No. 1014
September 18, 2019
 

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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Monday
Oct102011

THE AUTOEXTREMIST

October 12, 2011

 

The Deal on Detroit.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 10/10, 1:00 p.m.) Detroit. I’d like to welcome all of you grandstanders out there in the national media who have decided it is time to “rediscover” Detroit. The ones who took great pleasure in dismissing this town as a carcass of a city when we were down and desperate, and writing off an entire region for being associated with one of America’s founding industries, as if that was a horrific, unforgivable sin. Yeah, you know who you are.

And while I’m at it, welcome to all the grandstanding politicians, the ones who crucified the homegrown U.S. auto industry just a few years ago, egregiously blaming the automobile and the auto industry for all of the cumulative ills – both real and imagined – of this nation, and barely concealing your contempt for the auto industry and the town and the state that harbor it. Weren’t you the same scumbag politicians who conducted that “witch hunt” masquerading as congressional hearings just three years ago? The ones who are now vigorously courting our votes as if none of that nightmare occurred? Yeah, I thought so.

Well, well, well, things are a bit different now, aren’t they? Or are they?

The reality is, unfortunately, that things are really not all that different here, despite what the cover stories in Sports Illustrated and USA Today would have you believe, and the growing number of favorable articles in The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times with like-minded slants that are beginning to appear right now.

Before these upbeat stories start painting a picture that isn’t quite accurate, let me explain a few things about this town and our MO before we get buried in gaudy, overly upbeat stories that just aren’t true.

First of all, is this a sports town? Oh, hell yes, and that has been well documented. We suffer with and cheer our beloved Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons with as much fervor as any other town wearing the “sports town” moniker. And yes, that means all the usual suspects like Boston, Chicago, New York, et al. We’re just as rabid, if not more so, than any other big league sports town in America.

We’ve dubbed ourselves “Hockey Town” (and accurately, I might add) for our beloved Red Wings, the perennial NHL champions who are now officially long overdue for another Stanley Cup. We love our Tigers more than life itself, and to have them in the ALCS is like an elixir to this city that just cannot be put into words. We’ve seen championships with the Pistons, who are down and have been down for quite a while, but who can rise again with the right mix of mojo and gumption, we just know it.

But if there was ever a city that is a football town in a football-mad state, make no mistake Detroit is it, and the rejuvenated Lions say more about the mental state of this town than any other franchise. Long forgotten as perennial contenders and champions in the glory years of the 50s, the Lions are the guts and fabric of this city. And the long strange trip in the desert that the team and its fans have endured, which produced monumentally embarrassing bouts of futility, including the now infamous 0-16 debacle of a season just three years ago, is starting to recede from view.

Make no mistake, the Lions are rebuilt and real, and the fervor surrounding their initial season success is palpable everywhere you go here. So go on and write about these Lions, because this team more than any other franchise speaks for this city and perfectly defines our mood. As in, we’ve been down and spit-on and dragged through the mud for years, just like the Lions, but we’re all here to say “enough” and that we’re fighting back with everything we’ve got.

But the current sports mania is only part of this town’s story, and I’m afraid a lot of these articles being written about “Detroit Rising” are glossing over too many things and missing some crucial points.

And now, on to the unpopular part of this column...

First up for scrutiny is “the union thing” that has defined the auto industry, this town and this state for far too long. I’ve been nauseated by all of the articles – especially by some of the “homers” in our local media – who are hailing this latest round of bargaining between the UAW and Ford, GM and the Italian-owned Chrysler as signifying a “new day” and a new era of cooperation between labor and industry.

It’s not accurate and it’s just flat-out wrong.

This latest bout of bargaining was simply marked by agreements of convenience between two factions that had little to go on other than that they couldn’t go back and pretend that things would ever be the way they were again and that accommodations had to be made. That was it.

Enlightenment? Please. UAW chief honcho Bob King and his merry minions were still throwing out the same hoary rhetoric that has marked the UAW from Day One, and it was just as tedious and relentlessly stupid as it always has been. And for King to adhere to his promise that he will organize the transplant factories doing business in other parts of the U.S., which are owned and operated by the import manufacturers, is ridiculous and destroys any credibility he has, which admittedly wasn’t much to begin with.

So before these stories from the national media gloss over things too much and hail the new “spirit of cooperation” between the UAW and the Detroit-based automakers, they should take a moment to understand the ugly reality of the union movement in this town and what it has cost this state and this region over the last 40 years.

Was this UAW needed once upon a time in America? Certainly, but that was long ago. In subsequent years the UAW became the purveyors of calculated entitlement, and this famously corrosive mentality has spread throughout local governments, to subsidiary industries supplying the auto companies, to the educational system, to basically every facet of life in this town and this region and this state, and it has absolutely devastated everything it has come in contact with.

Example No. 1? The ugly reality is that what passes for government in the City of Detroit is a cesspool of entitlement, and mayor Dave Bing is trying his damnedest to rectify it and point the city in a new direction, but this is a disease that was put into play by former mayor Coleman Young 35 years ago and fueled by our esteemed ex-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his rampant thuggery and posse of out-and-out crooks.  And by a relentlessly incompetent City Council that has spread its virulent strain of ill-will and “what’s in it for me” slackerdom throughout the system to the point that it’s a city government paralyzed by indifference and a woeful “I don’t give a shit” attitude that has basically slammed the door shut on meaningful progress at every juncture.

But you won’t be reading about this in the most recent glossy articles about “the upward trajectory of Detroit,” I will guarantee you that. Because it’s much easier to write about the signs of life in the city, which admittedly are there, but at the same time conveniently fail to deal with the core of the problems that might actually be able to set this region in the right direction permanently. Oh, they might touch upon it a bit, but they won’t give you the ugly truth because well, it is beyond u-g-l-y.

And then there’s the educational system – or what passes for it – in the city of Detroit. An embarrassment that has been wrecked by a stupefying level of corruption that has permeated the system for decades, it is an entity that has been in deep crisis for going on 25 years now, with one of the highest drop-out rates in the country, among other things. It operates in a perpetual state of being “finally fixed” but it is never fixed, racked by “concerned” entities that don’t want things to get better if it means giving up any of the bounty they have extracted from the system due to previous contracts and corrupt deals.

And finally, we have the homegrown auto companies. I founded this website going on 13 years ago on the premise that the Detroit car companies were a seething cauldron of incompetence and that their dubious practices and proclivities – despite the myriad True Believers who were doing their best – would surely lead them to a bad end unless they took steps to fix their stilted “not invented here” thinking and their set-in-their-ways MO. And true to form, things didn’t end well.

The years of absurdly costly union contracts that were agreed upon simply because it was much easier to keep things going than it was to actually deal with the brewing problems finally proved to be too much to bear for what was then the Detroit Three, especially with import competitors that weren’t saddled with the gargantuan cost structure and legacy costs that loomed over the Detroit car companies like a guillotine.

Combine that with a calculated practice of engineering to the lowest common denominator – except for a few bright exceptions – and a steadfast belief that the customer ultimately didn’t matter, and you had a classic recipe for disaster.

And with the economic calamity of 2008, the whole thing came unglued. With Ford on the ropes and GM and Chrysler shuffled-off to bankruptcy, it was the darkest hour in this industry’s history.

Not that any of this is new, but I just wanted to add a bit of reality to the “Detroit is Back!” frenzy going on right now.

The fact of the matter is that the domestic automobile industry is on an upward trajectory, and that means a lot to everyone in this town and it should mean a lot to the rest of the country, even though it definitely doesn’t. A healthy domestic auto industry is key to the overall health of this nation’s industrial fabric, and it’s too bad that people won’t take the time to understand and acknowledge that fact. Because this much I do know: we can’t exist in this world as a crazed Starbucks Nation of consumer zombies alone, this country must produce hard goods and services if it is to survive as a player in the growing global economic fight.

And finally, the last chapter of today’s little reality check concerns the health of Ford, GM and Chrysler. Are they better? Absolutely.

Ford has the best overall management and the unquestioned Leader of Leaders in Alan Mulally. They have a superb product development team in place, savvy marketing and the company’s upcoming product cadence is formidable.

GM is coming into its own after years of being lost in the wilderness, their product cadence is equally impressive and their leadership is starting to coalesce under Dan Akerson. I’ve been tough on Mr. Akerson but I will give him credit for this: he’s pulled back a bit and is listening a lot more, and he has some tremendous talent reporting to him that will continue to make a difference as along as he lets them do their thing.

As for Fiat-Chrysler, despite what everyone is saying the jury is still out. I refuse to genuflect in front of Sergio Marchionne, as I don’t believe that this “Opportunist of the Century” deserves a free pass just for being in the right place, at the tight time, with his hand out when the Obama administration clearly had nowhere else to turn. Every single bit of Chrysler product goodness on the road right now was basically in place long before Marchionne even got there, and I credit Chrysler’s True Believers – the ones who refused to give up despite insurmountable odds – for that. Well done, ladies and gentlemen. Marchionne talks too much, he promises too much (75,000 Alfa Romeos by 2015? Ridiculous). And he’s really got nothing much to show except for the new compact Dodge Hornet that’s slated for next spring. If it’s competitive, let alone a hit in the toughest segment in the U.S. market right now, then this company has a shot. Not at overwhelming success, but survival.

But let's not forget this: at any given moment all of the accumulated gains by this industry could be derailed at any moment if the players lose their focus or if an economic calmity rears its head. It's that fragile.

So that’s the Deal on Detroit on this 10th day of October. Is this a tough town? Unquestionably. Are things on an upward trajectory? If you’re purely looking at the automobile industry that lives here, absolutely. But when looking at the health of the city and its environs, and the deep-rooted problems that plague this city and its educational system, the ones that are preventing this city from doing anything but a dismal two-steps forward, five-back self-defeating dance of "progress," then we indeed have a long, long, long way to go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We know who we are. And we know that the perception isn’t often favorable. And we get that. But still there’s an exuberance and spirit here that no trendy Super Bowl ad can ever capture.

It’s a Detroit thing, or if you must, a Dee-troit thing. And we’re proud of what that means.

As Paul Simon so eloquently put it once in Papa Hobo:

It's carbon and monoxide
The ole Detroit perfume
And it hangs on the highways
In the morning
And it lays you down by noon…
 
Detroit, Detroit
Got a hell of a hockey team
Got a left-handed way
Of making a man sign up on that
Automotive dream, oh yeah...

Mr. Simon probably had no idea as to the truth of what he was writing at least as this town is concerned, but he did manage to stumble upon the state of mind that defines us.

And for the record, tonight on Monday Night Football this town will be rockin’ and our Lions are going to kick some serious ass.

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

 

 

 

See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.

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