The Latest Auto Extremist
16 Sep 2019 at 12:01pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Now that the UAW has decided to call a strike against General Motors, an ugly reality is being glossed over. Yes, of course, the most immediate facts of the situation are that both sides are far apart at this juncture, with the union fighting back against more plant closures, wanting to keep their health care coverage (the average UAW worker pays only a fraction of what other U.S. workers pay for health care due to the fact that Ford and GM supplant health care benefits to the tune of more than $1 billion per year), and wanting pay increases including more profit sharing.
On the other side of the ledger GM says it is offering the UAW more than $7 billion in U.S. investments over a four-year contract, an increase in pay and improved benefits, improved profit-sharing, a ratification payment of $8,000, and 5,400 jobs with the promise of the introduction of new electric trucks and the first “union-represented battery cell manufacturing site” in the United States, which would be in, or close to, the shuttered GM Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio.
Pretty typical stuff when it comes time for auto companies and the UAW to square off at contract time, except for the fact that the UAW concessions and get-out-of-jail-almost-free card that GM gained through its bankruptcy has rankled the union rank and file ever since. And those pissed-off feelings aren’t about to recede quietly.
But what isn’t typical is the fact that the UAW management representatives – at least the ones assigned to speak to the media – are trying to gloss over the fact that the United Auto Workers rank and file are being represented by a fraudulent and deeply corrupt management superstructure.
How corrupt? According to the Detroit Free Press: “Multiple national UAW leaders are implicated in a public scandal involving the alleged misuse of union funds. A criminal complaint alleges that UAW officials 'hid their personal use of UAW money without any legitimate union business purpose' in an embezzlement scheme that allowed them to spend union money at swanky hotels and golf courses. UAW Region 5 Director Vance Pearson, who was arrested Thursday, is facing six charges that include embezzlement of union money and money laundering. The FBI raided UAW President Gary Jones' Michigan home last month as part of the national corruption probe. Michael Grimes, a former UAW administrative assistant and executive board member of the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering last month. In total, nine people have been convicted in the investigation.”
This investigation is ongoing and could absolutely decimate the UAW management structure before all is said and done (by the way, the stacks of cash they confiscated from Jones' house totaled $30,000), and yet there was UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg, taking umbrage when a reporter asked him late last week where Gary Jones, the UAW President, was, saying: “I’m not his scheduler. Mr. Jones has a union to run. I don’t see you asking GM where (CEO) Mary Barra is at every press conference.”
In case you were wondering if this was the same old belligerent UAW, there’s your answer. Hey, Brian, in case you forgot, Mr. Jones doesn’t have a union to run anymore because he is too busy running scared from the Feds. In fact, the entire UAW management team is utterly devoid of credibility at this point, and to suggest otherwise is a complete joke. As for Ms. Barra, she has a company to run, and she’s doing it quite admirably, I might add.
Read between the lines, and the rank and file is royally pissed-off at its so-called management team. Here they are going into contract negotiations, and the union’s upper echelon managers have been exposed as running a major league grifting operation that has burned through millions of dollars on elaborate trips, big-dollar restaurant gorging, assorted prizes and wildly inappropriate self-gifting, and the accumulation of boatloads of cash, just because they could. There’s even a $2 million retirement party that was staged for a UAW bigwig in Las Vegas that has yet to surface, but I am sure it will in due time.
I feel for the UAW rank and file because they’ve been taken for a ride. The fact that these UAW management grifters have squandered their union dues and freely accepted cash from the National Training Center fund funneled to them by the auto companies looking for favorable contract terms for years is simply unconscionable and inexcusable.
I was hoping the people in UAW management positions would understand that the naïve notion that they will be able to separate their contact negotiations from the Federal investigation “distractions” is simply wishful and reckless thinking. But it’s clear by their ongoing comments that they not only just don’t get it, they have their heads in the sand about the scope and seriousness of this Federal investigation.
The ugly reality for the UAW is that this ongoing investigation could very well mean the end of the UAW as a functioning entity. So UAW management can squawk and preen and talk tough all they want, but the clock is ticking on their very existence, and they refuse to acknowledge that fact.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
THE FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS FOR GM?S NEW CMO? CHEVROLET.
9 Sep 2019 at 11:25am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Now that GM’s long national nightmare is over, with the company finally naming a real live Chief Marketing Officer for the first time in seven years, the stack of tasks facing Deborah Wahl is high. Eminently qualified in her expanded role after serving in the same capacity at Cadillac for the past eighteen months, and with many high-caliber stints in marketing before arriving at GM, Ms. Wahl brings years of ultra-quality experience to GM’s marketing function. In fact, she is the most qualified to serve in that role of any of the auto manufacturers, particularly here in Detroit.
But before we get into those tasks facing Ms. Wahl, it might help to go back and see how one of the largest corporations in the world did without a Chief Marketing Officer for seven years. In order to do that, we have to revisit the ugly Reign of Terror of GM’s previous CEO, Dan “Captain Queeg” Akerson, a card-carrying graduate of Unctuous Prick University who was appointed GM Chairman for simply raising his hand at a pivotal board meeting.
Thus, began one of the most tumultuous periods in GM history, with Akerson becoming an instant expert on the car business after a few meetings, while wreaking havoc and promulgating chaos everywhere he went. Akerson’s specialty was insulting and belittling executives in front of their peers (and behind their backs), which endeared him to exactly no one. He also openly held contempt for the industry and everyone in it, often bragging to his Washington, D.C., cohorts about his trying stint in the backwater of corporate America while having to work with lesser levels of intelligence. In short, he was the most loathsome individual ever to be given the reins of GM, and that’s saying something considering some of the truly bad CEOs over the previous decades.
With our memories refreshed, this was the time when Joel Ewanick served as CMO. Joel made the mistake of having one too many articles written about him in the Wall Street Journal, and if there was one thing that Akerson despised more than anything else, it was when any of his executives were interviewed or written about in the press. Maybe despised isn’t a strong enough word here, it made Akerson red-faced, spitting enraged. How dare anyone upstage The King?
It was around this time that Ewanick was tasked with establishing Chevrolet as a global brand. And what did Ewanick come up with as a way of doing that? Having Chevrolet sponsor the Manchester United soccer club, one of the most recognized sports teams in the world. Seems logical, no? So Ewanick made the deal, but along the way the idea of making Chevrolet a global brand fell by the wayside when GM reduced its footprint in Europe, which often happens with the vagaries of corporate decision making, especially at GM, and all of a sudden the big money ($560 million for five years) sponsorship of Manchester United made zero sense. Except that the deal had been signed, sealed and delivered.
It was then that Akerson, ably abetted by then chief counsel of GM legal (who shall remain nameless although who is equally loathsome), orchestrated Ewanick’s removal by accumulating a list of invented transgressions, including one that accused Ewanick of getting a “cut” of the Man U. deal. Except none of it was true. Akerson got his way of course, because no one had the balls to question The King, and Ewanick was sent packing. Immediately after the dismissal, Akerson ranted and raved to his subordinates that there would be “No more rock star CMOs at GM!” Translation? There would be no more appearances by a CMO – or any other executive at GM for that matter – in the media, because that was reserved for Captain Queeg himself. And then, shortly afterward, “No more rock star CMOs at GM” quickly transitioned to “No more CMOs, period” and GM flailed about without a Chief Marketing Officer for seven interminable years.
So, here we are. With the vestiges of Akerson’s Reign of Terror finally purged from the GM system, the newly enlightened management of GM has finally seen fit to address the Black Hole of GM marketing that has plagued the company for years with the promotion of Deborah Wahl to Chief Marketing Officer. As I wrote at the beginning of this column and in last week’s “On the Table,” Wahl is exceedingly smart and one of the industry’s best and the brightest, and she’s a brilliant choice for the role. But she has a tall order to gain control of GM’s marketing function, because that function has been rudderless and devalued for so long that it’s downright criminal. In fact, there are some players within the GM marketing troops who have been operating within their self-created fiefdoms for so long that it has been like the Wild West, with little accountability thrown in for good measure.
Nowhere is that more apparent than at Chevrolet. Still one of this industry’s top brands, and in the throes of a renewed product offensive, no one has done less with more than the so-called marketers at Chevrolet. What was once a beacon for captivating and iconic advertising campaigns like “See the USA in Your Chevrolet,” “Baseball Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet,” “The Heartbeat of a America,” and "Like A Rock” for Chevy truck, Chevrolet advertising has been reduced to an excruciating celebration of the mundane.
Chevrolet’s current advertising - the soulless and empty call to action “Find New Roads” campaign – is punctuated by some of the most grating and annoying advertising this business has ever seen. The campaign’s “real people” spots, which have been regularly skewed on YouTube and other social media outlets, are nothing more than glorified dealer spots that are taken to an egregiously offensive level.
I would recommend that Ms. Wahl start with Chevrolet first, because righting that brand’s marketing is by far GM’s most pressing need. The marketers there seem to be the most insular and the most convinced that they got it goin’ on, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. So, she will have her work cut out for her, that’s for sure.
That doesn’t mean that the other divisions don’t need attention too. The new Cadillac campaign for the XT6 shows real life for the brand, but they have to keep the marketing momentum going, because the upcoming products are too good and deserve the proper strategy and presentation. Buick? Not so much. The music in the Buick spots is relentlessly annoying, and unfortunately, that insipid jingle is the only thing memorable about them. And GMC is present and accounted for, but after the tailgate that does tricks, then what?
Deborah Wahl is the right person to lead GM Marketing, I just hope she is given the proper resources and the unwavering support by upper management to do the job.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
WRITE HARD, DIE FREE, PART III.
3 Sep 2019 at 10:39am
Editor's Note: When we embarked on this ride called Autoextremist.com, with whereabouts unknown way back when, little did we know we'd be here twenty years later. Today, we feel it's a perfect time to remind everyone what this site - and The Autoextremist - are all about. To do that, we need to travel back in time, to the beliefs that formed the foundation for this site, and that continue to drive us to this day. The world is a different place than it was that June day in 1999, but in so many ways, when it comes to this business, there’s a mind-numbing sameness about it all that is truly unbelievable. -WG
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Twenty years ago, when I became tired of what the ad biz had become, tired of the sycophants, the ass kissers, the spineless weasels 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 – and, of course, that someone turned out to be me.
And Autoextremist.com became my forum to say it.
As some of you insiders may know, Autoextremist originally was a concept I had 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. journalistic 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, then again, 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. I thought it would be a good time to reiterate what those beliefs are today, where I’m coming from, how I look at things and why I say the things I do.
I 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 has to flow from that fundamental fact. Cars and trucks should be exciting to look at, fun to drive, flat-out desirable and worth owning in all respects. If you (as an individual or a company) forget that fact, you will fail.
I believe people whose cumulative marketing experience basically consists of 1.) An MBA combined with 2.) A stint at the zone level (with the added "benefit" of P&G indoctrination -WG) and 3.) Being part of a rotational executive "rounding" stint through the system, shouldn't automatically be qualified to get near the serious business of marketing and advertising cars, let alone be able to tell an ad agency what's good or not good about an ad campaign that has just been worked on for the last 47 days straight. I would love to say that this situation has changed for the better, but it really hasn’t. Yes, certainly some marketers are eminently qualified to do what they do, but there are still too many instances where the opposite is true.
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.
I believe that a rampant, "let's not offend anyone" mentality taints 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 two 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 is to tuck their tails between their legs, do a public mea culpa and then crawl back into the woodwork. Really? All that time, effort, research and money expended was for naught because someone tweeted something that was negative? You arrived at a reasoned decision that made sense for the company and with one discouraging word your convictions go right out the window? This kind of spineless behavior is tedious and wrong (see below). (By the way Lowe’s called, backbones are on special today, Aisle 6.)
I believe that the typical car company executive's reckless and utter disdain for anything the least bit creative or provocative – while at the same time endorsing a process that consistently "dumbs down" the advertising and the product itself with a series of debilitating steps and hand-wringing meetings – directly results in the churning out of an endless stream of cars and trucks that are too often nothing more than monuments to tedium, mediocrity and bad management. Back then I called it "engineering to the lowest common denominator" – and it still stinks today.
I believe that 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 "entitles" them to than about bringing to the table an attitude of "what can I do?" or "how can we make it better?" Accountability? Maybe that can be found in Aisle 6 too.
I believe – and this is etched in stone – that whenever the shit hits the fan and there is the least bit of advertising, marketing or product controversy, a car company will always do the wrong thing, and then turn around and blame the advertising agency or a supplier for their predicament at the drop of a hat. And that’s even more true today.
I believe that the ad agency side of the business has strayed as far away from being a creative environment as you can get, short of working at your average Gas and Suds. In many cases, it has deteriorated into a constant battle between The Wimps and The Twerps, people who are intent on taking over the agency and turning it into a cesspool of "Yes Men" and "Yes Women" who are more concerned with their political futures and the "process" than about working on great advertising and marketing. 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 I believe that, in most cases, their clients are directly responsible for this revolting development – and that they ultimately get the advertising they deserve because of it. Yes, there are exceptions to this, when brilliant advertising somehow emerges from the Fog of War, but for the most part it is depressingly accurate.
I believe that runaway complacency on both sides (car companies and their ad agencies), combined with an atmosphere corrupted by an absolutely suffocating fear of taking any kind of risk (or standing behind it once you do), is killing the chance to get great work produced. Don’t think that’s the case? Take a look at the dismal state of car advertising today.
I believe that in too many cases in this business bad people are making bad decisions negatively affecting good people who know better, people who have been shuffled off to the side for political "considerations" (i.e., they have a backbone and a point of view – and they're not afraid to share it).
I believe that instead of a joyful celebration of the indefatigable nature of the American Spirit and the role the automobile has had, continues to have, and always will play, the business has become nothing but a pathetic caricature of itself – complete with bad actors and even worse props.
I believe that the glaring sameness of the so-called “enthusiast” car mags is still there and it’s still highly annoying. And there’s no denying that the days for the hard-copy print mags are severely numbered, and when the shakeout finally comes, it will be ugly.
I believe the state of automotive journalism has never been as weak as it is right now. There are too few writers worth going out of your way to bother with today, and that’s a flat-out disgrace. Automotive journalism (yes, of course there are notable 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. But if you don’t have the 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 be forgotten 120 days after its launch in this oversaturated automotive market we live in.
As for the execs making key decisions about the marketing and advertising at the car companies nowadays, I still see woefully underqualified individuals being given the reins on major marketing decisions, and it’s still baffling.
Are auto execs any more willing to take a stand these days? It’s intermittent when it happens, but there’s some noticeable movement in the right direction at least. I’s not nearly enough, however. And I’m sure a search party will have to be organized to find executives with backbones to shore up the ranks.
As for those “lowest-common-denominator” product decisions, I’m thankfully seeing that mentality fade into the woodwork. Detroit is creating some excellent new products right now, but getting people to care about them is an entirely different story altogether.
As for the whole ad agency vs. client thing, the profitability of the advertising business is being squeezed down to next to nothing, leaving agencies to fight over scraps while clients display the loyalty of your average fair-weather sports fan, In other words, the state of the ad biz when it comes to the auto industry is beyond pathetic. It’s no wonder that ad agencies have forgotten what their basic mission is – which is to deliver the best, most provocative communications on behalf of their clients that they can muster – in this toxic environment. Do clients still get the advertising they deserve because of it? Yes, of course they do.
Bad people are still making bad decisions negatively affecting good people who know better in this business, unfortunately. As for the “joyful celebration of the indefatigable nature of the American Spirit and the role the automobile has had, continues to have, and always will play...” thing? Well, let’s just say that it’s a work in progress.
That “Detroit” finally got product religion and is saying and doing all of the right things is commendable, but there’s still the lingering fear that this business as practiced here will slip back into bad old habits at any given moment. Those shining beacons of product light and creativity are still threatened by churning storm clouds defined by a “three steps forward, five back” cadence of rampant mediocrity. And that is sobering.
Add in the great unknown of the electrification transformation, the blissful predictions for the autonomous vehicle movement, the hopeful nirvana of ride sharing and the promises of untold profits in a new Emerald Auto City just over the hill, and well, to say I am beyond skeptical would be an understatement. Let's just call it a giant "we'll see" for now and leave it at that.
Now, almost half-way through our 20th year, I am proud to say that we’re still doing what we do best. We still take you "behind the curtain" to give you an up-close look at the Wizards, the Dullards and everyone else in between in this business. I still say what the others are only thinking (or whispering) in deep background or “off-the-record” conversations, and I will continue to do so. And this publication will continue to influence the influencers every single week, even though they're loath to admit it.
Delivering The Truth, The Whole Truth... and absolutely nothing but The High-Octane Truth has been an exhilarating ride.
Write Hard, Die Free indeed.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
27 Aug 2019 at 9:09am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. One of things that I have noticed in this graceless age we’re now living in is the degradation of the meaning and importance of words and phrases that we encounter in everyday life. It’s easy to wander around in a fog in this contemporary life we’ve been dealt with and just let annoying things roll by with a shrug of the shoulders, but in the course of my wanderings I have come to realize that certain words in our language have been corrupted and demeaned. Wherever we turn we encounter this abject verbal weirdness going on that sucks the life out of formerly meaningful words, and it is beyond disconcerting.
Let’s take the word “journey,” for instance. When did the majesty of a meandering trek across The Badlands or a hike through some beckoning but foreboding wilderness suddenly become trivialized to the point that “journey” is used for the most insipid tedium of everyday life?
The registration for academic classes becomes a “journey,” as if you need some provisions and a day’s rest to make it through to the end. A trip to the market is described as a “journey.” What, did you encounter Visigoths in the produce section? Did you have to beat off a fellow shopper with a stick to score some Cheetos? Were you required to elbow your way around the cheese counter to obtain some Provolone? Were you required to present credentials for a piece of salmon?
I mean, come on.
The tedium of everyday life doesn’t warrant the use of the word “journey.” Dragging your ass to the local Gas ‘N Flask for a cup of coffee and a gut bomb that’s allegedly healthy on the way to work doesn’t constitute a “journey.” Roaming the aisles at Costco may be mildly amusing, but a “journey?” Hardly. Standing in line at the Post Office may feel like a “journey” but you know it isn’t; it’s just another tedious civic requirement that bites us in the ass, like a visit to the Secretary of State’s office. (Okay, visiting the SOS office isn’t a journey, it’s sanctioned torture for all who enter.)
And then there’s the whole thing about the journey being the destination, or is it the destination is the journey? I get confused with all of this journeying. Why ask why? I do know that every car commercial these days is some sort of journey of discovery. A journey that will reconnect us with our souls on the way to finding out that this is one fine automobile!
Come on, Part II.
I think for most people whatever the impending romantic journey that’s implied by signing up for the latest and greatest Belchfire 8 gets lost in a hurry when the seemingly endless payments have to be made every month.
But the debasing of the word journey is just one example of the degradation of words going on in today’s world. How about what’s going on with the word amazing?
Who knew that tedium of everyday life could be transformed by just one word? That Cajun aioli at that new hot restaurant-of-the-moment is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. That cappuccino at “1 Percenters Coffee” is AH-mazing! And it goes on from there. The word amazing has permeated everything these days. Particularly advertising. That new hipster bank that has no people in it, just kiosks? Amazing. The service at the local Mr. Foamy car wash? I mean that foam is amazing. Every car is now officially amazing and every deal you can get is beyond amazing. Furniture (no payments until 2022 – amazing!) Mattresses, pizza, tacos, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches (okay, some of those are pretty AH-mazing).
Then there’s fashion, which is a whole other dimension of amazing altogether. That jacket is amazing, that look is amazing, your hair is amazing; oh, my goodness, it’s all just so amazing! It’s a wonder some people can even leave the house they’re just so amazing.
I find that the degradation and trivialization of words is sad, simply because when something actually is amazing or a journey is truly momentous it gets lost in the fog of the celebration of the mundane.
We can all agree that there are some things that are indisputably amazing, and that there are journeys that are truly special and memorable.
Sunrise over the Great Smokey Mountains. Driving up Sunset Boulevard in L.A. at night. Driving the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Fall colors in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York (and in northern Michigan, for that matter). Driving across the U.S. and experiencing the sheer scope and majesty of this great country, including our magnificent national parks. The Hill Country in Texas. The Painted Desert in Arizona. The lush serenity of Savannah. The countless images of stunning beauty in Moab, Utah. Gettysburg at dawn. The Lincoln Memorial at night. And on and on.
We all have our favorite journeys and amazing memories. So, the next time you hear the words “journey” or “amazing” trivialized or blatantly misused, take a deep breath, and think for a fleeting moment about the amazing journeys and life experiences that matter most to you.
And then just smile to yourself. I promise you it will make the daily slog called life a little easier.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
SWINGING DICKISM WRIT LARGE.
20 Aug 2019 at 2:13pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Now that the smoke from the burning piles of money torched at “Monterey Car Week” has subsided, a couple of stories have emerged. And no, I’m not going to go into the massive screwup of the failed sale of the alleged “first Porsche” – the Type 64 – by RM Sotheby's. That debacle will haunt that particular auction house and the entire auction “thing” for years to come. And besides, plenty has been written about it already, the best being Hannah Elliott’s take on the event in Bloomberg.
First of all, there’s a distinct cooling going on in the collector car “hobby” as prices have decidedly taken a turn downward. (The fact that people still refer to the collector car circus as a “hobby” is a recurring joke; in fact, it’s a big frickin’ business with more egos involved than the jostling for seating at the “it” restaurant of the moment in Beverly Hills.) Rough estimates suggest that prices were down at least 25 percent, but I think that number is low, especially considering the number of cars that went unsold at the auctions last week. And it was bound to happen, too, even though the prognosticators in the “hobby” insisted that all was well, right up to the point that it wasn’t.
Let’s face it, the “hobby” has turned into a nightmare. The notion of “important” collectible automobiles with notable “provenance” that were lusted after for the sheer thrill of being next to one of the most coveted machines ever built fell afoul of the scammers and speculators years ago. Greed became the “hobby’s” cottage industry, and values were regularly skewed to an unconscionable level as a matter of course. This trend redefined the term “stupid money” and took it to an entirely new level. My go-to barometer for all of this was the absurd run-up in prices for air-cooled Porsche 911s. Yes, prices have appeared to have finally softened – albeit only slightly - after a half-decade of out-of-control frenzy, but still, $100,000+ for an old 911 is de rigueur, and it still basically sucks.
The second big story to emerge from Monterey Car Week was the rise of the hypercar. What is a hypercar, exactly? Good question. These are fantasy machines that really have no rhyme or reason. There is no connection to any road-going reality with these machines because the idea of driving them on the street is beyond laughable. The manufacturers love to boast that these hypercars allow them to showcase their technological might and creative vision, but that is unmitigated bullshit. No, these bespoke projectiles are designed to extricate as much money as possible from fools who have too much money.
And the roster of manufacturers partaking in this ode to greed is an impressive one. There’s the all-electric Lotus Evija, which is touted as being “the most powerful series production road car in the world” with 2000PS and will be limited to 130 cars total.
Then there’s the Aston Martin Valkyrie, which is already sold out, and the Valhalla, which boasts Red Bull Advanced Technologies from F1 and will be limited to 500 cars. Aston Martin is handpicking prospective buyers to hype up the desirability for its hypercar, because nothing lures big money buyers more than telling them that they can’t have one but instead have to “qualify” for one. Gets ‘em every time.
Then there’s the Bugatti Centodieci, a tribute by the manufacturer, ironically enough, to itself. The 1600HP machine based on the Chiron is supposed to pay homage to the Bugatti EB110 from the 90s. Only ten will be built, starting at 8 million EUROS plus VAT, but don’t worry, they’re already (allegedly) sold out.
And there are more coming. The Mercedes-AMG Project One hypercar, for instance, will feature Formula 1 technology for the road, which is, for all intents and purposes, basically meaningless at this point.
Where is all of this going? Nowhere good, as you might imagine. These bespoke projectiles are nothing more than Swinging Dickism writ large. They are frightfully expensive garage art pieces that will never be driven, because, after all, that was never the intent. Formula 1 technology for the street? Who’s kidding whom? What street? Are you going to actually drive your hypercar to the country club and hand it over to a valet? Are you going to spend hour after hour at track days to explore the limits of your hypercar to justify your purchase? The answer to these questions is a resounding no.
These hypercars are rolling monuments to greed on the manufacturers’ part, and irresistible to the buyers’ who should know better but are blinded by their unbridled egos. And these hypercars are all going to end up at auction over the next several years with two miles, or ten miles, or, well, you get the picture. And when you really think about it is calculatedly brilliant, because it keeps the operating scam of the “hobby” percolating along.
Contemplating all of this makes me realize how truly creative the True Believers at GM were - and are - with the new mid-engine Corvette Stingray. In terms of design, engineering and performance this outstanding machine was surgically priced from the start to deliver the most seductive combination of high performance and stunning value that this business has seen in a long, long time. Maybe ever. And it is simply untouchable in the market.
The new Corvette is a proper tribute to one of the greatest icons of the automotive world. It is true to its authentic history, while offering enthusiasts a realistic opportunity to experience genuine supercar performance at a reasonable price – without the hype. What a concept.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
THE MORE YOU KNOW, THE MORE YOU JUST NEVER KNOW.
12 Aug 2019 at 2:52pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. As this business – and life itself – hurtles toward inexorable change, the idea of “taking stock” seems to be a quaint notion from a different time and a different era. As in, why bother? What good does it do? After all, the march of time and the wheels of progress stop for no one.
Whatever is in store for this business - and we the people - is coming hard and fast, and to pretend otherwise is a fool’s errand. Thus, we are perpetually teetering between what once was and what could very well be.
The comfort is always with what we know, of course. We have seen it and touched it and lived it. We have etched the memories and the experiences in our minds and there they stay so we can tap into them whenever the need arises or the situation demands it. And it is good, at least for the most part.
The Future? That is another thing altogether. It can be disquieting and uncomfortable. The unknown can bring with it a fear that is palpable. It’s that old “life as we know it” chestnut writ large, reimagined and then warped into an unrecognizable shape. Futurists who dwell in such things are giddy with the fantastic possibilities, or gloomy with the ugly scenarios, depending on which part of the glass they occupy.
Yes, new discoveries and new breakthroughs have always fueled us in the past, so why not now and going forward? There will always be a place for “blue sky” thinking, correct? Indeed, we hope so. After all, accumulated knowledge has to count for something. And technological developments and discoveries are accelerating at a dizzying rate, so it will all work out somehow, right?
Yes, that could certainly be the case. But we’re not sure, are we? Doomsday scenarios are always popular, especially in this relentlessly tedious Internet age, and by the time we digest some of the leading theories about The Future, more than a few of us plan on staying in, basically for the duration.
Where do I land in all of this? My thought pendulum can careen wildly depending on the news of the day, as I suspect it does for most people. We can’t possibly survive any more of this (fill in the blank), can we? And then somehow, we do. I do sense, however, that there’s more gloominess than sunshine at the moment, that just seems to be the temperature of the times we live in.
I am hoping against hope that the pace of discovery and the accumulation of new knowledge will propel us to a new age of enlightenment and tranquility, or something like that. At least I hope that we get it together enough to protect this blue orb and the people and animals that inhabit it.
This column came about due to the fact that this week marks this country’s biggest celebrations of the automobile and its myriad contributions to our society and way of life at two vastly different venues: The majesty - and cubic money - that powers Monterey Car week, and the free-form, march-to-a-different-drummer irreverence of the Dream Cruise on America’s Main Road, Woodward Avenue, right here in the Motor City.
These car events are 180 degrees apart from each other, yet when it comes right down to it, they are more similar than different. They both celebrate the “blue-sky” thinking, engineering achievements and creative artistry that have powered this industry for decades. They both pay homage to the visionary imagination that was responsible for some of the most remarkable, breakthrough innovations that allowed this industry to thrive and prosper.
And yes, as much as I hate to say it, they both celebrate an automotive culture that could be rapidly fading from view, which takes us back to contemplating The Future. A predominantly battery-powered electric future is going to fundamentally transform everything about our automobile culture as we’ve come to know it. Some of the coming changes will be good, and some of them will not be very good at all.
It is highly likely that the two aforementioned signature auto events on the calendar will quickly become even more nostalgia-tinged than they already are, and these celebrations of a bygone era that will never return will begin to occupy a different space in the overall scheme of things, and I’m not sure how that is going to sit going forward for a lot of automotive enthusiasts.
Yes, change is inevitable. And as I mentioned, some of it will be good, too, opening up new vistas so people with unbridled ingenuity can imagine new, “blue sky” possibilities that will result in dramatic innovations, technical breakthroughs that will take us into an entirely new dimension that we couldn’t have possibly imagined before. It will definitely be interesting, I have no doubt.
Oh, and one more thing about The Future?
As we often like to say around here, the more you know, the more you just never know.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
THE LINGERING INTERREGNUM, PART II.
6 Aug 2019 at 10:21am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Two and a half years ago, I wrote a column about the coming changes roiling the automobile business. At that time the future of this business was being painted with brooding clouds of doom and gloom, a grim landscape dominated by faceless autonomous transportation modules that will come in small, medium and large, a dystopian scenario sure to send traditional car companies and luxury brands to the scrap heap of history. Frankly, if that’s our final destination at the dawn of this alleged autonomous era, then to paraphrase Samuel Goldwyn’s famous quote, “Ladies and gentlemen, you may include me out.” And we will make the seamless transition to our new website: LawnOrnamentExtremist dot com.
Fortunately, that doomsday scenario wasn’t even remotely accurate.
In fact, I’ve grown tired of the subject, because despite the prognostications, we’re talking far into the future. And though some members of the future of transportation "intelligentsia" have expressed irrational exuberance for all things autonomous, salivating at the thought of a Jetson-esque nirvana of effortless transportation unburdened by driver involvement, I decline to get excited about it, because for most of the country, it’s simply not going to happen in our lifetime except for very limited applications.
I prefer to look at it this way: If we maximized the mass transportation systems already in place in this country, and added to them judiciously, the whole autonomy thing would be a sideshow, but because there are massive dollars on the table, and corporate entities both real and imagined are clamoring for their piece of the action, rest assured that autonomous vehicles are going to be sold as the panacea that society is waiting for and duly shoved down our collective throats. But until that nasty scenario unfurls, there are a few pressing issues facing this business right now, issues that seem to crop up about every seven or eight years or so like clockwork.
Let’s start with subprime financing. Make no mistake, it’s still a thing. A very big thing. When this business finds itself in the throes of a slowdown – and that’s where we are at this very moment – the seething cauldron of sales pressure builds to the point that the measured responses and rational thinking that drive the business in “normal” times are left like a house by the side of the road. In their place, the fervor takes over, and an urgency swallows the business whole, which means keeping sales momentum at all costs.
This has been a plague in the auto business on and off for years, in fact some manufacturers – particularly FCA in recent times – have made it part of their standard operating procedure. It’s just sad to see the other manufacturers being sucked into the swirling maelstrom, as they try to prop up sales in a flat market by relaxing their own loan standards.
And this is just one aspect of how this business can be its own worst enemy. There’s another dimension to this ugliness, and that is the reemergence of excruciatingly long loan terms. Now we’re seeing the return of 84-month financing, and I can’t stress enough how bad this is for consumers. You might as well call this “Upside Down” financing from the get-go, as consumers find out the hard way that getting out of this kind of loan commitment three years into the duration requires “rolling in” a sizable chunk of cash into the new loan for a new vehicle. In other words, it’s a giant bowl of Not Good, and it makes for very unhappy customers.
The manufacturers willingly offer this kind of financing when their backs are against the wall, and the way they look at it is if the consumers are naïve enough to get wrapped-up in one of these long-term loans, that’s their responsibility. I’m not sure if these companies actually think they’re doing consumers a favor by offering these death-march-length loans, or they just simply don’t give a shit. I vote for the latter.
What it comes down to is the manufacturers taking the path of least resistance by taking advantage of consumers, all for the sake of sales momentum. Anyone who believes this industry no longer lives by 30-day sales reports is delusional. Make no mistake, it’s still an essential part of the daily reality of this business, and it still sucks.
But that’s just one aspect of this business that’s annoying. The other grating thing about this business for me right now is that irrational thinking seems to have taken hold when it comes to the relentless proliferation of SUVs and crossovers. Yes, I get it, “that’s what sells,” as I am reminded by top execs in this business almost daily, but still, there seems to be no rhyme or reason associated with it. More is better and no niche will be left unsullied, it seems. The German manufacturers are most guilty of it, but the rest of the world’s manufacturers have caught up and are right in lockstep.
It all started to go wrong for me when Audi proclaimed that SUVs were “the new sports car.” And it snowballed from there. Auto writers began to get sucked in to this canard too. Now, maybe it’s because most of the vehicles media-types get to drive these days are SUVs, given the production numbers, but still, SUVs and crossovers are in no way, shape or form, “sports cars” – no matter how you squint when you’re looking at them, or how far you go out of your way to suspend reality while driving them. (And yes, that goes for Porsche too.) They’re heavy and have a higher center of gravity; it’s simple physics that cannot be denied. And every time I see a manufacturer claiming its SUV/crossover is the fastest, especially at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, I cringe, because it’s just silly and stupid.
I'd much prefer a manufacturer touting its SUV/crossover du jour as being good at something that has nothing to do with performance and everything to do with the overall integrity and capability of the vehicle in question. Is that too much to ask? Apparently, it is. I applaud Honda with its Accord and Toyota with its Camry for still caring about building quality cars, because when the pendulum swings back – and it will, because it always does – they can sit back and smile.
So, as we wait for the death of the automobile and the industry as we know it, and suffer through this lingering interregnum, I have a message for the True Believers at all of the car companies: Don’t ever forget that you’re in the business of designing, engineering and building the best cars and trucks that you can possibly muster right now and in the foreseeable future. As long as you relentlessly execute to that goal, this industry will continue to not only be relevant and survive, but maybe even thrive.
Because this just in: the Jetsons, at least for now and until further notice, was just a cartoon.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
THE WEEK THAT WASN?T.
30 Jul 2019 at 4:58pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Maybe it was the hangover from the new Corvette reveal, or maybe it’s just the time of year frequently labeled as “the dog days” of summer, although I find that to be grossly unfair to our fine furry friends to be honest. But this time of the year leaves a lot to be desired in the car business, there’s no question about that.
The “end of summer” sales have started, like clockwork, and somewhere out there a “truck month” sale is going on (then again, every month is truck month around these parts). It’s also about the time that overly optimistic sales projections for the year made during the auto show season are – ahem – “adjusted” through various explanations, like unanticipated supply problems, trade uncertainties, a bad product mix and our perennial AE favorite: sunspots.
And since accountability is in such short supply – at least in some quarters of the business – you won’t hear much about the blatantly boneheaded decisions made that cost the companies dearly, the totally unrealistic boastings of a sales juggernaut that never materialized, or the flat-out disasters that left careers decimated. Well, except for one, anyway. Audi’s complete screw up that left its dealers without new Q3s to sell – in the hottest segment in the market - until now, August 1st, cost the company and its dealers hundreds of millions of dollars. Even in a business that makes a cottage industry of avoiding accountability, this was an unmitigated disaster that couldn’t be swept under the rug.
But as bad as the Audi debacle is, it’s completely overshadowed by the implosion going on at Nissan. I’ve taken a lot of broadsides over my haranguing of Nissan and its so-called executive leadership team over the years – I was never a fan of “the Ghosnster” because of his overinflated ego and obsession with volume over everything else – but if anything, I’ve been too kind.
I’m sure there are some out there who are saying to themselves while reading this right now that to use the term implosion is over the top, but let’s review, shall we?
The current CEO, Hiroto Saikawa – and I say “current” because let’s face it, I think we’re about to see a revolving door become part and parcel with this position as Nissan’s fortunes continue to slide – is taking aggressive steps to bring back the company from the brink. He’s slashing Nissan’s global model portfolio by ten percent, which seems like an aggressive move except if that number was doubled it still wouldn’t be enough. Then he’s cutting 12,500 jobs worldwide, which make no mistake, is a significant number. But the real eye-opener came when Nissan announced last week that its operating profit in the April-June quarter plummeted by 99 percent. Yes, you read that correctly. And to make matters worse, its North American retail sales dropped 6.3 percent. (I was going to italicize that percentage but at this point it’s just piling on.) Memo to emerging scholars of this business getting their MBA’s right now: For future reference, this is what implosion looks like.
Saikawa insists that it won’t be long before Nissan is back on track, but I really don’t know many out there who are buying that notion. There are dealers out there who believe it can and will happen but to say they have a vested interest in things working out is an understatement. They really have no choice at this point but to believe that the Turnaround Fairy Princess will drop pixie dust on things and make it all better for Nissan here in the U.S.
But Fairy Tales have never found purchase in the car business. In fact, this business is littered with bad stories and even worse outcomes that started out bathed in sweetness and light and boundless optimism. Nissan is paying for the years of abuse in the way it conducted its business, especially here in this market. It cranked out volume and shoved it down its dealer throats. And the rest? It was dumped in rental car fleets to pump up the numbers. Nissan lived off consumer incentives in the U.S. market for years, because that was the only way they could meet Ghosn’s ridiculous sales projections. And the products were too often middling to mediocre and sold not because of their inherent goodness, but because it was a “deal,” which made matters worse.
Saikawa may have a chance, but we’re talking about an extremely narrow window of opportunity to fix things. But that is only if everything goes right at just the right time. And banking on that in this business is a pipe dream, at best. Add to this the overcapacity in this business and all of the negatives that are associated with that, the crushing costs with the transition to electrification, the fact that sluggish sales are indicating that there’s a real chance that we’re heading for a significant slowdown, and you have a recipe for disaster and a giant, steaming bowl of Not Good.
Nissan needs a reason for being in this market, and right now it’s hard to see what that is, especially given the relentless product onslaught coming from the Korean manufacturers.
I see only one way out of this mess for Nissan. The company can start by focusing on building extraordinary cars and SUVs that present real value for the money in this market. Vehicles that present such a compelling reason for buying on their merits alone that Nissan can slowly work its way back to respectability.
A giant “we’ll see” if I’ve ever seen one.
On a sunnier note, I had the opportunity to see the new Corvette Sting Ray (in Elkhart Lake Blue Metallic) over the weekend. The car was running so I had a good opportunity to drive all around it and see it from every angle. I still don’t care for the rear-end design, but the new Corvette has undeniable road presence and it looks flat-out sensational in the flesh.
Kudos to the True Believers at GM Design, Engineering and Product Development – the new Corvette is a grand-slam home run by every measure.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
THE NEW CORVETTE.
22 Jul 2019 at 10:56am
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. The new Corvette Stingray was revealed last Thursday evening in L.A., but I intentionally waited until this week to comment on it. Why? I understand the frantic urgency that defines the 24/7 Internet we live with today, but rushing to judgment on such a momentous occasion as the reveal of a new Corvette seemed premature. The new machine and the True Believers who worked long and hard on it deserved more than that from my perspective.
First of all, to say that I have been immersed in the Corvette and Corvette lore from a very early age is an understatement. Longtime readers are well aware of this after countless columns on the subject over the years. (Peter’s column on his experiences with Bill Mitchell is still one of the most requested in the 20 years of Autoextremist.com -WG)
The 1959 Corvette Sting Ray racer.
Having ridden in every Corvette concept from the late 50s and early 60s including my favorite – the 1959 Sting Ray racer – (all with Bill Mitchell at the wheel), to riding in countless hot Corvettes with my brother Tony, to personally driving a 1969 L88 Corvette on the street, all the way through the competition years when my brother’s Owens/Corning Corvette Racing Team set new standards for the Corvette in competition, I humbly bring real perspective to the subject.
Let me be clear – the Corvette isn’t just a car. It’s a machine that has stirred emotions since its introduction in 1953. And even though that first one was hardly a performance icon, the Corvette has grown into being “America’s Sports Car” ever since. Yes, there have definitely been down years in its history, but the Corvette over the last decade at least has been a formidable competitor on the street and the track.
But this Corvette, the eighth generation, is something special and altogether different. It’s the first mid-engine production Corvette in history; this after the True Believers who’ve worked on the Corvette have been designing and building mid-engine Corvette concepts for decades. You could even say that the CERV I and CERV II (’61-’64) laid the groundwork for all of the mid-engine Corvette concepts since.
The 1960 Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicle I (CERV I). This was Zora Arkus-Duntov’s vision for a mid-engine Corvette-powered machine for the Indianapolis 500. And that's him driving it on the five-mile circle at the GM Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan.
The 1964 CERV II was Zora’s concept for a mid-engine, all-wheel-drive Corvette-powered machine to take on the Ford GT and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It achieved a top speed of 204 mph at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds. Here are a group of True Believers from GM Engineering standing proudly next to the machine at the GM Tech Center in 1963.
The 1976 Aerovette mid-engine Corvette concept is still stunning to this day.
The idea of a mid-engine Corvette for the street has taken on mythic proportions over the years. The questions were always there and percolating. Was it really happening? And when? Then, of course, it always wasn’t. In fact, however, it came extremely close to becoming a reality eleven years ago, then the GM bankruptcy hit and it was gone in the vapor trail of corporate cutbacks.
And now, here we are. Why now, you might ask? Because GM wasn’t going to do a new mid-engine Corvette if they couldn’t execute it within reasonable costs as compared to the current seventh-generation car. In other words, they weren’t going to shut out their loyal True Believer Corvette enthusiasts with a $200,000 supercar – that would have pretty much destroyed the brand overnight. For years the Corvette has been described as “a great sports car for the money.” It was approachable for a broader enthusiast base and that was critically important. It’s only over the last half-decade or so that the Corvette has assumed the mantle of “great sports car” period. Especially given its stellar record in international competition. But it was still attainable for the most part, and GM was never going to forget that fact when designing the new Corvette.
So, when Mark Reuss, GM’s President and True Believer in Chief, announced a base price for the new Corvette of just under $60,000 last Thursday night, jaws dropped. And even though I wasn’t privy to seeing the car beforehand, I was in the know about the pricing strategy. GM engineers and designers had learned a lot about the blending of multiple lightweight materials to accomplish weight saving while controlling costs during the development of the Cadillac CT6, and they put that knowledge to good if not flat-out spectacular use in the new Corvette.
And what about the new Corvette? Overall the car is compelling to look at, recognizing the fact, of course, that certain proportional aspects of the machine are dictated by the fundamental parameters of a mid-engine layout. Please understand, I have not seen the new Corvette in person (I wasn’t invited to the Big Show, no surprise), but I expect I will soon, so, my comments are based on pouring over every image I could get my hands on and studying them thoroughly. And I mean, thoroughly.
Given the task of designing a new Corvette is one of the most prestigious assignments an automotive designer can be given. Once upon a time back in Bill Mitchell’s day, when a young designer sketched an unauthorized idea for a Corvette, he famously said, “Don’t flatter yourself, kid, I do the Corvette around here.” So, make no mistake, it was an honor and a privilege for the handpicked designers to work on this new Corvette Stingray.
First of all, does it look like a Corvette? Unequivocally, yes. Coming at you on the street there will be no mistaking what car it is. And that’s a very good thing. It’s also very clear to me that GM designers were cautioned to take into account a new generation of buyers and prospective buyers. This new Corvette bristles with surface details, body cuts and different shapes and angles that juxtapose with each other, and there’s a reason for that. It’s what all young designers are doing these days, according to one respected veteran designer I know, and it’s what younger, moneyed buyers will find appealing as well.
Do I find it appealing? Overall, yes, but there are many parts of it that I find too busy and too complicated. And just too much. Sometimes less is more in the design business, and in the new Corvette’s case that perspective has been exceeded, especially in the detailing on the front and the side of the car. There are creases and indents that seem to exist for no reason whatsoever, which detract from the impact of the overall design. (Thank goodness the wheels are outstanding.)
The overhead rear view of the car is outstanding, I have absolutely no complaints here.
And the same goes for the interior too. I think it’s well executed and first rate in design, materials and layout, and the detailing is superb. But here’s a question for the haters out there on the Internet who roundly condemned and made fun of the myriad buttons on the new Corvette. Why is it okay for the Porsche Panamera to be overly laden with buttons – even brilliantly so, according to some – while in the Corvette it is for some reason egregiously not cool? This just in: Give it a rest.
But here’s the view of the new Corvette Sting Ray where it all comes apart for me and that I cannot abide. I think the design of the rear of the car is too busy, and everything about it is too gimmicky and relentlessly unappealing. On top of that it is contrived and underwhelming. I can (sort of) forget the business on the rest of the car, but the back end of the car is a huge turnoff. And too bad.
In summary, my negative comments about the rear of the car can’t take away from the fact that I think this new Corvette is an incredible achievement and a testament to the True Believers at GM Design, Engineering and Product Development. And even though there are quite a few hardcore Corvette traditionalists out there who decry the loss of the old front engine configuration, this is a spectacular machine by every measure: visual appeal, performance, engineering detail and outstanding value. And it will appeal to owners of competitive makes - including Porsche, with its skyrocketing prices - for the first time.
Until further notice, the new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is the most seductive combination of design, performance and value available in the market.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
THE EV DEBATE RAGES ON.
15 Jul 2019 at 2:56pm
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Last week's column - "The Biggest Bet in Automotive History" - stirred up a lot of reactions, both positive and negative. The ongoing rush to electrification by the automotive industry is fraught with challenges and opportunities. Some players are making clear bets on The Future of mobility being electric, while others are hedging their bets. I clearly stated my position last week, and ironically it's perfect timing then to introduce what I think is the most comprehensive consumer research study on EVs to date, entitled, "CONSUMER VIEWS ABOUT ELECTRIC VEHICLES 2019 – ALL THIS TORQUE AND STILL STUCK IN NEUTRAL." This study was conducted by AutoThink Research. The diverse, mobility savvy readership of Autoextremist.com makes up a large part of the survey sample. The best endorsement I can give to this new study is that its findings are not in lockstep with what I wrote last week, and in fact there are clear differences in its findings from my personal perspectives on the subject. To wit:
The biggest misperception identified by the survey is the widespread belief that EVs and the charging infrastructure are not ready for prime time. The experience of current EV owners refutes that.
Most of the people who think EVs aren't ready for prime time have exaggerated worries about EV battery capacity, driving range, charging speed, and public charging infrastructure.
As the study explains in the introduction, “The global transition from ICE vehicles to EVs has been assisted by improvements on a variety of fronts (e.g., the technology, management, production, and cost of batteries, vehicle charging speeds and infrastructure). Despite this progress, actual consumer demand for these vehicles is lagging and growing very slowly (especially in the U.S.). Many consumers appear to lack a basic understanding about how these various alternative propulsion vehicles differ (e.g., what’s the difference between hybrids, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, extended-range electric vehicles, and fuel-cell electric vehicles?). In addition, a variety of controversies and conflicting claims have emerged in the discussion of ICE and EV vehicles, and these have further promoted confusion and erroneous beliefs about EVs. Most research on consumer attitudes toward EVs has failed to take the confusion into account or to identify the effects of these confusions and erroneous beliefs on EV consideration.”
At the end of the report, there are seven recommendations (aimed at the auto industry) that are quite thought-provoking and provide a roadmap for gaining electric vehicle acceptance:
Continue organizing and coordinating the independent public charging networks to maximize their use and usefulness.
Automotive journalists and other EV commentators give too much attention and importance to the topic of public charging infrastructure and public charging stations. It’s a much smaller deal affecting fewer people and more infrequently than it has been made out to be.
Let’s fix how alternative propulsion vehicles are categorized and stop lumping extended-range electric vehicles (like Volt and BMW i3REx) in with plug-in hybrids (like Prius Prime and Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid).
Offer extended-range versions of EVs. Stop developing and offering Hybrids and Plug-in Hybrids, which are only prolonging the use of the internal combustion engine.
Stop putting promotional emphasis on the “environmentalism” of EVs. The survey suggests that the environment is not the big driver of EV consideration that everyone thinks it is. It's an unnecessarily politicized side argument that isn't really needed to promote EV consideration among consumers.
Promote EVs for their many practical, convenient, and fun advantages.
The public needs a better understanding of electric vehicles. The automotive industry needs to take greater responsibility for educating the public about EVs and the future of transportation but first, the auto industry needs to better educate itself.
Other points worth noting? The report asserts that a lack of understanding about automotive propulsion systems and erroneous beliefs about EVs are unnecessarily impeding the adoption of EVs. The actual EV ownership experience is more positive than non-EV owners are imagining. EVs are better – much less restricted and limited, with much less “hassle” – than most people are thinking.
Furthermore, the report suggests that EVs and the existing charging infrastructure are ready for long-distance trips (that's what the survey's EV owners report and what the study found when it looked at current charging infrastructure). The EV report also questions the idea that EVs need to be relegated to a second-car position. Forty-four of the 341 EV owners surveyed (13%) are getting by with an EV as their only vehicle.
There is one conclusion in this EV Report that perfectly lines up with my final point in my column last week when I had this to say about the future of electrification: "It’s also the biggest marketing challenge in automotive history as well, because creating demand on a massive scale for vehicles that people don’t even know that they want will be a monumental task."
Many of our readers participated in this groundbreaking study, so I would encourage you to download the report – caution: it's lengthy – and take your time to go through it. It's worth the read.
And that’s The High-Octane Truth for this week.
Download the 284-page report here, or go here to get a quick one-page summary and table of contents.
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