No. 1006
July 24, 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.

Follow Autoextremist

 

Monday
Feb012016

THE END OF CARDOLATRY, PART II.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. Judging by the response we received, it’s clear that last week’s column struck a nerve with a lot of people. The fundamental transformation of transportation as we know it is pushing us into an entirely new dimension, and the automobile and those who hold it in high regard are in for a decidedly different experience.

For some that will be perfectly okay, and for others it will be anathema. But as I said previously, I can assure everyone of one thing and that is the people finding the middle ground in all of this will be in very short supply.

I had a conversation with one of the most influential chief executives in this industry about this very subject last week, and he expressed much trepidation about the agenda being put forth by the Connected, Autonomous, Ride-Sharing Imperative Zealots, as I refer to them, because it will impact all of us, whether we want to go along for the ride or not.

The country is racing headlong into an abyss of bleak unfamiliarity when it comes to our transportation fleet, and the fundamental rift between the “Zealots” and the “Realists” will only grow more intense over time. As I said last week, this means that there will be a clear demarcation going forward that will be cause for much consternation, on both sides.

We will have auto companies being forced to service the commoditization side of the business by churning out, for all intents and purposes, true appliances for the sharing masses, and all the ugliness that will entail. This is the arena that Silicon Valley has jumped in with both feet, and the Realists at the global automakers are scrambling to meet this threat head on, or make deals with the tech protagonists in order to make sure that they’re not left behind.

The chief executive I spoke to last week said that his company is being forced to participate in both arenas, even though his concern and primary focus, as he told me, “must remain on designing, engineering and building automobiles with passion, vehicles that will have genuine, useful appeal to people for years and years to come.”

I was encouraged by his words but it also puts forth a crucial distinction, because the harsh reality for the Connected Zealots is that it will be a very long time before even a slice of their vision for a utopian driving future makes a dent in our society, and even then it will still be largely confined to the most major of urban centers. Think about that for a moment, because the hype is far exceeding the reality surrounding this subject.

And it must be stated that there is a fundamental sense of individualism in this country and a freedom of mobility that goes with it, and it has helped define who we are as a nation. We, as Americans, love to wander, and on our own terms too. And it remains a powerful force to this day.

The quaint notion that a small segment of Zealots would deign to disrupt this sense of wander, completely ignoring its power as an essential part of the American experience, is flat-out crazy. But then again, the Zealots are unable to see the sheer folly of this notion because they’re being completely dismissive of the Realists, suggesting that any discussions of “an essential part of the American experience” are merely the lunatic ravings of a hoary segment of society that should be marginalized, if not completely eliminated altogether. And as you can imagine, that train of logic is headed to a place that’s nowhere good.

The ugly – albeit ignored – reality for the Zealots is that the sheer vastness of this nation defies categorization, and the wildly diverse needs of the consumer driving public defy categorization as well.

This means that the industrial might of the global automakers – and their manufacturing expertise, aka the fundamental ability to make things - will carry more weight than the swells in Silicon Valley will care to admit to, but it is an undeniable reality. The mass production of complicated machines with all of the safety, crash-worthiness, connectivity, autonomous features and countless other engineering parameters that need to be factored in will require genuine manufacturing expertise, and even the most forward of thinkers in The Valley are acutely aware of this fact (they’re also going to need more than a little design appeal in order to make them palatable too). So the “art of the deal” is definitely going to cut both ways in this instance.

Acknowledging this fact then means that much of what we’ve grown up with as defined by the automobile in terms of culture and image will continue for many years to come, because the heart of this business is still powered by True Believers who live and breathe to create machines that bristle with passion and innovation, while providing that fundamental freedom of mobility and sense of individualism that helps define who we are as a nation.

The manufacturers cannot lose sight of the task at hand for the immediate and foreseeable future, and that is to create cars and trucks that not only meet the needs of the consumer driving public, but that are also safe, efficient, fun to drive and appealing to look at.

I am happy to report that these last two aspects - fun to drive and appealing to look at - will carry even more weight going forward, which remains a very good thing. There’s no question in my mind that design remains the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator, but the feel imparted behind the wheel is every bit as crucial when it comes to enjoying and enhancing the act of driving. 

It’s interesting to me that despite the up-and-coming generation’s supposed disinterest in the act or even the thought of driving, it’s fascinating to watch how the enduring appeal of the freedom of mobility takes over when they’re presented with truly compelling products. That’s why automobile manufacturers have collectively discovered – well, some more than others anyway - that just “phoning it in” simply doesn’t work. The business is just too damn competitive for that.

The latest example? Hyundai is betting multiple billions that they can make Genesis into a desirable luxury brand, but in order to do so they’ve had to go out and hire some of the finest design and engineering talent in the automotive world to make their cars compelling to look at and fun to drive, because those two ingredients have become the minimally acceptable price of entry in this business, especially in the notoriously cutthroat luxury segment.

On the one hand The End of Cardolatry presents a sobering, dismal path marked by Zealots hell-bent on altering this country’s transportation future once and for all because it will make everything better, if we would all just acquiesce to their wishes, that is. It’s a journey into a new heart of darkness and no one is quite sure where this is all going. And even though their reach will be confined to urban centers for the most part, you can bet that the noise generated by the complicit mainstream media - who are already mindlessly buying into the Zealots’ notion of a utopian transportation nirvana with nary a drop of negativity in sight - will be loud and unrelenting.

On the other hand, The End of Cardolatry will thankfully put to pasture the idea that even a modicum of mediocrity in any aspect of what an automobile manufacturer does will be acceptable for the mass market going forward. It won’t be, thank goodness and it hasn’t been the case for years now, although some manufacturers have been decidedly slow on the uptake.

As I've said before, I for one will never forget the essence of the machine, and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams.

And I am confident that this will be the case for many years to come.

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

 

Check out the latest episode of The High-Octane Truth on AutoextremistTV below. -WG


« EXCEPTIONAL IT WASN’T. | Main | THE END OF CARDOLATRY. »