No. 976
December 12, 2018
 

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
Jan162018

UNBRIDLED OPTIMISM FOR NO APPARENT REASON, ASSORTED PHANTOM THREADS AND ENOUGH OFF-SITE REVEALS TO KILL THE WHOLE DAMN THING ALTOGETHER. YOU CALL THIS AN AUTO SHOW? TRUCK, YEAH!

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. After being hammered with relentless frigid weather for a record twelve – count ‘em – days around these parts, the assembled multitudes comprised of the card-carrying carpal-tunnel-burdened wretches in the media (and assorted hangers-on of various stripes) descended on the Motor City for a few days of free booze, free food and some car reveals interspersed among the chaos of another Detroit Auto Show.  

With temperatures in the balmy teens and with a constant snowfall peppering the proceedings, once again the out-of-towners sentenced, err, sent, to Detroit could be heard asking themselves “why?” As in the immortal, “why me, why now?” that Nancy Kerrigan uttered when she was attacked in this very city 24 years ago. 

Ah well, enough of that. Complaining about the weather here and wishing the organizers would move the show to a more civilized time of year is a fool’s errand because it’s not going to change and it’s just not going to happen. We’re destined to endure this until the industry implodes from its own self-absorption or misguided meanderings, whichever comes first.

So let’s, shall we? 

Memo to car companies lost in the Cloud of What Could Be: You better pay attention to your core automotive business for the foreseeable future, because if you don’t, you won’t have to worry about What’s Next, because you’ll be What’s Gone. Speaking of misguided meanderings, the industry’s unwavering fascination with “What’s Next” is consuming all that is righteous and holy with this business. Normally levelheaded executives (at least as much as they can be) are so hell-bent on carving out a piece of the autonomous future for their companies that they’ve completely lost the plot. It’s fine to pontificate about the transportation landscape of the future, but the reality is much less sanguine. In fact it’s flat-out grim. With manufacturers developing well over a hundred BEVs (battery electric vehicles) for the market between now and 2022, the multi-billion-dollar question remains: Is the infrastructure going to be ready for anything close to what’s needed even under the very best scenario? How about, no? It isn’t even going to be close, in fact. So, the immediate future is gasoline-electric hybrids. That’s ICEs (Internal Combustion Engines) with electric motor support. It’s rational, it’s achievable, and it’s already here and deeply in play. As for the autonomous future, you can forget about it. We’re talking 20 years away, and even by then it will be only in severely limited use.  

A new level of stupid, brought to you by BMW. BMW opened its press conference with a video of an eight-hour drift that apparently set a new “Guinness World Record.” Yes, you read that correctly, as in, WTF? If there were any doubts out there that BMW has completely lost it, they were buried in one fell swoop. This was followed by a word from its CFO. Now, it doesn’t get any better than when a car company brings its finance guy up to bore everyone to death, I mean, really. (You’d be better off if you had your PR minions hand out forks so people could stick themselves in the eye at that point.)  And this guy didn’t disappoint. But when I heard the words “our clear strategic focus…” drone-drone-drone and “we deliver on our promises…” drone-drone-drone, it was most definitely time to leave. The media was just an afterthought at these proceedings apparently, because BMW was clearly preaching to its dealers at this press conference. And then after covering BMW’s entire product portfolio, from electric scooters and motorcycles to MINI – tah-dah! - they rolled out the relentlessly uninspired X2 to collective yawns. At that point it was please help us all and you have to be frickin’ kidding me. To top it all off, BMW had more models strewn around than I even thought possible, verifying the fact that they are trying to cover every niche out there, both real and mostly imagined. The net-net of it all was a boiling sea of confusion and a clear indication that BMW has decided that its product strategy is “let’s throw everything we got up against the wall and see what sticks.” Lovely. 

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The BMW X2.

Move it along, folks, there’s absolutely nothing to see here. Acura unveiled its new RDX prototype, and I must say, I’ve never seen more people with ADD in one place in my life, either that or the crowd was so bored with what they were seeing that they started staring at their phones and tapping away immediately. Why, you might ask? Because the lack of inspiration was palpable and the “new” about the RDX was hard to discern. Wait, were we lost and had we stumbled upon the Infiniti press conference instead? Good thing Acura had an NSX as well as one of its new Acura Prototype racers for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship there; at least people could wander off and see something worth looking at.  

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The Acura RDX Prototype. 

Yes, they look cobbled together and unfinished, what’s your point? Hyundai introduced its Veloster N and it became apparent to me that between this car and the Honda Civic Type R the Angry Ant School of Design has completely taken over the hot hatch market (the Veloster is going to make its debut in Marvel Studios “Ant-Man and The Wasp” so maybe that has something to do with it – see below). Don’t tell me about the performance of these cars because they’re so painful to look at that it’s borderline depressing. This isn’t a function-over-form thing, either. These machines look cobbled together and unfinished. And that’s being kind. There has to be a better way.

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The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N. 

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We’re in search of a look. Anyone? Bueller? Nissan has been flopping and floundering about when it comes to design for so long that we gave up hope that they’d ever emerge from The Darkness a long time ago. This is the latest attempt by Nissan to come up with a new SUV design language, the Xmotion Concept. Here it is in a few words: Chunky. Aggressive. Busy. Ungainly. Needs More Work. And Trying Too Hard. (At least the interior was weirdly cool.) Combine this with the fact that the assembled Nissan production models on the show floor were so tedious and uninspired that they were instantly forgettable, and nothing has really changed when it comes to Nissan. I hesitate to say that they need to go back to the drawing board/computer screen and start over, because they always seem to peg the Wince Meter when they do. Ah well, not everyone can have it goin’ on in this business.

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The Nissan Xmotion Concept.

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It’s about trucks, it has always been about trucks, and it will always be about trucks. The new Chevrolet Silverado, the new Ram from FCA, and of course the all-conquering, King Kong Ford F-150 represent more R&D, engineering firepower, technical know-how, sheer imagination and ingenuity than any other mainstream products in this business. Oh, yeah, and more profits, too, as in lots and lots of cold hard cash. The pickup truck segment is The Straw That Stirs The Drink in this business, and the first manufacturer to forget that fact will be doomed to a life of misery. You can talk about autonomy and “future cities” all you want, but this is where the action will be in this business for a long, long time to come. As for the new trucks, it’s more of the same for Silverado, only better in every way. And the Ram is also better, but FCA designers took a more conservative turn in its front-end design, which may not please Ram loyalists. Yet, who’s kidding whom here? They’re going to crank ‘em out and sell them hand-over-fist. That’s how America rolls.

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The new Chevrolet Silverado (see more in “On The Table”). 

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The new Ram.

It may be a well too far, but it’s our well, damnit. Amidst its future cities discussion led by Professor Hackett, Ford introduced a new Bullitt to the Mustang Faithful. Appropriately tricked out in Dark Highland Green, the limited-edition Mustang Bullitt features a 5.0-liter V8 with 475HP and 420 lb.-ft. of torque and has a top speed of 163 mph. The Mustang Bullitt has subtle chrome accents and the interior highlights include a white cue ball shifter, 12-inch all-digital LCD instrument cluster and available RECARO® black leather-trimmed seats with unique green accent stitching. That’s all fine and dandy, but the real issue here is how much longer can Ford go to the Mustang Bullitt well? The demographic interested in this machine is, to be charitable, dying off, but apparently Ford thinks it’s worth doing one more Bullitt, one more time. Will there be a next one? I would be surprised, as the people interested in nostalgia rods are going to be gone with the wind. The other big news for Ford at the show was the introduction of the new Ranger mid-size pickup (see pics in “On The Table” –WG). By all accounts a fine effort, but there may be trouble on the horizon. First of all, there is no question that the Ranger will cannibalize F-150 sales; that’s just inevitable. Secondly, the growth potential of the mid-size truck market itself is questionable; in fact it will probably be miniscule. And finally, the Ranger won’t be out until one full year from now, which adds up to a mid-size pickup bed of Not Good.

(Ford)

The 2019 Mustang Bullitt.

That’s all well and good, but we’re going to need a lot of NZT to get past that front end. Lexus PR minions waxed eloquently about the new Lexus LF-1 Limitless SUV concept, saying, “Like molten metal being forged into a fine Japanese sword, the lines of the Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept have the potential to shape the future of a flagship luxury crossover for Lexus.” It does have a beautifully rendered profile and side sculpting, and the back end is very nice, especially with its avant-garde taillight design, but then it goes completely off the rails when you get around to the front end. Maybe they needed more molten hot magma from Dr. Evil, or, sticking to the movie theme, a whole bunch of NZT from Limitless. At any rate, an excellent effort from Lexus designers that almost hit it out of the park. 

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The Lexus LF-1 Limitless.

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A dumb non-name, but a stunningly beautiful design effort from Infiniti. Yes, shocking, I know, a concept from the Nissan Empire that actually bristles with taste and style. The Infiniti Q Inspiration is a gorgeous-looking machine (albeit difficult to see in the photographs) that oozes an icy cool sex appeal from almost every angle. I say almost because the front end is a little challenging, but it’s not a big enough negative to mark down a superb overall design effort from Infiniti. Kudos to all involved. 

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The Infiniti Q Inspiration.

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(Infiniti)

“What’s the Point of Having Fuck You Money if You Never Say Fuck You?” Tough, improbably desirable, undeniably cool and a little nonsensical, the redesigned Mercedes-Benz G-Class was the one production-ready vehicle at the show that people couldn’t get enough of or say enough about. I spent 30 minutes around this vehicle at one point and the appeal was universal, with the typical comment being, “I’ve always wanted one of these.” Extremely well executed – especially the interior - but pricey and out of reach for 99 percent of the consumer-buying public, the G-Class is a flat-out hit nonetheless.

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The Mercedes-Benz G-Class.

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Other quick takes? The new VW Jetta is very nice, at least for the people who actually want a car. The new VW Tiguan is worth a closer look if you’re interested in that kind of vehicle. The Corvette ZR1 looks sensational in the flesh. The Lexus LC 500 Coupe is the closest thing to having a concept car on the street and it still looks great from any angle. The Jeep Wrangler looks like a Jeep with more stuff, and the Jeep Cherokee is a decent refresh. There was more at the show (the dancers at the GAC reveal were special), but not important enough to mention here.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on my favorite carpetbagging mercenary, one Sergio “I’m the G.O.A.T” Marchionne. He had yet another storytelling time with the media at the Detroit show, whereupon he crowed in no uncertain terms that he now has no plans to sell FCA, or split up FCA for sale, or anything of the kind. 

Not so fast. 

Marchionne is all fat, sassy and happy with the profits rolling in from selling Jeeps and Ram trucks, but remember one thing about Sergio, he’s a brilliant deal maker. This “FCA is off the table” is a negotiating tactic, pure and simple. FCA doesn’t have a plan to speak of – even though Sergio is supposedly going to release one – beyond 2020. Make no mistake, if a company comes up with the money – around $20 billion or thereabouts – Sergio will turn the lights off and head to Metro Airport so fast it will make your head spin.

There was a lot of grumbling among the assembled media that the spread of off-site events on Saturday and Sunday made the actual media days on Monday and Tuesday superfluous. In fact several commented to me that if this trend continues then the media days should be cancelled altogether and the media commitment should be confined to the weekend. I can’t say that I disagree. It’s pretty much a Dead Air Circus on Tuesday, (although the new IndyCar reveal on Tuesday morning was worth it), so something has to give. As I said earlier, moving the show on the calendar seems to be so daunting that every time I bring it up people run screaming from Cobo Hall. And that’s too bad because I heard more bitching about the weather from the out-of-towners this year than any other year.

But using off-sites to conduct the media days exclusively isn’t a foolproof solution either. GM has fallen into the very bad habit of importing “brand enthusiasts” to their press conferences, which generates lots of wild applause and cheering whenever a product is revealed or something is said that portrays the product in a winning light, but it basically gets in the way of having a media event. (The Chevrolet Silverado event at Eastern Market was a perfect example of this.) In fact it blows it up entirely. I think GM should rename their press conferences “brand events” and be done with it; at least the media wouldn’t have any illusions about what they’re being invited to.  

The Detroit Auto Show, version 2018, wasn’t quite the same as it ever was, but it wasn’t exactly riveting either. I guess somewhere in between will have to do for now, at least until the powers that be get a new idea.

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

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