No. 833,
February 10, 2016

About The Autoextremist

What do you do when when you've been immersed in all things automotive since before you took your first steps? When you're the scion of an automotive family in an automotive town in its very own automotive universe? When you've forgotten more about cars and motorsports and everything and everyone involved in the business than most people will ever know? When cars aren't just in your blood, but also in your bones and your brain and the very air you breathe? If you're Peter M. De Lorenzo, you ramp it up a bit further. National commentator, industry consultant and author (as well as former superstar ad man), De Lorenzo's daily (and nightly) focus for the past 15 years has been Autoextremist.com, a weekly Internet magazine devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry and the business of motorsports. Translation: De Lorenzo likes to tell the truth about what's really going on behind the scenes in the car business. And sometimes, things get ugly. Real ugly. But he is as passionate with his praise as he is with his critiques, and Autoextremist has become a weekly "must read" for leading professionals in all industries. De Lorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today. It's the very definition of a high-octane life. And it's what fuels De Lorenzo to keep the pedal down - hard. He won't stop because he can't stop. A bit tired, perhaps? No way. De Lorenzo is one of the most untired people we know.

De Lorenzo'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. De Lorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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The Autoextremist - Rants


Tuesday
Jan112011

THE AUTOEXTREMIST

January 12, 2011

 

Blandtastic somnolence, soporific cynicism, a plague of UWVs and enough good stuff to make up for it, doggone it!

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

(Posted 1/11, 1:00 p.m.) Detroit. The 2011 Detroit Auto Show (we have permanently banned the use of NAIAS around here – Ed.) by all accounts was a smashing success, with a distinct note of optimism hanging over the proceedings like a big puffy cloud of happiness, with fleeting moments of giddiness thrown in for good measure. It wasn’t all sweetness and light of course – as I’ll point out later – but nonetheless compared to the two previous dismal years, Detroit 2011 was pretty decent and intermittently impressive even. So let’s dive in.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  The hordes started gathering at 5:30 a.m. at the Porsche stand. Why? Because none of the participating manufacturers wanted to give up a coveted spot on the first day in order to help spread out the press conferences, so there we were. I’ve been assured that this won’t be the case next year, as some sort of lottery system will be employed to split the manufacturers up.

Well, was it worth it? To witness the unveiling of the Porsche 918 RSR? Oh hell yes. The classic footage from Porsche racing history was almost worth the price of admission alone. The 918 RSR hybrid racing coupe is tautly compact, purposeful and elegantly rendered, and I look forward to seeing it run, whenever and wherever that may be. Then? Nothing. It was 90 minutes before the rest of the show began. (check out photos from Cobo Hall here.)

“We’re good enough, we’re smart enough and doggone it, people like us!” I may just have to retire The Stuart Smalley Award permanently, because no one and I mean no one, does smarm and cloying earnestness better than John Krafcik, Hyundai’s U.S. guru. By the end of his press conference I really didn’t care whether the Veloster UWV (Urban Whatever Vehicle) was a hit or not – and there are no guarantees, by the way, despite Hyundai’s current “everything we touch turns to gold” persona – because I just wanted Krafcik to sit down over in the corner and shut up. If I have to sit through one more group hug “sharing” séance/Amway Meeting masquerading as a Hyundai press conference I’m going to puke.

They do know where they’re going, right? Right? Lincoln’s display was filled with handsome iterations of their latest product line, and I know for a fact that what’s coming from Ford’s luxury brand is forward thinking, stunning and well worth the wait. But then why was the ’65 Lincoln Continental from “Entourage” parked in their display? Love the car and love the show, but Ford has made it very clear that they won’t engage in nostalgia marketing with the future of Lincoln, so why?

We’re completely out of ideas, so here are some vehicles to look at and you have a wonderful day now, okay? Acura in Detroit was like a bad dream. Not only was the - ahem - design “language” of their entire product lineup magnified to horrific effect when their vehicles were all grouped together, you could have shot-off a paint can filled with bottle rockets and not hit a soul. This isn’t even a car company in transition; it’s a car company that’s in need of resuscitation. And they got nothin’ new coming in the near term either. Not. So. Much.

We’ve lost our mojo and there isn’t a search engine in the world powerful enough to find it and our image is in complete tatters, but can we interest you in a new Prius? Toyota unveiled the Prius C, a smaller version of its hallowed Prius sedan, and the Prius V, a slightly larger, mini-crossover thingy, figuring that if they go deep enough into the alphabet they can stop selling everything else and just become The Prius of Car Companies. “We're going to plant a family tree and watch it grow,” said Bob Carter, general manager of Toyota division. Oh my. And you guys brought in Akio Toyoda for this? The rest of the Toyota display was a mishmash of breathtaking, blandtastic somnolence that just boggled the mind. Oh yeah, they had the “Swagger Wagon” (which should be marketed to the livery trade, by the way) and they had a mini SEMA show going on, which was beyond pathetic, but all-in-all, Toyota gets a giant “F” in Detroit, for Forgettable.

Actually, we do Tone Deaf better than anybody, now that you’re askin’. The Lexus display was beyond tedious, as somebody thought it would be a good idea to make all of their vehicles white, except for a metallic Day-Glo orange LF-A supercar and a pitiful green CT 200h billed as the “Darker Side of Green.” Why compound raging vanilla with more raging vanilla? And the “Darker Side of Green? Really? That’s the best you guys can come up with? Ugh.

If this is the answer, what was the question again? With their cars getting more freakish and unappealing by the second, Mini is racing headlong toward The Abyss. They decided to follow up the painfully awkward and ungainly Countryman with a coupe version of it called the Paceman, which defied categorization, and not in a good way either. The whole thing gave us a headache and we wanted to get as far away from that display as possible, except while in the process of doing that we had the unfortunate realization that we had stumbled upon Volkswagen...

And the long, slow march to Brand Oblivion begins for VW. Last week I reported that VW’s overlords were “hell-bent on becoming the biggest, baddest auto conglomerate in the world. But at what cost? If it means dumbing-down your products to the lowest common denominator to meet a price point in the U.S. market – one arbitrarily handed-down from above by the, ahem, detached-from-reality powers that be in Wolfsburg (to put it mildly) – then it’s a heaping, steaming pile of Not Good.” Well, that was based on my experience driving next to a stripper version of the new Jetta and before I witnessed the unveiling of the new Passat sedan slated to be built at a plant specifically constructed for the task in Tennessee. I had no idea that the new Passat would be worse than the Jetta because I couldn’t imagine any car company willingly designing and building such a soporific piece of crap in this day and age. Yet here we are. The new Passat is a rolling monument to tedium, a horrific conveyance that’s as bad as any Camry ever dumped in this market. Change that, it’s even more so because with Toyota you expect it, while those relentlessly arrogant “geniuses” in Germany are supposed to know better. Well, guess what? They clearly don’t. Ferdinand Piech - the VW Group’s maniacal leader - is a mad genius who has designed some stunning race cars and has pulled off some magnificent and memorable production cars in his career. But he has been responsible for some of the biggest gaffes in automotive history as well. This car or rather this calculated appliance masquerading as a car is an insult to everything good and positive going on this business right now. It represents a level of cynicism about this business, this market, and VW’s future in this market that is both appalling to behold and frightening to consider. I never thought I would see such a complete sellout of a vehicle – one that mines the darkest depths of lowest-common-denominator engineering and marketing – after all that has transpired and all of the trials, tribulations and negativity that have plagued this industry in recent years. The Passat – and the thinking behind it – is a flat-out disgrace and hands down, the biggest downer of the show by far.

Speaking of the Darkness. I would love for the Detroit Auto Show organizers to explain to me why DUB was allowed to have some carpet at the show. Was it a tip of the hat toward nostalgia, or a desperate attempt to fill space? Either way it was a giant waste of time and space, and it reeked of “woefully out of touch and out of place” to everyone who was forced to walk by it. Yikes.

They’d call it the Bismarck if they could get away with it. The BMW 650i convertible was a monstrous leap into irrelevance by BMW, comfortably retaining its title as the most wildly Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde car company existing on the face of the earth. The car is massive - and it looked even more so in person - and instead of screaming “drive me, I’m fun!” it screamed “help me, I’m an idiot.” How this company could produce such a ponderous, unappealing, battleship-sized, craptastic convertible is beyond us, especially when the new 1 Series “M” class is so damn good.

We’re still here, if you look hard enough, that is. While being forced to wade through the growing number of atrocities in their lineup, the BMW Faithful - at least what’s left of them anyway - were able to find nirvana in the new “M” version of the 1 Series. Slick, seductive and very, very well executed, it’s easy to predict that the new “M” will be the best BMW – at least for serious driving enthusiasts – in years.

Just in case you’re wondering, yes, we still have our foot hard down on the gas. Ford continued to impress with its scope and reach, with its array of smartly designed and executed vehicles and with a clearly focused management team that shows no signs of slacking off not even for a minute. The new Focus – though introduced several times now – is impressive and will be a formidable competitor in the C segment, one sure to give the Chevy Cruze fits, and the C-MAX people carrier version is going to be a huge success. Any comparisons to Mazda’s 5 should end right here, too, because the C-MAX is an entirely higher level of execution and with Ford’s impressive dealer body selling them they’re going to fly out of showrooms. And the new Vertrek Concept – aka the 2012 Escape – is simply a winner that will add mightily to Ford’s momentum (see images in "On The Table" - Ed.).

We’ve got our mojo back and as long as we don’t screw it up it’s all good. GM showed well at Cobo Hall with the very appealing new Buick Verano, the new Sonic (formerly known as the Aveo), the CTS-V Coupe race car, the ubiquitous Chevy Volt, and enough enthusiasm and smiles to light up the whole show. A word of caution: I don’t care what the psychographics suggest - differentiating the Verano from the Regal while maintaining momentum for the LaCrosse will be a tall order for Buick marketers and its dealers. I think GM is a stone’s throw away from trying to shove 50 lbs. of Buick product into a 25 lb. market segment bag, and it’s not going to automatically work by any stretch of the imagination.

Just in case you’re wondering, yes, we still have our foot hard down on the gas, Part II. Audi was present and accounted for in Detroit with its usual array of impressive production cars, including the new A7. And with the intro of the new A6, it has yet another impressive entry destined to become BMW and Mercedes-Benz’s worst nightmare.

We wish we had our mojo back but it’s too early to tell. Honda showed the new Civic Coupe and Sedan albeit in concept form, and they were good. Well, sort of anyway. We’ll wait and see how it looks out on the road but the Coupe looked awkward and the real test will be in the way the new cars drive. Funny Moment of the Show? When a photographer went to open the door of the Civic Coupe Concept (obviously a static mock-up) and the stuck-on door handle came off in his hand. Oops.

We can’t help ourselves; we just don’t have a frickin’ clue. If Lexus got the “White” memo, Mercedes-Benz got the “Silvery Gray” memo, and needless to say, they didn’t do themselves any favors. Boring, boring, boring, compounded by the fact that the electrified, Day-Glo green SLS sports car was so horrendous that it drove people away instead of drawing them in. Mercedes-Benz continues to believe and operate like it’s their auto industry and everyone else involved is just an annoying guest. But with that attitude they better be careful, because the next stop after Boring on The Oblivion Express is Forgettable. Just ask Toyota.

And now for the Autoextremist Awards from the 2011 Detroit Auto Show.

The Don’t You Dare Count Us Out You Bastards Award goes to Fiat-Chrysler. Spoiling for a fight and aching to tell anyone “I told you so,” His Royal Highness Sergio Marchionne could barely conceal his glee that he’s got Chrysler turned around. Or does he? I saw a reasonably attractive refresh of the 300, especially in the interior, but is it going to be the gangbusters hit like the first time around? No. The game has changed and it’s not the same market. Not even close in fact. Grand Cherokee? Renewed and good. The Compass? It should and will do better for them. The 200? A competent freshening of what was a piece of crap doesn’t make it instantly “fixed” or appealing. And the Fiat 500? After the first-on-the-block types get their fill, then what? It’s still a work in progress, Sergio, get over it.

The Alexander Haig Award goes to “Lt. Dan” Akerson. GM’s new CEO and the industry’s newly minted “instant” expert is now large and in charge of the Silver Silo dwellers and it’s not going so well. He talks too much, he‘s already making dubiously questionable predictions as to the scope of the company’s future product success, and worse, he’s starting to walk the walk and talk the talk like he’s been there for the bad times and he can now take credit for stuff that he hasn’t done or been involved with during the good times. Not Good doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The We Like What We Do and We Do What We Like Award goes to Bentley, who once again demonstrated that despite the maelstrom of mainstream shit swirling all around them they still do things their way and with a level of panache that is tremendously appealing. The refresh of the Continental GT is superb and the Mulsanne is just tremendous. Well done.

The Mainstream Products that Will Have the Biggest Impact on the Market Award goes to Ford for the Focus and the C-MAX. These vehicles are going to become mainstream hits, big time.

The Best Reason for The Enthusiast Faithful to get Out of Bed in the Morning Award goes to none other than BMW for the “M” version of the 1 Series. It’s just too damn good to ignore.

(BMW)

And the Autoextremist Best in Show Award goes to the Porsche 918 RSR. This wasn’t even close, in fact. The 918 RSR Hybrid racer is the essence of Porsche – at least the good Porsche anyway – locked, loaded and pointed at The Future. While other Greener-Than-Thou manufacturers are paying lip-service to the high-performance with high-efficiency mantra, Porsche is developing - and racing - advanced hybrid technology that will be consistent with their raison d’etre once it reaches production applications. Don’t be surprised if the next Porsche hybrid racer to be revealed is aimed at competing for the overall win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

(Porsche)

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

 

 

 

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