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The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

THE FISKER FOLLIES GO DOWN WITH A THUD.
by Editor
23 Jun 2024 at 7:24am
Editor's Note:  This week, Peter eviscerates Henrik Fisker and details the serious missteps that led to Fisker's predictable bankruptcy filing. Speaking of serious missteps, in On The Table, we dissect GM's just-announced ad agency upheaval - in all of its pathetic detail. Then, we take a look at Bugatti's next-generation hyper sports car, the Tourbillon. And Jeep presents its Final - Really Final This Time! - Edition of its 2025 Wrangler 392, in yet another blatant cash grab by the denizens out in Auburn Hills, while BMW unveils its heavily reworked 2025 BMW X3, which is a big deal for the Bavarian brigade because it's the company's highest volume vehicle. We also feature a few shots from our favorite car show - the 2024 Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este. And our AE Song of the Week is "Just Like Honey" by The Jesus and Mary Chain, which was featured at the end of Lost in Translation. In Fumes, we present Part XII of Peter's riveting series "The Racers," this week featuring Mark Donohue. And in The Line, we'll have results from INDYCAR at Laguna Seca, F1 in Spain, IMSA at Watkins Glen and any other racing news we deem worthy. We're on it. -WG



By Peter M. DeLorenzo   Detroit. The news that Henrik Fisker’s EV startup filed for bankruptcy last week was the biggest “duh” so far this year. After releasing the woefully ill-prepared – and basically unfinished – Ocean crossover to auto journalists prematurely (and that’s being kind – WG), Fisker racked-up hundreds of millions of dollars of losses, and the inevitable pirouette into bankruptcy followed.

The Ocean was and is an embarrassment, executed with an astonishing level of incompetence that still leaves journalists who were exposed to it shaking their heads in stunned amazement that Fisker had the temerity to present it as being ready for prime time. It couldn’t have been further from that wishful notion.

And, of course, Fisker released a predictable statement about the bankruptcy filing: "Like other companies in the electric vehicle industry, we have faced various market and macroeconomic headwinds that have impacted our ability to operate efficiently," Fisker said in a statement. "After evaluating all options for our business, we determined that proceeding with a sale of our assets under Chapter 11 is the most viable path forward for the company."

Fisker should have stopped there, but then Fisker being Fisker, the next statement spoke volumes:

"Fisker has made incredible progress since our founding, bringing the Ocean SUV to market twice as fast as expected in the auto industry and making good on our promises to deliver the most sustainable vehicle in the world," Fisker said.

Really? That’s what he’s going with? The King of Delusion is alive and well, apparently. Let me repeat what I said earlier – the Ocean was such a flat-out embarrassment and so far removed from being ready for public consumption that it could only be classified as a joke.

As I said in April in our AE Brand Image Meter: There is no more delusional car executive in this business than Henrik Fisker (well, except for St. Elon, who occupies a dimension of delusion all to himself). An obviously gifted designer, he has been operating on the principle that his talent justifies the means associated with running a real live car company. It doesn’t, and in fact it never has. Just ask Preston Tucker. Fisker has duped investors to believe in his shtick for well over a decade now, but this time, he has gone too far. There’s just no “there” there with Fisker. His Ocean SUV, which he promised would redefine the segment, instead was launched without a shred of justification to do so, to the point that Edmunds.com, in an unprecedented move, flat-out recommended that buyers simply stay away from it. (It seems that the value of the Ocean SUV Edmunds tested dropped by two-thirds in just 20,000 miles, it is so undercooked.) Now, it seems that the prospects for Fisker are Not. Very. Good. As in, bankruptcy is expected. Fisker should go back to designing – for someone else. And he should never be allowed to put his name on a car company again.

The High-Octane Truth hurts, doesn’t it, Henrik?

Fisker, like the storied egomaniacs from the auto industry’s past, decided that the world needed to be fluent with his vision and that if we could just see what he sees and understand the power of his brilliance, we’d all be better off. What did Fisker come up with? A crossover with all of the resonance of yesterday’s news.

The car business is one of the most difficult endeavors on earth. Fraught with peril at every step of the way and relentlessly complicated, this intensely competitive business offers a perennial primer on tailoring a dense concoction of complexity made up of design, engineering and advanced technology, and making it into a conveyance that is not only functionally palatable to consumers but desirable as well.

But as complicated as it is, the complexity itself doesn’t actually define this business. No, it’s the rampant egos involved that really make it hum. After all, would the movie business be anything special without the egos and the backstories? Of course not. The same can be said about the business of making cars. If it weren’t for the crazy egos at work in this business it would be decidedly boring and forgettable.

Unfortunately for the rest of us in this business, Henrik Fisker’s ego has been indulged at every turn, by his colleagues, his investors and even by the U.S. Government. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s basically just a guy with a dream of becoming a boutique luxury carmaker on someone else’s dime, like countless other dreamers who came before him and the countless others who will come after him, as sure as you’re reading this.

And I’m not denigrating those dreamers and blue-sky thinkers who are waiting to burst on the scene at any moment now, because heaven knows this business will always have a desperate need for that kind of unbridled thinking.

But Fisker? He and his “Ocean” have had their fifteen minutes of this industry’s attention. We’ve seen the laudatory design studies (although at the end of the day they count for exactly zero), we’ve seen the financing come and go like the wind, and we’ve even seen green-tinged government types get all misty-eyed over the prospect of a slinky green woosh-mobile, only to back off when they discovered that there was really no “there” there. In essence, it’s all over but the hand-wringing for Fisker.

Will the Shiny Happy People out there in search of the Next Big Thing in green transportation be disappointed when Fisker Automotive falls by the wayside? Maybe for a minute or two. But then they’ll move on to the next “next” in green transportation and won’t even remember Fisker existed.

And to those precious few out there who have bought into the Fisker mystique as being some sort of Green Magic Carpet Ride masquerading as a functioning automobile, one that will not only solve all of their problems with one well-timed neighborhood drive-by but will improve their rolling green quotient exponentially, well, there’s something to be said for you... something about fools and their money.

To the rest of us in this industry who know better, the “Fisker Follies” desperately need to be brought to a close, because the only thing clear about Fisker is that it is an automotive mirage that makes zero sense whatsoever: As a car, as a technological statement or even as an alleged automotive breakthrough.

It was overweight, overwrought and the fact that even one red cent of taxpayer money ended up underwriting Fisker’s Rolling Note to Self defies comprehension.

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


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

 


THE UNITED STATES OF MEDIOCRITY, PART II.
by Editor
16 Jun 2024 at 8:46am
Editor's Note:  This week, we reprise one of Peter's most popular columns - and a non-automotive one at that - in which he unloads on the dismal state of America, and which, unfortunately, shows no signs of abating. In On The Table, we preview the new 2025 BMW M2. And our AE Song of the Week is "A Girl Like You" by Edwyn Collins. In Fumes, we present Part XI of Peter's riveting series "The Racers," this week featuring Roger Penske. And in The Line, we have results from the 24 Hours of Le Mans, along with an announcement about TV coverage for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and the iconic Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge beginning in 2025. Enjoy! -WG




By Peter M. DeLorenzo   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Editor's Note: Click on "Next 1 Entries" at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. - WG
THE DEAL ON DETROIT.
by Editor
9 Jun 2024 at 7:40am
Editor's Note:  This week, Peter talks Detroit, what it's really like to live and work here, and most important, what most people just don't understand about the city. Specifically, he addresses the newly restored Michigan Central Station and the misguided attempt by Ford's Jim Farley to say it is revenge for all the negativity heaped on the city over the years. Peter also takes aim at the ill-fated Detroit Grand Prix INDYCAR race, which was an embarrassing display and an event in desperate need of a re-think. In On The Table, we preview a special-edition 2025 Corolla FX from Toyota, something that may actually be affordable - what a concept! And we take another look at the 1938 Talbot-Lago T150 C Lago Spéciale Teardrop Coupé by Figoni et Falaschi. Our AE Song of the Week is "Red Barchetta" by Rush. In Fumes, with last week's passing of Parnelli Jones - one of American's all-time greats - we present Part X of Peter's riveting series "The Racers." And in The Line, we have INDYCAR results from Road America - "America's National Park of Speed" - and F1 results from the Grand Prix of Canada in Montreal. Enjoy! -WG



By Peter M. DeLorenzo   Detroit. I’ve tried over the years to convey what it’s like to live around here, but unless you’re immersed in the day-to-day of it, it’s understandable that you’d have no idea what it’s really like.   That this is truly a “company” town doesn’t even begin to describe it. Executive moves in the auto industry get front-page treatment. In fact, utterances by the company CEOs are parsed for meaning and impact to the last excruciating detail. (That you have to sift through the spin generated by the PR minions goes without saying. It’s standard operating procedure, after all.) The same goes for the UAW. Each and every move of the labor organization is documented on our front pages. That’s just the more visible coverage. The business pages are dominated by industry coverage as well, from lesser executive moves to industry sales reports. The only “company” town that rivals Detroit for total immersion is Hollywood, but I give the nod to that star-fueled enclave simply because of its power over all media. After all, Detroit and the U.S. auto industry are still considered to be one with the vast middle of the country, aka the “flyover” states.   Why am I bringing this up? Well, we’re in the midst of another “Please take Detroit seriously!” media push, conducted by none other than Ford Motor Company operatives. On the one hand, the four-year, $950 million plus restoration of the Michigan Central Station – personally spearheaded by Chairman Bill Ford Jr. – is a very good thing. The former showpiece train station had been allowed to deteriorate to an almost non-repairable state over decades (it closed for good in 1988), and Bill Ford’s leadership to bring it back to life is to be commended, because the pictures of the finished project before the grand re-opening this week are indeed spectacular. (The stunning Beaux-Arts structure was designed by the architects who worked together on New York's Grand Central Station, and it was the tallest rail station in the world at the time of its construction in 1913. -WG)   (Images by the Detroit Free Press, Kimberly P. Mitchell)  
      But this is where things begin to go sideways, because certain individuals are trying to inject overinflated meaning that goes beyond the mere restoration of this now showpiece building.   Start with one Jim “I’m a genius just ask me” Farley, the perpetually annoying CEO of Ford, who decided that the reopening of the Michigan Central Station was cause for getting revenge against enemies of Detroit, both real and imagined. As the Detroit Free Press reported last week:

"For Jim Farley, the resurrection of Michigan Central Station in Detroit feels like sweet revenge. 'As someone who lived in Detroit during the era when everyone was bashing the city,' he told the Detroit Free Press, '... how incredibly awesome it is to be able to look at the same people and say, 'You were wrong.' The city is now growing. It’s kind of a little bit of revenge.’

People used to question Ford Motor Co. executives and others who lived in Detroit about the city's reputation and perceived hopelessness, and it was frustrating, said Farley, who joined Ford from Toyota in 2007. 'The whole global media, and especially Time magazine: 'The tragedy of Detroit'? All this bullshit that I just felt we were all being gang tackled by the national media without them really doing their homework. They didn’t know the spirit of Detroit.'"

I daresay that Farley wouldn’t know the spirit of Detroit if it bit him in the ass, either, but that’s grist for another column. The reality is that infamous Time magazine article was dead right. Detroit perpetually has its back against the wall, for countless reasons, and Time was just stating the obvious.

And even though the renaissance of the Michigan Central Station is genuinely a very good thing as I previously stated, the fact that Ford executives - led by Farley - are insisting that this is yet another example of the city finally turning the corner, and that this edifice alone will draw new young talent to the Motor City like flies to honey, is wildly exaggerating the prospects brought on by this development. If young up-and-coming people were that easily led by shiny objects, this town would be swimming in optimism, but I beg to differ, because the reality is decidedly different.

I need to point out that this town has been plagued by corruption and bad actors for decades. Just this past week it was discovered that the CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy – a non-profit focused on improving things along the Detroit River – was forced to resign and its chief financial officer was fired amid a criminal investigation into the fact that $40 million was missing. Remember, this is a non-profit. Another case of a rarefied incident that doesn’t represent the “spirit” of Detroit? Hardly. As I said before, this town is haunted by a crumbling educational system, abject poverty and a real sense of hopelessness for far too large a segment of the population.

As much as I applaud Bill Ford for his endeavor to rejuvenate the Michigan Central Station, Farley and his PR minions should cool it with the overpromising on what this facility means. Farley isn’t exactly a credible arbiter of taste around here to begin with, and his bleating doesn’t exactly ring true. In fact, it has an odor of vacuousness about it that achieves just the opposite.

Does the Michigan Central Station fundamentally alter the national perception of this city? No, it does not. Just like the Detroit INDYCAR Grand Prix run downtown last week didn’t either, despite the gushing coverage by NBC Sports. For the record, the track is way too short and tight, and it invites constant bumping and bashing. Frankly, the event was an embarrassment, and it needs a serious re-think, because just having it isn’t close to being enough. But then again, I don’t expect that to happen. After all, the powers that be are too busy patting themselves on the back that the event happened in the first place. But I digress.

Is the Michigan Central Station a huge improvement that minimizes a previous area of tragic blight? Yes, it is. But that’s as far as it goes. The reality is that if the Detroit Lions went to the Super Bowl – and won – it would do more for the city in terms of local feels and national image enhancement than the Michigan Central Station could ever do. That’s just the nature of the game and the reality of the situation.

So that’s the Deal on Detroit on this 12th day of June 2024. Is this a tough town? Unquestionably. Are things on an upward trajectory? If you’re purely looking at the auto industry that lives here, sort of, but then again not really. Until the EV "thing" is sorted out, it’s still a giant “we’ll see.” The same can be said for the new physical property developments going on around town, in terms of optimism. They remain a giant “we’ll see” as well.

But when looking at the health of the city and its environs, and the deep-rooted problems that plague this city and its educational system, the ones that are preventing this city from doing anything but a dismal two-steps forward, five-back self-defeating dance of "progress," then we indeed have a long, long, long way to go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Detroit thing, or if you must, a Dee-troit thing, as Bob Seger so aptly put it. And we’re proud of what that means.

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

 

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


TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF THE HIGH-OCTANE TRUTH.
by Editor
2 Jun 2024 at 8:54am

Editor's Note: In case you missed last week's issue, June 1st marked a quarter century of AE, so we're leaving Peter's Anniversary Rant up for one more week. There's a lot to take in as Peter reflects on the highs and the lows that comprise 25 years of the High-Octane Truth. In On The Table, we take a look at the 1938 Talbot-Lago T150 C Lago Spéciale Teardrop Coupé by Figoni et Falaschi. We also take another look at the significant updates to the latest-generation Porsche 911 - including a hybrid powertrain - and the new Cadillac OPTIQ, which is the new entry-level EV from GM's luxury division. And we reprise our special section celebrating AE's 25th Anniversary that includes the intro from our very first issue. Our AE Song of the Week is "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" by Aerosmith. In Fumes, Peter continues with Part IX of his riveting series "The Racers" – this week featuring one of racing's most brilliant innovators, Jim Hall. And in The Line, we have INDYCAR and IMSA results from Detroit, and MotoGP results from Mugello (with commentary by AE Special Contributor Whit Bazemore). We're on it. -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It has been, on occasion, an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege (thank you, Cameron Crowe). In an industry consumed by the Swirling Maelstrom each and every day, I’ve been consumed myself in a relentless, 24/7 pursuit bringing the High-Octane Truth to life each and every week.

I’ve been an inside-outside observer, charting the comings and goings, documenting the exceptional highs and the excruciating lows. Let’s face it, at times this industry has been overrun by a kaleidoscope of dunces, with a rotisserie of rubes spitting out mediocrity at every turn. Fortunately, the spineless weasels and recalcitrant twerps who have done their level best over the years to bring this industry down to a mind-numbing cadence of lowest-common-denominator thinking have been superseded and overcome by legions of True Believers, men and women who care deeply about what they do and take pride in everything they do. If it weren’t for them, this industry would have already been relegated to the dustbin of history, a smoldering hulk by the side of the road.

Twenty-five years ago, when I became tired of what the ad biz had become, tired of the ass kissers and the other two-bit players who had turned what was once a pretty interesting profession into a vapid wasteland, I knew I had to do something different. I had also grown tired of seeing the auto business – as practiced here in Detroit – sink further into the Abyss of risk-avoidance-driven mediocrity, and watching legions of so-called "executives" make horrendous, piss-poor decisions day after day on behalf of their respective auto companies.

As I watched the carnage unfold around me, I knew that something had to be said by someone who had firsthand knowledge of what was going on – someone who was in the trenches and on the front lines of the ongoing battle.

That someone turned out to be me. And Autoextremist.com became my forum to say it.

As some of you longtime readers may recall, I originally envisioned Autoextremist as a concept for a new car magazine back in 1986. The print version of Autoextremist was going to target hard-core enthusiasts, while telling it like it is with a distinctive, combative style. It would also be the first enthusiast car publication that wouldn’t accept advertising.

The state of the enthusiast car mags back then was a dismal parade of sameness that left me cold, and I was determined to breathe some life into the genre (and it is different today, how? –WG). But my ad career got in the way, and by the time I looked up it was the late spring of 1999, and I knew that if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it – so the time was finally right for Autoextremist. 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, whether people were ready for it or not. A lot has changed about this business over the ensuing years, but as I am continually reminded, a lot hasn’t.

The past 25 years has been a journalistic rocket ride like no other. When we started this publication back on June 1, 1999, there was no real plan other than that I was ready to recount a lifetime of automotive history that began in Detroit’s heyday, combine that with my life’s work in the auto advertising and marketing trenches, and blow the lid off of the status quo in a business that had become petrified and jaded. I was going to tell the real stories and name the real names, and I wasn’t going to hide behind the usual journalistic chestnuts of “deep background” and “off-the-record” sobriquets. I was going to make people accountable in a business in which not being accountable had become a cottage industry.

Back when we started AE the car business as writ large here – this once-glorious, exuberant business that created The Arsenal of Democracy and made up the fabric of American industrial might – had become overrun with bloodsucking parasites and hordes of “I-am-going-to-do-the-absolute-minimum-I-can-do-to-get-by” super drones.

This industry that once boasted industrial giants who roamed the earth creating fabulous machines while leaving heroic legacies in their wake had been reduced to a mewling chorus of sycophants making excuses for what couldn’t be done and why “they” – aka Detroit – couldn’t compete, while churning out mind-numbing, rolling monuments to mediocrity that drove millions of consumers away, for good.

Watching Detroit’s collective market share do a pirouette into The Darkness was not so much sobering as it was frightening, and my writings took the fight to these purveyors of boneheaded excuses and feckless mediocrity and changed the conversation forever.

I challenged every single convention and exposed the excuse-making machines that the car company PR functions had become, and turned this business on its ear, which was, in reality, much harder to do than it sounds now.

In thinking about the relationship between the press and the auto companies back then, there was no news or opinion of any substance, just rote regurgitation of the auto company press releases with an occasional “tough” question thrown in for good measure. And if it was too “tough” an editor would get “the call” and be taken to the proverbial woodshed by the Chief PR minion because, well, you know, it just wasn’t done. And for their penance the offending scribes would be denied access to a top executive – especially the CEO –which at the time was akin to the death penalty. Without access they wouldn’t be able to distinguish themselves in the debilitating dance of predictability that the industry press corps had become. Without access, they were pretty much dead.

But the key differentiator for me was that I didn’t care about access, because I not only knew the Detroit auto executive mindset intimately, inside and out, I had it down cold. I knew what they thought and why they were thinking it. So much so in fact, that on more than one occasion – okay, make that more times than I can even count over the past two and a half decades – I heard comments from top executives that went something like this: “I don’t know who you’re talking to, or where you’re getting your information, but it’s so uncannily accurate that it is scary.”

In fact, it was so disconcerting to the car company PR minions that it struck fear into their very hearts and kept them awake at night. And as they watched their digital clocks tick over with a sickening thud in the middle of the night, the prayers that could be heard in the darkness sounded achingly similar: “I hope he stops. Or starts writing about somebody else. Or gets hit by a truck, whichever comes first, Dear Lord.” But those prayers fell on deaf ears.

I am gratified to say that Autoextremist.com changed the tone and tenor of the media coverage of this business once and for all. There are members of the esteemed – cough, hack – media who scoff at this notion, but it’s painfully true. And by the way, countless imitators and wannabes sprang up and are still springing up to this day. I have had writers attempt to copy my style while brazenly calling it their own, and I’ve even had Internet trolls blatantly steal my copy and post it on their websites thinking no one would notice. But we did, and others did too.

But it didn’t really matter in the end, because the voice – and the impact – of Autoextremist.com rang loud and true and has been powerful for, as hard as it is to believe – 25 years – and the imitators and freeloaders slunk away back under the rocks from whence they came.

I walked away from car advertising because the relationship between the car companies and their ad agencies had become so polluted that it was too embarrassing for words, a sickening dance of egregious malfeasance that was an insult to the craft – on both sides of the ball. What had once been a pretty damn great way to make a living – one filled with bristling creativity and collaborative excellence – had deteriorated into a cesspool of go-along-to-get-along cowardice and “thank you, sir, may I have another?” bullshit. The profoundly inept were leading the spineless order takers, and the resulting chaos masquerading as marketing was devastating.

Is it better now? Well, let’s see, two of the three American car companies went bankrupt fifteen years ago, with one of those being gifted to a foreign car company because no one else had a better idea about to how to save it. But, let’s get back to the question – is it really better now?

Yes and no. The products are better, make no mistake about that. In fact, we are experiencing the finest machines in automotive history at this very moment in time. And that is no insignificant thing.

But the romance and art that once fueled this business, and the passion and willingness to do great things and strive for excellence that took it to lofty heights, are now confined to the thriving pockets of True Believers spread out among the car companies. These are the people who keep the passion of this business alive and who stay true to their beliefs against overwhelming odds. Because in reality this “new” auto business has been defined by the deal makers and the interloping carpetbaggers hell bent on maximizing their balance sheets while embracing commoditization and globalization. The art of the machine means less than zero to them and has become irrelevant, and the art of this business is dying with it. And it’s sad.

As I’ve said repeatedly, this business isn’t for the faint of heart. And though it seems that there are legions of recalcitrant twerps and two-bit hacks running around out there who add nothing of import to the discussion and who pump up their self-worth for reasons that remain a mystery, the real essence of the business remains unsullied.

When we first contemplated doing Autoextremist, I wrote a manifesto for what it was and what it was not. And I am proud to say it still resonates today.

I began with the premise that designing, engineering and building automobiles is one of the most complicated endeavors on earth. And to do it properly takes vision, creativity and an unwavering passion that makes other pursuits seem positively ordinary. Note that there is nothing in there about doing it just good enough to get by, engineering to the lowest common denominator, covering your ass or any of the other pillars of “standard operating procedure” that once dominated certain quarters of this business and have been, for the most part, purged.

Except that isn’t really true, unfortunately. All the bad old habits are still present and accounted for and then some, looming just under the surface. And as much as reasoned, logical and eminently bright executives in charge at these auto companies protest otherwise and insist that “we don’t do that stuff anymore,” that kind of bad behavior is just a bad product or marketing decision away from rearing its ugly head, and usually at the most inopportune time too.

From the very beginning we exposed the go-along-to-get-along, kick-the-can-down-the-road hordes on a regular basis, because the damage they cause can bring these companies to their knees in a heartbeat. 

A key point in the Autoextremist Manifesto? Mediocrity – in any way, shape or form – isn’t bliss. Instead, it’s an insidious disease that has not only decimated this industry, it has screwed up life as we used to know it too.

At some point this business – and American life – turned down the wrong path. Pushing the envelope, getting knocked down and picking yourself back up and going at it again, battling to the buzzer, and striving for achievement were part and parcel of the upward trajectory of the automobile business – and country – we used to live in. Achieving greatness wasn’t just a goal, it was an expectation to shoot for, because anything less would be, well, ordinary. And even worse, boring.

Today this business has too often given way to an unspoken attitude of just doing enough to get by because when it comes right down to it, judging by the chorus of muttering I hear, doing more begs the question, “Does it really make all that much difference?” Fundamental accountability has been replaced by “It’s not my problem.” And “It’s okay, at least you tried” has become more than just an acceptable phrase, but a mantra that too many people live by. After all, when everyone gets a group hug and a trophy just for showing up, why bother extending effort to do better, or achieve greatness, or strive to be the best?

Why bother, indeed.

The result? Abject mediocrity. And it’s everywhere. It’s in this business and it’s rampant throughout the country. Some people have actually said to me (and with a straight face too), “Get over it, it’s the world we live in today.” But I’m not buying it, and it is simply unacceptable to me, which is why I will continue to call people and companies out on it whenever and wherever I see it. It’s not a value-added path for this business, and it’s already proven not to be the answer for the country, either.

The stellar machines of our day – and we are living in the golden age of automotive greatness in case you haven’t noticed – aren’t the product of “it’s good enough.” Instead, these machines bristle with the passion, vision and commitment of the men and women who created them, those “True Believers” that I often write about. If it weren’t for them, this business would be riding on the Last Train to Nowhere, next stop, Oblivion.

To say that Autoextremist.com has been a labor of love doesn’t even begin to cover it. It has been my passion – and my life – for 25 years. And make no mistake, the time hasn’t flown by either; far from it, in fact. I have lived every single moment of it and every bit of it is seared in my memory. 

Suffice to say that you have no idea of the time, effort and energy that it has taken to deliver the Bare-Knuckled, Unvarnished, High-Octane Truth to you every week for 25 years now. And if you knew, I mean really knew, few of you would comprehend and even fewer of you would even begin to understand. (The commitment? It’s daunting, as Peter starts writing at 3:00 a.m. most days. -WG)

It has been our blood on these tracks. And it was our unwavering passion and unflinching standards amidst the torrent of mediocrity and just plain dismal behavior on the Internet that stood out. That’s not just us talking, that is the consistent refrain we hear from upper echelon auto executives, members of the media, and from a countless number of our readers out there, week in and week out.

The fact of the matter is that you can go anywhere and read anything about cars on the Internet, but we’re extremely grateful and proud to say that the best and the brightest come here.

I have been going back and forth for several years now about what would happen on the 25th Anniversary of Autoextremist.com. How I would feel about it, what would it all mean, and most important, how much longer would I do it? How much longer could I do it?  And so on. 

But the reality is, when faced with the real possibility of pulling the plug on Autoextremist.com, I have come to the conclusion that I am not ready to walk away from it. Yes, I will admit that it is a giant pain in the ass sometimes, because we’ve set a high standard here that isn’t conducive to phoning it in, or going through the motions in any way, thank goodness. And those high standards push me to keep bringing the High-Octane Truth to you every single week. 

And frankly, as the years have passed by, it has helped me sharpen my focus and my thoughts even more and helped me realize that there are no free rides or guarantees in life. I am lucky in that I found something in Autoextremist.com that has kept me motivated and sharp for 25 years. And I truly appreciate the fact that I have it. 

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

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

It has been one glorious ride.

WordGirl and I thank you for listening and, as always, thanks for reading.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth on our 25th Anniversary.

 

 

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


RAGING AGAINST THE DYING OF THE LIGHT.
by Editor
19 May 2024 at 7:53am

Editor's Note: This week, as we continue to languish in the painful limbo of the Grand Transition to EVs, Peter gives us a peek at his dream ICE garage. In On The Table, we feature the latest from the Merchants of Greed at Porsche and their mind-numbing updates to the 2025 Cayenne lineup. We also preview a pivotal new entry from GM, the Chevrolet Equinox EV, and we take another look at the new 911 Hybrid. Our AE Song of the Week is "Love Shack" by the B-52s. In Fumes, Peter continues with Part VII of his much talked about series "The Racers" – this week featuring another all-time great, Sir Stirling Moss. And, in The Line, we will have INDYCAR qualifying results for the INDY 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and F1 results from the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix at Imola. Enjoy! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(digitaltrends.com)

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

(GM)

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

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

(mecum.com)

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

(legendarymotorcar.com)

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

(Richard Michael Owen/Supercars.net)

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

(hiconsumption.com)

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

(Ferrari)
The Ferrari 296 GTB is just a spectacular machine in every respect.

(Chevrolet)
And the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z06. It's everything the new mid-engine Corvette is, and much, much more. It's a tribute to GM's True Believers, who deserve all of the kudos coming their way. Then, of course, we'll have the ZR1 in 2025 and after that, the much anticipated Zora. It never ends, for now, which is a very good thing,

(Dodge)

2023 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack Shaker Widebody. I would need to have one, purely Bad Ass car in my ICE Garage, and no, I don’t need a Hellcat. The normally-aspirated 392 Hemi V8 would do just fine.

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

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

As Dylan Thomas famously wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 


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

 



IT WAS GOOD. AND HARD. AND FAST.
by Editor
12 May 2024 at 8:13am

Editor's Note: Every now and then, it's good to hit the reset button. This week is one of those times (as in, Stop the world - I want to get off). So, here's a special, unvarnished missive from The Autoextremist, and a look inside his incomparable high-octane life. In On The Table, we take another look at one of the last "good" BMWs, the 2025 M4 CS. Our AE Song of the Week is "She's So High" by Tal Bachman. In Fumes, Peter continues with Part VI of his much talked about series "The Racers" – this week featuring America's first World Champion, Phil Hill. And finally, in The Line, we will have INDYCAR results from Saturday's road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the French MotoGP from Le Mans - with commentary by AE Special Contributor Whit Bazemore - and IMSA from Laguna Seca. Onward! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. I am the passenger. I am a Technicolor Dream Cat riding this kaleidoscope of life. I’ve seen some things, indeed, more than most. Magic things. Loud things. Fast things. 

I once looked up at a ghostly tornado finger drifting overhead in Flint. It was ominous and beyond scary. A lot of people died that day too. But then, a few years later, I saw my first 707 hanging in the sky. It was majestic and powerful. And the Jet Age was on.

I got introduced to horsepower, side pipes and chrome, and I happily got sucked in. Corvettes and 409s, GTOs and Starfires. And Sting Rays. Forever Sting Rays. And in the midst of all that, I bought and rebuilt a Bug go-kart, had the Mac 6 engine rebuilt and hopped-up, painted it bright orange, and spent one summer terrorizing our neighborhood. I dubbed it the Orange Juicer Mk I, and found out how fast 60 mph felt that low to the ground. It was everything, all the time. 

It was good. And hard. And fast.

Woodward wasn’t just a thing. It was Life. In 0 to 100 bursts. It all came alive at night. Open pipes, rumbles and roars, dares and boasts. The drive-ins smelled like burning rubber and French fries. Girls leaned and preened. Boys slouched and crouched. To get a better look. Riding shotgun with my brother, it was a world that called me. 

From there, it was riding with The Maestro, Bill Mitchell – our neighbor – in the original Sting Ray racer, thinking it was normal and knowing it was not. But I soaked it all in anyway, and it was just the beginning. There were Mako Sharks, Monza Super Spyders and GTs; and XP-700 Corvettes and XP-400 Pontiacs. And on and on. It was all stunning to look at. And be in. The grass was greener and the sky was bluer, and the sounds were intoxicating.

It was good. And hard. And fast.

And then came the Cobras. All lithe and tiny next to the Corvettes. And a new kind of fast. Blistering, neck-snapping fast. A two-car-length jump off the line fast. Open-top roadsters lurking for a fight. It was the smell of English leather and burning tennis shoes when running the Cobras in the cool of the night. And believe me, there was nothing else like it. 

And then road racing came calling. My brother Tony’s driver school at Watkins Glen in June of ’64. In a Tuxedo Black Sting Ray that had been personally massaged by Zora and his troops, complete with straight pipes to install when we got there. Riding on Goodyear Blue Streaks the whole way. The Glen Motor Court beckoned, but the track was the thing. That Sting Ray barked and blurted out speed, and Tony was the fastest man there. There was no turning back at that point.

It was good. And hard. And fast.

Next up was a “A” Sedan Corvair that we flat-towed all over hell and back. Starting out at our local Waterford Hills raceway, and then on to Nelson Ledges, Mid-Ohio, Lime Rock, Vineland, Grayling and even a 12-Hour endurance race at Marlboro, Maryland. But that was just the pre-game. 

The real stuff was coming in 1967. We ordered what turned out to be the first of just 20 427 L88 Corvette Sting Rays built that year. I remember when we went to Hanley Dawson Chevrolet in Detroit to see the bad-ass Sting Ray for the first time. It had just been unloaded off the truck and it was stunning. We hopped in it just to see, and suspicions were conformed: It was a wild, unruly beast. We dismantled it over a weekend and had a roll bar welded-in, installed a set of American Torq-Thrust racing wheels and bolted-on some OK Kustom headers. We added a few other tweaks and we were off to our first SCCA Regional race in Wilmot Hills, Wisconsin. In “A” Production. There was a 427 Cobra there, too, but it was no match for our Super Sting Ray. Tony won going away. And then it was off to the races, literally: Mid-Ohio, Road America, Blackhawk Farms, Nelson Ledges, Watkins Glen, Daytona.

It was good. And hard. And fast.

And then everything changed. Owens/Corning Fiberglas became our sponsor. And the races got bigger. Twenty-two straight wins in “A” Production, with twelve 1-2 finishes with teammate Jerry Thompson, who would go on to win the National Championship in ‘69. Then it was the major endurance races with GT class wins at Daytona, Sebring and Watkins Glen. And the Trans-Am series in 1970 with Camaros, and in 1971 with ex-Bud Moore factory Mustangs. And finally, the infamous Budd-sponsored Corvette in 1973, with Tony sitting on the pole at Sebring for the all-GT 12-hour race that year. 

They were fleeting moments in time, but they were unforgettable. Pouring a bucket of water over my head after gas spilled all over me during a pit stop at Marlboro. Waking up in the cab of our semi on the Ohio Turnpike in the middle of the night on the way to Lime Rock only to see that my brother was fast asleep as we were running diagonally off the left shoulder and headed for the median. I yelled. We made it. But that was just the way it was back then. No sleep for days on end getting the cars ready – to the point of exhaustion – only to then have to load up and drive to the next race. It was relentless. 

Then there was the infamous Pontiac street race in 1974. It was a dubious track at best, with haybales and guardrails offering little protection for the drivers, or the crowd. Tony was passing a slower car during the race and the driver moved over on him. The move forced Tony into some haybales, turned him sideways, causing his Corvette to barrel roll 20 feet in the air taking out a light pole. That impact with the light pole saved him from going into a spectator area of at least one hundred people. I was a fair distance away when I saw a flash of his car going end-over-end (after the light pole impact) down the straightway on Wide Track avenue. I sprinted to get there, only to see the car burst into a fireball. I arrived to see my brother laying on the ground. He had gotten out in time, barely a moment before the car burst into flames. It was only later that we found out that a guy who was keeping the car in Florida in-between Daytona races had removed the check-valve in the fuel cell “to save weight.” Idiot. 

Needless to say, that was a dark day, especially since a reporter at the event called one of my dad’s GM PR staffers – my mom and dad were at an outdoor party with his entire PR staff – and informed him that Tony had been killed in Pontiac. (He never saw Tony get out of the car.) My dad’s right-hand man informed my parents that they had to go to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac immediately. They feared the worse, of course. So that was me at the hospital seeing the ashen look on my parents’ faces when they arrived. I took them to see my brother on a gurney in the hallway; he was alert but battered and extremely sore. My parents were relieved, and so was I.

But that was only part of my ride on this kaleidoscope of life. There was the time we built a prototype ’69 L88 Corvette roadster (in black/black, of course) called the “Daytona GT” with the intention of selling customer versions. It was basically one of our racing cars equipped with a few more comfort options. We even got display space at Cobo Hall during the Auto Show to show it off. But the pressures of running the racing team meant that the project was shelved. The Corvette was eventually rebuilt to fully race-prepared OCF racing team specs, given a psychedelic paint job and sold to a German Lufthansa pilot who used it to terrorize local and national racing events over there. But before that all happened, I was tasked with keeping it in running order and exercised. Needless to say, I relished that assignment and I happily terrorized the area with open headers on my “exercise” jaunts.

It was good. And hard. And fast.

Then I veered off on my own and became enchanted with the Porsche 911. I bought a used ’75 911S and proceeded to drive that car all over hell and as fast as it would go. I spun-out once going 100 mph on a two-lane road because unbeknownst to me the shoulder had just been graded and there was dirt all over the road in a left-hand sweeper. I came to a stop with the rear wheels right on the edge of a 20-foot drop. And then there was the infamous late-afternoon run from East Lansing to Ann Arbor that I did flat-out, rarely going below 100 mph the entire distance. I made it to my destination in just under 30 minutes, door-to-door.  And it is just as vivid for me today as it was when I did it. Fleeting moments indeed.

And then there was the time during my ad career that I spent shooting commercials at the Nurburgring Nordschleife, for a full week. We were short performance drivers, so I spent the week assisting with the driving while tearing around the circuit for the filming. And if that wasn’t special enough, NATO jets were using the wide-open terrain to practice high-speed, low-level maneuvers. How low? We could see the helmet marking on the pilots as they banked over us at tree-top level. It was a week-long orgy of speed that I will never forget.

The point of all this? I’m still a Technicolor Dream Cat riding this kaleidoscope of life. This column gave you fleeting glimpses of some fleeting glimpses. There’s plenty more to tell and a long, long way to go. And I'm not close to being finished.

It was good. And hard. And fast. Indeed. 

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

The Autoextremist. March 1976, East Lansing, Michigan. (J. Geils called; he wants his look back.)

 

 



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

 


GM AND THE ART OF HEDGING.
by Editor
5 May 2024 at 7:53am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter takes GM to task for its three steps forward, five steps back dance of mediocrity when it comes to hedging its bets on the "Grand Transition" to EVs. In On The Table, we take a look at the latest passionate masterpiece from Ferrari, the 12Cilindri Coupe and Spider. We also take another look at the Xiaomi SU7 - a car that blatantly rips-off the Porsche Taycan - being built in China, and how it's aeembled should put chills in automakers around the world. And our AE Song of the Week is "Stay (I Missed You)" by Lisa Loeb. In Fumes, Peter continues with Part V of his much talked about new series "The Racers" – this week featuring another all-time great,  Jackie Stewart. And finally, in The Line, we will feature the F1 results from Miami. We're on it! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. If you’ve been a longtime reader of AE, you know some of the topics I’ve written about have endured over the years of doing this website. One topic in particular - the three steps forward, five steps back dance of mediocrity – has plagued this business as practiced here in the Motor City for the 25 years that we’ve been bringing you Autoextremist.com.

In a nutshell, the term applies to the rumbling, bumbling and stumbling cadence that has become part of the standard operating procedure in this town. And I don’t have to dig deep into the AE archives to give you an example of what I mean either. Just this past week, I’ve been reminded of how much the infamous “swirling maelstrom” (that other topic I’ve written about frequently) has come to define this business around these parts.

On the one hand, you had General Motors operatives touting the fact that they have a second Ultium battery cell production facility – in Spring Hill, Tennessee – up and running, and that this facility will supply cells to the Spring Hill Assembly plant, which builds the Cadillac Lyriq EV SUV. Not known for giving any news like this time to percolate up to real-time fruition, GM CFO Paul Jacobson told Wall Street types in a first quarter earnings call that GM would not only deliver on CEO Mary Barra’s promise of producing anywhere from 200,000 to 300,000 EVs in 2024, but that the company would make money on them in the second half of this year. This was due to lower costs for lithium and production efficiencies as the factories get up to speed. Cue Frau Farbissina from Austin Powers: Really?

Now, let me remind you just how far over her skis Ms. Barra was in promising that GM would be the industry leader in EVs in no time. She touted that GM’s EV commitment would mean that by 2024 GM would be churning out segment-leading EVs at a furious pace, and that the company would be transformed because of it. Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out that way. As I’ve stated previously, GM (as well as Ford) encountered massive problems along the way as the challenges multiplied. The search for raw materials that would go into the batteries became a constant hunt that simply had no end. And the massive cash suck required to fund costly EV R&D programs seemed to multiply exponentially by the day. On top of that, GM then had to repurpose existing manufacturing facilities and/or build all-new factories to assemble batteries and eventually build the EVs that they would soon be manufacturing.

But Ms. Barra was not shy about her predictions: Bullish pronouncements reigned, as the “promise” of EVs became the talk of the town: Cheaper to operate! Fewer moving parts, so much cheaper to build! The dawn of a brand-new era! Oh, this “transition” to EVs was going to be grand alright. And blah-frickity-blah, blah, blah.

The reality? Just now GM is actually building the Cadillac Lyriq with a modicum of frequency. But the other GM EVs promised are still just trickling out in fits and starts, so, 200,000 – 300,000 GM EVs by the end of this year? All together now: Right.

The chants of “It Won’t Be Long Now” (another one of our famous AE phrases) that are filling the air around these parts are so predictable that it isn’t even shocking anymore. All it takes is a little bit of good news for the torrent of optimism to be unleashed in this town, but to say it’s wildly premature is an understatement, especially when EV sales are suffering – ahem – a major league “adjustment.”

Barra & Co. made the conscious decision that they could just flip a switch and that this EV “thing” would come good (kind of like the politicians who mandated all of this). And that couldn’t have been more wrong. It seems that the lack of fundamental infrastructure, the inability to get the battery assembly up to speed, the exceedingly high prices and the fact that consumers weren’t even close to being sold on the efficacy of EVs presented a gigantic mountain to climb. And now, we’re expected to think that everything will be awesome because of a second Ultium battery cell plant coming online? Listen carefully, and you can hear the sound of one hand clapping.

The other famous prediction by Ms. Barra and other GM operatives – announced in 2021 – was that its Cadillac luxury division would be all-electric with no ifs ands or buts by 2030. That this “all-in” GM push into EVs would have the American driving public awash in super-competitive and desirable EVs by the start of the next decade, and that Cadillac would lead the way.

Hmm, well guess what? John Roth, the Cadillac brand chief, just commented to reporters last week that EV and ICE powertrains “will coexist for a number of years,” as reported by Automotive News.

Roth, of course, wouldn’t get specific on the division’s future powertrain plans for the end of the decade, but he did say that "we will be offering an all-electric portfolio by the end of the decade, and we will let the customer be our guide." In other words, Cadillac is going to be selling ICE vehicles for a long time to come.

That GM has launched the biggest “duh” of the year (so far at least) is no surprise. When a company like GM is practiced in the three steps forward, five steps back dance of mediocrity, this was to be expected. GM’s Barra has suddenly become an expert in the Art of Hedging. She and the rest of the industry better get used it. 

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



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


HOW WE GOT HERE, AND WHERE WE?RE GOING.
by Editor
28 Apr 2024 at 9:37am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter recounts how we got to this point with the EV "thing" and where we're going. In On The Table, we take a look at the Xiaomi SU7 - a car that blatantly rips-off the Porsche Taycan - being built in China, and it should put chills in automakers around the world; Lamborghini turns its Urus high-performance SUV into a plug-in hybrid, and we take another look at the all-electric Mercedes-Benz G-Class. It's big and heavy, of course. And our AE Song of the Week is "Nature's Way" by Spirit. In Fumes, Peter continues with Part IV of his new series "The Racers" – this week featuring the all-time great, A.J. Foyt. And finally, in The Line, we feature INDYCAR results from Barber Motorsports Park and the Spanish MotoGP from Jerez, with commentary from AE Special Contributor Whit Bazemore. We're on it! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. I am constantly being asked via email, phone and in-person conversations about where all of this is going, as in, where is our Transportation Future headed? Sometimes I feel like Zoltar in Big because of this, but I get it. “The Grand Transition” feels more like “The Great Unknown” at this point.

EV zealots have already painted me as being “anti-EV,” but that is inaccurate and simply wrong. EVs have their place, there is absolutely no doubt about that. And for many urban dwellers with limited range needs, they can be the perfect solution. But that doesn’t account for everyone, and this is where the politicians and the hand-wringers get it wrong.

That politicians are ill-informed and dependent on, and subject to, the whims of their donors is obvious. That politicians embrace reactive, knee-jerk solutions so that they can get on with the business of enjoying the perks of being a politician is obvious too. Which is why the collective “we” – consumers and the auto manufacturers – are buried in stupid mandates revolving around “flipping the switch” to EVs, because that’s how politicians typically approach a problem. Whatever takes the least amount of effort, especially when it comes to putting the onus of responsibility on some other entity, while leaving a trail of confusion and costly mandates in their wake, is just standard operating procedure for these politicians.

Funny, that’s not how reality works, but then again no one would accuse our politicians of being even remotely familiar with reality. After all, everything about their modus operandi means avoiding reality at all costs. But that “M.O.” leaves both auto manufacturers and consumers reeling from their abject stupidity.

Two of our U.S. auto manufacturers in particular – Ford and GM – are having to backpedal from their over-commitment to the EV “thing” as you read this. Why? Because the politicians believed that they could just order these car companies to “flip a switch” and comply with their arbitrary mandates, no problem, which led to big trouble for Ford and GM. It turns out that going “all-in” for the EV “thing” had disastrous consequences for these car companies.

Dumping massive amounts of money into the EV mandate meant that these companies would have to go backward and forward at the same time. Backward, because they first had to establish fundamental alliances with other like-minded companies to ensure that they could indeed have enough raw materials to build batteries for their future EV commitments. Forward, because they had to commit to costly EV R&D programs, which proved to be exponentially more expensive by the day. On top of that, they then had to repurpose existing manufacturing facilities and/or build all-new factories to assemble batteries and eventually build the EVs that they would soon be building.

Then we started hearing about the predictions: “Our Belchfire EVs will be 100 percent electric by 2028, or ’29, or ’30, or just plain soon!” Bullish pronouncements reigned, as chants of “It Won’t Be Long Now” filled the air around these parts. The “promise” of EVs were the talk of the town: Cheaper to operate! Fewer moving parts, so much cheaper to build! The dawn of a brand-new era! Oh, this “transition” was going to be grand alright.

But while all of this rampant optimism was being bandied about, the consequences of moving faster to “The Grand Transition” for these companies resulted in myriad unforeseen problems. It turns out that assembling batteries was far from automatic, which caused massive delays in getting production up to speed. Then, the rogue ugly factor emerged: Software issues. These electronic glitches/failures paralyzed EV product launches, resulting in “stop sell” orders that seemed to crop up weekly. In short, it was a big-time mess.

And what about those consumers out there in the real world? Oh, them. It turns out that the one thing that no one bothered to do enough due diligence on was the development of a fundamental charging infrastructure that was large enough to handle current and future EV needs. Simply put, there simply weren’t enough chargers. Not only that, they weren’t maintained to even close to acceptable levels, and to say consumers who didn’t have the luxury of acceptable home charging scenarios were less than amused was an understatement.

Oh, and what about the pricing? The manufacturers shoved super-pricey “show pony” EVs down consumers’ throats, figuring the early adopters and first-on-the-blockers would lap them up and turn other consumers on to the coolness factor of EVs. Well, guess what? The people who could afford these “show ponies” were happy and big boosters of the efficacy of EVs. But again, the rest of the consumer driving public was less than amused, because there were few genuinely affordable EVs available to them.

This issue of affordability, as I’ve written countless times before, should be the No. 1 concern for these mainstream auto manufacturers, but it is not, certainly not enough to make a difference – yet. Somewhere down the line – allegedly – we will have access to a plethora of affordable ICE and EV vehicle choices. But this just in: No one is holding their breath. 

So, this recap is how we got to this point, but where is it all going next? Clearly, manufacturers left and right are all of a sudden embracing the efficacy of ICE vehicles, while they continue to try to get a handle on producing EVs at decent volumes. That means building Hybrids and other ICE variations, as these manufacturers have come to the realization that the practical application of the EV “thing” that politicians had duly shoved down our collective throats is easily a half-decade away, at the very least. (These manufacturers are insisting that 2030 will be bangin’. I would add at least three years to that.)

In the meantime, we have the Korean conglomerate manufacturers – Hyundai and Kia – going full speed ahead in offering EVs across multiple segments in the U.S. market. These two companies have moved well-beyond the “they will be a force to be reckoned with” stage and are now fully-developed, aggressively savvy competitors that will wreak havoc in this market indefinitely. Oh sure, we’ll still have “show pony” SUVs (check out the new Mercedes-Benz G-Class EV in “On The Table” – WG), but affordable, mainstream EVs are where it’s at, and the U.S.-based manufacturers will be competing, albeit in their usual fits and starts, to bring affordability to the EV “thing” over the next half-decade.

And it is important to remember that the EV technology that is considered the “state-of-the-art” today will be obsolete by the time 2030 rolls around, if not sooner. Make no mistake, the pace of development in batteries and other associated EV technologies is proceeding at a staggering rate. As I’ve stated many times previously, the day you can pull off of an Interstate highway and fully recharge your EV in the time it takes you to fill your gas tank today is the day that the EV “thing” will have fully arrived. 

Will we get to that point? Yes, we will, but when that will actually happen remains a giant “we’ll see” as we like to say around here. EVs will play a huge role as part of our transportation fabric in the future, but they will be only one part of a larger picture. ICE vehicles will be around for decades to come, well past the magic 2030 date. And new sources of propulsion, technologies just being envisioned now, will emerge to play a role too. Count on it.

Oh, and let’s not forget about our esteemed politicians/hacks. Should they rear their ugly heads and try to “help” whatever’s next, you can be assured that it will be royally screwed up in no time. So, there’s that.

I am closing with the following words from A.A. Milne (“When We Were Very Young”): 

Where am I going? I don't quite know.

What does it matter where people go?

Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow –

Anywhere, anywhere. I don't know.

This whole auto circus is definitely going somewhere. Where and when and how remain to be seen.

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

 

 


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


THE JUICE. AND THE ASSUMPTIONS MADE.
by Editor
21 Apr 2024 at 8:34am

Editor's Note: This week, Peter talks about "The Juice" and the (mostly wrong) assumptions made in pursuit of the "Grand Transition." In On The Table, Peter comments on the UAW conquering VW's Chattanooga plant, an in-the-flesh assessment of the Cybertruck (it's Not Good), a look at the new AMG GT 63 S E Performance from Mercedes-Benz, and another look at the new Camry Hybrid, which is destined to crush its segment - again.  And our AE Song of the Week is "Roll With It" from Steve Winwood. In Fumes, Peter continues with Part III of his new series "The Racers" – this week featuring the "Flying Scot" - Jim Clark. And finally, in The Line, we'll feature the INDYCAR results from Long Beach, F1 from China, IMSA from Long Beach, the RRDC celebration of Jackie Stewart, and another look at the MotoGP from Circuit of The Americas, with expert on location commentary from Whit Bazemore. Enjoy! -WG

 

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. It’s hard to imagine the automobile business being distilled down to a fundamental need for electric juice, but here we are. And the questions revolve around how it’s generated, where it originates from, how it’s stored, how it’s delivered, how it’s replaced, how it’s moved around and of course, how it’s priced. And even though the ICE Age will be around for decades to come, and despite the fact that the challenges and fundamental logistics around reinventing our transportation system are endless, the burgeoning inevitability of the Grand Transition to mass electric propulsion for our nation’s fleet is looming large.

But with that inevitability comes the stark realization that things don’t often go as planned in this business. After Ford and GM dumped billions into the coming wave of electrification, it emerged that too many of the moving parts of the “Grand Transition” were more than problematic. In fact, they just flat weren’t ready.

Assumptions were made that revealed themselves to be dead wrong. Just because auto manufacturers had spent more than one hundred years building vehicles and could legitimately consider themselves “expert” at the fundamental process of assembling components, the whole electrification “thing” presented challenges they weren’t ready for.

Before they even started, these manufacturers had to backtrack and source the raw materials necessary to assemble batteries. And this wasn’t another rote example of “just in time” sourcing, either. It was about nailing down crucial ingredients for decades to come. And then there was the little matter of assembling the batteries themselves, something that the auto manufacturers assumed would be the least of their worries. That didn’t turn out that way, either. Precision was critical and mistakes were inevitably made, and the process became mired in an exercise of s-l-o-w walking, which cost time and boatloads of cash.

And then there were the software issues, which were endless, recurring nightmares and are still very much a hugely negative factor to this whole electrification “thing” as you read this. In fact, I view it as an ongoing crisis that has no end because software issues – whether they be “minor” glitches or major “brick” episodes – are going to be part and parcel of this new electrification reality on a more or less permanent basis. “We’re working on it” became the battle cry for all of these manufacturers and their myriad EV issues, but “stop sell” orders are far too common and contribute to the negative imagery associated with EVs. Even the many EV zealots out there agree that this is unacceptable.

And then there was the fact that a legitimate charging infrastructure was years away from becoming a functioning reality. That the manufacturers just assumed that this would come together organically was shocking, incredibly naïve and almost incomprehensible, as in, really? Not only that, the provisions for maintaining the charging points that managed to already get built were simply nonexistent. Even the vaunted Tesla “supercharger” system was exposed for being vulnerable to failures last winter, as news images of parking lots of dead Teslas waiting to be charged made the rounds.

“We’re working on it” became the battle cry for all of these issues, but as it turns out, the reinvention of fundamental mobility is hard. Really frickin’ hard.

But the one crucial factor looming over the “Grand Transition” that remains steadfast and damn-near intransigent? Affordability. I have been writing about the fundamental lack of affordability in our nation’s car and truck fleet for years now. The price creep has been stunning. The average price of a new vehicle blew past $35,000 and went up to just under $50,000 seemingly overnight. (It wasn’t, but it certainly feels like it.) $70,000+ has become commonplace for pickup trucks and SUVs, and that’s on the low end of the spectrum. It used to be that $100,000 was the price threshold for supercar territory. Now, we’re there on a regular basis. And that’s just talking about the ICE vehicles in the market. (Again, as I often have, I’d like to single out the Ford Maverick Hybrid as being that company’s most significant product, much more so than its EVs or the new Mustang, because of its fundamentally reasonable pricing.)

As for EVs and the fundamental lack of affordability? I had a Chevrolet Bolt EV, and I enjoyed it very much. It performed exceedingly well, and its price point was reasonable. But, of course, GM discontinued it while promising that an all-new Bolt powered by its new Ultium EV technology would be arriving soon. The Bolt was GM’s best-selling EV by far, and the positive word-of-mouth about it was its strongest suit. That’s pretty much the end of the discussion about affordability and EVs in this market. (The new Bolt should cost no more than the old Bolt, even with its new technology, if GM wants to get a jump on affordability in the EV market.)

Let’s look at Ford. The MSRP of its F-150 Lightning EV pickup is $49,995, but good luck finding one for that. Transaction prices for the Lightning are more likely around $90,000. The Mach-E – which is currently unavailable – was easily $60,000+. 

And what about GM? The Cadillac Lyriq starts at $58,590, but again, good luck finding one priced for that. And the upcoming Escalade EV will be around $125,000, optioned-up (and that’s probably low). The GMC Hummer EVs are over $100,000, all day. Similar stories for the Chevrolet Blazer EV, which starts at $48,800 but regularly exceeds $60,000; or the Equinox EV, which is said to start at $41,900, but who’s kidding whom, here?

How about BMW? Its i4 starts at $52,200, the i5 starts at $66,800, the iX starts at $87,250, and the i7 starts at $105,700. And then there’s Porsche, whom I like to refer to as this industry’s “Greed Merchants.” The new Macan 4 EV starts at $78,800, the bare bones Porsche Taycan starts at $99,400, but you can go all the way up to a Taycan “Turbo” S, which starts at $209,000, or even further with the Taycan “Turbo” GT, which starts at a cool $230,000.

I could go on – Mercedes-Benz has similar pricing – but I won’t. Needless to say, all of these manufacturers – except for Chevy’s Bolt, when it was still alive, and the Korean manufacturers, Hyundai and Kia, who have made giant strides in delivering realistically priced EVs to the market – went all-in for these “show pony” EVs as image-enhancing vehicles that would create demand for the EV “thing.” Or, so they thought. Instead, along with all the other negatives associated with EVs – the lack of an existing charging infrastructure just to name one – the “show pony” 100,000+ EVs created the idea in consumers’ minds that EVs were simply unaffordable except for the well-heeled. And guess what? They were mostly right.

Which takes me back to this whole “juice” thing. Unless these manufacturers get real about their pricing, as a nation we’re going to be slow-walking this “Grand Transition” to EVs at least for the next decade. Because when it comes right down to it, for today’s buyer the juice simply isn’t worth the squeeze. 

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


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



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