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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Monday
Jul032017

THE HIGH HARD ONES.

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. I was going to do a column about this being the halfway point in the year and how little has changed since the Detroit Auto Show last January but the subject was too tedious for words. In fact, it bored me to death. As in why bother with that blah-blah-blah?

This business lives in a bubble of more built-in assumptions, rote regurgitations, etched-in-stone givens and mind-numbing inertia than most people immersed in it can even understand, let alone outsiders with even a casual interest. In fact the entire auto circus almost defies all rational explanation, which admittedly for some is comforting, while others find it infuriating.

As I’ve often described it, the swirling maelstrom that is the auto industry churns and ferments in a staccato cadence of fits and starts. It can swing wildly between unfettered brilliance and incredible stupidity on the same day, and the net-net of it results in a three steps forward and five back dance of mediocrity.

Anyone immersed in this business questions their involvement in it at least once a week, and if they don’t admit to that they’re flat-out lying. It can be one of the most soul-crushing pursuits that you can get yourself involved in, but every once in a while something really good or wondrous happens that keeps you coming back for more.

After taking all of this into account, at this mid-point in the year there are inevitably rumors and rumblings roiling about. And questions. Always questions. Some have obvious answers and some simply defy explanation. So I’ve assembled a few, keeping the focus on the high hard ones that consume most of the chatter in this town.

How can you explain a business where allegedly smart people knowingly squander an impeccable legacy and ignore historic authenticity all in the name of turning a brand into something it’s not?

How can you explain an automaker with a rich brand heritage of impeccable engineering filled with milestone motors that allows its machines to be swaddled in hideous bodywork that’s embarrassing to look at?

How can you explain the biggest bet on the come in the modern industrial-technological age, one defined by a mass movement to autonomy (occurring well, you know, somewhere down the road) that’s chewing up vast sums of R&D money in the here and now with promises of obscene profits that are also, well, you know, somewhere down the road?

How can you explain one of the largest automakers in the world with one of the largest marketing budgets in the world bumbling around in fits and starts with half-assed “marketers” impersonating qualified professionals, people who do less with more than anyone in the business?

How can you explain one of the most iconic brands in automotive history regularly engaging in lowest-common-denominator advertising, while seemingly going out of its way to ignore one of the most illustrious advertising legacies in the business?

How do you explain a glorified snake oil peddler who continues to mesmerize otherwise smart members of the financial community (and the media), who in turn willfully act as his built-in PR shills, while the company has yet to deliver a single dollar of profit in its entire existence?

Speaking of said media, how does a known, carpetbagging mercenary even merit more than a cursory mention in its coverage of the business after all these years of his overpromising and underdelivering?

How long can a company with one (very) trick pony contributing the majority of its profits continue to hinge its entire future upon it?

How long can companies continue to churn out immense profits on vehicles anathema to their brand legacies before those legacies are forgotten or destroyed altogether?

How long does an alleged “cultural” and “process” visionary have to make a difference for a company long known for its deep silos and entrenched fiefdoms?

How long does an earnest and well-intentioned CEO have before being replaced by the company’s very aggressive No. 2?

How can an auto company reinvent itself as a technology company when it’s approaching near paralysis due to its antiquated IT systems?

How long can a company with an incredible legacy of high-performance and numerous victories at the highest levels of racing continue to squander that legacy by pretending those achievements either don’t exist, or are only attractive to targeted segments of “intenders”?

How long does this industry have before the “flat” sales projections turn sharply into a slippery downward slope?

How long can an industry that allegedly believes in the long-term efficacy of electric vehicles continue to ignore the need for the development of a national, standardized, “quick charge” charging system?

Yes, there are countless more, but these are the questions percolating the loudest in this business right now. And by the way, the current tranquility in this business brought on by the “comfortably” flat SAAR is simply the lull before the storm that’s looming off on the horizon.

And when that hits only two questions will matter: How far down will it slide? And for how long?

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

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