s the $500-billion question concerning the marketing of Battery Electric Vehicles, as in, can you convince enough consumers to buy in to the all-electric conceit? Let me rephrase that, because the bet better work or there’s going to be a lot of blood on the tracks. Seals and Croft once sang, We Will Never Pass This Way Again, and as it applies to the car business at this point in time, truer words were never spoken. It really is the confluence of everything, all at once. (”The Confluence Of Everything.” April 17th)

 
It really comes down to this: if the average consumer can’t find transportation that’s desirable, safe and affordable, where does that leave our transportation future? It’s fine to paint a rosy picture of shiny happy electrics and seamless autonomous vehicles careening across the landscape in a blissful stupor, but real people with real mobility needs are being priced out of the market, and it’s happening faster than auto executives even imagined it would. That’s why I bristle at most of the blue-sky future projections about where we’re going in terms of mobility. This transition is going to be a long and painful one, and the near-term needs of consumers desiring affordable transportation are being squeezed by the gross profits being generated by luxury pickup trucks and SUVs, and the insatiable desire by auto executives to keep the train going. But as automotive history has shown us, trends come and go. Styles and types of vehicles get hot and grow cold, and the resulting roller-coaster ride is always memorable (and excruciating for some). The companies that can ride the wave and be ready for what’s next, at least within reason, are the ones that will live to fight – and succeed – another day. (“Affordability: The Next Frontier.” February 12th)


And “Detroit”? It’s doubling down on giant, luxurious $75,000+ trucks and more and more SUVs, because that’s what keeps the whole enterprise in cash flow and that’s what it does best, and it is what consumers want, at least for now. And then there are the high-performance machines from GM, Ford and FCA, because when they put their minds to it, their True Believers can compete with anyone in the world. 
But how long can this continue? The auto companies here are preparing for a downturn. How deep and how long that downturn is remains the question of this day and every day. But the halcyon days of people overspending their bank accounts for the latest wonder truck are coming to an end, and when that happens, watch out. Which brings me to the third dimension to this lingering Motor City Haze. And that is the sinking feeling that the pall hanging over everything around here has an “End of Days” quality to it. That whatever happens from this day forward the collective “Detroit” will be swallowed up by changing market conditions and deep-pocketed competitors in a world with no interest in history, or legacy brands, or anything else for that matter. And that if the Detroit-based car companies survive, they will do so with a drastically reduced footprint, with all of the associate negatives that entails. (“The Motor City Haze.” February 6th)


Sugarcoating things has become an unfortunate pastime in everyday life, it seems. Especially around here, where the excuses are masked in tedious platitudes and “it won’t be long now” empty pronouncements. As in, “Our roads are a little rough at this time of year.” Translation? The roads around here are brutal, cratered facsimiles of roads that cost Michigan motorists millions of dollars every year in wrecked tires, wheels, suspensions and windshields. It stopped being funny two decades ago. 
Or, ”We’re rebuilding for the future and we’re confident that we’re on the right track.” Translation? The last time the Lions won an NFL Championship was 1957. The team has been rebuilding ever since. Nothing ever changes either. Or, “Our product cadence has lagged in certain instances a little bit but we’re back on track and right where we need to be.” Translation? We haven’t been accurate or on time with our product cadence in a decade. It’s a recurring Shit Show measured out in fits and starts that never gets better. Every time we think we’re back on track we take two steps back. Thus, it was ever so. How about this? “Our advertising has delivered what we needed it to do and we have the best consumer research numbers in our history.” Translation? We’ve been throwing ideas up against the wall for so long now that we don’t even bother trying to create impactful national advertising. We just do glorified dealer advertising in a national wrapper and call it good. Our dealers don’t seem to care one way or the other (or don’t know the difference, take your pick) and we don’t either. And we save so much money doing it this way we look like heroes internally. The Final Translation? There’s nothing good about “a little bit.” Not even. It’s a half-assed hedge that glosses over reality and guarantees mediocrity. It’s about shirking responsibility and avoiding accountability. I never thought that in my lifetime that having a point of view would be a scarce commodity, but it in the times we live in that definitely seems to be the case, which makes Autotextremist.com rarer by the hour. (“Not Even A Little Bit.” January 30th)

 

(Dodge images)
Rather than go back and regurgitate what was a decidedly downbeat Detroit Auto Show last January, I thought I’d mention the one vehicle worth talking about again. You may wonder, given the somber realities of the "half" of a 2019 Detroit Auto Show, was there an Autoextremist "Best in Show"? Why yes, yes, there was. And it had nothing to do with the featured displays that I discussed previously. In fact, this machine isn't even new, having been unveiled at the 2018 SEMA Show in Las Vegas. The Dodge Super Charger is a concept car that was designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the second-generation Charger, produced from 1968 to 1970. The Super Charger is a resto-mod that combines the design of the original Dodge Charger with modern Mopar high-performance parts. It is wider, with a slightly longer wheelbase than the original machine, but the key detail is that it showcases a new 7.0-liter Hemi V8 crate engine called the "Hellephant" that cranks out 1,000HP and 950 lb-ft of torque, which customers can buy from FCA in 2019. The Super Charger was created specifically to showcase this monster crate engine. It was dubbed Hellephant as a tribute to the original Mopar 426 Hemi engine, which was nicknamed “Elephant” due to its size and power. The Hellephant is also the first 1,000HP crate engine offered by an OEM automaker. 

Politically incorrect? Absolutely. Wildly inappropriate given the oncoming, touchy-feely BEV revolution? Certainly. But it's a stunning monument to Bad-Assery that shouldn't be swept aside or put in a dark corner. This just in: ICE-powered vehicles are going to be around for a long, long time to come. Kudos to the True Believers out in Auburn Hills for creating such a magnificent machine. (January 16th)


 
Finishing up the Autoextremist Year in Words, I have to say this: Auto executives in this business deal with what I like to call "The Seething Cauldron" in different ways. Some studiously avoid getting caught up in the negatives and go about their business using their accumulated knowledge and skill. Most of these executives qualify as the True Believers, because they steadfastly believe in the mission and deliver to the best of their ability every day. They understand implicitly that the age-old industry adage “You’re only as good as your last hit” is very much alive and well.

The other guys and girls? They’re the hand-wringing specialists and the serial hedgers and prevaricators. Part of the Legion of Recalcitrant Twerps who still find purchase somewhere in the system. Don’t hold them to it, whatever it is, because their consummate skill is to get lost in the crowd when the heat is on.

The Seething Cauldron is most intense in this business right at this very moment. Executives’ careers are on the line, with the best and the brightest bound to be rewarded, while the slippery scam artists and faux geniuses are destined to be hammered and held accountable. Come to think of it, this is really no different than at any other time in the business, except now, the heat is intensified and the consequences are magnified, with the very future of these companies on the line.

I recall that famous line from The Godfather Part II, which sums it up best: “This is the business we’ve chosen.” And there doesn’t seem to be a damn thing anyone can do about it.

On that note Wordgirl and I wish you all a happy, safe and peaceful Holiday season. We’ll see you back here on Wednesday, January 8th.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for 2019.


INTO THE GREAT WIDE OPEN.
by Editor
10 Dec 2019 at 1:43pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Last week my column was about time, and a surprise for our readers too. The fact is that writing strictly about cars and the auto business can get tedious at times. This man can’t live on cars alone. Even though I grew up in the business, worked in the business and am still immersed in the business, I have plenty of other interests, so, I offer no apologies. I will zig and zag at times from here on out, just to keep things interesting, at least for me.

I mean, what’s in the news now that hasn’t already been pounded into the ground? The coming BEV revolution, even though no one is ready for it, especially real live mainstream buyers? It’s the biggest fundamental change in this business in more than 100 years, and no one can predict how it will go. It’s a giant “we’ll see” and the 2022–2025 time frame will tell us a lot. Some companies are quietly hedging their bets, while others have their asses hanging so far out in the breeze that if the BEV revolution doesn’t happen as planned it could have dire consequences. What else? The corrosive level of corruption that permeated the upper echelons of the UAW? Was that really a surprise to anyone? Hardly. The only surprise was the depth and breadth of the scale of the corruption. And the huge piles of money involved.

So, if last week was about time, this week will be about space - a concept we all deal with every day and throughout our lives. Some of us crave wide open spaces, and some of us would like to trip the light fantastic and actually go into space. Some desire their own space and need a wide berth to function properly. Others aren’t so claustrophobic and welcome close contact.

Our spatial relationships have been upended over the last two decades. Office hierarchy gave way to cube farms, and now people just wander around and plug in wherever they feel like it. Or they sit out in the open, until they have to go to a conference room to make a phone call. (I am happy to report, however, that there are serious rumblings about the pendulum swinging back and that actual offices are making a comeback. It couldn’t happen soon enough as far as I’m concerned.)

Some of us can space out at a moment’s notice, lost in a daydream or some lingering “woulda-coulda-shouldas.” Others are just spaced-out as a matter of course, or go through life intentionally detached from reality. To those people space isn’t an esoteric concept; it’s just Tuesday.

Our lives may be dictated to by the digits of a clock, but we’re consumed by the concept of space. Floor space at an auto show is crucial. The right retail space can make or break a business. Parking spaces can be like gold. Our personal space can be invaded, or flat-out ignored by individuals or crowds on subways and planes. The square footage of an apartment can add up to be a costly space. We make things evenly spaced when the situation demands it. Or we can cast things to the wind when we just… space out.

Space can be deep, or lost in, or somewhere we’ve never gone before. It can be explored, studied, charted and traveled. It can be observed and viewed through a telescope or by way of satellites. Or, by putting a man on the moon and just being there.

A blank space on a sheet of paper or a canvas can either be an inspiration for creativity, or a daunting millstone that shuts a person down and prevents things from getting started. We can space things out so that we don’t become overwhelmed. A space can be unoccupied, or we can rent storage spaces because we don’t have enough… space. We rarely have such a thing as too much space, however. Because space can be limited. Or confined. Or restricted. Or at a premium. Or only available on a first-come, first-served basis.

A space can be solemn, haunting and sad too. Arlington National Cemetery. Gettysburg. Shiloh. Antietam. Manassas. Vicksburg. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Tragic reminders of the fragility of life and all those who died to protect our freedoms.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, those aforementioned wide-open spaces? They can be beautifully breathtaking. Moab. The Painted Desert. The Grand Canyon. The Badlands. Yosemite. Yellowstone. The Continental Divide. Joshua Tree National Park. Glacier National Park. Big Sur. We daydream about them, write about them, photograph them and paint them. They make us feel alive and invigorated, they can make us feel incredibly small and inconsequential, too, but they are oddly life-affirming and precious at the same time. (Everyone should drive across this great country at least once to be immersed in those wide-open spaces; it remains the quintessential American experience.) 

Our relationship to space says a lot about who we are and how we live life. I tend to avoid confined spaces, much preferring the wide-open spaces both in the physical realm and in thought. Needless to say, a narrowly defined path never really suited me. Tom Petty had it right when he said, “The sky was the limit.”

As it should be. 

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


DOES ANYBODY REALLY KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?
by Editor
4 Dec 2019 at 8:24am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. With those lyrics from one of Chicago’s early hits barely audible in the background at 1:30 Wednesday morning, I’m not sure the time is right to think about… time. But here we are. 

We can make good time, we can attempt to compress time (yeah, right), we can use time to our advantage, we can watch the time and we can fret about time. We can change the time but only on our clocks, because it keeps ticking. And ticking. And ticking.

The time goes by fast, or so “they” say. But what about when things seem to take forever? What about when the guy in front of you at the bank is getting a boat loan? At the drive-through window? What about when time stands still? Then again there’s a time for everything, either that or the time is now, at least sometimes anyway.

We can glance at it, look at it, lose track of it and run out of it. We can schedule it and attempt to manage it, but who’s kidding whom? Time manages us. It dictates our days, weeks, months and years. It tells us when to leave, when to get there, how to plan ahead and how to save the date. 

Yes, we can go back in time, if only in our thoughts and memories and images. Or we can certainly dream about time, should we choose to. I fantasize about time traveling between seconds, where I live for moments or years in a totally different time and place, and then I’m back a second later. I’d have drinks with Ulysses S. Grant. I’d be a fighter pilot in a WWI dogfight. I’d be a crew member for the Lotus Team at Indianapolis in 1963. I’d be there when Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein. I’d investigate the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde through the fog-shrouded streets of London. I’d race a Ferrari in the Targa Florio. I’d be there when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. Tripping through time, lost between seconds.

There’s the inevitably of time, of course, as in the classic “time waits for no one.” Time is short, but is it really? Chris Rock famously said that life is long if you’re not happy. Truer words were never spoken. Time drags without passion or purpose. The drudgery of the day-in, day-out rote regurgitation of life can crush anyone’s soul.

You can lament bad times and remember good times. You can keep time, do time and squander time, but that wouldn’t be making the best use of your time, now, would it? What would we do without time? Would we live by the movement of the sun like our ancestors? Would life slow down if our lives weren’t dominated by schedules, appointments and… time? 

(I’m somewhat amused by the impact of the TikTok craze. Frittering away time to the beat of social drums? What a perfectly contemporary concept, and monumental waste of… time.)

The inexorable march of time consumes our every waking moment; in fact, it looms over our heads like a giant Big Ben hanging in the sky. And what can we do about it, exactly? Not much.

Let me clarify that. Time shouldn’t hang over our heads, just the opposite in fact. Time should be cherished. It should be relished and exulted in. Savor every moment, because it turns out that is the best use of our time. 

I’ll leave it to Chicago to close things out: 

Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?
If so I can't imagine why
We've all got time enough to die

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



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