No. 951
June 20, 2018
 

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


Monday
Jun182018

CHASING THE NEW GHOSTS OF MOBILITY, DETROIT FACES AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE.

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. We’re living in the midst of strange days here. The once-vaunted Motor City, which has been up and down again and again, is now on one of its upward trajectories. And this time it looks like it’s going to stick around for a while. 

All is sweetness and light of late, with top-down investments into new and rehabbed buildings and new living spaces unfurling at a furious rate. Every day it seems that new investments are being touted, with the latest high-visibility project being Ford’s purchase of the Michigan Central Station, the long-abandoned architectural gem in Corktown that has been dormant for decades. 

Ford wants to turn it into a center for advanced innovation in the hopes that it will attract the young and the brightest to come work for the company on its Autonomous, AI and future mobility projects. And it is all good. Or so it seems, anyway.

But even if the prevailing winds seem overwhelmingly positive at this juncture, there’s always a ghostlike reality hovering over the proceedings around here. Yes, the investment is real and seemingly endless, but the downside of it is there for all to see. 

Dan Gilbert (the Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures Gajillionaire and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers) is on a quest to be Master of All Things in Detroit, while he accumulates huge chunks of the city’s real estate. Yes, it’s all wonderful, except that anyone who believes this is some altruistic nod to the gods of righteous decency is kidding themselves. Repeat after me: in case you’re wondering, he’s doing it for the money. The sudden explosion in Gilbert’s real estate investments in the city has caused rents to skyrocket, and long-term stores, shop owners and restaurants have been driven from the city, unable to keep up. You can just feel the pendulum already beginning to slow as you read this, and when it swings back it’s going to leave a lot of people in the lurch, especially the newly-minted condo owners who jumped in at the high end with both feet.

Then there’s the $150 million, 3.1-mile QLine, a light rail train to nowhere. That this project was a quintessential waste of time and money can’t be disputed, in fact it’s the poster child of how this latest Detroit renaissance can be borderline irresponsible. A little over a year into its existence the lingering question remains, as in why? It’s so slow it’s glacier-like, it impedes traffic without offering any real reason for being, and it doesn’t offer anything more than a mildly amusing diversion. Except that gigantic number for building it is flat-out criminal, because it would have been much more useful had that cash been applied to the glaring infrastructure problems that continue to plague this city. Detroit would have been better off sponsoring the building of a giant Ferris wheel, at least there’d be a view of something.

And it’s about all of this top-down investment happening right now. I use the term “top-down” because that’s exactly what it is. New projects are being built to attract younger workers and technically hip businesses to the city. In turn housing is being added and the city is lively again, or so it seems. But the real problems facing this city have not been addressed. Year after year the school system is an abject embarrassment, churning out students who are, to put it mildly, ill-prepared for the real world. And the abhorrent crime continues, a dismal daily cadence of atrocities that no glowing headlines about a city allegedly on the move can conceal. 

Before I believe in yet another renaissance for this city, I will have to see it happening from the bottom up. That means infrastructures will have to be rebuilt, schools will have to become relevant, and the hopelessness that breeds crime will have to be addressed. And then all the glittery hype of The New Emerald City could be the cherry on top of a solid foundation.

Along with this municipal rejuvenation, the collective “Detroit” and its headlong rush into transforming itself from the Motor City into the Mobility City is the other Big Story. Ford and General Motors in particular are spending money on mobility – no matter what form it takes - like college kids on a drunken bender. 

Why, you might ask? Because “Detroit” collectively doesn’t want to be left at the gate of the new mobility revolution, whatever that is. And it’s a noble notion to be sure. Detroit doesn’t want to cede its 120 years of transportation leadership to any other entity, especially to the Used-to-be-Masters of the Universe out in Silicon Valley, because it’s anathema to their very existence.

But therein lies the conundrum. Detroit is chasing the New Ghosts of Mobility, running after so many projects – both real and imagined – at such a dizzying rate that it’s beginning to feel forced, and more than a little dangerous. 

Perhaps ominous might be the better word. Detroit is rushing to be a part of a movement that ultimately will destroy its raison d’etre. Every calculated move Detroit is making right now is based on the belief that the future lies in the planned obsolescence of its existence. And Detroit steadfastly believes that it can monetize this new mobility – from electric bicycles to autonomous balsa wood smiley cars – to the degree that untold profits will be automatic and considerable.

I’m not buying it. But the frequency of the “bunny rabbit and rainbow” pronouncements about the New Mobility emanating from Detroit PR operatives on a daily basis are begging us to think otherwise. Based on these communiqués you would think that the time-honored and classically Detroit doctrine of “it won’t be long now” was not only alive and well but thriving. 

And that may be the most ominous development of all.

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