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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Saturday
Dec142013

Captain Queeg blows up real good, Queen Mary gets her shot, Sergio the Great peddles yet another new plan, and the battle royale between the Spineless Weasels and the True Believers continues. You guessed it - it’s time for The Autoextremist Year in Review!

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 12/17, 3:00pm) Detroit. Well, that was special, right? Just when you thought an automobile year couldn’t get any crazier, it most certainly does. And here we thought 2013 would go out quietly. Not. Even. Close.

You would think that after the bankruptcies and the resulting humiliation, the right-sizing, the recriminations, the subsequent rejuvenations, reinventions and the endless reimaginations, this industry would have learned something in the past five years. But no, that would be asking entirely too much, so the craziness continues.

There’s an ongoing war going on in this business and it fundamentally comes down to a battle between the True Believers and Everyone Else.

The True Believers in the various car companies naively assume that everyone is on the same page, that everyone is pulling in the same direction and that everyone cares about the same things they do. And that, unfortunately, couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, these companies are rife with hidden agendas harbored by the hordes of incompetents comprising The Vast Gray Middle (and every other layer) and never the twain shall meet between their narrowly focused, “what’s in it for me?” bleating and the expansive Build Great Cars mantra of the True Believers.

And the glittering kaleidoscope of industry players covering both ends of the spectrum - amazingly enough - is still present and accounted for, too, even after the Great Implosion. There are the Visionary Leaders. The Deep Thinkers. The Blue-Sky Dreamers. The Small-Minded Pinheads. The Dilettantes, the Wannabes and the Pretenders. The Spineless Weasels. The Maliciously Incompetent. The Cover-Your-Ass All-Stars. The Straight Shooters. The Dead. Solid. Perfect. And of course, the True Believers.

This volatile mix of people runs rampant throughout every car company. And it’s the battle royale pitting the Spineless Weasels vs. the True Believers – and how these factions mesh or clash in the pursuit of bringing out products – that ultimately determines the success or failure of a company.

And here you thought it was about just finding the right vehicle that fits your needs, didn’t you?

And the hand-wringing – which is a cottage industry in this business – deserves special mention, because it was taken to a new level this past year as well. Making decisions has become anathema in this business, giving way to a kind of touchy-feely consensus group hug while everyone expresses their feelings.

And the result? Leaders don’t lead – at least not enough – and managers don’t manage and decisions don’t get made. Instead a jump ball is thrown up and major decisions are left in limbo to be fretted about in another meeting.

As a matter of fact, this hand-wringing has become part and parcel of the business now to such an extent that entire meetings are scheduled to accommodate it. And then there are meetings after those meetings, too, specifically reserved for group speculation on what really transpired in the previous hand-wringing session, as in “What did he (or she) mean when he said that?”

This decisional paralysis running rampant throughout the industry is like a double shot of Not Good with room for Pathetic.

Oh well, let’s get on with it, shall we? And please, this column certainly wasn’t meant to be digested in one sitting, but then again, if you must, have at it.

It all started back in January, predictably…

From the “Same As It Ever Was” File. 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. (“On the eve of another Detroit Auto Show the industry is predictably poised for… more of the same.” – January 9, 2013)

For the love of everything Righteous and Holy in the automotive universe, please just shut the hell up and get to the frickin’ point! Thank you. I get the fact that the products need to (and should) do the talking, but after every single manufacturer spent the first ten minutes touting their sales numbers, I felt like yelling out: “We know you’re the greatest thing since automotive sliced bread and we know you’re going to have another great year on top of the phenomenal year you’ve already had and we know your team members are energized and focused and dialed-in and we know, well, that you’re just so damn glad to be alive but please...” (“The Autoextremist take on the Detroit Auto Show: A Ray of Light, Wandering Weasels, Desultory Dreamers, the Scent of a Nissan and a Hyundai named Desire.” – January 16, 2013)

P.T. Barnum called. He wants his circus back. Speaking of MINI, I cannot for the life of me do justice to the sheer chaos going on at the MINI display. There were legions of cars bumping into each other, only a few of which had anything whatsoever to do with the original concept. Come to think of it, what was that concept again? Whatever it was MINI’s overlords at BMW have completely lost it. Their quest to extend the brand has taken a deep and irrevocable turn for the worst. The cars have gone from cute and spirited to clownish and cartoonish. It’s just sad and pathetic in a kind of "The End of the Automotive World As We Know It" kind of way. (“The Autoextremist take on the Detroit Auto Show: A Ray of Light, Wandering Weasels, Desultory Dreamers, the Scent of a Nissan and a Hyundai named Desire.” – January 16, 2013)

You will enjoy the vehicle as presented. Thank you for coming. Porsche introduced its new Cayenne Turbo S without a media conference because they’re smart enough to realize that they didn’t need to waste their time, or ours. We think they may be on to something. Either have something newsworthy to say, or just display your new vehicle and be done with it. (“The Autoextremist take on the Detroit Auto Show: A Ray of Light, Wandering Weasels, Desultory Dreamers, the Scent of a Nissan and a Hyundai named Desire.” – January 16, 2013)

But how is that different from any other day for these guys when it comes right down to it? And of course since the Great and Powerful Oz, I mean, Sergio, can’t get Alfa Romeo off of the ground, he and his espresso-swilling posse have turned their attention to making Maserati into a household luxury brand. Thus all the fuss over the new Quattroporte, which was nice enough, but really? Do you think consumers are going to abandon their German luxury cruisers and go all-in for a Maserati? I think not. Marchionne and his minions have seriously miscalculated the depth and breadth of their brilliance yet again, not to mention the true cost of establishing a luxury brand in this market. (“The Autoextremist take on the Detroit Auto Show: A Ray of Light, Wandering Weasels, Desultory Dreamers, the Scent of a Nissan and a Hyundai named Desire.” – January 16, 2013)

Or as Bill Mitchell would say, “You gotta know when to lift the brush.” Listen, the new Corvette is a great car. The best Corvette ever built by a long shot, with enough advanced technology and cool stuff baked-in to savor for years to come. It will be a sensational performer and it will move the enthusiasts who love them to tears. And the True Believers on the Corvette program who toiled long hours on the C7 should be justifiably proud.
 
But it’s not a great design because it’s overwrought and overthought and overdone. In other words, there’s a point when you have to stop the tweaking and the fussing and the hand-wringing and just stop. And walk away.
 
I just wish they had. (“The Autoextremist take on the Detroit Auto Show: A Ray of Light, Wandering Weasels, Desultory Dreamers, the Scent of a Nissan and a Hyundai named Desire.” – January 16, 2013)

I’ll answer those questions in order: Are you kidding? No. Most everyone. Not Much. Clearing the decks after the Detroit Auto Show is always a good thing to do. After the orchestrated image-wrangling and the obligatory statistics-laden car intro speeches (not to mention the endless pontificating going on in the city at the various pseudo events so desperate for gravitas that it’s almost painful to watch), it’s a good idea to just walk away and go sit in a quiet room somewhere and really think about what just happened. As in, did we really learn anything? As opposed to enduring what qualified as just another expertly rendered smoke-and-mirror session, for starters? And who did the most talking to themselves, as opposed to really showing the assembled multitudes in the media something worth considering or talking about? Better yet, what has really changed in the biz, after all of the strutting and mumbling down at Cobo Hall? (“It’s time for that annual rite of marketing self-flagellation, otherwise known as the Super Bowl.” – January 28, 2013)

WTF? We spent that much and got that? They don't call it the Super Bowl of image wrangling for nothin'. It's the big leagues, folks. And if you've never been a part of it, I can't really do justice to the intensity and the hand wringing that goes on before you see those spots on the game (or the countless pre-game exposures that have now unfortunately become de rigueur). The amount of time, money and sheer effort involved in bringing these commercials to fruition is staggering. That said, the post-mortems can be brutal. A lot of money has been spent. And a lot of "suits" are looking at their watches this morning and asking the hard questions, as in: Was it worth it? Did we get what we wanted? Are the metrics good? Did we get the social media buzz we wanted? Did we move the image needle? (“Image Wrangling at the Super Bowl” – February 4, 2013)

Find New Roads indeed. I remain unmoved that this touchy-feely world we live in – the one filled with shiny happy group hugs and enough politically correct drivel to last us a lifetime – is the one we’re supposed to settle for. I reject the notion that it’s all over but the shouting, that we have to settle for this benign facsimile of advertising that in a hushed, inoffensive voice politely asks us to come along for a ride, instead of lighting our fires and making us all say “Oh hell yes!" And I am also convinced that the current advertising brain trusts at work in agencies across this country can do much better work than what they’re doing right now. Maybe they need to get out from behind their computers and get behind the wheel and drive to nowhere in particular. And experience things in real time instead of depending on YouTube to bring the world to them. Then maybe we’ll get the kind of powerful advertising that actually makes us want to buy a car, or at least gets us excited about the thought of owning one for a change. (“Finding New Roads.” – February 11, 2013)

As you might imagine there are several things at work here, most of them Not Good. BMW launched a new global advertising campaign focused on design and featuring the new BMW 4 Series Coupe with the theme, “Designed For Driving Pleasure” that, according to Andreas-Christoph Hofmann, head of BMW Brand Communications, will do great things. “Our products promise sheer driving pleasure,” he said in the press release. “But the anticipation of what can be experienced with a BMW, begins at first sight. The new campaign showcases the dynamics of design in a surprisingly different way.” If confusion is one way in which marketers get themselves in trouble, delusional thinking is why car company marketers talk themselves into the need for ad campaigns that are supposed to work around the world in a seamless explosion of global kumbaya symmetry. It has reached epidemic proportions, in fact. Why? Because auto manufacturers are confusing vehicle architecture symmetries – the use of fewer, common platforms for global manufacturing efficiency – with a delusional push for the commonality of brand image wrangling. They think a common message will save money. And, guess what? It rarely, if ever, works. Instead they spend more money unwinding campaigns that fall flat in regions around the world because they didn’t translate with the needed impact. (“BMW Marketing, the Ultimate Disappointment Machine.” – February 18, 2013)

It just is and it just does, sort of like an industrial Forrest Gump. Since schools across the country are cycling through mid-winter and even spring breaks, wouldn’t it be nice if the auto industry took a break too? Just came to a screeching halt for a week? Think of all of the rampant mediocrity that could be purged, all of the incessant hand wringing about sales numbers and share that could be dispensed with? And wouldn’t it be nice to be able to take the time, sit back and let the lingering hangovers from two auto shows finally fade into the woodwork, just in time to suit up for Geneva? Yeah, like that would ever happen. In lieu of that, we have the usual rumbling, stumbling machine that encompasses the modern auto industry grinding away, full speed ahead. Where to no one really knows for sure. (You’re up, Mr. Mahoney.” – February 26, 2013)

I’m the Chief Asshole around here and don’t you ever forget it. Not that Akerson would care a damn bit about GM’s marketing moles. Despite the official word intimating that Joel Ewanick was up to no good - conveniently ginned-up by the secretive internal security troops known as Those Who Control Such Things at GM, something akin to The Adjustment Bureau or a rogue element in the College of Cardinals - the real reason he was exited from the company is that Akerson flat didn’t like him. And much of that was due to the fact that Ewanick was front and center in the media – a lot – and when it comes right down to it Akerson doesn’t like it when any GM executive finds him or herself in the media spotlight more than he is. It just doesn’t sit well with him. It pisses him off royally, in fact. (You’re up, Mr. Mahoney.” – February 26, 2013)

Other than that, it’s a swell place to work. GM is made up of warring fiefdoms, sub-fiefdoms and factions, the most glaring of which is Captain Queeg and the GM Board of Directors vs. everybody else in the company. And his agenda – which is rubber-stamped by the most incompetent Board of Directors at work in Corporate America – is a lethal cocktail made up of hubris, delusional thinking and practiced condescension, with the stated goal of returning GM to dominance in the automotive world, or crowning Akerson as the greatest CEO in the free world, whichever comes first. (You’re up, Mr. Mahoney.” – February 26, 2013)

The Autoextremist Bullshit Detector. Yes, it’s the much-whispered-about, often-rumored, highly secretive and devastatingly effective micro-sized device that is embedded in an undisclosed location on my person. It could be in the lapel of my jacket, it could be in the frame of my glasses, or – as often rumored – it just might be a chip that has been inserted in my brain. I will never tell, but I can assure you that it is very much present and accounted for. Featuring two settings – one for unmitigated and the other for unforgivable – it allows me to detect half-baked, delusional and certifiable crazy-town executive speeches from 50 yards away.

In the beginning, long ago and in a galaxy far, far away, when a sense of optimism for the industry still floated in the air like a warm spring breeze, the detector was much more forgiving, with a measure of slack built in that made allowances for the rookies, the relentlessly challenged and the simply overmatched. It even had a special setting for German car company executives, who exist in a parallel universe all their own.

Now? It operates with the precision akin to our most sophisticated unmanned aircraft. Laser-focused and able to detect the worst offenders from across a auto show floor, the AE Bullshit Detector blows up like a Teen Queen’s phone after a romance gone bad. And it’s easy to see why, what with industry executives rumbling, bumbling and stumbling their way through fanciful, delusional speeches filled with hubris and wrapped around promises that can’t possibly be kept. (“Gearing up for the New York Auto Show.” – March 26, 2013)

The Penalty of Leadership is that to lead – really lead - is difficult, all-encompassing and relentlessly never-ending. Setting the tone for the rest of an organization is defining and challenging, but it is absolutely essential in order to maintain the kind of focused consistency that leads to success. There are detractors just itching to knock leaders – and leading companies – off of their lofty status, but true leadership makes withstanding those onslaughts much easier.

Having grown up in this business I have seen talented leaders who have demonstrated acumen for the job that was indeed awe-inspiring to see. Sharp, gifted, energetic and magnetic in their personalities to boot, they inspired people to do their best and to strive for excellence at every possible opportunity. And they’ve never been forgotten, having left indelible marks on this business that will remain historically significant and relevant for generations to come.

And I have seen bad leaders too. Conspicuously awkward, relentlessly arrogant and hopeless in their cluelessness, these people were so maliciously inept that they ground their companies and the people who toiled for them into the ground with a jackbooted certainty that left those companies decimated for years afterward.

And Dan Akerson is one of them.

Smugly arrogant for no reason, steadfast in his refusal to listen to anyone, and relentlessly dismissive of this business and the people who bring value to it, this guy is the very definition of bad leadership. An unctuous prick of stupendous proportion, Akerson’s merciless Reign of Terror at the helm of General Motors will be written about in the media and studied in business schools for years to come as the quintessential definition of how it’s not done.(“The Penalty of (Bad) Leadership.” – April 15, 2013)

Oh, if it were that easy. The key word here for Mr. Toyoda is aspirational, which has become the hottest word in auto company marketing circles, especially for the assorted brand champions who aren’t even close to having a whiff of understanding what it really means. He wants Lexus to become a brand that people aspire to, which is exactly the same thing that everyone else is saying to themselves at the other car companies. I can tell you what this talk sounds like in the marketing department at your average Belchfire Motors (feel free to insert your favorite car company here): “We want to be hot. We want to be hip. We want to be the brand that everyone talks about first. And we want to be different from all the rest. We want consumers to love us, not because we’re eminently likable, but because we do it better than anyone else.” (“In search of a magically hip bullet (again).” – April 23, 2013)

A funny thing happened on the way to Sergio’s burgeoning sainthood. People - and the computer screen-stained vampires in our esteemed media, of course - like to get all upset about the bailout of General Motors and love using the pejorative term, “Government Motors.” But the bottom line in this discussion is that what’s going on in Auburn Hills is far more egregious. Marchionne basically sold the Obama administration a lasagna-stuffed bill of goods in order to guarantee Fiat’s financial future once and for all, figuring a free cash infusion would make The Great Sergio a living, breathing Italian legend and reduce Chrysler to pawn status in the quest to save Fiat from certain doom.

But as with anything in life there are complications, and Marchionne knew that his boldfaced carpetbagging scheme would have some uncomfortable exposures down the road. That’s what his carefully orchestrated “savior” image campaign and manufactured “man of the people” persona was designed for, it was supposed to kick in and mask a multitude of sins, allowing him to skate under the radar and get what he wanted. (“The Great Sergio’s End Game is finally exposed - and it ain’t pretty.” – April 29, 2013)

Young people aren’t stupid. They’re brand savvy too - much more so than any brand studies are actually quantifying. I see an entire generation being put in a box wrapped in Green with warnings attached suggesting that it’s a brand new day in marketing and that these people are really different. Really? I’m not buying it. Not every damn product in this market has to be tinged with Green fairy dust and able to return to the loins of earth after use wrapped in delightfully benign loam sludge with a whiff of begonias thrown in for good measure. (“We are not Scion. (Thank goodness.)” – May 6, 2013

Memo to luxury automakers: Chasing tail in the pursuit of “more” is a bad idea. And when I see BMW and Mercedes-Benz marketers and others – you know who you are – flail away and talk themselves into believing that more volume by way of more approachability is the answer to all of their problems, both real and imagined, I just cringe. Actually, the biggest problem for these luxury automakers is the word “more” come to think of it. Top managers see how much money the company is making so they want more of it, thinking, of course, that the sun will never set on their golden empire. But in order to make more money they automatically assume that they need to make more cars and fill more niches and set more quarterly and yearly sales records. And if they don’t, those managers will be replaced for new ones that promise, well, more. But in the end, this quest for more causes these companies to lose sight of who they are and begin a sickening downward spiral into mediocrity that is extremely difficult to reverse. (“We are not Scion. (Thank goodness.)” – May 6, 2013

In other words, it’s a double shot of Not Good with room for pathetic. The stewards of Jaguar have decided that they will use the launch of the F-Type to reinvent the brand so as to appeal to a whole new hipper audience. In the process of doing so they will turn the brand into a recurring joke, with “baddest ass bad boys” thrown in for good measure. Here's an idea: If they’re going to be this off-base and insulting to the brand, why not dredge up that immortal Jaguar print ad from the classic movie “Crazy People”? The one with the riveting headline that read - "For men who'd like hand-jobs from beautiful women they hardly know."

At least it would be honest.

And not tedious. (“Jaguar marketers travel to the Planet Tedious.” – May 14, 2013)

And as long as the True Believers are present and accounted for, I will be too. I am absolutely certain of one thing after a decade and a half of doing Autoextremist.com and that is that as long as these companies have squadrons of True Believers - the people who bring their very best each and every day and understand completely that this business always has been and always will be about the product - then there’s a reason to remain genuinely optimistic about the future of this business and the great things to come. (“The High-Octane Truth, fourteen years later.” – May 28, 2013)

Brand Delusion – a sickness with no known cure. But undermine the CMO function by allowing a CEO to play meddling marketing guru from afar, or having an entrenched marketing bureaucracy throw up roadblocks at every turn, or making the wrong hires for those positions to begin with, and brand chaos can ensue. Winning car companies understand this implicitly, even though they’re not immune from mistakes by any means. And less-than-winning car companies, or car companies only intermittently able to be on their games for whatever the reasons (infighting, lack of talent, abject stupidity, or all of the above), pay for their mistakes exponentially, compounding their troubles with each misstep.

These are the worst offenders in fact, because these are the car company executives who actually start to think that they’re selling something they’re not, which leads them to deluding themselves into thinking that their products are something other than what they are. (The Autoextremist Brand Image Meter II.” – June 4, 2013)

Brand blandtastic. With a bullet. I would love to report that the “new” Acura is going to hit the cover off of the ball, what with the promising new NSX super sports car just two years away, but I can’t. Acura executives keep flailing away at content, shouting from the rooftops that Acura has the technology everyone else has and that the brand deserves a closer look, but the whole exercise is a non-starter. Why? Because other than the NSX, which for now is a star on the auto show circuit and nothing more until proven otherwise, Acura design is pitiful. No, let me clarify that. It is absolutely dismal. As for the certain scribes waxing eloquently about how the new MDX looks good and is a sign of life at Acura? Please. Acura design is an oxymoron. These cars blend into the woodwork like a gray flannel suit on an overcast day. This is supposed to be the best of Honda? It sure doesn’t look or feel like it. Instead, Acura still exists as a perennial symbol of the confusion that reigns at Honda. What are they doing? I’m not sure they know. (The Autoextremist Brand Image Meter II.” – June 4, 2013)

It’s the lukewarm Venti cup of blonde roast car company, with a topper of steamed soy vacuous. Ah, what a journey it has been for the Bavarian company, from purveyors of the original sport sedan – the vaunted 2002 – to the ubiquitous luxury brand that it is today, BMW certainly has its act down cold. But that’s just it: BMW’s coldly calculated act has grown stale. Why? Most everything that made BMW a BMW has been lost in translation. The light, nimble, toss-able sedans that launched the company have given way to bloated sedans, SUVs and crossovers that have about as much in common with the original idea as today’s O.J. Simpson has with the legendary USC football star. Will BMW still sell prodigious amounts of BMWs? Of course they will. But people are buying BMWs because they think they should be driving them, instead of lusting after the vehicles because they can deliver a driving experience like no other. There’s a big difference. And the sad thing is that BMW operatives are perfectly content with the notion of churning out BMWs for every niche, both real and imagined, on their quest to getting one in every garage in America. Will BMW’s new “i” electric brand make any difference? We’ll see. (The Autoextremist Brand Image Meter II.” – June 4, 2013)

Buh-Bye. The Fisker Karma was one boy’s automotive wet dream brought to life courtesy of Other People’s Money coupled with a wing and a prayer. There was absolutely no reason in the world for this vehicle to exist other than to assuage Henrik Fisker’s considerable ego. And predictably, his rolling note to self is now kaput. (The Autoextremist Brand Image Meter II.” – June 4, 2013)

Very warm to the touch, but needs to be much hotter. Ford is the quintessential American brand that went from being a scrappy fighter that refused to let go of its soul to a purveyor of shockingly competitive cars that impress with their design vision and detailed execution. Ford is the iconic American brand that is garnering newfound respect with each new product iteration. As long as they stop trying to shove features down consumers’ throats in their advertising and marketing and get back to promoting a more emotional connection to their vehicles, they’ll be fine. And the recalls and quality issues must stop. (The Autoextremist Brand Image Meter II.” – June 4, 2013)

Impeccable and smokin’ hot in a sexy-flirty Helen Mirren kind of way. Old School before Old School was even remotely cool again, Rolls-Royce is still firmly planted in its own little brand world – especially since its rejuvenation due to BMW ownership and the debut of the iconic Phantom followed by the Ghost. And what a wonderful, splendiferous world it is. (The Autoextremist Brand Image Meter II.” – June 4, 2013)

Do your homework. Apply lessons learned. Win. Do it again. How Audi has gotten to this point should be a lesson for all auto manufacturers because it demonstrates a level of focused consistency, a fundamental unwillingness to settle for the status quo and an unwavering commitment to win that few corporate overlords at most other car companies can fathom, let alone emulate. What Audi is doing with its motorsport program isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination and it goes far beyond any ROI matrix that other manufacturers will muster when presented with the opportunity to compete – and win. Other manufacturers would hand-wring over the business case until there were no numbers left to contemplate. Or they’d dismiss the idea out of hand as being “wasteful,” which is a common refrain from manufacturers whose overriding interest isn’t producing better cars, or improving the way they go about designing, engineering and building those cars - but to make more money and please their shareholders. Not that there’s anything wrong with making money, of course, but if profitability becomes a company’s sole raison d’etre, bad things usually ensue. (“Truth in Engineering, as advertised.” – June 17, 2013)

(Audi Sport)
Audi R18 e-tron quattro No. 2 (Audi Sport Team Joest) with drivers Loïc Duval (F), Tom Kristensen (DK) and Allan McNish (GB).

They aimed for the moon, but crashed somewhere west of Laramie. Let me get this straight - Acura, the brand that has been in a perpetual struggle for credibility while aspiring to a higher level - is now going to aim its entire raison d'etre at "the enlightened" in a new ad campaign.
 How perfect is that? Listen, I'm all for high-concept advertising, because when it works it's memorable and inspiring. But when it doesn't it leaves a trail of confusion, head scratching and yes, even bitterness in its wake that is very difficult to overcome.
This is Acura's moonshot, so to speak. I get that. It's nice to have goals and believe that you can do whatever you want, in a Stuart Smalley sort of way.
 (“Acura takes aim at the ‘Enlightened’ – and leaves everyone else scratching their heads.” – June 25, 2013)

Elon did it all by himself, don't you read the Internet? The big source of talk this year so far has been about Elon Musk’s Tesla. We’ve gone beyond the simple kudos stage and now we have Musk rapidly ascending to sainthood, all thanks to the media who just can’t do it any other way. Is the Model S an impressive car? It is. Did it happen on account of Elon’s self-proclaimed brilliance alone? No, of course not, not by a long shot. As a matter of fact much of the development of the car was made possible by people who have done it before in this industry. And where might these people be from? About 2200 miles east of Silicon Valley, in case you need to be reminded. (“Halfway through 2013 and what have we learned?” – July 16, 2013)

A beatific blank expression at least? As for Tesla’s stock price it reminds me of the tech stock frenzy that drove the market to the edge of oblivion a decade and a half ago. That came to a screeching halt in the spring of 2000, but there’s no telling when the artificial exuberance over Tesla’s stock will sink back to reality - and with a thud too. But that’s okay. We live in a vacuous world of five-minute celebrity in everything from music, to what passes for “culture” these days - as pathetic as that might be - to business. (It used to be fifteen minutes but that’s so old-school now, besides, I shudder to think what would happen if you mentioned Warhol’s famous prediction to today’s cultural derivatives. You’d probably get the response, “Andy who?” complete with a blank expression signifying nothing.) (“Halfway through 2013 and what have we learned?” – July 16, 2013)

Bankrupt. Broke. Busted. The headlines last week were terrible for those of us who call this region home, a kaleidoscope of every possible way to say that Detroit had run out of room and run out of time. And now it’s all over but the hand wringing and the legal wrangling for the Motor City.

For those of us who live in the area, it was no surprise in the least. This city and this region have been teetering on the brink for years now. We saw the seeds of malicious entitlement sowed into the system of corporate bureaucracy put in place by Mayor Coleman Young going on 40 years ago, and the city has been a pathetic cesspool of contentious chaos ever since. The contemptible concept of “what’s in it for me” – as if big city government was nothing more than a public trough for corruption and extortion - has held sway over Detroit and this region for so long now that we all became numb to it, which is almost as sad as the news itself.

But in fairness, the people who aren’t from around here and who take great pleasure in reporting all the gruesome details of what Detroit has been reduced to have no idea what it has been like. They have no idea what it means to live life with this relentless cacophony of entitlement and blatant stupidity that never, ever stops. They have no idea what it’s like to have such astounding and mind-numbingly shocking ignorance on display by what passes for our so-called city government “leaders” that it’s repulsive to even contemplate.

Last week’s headlines - as bad as they were - are nothing compared to the years of constant embarrassments dutifully reported and laid out in graphic fashion day after day by the local media, to the point that what passes for local “news” has become unwatchable, unreadable and unlistenable. (“The Deal on Detroit, Part II.” – July 22, 2013)

Not that any of this is new, but sometimes it helps to remind people of what’s on the line here. That the domestic automobile industry is on an upward trajectory now does mean a lot to everyone in this town and it should mean a lot to the rest of the country, even though it most certainly doesn’t. For too many in this country Detroit is a write-off, a lingering afterthought from an era that once was, nothing more than sideshow fodder for the network newscasts and an easy mark for the Instantaneous Internet Imperialists who dispense their justice swiftly and voraciously.

But the fact of the matter remains that 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 as I’ve said many times before, we cannot 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. (“The Deal on Detroit, Part II.” – July 22, 2013)

And most important, they keep the dream alive. Thank goodness for the one-percenters that can be found in design, engineering, product development, marketing, PR and yes, on the rare occasion, even in accounting today. They keep the fires burning. They’re creative in thought and relentless in the pursuit of excellence. They keep striving for greatness in an era when mediocrity is not only expected, but also rewarded. They don’t shy away from “blue sky” thinking but instead embrace it in the relentless push for unexpected solutions.

The struggle between those who revel in mediocrity and those who strive for excellence is a never-ending battle in this business. Some car companies get it and nurture creativity and bright thinking from their True Believers and the true believing one-percenters. Other car companies squash their true believing one-percenters like bugs. It’s part of the game and it’s an ever-present and at times ugly reality. But as long as there are True Believers and those true believing one-percenters in this business, there is hope for this industry. (“The One Percent.” – July 30, 2013)

As I’ve said repeatedly in this column, the Corvette is one of only two cars (the other being the Mustang) in modern American automotive history that qualify as true icons in this business. But dealing with that kind of iconic status hasn’t always been easy for GM. Half the battle revolves around knowing what you have and understanding its place in the automotive universe. That might sound simple but believe me it isn’t. Executives with varying degrees of competence who have been given the marketing reins for the Corvette have come and gone over the years and battles have ensued and mistakes have been made, but the ball more or less has kept moving forward for the Corvette despite the occasional egregious missteps.

It can't be stated enough that it has taken tremendous effort by the True Believers involved in order to maintain the focused consistency that the Corvette has deserved along the way. And they did that while dealing with enormous internal pressures (intermittent incompetence, runaway cost-cutting and the occasional blatant management stupidity) and external pressures (safety, emissions, the green-tinged hordes wielding their self-righteous pitchforks, etc.) that have made it extraordinarily difficult. (“Sixty Years of Corvette: A Testament to the True Believers.” – August 12, 2013)

(GM)
The Corvette show car is introduced at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York in 1953.

(GM)
The 1953 Corvette production car.

(GM)
The 1958 Corvette.

(GM)
The magnificent 1959 Corvette Stingray racer.

(GM)
The Corvette Stingray racer, still mesmerizing six decades later.

(GM)
Bill Mitchell with the '59 Stingray racer and the 1963 Mako Shark concept car. Mitchell was flamboyant, gruff, difficult and supremely talented. He ruled GM Styling with an iron fist but at the same time he inspired his designers to do great work and nurtured them along the way too. He will go down in automotive history as being the master of bringing the "concept car" look to the street in mass-market production cars that were wildly successful. No one did it better. - PMD

(GM)
The 1963 Corvette Sting Ray production car. Visually arresting to this day, it remains one of the great production car designs of all time. Note: When Bill Mitchell first named the '59 Corvette racer he dubbed it "Stingray" spelled as one word. When the production car made its debut, "Sting Ray" was spelled as two words. The 2014 Corvette returns the "Stingray" name, using one word.

(GM)
The Briggs Cunningham-entered Corvette team lined up for the start of the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans. Cunningham entered three cars in the race, although cars No. 1 and 2 didn't finish. John Fitch and Bob Grossman (No. 3 Corvette) ran as high as 7th place overall but ran into cooling issues late in the race. The duo would finish 8th overall and 1st in the GT class. See other images here.

(GM)
The 2014 Corvette Stingray convertible.

And it should remind all of us of what makes this business so compelling, and at times so very, very special. GM Design took center stage once again when it unveiled the Cadillac Elmiraj, an homage to the glorious 1967 Eldorado. A stunning, passionate piece of work, taut of line and purposeful in stance, the Elmiraj proves once again that when GM Design is on its game, there isn't another car company in the world that they have to play second fiddle to. A truly remarkable effort, it's reassuring to know that the True Believers at GM intend on making sure that Cadillac will remain at the forefront of global automotive design for many years to come, no matter what Akerson’s suits are up to. The Elmiraj is visionary design brilliance rendered magnificently. (Where image isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, or something like that.” – August 19, 2013)

(Cadillac)

A kaleidoscope of life in America, circa 2013. Is Detroit the most embarrassing big city in America? A city so overwhelmed by serial corruption over the last 45 years to the point that it’s permanently ingrained into the governing fabric of the city, and that the only hope left was for the Governor to appoint an Emergency Manager to stop it once and for all? Yes, that’s true.

Is Detroit a proud, invigorated city, with a wonderfully presented art museum and thriving arts and creative community, and a music scene that’s historically second to none when it comes to defining classic American music, one that’s still a driving force today? Yes, that’s true too.

Are things so desperate in this city that every positive three steps taken in terms of investment and improvement to the quality of life is usually counteracted by five steps back made up of a harrowing cocktail of ruthless crime, heartless cruelty and relentless, cringe-inducing stories and personal affronts that never seem to stop? Yes, sadly, that’s very true.

Is Detroit the exuberant Motor City, home to the U.S. auto industry, the main driving force behind America’s industrial fabric and the living, breathing embodiment of the Arsenal of Democracy? Yes, I’m happy to say, that’s very true too.

The reality is, Detroit is all of these things. It’s passion, exuberance, vision, creativity and enthusiasm punctuated by a seething cauldron of negativity, hopelessness and bleakness everywhere you turn.

Detroit is every city’s problems and nightmares and every city’s joys and potential exposed and dissected for all to see. (“Detroit: A Kaleidoscope of Life in America, circa 2013.”

Much to the chagrin of the doomsayers, the automobile – and the freedom it represents – is still alive and well. As I’ve said before in previous columns, we are not as a country – thankfully - going to walk away from the automobile and settle into a blissful mass stupor powered by a fleet of bicycles and balsa-wood clown cars.

I believe that freedom of mobility will remain one of the most undeniable tenets of the American ideal, and that means that people will associate freedom, mobility and personal expression through their automobile choices, much to the chagrin of people who clearly don’t believe we should even have that choice any longer.

If you like driving a Prius and if you like the “statement” it makes about your personal beliefs - when a bumper sticker just won’t do – that’s perfectly fine. But at the same time, if you have a big family and you need a Chevy Suburban in the family fleet that should be perfectly acceptable too.

There are no “wrong” answers here, because the freedom of choice and the freedom of expression happen to be among the most basic reasons why we live in this country to begin with. (“The Long and Narrowing Road.” – September 2, 2013)

Somehow The Soy-Based Chlorophyll-Specked Self-Driving Module doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, now, does it? Going forward I have no doubt that the lure of the freedom of mobility will continue to be strong around the world, as I said last week. I also believe that the desire for high-performance vehicles will continue on indefinitely, albeit with a much steeper cost and degree of complication attached to them. But I must say that our sanitized, electrified automotive future has a sense of foreboding attached to it, too, with the act – and the art – of driving well becoming a quaint notion for many, a relic from our past that few people care to be bothered with, which is a giant bowl of Not Good from where I sit. (“Reimagining the Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.” – September 10, 2013)

And this exhilarating, death-defying, heart-stopping roller-coaster ride will continue. The pickup truck is America wide open. It’s so befitting of a country with endless spaces, big skies and spectacular vistas that it’s silly to pretend otherwise. The last time I checked we didn’t grow up in a claustrophobic country suited for pipsqueak cars with exhaust pipes the size of soda straws. I know that’s difficult for certain politicians in Washington and northern California to understand - while they’re being driven around in pickup truck-based SUVs, no less – but it’s the reality.

Take the time to get out of the city and roam the country a bit – I know, the idea is anathema for some big-city denizens but trust me on this, you should try it sometime - and you quickly realize that there’s more to America than having a Starbucks on every corner and the obligatory sea of fast food joints blotting out the sun.

We like to spread out in this country. And we like to haul our stuff while we’re doing it. And the pickup truck is the perfect vehicle to do that with.

Yes, I will admit that this country’s fascination/infatuation with pickup trucks may border on being crazy at times, and the vehicle is not my particular cup of automotive tea – Texas, or otherwise - but it’s who we are. And I’m just fine with it.

And as long as everyone in this business understands and reminds themselves of that simple fact of American automotive life, we’ll probably be a lot better off for it and save ourselves a lot of collective hand wringing. (“The Roller-Coaster Ride Continues.” – September 17, 2013)

Peter meets the legend behind Big Data in “Big Data Talks” - Read it here. – WG 

Where’s Mr. T. when we really need him? Because I pity these fools. Memo to Infiniti marketers: I just have to ask, what world are you living in? At what point did you convince yourselves that this was actually a good idea worth pursuing? Are you really that self-absorbed and desperate that you not only went along with this scenario, but you actually talked yourselves into believing that it constitutes true “breakthrough” creative? How in the hell can Infiniti marketers expect people with a modicum of intelligence to go along with this unmitigated bullshit? (“Creative Cotton Candy from Infiniti.” – October 23, 2013)

Tick, tick, tick. And as I predicted many months ago, it’s refreshing to see the media finally waking up to the fact that Sergio’s “act” is just that, a tired charade masking a carpetbagger’s scheme to use Chrysler's profits to save a broke-ass Italian car company whose better days ran aground decades ago. Picture Marchionne in a darkened office wringing his hands - the only light coming from the glow of the “on” switch on the espresso machine - wishing and moaning it weren’t so, with his trusted PR Lieutenant, Gualberto Ranieri, at his side, assuring his boss it will all blow over. Well, unfortunately for Marchionne and his Chief PR Minion this isn’t blowing over anytime soon, and the clock is definitely ticking on Sergio’s “miracle.” (A bad week for miracles.” – October 29, 2013)

But it needs to be pointed out that there has been a deep and shattering toll on the way to reimagining the domestic automobile industry as well. These companies have gone through gut-wrenching restructurings that cost thousands upon thousands of people their jobs and though these companies are now showcasing gaudy profit numbers, the effect on pensions and livelihoods and families in order to get to this point is still being calculated and will go on well into the next decade. It cannot and should not be swept under the rug that for a lot of people the “miracle” of a rejuvenated Detroit is mind-numbingly grim. (“The Implosion of Detroit, five years after.” – November 4, 2013)

And as long as the people fully engaged in that endeavor are True and Believing, this business will not only endure, it will thrive. I can safely assure everyone out there that there’s one thing about this maniacally infuriating, at times exhilarating and mostly flat-out crazy business that hasn’t changed one iota in the ensuing ruin and resurrection of Detroit, however, and that is that no matter how much things allegedly change, no matter how many fly-by-night “saviors” come and go and no matter what level of the roller-coaster called the economy is in play, this business will be about the products and the people who design, engineer and build them. It always has been and it always will be, in fact. (“The Implosion of Detroit, five years after.” – November 4, 2013)

Mercedes-Benz successfully removes any last vestiges of “specialness” still clinging to the brand. Talk to any of the prestigious luxury fashion houses that experimented with becoming more approachable over the last two decades by adding stores, covering segments of the market they had no business being in and generally dumbing down their brands, and I assure you they would all say the same thing: It was a fool’s errand that cost them customers, cost them dearly in the market and set their brand images back years.

There is a reason that the great luxury brands hold their images in high regard and guard them vigilantly from overexposure or from cheapening them in any way. They’ve come to understand that luxury not only means exclusivity, it means holding yourselves to a higher standard in order to protect the specialness of the brand, even though it may in fact mean making less of something.

It’s true that the people may come – at least initially – to check out the CLA or even buy it, but Mercedes executives are destined to find out the hard way that the whim that brought those people into the showrooms will whisk them away just as easily. (“The democratization of luxury, coming to a Mercedes-Benz dealer near you.” – November 12, 2013)

In short, Porsche wants it all. Each deep dive into a “non-traditional” segment that Porsche doesn’t belong in erodes the brand. And with each new product offensive into segments that seem questionable, more of the Porsche faithful will simply fade away. And even though it happens in an almost imperceptible fashion, there is no doubt in my mind that if enough Porsches start showing up at soccer games across America on Saturdays, any specialness attached to the brand will eventually fade away too.

That this “new” Porsche is damn near unrecognizable to the Porsche faithful goes without saying. But that ship has sailed and there’s no turning back.

The “new” Porsche will unequivocally and unapologetically compete in any market segment it so chooses, as long as the vehicle in question exudes true “Porsche-ness” by management’s estimation. And aggressive sales and profit targets are not only part and parcel of the “new” Porsche - they have now become its raison d’etre.

At some point, however, there will be a cost. (“The ‘new’ Porsche wants it all.” – November 19, 2013)

Wait, you mean it isn’t? There’s a memorable scene in the movie “Jerry McGuire” (thanks to Director/Writer Cameron Crowe) when Tom Cruise (playing the sports agent Jerry McGuire) is trying to get through to Cuba Gooding Jr. (playing the egomaniacal NFL star Rod Tidwell) about the level of commitment it takes for him to work on the petulant star’s behalf:

“I am out here for you. You don't know what it's like to be me out here for you. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok?”

No, the automobile industry isn’t the fanciful world of the movies. It is, however, at times a brutal, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week slog that demands so much of everyone involved that I can’t even begin to do justice to the effort that it takes to succeed, let alone stay in the game.

People outside this industry rarely get a glimpse of what that means, they see the endless succession of car shows and press launches and think that the business is one big romp through The Land of Bright Shiny Things, a rhythmic soiree punctuated by gobs of horsepower and glittering designer shapes. (“Giving thanks in The Land of Bright Shiny Things.” – November 25, 2013)

“The Standard of the World.” Hmmm. No, not yet. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it at least another thousand times, but Cadillac has to get comfortable with being Cadillac. It was fine to have BMW in its sights and the Bavarian company was a great target to aim at, but now Cadillac can and must commence to do its own thing.

The stunning Elmiraj Concept, which made its debut at Pebble Beach this past August, is exactly what I’m talking about. The Elmiraj is dramatic, beautifully rendered, and it presents a confident and distinctly American point of view as to what a luxury motorcar should look and feel like. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If the True Believers working on Cadillac take the time to step back and understand what they have in the Elmiraj for a moment, they’ll know exactly where to go from here. (“Where does Cadillac go from here?” – December 2, 2013)

​(Images courtesy of GM/Cadillac)

​​The 2014 Cadillac CTS.


The 2014 Cadillac ELR.

The 2013 Cadillac Elmiraj Concept.

Let’s face it folks, this business is certified crazy-town. A churning, burning hunk of flat-out maniacal behavior punctuated – but only intermittently so, I might add – by rational, productive thinking.

Where else can you find this many bad actors battling it out with enough True Believers who actually care and somehow the whole thing manages to careen around in fits and starts long enough to occasionally make sense?

Oh, but there’s crashing and burning going on, far too frequently in fact. You would think that by now a majority of people in this business would have at least a modicum understanding of history and historical context to consider so that the same mistakes aren’t repeated. But they don’t. And the same mistakes are made over and over and over again. But what is even more shocking, some really outstanding products emerge in spite of all of the Sturm und Drang going on.

And about those bad actors? Oh my.

Pity the poor Fiat dealers who had visions of Alfa Romeo profits dancing in their heads as promised by Sergio Marchionne. They’ve come face to face with the realization that they’ve been hosed, big-time, and that news has been delivered like a blow from a 2x4 to the forehead. Because when it comes right down to it there aren’t enough Fiat 500 and 500L sales to make up for the promise – and profits - of Alfa Romeo.

And Marchionne, formerly known as Sergio the Great, their Esteemed Leader who could do no wrong, has now been revealed for who he truly is: just another guy peddling another deal who is a genius at using other people’s money to line his pockets, and someone who will adjust his so-called “vision” to suit his whims and carefully manicured public persona whenever he sees fit (he will reveal his fourth grand plan for Alfa next spring, in case anyone’s counting). And if the Fiat dealers who bought his act hook, line and sinker get caught out by it, so be it.

Are these Fiat dealers ever going to get anything close to what they want? No. They’re not even going to get anything remotely close to what they need, either.

But really, who’s kidding whom here? If we’re talking about bad actors, there’s only one who has achieved a level of hubris and arrogance that’s shocking even for this jacked-up town. Perched on a burnt metal throne made up of equal measures of pompous belligerence and insufferable boorishness, can anyone really top GM's incredibly tone-deaf and relentlessly ill-equipped "Accidental Tourist" of a soon to be ex-CEO, Dan Akerson?

This guy is riding off into the sunset with piles of cash in hand, and just to be clear here, it was all about the money for Captain Queeg and his merry band of carpetbaggers. Soon he will be ensconced back in Washington regaling his friends at parties about how he saved General Motors and that moribund backwater of an industry from itself. A truly pathetic thought indeed, especially when you consider that he royally screwed GM's True Believers - the very people responsible for GM's optimistic performance of late - and the future of the company while he was at it.

As I said last week, to say that Dan Akerson was the wrong guy at the wrong time at the wrong car company is the understatement of this or any other year. 

And the fact that this loathsome, unctuous prick of a man detonated a grenade inside GM on his way out by orchestrating a warped succession plan devoid of rhyme or reason is one of the most blatant, unconscionable acts of derision that this industry has ever witnessed.

And where does that leave Mary Barra, the newly minted CEO of GM? The pitchforks came out for me last week with people taking great umbrage at my assessment of Ms. Barra and for not willingly anointing her as someone deserving of the title. I am already wincing at the articles gushing drivel about the "car girl" getting her due and other such nonsense, especially the Bloomberg BusinessWeek canonization/cover story that for all the world felt like GM’s PR minions wrote it. (See “On The Table” this week – WG.)

I have nothing against Ms. Barra, nor did I condemn her, as some incorrectly asserted. Was I unfair to her and GM? Oh please, get over yourselves and you can shove that righteous indignation up your collective asses while you’re at it. Queen Mary is a big girl. If she's not equipped for the slings and arrows that are sure to come her way then too bad. What I did say, however, was that if Ms. Barra were the most qualified individual walking the halls of GM, then I would have wholeheartedly supported the choice. But the simple fact is that she isn't, and because of that one fact, I don’t.

Which brings me back to the willful, malicious manipulation of a succession plan that Akerson just pulled off. Akerson's so-called "logic" at work here is indefensible. It's as if Akerson would rather remake GM in his likeness - a truly ugly thought indeed - by promoting bureaucratic functionaries like Mary Barra and a glorified bean counter who insists that he’s something much more but who shares Akerson’s skewed perspectives of the world - Dan Ammann - to lofty positions - than do the Right Thing for the company.

But then who are we kidding here? Dan Akerson never had the right thing for the company in mind when he was handed General Motors on a silver platter. Let's be clear, this is the guy who openly loathed the automobile industry and everyone in it. He hates cars and he hated the people who called themselves "car guys" or "car girls" even more (which is why his proud assertion that Ms. Barra is a true “car girl” is disingenuous, at best). He viewed the industry as being full of "not smart" people who couldn't hold a candle to his beloved telecom bootlickers, and he rode a shockingly mediocre career in that industry to the top spot at GM, thanks to the serial incompetence of one of the most incompetent Boards of Directors operating in corporate America.

And while I’m at it, what about the leadership void in this business? Because it’s real and it’s beyond depressing. Yes, it’s a different time and a different era now, I get it. Gravitas is awarded to executives seemingly out of vending machines, just for showing up in fact. And the lazy media hordes bestow reverential treatment on people who don’t deserve it, but who are quick to wallow in it anyway. It’s the “You’re Here So You Must Be Smart and Important” principle. And it’s disgraceful. Overnight, smoke and mirrors have become viable substitutes for substance and depth of knowledge, and it’s all a shameless dance that has become disconcerting and relentlessly depressing.

Yes, there are still genuine leaders out there. And if you look hard enough there is even greatness too. I see it in the trenches and in some executive suites. I see it in the eyes of the True Believers at every level, the ones who make this business hum and churn and shine. They are the ones who go the extra mile on behalf of a vehicle program, the ones who search for the suspension tweak that will bring perfection, the ones who massage a design so it just looks and feels right, the ones who search for a compelling way to get the message to the consumer that isn’t boring or expected.

But true leaders are difficult to find in this business today, and heroes and heroic behavior even harder still. And it’s sad and just so unfortunate on so many levels, especially in a business that boasts such an illustrious history of swashbuckling leaders who pushed and cajoled and willed everyone around them to do great things and to achieve excellence.

This business deserves better from its leaders. It deserves people who are unafraid to lead and who know where the business needs to go. Indeed, they could – and should - be heroes. And we’re in desperate need of more of them.

Let me get back to this “it’s a different time and a different era” thing. The times we live in today are unprecedented and absurdly consuming of all faculties, I get that too. We all do. The constant connectivity is taking its toll on everyone and everything. It’s all good, to be sure, but it can be all bad too.

But there’s something else going on here that’s deeply unsettling. There’s an acceptance of mediocrity and recognition for just showing up in this country that’s washing over every endeavor and consuming the American spirit.

And I find it to be simply unacceptable.

In saying that, I’m reminded that once upon a time in this nation the pursuit of excellence was a noble quest. Whether it was soaring into cobalt blue skies to record-breaking heights or racing through the 200-mph barrier at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, America was on an upward trajectory and the notion of going faster, higher and longer filled a need for a nation hungry to push the envelope and to well… just go for it.

We were a nation of blue-sky dreamers where “no limits” and “everything all the time” was part of the deal. And it fit the American spirit – and us - perfectly.

And then things got weird.

We collectively headed down the slippery slope of average in just about everything. We started handing out trophies and group hugs just for showing up. And the idea of pushing the envelope, taking it to the limit and striving for excellence was too often abandoned in favor of a pathetic lament of “well, at least you tried” – resulting in a numbing cadence of underachievement that has stifled and shrouded the once-exuberant American spirit in this dense fog of mediocrity. And from where I sit, it really stinks.

So there you have it.

In terms of who we are collectively and where we are in this business and in this town, 2013 has been a kaleidoscope of extremes, from the sublime to the ridiculous and everything in between.

I wish this industry and the people in it the very best, but then I always do. But because of that I expect a lot and I demand even more. And this just in, folks: mediocrity isn’t bliss. It never has been and never will be in fact. And when I see it creeping in to all aspects of this business, I will make sure to call it out, because, well, as The Autoextremist, that’s what I do.

I (along with WordGirl and Dr. Bud) wish you and yours the very best of this holiday season (and Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah too).

I hope you and your families can take the time to sincerely count your blessings.

I know we will.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for 2013, we’ll see you back here on January 8th.

 

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