No. 915
September 20, 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.

Follow Autoextremist

 

Wednesday
Sep132017

ADRIFT IN A PRIMROSE SEA: THE GOOD AND MOSTLY UGLY FROM THE FRANKFURT SHOW.

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit.  The news out of the Frankfurt Auto Show – I will dispense with the official name because it’s as ineffective and irrelevant as “NAIAS” is for the Detroit Auto Show – is that the entire auto industry is going flat-out crazy yet again. Yes, this isn’t exactly news, because the auto industry careens around in a permanent state of craziness as a matter of standing operating procedure. But this time the business is going off the deep end to a new level of full crazy never seen before, and it’s all about – yes, you guessed it – Electric Vehicles.

How they’ll be built, how far they’ll run on a charge, how long it’s going to take to charge them, and most important (as you’ll see), what they’ll look like. An interesting sidebar to the EV frenzy is that German car executives warned that a wholesale shift to electric cars brings with it a raft of problems. And it’s not just infrastructure and charging stations – the usual hand-wringing associated with selling EVs – it is the fact that building EVs will require dramatically fewer people, which will severely impact not only the homegrown German economy and its workforce, but the future of the auto industry going forward. (It should be pointed out here that Tesla actually uses more people to build its cars, which makes Tesla, hands down, the industry model of inefficiency. But St. Elon is a genius, and don’t you ever forget it.) So, in spite of the ongoing frenzy, the arrival of the EV era will bring with it some intense challenges, and nothing about this transition will be automatic. There will be blood – and drastic measures – to accommodate this fundamental shift.

Now, back to the look of these EVs. Manufacturers displayed the gamut of EVs in Frankfurt, from real live production-intent vehicles to blue-sky meanderings. But because there is no inherent sexiness in the mechanical ingredients in an EV design, it’s clear that the importance of design has now come to the fore. I said long ago in these pages that Design is the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator, and this has become even more crucial now that this business is devoting its full energy to EVs. And what I’m seeing coming out of Frankfurt should be a wakeup call to a lot of automakers that insist that they know what they’re doing and have it goin’ on, because clearly they don’t.

Two of the prime offenders are BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It’s no secret that BMW has been phoning it in for years now, especially when it comes to design. The company seems to be adrift in a primrose sea made up of one part self-importance and one part hubris. Throw in a massive dollop of self-congratulatory studio chatter in its design halls and you have a recipe for disaster. And sure enough BMW designers confirmed my assessment by unleashing a dimension of ugliness at the Frankfurt show that is simply stunning to behold.

(BMW)

If the BMW iVision Dynamic is a “vision” of BMW’s electric future (see more images in “On The Table” –WG), then this company is in for a real bad time. This concept is flat-out ugly from the front, but don’t worry, the rest of it really doesn't get much better. (That blue accent color you see in the front? The manufacturers have decided en masse that blue is the new code color of electrification. It was everywhere in Frankfurt, which is funny, but remember when blue used to be the color for diesel? Oh well.)

BMW Design is stinking up the joint right now, there’s just no two ways about it. But it isn’t a surprise, because BMW has been on an enduring quest to be all things to all people for so long that it has completely lost its way, or mind, or both. BMW has now become a logo without much substance attached, because for every genuine “M” car, there are seemingly a dozen SUV models and a smattering of bland sedans that are so mind-numbingly uninspired and so far removed from what BMW once was that it has become a bad joke. And now that we have a preview of the BMW’s electric future, the outlook is grim. What is a BMW again? And why should we care? BMW operatives clearly don’t even have the first clue anymore.

Not to be outdone, Mercedes-Benz weighed in with its latest stab at designing for electrification with something called the EQA. Now remember, this is a company that wowed the business a month ago at Pebble Beach with its fabulous Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet, which I wrote about in my column “An Eloquent Rebuttal.” That car was stunning in its magnificence and sheer exuberance, and it gave me hope that Mercedes wouldn’t abandon the importance of design going forward. I was sorely mistaken, because the EQA is an abysmal idea executed poorly.

(Mercedes-Benz)

Actually, Mercedes spent more time discussing how the grille changes depending on what drive program you engage, and how its light design evokes “the copper windings of an electric motor and the animation visualizing electrical impulses,” than they did talking about the car itself. That’s because the EQA is devoid of even a shred of inspiration. Mercedes designers didn’t even phone it in with this thing, they just fired off a text and called it good.

The EQA is another example of Mercedes-Benz operating as the biggest Jekyll & Hyde car company on earth. When they have it goin' on, with machines like the Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet, they do magnificent stuff. But then they turn around and unleash this miserable excuse for a future electric car on the landscape. As Colonel Kurtz once famously said: “The horror. The horror.”

But then again, left to its own devices, Mercedes-Benz’ propensity to do stupid things knows no bounds. They also chose the Frankfurt show to unveil the Mercedes-AMG Project ONE, which had Mercedes PR minions crowing that, for the first time, a "two-seater supersports show car brings the very latest and efficient, fully-fledged Formula 1 hybrid technology from the race track to the road almost par for par to represent the highlight of AMG's 50th anniversary." Not that anyone asked for another supercar that has 1000HP, goes over 217 mph and costs $2.5 million, but Mercedes wanted us all to know that when it deigns to do it we should all bow down and genuflect at the sheer splendor of it all (see images in “On The Table” –WG).

(Mercedes-Benz)

Mercedes insists that the machine "combines outstanding racetrack performance and day-to-day suitable Formula 1 hybrid technology with exemplary efficiency. This is a world first." Except that bringing F1 technology from the track to the street is a nonstarter. As in, what's the point? And to what end? So the biggest swinging dick "enthusiasts" can fulfill their destiny by spending millions on another trophy car that never sees the light of day – or the road – and sits in the garage just long enough before heading to auction? And the Project One is only "a world first" until the next trophy supercar emerges.

The Mercedes-AMG Project ONE is the quintessential example of Mercedes’ unbridled hubris and wrong-headedness run amuck. And make no mistake, when Mercedes goes off the rails, nobody does it better. What a monumental waste of time and money.

Thank goodness there was one manufacturer who showcased genuine, clear-cut vision for a future electric vehicle. The Honda Urban EV Concept was brilliant in its simplicity and design purity, and it demonstrates that Honda is getting back to its essence, just in time for the onset of electrification. The Urban EV Concept is no pipe dream either, because Honda plans on having it in-market in Europe in two years.

It’s nice to see that at least one manufacturer hasn’t lost its way.

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

(Honda images)

 

 

« PRESENT AT THE CREATION? HARDLY. | Main | CADILLAC HAS ITS MOJO BACK? THE NUMBERS DON’T ADD UP. »