January 9, 2013
Editor-in-Chief's Note (Posted 1/13, 9:30 p.m.): Well, the new Corvette was finally unveiled tonight in a warehouse in Detroit, or should I say, the new Corvette Stingray, in a return of the iconic name. According to the release, "Chevrolet is redefining modern performance with today’s debut of the all-new Corvette Stingray. And only a Corvette with the perfect balance of technology, design and performance can wear the iconic Stingray designation." The most powerful standard Corvette ever, the new Stingray's 6.2L, direct-injected LT1 V-8 has Active Fuel Management, continuously variable valve timing and an advanced combustion system that delivers an estimated 450 horsepower (335 kW) and 450 lb.-ft. of torque (610 Nm) and is expected to accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than four seconds and achieve more than 1g in cornering grip. It is also expected to be the most fuel-efficient Corvette, exceeding the EPA-estimated 26 mpg of the current model. “Like the ’63 Sting Ray, the best Corvettes embodied performance leadership, delivering cutting-edge technologies, breathtaking design and awe-inspiring driving experiences,” said General Motors North America President Mark Reuss. “The all-new Corvette goes farther than ever, thanks to today’s advancements in design, technology and engineering.” The new Corvette Stingray will be built at GM’s Bowling Green, Ky., assembly plant, which underwent a $131-million upgrade, including approximately $52 million for a new body shop to manufacture the aluminum frame in-house for the first time. “We believe the Corvette represents the future of modern performance cars because it delivers more power, more driving excitement and better fuel efficiency,” said Tadge Juechter, Corvette chief engineer. “The result is better performance by every measure. The 2014 Corvette delivers the fastest acceleration, the most cornering grip, the most track capability, the best braking performance and what we expect to be the best fuel economy ever for a standard Corvette.” Ed Welburn, GM vice president of global design, had this to say: “Stingray is one of the hallowed names in automotive history. We knew we couldn’t use the Stingray name unless the new car truly lived up to the legacy. The result is a new Corvette Stingray that breaks from tradition, while remaining instantly recognizable as a Corvette the world over.” The 2014 Corvette Stingray coupe goes on sale in the third quarter of 2013. My take? Needless to say, the Corvette faithful should be pleased. I'm not convinced it's the most alluring expression of Corvette as a design statement, and as a matter of fact I'm disappointed in some aspects of it, but I will have more comments later in this week's issue covering the Detroit Auto Show. - PMD
On the eve of another Detroit Auto Show the industry is predictably poised for… more of the same.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 1/7, 4:15 p.m.) Detroit. I mentioned before the break that the auto business is such a target-rich environment of hucksters, accidental tourists, clueless practitioners, misguided bozos and relentless disappointments that if it weren’t for the True Believers it would really get depressing. Did anything happen over the break to change that assessment? No, of course not.
But still, on the eve of another Detroit Auto Show (just a reminder, we refuse to use the term “North American International Auto Show” around here because it’s just plain silly), it remains to be seen if anybody at the assembled car companies has learned anything of note over the past twelve months. I fully expect that they will show up at Cobo Hall as in years past, undaunted (and unburdened from having any real perspective), glowing like pinstripe-suited windup dolls capable of only uttering the same old tired blather while pretending they actually have it goin’ on.
What will the assembled media and hangers-on hear next week during the annual media days, or should it be daze? Well, I can assure you there will be nothing earth shattering. There will be some dynamic car introductions to be sure, of course – with the unveiling of the seventh-generation Corvette towering over all other intros – but will there be any real sense that the business is moving dramatically forward?
I seriously doubt it.
I’m not talking sales numbers here, because those seem to be on an upward trajectory. I’m talking context awareness, as in, are these car companies and their executives proactively running ahead of the curve, or are they letting the business just come to them? Do they really get the big picture and have a true vision for their companies and brands, or are they mired in the short-term braggadocio that comes with market share prognostications?
I can assure you that every single auto executive who gets up before the gathered media will project that their sales and corresponding market share will be noticeably up for the coming year, even though it’s impossible for everyone to be up by double-digit percentages. There are winners and losers every year in the auto biz, but you’ll be hard-pressed to notice it inside Cobo Hall next week, because during media days everyone is a winner, and there are never dark clouds on the horizon, at least none that anyone will admit to. Not to worry, there is always an air of the Emperor’s New Clothes wafting about Cobo, as it’s usually quite easy to see through the Fog of Relentless Bullshit generated by the PR wranglers.
So next week we’ll hear Japanese car company executives predictably insist that they have learned from their mistakes and that it’s a whole new ballgame and that they will be focused, competitive and responsive to their customers needs and wants. And then they’ll trot out examples of their alleged “enlightened” perspective in a series of new cars and concepts that put everyone to sleep.
The German car company executives will engage in subtle putdowns of their luxury segment competitors in their speeches while dismissing everyone else, with each insisting that it will only be a matter of time before their particular company will rule the automotive world in 2013, with a heavy dose of the dreaded OGCCESR (Obligatory German Car Company Executive Statistical Regurgitation) thrown in for good measure. I could write their speeches for them right now. And you could plug in Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche executives’ names interchangeably. But the German auto executives are oddly comforting in their rigid predictability. After all, if we didn’t have them the media days would be devoid of humor entirely.
You might expect that the Korean manufacturers would and should adopt a new tone of humility after their recent EPA fuel economy numbers fiasco, but I don’t expect that to be the case. I think instead that they will be there in full bluster mode as if nothing untoward happened, because that’s really the only way they know how to go about it. Their unbridled arrogance is strangely comforting as well. Sort of like German Car Company Lite.
The two American car companies will bring their own brand of overwrought PR wrangling with them. GM will showcase the new Chevrolet Corvette and its Cadillac division will debut its extended-range electric – the ELR – and its new pickup trucks from Chevy and GMC – so the company won’t be lacking in legitimate buzz-worthy topics. And there may even be a surprise too. But the executive speeches will dwell on The Future, and how GM shouldn’t be judged until mid-year 2014, when the full depth and breadth of its product invigoration will be in full bloom. But in a business where you’re judged on your last hit and with everyone looking at their watches, who has that kind of time?
I also expect that there will be a clear demarcation on display between what GM’s True Believers are delivering on the product side, and what tone CEO Dan Akerson has set for the company. Akerson is a suit who wants the company out from under government control so he can get his money out before he leaves in a year. The product is inconsequential in all of it as far as he’s concerned, and the maniacal cost-cutting going on behind the scenes at GM right now – specifically on one of its most visible future programs that can least afford it – is testament to that fact.
The only difference between what Akerson is doing with GM and what the carpetbaggers from Cerberus did with Chrysler is the M.O. and The End Game. Cerberus quickly gave up pretending that their motives were anything but mercenary and they ran Chrysler into the ground. Akerson and his Telecommie cronies are still operating under the assumption that they’re the smartest guys in the room and they’re doing what’s best for the company, that if it wasn’t for their brilliance GM would be gone. It’s a sad reality.
Ford on the other hand has hot products galore right now but getting them on the ground and delivering them in a timely manner devoid of glitches and bad PR spikes has become a real problem. It simply can’t continue.
The company is readying an F-150 concept for next week’s show that will telegraph the direction of the next-generation of its all-conquering F-150 pickup. The vehicle is said to be dramatically lighter with corresponding improvements in fuel economy numbers to match. We’ll see.
And then there’s Lincoln. Ford will show a smaller CUV concept for Lincoln utilizing the Escape underpinnings. It’s desperately needed, because the launch of the MKZ isn’t going to be enough to sustain Lincoln in the market. Is this the year Lincoln finally unveils a proper rear-wheel-drive concept that points to the direction of the next Continental? And will it be a true Lincoln for the hardcore aficionados who are clamoring for it? We’ll see about that too.
In the meantime Ford has another crisis in confidence simmering in its in-car customer interface. I believe the name “MyFord Touch” has become polarizing and a negative. I’m beginning to think that no matter how much Ford perfects its system there’s such a pall of negativity associated with the name that the bad mouthing will follow it around like a black cloud. Ford should maximize its SYNC name and move on and away from the MyFord Touch moniker, but then again internal inertia and festering fiefdoms can strangle car companies, and Ford is no exception.
And then, of course, there are the Italians. The sober realities of Marchionne’s “miracle” will be on display for the Italian automaker, and that is simply that Fiat-Chrysler’s profits are coming from Jeeps and pickups, which is the same as it ever was for the Auburn Hills-based automaker when you really think about it. So we will see new money-making opportunities on display for the Jeep brand, you can count on that. Everything else is just window dressing, as is Sergio’s idea that the global rejuvenation/resurrection of Fiat-Chrysler will come on the back of a reborn Alfa Romeo. As if.
So no, I’m not expecting any earth-shattering revelations down at Cobo Hall. The industry doesn’t really work that way. For once I’d like to see an executive go off of the rails and veer far, far away from the teleprompter and say something meaningful that’s actually from the heart and not some canned orchestration by the PR minions.
Yeah, like that would ever happen.
But then again what else is there to do in January in Detroit? And besides, a new Corvette is right around the corner, and that’s a very, very good thing.
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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