No. 926
December 6, 2017
 

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with Autoextremist.com, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  witchhuntbook.com). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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The Autoextremist - Rants


Tuesday
Dec052017

PMD UNPLUGGED.

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Editor’s Note: Peter churns out column after column, week after week, and produces a body of work every year that is simply staggering when you really think about it. But every once in a while I feel it’s a good idea to find out what’s really on Peter’s mind. Not in column form, but through a series of rapid-fire, real-time questions. So I conducted an email interview for a frenzied hour on Tuesday morning (12/6, 7:30 a.m.) and ready or not, here he is, PMD, in his unpluggedness. –WG

Uwe Ellinghaus announced he is leaving his chief marketing position at Cadillac at the end of the year due to “personal reasons.” What do you think about that?

Multiple research surveys have been conducted over the last decade that indicate that the average tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer, no matter what the industry, lasts anywhere from 24 to 30 months, and then they get fired, resign, get another gig, or simply wander off into the dusk and don’t come back. This is not surprising. The burnout factor is extremely high and depending on the internal battles involved, the job can take a tremendous toll. The chief marketing job at Cadillac involves constant travel to Shanghai, so, even though I haven’t spoken to Uwe since the announcement, I would bet that had something to do with it. Uwe is genuine, and a very bright guy. That Johan de Nysschen decided to transform Cadillac into the spitting image of Audi is a strategic direction that I flat-out disagree with, but I do wish Uwe the best.

What are your thoughts about the headlong rush to autonomous vehicles and the insistence by these auto companies – especially GM – and suppliers that they’re poised to make boatloads of cash in The New Mobility Economy?

I am beyond skeptical. First of all, the efficacy of the technology is suspect, because it’s fraught with fundamental issues and recurring problems. Anyone who thinks that a magic switch will be flipped and that we’ll all be suddenly awash in autonomous cars careening around faithfully doing what they’re supposed to do is simply wishful thinking. As for the companies lining up to be a part of The New Mobility Economy by cranking out cars for the masses to be squired around town in, on paper it all sounds good. The reality will be much less than that.

GM is insistent that they will be in the thick of The New Mobility Economy and that they will win. What do you make of this?

GM has been insistent about a lot of things over the years that haven’t panned out. What’s different about this time? They’re talking a good game, with Mary Barra and Dan "I Am" Ammann getting all puffed up about GM’s bullish future but it all remains to be seen. They are making a calculated shift to this “New Mobility Economy” but what they’re really doing is turning GM into a commodity company. And that may not end well for them.

So, what about the future?

Anyone who thinks that the idea – and the freedom – of personal mobility will give way to a blissful national stupor dominated by robo cars is missing the mark. As I’ve said repeatedly, robo cars will have limited use and applications in urban centers, but beyond that this country is going to be moved by personal vehicles that people acquire of their own volition for decades to come.  

And then what?

I do see a “transportation dichotomy” looming. Some manufacturers will completely throw over to building mass-use autonomous cars, while other manufacturers will retain brands – especially luxury brands – for people who want them, because they will remain profitable. I think in the future people will have a “gray” car, meaning an appliance for when they absolutely need one for mundane duty, but they will also continue to seek out real cars that they actually desire to own. The car companies that squander the legacy of their brands will simply disappear into the fog. Take GM for instance. I can see GM management’s judgment being clouded on the bet that obscene profits will come their way through the promised ride-sharing explosion. But that is a recipe for disaster. The smarter automobile companies will identify brands that they absolutely will not relinquish, and then they will continue to nourish them well into the future. I have zero confidence that Barra and Ammann understand that.

And what about electric vehicles?

They’re coming hard and fast. And once the big players start cranking them out we’re going to see 25-30 percent market penetration in no time. But the fact that this country doesn’t have a cohesive plan for a national charging network is a travesty and simply inexcusable. I do think that hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric vehicles will be the ultimate winning technology.

What do you think of these new monthly vehicle subscriptions?

I think it's an interesting way of retaining brand loyalty, except that the prices as they're being quoted now are simply ridiculous. I will be interested in seeing what Lincoln does, as Lincoln executives have promised that their plan will be much more reasonable. A giant "we'll see."

You’ve been relentless in “Fumes” with a series of columns about The Future of Racing. Where do you think it’s going, ultimately?

Racing is in deep trouble. With the manufacturers chasing their tails on myriad mobility options, racing will continue to be pushed down the list of priorities. As I said a few weeks ago, all racing will become “vintage” racing, as the disconnect between what’s going on in our street vehicles and cars used in competition grows by the day. The only hope in all of this is that certain manufacturers will understand that there will be money to be made with high-performance cars and parts for decades to come, and the manufacturers who continue to play in the personal vehicle market will want to be there. 

What about the two very disparate racing series, Formula E and NASCAR?

Formula E is the flavor of the moment but the series is completely devoid of excitement. This just in: The consistent allure of racing since Day One has been the visceral appeal of the sound and the fury. The woefully benign sound signature of a Formula E machine has all the audio appeal of a slot car, as in Not Good. Next year, when Formula E will run their entire races on one full charge (the competitors change cars half-way through the races now), it may become more interesting, but now? No.

As for NASCAR I have nothing good to say about it. It’s a nostalgia racing play and its appeal is fading faster than the Lions’ hopes of making the playoffs. The declining spiral of NASCAR’s popularity is actually accelerating, yet the powers that be in Daytona Beach steadfastly refuse to do anything about it, and NASCAR’s chief enablers – the participating manufacturers – continue to be dupes of Brian France and his inept posse. NASCAR management’s relentless intransigence combined with the litany of repeated mistakes is killing that form of motorsport. It’s up to the participating manufacturers to extract meaningful changes from NASCAR, and that means – at the very minimum – a 25 percent reduction in that death march of a schedule. I’m not holding my breath. 

What do you really think of the Lamborghini Urus, the car we’re featuring in this week’s “On The Table”?

First of all, Lamborghini is my favorite supercar brand. The fact that the VW Group gets it and has actually nourished this brand to new heights is commendable. The SUV/crossover explosion in the market is a wave that shows no signs of abating, so wishing for a return to sanity is a waste of time. And I will say that the design of the Urus is compelling. But does anyone actually need an SUV with 650HP? No, but the Urus definitely is a Lamborghini, and for those out there who don’t want to take their Huracán out on bad days, it’s dead solid perfect.

And finally, you took a series of furious broadsides from a Motor Trend editor - which you agreed not to publish - over last week’s column. Do you have any further thoughts about that?

Not really. As I have said repeatedly, I loathe, detest and abhor any and all automotive “awards.” I think it’s all a load of unmitigated bullshit full of sound and fury signifying nothing. And anyone who actually believes that there isn’t a revenue component to these car awards is simply living in a dreamland. I don’t care how much the editors scrupulously put together their evaluations and vehemently insist that their integrity is unsullied and untainted by the commercialism of it all; the reality is that the marketing and promotion of those awards adds a substantive revenue dimension for the publication. As I said in “On The Table” last week, at the very least the M/T editors are guilty of woefully piss-poor judgment in canonizing a car that doesn't deserve any of the accolades it has been given. And if any of these self-righteous M/T editors bothered to check out even a sample of the comments out in the Internet, they'd realize that M/T's credibility when it comes to the COTY is at the very least highly suspect, if not out and out dismissed as a perennial revenue grab.

On a final note, the winds of change blowing through this industry are ominous and cold. Seasoned, intelligent executives have convinced themselves that they’re on the cusp of a glittering, limitless future that will bury the traditional auto company model within the decade. Some of these executives are going to find out the hard way that their exuberant prognostications are not going to pan out. And because of that, some of the big-name auto companies that have become part of the American fabric will simply disappear. 

As Bob succinctly said, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. 

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