By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. After doing this column for almost sixteen years now, every once in a while I have to stop and take stock of what’s going on and remind myself that despite all of the rancor and hand-wringing that are part and parcel of the swirling maelstrom of chaos that too often defines this business, there are plenty of good things to talk about too.
In fact, I received a note from a reader in Berkeley, California, last week saying that even acknowledging all of the ongoing difficulties he would still love to see a “laudatory article about everything that is going right in the auto industry.”
I’ve often written about the good things going on in this business but obviously the constant misdeeds and missteps that seem to dog this industry and its players at a relentless cadence take up most of my time. Whether these industry players want to admit it or not, the two-steps forward, three-back dance of ignominy provides the consistent thrum in this business, a sinister soundtrack of "dark noise" if you will that is always there, looming in the background.
That there are three dumb moves for every two smart ones in this business is a given and has been proven out over time. And to the industry honchos who are absolutely convinced that it won’t happen – or is not happening - under their watch I’ve got news: You can’t really control it, you can only hope to contain it.
I've often gone out of my way to separate the dunderheads from the True Believers because to not do so would be a great disservice to the men and women who bring their talent and passion to their assignments every day. And the True Believers can be found at every level of these companies, too, from the executive suites on down.
It hasn't been easy for these True Believers by any stretch, especially when chaos reigns - or has reigned - at these companies because of the constant ebb and flow of the prevailing political winds. This has been the case throughout automotive history, the most recent example being the heroic work that the True Believers in Design, Engineering and Product Development at GM had to do while the company was trying to function through the death throes of bankruptcy. And even more pointedly, the quality work those same True Believers delivered while enduring the Dan Akerson Reign of Terror.
Or let's not forget the superb work done by the True Believers at Chrysler, who had to suffer through yet another takeover by a different band of carpetbagging mercenaries, all the while making sure that the core product strengths of the company - Jeep and pickup trucks - were not only protected but polished to a new sheen. The Italians love to take credit for those huge profits and soaring sales numbers but don't kid yourselves, folks, it was the True Believers in Design, Engineering and Product Development out in Auburn Hills who delivered the goods relentlessly and consistently over time. They not only saved Fiat's pancetta, but their outstanding work propelled Sergio to industry sainthood. (And special mention must go out to the True Believers responsible for the Hellcat-powered super performance machines too.)
Those are only two of the most visible examples, and I'm happy to say that there are True Believers around the world in this business who bring their passion and desire for excellence to work with them every day.
And the result?
We are enjoying the finest cars and trucks in automotive history, and at every price point too. Take the inherent product goodness found in the Ford Fiesta ST, for instance. This little machine positively bristles with excellence, and you can see and feel the work of Ford's enthusiast True Believers everywhere you look and with every mile driven. All for around $25,000.
Or how about the VW Golf GTI? I've often said that if I was given the choice of having one car, a machine that had to do everything well but one that had to still deliver the goods when it comes to enthusiast desires, I would be hard pressed to look at anything else.
Or how about the Corvette? Simply a superb high-performance machine by any measure, one that performs at a level consistent with machines costing two and three times as much. And that's even before you take into consideration the magnificent Z06, which is America's representative in the pantheon of the world's super cars.
Not to mention the stellar machines from Audi, BMW, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz, or the show ponies from Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren at the high end. Or even the Tesla, which, despite the endless hype and tedium from Elon Musk, is one impressive machine.
We live in the golden era of performance, there's no doubt. But let's not forget the inherent goodness and level of technology found in the average cars of today. It's simply staggering to contemplate the advanced technology, fuel efficiency and general level of excellence available in even the most mainstream of automobiles today.
If you had predicted the level of technology and efficiency that would be available in a typical Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Impala or Toyota Camry even as recently as ten years ago most people wouldn't have believed it.
There are no bad cars anymore because the price of entry in order to compete in the most competitive market in automotive history goes up with each passing quarter. Combine that with the ever-escalating regulatory demands for more safety and more efficiency, and you have a never-ending upward spiral for even more overall excellence that consumes this industry.
Yes, it is easy to get caught up in all of the stupidity that goes on in this business - as evidenced by the insipid statements emanating from Cadillac marketing over the last couple of weeks - but every once in a while it’s good to remind ourselves that there is plenty of goodness to go around too.
I will dutifully continue commenting on both going forward, with equal amounts of passion, fiery outrage, sarcasm and occasional fleeting moments of outright glee.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.