No. 919
October 18, 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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Tuesday
Jul122016

A MIDSUMMER NIGHTMARE.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. Last week, in my column entitled “Masters Of Their Imaginary Universe” I detailed the looming train wreck that is about to overwhelm two veteran carnival barkers of unmitigated bullshit - “St. Elon” Musk and Sergio “I’m the G.O.A.T” Marchionne – threatening to send their respective companies into deep tailspins.

Musk, who finds himself in the midst of an unprecedented run of negative news, is fighting back by teasing a new “Top Secret Tesla Master Plan” in the hopes that it will get NHTSA, the SEC, and other Washington and New York-based heavies off his back. This is a classic Musk tactic to distract and deter, because after all, in the cavernous depths of his ”I’m a frickin’ genius, just ask me” mind he feels he can muster his minion fan boys and girls in the “new” media, the dutiful bootlickers on Wall Street and other assorted hangers on at will, who will then all clamor to sit crossed-legged in front of him for the privilege of basking in the glow of his brilliance.

And what, pray tell, will Musk promise in his next “Master Plan”? It’s anyone’s guess at this point, but you can be sure that his titanium shovel will be working overtime, and Musk’s bon mots and calculated sobriquets will send his Wall Street pals and indentured acolytes into fits of orgasmic frenzy, with the stock price soaring toward the stratosphere on cue.

I imagine Musk will come up with some outrageous promises about the Model 3, even though the term “production constrained” has come to define the new sobering reality for Tesla. Or perhaps he will venture to put other car sharing services out of business with a new Tesla Model “T,” which will have an absurdly low price attached to it and the obligatory promises that our major cities will soon be teeming with them. Or, in his spare time, that he’s going to put a man on Mars before the U.S. government can get to it and, as if that weren’t enough, build Teslas there to ship back to Earth.

It’s all a giant “whatever” as far as I’m concerned, because Musk has accumulated a particular strain of blind loyalty from his devotees to the point that they've all but abandoned even a shred of rational thought, especially on the investment side of things. His legions of disciples have enabled Musk to game the system, and even though he has played otherwise smart people like a drum, that doesn’t mean his next chapter will automatically be a triumphant romp to the Emerald City. Instead, I predict The End Game for “St. Elon” will play out in a grim cadence of overpromising and underdelivering, punctuated by crushing disappointments, because the ugly reality is that even certified geniuses run out of smoke and mirrors, and there isn’t enough dung for Musk to shovel that will cover up the fact that he is only comfortable when someone else is underwriting his fantasies and fueling his unbridled ego.

Speaking of underwritten fantasies and unbridled egos, how can I write a column that talks about Musk, the undisputed King of Egomaniacal Corporate America, without mentioning his equally egomaniacal corporate soulmate, Sergio “The Greatest Of All Time” Marchionne? 

As the grim news keeps emanating out of FCA, Marchionne is finding it more and more difficult to keep a lid on the river of negativity running swift and strong out of Auburn Hills. Executives - everyone from corporate lifers to the True Believers – are getting out in droves and moving as far away from FCA as they can. This town is rife with stories - and resumes - of people who just couldn’t put up with the loads of crap shoved down their throats by Marchionne and his espresso-fueled minions for one day longer. Because beyond the gaudy sales numbers (inflated by piles of cash on the hood and a growing mountain of subprime loan paper) is the nasty reality that FCA is a teeming jungle of seething negativity and blatant hatred for what Marchionne and his posse have done to destroy what was left of a proud company.

When the Italians were gifted the remnants of the “old” Chrysler by an Obama administration desperate for a way out, the Chrysler veterans were shocked that the processes that the Italians brought with them were not just stunningly obsolete, they were obsolete by a decade. And not counting the latest J.D Power Initial Quality Survey numbers, which are all but meaningless in the grand scheme of things, by the way, the real reason for the dismal quality numbers delivered by FCA is that the Fiat manufacturing processes are so woefully inept and compatible with exactly nothing else in the business that they’re damn-near unworkable.

In fact, FCA’s abject futility with its manufacturing “process” is so comprehensive and pervasive that it is the laughingstock of the industry. Which is only adding fuel – and a sense of urgency – to the executives who are leaving in droves. They see that the train has left the "Abject Futility" station and is headed nowhere good. Next stop? The bucolic little town of Oblivion.

Marchionne’s final gambit is to partner up with a tech company, at least someone smarter – and richer - so that he and the Fiat heirs can cash out. Short of that, as I’ve said repeatedly, if he has to part out the company in a final act of desperation, well, he isn’t above doing exactly that if his back is to the wall.

Armed with this new – and extremely negative – information that is pouring out of Auburn Hills on a daily basis, I am absolutely stunned that Google has entered into a limited relationship with FCA. I thought the Google brain trust was much smarter than that, because there’s simply no there there at FCA. One popular scenario was that Google wanted a turnkey entrée into the manufacturing business, which seems beyond silly right about now, especially when FCA’s manufacturing ability equates to what was the state of the art in the industry – back in ’98.

Oh well, maybe Krafcik and company will do the “parting out” of FCA for Marchionne, so he can retreat back to Italy to spend languorous days basking in the Tuscan sun, secure in his hundreds of millions, while regaling his minions about how he saved Chrysler and Fiat in one fell swoop, accompanied by bottomless cups of espresso, of course.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again at least a hundred more times before I end this adventure – the history of the automobile business is littered with enough two-bit hustlers, conniving hucksters and slick flim-flam artists to fill the Queen Mary in her prime.

It’s also fair to say that history repeats itself in this business with a vengeance and a ruthlessness that are truly awesome to behold.

On the one hand, I guess we should revel in the shameful histrionics of two of the most legendary carpetbagging mercenaries this business has ever seen. It’s automotive history writ large, and it’s unfolding before our very eyes so we should all pay attention.

On the other, it’s like watching a fetid river of sludge rising to threaten a city, and there’s absolutely nothing that can be done about it.

A midsummer nightmare indeed.

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

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