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The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

WE?RE NOT THERE YET.
by Editor
9 Aug 2022 at 4:38pm

Editor's Note: This week, Peter reminds everyone that the "Grand Transition" to our Electric Future is fraught with peril and that "We're Not there Yet." Audi decides to waste a ton of money on yet another Ken Block smoke show, while Guns 'N Roses also makes an appearance in On The Table with "Paradise City" and our AE Song of the Week. The next chapter of Peter's much-praised series on "The Muscle Boys" - his glorious take on big-bore V8s in American sports car racing - can be found in Fumes. And in The Line we feature Scott Dixon's 53rd INDYCAR win in Nashville, IMSA from Road America and MotoGP from Silverstone. Onward. -WG

 

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. If you’re a fan of summer around these parts, this has been a particularly memorable one. Blistering hot more often than not, the super-heated days – and nights – have made for an unforgettable summer. And if you think we’re complaining about it, we’re not. At least not yet. All you have to do is remind yourself of what it’s like around here in February, and you’ll find that complaints about the heat are few and far between. 

But, on the other hand, complaints in and around the auto biz are multiplying rapidly, especially in August, the traditional “dog days” of summer (or, as we like to refer to them, the Dog Daze). As I wrote in last week’s column about “affordability” (or lack thereof), costs are ramping up dramatically, with Ford announcing today (8/9) that the price of its F-150 Lightning EV pickup is going up 17 percent (between $6,000 and $8,000, depending on the model) due to material costs. Maybe there’s some truth to this, but because the company’s “I’m a genius just ask me” CEO is a super fan boy of Tesla and has observed that Tesla raises prices with impunity damn near monthly because of “costs,” I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lightning’s sticker price is increasing simply because the company is exploiting the laws of supply and demand. And that’s fine too. Last time I checked, auto companies are not being run as nonprofits, so if “there’s gold in them-thar EVs!” then more power to them.

GM is looking for profits anywhere it can find them too. The company’s latest strategy is to bake in a comprehensive OnStar Connected Services package – to the tune of $1500 – into some of its vehicles, and even though it is listed as an option, it really isn’t. With the availability of new vehicles not improving in the least, consumers are being forced to deal with the High-Octane Truth about the law of supply and demand, which is, short supplies = higher prices. And this situation is not going to improve anytime soon. Ford, GM, Stellantis and the rest of the automakers doing business in the U.S. market are going to be adhering to this pricing strategy for the foreseeable future. And the same can be said for used car prices as well. To put it simply: If you want it, you’re going to pay dearly for it.

But there’s plenty more contributing to the summer malaise in and around the industry right now. The chip “thing” continues to vex every part of the industry, from manufacturers and their suppliers to the dealers. It has constrained production, reducing the number of vehicles dealers have to sell, which in turn cuts into manufacturer profits, which is fueling a swirling maelstrom of Not Good. 

As I’ve mentioned previously, forward-thinking dealers have quickly mastered how to do business in the “European” model, which is based on exploiting limited availability and pushing advanced ordering, and which results in higher gross profits on each vehicle. Ask any savvy dealer at this juncture if they want to go back to the “old” way of doing business, which means carrying back-breaking floor planning costs while presenting a wide variety of available inventory, and they’re going to say “oh, hell no!” or words to that effect. But make no mistake, selling cars at the retail level is a high-stress game, it’s just different – and more profitable – now.

So, all of this sounds rote by now, correct? The “Dog Daze” don’t sound so bad if you’re outside the auto industry, looking in. Yes, the factors, as I’ve delineated, make it a relentless pain in the ass, but, the law of supply and demand looks to be a good thing for all concerned – well, except if you’re a buyer, that it is –right?

Not so fast. I say “Dog Daze” because this business is heading for an existential crisis. The promise of The EV Future has been overstated, overstuffed, pumped up and molded into a golden chest of bountiful rewards that would rival outtakes from Raiders of the Lost Ark. But it’s not “beautiful!” – at least not yet. Visions of endless profits are infecting the dreams of Wall Street types to the point that rational thought is being left at the station as everyone piles onto the EV Train to The Future. If I hear from one more Wall Street pundit fantasizing about the “newly invigorated” auto industry, while fully buying into the promises of The EV Future, I’m going to puke.

This just in: We’re Not There Yet. In terms of the supply chain issues, the endless search for precious metals, realistic charging speeds and the national charging infrastructure itself, this industry is not even close to being there yet.  

Add in the fact that consumers, even with sky-high gas prices, have to be sold on the fundamental efficacy of EVs – let me repeat that, have to be sold on the fundamental efficacy of EVs – and you have a Grand Transition to EVs that’s fraught with peril meted out in fits and starts. Going forward, some days are going to be all Blue Sky and Big Dreams, and others are going to plumb the depths of despair.

I know that there are lot of people in this business who don’t want to hear this, but a giant dose of reality at this juncture is better than a giant bowl of Not Good. And patience. Patience in this business is a commodity that is extremely hard to come by.

Just remember: We’re Not There Yet. We’re not even close, in fact.

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


THE AFFORDABILITY CRISIS.
by Editor
1 Aug 2022 at 3:16pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. With everyday life being upended by a series of challenges, from the price of gasoline and various shortages du jour, to the burgeoning cadence of inflation, which is starting to hit everyone on a daily basis, it is no wonder that the auto industry in particular has been beset with its own series of challenges that have become part and parcel of just getting through a financial quarter.

Supply chain issues initially brought on by the Pandemic – with the industry’s go-to “just in time” production mantra having turned into a “you’ve got to be kidding me!” nightmare – are just one dimension of the industry Hell going on right now. In fact, it may be as bad now as any time in history, with the possible exception of when the automobile industry was supporting the war effort in World War II.

Every key component or raw material has to be locked-down, locked-in or bought-out in anticipation of what will be needed for the future. The silicon chip crisis has devastated the industry from top to bottom. Vehicles are being delivered without key features rather than having them pile up in storage facilities, with the promise that the chips will be retrofitted at a later date. But this just in: as I predicted months ago, the chip “thing” is going to be an ongoing crisis for this industry through next year. In fact, we may be entering a phase for this industry when there will always be a shortage of something going forward, which is, as you might imagine, a giant bowl of Not Good.

Added to all of this pressure is the monumental shift to EVs going on, which is placing a premium on sourcing precious metals and the need for propagating a completely new menu of technical materials that go into the development of batteries and battery infrastructure. Right now, auto companies are running virtual war rooms where teams of people are in constant motion tracking down raw materials all over the globe, while identifying supplier companies that can be partnered with or bought out in order to ensure supplies for the fundamental needs of producing vehicles going forward. This is serious business, and it is growing more critical by the day.

But surprisingly enough, from the industry standpoint this daily laundry list of crises has brought with it an unanticipated advantage. The shortage mentality – and reality – has completely upended the old dealer sales model in the U.S. market. The days of going down to a local dealership and wandering around the parked inventory to see what new vehicles it has in stock are over. In less than three years the retail auto industry has been forced to switch to the European way of selling cars and trucks, which means that you either place an order for a vehicle and wait, or you hope for a cancellation of an existing order that you can jump on. The result? Discounting has been severely reduced or eliminated altogether, “premiums” have become part of the deal discussions, and the gross profit-per-vehicle numbers have exploded, giving manufacturers and their dealers supercharged profits. Just one example? The Penske Automotive Group’s second quarter net income jumped 10 percent from a year earlier, while it delivered its most profitable quarter ever.

I have covered this before, but it is the most striking, fundamental change that this business has seen in many decades. This change to high-transactional pricing has also brought something else with it too: Consumers aren’t backing away from buying or leasing vehicles in the midst of these shortages and inflationary pressures. In fact, they’re powering ahead to find what they want when they want it. The average price of a new vehicle in the U.S. market is now around $45,000.00. Think about that for a moment. And it is going up. The average car payment is now well over $500 per month. And vehicle loans are now getting ridiculously long again, which history tells us is never a good sign. 

And probably the most mind-boggling development in all of this? Payments of $1,000 per month or more are becoming common in this frenzied atmosphere. It’s as if the whole world has gone frickin’ crazy.

But in the midst of all of these crises and the swirling maelstrom driving this market, there’s one more crisis that this industry has refused to take meaningful strides against, and that is the crisis of affordability. I’ve written about this often, and I will write about it many times in the future I’m sure. But the basic affordability of vehicles is slipping away and we’re watching it unfurl like a train wreck in slow motion.

I’ve mentioned this before, but one manufacturer made an attempt at delivering affordability and actually got it right. The Ford Motor Company. And no, it’s not the much-hyped Mach-E and Lightning EVs that garner this recognition, it’s the Maverick Hybrid pickup truck. To me, it’s by far the most impressive vehicle in the Ford lineup, and the True Believers in Dearborn deserve all of the credit for it.

In fact, it’s the most significant vehicle from the auto industry to come along in a long, long time. You can get a stripped down Maverick Hybrid for a little over $21,000 (with those exquisite steelies), one that’s well-equipped for around $27,000, or you can spend $30,000 (or a little more) for the full-zoot version. Either way, you’re getting a damn fine vehicle for the money.

Memo to auto manufacturers: It doesn’t matter how great your BelchFire EV is, or how much range it’s capable of or how fast it recharges - if people can’t afford it. The prices of new vehicles are creeping upward, fast. Too fast. That $45,000 average selling price? That’s a mere suggestion at this point. Realistically, the norm is more like $50-$65,000. 

And it’s just not sustainable.

I hope the other manufacturers have a plan for this affordability crisis, because it’s the one crisis that could derail all of their blue sky EV efforts.

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

(Ford Motor Company)

 

Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG


THE CADILLAC CELESTIQ: SPECTACULAR WOW.
by Editor
23 Jul 2022 at 12:54pm

Editor's Note: In a perfect way to wrap-up his "Design Matters" series, Peter discusses the significance of Cadillac's magnificent CELESTIQ, and why it's a design milestone for the industry. Maserati makes a rare appearance in On The Table, while Natasha Bedingfield is featured in our AE Song of the Week. The next chapter of Peter's much-praised series on "The Muscle Boys" - his glorious take on big-bore V8s in American sports car racing - can be found in Fumes. And in The Line we have coverage of F1 from France, the INDYCAR Series doubleheader from Iowa and more on BMW's GTP entry for the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Onward. -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. No, there wasn’t going to be a “Part IV” to my series on the importance of design, but then Cadillac released the official images of its CELESTIQ show car – which is basically the production car – and the automotive world came to a screeching halt.

The CELESTIQ is no ordinary show car. It represents a commitment by GM upper management to return Cadillac to its once hard-earned moniker “The Standard of the World” – with a no excuses, no-compromise machine that oozes “Cadillac” from every angle. This will be a hyper-luxury sedan designed to compete with the best that the automotive world has to offer. This $300,000+ automotive flamboyance can be customized to the last detail by its buyers, and the CELESTIQ will be handbuilt in a special assembly facility at the GM Global Technical Center in Warren, Michigan.

But the significance of the CELESTIQ goes even beyond that. It is a stunning, milestone car that reasserts GM Design’s position as the unrivaled industry leader in an automotive discipline that can make or break a brand’s image, or make or break and an entire company, for that matter.

Historically, GM not only has the deepest connection to the roots of automotive design, it invented the discipline. From the time when Harley Earl created the Art and Colour Section in 1927, GM has valued and nurtured design and has been the industry leader by far. And when Bill Mitchell succeeded Earl as chief of design in the late 50s, GM reveled in a period of unbridled design creativity that lasted for two decades. Mitchell’s most notable show cars and concepts – the ’59 Corvette Sting Ray racer, the Mako Shark I and II, the Corvair Monza GT and SS – were indeed stunning, but his real genius was rooted in his ability to bring concept car looks to mainstream production vehicles like the ’63 Corvette Sting Ray, the ’63 Buick Riviera, the front-wheel-drive Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado, and on and on. The legacy of the Mitchell Era resonates to this day, and you can feel it every time you walk into the magnificent GM Design lobby.

And Cadillac has led the way for GM Design for the better part of two decades, with stunning show cars like the Sixteen, Cien, Ciel, Elmiraj and Escala. But those breathtaking machines were just warmups for the ultimate GM Design statement: the Cadillac CELESTIQ. 

“The CELESTIQ show car is the purest expression of Cadillac,” said Magalie Debellis, manager, Cadillac Advanced Design. “It brings to life the most integrated expressions of design and innovation in the brand’s history, coalescing in a defining statement of a true Cadillac flagship.” In developing the show car, the design and engineering teams didn’t have to go far in order to immerse themselves in the legacy of Cadillac. The artisanship and customization that defined early Cadillac sedans such as the bespoke V-16 powered coaches of the prewar era, and the handbuilt 1957 Eldorado Brougham were notable examples of an illustrious history. “Those vehicles represented the pinnacle of luxury in their respective eras, and helped make Cadillac the standard of the world,” said Tony Roma, chief engineer. “The CELESTIQ show car — also a sedan, because the configuration offers the very best luxury experience — builds on that pedigree and captures the spirit of arrival they expressed.” 

As I said in one of my previous design columns, design is the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator, and in the transition to the EV Age, compelling design will become even more critical. With similar battery platform designs – aka “the skateboard” – and other technical commonalities such as range and charging capability, the look and street presence of vehicles will directly affect consumer desire. The True Believers at GM Design seem to understand this implicitly, which is why the CELESTIQ is so breathtaking.

In another one of my design columns, I said: What makes us gravitate to one shoe or another? Design. What about to a coat or a particular pair of boots? Design. And how about furniture? Design. Everything we come across as we go about our day is directly attributable to design, from residential and commercial architecture to graphic presentations in videos and on TV, and everything and anything in between. Even mundane places – such as gas stations and their attached convenience stores – have graphic designs helping to create their look and feel. Design sets the tone and creates an ambience, and even if we’re not consciously aware of its power and influence, it is always there.

And when it comes to automobiles, of course, it’s no secret that the power and influence of design are magnified exponentially. Design not only matters in the automobile business: It. Is. Everything.

This series has generated a lot of comments from within the industry, especially – and understandably so – from the design community. I would say that the vast majority of the comments we received were positive, and that’s gratifying, because I have the utmost respect for the creative talents who work in the design houses all over the world.

As I’ve said many times before, the artisans who toil in design studios are the most influential people in the automobile business. They set the tone for brands and lead the word-of-mouth, “street look” discussions, and their visionary work can make – or break – a car company’s fortunes, as I stated previously. 

This work requires, vision, discipline and a savagely creative mindset that is instantly graded the moment the wraps are taken off of their latest designs. It is a tough, tough profession, but when you talk to designers, most wouldn’t trade it for anything. Seeing something in concept or production form that they had a key role in creating presents a level of exhilaration that’s extremely hard to beat.

As if to underscore my series on Design, the Cadillac CELESTIQ is the most stunning vehicle to appear on the automotive scene in 25 years. Period. GM Design, under Michael Simcoe’s leadership, has not only returned Cadillac to being “The Standard of the World,” but the support given to nurture the development of this machine speaks volumes about GM upper management’s commitment to projecting GM as an industry leader into the EV Age.

This just in: The CELESTIQ is simply spectacular. 

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

(GM Design images)

 

Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG
DESIGN MATTERS, PART III.
by Editor
17 Jul 2022 at 12:12pm

Editor's Note: In the third and last of his series (for now), Peter discusses why "Design Matters." Peter also talks about the sobering news of Hau Thai-Tang's departure from Ford and what it really means, and the latest ploy by BMW to extract ca$h from the faithful. Speaking of Design Matters, official full images of the all-new CELESTIQ hyper-luxury sedan from Cadillac are now available, and Andy Warhol's automotive art makes an appearance at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, and Kim Wilde is featured in our AE Song of the Week, all in On The Table. The next chapter of Peter's much-praised series on "The Muscle Boys" can be found in Fumes, which is his glorious take on big-bore V8s in American sports car racing. And in The Line we have coverage of the INDYCAR Series from Toronto, the IMSA GT race from Lime Rock and Acura's new GTP contender for the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech Championship season. Onward. -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. In this conclusion of my series on Automotive Design (read Design Matters, Part I and Part II – WG), it’s clear that I place a high value on the efficacy and execution of design. It’s also no secret that I believe that design will maintain its position as the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator going forward, in fact, even more so than ever before.

This series has generated a lot of comments from within the industry, especially – and understandably so – from the design community. I would say that the vast majority of the comments we received were positive, and that’s gratifying, because I have the utmost respect for the creative talents who work in the design houses all over the world.

As I’ve said many times before, the artisans who toil in design studios are the most influential people in the automobile business. They set the tone for brands and lead the word-of-mouth, “street look” discussions, and their visionary work can make – or break – a car company’s fortunes. It’s grueling work, too, because designers live in a particularly strange Twilight Zone where they have to dwell in the past and present, while working on a future that’s coming well down the road. That means lead designers have to present “new” designs to the media and public that have been basically “baked” three-to-five years before. Then, they go back to their respective studios to put the finishing touches on designs that will appear five years into the future.

This work requires, vision, discipline and a savagely creative mindset that is instantly graded the moment the wraps are taken off of their latest designs. It is a tough, tough profession, but when you talk to designers, most wouldn’t trade it for anything. Seeing something in concept or production form that they had a key role in creating presents a level of exhilaration that’s extremely hard to beat.

That intro was kind of a labyrinthian way of getting to my final discussion topic, which is a question that I get asked all the time: “Given everything you know (and have discussed especially these past few weeks), who’s doing design well right now?”

That’s the billion-dollar question, isn’t it? Design matters more now than at any other time in automotive history. In this 24/7, nanosecond-attention-span world we live in today, the hot “street look” of the moment captures all the attention and interest, and usually results in red-hot sales figures too. 

Exotic cars lead the discussion, but just because a car is expensive doesn’t mean its design is automatically compelling. Unless, of course we’re talking about Ferrari. The newest Ferrari – the 296 GTB – is compact, lightweight and has a taut skin that stretches over its fenders and haunches to create a damn-near perfect form. It is simply extraordinary from every angle, and it is the definitive supercar of the moment.

(Ferrari)

The 2022 Ferrari 296 GTB.

(Ferrari)

(Ferrari)

(Ferrari)

But you’re probably saying, that’s Ferrari, we expect a Ferrari to have jaw-dropping street presence and compelling design. Fair point, but I can also mention several exotics that have little to no appeal at all. We’ll skip that for now, however.

When I consider contemporary design, I am going to leave pickups, SUVs and crossovers out of the discussion. I am just not interested, and even though they are the overwhelming choice in the mainstream market, they bring nothing to the design table. At all. The exception being the Cadillac Lyriq, which is arriving in showrooms now. It is compelling design that satisfies from all angles.

(GM)

That word “mainstream” is key. It’s one thing to do provocative concepts that shine under the auto show lights, but it’s quite another to bring those high-concept executions to the street. Bill Mitchell, the exceptional design legend who inherited the mantle from Harley Earl and propelled GM to incredible heights during the company’s heyday (1957-1977), specialized in bringing concept car looks to the streets and byways of mainstream America. It was a 20-year period unrivaled in automotive history, in fact. No one did it better, and no one influenced contemporary automotive design quite like Bill Mitchell did. The 1959 Corvette Sting Ray racer; 1963 Corvette Sting Ray; the Mako Shark concepts; the Corvair Monza GT and SS concepts; the 1963 Buick Riviera (although I prefer the ’65), the Oldsmobile Toronado; the Cadillac Eldorado; the Chevrolet Camaro; the Pontiac Firebird, Grand Prix and GTO; and the list goes on and on. 

(GM)

Bill Mitchell and the 1959 Corvette Sting Ray racer.

(GM)

The 1963 Corvette Sting Ray.

(GM)

The 1963 Buick Riviera.

(GM)

The 1961 Corvette Mako Shark I and 1965 Corvette Mako Shark II.

And when I think of Mitchell and his thoughts on design, and his absolute belief in bringing the “good stuff” to mainstream America, I believe there is one contemporary car that would meet with his approval, and that is the Lexus LC 500 (images below). Yes, it is pricey (at around $100,000), but when this machine appeared as a concept several years ago and then appeared in showrooms pretty much untouched and intact, it resonated with people and still does to this day. Why? It is fluid and expressive, its surface detailing is impressive and its overall form is flat-out gorgeous. I would argue that no mainstream contemporary car manufacturer stuck to its guns like Lexus did with the LC 500. They could have pulled up short and faked it in spots, but they didn’t. Instead, they executed it perfectly and the result is especially pleasing to the eye while projecting a street presence that is unmistakable. Mitchell would have been pleased.

That does it for my design discussions, at least for now, but I can’t leave you without mentioning the annual events taking place out in Monterey, California, in a few weeks. “Monterey Car Week” stopped being about the purity of automotive enthusiasm a long time ago, and all perspective has been most assuredly lost. Now, it is a Greed Fest extraordinaire, with a level of hucksterism and debilitating, fleecing auctions that far exceed anything even remotely resembling “normal.” When WG pointed out to me that tickets for The Quail had risen past $1000.00 each, with a six-month advance purchase awarded through a lottery, I knew that the whole thing had become a pathetic exercise that we’re very happy to miss.

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

(Lexus)

The 2021 Lexus LC 500.

(Lexus)

(Lexus)

(Lexus)

 

Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG
DESIGN MATTERS, PART II.
by Editor
10 Jul 2022 at 9:52am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter discusses why "Design Matters" in Part II of his series. Speaking of Design Matters, new teaser images of the all-new CELESTIQ hyper-luxury sedan from Cadillac have been released, and Andy Warhol's automotive art makes an appearance at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles in On The Table. Elvis Costello is featured in our AE Song of the Week. The next chapter of Peter's much-praised series on "The Muscle Boys" can be found in Fumes, which is his glorious take on big-bore V8s in American sports car racing. And in The Line we have coverage of F1 from Austria and Corvette Racing's huge win at the WEC Monza 6 Hours. Enjoy! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. I heard from a lot of friends in the business – especially in the Design community – who savored last week’s column and added their points of view as well. Though my perspectives ruffled quite a few feathers (Really? We’re shocked. – WG), my points were well taken and agreed with for the most part.

To further understand why design matters, you really have to think about how design affects our daily lives, because pretty much everything we come across in an average day is directly influenced by design. One thing about design that remains true is that even if most people don’t understand the inner workings of the process, or the whys and wherefores, they respond to what they like emotionally, as in, I want to go there. Or, I want to be a part of that, or quite simply, I want that. 

Think about it for a moment. Our eyes are drawn to logo and typeface designs of all kinds. For instance, just walking through a supermarket aisle is a test of that, with graphics, logos and colors fighting for our attention at every turn. Or, how about digital shopping? Everything we see is visually presented and orchestrated to draw you in. Fashion in and of itself is a design kaleidoscope of fabrics, colors and styling crafted to entice people in for a closer look. Shoes, one of the most important dimensions of fashion, are constantly being reimagined to create design “looks” that are new, fresh and juiced with enough I just have to have that style that make them irresistible, at least to those so inclined.

What makes us gravitate to one shoe or another? Design. What about to a coat or a particular pair of boots? Design. And how about furniture? Design. Everything we come across as we go about our day is directly attributable to design, from residential and commercial architecture to graphic presentations in videos and on TV, and everything and anything in between. Even mundane places – such as gas stations and their attached convenience stores – have graphic designs helping to create their look and feel. Design sets the tone and creates an ambience, and even if we’re not consciously aware of its power and influence, it is always there.

And when it comes to automobiles, of course, it’s no secret that the power and influence of design are magnified exponentially. Design not only matters in the automobile business: It. Is. Everything.

Let’s consider one segment for this discussion: The one that is still (quaintly) referred to as “pony” cars. Started by the Ford Mustang in 1964 and followed by the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, Plymouth Barracuda, Dodge Challenger and even the AMC AMX among others, this segment – now most often referred to as “muscle cars” – has endured through a series of peaks and valleys over the decades. Consumer interest in these cars is notoriously fickle, usually gravitating to the newest and latest cars when they hit the market, to the detriment of existing competitors.

Why pick what is basically a segment in limbo? Because it gives a good example of purity of design, and a segment that isn’t dependent on the vagaries of whatever the four-door crossover “coupe” of the month is. (Besides, four-door crossovers are so tedious. -WG)

There are only three cars to talk about in this segment: The Ford Mustang (not the Mach-E, please), the Chevrolet Camaro and the Dodge Challenger. The Mustang is expertly rendered with proportions that I consider to be damn near perfect. It harkens back to the original fastback Mustang just enough, and despite the modern pony cars’ inherent heftiness, it looks crisp, uncluttered and clean. This is design that works.

(Ford)

The Ford Mustang Mach 1.

The Camaro is another story. Full disclosure, my favorite Camaro of all time was the ’67-’68 Camaro. It was light, purposeful, it looked more compact – especially in Penske/Donohue-prepared Trans-Am guise – and it was the perfect counterpoint to the Mustang at the time. The Camaro has had several iterations over the decades – some more successful than others – but it’s no secret that I find the latest version to be a mishmash of themes and a disappointment. It’s fat in places – especially from the side – and it’s scrunched-up in others, as if to counter the ungainly profile, and it’s far from pleasing to the eye. GM designers have worked hard on this latest version, and it’s certainly better than what it was, but it lacks the kind of fundamental design cohesiveness that the nameplate deserves. I don’t know where GM takes the Camaro from here – if it even exists in the oncoming EV age – but this is a car that sorely needs to be reimagined, because right now it looks like a committee-think car with a very low desirability factor. And when it comes to a segment of cars that people don’t really need, that’s not even remotely good enough.

(Chevrolet)

This Camaro had a special color applied for the SEMA Show in 2018. The fact that we had to search and search through several sources to even find a decent Camaro shot says a lot about the Camaro's standing within GM. And the fact that the company's NASCAR entry is called a "Camaro" means nothing. The Camaro is officially lost in translation, apparently. 

And finally, there’s the Dodge Challenger. Bigger and heavier than the other two machines in this discussion – to a notable degree, in fact – the Challenger nonetheless is the quintessential definition of a modern pony-muscle car. Talk about emotionally compelling design that matters: the Challenger is brutish, purposeful and badass, and it rings all the bells and pushes all of the buttons, especially in “widebody” form. The design conveys exactly what this machine is all about and does so in such a way that the desirability factor is simply off the charts. If you want to ride off into the sunset for the remainder of the ICE Age with your foot hard to the floor – and you don’t want to spend six-figure dough-re-mi to do it – the Challenger is the machine to get.

(Dodge)

Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Shaker Widebody.

Yes, the aforementioned “pony” segment is a veritable blip on these manufacturers’ radar screens in this era of gussied-up and bloated “four-door” crossovers and SUVs. A sad and depressing era that has been reduced to a variety of front and rear clips – with sculptured side surfacing! - that supposedly counts for design “differentiation.” It doesn’t and it’s not. 

But design still matters in this business, despite the tedious four-door crossover trend. You see it everywhere. How about the most profitable, highest-volume segment in the business? Don’t think that that design matters in pickup trucks? These car company design studios spend hours and hours and hours coming up with the right look for their pickup trucks. If they get it right, it can add multi-billions to the bottom line of the company. Conversely, if they get it wrong, it means a costly mid-cycle re-do. There are plenty of examples of car companies that came up short in the last decade because they didn’t go far enough – inside and out – with their trucks. We’re talking crushing disappointment, folks, and huge balance sheet disruptions, just because a company didn’t reach far enough or made misguided assumptions about what people would settle for, as oppose to what they really wanted.

Speaking of "design reach,” I am going to close this week’s column with some quintessential definitions of pure design reach. Are they practical? Not necessarily. Did they end up in production? Only parts of them. Then, why? 

Because designers need to reach for the blue sky and dream of what could be. Because without it, the art of design will die in a cloak of mediocrity. And our world would be crushingly boring if that ever happened.

(Mercedes-Benz images)

The Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet concept exemplifies the idea of “automotive haute couture,” according to Mercedes PR minions. And boy, does it ever. It is projected to be powered by a four-motor, all-electric, all-wheel-drive system with a combined output of 750HP, and capable of accelerating from 0-60 in under four seconds. Design reach, indeed.


(GM Design images)

No, the Cadillac Ciel concept never gets old. Now over a decade old, it still succinctly and perfectly captures the “idea” of Cadillac. A majestic car in person.

As I’ve reminded my readers frequently, in the face of a business that grows more rigid, regulated and non-risk-taking by the day, we must never forget the essence of the machine, and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams. And that in the course of designing, engineering and building these machines, everyone needs to aim higher and push harder – with a relentless, unwavering passion and love for the automobile that is so powerful and unyielding that it can't be beaten down by committee-think or buried in bureaucratic mediocrity.

Design still matters? Yes, absolutely. In fact, with the onslaught of EV similarity, design is everything.

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

 

Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG
DESIGN MATTERS.
by Editor
5 Jul 2022 at 9:42am

Editor's Note: In this week's issue, Peter discusses why "Design Matters" more than ever. And in an extension of the Rant, we showcase the new Hyundai 6 concept in "On The Table", as well as an appearance by Devo as featured in our AE Song of the Week. Peter's next chapter of "The Muscle Boys" can be found in Fumes, which is his glorious take on big-bore V8s in American sports car racing. And in The Line we have coverage of F1 from Silverstone, INDYCAR from Mid-Ohio, IMSA from Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, and NASCAR and Trans Am from Road America. Enjoy! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

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

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

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

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

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

(BMW)

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

(BMW)

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

(BMW)

The front end on the BMW sedans can look added on and unattractive, but I will admit that the racing version of the BMW coupe is not bad. Not bad at all.

(Mercedes-Benz)

Mercedes-Benz has the direct opposite problem from BMW. The company’s new all-electric flagship, the EQS 580 4Matic is top-of-the-line, $150,000+ luxury sedan claiming to be the most aerodynamic production car in the world, with a Cd of just .20. It is loaded with a plethora of gee-whiz stuff, which I won’t go into right now, but there is nothing gee-whiz about its design. In fact, it is instantly forgettable. Given the all-new, clean computer screen opportunity of designing for the EV future, this is what Mercedes-Benz designers come up with? Not. Very. Good.

(Mercedes-Benz)

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

(Hyundai)

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

(Hyundai)

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

(Hyundai)

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

(Hyundai)

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

(Kia images)
When talking about the Hyundai IONIQ 5, you really need to add some perspective to the discussion. And that perspective comes from within the Hyundai/Kia conglomerate in the form of the Kia EV6. Based on the same EV architecture as the IONIQ 5, the Kia EV6 presents a completely different character and personality to the street. Some observers are convinced that the IONIQ 5 is the more avant-garde of the two designs, but I go back and forth on that. Yes, initially, the Hyundai seems to be more concept-car like and the Kia seems to be the more traditional of the two, but after seeing these two cars literally next to each other in a parking lot, I am not so sure about that. They both offer fresh design perspectives, with the Hyundai being more distinctive at first, but the Kia design is more subtle and has more going on beyond the first glance, especially from the rear. Both of these machines point to the burgeoning creative power of the Hyundai/Kia design house, and the fact that this is the force to be reckoned at the moment in the mainstream auto industry. 


(Porsche)

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

(Porsche)

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

(Porsche)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG


WRITE HARD, DIE FREE INDEED.
by Editor
27 Jun 2022 at 2:26pm

Editor's Note: When we embarked on this ride called Autoextremist, with whereabouts unknown way back when, little did we know we'd be here twenty-three years later. And we certainly could never have predicted the current state of our country and the world. With the “swirling maelstrom” – as Peter calls it – in full gale force, we think it's a perfect time to again remind everyone what this site, and The Autoextremist, are all about, especially for our new readers, who seem to be gaining in numbers by the day. To do that, we need to travel back in time, to the beliefs that formed the foundation of this site, and that continue to drive us to this day. The world is a dramatically different place than it was that first day of June 1999 – and we’re also a little jaded and a lot more cynical - but in so many ways, when it comes to this business, there’s a mind-numbing sameness about it all that is truly remarkable. Also, in this week's "On The Table", the Freep, after being dragged kicking and screaming, finally acknowledges Ford's continuing travails with its debilitating series of recalls. And Alanis Morissette is featured in our AE Song of the Week. Peter's next chapter of "The Muscle Boys" can be found in Fumes, which is his glorious take on big-bore V8s in American sports car racing. And in The Line we have coverage of MotoGP from Assen, Trans Am from Mid-Ohio, Robert Wickens' triumphant return at Watkins Glen, the IMSA WeatherTech Championship also from The Glen, and another look at Porsche's GTP entry for 2023. Enjoy! -WG

 

By Peter M.DeLorenzo

Detroit. Twenty-three years ago, when I became tired of what the ad biz had become, tired of the sycophants, the ass-kissers, the spineless weasels and recalcitrant twerps who had turned what was once a pretty interesting profession into a vapid wasteland, I knew it was time to do something different. 

The auto business – as practiced back then in Detroit – was sinking further into the abyss of risk-avoidance-driven mediocrity, and I watched legions of so-called "executives" make horrendous, piss-poor decisions day after day on behalf of their respective auto companies. This sick, two-steps forward and five-back dance of mediocrity was a recurring nightmare with no end in sight.

As I watched the carnage unfold around me, I felt that something had to be said by someone with firsthand knowledge, someone who was in the trenches and on the front lines of the ongoing battle. And, of course, that someone turned out to be me. 

As longtime readers know, Autoextremist was originally a concept I had back in 1986 for a new car magazine. Autoextremist was going to target hard-core enthusiasts while telling it like it is with a distinctive and combative journalistic style. It would also be the first enthusiast car publication that wouldn’t accept advertising. Back then, the state of the enthusiast car mags was a dismal parade of sameness that left me cold, and I was determined to breathe new life into the genre. But my ad career perpetually got in the way, and by the time I looked up it was the late spring of 1999. I knew that if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it, so the urgency to create Autoextremist was placed on the front burner. The Internet, of course, would replace the print magazine idea, but the essence of my original manifesto written back in 1986 remained unchanged.

And that's how this publication and "The High-Octane Truth" came about. A lot has changed about this business over the ensuing years, but then again, as I am continually reminded, a lot hasn’t. I am certain of one thing, however, and that is my set of fundamental beliefs about this business hasn’t changed much at all. I thought it would be a good time to remind our readers – especially those new to this site - what those beliefs are, where I’m coming from, how I look at things and why I say the things I do.

I still believe that the business of designing, building, engineering, marketing and advertising cars and trucks should begin with one simple premise – that the Product is King – and everything else must flow from that. Cars and trucks should be exciting to look at, fun to drive, flat-out desirable and worth owning in all respects. If a company and/or its executives forget that fact, they not only should fail, they will fail.

I believe that people with marketing degrees or blue-chip MBAs are not automatically qualified to make decisions when it comes to the serious business of marketing and advertising cars. Though the situation is far better than it once was, being able to tell an ad agency what's good or not good about an ad campaign that has just been worked on for 30 days straight takes consummate skill, quality experience and genuine perspective. And that perspective doesn’t come easy, or with an inflated degree. There are marketers who are eminently qualified to do what they do, but there’s not enough mentoring going on in this critical field and it remains a notable problem.  

I believe that car company executives whose first order of business is to cover their own asses and then shamelessly promote themselves the rest of the time – while bringing absolutely nothing positive to the job at hand – should be encouraged to take that long "break" they keep droning on about in off-the-record moments. Please do us all a favor – and leave now. This assessment certainly isn’t confined to the automobile business by any stretch, because it also plagues corporate America at every turn. COVID-19 hastened the departure of many of these marginal executives, and working remotely has lessened the exposure for a lot of them, but they’re still out there and they’re still costing these companies dearly.

I believe that a rampant, "let's not offend anyone" mentality still affects every decision made by almost every car executive (yes, there are a few brilliant exceptions) working in the business today. And the sniveling backpedaling hasn’t abated one iota over the last couple of decades, I am sorry to say. If there’s even a hint of reactionary venom directed toward a campaign or an initiative, the time-honored response for a company is to tuck its tail between its legs, do a public mea culpa and then crawl back into the PC woodwork. Really? All that time, effort, research and money expended was for naught because someone tweeted something that was negative? Executives arrived at a reasoned decision that made sense for the company and yet with one discouraging word those well-reasoned convictions go right out the window? This kind of spineless behavior is not only tedious, it’s flat-out wrong. 

Typically, politics permeates every decision in the car business down to the very last detail, ensuring that all butts are covered and that no one is left "exposed" to any ugly consequences. The business is still populated by people more worried about what their political standing within the company "entitles" them to than about bringing to the table an attitude of "what can I do?" or "how can we make it better?" And accountability is still in short supply. Are there auto execs out there more willing to take a stand these days? Yes, but not nearly enough, and a search party will have to be organized to find executives with backbones to shore up the ranks.

I believe that the advertising agency side of the business is too often forced to stray from being a creative environment. The common refrain from clients is that an entrenched ad agency that handles the mundane day-to-day advertising needs for a client has become too predictable and staid, when in fact the client is directly responsible for grinding said agency down to a nub as it is jerked around every which way catering to the clients’ whims – which are too often affected by the prevailing winds – and which change course on a daily basis. That this isn’t conducive to unleashing creativity is the biggest continuing “duh” in the business, reducing the daily ad agency drill down to a series of reactionary pushbacks both debilitating and disheartening.

The result? Advertising agencies have forgotten what their mission is, because they're spending 90% of their time, money, resources and effort on everything else under the sun except actually trying to make great advertising. And too often their clients are directly responsible for this revolting development – and they ultimately get the advertising they deserve because of it. Yes, there are genuine exceptions to this, when brilliant advertising somehow emerges from the Fog of War, but for the most part it is depressingly accurate.

I believe the state of automotive journalism has never been as weak as it is right now, and it pains me to say it. There are too few writers’ worth going out of your way for today, and that’s a shame. Automotive journalism (yes, of course there are notable, exemplary exceptions) has devolved into a thinly disguised pay-to-play-for-access game. And it’s embarrassing.

As for the car biz itself, is it still about the Product? Absolutely. More so today than ever before. And the coming EV Age has not changed that one bit, either. In fact, it has made the product even more critical. But without the kind of accurate, enticing and properly funded marketing firepower to put behind a new product, then it doesn’t matter how good it is, because it will get lost in the shuffle 120 days after its launch in this heavily oversaturated market we live in.

I still believe that a joyful celebration of the indefatigable nature of the American Spirit is worthwhile, as well as a celebration of the essential role the automobile has had, continues to have, and will always play. But there is definitely a great unknown about this EV transformation, and the promises of untold profits at hand in a new Emerald Auto City just over the hill is still a giant "we'll see."

Twenty-three years on, I am proud to say that 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. 

Delivering the Truth, The Whole Truth and absolutely nothing but The High-Octane Truth has been an exhilarating ride.

Write Hard, Die Free indeed.

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

 

Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG


FERRARI MOVES TO THE DARK SIDE.
by Editor
20 Jun 2022 at 11:01am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Yes, it was inevitable, I suppose. Ferrari, the most storied name in the automotive world and the maker of some of the most glorious high-performance machines ever created, is about to embark on a journey that will have hybrids and EVs making up 60 percent of its vehicle output by 2026. 

I heartily disagree with this time frame, even though its new CEO, Benedetto Vigna, presented this strategy to investors and media types last week and insisted that it was so. That’s only four years from now, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s a giant “we’ll see” as we like to say around here. But the writing is definitely on the wall for the brand, as the halls of its headquarters in Maranello, which has been responsible for the creation of pure mechanical art for decades, will give way to such an inglorious endeavor as assembling battery modules.

The idea that Ferrari would give in to the prevailing winds is a reality that is being forced upon the legendary marque by burgeoning anti-ICE vehicle laws, which are spreading like wildfire in Europe. It could also be argued that Ferrari held on as long as possible before giving into the aforementioned inevitable, as other established brands have already embarked on their EV travels. 

Porsche, for instance, has been peddling its Taycan since 2019, an overweight (5,200 lbs.) blunderbuss of a “sports car” with synthetic generated sound that does nothing for Porsche’s reputation from where I sit. In typical smug Porsche arrogance, the German manufacturer insists that it has it going on with the Taycan, and if you read between the countless media bites generated by Porsche PR minions and the dutiful fanboy reports in the automotive press, you would think that too. But make no mistake, the Taycan is a singularly unimpressive vehicle, one with about as much driving charm and appeal as a bloated, over-the-hill boxer with no fight left.

And now Ferrari is hell-bent on entering this world, because it is not only beholden to its shareholders, it finds itself in the throes of various European anti-car governments insisting that ICE vehicles be permanently banned from society. I can sympathize with Ferrari’s predicament, I really can. Because I would argue that no automobile manufacturer has more invested in the design, engineering and execution of automotive art than Ferrari. (Yes, Lamborghini has a tremendous history, too, but that’s for another column.) And even though Ferrari is succumbing to the mind-numbing hordes of Crossover/SUVs with its upcoming Purosange, in typical Ferrari fashion it will be powered by a classic V12, so it retains at least the essence of “Ferrari-ness.” 

But 60 percent of the Ferrari product lineup eventually being hybrids or pure EVs? I can see the hybrid equation, because it makes eminent sense. But EVs? I can see where this is going already. Ferrari will continue its breathtaking design language – a feature that the Italian automaker has really stepped up of late - but its EVs will be devoid of the one critical feature that says Ferrari more than anything else: the sound. I don’t care how much the engineers at Ferrari work to create a synthetic sound signature worthy of the Ferrari name for its upcoming EVs – it will still be a synthetic sound signature. And to me, that spells trouble for Ferrari, as in, a giant pasta bowl of Not Good.

Ferrari is approaching a fork in the road, and while its overseers are confident that they can negotiate these fundamental changes while keeping its brand essence intact, I am not that optimistic. Ferrari has been a passionate endeavor since Day One. Enzo built and sold road machines to finance his racing, but that was a long, long time ago. The Italian auto manufacturer has managed to progress through the decades, and in terms of its most recent machines, we are witnessing a new heyday for Ferrari. Example? The new Ferrari 296GTB is one of the finest high-performance machines ever created, and it marks a glorious new chapter in the legend of Ferrari.

If Ferrari can maintain its essence building mandated synthetic sounding EVs to satisfy the demands of its various constituencies, while at the same time continuing to build fantastic ICE machines that make up 40 percent of its vehicle portfolio, it has a chance to survive with its legendary reputation intact. But that is a huge “if.”

I am not anti-EV by any stretch. In fact, moderately priced EVs make sense for urban use. But some EV applications just do not make sense. And this future path for Ferrari gives me serious pause, to say the least. 

The automobile obviously means more to me than it does to most. I grew up immersed in this business, and the passionate endeavor surrounding the creation of automotive art has never stopped being interesting for me. And it is very much art, by the way. Emotionally involving and undeniably compelling mechanical art that not only takes us where we want to go but moves us in ways that touches our souls deeply.

As I’ve often reminded readers in this column, I for one will never forget the essence of the machine, and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams.

And in spite of this journey to the Dark Side, I hope the overlords at Ferrari never forget that.

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

(Ferrari images)

The 2022 Ferrari 296 GTB.

 

Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG

 

 


THE "NEW" FORD LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE OLD FORD, CONT'D.
by Editor
14 Jun 2022 at 11:18am

Editor's Note: Last week, Peter took the "new" Ford to task for looking a lot like the old Ford, and why some things never change for the Dearborn automaker. As if right on cue, Michael Wayland, reporting on CNBC.com, filed a report Tuesday morning (which we've included below) that brings to the fore yet another serious recall from Ford, this one involving its super-hyped Mach-E EV crossover. So, given this development - which is a giant bowl of Not Good, by the way - we're going to leave Peter's Rant up one more week for context. And in this week's "On The Table" Ford is at it again with yet another recall; NHTSA is about to put the screws to Tesla and its "Full Self-Driving" fraud; GM teases its 2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV SS, Porsche comes up with yet another plan to scam its faithful out of more cash, and our AE Song of the Week is "A Girl Like You" by Edwyn Collins. Peter revisits "The Muscle Boys" in Fumes, which is a glorious take on big-bore V8s in American racing. And in The Line we have coverage of INDYCAR from Road America, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, F1 and NASCAR. Also, great pics of Cadillac's LMDh prototype for the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Enjoy! -WG


Ford issues stop-sale of electric Mustang Mach-E crossovers due to potential safety defect

By Michael Wayland, CNBC.com

DETROIT – Ford Motor is instructing dealers to temporarily stop selling electric Mustang Mach-E crossovers due to a potential safety defect that could cause the vehicles to become immobile.

Ford, in a notice Monday to its dealers, said potentially affected vehicles include 2021 and 2022 Mach-Es that were built from May 27, 2020, through May 24, 2022, at the automaker’s Cuautitlan plant in Mexico. That’s essentially since the automaker started producing the electric vehicle. It’s unclear whether all of the nearly 100,000 vehicles produced during that time will need to be recalled.

The problem involves a potential overheating of the vehicle’s high voltage battery main contactors, which is an electrically controlled switch for a power circuit. The issue can lead to a malfunction that could cause the vehicle not to start or immediately lose propulsion power while in motion, the notice states.

The recall is notable, as automakers continue to have problems launching new electric vehicles. Ford, in recent years, also has experienced problematic vehicle launches, leading to high recall and warranty costs.

Ford has issued a handful of recalls regarding the Mach-E since its launch, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website. They’ve ranged from a software error causing unintended acceleration in less than 500 vehicles earlier this year to problems with loose subframe bolts and inadequate bonding for thousands of the vehicle’s glass panel roofs.

Ford expects to have a solution for the problem in the third quarter, according to the bulletin. Mustang Mach-E owners will be notified via mail after repair instructions and parts ordering information have been provided to dealers.

 

THE "NEW" FORD LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE OLD FORD.

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. The more things change, the more things remain the same it seems. After enduring a withering barrage of front-page stories in the Detroit Free Press over the last two-plus years praising Ford and its “Golden Boy” CEO, and seeing Wall Street-types duped by the endless – and breathless – orchestrations by Ford PR Chief Mark Truby and his minions hook, line and sinker, you might get the impression that Ford, led by its “I’m a genius just ask me” CEO, was the Detroit automaker of the moment... and the future.

Moreover, to even the most casual observers in this town, there is no other car company operating here, thanks to the Freep and Truby’s PR minions. It is so Ford, Ford, Ford, all-the-time and 24/7, that a tip of the hat must go out to Truby, who has laid down such an impenetrable PR Fog of War that even the most jaded practitioners on Wall Street have been sucked in. This is image wrangling at its finest, although there are ominous signs that all is not well in Dearborn.

The first ominous sign? Even though Ford has a lead in EVs, albeit temporarily, and everything is projected as being so rosy for Ford’s future that all rational evaluations of the company have been meticulously buried in Truby’s “bunny rabbits and rainbows” schlock offensive, we’re getting dangerously close to a photo op of Ford’s CEO walking on water for the assembled multitudes in the automotive media.  

That all of this positive affirmation seems to be going to the Ford CEO’s head is obvious, and not in the least surprising. The “boy genius” has long been enamored with the dulcet tones of his own thought balloons – that is certainly no secret in these parts – but his propensity for unsolicited public bloviation has grown to gargantuan proportions of late. That Ford’s CEO is starting to sound a lot like the Bloviator-in-Chief – Elon Musk – is beginning to alarm some in the Ford sphere of influence. (You know who you are.) Riffing about what the “new” Ford will look like, with its dealers relegated to mere functionaries as Ford moves blatantly toward the path laid down by Musk with his direct-sell, non-negotiable, one-price mantra may have perked up some Wall Street-types’ ears, but the lingering reality is that Ford has a long, long way to go before it gets even close to making that happen. And that the company has the propensity to take five steps back at a moment’s notice.

To wit: The second ominous sign. What is the one thing that I’ve been warning about when it comes to the “new” Ford and all of its PR-orchestrated protestations insisting that it’s a brand-new day, powered by a new, visionary CEO, which will result in the most forward-thinking car company in the world? The company’s inability to launch a new vehicle without some nightmare problem that crops up that well and truly screws everything up. 

And no, as is Ford’s wont, we’re not talking about a loose fitting or an annoying interior amenity malfunction. It is inevitably something big, so big that there isn’t a rug big enough that it can be swept under, or nearly enough PR minion foggers to cover it up. 

What is it this time? Oh, just a little thing about massive engine failures in the new Bronco. Now, normally, anything about Ford always ends up on Page One in the Freep, and it is so gushingly positive that you need a very large shovel to dig through it to find the actual newsworthy tidbits. 

Sunday’s front page was decidedly different. Maybe that had something to do with Jamie L. Lareau’s 7500-word feature on Mary Barra, which was the dominant story beginning on Page One and going on for three continuing full pages inside. The most comprehensive profile of GM’s CEO to date, it was well worth the read, by the way. 

But buried – and I mean buried – on the lower right corner of the METRO section, which was Page Four in Sunday’s paper, was the following headline:

2021 Ford Bronco owners report ‘catastrophic engine failures.’

The opening sentence of the story, by Phoebe Wall Howard, went like this: “The 2021 Ford Bronco is now the focus of a federal safety investigation after 32 Bronco owners complained of alarming engine failure experiences.” Meaning? “Under normal driving conditions without warning the vehicle may experience a loss of motive power without restart due to catastrophic engine failure related to a faulty valve within 2.7 L Eco-Boost Engines,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report. The investigation was opened on May 27.

The inquiry was initially reported by Carscoops.com and FordAuthority.com, and Ford admitted that 25,538 Broncos may have this problem. Howard went on, in her signature detailed fashion, to report several real-life customer experiences with these Bronco engine failures from all around the country. 

One driver, from Whiteland, Indiana, wrote on May 3: “At 2,000 miles the engine dropped a valve. Vehicle has already received a new engine. Vehicle shut off running down the Interstate.”

A Granite Bay, California, driver reported that his wife was left stranded on a busy roadway in their Bronco. The diagnosis? A complete engine failure. Similar reports came from Farmington Hills, Michigan; Rochester, New York; Park City, Utah; and Middleburg, Florida, according to Howard.

I’ve got news for the “visionary” CEO of Ford, and his dutiful Chief PR minion: You can rattle on about Ford now being a digital company that happens to sell cars, or that the “new” Ford is so forward thinking that it will lead the domestic automobile industry to the Promised Land, or that every thought balloon that enters the CEO’s head can be mined for PR gold. 

But the brutal reality suggests otherwise. 

“Catastrophic Engine Failures” is not a mark of the “new” Ford. It’s a mark of a fumbling car company trying to write checks that it cannot cash, led by a CEO who is so far over his skis that he can’t see the gathering storm clouds ominously looming in his rearview mirror. 

Given Ford’s recent history of nightmare launches, the disastrous launch failure of the Bronco, a vehicle that is supposed to represent – more than any other vehicle in Ford’s lineup – the “new” Ford, is flat-out pathetic. And strong evidence that the “new” Ford looks a lot like the old Ford, which is a giant bowl of Not Good. 

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

 

Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG


THE ?NEW? FORD LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE OLD FORD.
by Editor
5 Jun 2022 at 11:45am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter writes about the "new" Ford looking a lot like the old Ford, and why some things never change for the Dearborn automaker. We liked the Buick Wildcat EV concept so much we've left it up for another week in "On The Table." Peter also addresses the ongoing hand-wringing about the fate of the Monaco Grand Prix in Fumes, offering an elegant solution. And The Line has coverage of INDYCAR (Detroit Grand Prix), IMSA (Detroit as well) and coverage of MotoGP (Catalunya). Also, BMW M Motorsport has unveiled its LMDh prototype for the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the all-new BMW M Hybrid V8.  -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. The more things change, the more things remain the same it seems. After enduring a withering barrage of front-page stories in the Detroit Free Press over the last two-plus years praising Ford and its “Golden Boy” CEO, and seeing Wall Street-types duped by the endless – and breathless – orchestrations by Ford PR Chief Mark Truby and his minions hook, line and sinker, you might get the impression that Ford, led by its “I’m a genius just ask me” CEO, was the Detroit automaker of the moment... and the future.

Moreover, to even the most casual observers in this town, there is no other car company operating here, thanks to the Freep and Truby’s PR minions. It is so Ford, Ford, Ford, all-the-time and 24/7, that a tip of the hat must go out to Truby, who has laid down such an impenetrable PR Fog of War that even the most jaded practitioners on Wall Street have been sucked in. This is image wrangling at its finest, although there are ominous signs that all is not well in Dearborn.

The first ominous sign? Even though Ford has a lead in EVs, albeit temporarily, and everything is projected as being so rosy for Ford’s future that all rational evaluations of the company have been meticulously buried in Truby’s “bunny rabbits and rainbows” schlock offensive, we’re getting dangerously close to a photo op of Ford’s CEO walking on water for the assembled multitudes in the automotive media.  

That all of this positive affirmation seems to be going to the Ford CEO’s head is obvious, and not in the least surprising. The “boy genius” has long been enamored with the dulcet tones of his own thought balloons – that is certainly no secret in these parts – but his propensity for unsolicited public bloviation has grown to gargantuan proportions of late. That Ford’s CEO is starting to sound a lot like the Bloviator-in-Chief – Elon Musk – is beginning to alarm some in the Ford sphere of influence. (You know who you are.) Riffing about what the “new” Ford will look like, with its dealers relegated to mere functionaries as Ford moves blatantly toward the path laid down by Musk with his direct-sell, non-negotiable, one-price mantra may have perked up some Wall Street-types’ ears, but the lingering reality is that Ford has a long, long way to go before it gets even close to making that happen. And that the company has the propensity to take five steps back at a moment’s notice.

To wit: The second ominous sign. What is the one thing that I’ve been warning about when it comes to the “new” Ford and all of its PR-orchestrated protestations insisting that it’s a brand-new day, powered by a new, visionary CEO, which will result in the most forward-thinking car company in the world? The company’s inability to launch a new vehicle without some nightmare problem that crops up that well and truly screws everything up. 

And no, as is Ford’s wont, we’re not talking about a loose fitting or an annoying interior amenity malfunction. It is inevitably something big, so big that there isn’t a rug big enough that it can be swept under, or nearly enough PR minion foggers to cover it up. 

What is it this time? Oh, just a little thing about massive engine failures in the new Bronco. Now, normally, anything about Ford always ends up on Page One in the Freep, and it is so gushingly positive that you need a very large shovel to dig through it to find the actual newsworthy tidbits. 

Sunday’s front page was decidedly different. Maybe that had something to do with Jamie L. Lareau’s 7500-word feature on Mary Barra, which was the dominant story beginning on Page One and going on for three continuing full pages inside. The most comprehensive profile of GM’s CEO to date, it was well worth the read, by the way. 

But buried – and I mean buried – on the lower right corner of the METRO section, which was Page Four in Sunday’s paper, was the following headline:

2021 Ford Bronco owners report ‘catastrophic engine failures.’

The opening sentence of the story, by Phoebe Wall Howard, went like this: “The 2021 Ford Bronco is now the focus of a federal safety investigation after 32 Bronco owners complained of alarming engine failure experiences.” Meaning? “Under normal driving conditions without warning the vehicle may experience a loss of motive power without restart due to catastrophic engine failure related to a faulty valve within 2.7 L Eco-Boost Engines,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report. The investigation was opened on May 27.

The inquiry was initially reported by Carscoops.com and FordAuthority.com, and Ford admitted that 25,538 Broncos may have this problem. Howard went on, in her signature detailed fashion, to report several real-life customer experiences with these Bronco engine failures from all around the country. 

One driver, from Whiteland, Indiana, wrote on May 3: “At 2,000 miles the engine dropped a valve. Vehicle has already received a new engine. Vehicle shut off running down the Interstate.”

A Granite Bay, California, driver reported that his wife was left stranded on a busy roadway in their Bronco. The diagnosis? A complete engine failure. Similar reports came from Farmington Hills, Michigan; Rochester, New York; Park City, Utah; and Middleburg, Florida, according to Howard.

I’ve got news for the “visionary” CEO of Ford, and his dutiful Chief PR minion: You can rattle on about Ford now being a digital company that happens to sell cars, or that the “new” Ford is so forward thinking that it will lead the domestic automobile industry to the Promised Land, or that every thought balloon that enters the CEO’s head can be mined for PR gold. 

But the brutal reality suggests otherwise. 

“Catastrophic Engine Failures” is not a mark of the “new” Ford. It’s a mark of a fumbling car company trying to write checks that it cannot cash, led by a CEO who is so far over his skis that he can’t see the gathering storm clouds ominously looming in his rearview mirror. 

Given Ford’s recent history of nightmare launches, the disastrous launch failure of the Bronco, a vehicle that is supposed to represent – more than any other vehicle in Ford’s lineup – the “new” Ford, is flat-out pathetic. And strong evidence that the “new” Ford looks a lot like the old Ford, which is a giant bowl of Not Good. 

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

 

Editor's Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on "Next 1 Entries" below. - WG



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