ClayChat
Automotive Industry News
Updated Every Week



Automotive News Links

Design News with Great Graphics.
Bare Knuckle, Unvarnished Truth.
Inside Automotive News online.


The Latest Auto Extremist Rants

VW PRESSES THE RESET BUTTON, YET AGAIN.
by Editor
16 Apr 2018 at 12:26pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Every few years or so of late VW undergoes a boardroom coup and a new leader emerges. This time it’s Herbert Diess, a German auto industry lifer who maneuvered the all-powerful supervisory board to get rid of the previous CEO, Matthias Mueller, who had been on the job for less than three years. That Diess weaseled his way in and around the supervisory board behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for Mueller’s ouster is not exactly a secret. But then again this is par for the course for a German company that seems to thrive on corporate intrigue and skullduggery, going way back to the Ferdinand Piech dictator days.

Mueller was summarily dismissed after having steered VW through the worst and most costly crisis in its history, the Diesel cheating scandal. That Mueller was able to do this while still delivering notable profits and developing a future product plan skewed heavily to electric vehicles is inconsequential at this point, because his time at the helm was abruptly, and for the most part undeservedly, ended. 

And like every new VW Group CEO before him, Diess is out to change VW’s way of doing business by rocking the too often conservative automaker to its core. This means jettisoning some current holdings accumulated over the years, like Ducati, and coming to grips with the fact that the VW Group has way too many employees by half. What Diess will be able to accomplish when it comes to cutting the company’s bloated workforce remains to be seen, but previous CEOs have always talked a good game but remained unable to deal effectively with the superpowerful unions. So that part of his new plan doesn’t bode well.

Another part of the Diess plan to jump-start VW is to focus on the U.S. market, taking a page right out of Mueller’s playbook. But this is something I’ve heard before too. VW’s marketers have been rumbling, bumbling and stumbling in this market for years, thinking they know what’s best for American consumers, while saddling dealers with ridiculously named products that were difficult to sell and handicapped right out of the gate. And though the clouds seemed to part long enough for the light to shine on the Atlas – both with the product itself and the name – VW went right back to their time-honored and confusing ways by displaying a concept for a mid-size pickup truck recently at the New York Auto Show called the Tanoak. Uh, excuse me, but WTF?

(VW)
The VW Tanoak pickup truck concept.

And despite the fact that VW operatives make some brilliant driver’s cars available in this market like the GTI and R, the reality is that the company’s product line in the U.S. is a mishmash marked by fits and starts. For instance, the all-new Jetta sedan comes better equipped with a lower price, but it’s so painfully conservative to look at that you’d have to be a devoted Jetta owner to give it even a second look. Not exactly the kind of inspiring product that will generate momentum in this market, that’s for sure.

(VW)
The new VW Jetta.

And what about the all-new Tiguan? After the success of the Atlas, you’d think that VW operatives would take a flyer at a new name for the small crossover to give it some real juice in the market, but no. Not only that, the “new” Tiguan is another blandtastic design that doesn’t resonate in the least. And it’s too heavy and gets marginable mileage to boot. Not exactly a recipe for success to put it mildly.

(VW)
The new VW Tiguan. 

Yes, VW has some products in the works that show promise, like the Arteon, which is the successor to the CC but then again, it’s a sedan in a SUV-crazed market so what are VW dealers supposed to do with it? Sell it as a junior Audi?

(VW)
The VW Arteon. 

And then there’s the new five-seat version of the Atlas SUV, which dispenses with the third row and injects more style into the equation. Now this product does have real potential, and it should be here by the end of the year. So there’s that.

(VW)
The five-seat Atlas.

And then, of course, there’s the VW I.D. BUZZ concept, the all-electric bus that if executed properly should be a grand slam, frickin’ home run. But that’s a big “if” and it’s two long years away.

(VW)
The VW I.D. BUZZ concept.

Memo to Mr. Diess: If you really want to focus on the U.S. market, I suggest you and a handpicked team of product planners, engineers, designers and marketers come over and live here for one solid month. Roam around, take in the sights, and then really listen to people and observe, more than you talk. You can start by listening to the American VW operatives already in place, including the long-suffering dealers. They know and understand this market better and with more depth than you and your colleagues ever will. That means setting aside the built-in tendencies of every German auto executive who has ever walked on the face of this earth to think that they know better than anyone else in absolutely every given situation, especially when it comes to the U.S auto market. This just in: You don’t, Mr. Diess… and neither do your cohorts.

Pressing the reset button for VW - yet again – is a noble endeavor, Mr. Diess. But it’s fraught with peril brought on by classic executive intransigence and the “we know what’s best for you” syndrome that runs rampant throughout VW headquarters in Wolfsburg. And if you can’t break through that and bury it for good, it won’t matter how good the I.D. Buzz is.

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


A GIANT ?WE?LL SEE.?
by Editor
11 Apr 2018 at 8:02am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As readers of this website are well aware, I haven’t taken too kindly to the notion that Alfa Romeo, as a brand, can be resurrected successfully with a flip of a switch or a snap of a finger. As much as a certain CEO at FCA would like it to be so, and promised it to be so, the launch of Alfa Romeo back into this market has been a long and painful slog, stumbling out of the gate and ricocheting in fits and starts. The incessant bluster and braggadocio didn’t help, but nonetheless it is a very hard task even under the best of circumstances, and for a brand that has been long moribund in this country it was bound to be particularly difficult. 

So where is Alfa Romeo now? Let’s take a look at March 2018 sales and for the first quarter (thanks to Automotive News for the data). Alfa Romeo sold 22 4C sports cars (54 total for the year so far), 1,284 Giulia sedans (3,085 for the quarter) and 1,270 Stelvio crossovers (2,653 for this year). Yes, minuscule numbers to be sure, although the Stelvio and the Giulia actually outsold the ballyhooed Cadillac CT6 in March.

So, as I said, this is going to take time, but any notions that Alfa Romeo would be selling 70,000 vehicles in the U.S. in 2018 have long been abandoned, succumbing to the cold winds of reality. But progress is indeed being made, and though the glitches and annoyances on early product – even on the hand-massaged press cars – seemed to reaffirm consumers’ misgivings about embracing a brand that never exactly bathed in a glow of a sterling reputation for quality and reliability, Alfa Romeo is present and accounted for here.

The show pony cars that Alfa Romeo operatives provided to the press – the Giulia Quadrifoglio and the Stelvio Quadrigoglio – delivered impressive performance with their 505HP Twin-Turbo V6 engines, but those $80,000-plus vehicles are not going to determine the fate of Alfa Romeo in this market, just as the lithe 4C sports car wasn’t going to.

No, the real future of Alfa Romeo here in the U.S. is the daily, one-vehicle-at-a-time sales grind. It’s all about convincing consumers that Alfa Romeo vehicles are not only worth a look, but that they’re actually worth considering owning. This is a huge leap for most people, because beyond the flashy advertising for Alfa Romeo going on right now, it means consumers making the effort to go to an Alfa Romeo dealer after stops at Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But the Italian march-to-a-different-drummer appeal can only go so far in the showroom. Alfa Romeo vehicles have to stand up to intense scrutiny, and they have to provide enough of a driving difference to make consumers even embrace the thought of spending real money on them. And even once those consumers make that leap, those machines have to run flawlessly with no issues, repeat visits to the dealers, or any other problems that can turn into the kind of horror stories that can swallow a brand. Taking all of this into account, Alfa Romeo is up against it in this market. It’s a rigorous 24/7 journey that requires relentless drive and focus, and traction will only come in the smallest of increments. A switch can’t be flipped, and a finger can’t be snapped to make it go any quicker either.

After writing this column for going on nineteen years, it has been hard to watch as mistakes are repeatedly made in this business. It’s as if serial incompetency is handed down on silver platters to the next generation of auto executives and there’s no accrued learning of any kind, certainly not enough to keep those same mistakes from being made. And Alfa Romeo operatives are certainly not immune from the kaleidoscope of pitfalls and missteps that can happen.

Knowing all of this, it has been easy for me to criticize the notion of a rejuvenated Alfa Romeo, especially when you throw in the constant “it won’t be long now” bleating that seems to come with every FCA product initiative. But, and this will be a shock for most, I am about to take the leap to find out about the Alfa Romeo brand for myself.

No, I don’t want to read one more Quadrifoglio review from a racetrack, which counts for not much when you really think about it, and I don’t want to hear another opinion from a journalist who will never own an Alfa for him or herself either. That’s easy, and that has been the conundrum in the car writing game for decades. You write about a car and you move on to the next. You provide opinions and perspective about vehicles you will never drive again let alone own. 

I have my own lingering questions about Alfa Romeo. Is it viable in this market? Does it have a real chance? How does it feel? How does it drive? How is it to live with on a daily basis? There really is only one way to get answers to those questions from my perspective. And it’s not by having an Alfa to drive for a week. So, I am in the process of acquiring a 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti AWD. And no, it isn’t being provided by the manufacturer for a free, long-term test drive. I am engaged in this process like a reader would be – I’ve been to the dealer, I’ve got the lease numbers and I should be driving it today.

Do I need to do this? No, but as critical as I’ve been of FCA through the years, I am going to give the Stelvio a real shot. And I will provide occasional updates in our “On the Table” column. Incredibly enough, it will be only the third Italian car I’ve ever owned. The first was a used ’68 Fiat 850 Coupe, and then there was a new ’80 Fiat Strada, because I worked on the sales training materials for that car. And now, the Stelvio.

I don’t know if it’s a leap of faith, but it’s a leap nonetheless. 

And a giant “We’ll See.” 

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


THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE MOSTLY UGLY FROM THE NEW YORK AUTO SHOW.
by Editor
2 Apr 2018 at 9:46am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. In the aftermath of the New York Auto Show, it’s clear that just showing up still counts for something in this business in some circles, which is beyond unfortunate. But being present and accounted for doesn’t constitute a marketing strategy, or a bold reach – it’s just showing up. 

This was most evident in the introduction of the Cadillac XT4, which is an homage to the uninspired and expected, and living, breathing proof that Cadillac is utterly lacking in originality at this juncture. One look at the cohesive visual brilliance of the Jaguar I-Pace will tell you just how much GM Design phoned it in with the XT4. (See more of Peter’s comments about the New York Auto Show in “On The Table” -WG) 


(newspressUSA)
The Cadillac XT4.

And the CT6 V-Sport doesn’t change my opinion of Cadillac one iota. It’s a niche of a niche machine that means nothing for the brand’s tenuous upward trajectory, because Cadillac is now mirroring Buick in that it exists for the Chinese market, and everything else is just going through the motions. Which is why its racing program is vaporware and why its entire high-performance push exists in a vacuum that means exactly nothing. I have been saying this for at least four years now: Corvette should become its own division within GM and all of Cadillac’s V performance cars – which are outstanding – should be rebranded as Corvettes, because those cars are nonsensical with a Cadillac badge. 


(newspressUSA)
The Cadillac CT6 V-Sport. 

But then again that’s not all that’s wrong with Cadillac. You only have to look at the new 2019 Lincoln Aviator to see that Cadillac is about to get its ass handed to it in the market. Everything about the Aviator is slick and silky smooth, from its tapered profile to its exquisite interior, this SUV has hit written all over it. And Lincoln’s rejuvenated embrace of real, actual names for its vehicles is going to pay massive dividends in the market as well, while Johan de Nysschen’s continued quest to remake Cadillac in Audi’s image – complete with coldly uninvolving alphanumeric nomenclature – is resonating with no one. Just a reminder: what is Cadillac’s most sought-after product (besides the internally ignored old school XTS sedan)? The Escalade. There’s a reason for that, but it’s just too bad that Cadillac operatives simply don’t get it.


(Lincoln)
The Lincoln Aviator.


(Lincoln)
The Lincoln Aviator.


(Lincoln)
The Lincoln Aviator.

And another thing wrong with the XT4? Cadillac PR minions chose to use the hoary "First Ever" moniker in its communications, which is hands-down the most tedious and unoriginal buzz phrase in current PR speak. Sad to say that they are not alone, because Ford is running launch advertising for its EcoSport subcompact SUV with the words “First Ever” figuring prominently. It’s like a plague or something and I find it depressing that a total lack of originality seems to be running rampant throughout the business right now. This just in: “First Ever” means absolutely nothing, you unmitigated hacks. Get a new idea, and quick.

In other news from New York, Hyundai unveiled a magnificent piece of vaporware for its Genesis brand with its Essentia Concept. (See it “On The Table” -WG) It’s nicely rendered and executed, but it does nothing to quell the feeling Genesis dealers have that the brand is in disarray and that the whole thing is hanging by a thread. They’re right, of course. Hyundai arrogance and hubris – which are so deeply ingrained that they are part of the brand's soul – have led Hyundai operatives to botch the introduction of the Genesis brand from the get-go, and they’re still throwing ideas up against the wall to see what sticks. If Genesis continues floundering the brand will disappear into the ether by 2020. 


(newspressUSA)
The Genesis Essentia Concept.


(newspressUSA)
The Genesis Essentia Concept. 

Other brands were either worth mentioning for the right reasons, or the wrong reasons. GMC blew their brand conceit to smithereens with its Sierra AT4. I only have one simple question: Why? And a follow-up: WTF were you guys thinking? Never mind, clearly you weren’t. The Sierra AT4 is apropos of nothing to do with the GMC brand.


(GMC)
The GMC Sierra AT4. 

And I don’t have to ask what Acura operatives are thinking anymore, because they have been lost in the Twilight Zone for years. The RDX is abysmal, proof positive that they don’t have a clue as to what they’re doing. Honda needs to press the reset button for Acura and start over. It’s the only hope for the brand.


(newspressUSA)
Acura RDX.

And the new Hyundai Santa Fe was simply forgettable, which means more of the same from the Korean brand. The Nissan Altima seems better overall, but since Nissan deploys some of the consistently worst designs in the business it’s more of a sigh of relief than a rousing endorsement. And the Toyota Corolla Hatchback is a significant upgrade and nicely done.

My final comment today is about Porsche. I knew this was coming and it was probably inevitable, but we have reached Peak Porsche. This isn’t about the fact that it’s predominantly a truck brand, because every automaker worth its salt is a truck brand now. There was something missing about Porsche at the New York show, a hollowness that was palpable. 


(newspressUSA)
Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

The German manufacturer had on display a yellow 911 T, a lime green 911 GT3 RS, a silver Cayenne and two white Panamera Hybrids (one of them a Sport Turismo). The most alluring Porsche on display? A beautifully restored white 356 Cabriolet from Porsche Classic. What does that tell you? My feeling is that endless variations of the 911 is a product strategy that has been played out. And the modern Porsche models on display felt calculated and oddly uninvolving. The GT3 RS seemed like it had been done 1000 times before, because well, it has, and the 911 T is yet another blatant money grab adhering to the traditional Porsche marketing formula, which goes something like this: De-contenting + Limited Production = Piles of Ca$h. And the Panamera models were coldly antiseptic and off-putting, like they showed up to a party that they weren’t invited to. 

Memo to the brainiacs at Porsche: you have reached a critical juncture in your history, and I'm not even sure the much-touted, all-electric "Mission E" machine will be enough to save you. Porsche has become ubiquitous in the leafy suburbs and urban centers all across the country, but is that a good thing for the long-term health of the brand? I will answer that for you, no, it isn’t. We watched as BMW strategists embarked on a strategy of putting a BMW in every neighborhood in America, chasing niches both real and imagined, and the result is that the brand has lost its luster (see Peter’s comments about the BMW 440i in “On The Table” -WG). And now Porsche seems to be doing the same. 

Porsche operatives need to ask themselves the following: What is Porsche? Why does Porsche exist? Where do we – as a company – go from here? And why should we – as enthusiasts – care? And remember one very important thing, just having hybrids and BEVs does not mean the brand will survive.

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

 

 

 


ON THE EVE OF THE NEW YORK AUTO SHOW, THE DETROIT AUTO SHOW FADES TO BLACK.
by Editor
26 Mar 2018 at 10:49am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. So, here we are in the Motor City, still one of the most vibrant technical centers in the United States and the world – much to Silicon Valley’s chagrin – and the unquestioned capital of the U.S. auto industry. A region that is seeing an infusion of new technical investment unprecedented in its history from companies around the world. A region anchored by Detroit, the city that is undergoing a much-touted renaissance – albeit a selectively intermittent one – that aims to transform a town long written off as “a wasteland of unfortunates” by the coastal elite into an urban center of vibrancy and elusive hipness. 

How could this momentum be derailed? How could this calculated rejuvenation fail? What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, reality has a way of rearing its ugly head around here in sobering ways. The renaissance of this city is intermittent, at best; it’s a top-down fraud emphasizing the window dressing of ever-increasing rents and glitzy, overpriced restaurants that open and close at an alarming rate, while ignoring the heartbreaking hopelessness of a school system perpetually in grave trouble, one that churns out a disproportionate number of “graduates” mostly ill-equipped to do college work. The “rebirth” of Detroit is a concentrated show, one that ignores the abject poverty of a large part of the city that remains untouched by the gloss of new money.

Another unfortunate reality for this town is the fact that the Motor City’s premier auto show has now been relegated to second-tier status overnight. Mercedes-Benz announced a month ago that it wouldn’t return to display at the Detroit Auto Show next year. This came on the heels of Jaguar/Land Rover, Mazda, Porsche and Volvo already declining to participate. Now comes the announcement last week that BMW is pulling out too.

Once upon a time the Detroit Auto Show stemmed from an idea local dealers had to pump up the regional market in its most moribund sales months, January and February. And it bumbled along like that for years and years, the “homer” of all “homer” auto shows, a back-patting lovefest like no other, with hardly an imported car in sight. Then, emboldened by the attention going to Paris, Frankfurt and Geneva, the local dealers in charge of the show came up with the idea of rebranding the show as the “North American International Show,” more befitting of Detroit’s visibility on the global auto stage. And this worked for a while, until recently.

What happened?

How did the idea that Detroit’s auto show had become no longer essential gain steam among the manufacturers? Maybe it was the fact that it took a decade to refurbish Cobo Hall, the venue that was obsolete easily 20 years ago. The city’s constant precarious financial health – including a painful bankruptcy – prevented anything of substance getting started at Cobo. And unfortunately, for the record, even though it’s dramatically better now it’s still a second-rate venue, despite millions spent on it. It didn’t help that the transformation of Cobo took much longer than expected, and each year that it didn’t happen the participating manufacturers questioned its viability. After all, they attended better shows in better venues here in the U.S. and all over the world, and the excuses to spend money in Detroit became harder and harder to justify.

And the time of year didn’t help, either. At first it was the L.A. Auto Show bumping right up against the Detroit show dates, until those show dates were moved back to November. Then, out of the blue, the Consumer Electronics Show emerged as a direct threat to Detroit, not only because the date for the Las Vegas extravaganza was the week before Detroit, but because the collision of the digital realm and the transformation of our transportation future became the hot topic overnight. Auto manufacturers scrambled to be a part of what was going on at CES, and the justification for participation in the Detroit show became even more tenuous.

And the weather in Detroit in January was another strike against the show. It may seem like a small thing, but it really wasn’t. The cold and snow affected everything to do with the show, and it was a negative that just wouldn’t go away. Let’s not kid ourselves here because Detroit can be a dark, foreboding and unfriendly place in January. And the press and the manufacturers alike contributed to the refrain of negativity hanging over the show with their constant comments about the weather.

Then, on top of everything else, the fact that auto shows have become more and more irrelevant and cost-prohibitive for manufacturers is something that has emerged as a real thing over the last several years. Mounting proper auto show displays costs millions of dollars, and manufacturers have discovered that hosting targeted “fly-in” events for the media in interesting locales is much more appealing and effective. These events have no competing “noise” to detract the media’s attention from the intended focused message, and the opportunity for the media to drive the vehicles can elevate the impression of the brand in question overnight. This has caused manufacturers to abandon all but the most important auto shows, and this just in: Detroit isn’t one of them. It’s a direct blow to the domestic automobile industry and an even harsher blow to the city of Detroit itself. In other words, a giant bowl of Not Good.

The Detroit Auto Show organizers have been late to the realization that their show was in trouble, as in, five years too late. I have been writing that the Detroit show was in trouble for at least that long, and others have chimed in recently too. The Detroit Auto Show organizers are frantically changing things, saying a new name is in the works – Detroit Auto Show anyone? – and they’ve floated the idea of moving the show to October, one of our best months when the city is bathed in the warm glow of vivid fall colors and the imagery is decidedly opposite from the bleakness of January. But then again, even this isn’t going to be accomplished without a lot of consternation and hand-wringing. The show organizers are talking 2020 for the new fall date, saying that the contracts are already in place for next January and they can’t be changed. 

I say bullshit to that. 

If the manufacturers have to gather the show organizers, Cobo Hall and city representatives and the participating unions together to discuss moving the date to October 2019, they need to do that. Accommodations can and should be made to make this happen, because if a half-assed show is staged next January – and make no mistake it will definitely be that given the lack of participants – then I predict the show will not be salvageable, no matter what the date is.

Right now, there are two high-visibility auto shows in the U.S.: In L.A., the largest automotive market in this nation and in New York, which emphasizes the higher-end offerings and is in the media center of the country. New York happens this week, and every manufacturer that’s worth considering will be there, and Detroit is only a speck in their collective rearview mirrors.

A total rethink of the Detroit Auto Show is in order, but I’m afraid that the people involved are ill-equipped and not up to the task. If the two domestic auto manufacturers based here believe that the Detroit Auto Show is essential and cannot slip any further, then they’re going to have to get involved.

If not, the Detroit Auto Show will fade to black, for good.

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


THE LONG ? AND SHORT ? OF FORD.
by Editor
19 Mar 2018 at 8:59am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Last week, key executives from the Ford Motor Company took members of the press under the tent in an “On the Record/Off the Record” presentation that basically laid bare the company’s product plans over the next 24 months. Though it wasn’t an unprecedented move – many auto companies have taken this route in the past – it was a signal that the company’s momentum has been brought into question, and that the gathering storm clouds off in the distance are getting closer.

There’s no question that the perception that Ford is in trouble triggered this rare press event. And the timing of this presentation was calculated to break through the cloak of negativity that seems to be lingering over the company, especially from certain denizens of Wall Street who view anything connected to Detroit and the automobile industry with skepticism, if not outright hostility. (Especially now that Elon Musk has become the Patron Saint of all that is righteous and good when it comes to the automobile for many Wall Street types, and that anything that isn’t Tesla must therefore be antiquated and bad.)

CEO Jim Hackett opened the proceedings by talking about the future of Ford and the advanced technologies that Ford is fully engaged in that will drive transportation into The Future. This has been “Professor” Hackett’s standard stump speech for a while now, just as it has been the standard fare for every other automaker of late too. But given that this was a product-focused meeting, Hackett’s remarks seemed a little stale, especially since they have been out there for a good long while now. After all, this was clearly an “all hands on deck” effort from Ford to convince the gathered press that the company’s products would be vibrant and competitive, so meanderings on where The Future was going had people looking at their watches.

This is the essence of the problem for Ford, and a source of much of the negativity hanging over the brand. Hackett has spent too much time talking about the long view for Ford – the connected cities, the coming fundamental changes to our lives, etc., etc. – and not enough time conveying the transformation going on at Ford right now. This event was designed to change that.

From there, the presentation was handed over to Joe Hinrichs, President of Global Operations, who laid out just how successful Ford has been with the F-150 pickup. And make no mistake, the F-150 is “The Franchise” of the Ford Motor Company. How much so? If the company stopped selling everything but the F-150 today, it would still generate more than $40 billion in revenue, a staggering statistic. But the point of the meeting was exactly that – that as successful as the F-150 is Ford needs more vehicles for the heart of the market, which means SUVs, and lots of them. In fact, 86 percent of Ford’s vehicle lineup by 2020 will be trucks and SUVs, up from 70 percent today.

To achieve this transformation – there wasn’t a peep about cars, except for a reveal of a King Kong Mustang that’s coming – Ford is working on a wave of SUVs, ranging from a total (and long overdue) revamp of its other hot performer, the Explorer, to a brace of new, edgier SUVs, including a sharp alternative execution of the Escape, and a very interesting BEV crossover that seemed dangerously close to being vaporware. (That I am suggesting that this particular product is vaporware speaks to the High-Octane Truth about Ford, and the fact that they are absolutely nowhere when it comes to BEVs. Not that BEVs are the be-all and end-all for this business, but the fact that Ford is clearly lacking in this area looms large.)

But by far the most interesting product (briefly, hinted at but not fully revealed) discussed last Thursday morning was the all-new Bronco. The Bronco is one of the iconic nameplates of this business, and the fact that Ford is bringing it back is crucial. And just based on a few glimpses, I expect it to be a full-fledged hit in the market. 

As I’ve said many times previously in this column, it’s shocking that FCA has been allowed to sell the Jeep Wrangler without any serious competition from Ford and GM. Due to the bankruptcy GM gave up Hummer, which was an egregious mistake, especially since the Hummer had made notable inroads in the market at the expense of Jeep, and the Hummer H4 concept, which was on GM Product Development computer screens when the bankruptcy hammer slammed down, was going to be a real threat, taking dead aim at Wrangler.

And now, here comes the Bronco. The fact that Ford waited this long to even consider bringing back the Bronco is borderline criminal, but now that they are bringing it back, the fact that it is still two years away is a real shame. In fact, that all of the vehicles discussed last week are at least two years away (except for the Mustang, which is scheduled for 2019) is a real problem for Ford. As people immersed in this industry know, 24 to 36 months is an eternity in this business. And though Ford displayed some very competitive-looking products to the media last week, this business doesn’t exist in a stagnant holding pattern. The players in this business are constantly percolating ideas and churning out new products, in fact the pace of competition is growing fiercer by the month. I have the utmost respect for and confidence in Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s executive VP of product development and purchasing. He is one of the most talented True Believers in this business, and if anyone can deliver on Ford’s product, Hau and his team can deliver, and then some.

So, this is the long – and short – view of Ford. 

On the one hand, Professor Hackett’s long view is indeed compelling, at least up to a point, but it’s only as compelling as every other automaker’s pronouncements on The Future and their role in it. Everyone’s putting their spin on the same idea: connected cars, ride sharing, AVs, and on and on and on. It’s allegedly going to be a beautiful world filled with shiny happy people skipping to a new beat and rolling in anonymously uninvolving vehicles, hassle free. The fact that whatever transpires is years and years away and will be confined largely to a few urban centers across the country is beside the point. All of the auto manufacturers are cut from the same cloth, they refuse to be dictated to by Silicon Valley and they will be part of the Driving Future, one way or the other.

That’s all well and good, but on the other hand the short view is that Ford has its back against the wall. The enduring success of the F-150 will go down as one of the lasting achievements in automotive history, but the ugly reality is that it isn’t enough, and Ford executives are now painfully aware of that fact. Ford desperately needs new products in-market, as in yesterday. Taking the automotive media under the tent was as much about generating positive buzz with Wall Street-types as it was to give the press something positive to write about when it comes to Ford.

But two years is a lifetime in this business, and the clock is ticking. 

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

 


HERE'S TO THE ONES WHO DREAM.
by Editor
14 Mar 2018 at 9:28am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Though I'm tired of using the term "swirling maelstrom" to describe this business, I have yet to find a more apt descriptor. It's a land where you're only as good as your last hit, a state of mind where you're forced to make what's happening right now work, while struggling to make what's happening next come into focus. It's a cruel, nonsensical world that punishes those who would deign to march to a different drummer, but it's only those who dare to break through that gauntlet who rise to the top. 

It's easy to get mired in the minutiae of this business; the endless meetings, the constant "reviews," the endless hand-wringing and second (and third) guessing. Overthinking might be an operational component in corporate America, but in the automobile business it's a full-blown cottage industry, which makes effectual decisions extremely hard to come by. Why? Because 90 percent of the time is spent worrying about what an upper executive in question might want or might be thinking, which forces underlings to become interpreters and acquire the skill set of nuanced anticipation. 

This business is unfortunately littered with so-called genius executives who parachute into the decision process, make a few pronouncements, then helicopter out. And the worst part of this phenomenon is that they come back six weeks later and question why a particular direction was undertaken, totally forgetting that's what he or she directed. Thus, time, effort and money are wasted at a prodigious rate because executives are too self absorbed to get their heads out of their asses and realize how destructive their behavior is. And no, it isn't exclusive to the automobile business, but it's decidedly more pathetic when product programs or advertising campaigns are on the line.

And yes, product. Product is the straw that stirs the drink, the raison d'etre of the automobile business. It's not selling air. It's not about what a company's vision of down the road will be. That's all well and good and fine and wonderful, but it's not the business now and it isn't the business for the next 36 months. It's about product cadence, which means having the right products, at the right time, for the right market segments. Whatever a company's vision is for the future doesn't matter if it isn't generating serious profits to fund that future. 

Remarkably enough, some companies forget all of this. They get sidetracked and off kilter, they chase their tails, they start listening to the dulcet tones of their own thought balloons, and they become buried under the heavy mantel of their own hubris. In short, they lose their way and start making mistakes. Except this isn't a business that tolerates mistakes. It's not a strike three business, either. Two strikes and you're out. And in this league, playing catch-up is not only a brutally tough and long road, sometimes it just doesn't work out. And in the new reality of this globally-driven automobile business, some car companies are just not going to make it.

The companies stocked with True Believers, the ones unafraid to dream, the ones focused on delivering the best in all aspects of this business - Design, Engineering, Product Development, Marketing - will succeed. It not only requires savvy management, it requires a complete cessation of the normal bureaucratic cesspool that paralyzes these companies, which means loosening the reins of the True Believers so that they can do what they're capable of doing.

When it comes to The Future of this business, I will bet on the companies who value their True Believers, because those companies who refuse to do so will be ringing their death knells.

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


NOW THAT DETROIT AUTO SHOW ORGANIZERS HAVE FINALLY SEEN THE LIGHT, THERE ARE ...
by Editor
5 Mar 2018 at 4:30pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. When John D. Stoll broke the news last week in The Wall Street Journal that the organizers of the North American International Auto Show were seriously considering moving the show to October, it not only raised a few eyebrows but some of the homers in the local automotive media got somewhat freaked out about it. Then, when it was subsequently confirmed that the moving of the show from the icy-gray doldrums of January to one of southeast Michigan’s most beautiful months was an actual thing, the hand-wringing began in earnest. The coup de grâce was that the show organizers all but confirmed that the name of the show would officially become The Detroit Auto Show.

To all of that I say, hallefrickinluja. I have only been writing about the desperate need for a rethink for our auto show for oh, easily five long years now, with the most recent being a few weeks ago when we ran my column entitled “The Detroit Auto Show is Dead. Now What?

Yes, I suggested moving the show to an early June time frame, immediately after the Grand Prix on Belle Isle, but believe me any move away from bleakest January is a very good thing (well, except if it was moved to February, which makes January seem quaintly bucolic). And to finally do away with the cumbersome “NAIAS” moniker makes it all that much better, especially since I’ve been hammering away at that idea for years. 

My only caution is that the Detroit Auto Show organizers simply cannot drag their feet on this. I fully expect the 2019 Detroit Auto Show to happen in October; the only question being whether or not show organizers get cold feet and attempt to hold a CliffsNotes version next January, just to ease people into the transition. I hope they dispense with that convoluted notion, however, because the CES in Las Vegas isn’t going anywhere and a half-assed show in January won’t help anyone. They need to make a clean break and just go for it. I’m sure the manufacturers and the media will all survive.

Make no mistake, moving the show is not only long overdue, this is seriously positive news for this area. It will bring back the wayward manufacturers who have been fading away like old ball players, and it will allow the media and other showgoers to attend the show without trudging through salt mounds and slush fields, while making cracks about being “sentenced” to be here in January. Believe me, we were just as tired of hearing about it as they were of being here at that time of year. But given this unexpected ray of sunshine that has temporarily parted the impending clouds of doom and gloom hovering over this business, it got me to thinking about a couple of other things that are in desperate need of changing around here.

“Delusional Hubris” and other sad tidings. Running glorified “Tier 2” Dealer Advertising in national advertising buys is an ugly development that has to stop. The primary shit disturber behind this revolting development is none other than the marketers at GM’s Chevrolet division plying their trade down in the Silver Silos hard by the Detroit River. These serially incompetent marketing operatives (of widely varying degrees of ability, I might add, usually rising just below the line of half-assed) have deluded themselves into believing that they seriously have it goin’ on, that they somehow have absconded with the golden key to the secret formula of marketing success. They’re actually so convinced in their belief that they’ve figured it all out that they bring a large measure of hubris to the proceedings, which would be remarkable and shocking if it weren’t for the fact that it’s GM, and that everyone in the marketing/advertising field has come to expect “delusional hubris” as part and parcel of GM marketing’s “M.O.” But just because it is GM and everyone has grown to expect the worst - and subsequently is rarely disappointed - that doesn’t make it right. 

Over my career, I have never heard the kind of negativity associated with a particular automotive advertising campaign the likes of which I hear when a Chevrolet spot comes up in conversation, both with marketing pros and civilians alike. I would say “universally panned” would be an apt summary of the comments I hear, and that’s being charitable. People simply tune them out and turn them off. I would venture to guess that this advertising has done more to instill an air of mediocrity associated with the brand than any other campaign in Chevrolet marketing history, and this in spite of the fact that Chevrolet is actually offering some excellent products at the moment.

Running insipid dealer spots isn’t a substitute for real live national advertising (image or product) that actually communicates something that’s memorable and worth repeating (see Subaru). Never has been, never will be. And two factors are directly responsible for this phenomenon at GM 1. Not enough seasoned advertising/marketing pros and, 2. A lack of fundamental “buck stops here” marketing leadership in the upper echelon of management.

The reason GM happens to strike out in both instances is that they are grossly underrepresented when it comes to having serious marketing pros at their disposal, and there is a steadfast refusal at the very top of the company to hire a proper marketing chief. I’ve brought up this last point repeatedly over the last five years, but both Mary Barra and Dan “I Am” Ammann have made it perfectly clear that they have little or no respect for the marketing function, to the degree that they’ve talked themselves into believing that the individual divisions can handle it and that C-Suite oversight is not needed or desired. Well, it shows. The Chevrolet “national” retail advertising is relentlessly dreadful, with no redeeming value whatsoever. It has cheapened the brand and made people skip over Chevrolet as being a nonstarter, also-ran brand because other than the big pickups and SUVs, there is no “there” there. (I am leaving the Corvette out of this discussion because it is an outlier to the rest of the Chevrolet brand.)

Another dimension of the “Delusional Hubris” File (particularly when it comes to the automakers around here) is the fact that in the midst of chasing every projected anonymous/electric vehicle avenue out there - both real and imagined – and thinking that they have it goin’ on just by participating in some fashion, the product programs that actually pay the bills are falling further and further behind. Which means that the fundamental operational integrity of this business - product cadence - is getting screwed up. Certain auto companies are leaving big money on the table because they can’t get their key vehicles to market. And once they do, they’re either wrong for current market conditions or criminally late, which is flat-out incomprehensible at this juncture in automotive history.

So alas, “Delusional Hubris” remains a cottage industry in this business, despite the protestations that there has been a “new enlightenment” that has somehow transformed the industry. But the “new enlightenment” is really just classically delusional thinking powered by an even more lethal form of hubris that has been repackaged to look like it’s not really there. But it is present and accounted for and then some. And it’s not likely to change anytime soon, which, needless to say, is unconscionable and a giant bowl of Not Good.

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


ALMOST PERFECT.
by Editor
27 Feb 2018 at 7:39pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it one thousand times in writing this column (for going on nineteen years now), and that is that the advertising business can be one of the most wonderfully creative yet relentlessly infuriating pursuits there is. It can be a wildly exhilarating ride one minute, and have you mining the depths of despair the next. And taking into account the particular genre of automotive advertising, which is an entirely jaundiced subset all its own, you can easily multiply the entire list of negative mitigating factors times one hundred.

What makes the automotive category in advertising so extra special, or excruciating? It’s a kaleidoscope of factors, really. First, you have relentlessly paranoid clients with varying degrees of talent, capability and understanding. Some clients assigned to the automotive discipline are experienced and even qualified with meaningful marketing and advertising experience, while others have been simply thrust into the role due to a promotion, or a “seasoning” assignment. 

As you might imagine, at its worst, this wild disparity in qualifications and capabilities can be a nightmare, with people weighing in on strategic direction and creative ideas and executions blissfully devoid of a cohesive thought or a halfway coherent rationale. I once had a client who had been freshly parachuted in from the Midwest region, and who overnight was tasked with making critical decisions on multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns, tell me - with a straight face no less - that, “I know what good advertising is, because I watch a lot of TV.” Needless to say, that agency/client relationship didn’t get off to an auspicious start.

What I am trying to convey here is that the Sturm und Drang behind the advertising you see on TV or on the Internet is considerable, and it is exceedingly difficult to get a creative idea through the gauntlet of too many cooks, misguided (and unwelcome) input that’s politically tainted within an organization, and my personal favorite – territorial agendas – and have it remain basically intact, still impactful, emotionally compelling and memorable. That’s why when we actually see an ad out there that is emotionally compelling and memorable, it is worth talking about and celebrating. 

Which brings me to recently new Ford advertising work called “We The People” that first landed in 60 sec. form on a wide range of media outlets. This high concept spot has a lot going for it. It is beautifully filmed, with authentic scenes that resonate, and the soundtrack is unobtrusive yet provides a fitting context throughout. And as a former copywriter I appreciate the artful beauty of the words, because they resonate without being preachy in any way.  At least until the end…

We the people

Are defined by the things we share

And the ones we love

Our book clubs

Our tee times

The moments… we don’t have to say a word.

We the people

Who mess with each other’s heads

And have each other’s backs

Who have songs and food and kids

Helping, hoping… and dreaming

Who never stop wondering what we’ll do, or where we’ll go next

We the people, who are better together than we are alone… are unstoppable.

Up until that point the spot is almost perfect… if it had only ended there. But then the voiceover lands this last line – at 56 sec. in – with a thud:

Welcome to the entirely new Expedition.

Had this spot been a high-concept image spot for Ford, with multiple Ford vehicles used throughout, I would have deleted the “almost” from the headline of this column, because it would have been heroic and perfect, and exactly the kind of spot that has been so badly needed from Ford for a long, long time. But no, the Expedition was used throughout, and Ford wanted to make sure we were reminded, not the least bit subtly I might add, of that fact at the end. By ending it that way, the impressive look, feel and overall tone of the spot was brought to a screeching halt. (You can watch the spot here – WG)

I get the fact that so-called “image” spots are anathema for most automotive marketers, especially with the two Detroit-based, domestic automakers left. Marketers think they’re a waste of money because they cost too much and give the product short shrift. And dealers have trouble with any spot that isn't "moving the metal," and besides, it’s extremely difficult to cut image ads down to 30 sec. in order to tout lease and financing specials, so they rarely get the green light. 

I should remind everyone that FCA doesn’t seem to have that problem, however, because CMO Olivier Francois understands the powerful potential of well-executed “image” spots better than any other automotive marketer out there, and he hits more often than he doesn't, but then again he is a rarity in the automotive marketing field.

I wasn’t privy to Ford marketers’ thinking on “We The People,” but to me it was a missed opportunity. It wouldn’t be hard at all to go shoot some new scenes using additional vehicles, and then re-cut the spot into a proper 60 sec. image spot for the Ford Motor Company.

Then I would change my assessment from “Almost Perfect” to Dead. Solid. Perfect.

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


BEATING A DEAD (FLYING) HORSE.
by Editor
20 Feb 2018 at 10:35am

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away I actually had high hopes for the Genesis luxury brand from Hyundai, because the stars seemed to be lining up in its favor. The fledgling luxury brand had the deep resources of Hyundai behind it, and, to the company’s credit, it had gone out of its way to hire some of the best and brightest automotive talent available in the business. This seemed to demonstrate that Hyundai finally had the desire to play the luxury game properly, understanding that it would not only take considerable amounts of cash to fund the effort, but that it would require a fundamental fortitude in order to compete at the highest level over the long haul, which it had not yet demonstrated up until this point. 

So this, by Hyundai’s account anyway, was truly a brand-new day, and Genesis would become a force to be reckoned with in the luxury business in no time. And if you had seen any of the PGA’s Genesis Open from the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles over the weekend, you might have gotten the impression that Genesis is a real live luxury brand, with endless – and tediously repetitive – TV commercials to prove it, demonstrating its mettle, stating its purpose and offering its qualifications as a genuine automotive luxury brand to ConsumerVille.

But the requisite product look and features brought to life by slick TV commercials aren’t what they seem in this case, and if you dig a little deeper you will come to understand that Genesis is a brand in chaos, with a retail component that is in complete disarray. I’m not going to regurgitate all of the gory details here, but suffice to say Hyundai officials at first decided that Genesis would be sold at top-performing dealerships instead of going the all-new brick-and-mortar route, like Lexus did when it started here. But there were complications, starting with the fact that Hyundai already had a Genesis model in place at its dealerships. In typical fashion, Hyundai operatives decided to flip a switch and introduce the new Genesis division while its dealers still had the “old” Genesis model on their lots. (And let’s not forget that their previous top luxury model, the Equus, was still hanging around, which only added to the confusion.)

So, let’s review, shall we? The model previously known as Genesis became the new Genesis G80, while the top-line Equus would now become the Genesis G90. Capisce? If you think that sounds kind of confusing, you’re absolutely right, and Genesis sales – and the Hyundai dealers selling the new brand – suffered. The launch of the new Genesis brand was an unmitigated disaster, with piddling sales and only sporadic interest from consumers. 

What was the problem? Were the cars worthy? Yes, given the parameters needed to play the luxury game the cars came heavily equipped in standard form, were well executed, and cost thousands less than comparable entries from BMW, Mercedes and Lexus, especially the top-line G90. But it wasn’t enough. Why? Hyundai operatives have a long, dismal history of deciding how things will go for them in whichever segments they choose to play in and believing that they will automatically succeed, because a.) They want it to be that way and besides, b.) How could it possibly be anything otherwise? It’s that ugly “we’ll just flip a switch” mentality that rears its head every time with anything having to do with Hyundai. There’s this steadfast belief among Hyundai operatives that suggests that they’re the smartest guys in the room, and that they will not fail. And when they do, the executives in place – usually Americans – are jettisoned for not delivering unrealistic goals and assorted pipe dreams.

So back to the current chaos being unleashed behind the scenes with Genesis. Now, Hyundai operatives have decided that they do want separate Genesis showrooms, so they’re going around the country taking the Genesis franchise back from dealers in order to have a much smaller, more exclusive and more luxurious footprint for Genesis. That’s all well and good, but the proven reality for any launch of a brand – luxury or otherwise – is that you have a window of twelve to eighteen months to get it right. That means you have to decide on the image that you want to convey and then you have to demonstrate a focused consistency throughout the launch, making sure every last detail is accounted for. And since Hyundai has been stumbling around for going on three years poisoning the launch of the Genesis brand with its fits and starts and focused inconsistency, it has most decidedly blown its window of opportunity.

When I perused the Genesis website the company takes great pains to put their “Vision and Mission” for the brand in prominent position. It states the following:

We strive to create the finest automobiles and related products/services for connoisseurs around the globe. Our team of talented individuals around the world is led by our company’s values, where respect for one another in the quest of finding the best solutions for refined individuality dominates our work ethos.

Yes, of course, you could plaster those words on any luxury automaker’s website, but in this specific case they ring hollow. Connoisseurs around the globe? Please. And spare us the regurgitation of company values, because clearly the Hyundai work ethos counts for absolutely nothing at this point.

Hubris, arrogance and serial incompetence have defined the Hyundai modus operandi for so long that I’ve lost track. They operate in this vacuous netherworld of two steps forward and five back, and yet they insist on singing the “we got it goin’ on” song to themselves in a aria that is relentlessly off-key and stale. That Hyundai operatives have blown the launch and now re-launch of the Genesis brand was surprising only in its scope and its rapid descent into mediocrity.

I am reminded of those ominous words of narration by Joe Pesci’s character – Nicky Santoro – in “Casino.” I’m paraphrasing him here, but I can imagine Hyundai operatives sitting around a conference room table right now saying, reluctantly: “We fucked it all up.”

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


BRAND SPANKING.
by Editor
13 Feb 2018 at 1:49pm

By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. Navigating the shoals in the automotive marketing game is a full-time and often thankless task. Beyond the enormous complexity involved with the fundamentals of launching an automotive brand, nurturing a brand over time is extremely difficult, as several factors often conspire to blow up even the most solid marketing plans.

Those factors include roller-coaster market conditions, the economy, a particular product cadence (or lack thereof), the efficacy of the product itself, and my perennial favorite: serial incompetence. Any one of those factors can derail even the most competitive products in the market, but if all of those factors somehow come together at once, it can prove to be disastrous.

There are a few brands right now that are wrestling with their very reason for being. Some have been floundering for a long time and are looking for a serious boost, some have achieved hollow success through questionable means, and some are just flat-out clueless and searching for brand relief any way they can get it. 

Let’s start with Nissan. The Japanese brand that roared into the U.S. market as Datsun and achieved notable success with some feisty products and one of the all-time great advertising themes – “We Are Driven” – (they never should have changed the name to Nissan, by the way, but that’s another column) lost its way in a big way when Carlos Ghosn put his spurs into the brand. 

One of the most overrated executives in the auto business, Ghosn pushed U.S. Nissan dealers into a churn-and-burn frenzy in order to achieve absurd sales targets and market share, and consequently the Nissan brand was degraded to the point that Nissan dealers became the Beacon of Hope for subsidized payment shoppers, aka “How much is that Altima a month?”

Just this week, in an interview that appeared in Automotive News, Nissan Motor Co. CEO Hiroto Saikawa lamented the fact that Nissan’s “M.O.” of massive incentives and fleet sales in order to meet Ghosn’s overly optimistic sales and market share targets had taken its toll on the Nissan brand, resulting in diminished brand value and reduced profitability.  

Gee, who would have thunk it? That’s only the biggest “Duh” of this or any other year. Nissan has been going down this road for years, thanks to Ghosn, and now the new guy tasked with revitalizing the brand has his work cut out for him.

Saikawa told Automotive News that he is giving Denis Le Vot, the Frenchman from Renault who took over as chairman of North America just one month ago a couple of months to come up with a plan so that Nissan can begin implementing short-term and midterm fixes in the fiscal year starting April 1.

"We have to first improve the brand value and profitability," Saikawa told Automotive News last week after Nissan reported that operating profit plunged 50 percent in the last three months of 2017. "Hopefully, we will be able to reach a very solid point in two years. This is the first mission for the new chairman."

Except what does Nissan stand for, exactly? Technology? No, the democratization of technology has absolutely swallowed this business whole, and Nissan’s ability to differentiate itself in that area is simply a fool’s errand. How about engineering expertise? Again, no, and that’s thanks to Carlos Ghosn’s relentless commoditization of the brand. No, what Nissan stands for now is ridiculously cheap payments – especially on the Rogue and Altima – and that’s pretty much it. Ghosn’s “churn-and-burn” strategy has been a complete disaster for Nissan in this market.

It sounds like Mr. Saikawa actually believes that there is a giant switch that can be flipped in order to jack up brand value and profitability by reducing incentives and fleet sales. And that it can all happen in two years. But I have news for the brain trust at Nissan headquarters: the negativity associated with Nissan’s obsession for pushing massive incentives wasn’t something that happened overnight. It has been going on for years and it has absolutely killed the brand’s value. In fact, I would venture to say that Nissan’s brand value is simply nonexistent at this point. 

What’s the short-term solution for Nissan? There isn’t one. It’s a long-term strategy that must revolve around building and selling outstanding products, and then increased brand value (and the much-desired resale value to go along with it) should be the ultimate result. But it’s clear to me that Nissan executives are delusional about the time it will take to move the needle, and that’s a giant bowl of Not Good.

Then there’s Kia. It’s no secret that the brand has been floundering. It has too many models that are basically indistinguishable from equivalent Hyundai models, and its brand image is somewhere between “How much is that a month” and “It’s a good buy for what you get.” Not exactly enough to hang your hat on in today’s cutthroat marketing world. 

But now Kia is out to change all of that. And to do that they’ve put all of their marketing eggs – and borrowed a bunch more to boot – toward the launch of its new Stinger sports sedan. Now, it’s not a shock to see the fanboys in the automotive media positively gush over the Stinger, because the overriding tendency for them is that anything new is better, and the latest is always greatest. So the Stinger is the here and now, at least for now.

Does the Stinger seem noteworthy? In some respects, yes, its suite of performance ingredients qualify and its specs seem substantive, although its exterior design is painfully derivative and nothing to write home about. Kia management operatives, however, believe that the Stinger has the elusive magic beans and will usher the brand into The Light of All That Is Wonderful and Good when it comes to automotive marketing, and that it’s the company’s ticket to a completely new elevated stratum for the brand. 

Really? That’s a lot, even if the Stinger were a testament to glorious autodom, which it decidedly isn’t.

A decent effort, yes, but the cold, ugly reality for the Stinger is that it exists in its own hermetically sealed vacuum within Kia, and because of that it can’t possibly carry the water for the brand. Can we expect that from this day forward all new Kia models will have a little bit of Stinger in them like a true “halo” marketing plan is supposed to work? Uh, how about no? Because in order to do that Kia operatives would have to completely alter the course of the brand going forward, ripping up existing product plans as they go. And I don’t see that happening, because until further notice the Stinger is a one-off in the Kia brand portfolio, an island unto itself, and it’s going to stay that way no matter how much Kia operatives believe that they have stumbled across the Holy Grail.

There’s that “flipping the switch” thing again. Marketers in this business have an inherent belief that they can change course with impunity and that things will work out in their favor. I appreciate the optimism but it’s remarkably naïve. If Kia really wanted to change course, it would embark on a ten-year plan to transform the brand, but that’s a laughable notion, especially given the utter lack of patience Kia executives have demonstrated in the past.

And then, there’s Subaru. This month, the Japanese brand is celebrating 50 years of selling vehicles in the U.S. To say that the brand’s success has been meteoric really isn’t accurate. Its growth has been slow but steady, and it has nurtured its brand and its customers along the way with impressive products and an unfailing consistency in messaging. And the dividends are piling up, with Subaru accruing a mountain of good will and increased sales that aren’t in danger of cooling off anytime soon. 

Perhaps the other two aforementioned auto brands should pay attention to what Subaru is doing, because it’s simply how it’s done when it comes to automotive marketing. 

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



Newsfeed display by CaRP

Updated:Weekly by RSS Feed Automatically