No. 781,
January 28, 2015

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
Dec152009

THE AUTOEXTREMIST

December 16, 2009

 

The 2009 Autoextremist Year in Review: Bankruptcies, Blithering Idiots, Bush-League Bullshit and Bad Lieutenants.

The Who Would Have Thunk It? Edition.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. The end of December brings yet another tumultuous year in this crazy business to a close, but given the uproarious upheavals and relentless changes unfolding at a furious pace, we can allow ourselves all of maybe five minutes to reflect on what just happened. There’s no point shaking our heads as to the whys and wherefores of the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler at this juncture, because it happened and it’s done. The weird thing is that it seems so long ago now.

GM is now a mere shadow of its former self with a very competitive array of vehicles on the ground or on their way. It has been retooled and reconfigured, it has burned through two CEOs in less than a year, there’s a new board in place led by “Big Ed” Whitacre - The Guy Who Doesn’t Know All That Much – and it is locked in a desperate race to gain consideration for its products from a public that is hard pressed to find a reason to care. Yup, it’s hard to believe that this is the same company that celebrated its 100th Anniversary in semi-grand fashion just a little over a year ago, BRC (Before the Roof Caved in).

And Chrysler? My oh my. Left for dead – again – only to be rescued by the Industrialist-Opportunist Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler is now in “wait and see” mode, as in we’ll wait and see if Sergio can do something besides make overinflated claims about Chrysler’s future market share gains and sales performance numbers. The Auburn Hills gang is slated to hit full stride and all come good by the year 2014 according to Sergio, if they or their dealers can hang on that long that is.

And Ford? A glittering example of what relentless focus and brilliant leadership can do for a car company; the momentum on display in Dearborn is gaining strength by the hour.

There’s more, of course. There’s always more, but I’ll save that for the end. In the meantime, let’s take a look back at this year - a year chock-full of serial incompetence and relentless mediocrity punctuated by the occasional bursts of sheer brilliance - that future historians will categorize as “a once-in-a-lifetime cataclysmic catastrophe” for the domestic automobile business.

Except that it could easily get worse for some next year.

So let’s set the clock back to last January, as 2009 dawned cold and gloomy, and Detroit found itself in a familiar position - on the precipice of disaster - with the devastating Washington hearings still fresh in everyone’s memory…

“Speaking of the American consumer, the most damaging byproduct of the lambasting that the Detroit CEOs suffered in Washington was that it seared a losing image for the domestic automobile companies - at least two of them anyway - in the American consumer consciousness. The people who hated Detroit to begin with found reassuring affirmation in what went on in those hearings, of course, but it was the consumers out there who really didn’t have an opinion one way or another about the subject who were swayed against Detroit - primarily Chrysler and GM - because of the Grand Inquisition that went on in Washington. The entire fiasco laid waste to Detroit’s hopes that a quick turnaround of the American consumer mindset was just around the corner.

In a world where Detroit has tremendous difficulty getting consumers to even look at their product offerings, let alone actually consider buying them, the debacle in Washington was devastating, which makes the task facing the Detroit Three’s marketing mavens the most daunting, make-or-break marketing challenge in history. The majority of American consumers, even when presented with the facts and reams of evidence to the contrary, still don’t believe that Detroit builds desirable or fuel-efficient vehicles, and that must change if Detroit is to survive in some way, shape or form.” (“Ninety days to nowhere. Reality bites for Detroit.” 1/7/09)


We’re the guys who do our jobs; you must be the other guys. The Ford Motor Company put on a precision show of outstanding new current and future products, one brilliant concept (more on that later) and displayed a company-wide momentum that was palpable for all to see. CEO Alan Mulally has his team focused and on-message, and Ford – the domestic automobile company that didn’t take any government money – is clearly beginning to distance itself from The Other Two. Ford is now the one American car company – America’s original car company lest we forget – that I firmly believe will be competitive on the global automotive stage well into the future. Ford has the best leadership, the necessary depth of talent, a very competitive technological quotient, a visionary and tightly focused strategic Plan and a will to succeed that is unrivaled by the other domestic manufacturers. Ford is clearly the car company to watch, and it was evident for all to see in Detroit.” (Detroit’s Winter of Discontent: Hits and Misses from the 2009 North American International Auto Show.” 1/14/09)


”GM sets the ‘Way Back Machine’ to Detroit, 1975. (At least it wasn’t Moscow, 1956.) Desperate not to appear too showy given the climate and the fact that they had just received a boatload of taxpayer money; GM overcompensated and unveiled an unbelievably bland display featuring a vast sea of different colored carpeting - and little else - and that, combined with the low ceilings, created an effect of a giant indoor car lot. Not a good look and certainly not worthy of some of the excellent products they had on hand. Despite its best intentions, GM displayed a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality in Detroit (not quite as bad as Mercedes, but...). On the one hand, GM’s near-future and future product lineup is impressive - with such cars as the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon and SRX crossover, the Chevrolet Cruze compact, updated Equinox crossover, Spark mini car and Orlando crossover, and the Buick LaCrosse sedan - which bodes well for GM’s chances in the market, if America’s economic paralysis can be cured. On the other hand, GM’s painfully tedious ‘pep rally’ theme for its main media unveiling - complete with Governor Jennifer Granholm marching in with assembled revelers - was insipid and in stark contrast with Ford’s buttoned-up and polished presentation. Quiet confidence is always better in this game, even with Washington breathing down your neck, and GM’s loud presentation lacked subtlety and didn’t do the company any favors in my book. Yes, GM announced that its Volt battery assembly would take place at a new plant in Michigan in conjunction with LG, and the slick Cadillac Converj Coupe concept based on the Volt’s impressive extended-range electric architecture was a show stopper, but GM’s messaging was disjointed and unfocused, feeling for all the world like they were throwing up anything and everything against the wall just to see what would stick. In this case GM’s promising product story was lost in uneven and at times shrill messaging. The products deserved better.” (1/14/09)


”Dead Car Company Walking. And then, there’s Chrysler. Yes, the company displayed two handsome electric concepts – the Dodge Circuit EV two-seater and the Chrysler EV sedan – but ‘Minimum Bob’ Nardelli sounded more like ‘Baghdad Bob’ in his insistence that the sky wasn’t falling and that Chrysler would be around well into the future, despite the ominous signs that were everywhere for all to see.” (1/14/09)


”Our valley is green, our heads are big, and our ink is red. The company formerly known as the Japanese Juggernaut - Toyota - arrived on the scene in Detroit and tried to wow the media with their usual tedious cocktail of smug superiority and technical prowess, but then a funny thing happened on the way to Cobo, because now Toyota is just another car company trying to succeed in a crowded field of car companies who have the technological ability and the wherewithal to take on the world’s largest automaker head on. Sure, Toyota made some noise about having a plug-in hybrid out in the market before GM’s Volt (which the New York Times’ in-house Toyota booster dutifully trumpeted), but that will qualify only as a giant ‘we’ll see’ until proven otherwise. The big news for Toyota here was the all-new Prius, which is much more aerodynamic (and somewhat better looking too) and another hybrid version of a Lexus – the H250h – which couldn’t have been blander if they tried. (Talk of a special electronic device installed in this new Lexus to keep drivers from falling asleep at the wheel out of abject boredom couldn’t be confirmed.) Toyota spent the rest of the time trying to pretend that things weren’t as bad for them as for everyone else, but it didn’t work. Expect Toyota to launch a barrage of high-profile incentives shortly so that they can get back on an even keel in the market. One thing for certain, however, is that the days of Toyota’s success being ‘automatic’ in this market are well and truly over. There are too many legitimate and very capable competitors out there now and the continued erosion of Toyota’s ‘Mr. Green Jeans’ image in the face of serious competition leaves the company having to compete on design and drivability, two characteristics (except in a very few instances) that continue to escape Toyota’s grasp, no matter how hard they try.” (1/14/09)


”We invented the automobile, and we’ll reinvent it again, thank you very much. Speaking of which, Mercedes-Benz displayed all of its runaway arrogance intact - and then some - with the pronouncement that they were reinventing the automobile again just because they showed up with the green electric technology du jour in their Concept Blue ZERO. Typical Mercedes-Benz - nothing exists unless they do it - even though other manufacturers have been developing the technology for years. GM’s Jekyll vs. Hyde tendencies pale in comparison to Mercedes-Benz, which filled their display with everything from ultra-performance machines (the Speed Racer-esque SLR Stirling Moss Edition and the brutally appealing SL65 Black Edition) to unbelievably homely GLK SUVs to go along with their new Jolly Green Giant persona. These guys have now permanently wrestled the ‘being all things to all people’ title away from every other automobile manufacturer in the world, and it’s not a good thing by any stretch of the imagination. Oh, and Mercedes also unveiled the new E class Saturday evening, which was a real yawner. Maybe that’s why you can get an optional drowsy-driver monitoring system with it...” (1/14/09)


“ ‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain, I am the Great and Powerful Oz, er, I mean, Fisker!’ The man who has single-handedly redefined the concept of Vapor Ware, Henrik Fisker, insisted with a straight face that he will sell 15,000 of his Karma S electric cars annually priced at $88,000 each. Right. Fueled by deep-pocket Silicon Valley investors and armed with a dangerous lack of common sense, Fisker is veering dangerously close to snake-oil salesman territory with this venture, and it’s growing increasingly tedious by the minute to be subjected to his bluster with each new public pronouncement. At one time Fisker was a talented designer - and his new cars are certainly competent but far from earth shattering to look at – but Fisker’s self image as a burgeoning, all-knowing and all-powerful industry Wizard leaves a lot to be desired. There is nothing - not one single thing - about Fisker’s business model that suggests to me anything but a slowly unfolding train wreck that will haunt the auto biz for months, if not years, to come.” (1/14/09)


It’s the Design, Stupid. “I’m going to close this auto show week by pointing out one crucial thing about this business going forward and that is no matter what the propulsion system is underneath a vehicle - whether it’s conventional piston engine power, extended-range electric, full-electric, hybrid, diesel - or a team of chipmunks singing Walt Disney show tunes as they furiously pedal away underneath the hood - beautiful, compelling design will remain the Ultimate Initial Product Differentiator. Consumers must have a reason to look more than once and great design will dictate the initial ‘buy-in’ for consumers and what they will or won’t be willing to investigate further. No matter what the generation or the perspective, great design will continue to separate the winning automobile companies from the also-rans, because consumers will gravitate toward interesting and emotionally engaging shapes and pleasing textures first and foremost.” (1/14/09)

(John F. Martin photos, courtesy of GM)

(Ford Motor Company Photos)

The most outstanding design statements from the 2009 Detroit Auto Show were the Cadillac Converj and the Lincoln Concept C, two vehicles that express what compelling design is and should be all about.

 

“Now, granted, Audi - the company that has BMW and Mercedes-Benz firmly in its sights - is on the ascendancy, a company that bristles with innovation, confidence and a refreshing swagger that this business could use a little more of - and on the surface, the Detroit automakers have nothing in common with the soaring German automaker. But if there are lessons in Audi’s swagger for Detroit marketers it’s these:

1. Give people a reason to take notice and then give them something to remember.

2. Put your best products forward, and make sure the American consumer knows that you stand for something other than being up against the ropes.

3. Don’t apologize for existing, and whatever you do don’t hide behind budgetary rationalizations to mask your indecisiveness.

Detroit is out of options when it comes to convincing American consumers that they’re worthy. It comes down to product, yes, of course it does. It’s about the product, it has always been about the product, and it always will be about the product. But if you have excellent products and no one knows about them, what good is it?

In other words, if you’re a Detroit marketing maven, thinking about how many things you’re not going to be doing in 2009 to save money is not the answer. Instead, it should be about crafting new offensives and new programs that will create maximum impact for your products and your company.” (”Memo to Detroit auto marketers: Go Big or Go Home.” 1/21/09)


“The Green Horde likes to think that all of this planet saving stuff will come down to simply giving the auto industry a swift kick in the ass while tossing in some technological development monies - plus some consumer incentives thrown in for good measure - and voila! We’ll see a million plug-in electric vehicles on the road by 2016. But even the most optimistic players from the leading auto and energy companies don’t see that happening because given all of the evidence available - in terms of battery development and production capacity and the capability (or lack of same) of the electrical grid in cities and towns across America - and considering all of the projections, it’s just not technically feasible. Not to mention the fact that when you throw in the consumer’s ability or more important, the desire to pay for it, it adds up to a heaping, steaming bowl of Not Good. Short of coming up with a national energy policy that sets a minimum price for fuel, which will dramatically and permanently reconfigure America’s fleet of vehicles ($2.00 per gallon gasoline won’t change anyone’s habits or purchase decisions), then everything the politicos in Washington and California are doing is so much costly window dressing.” (“A new ‘Green Gap’ vexes the auto industry. 1/28/09)


“I can’t imagine what shape GM would be in right now if Rick Wagoner hadn’t brought Bob Lutz on board seven years ago. I would venture to guess that GM might not even have made it this far without him; he has been that instrumental to the company’s well being. Was Lutz able to save GM all by himself? No. Market conditions and the worst economic calamity in this nation’s history conspired against him. But if GM does manage to survive it will be due in large part to the absolutely superb job Lutz did during his tenure and the rich legacy of achievement and excellence he left behind.

Bob’s impending exit is a serious blow to GM, make no mistake about it. He galvanized the entire company, got everyone on the same page, and forced them to aspire to greatness at times by the sheer force of his will and personality alone. His departure not only marks the end of an era for General Motors, it marks the end of an era for this business and frankly I hate to see it because Bob is truly one of a kind and we will not see the likes of him again, unfortunately.

Sadly, without Lutz this business will continue to be overrun by politically correct bean counters and slick corporate willies who have little or no feel for the product, no sense of automotive history, and even worse, no sense of humor. A giant bowl of Not Good in my book.

Bob Lutz’s accomplishments in this business are legendary, and even though there’s no need (or enough space) for me to recount all of them here, suffice to say he’s had one of the most glittering careers this industry has ever known.

In terms of his relentless vitality, his legendary wit, his unquestioned knowledge of the business, his passion for the product, his uncanny “gut” and his unerring feel for what the essence of the product is all about; Bob Lutz is simply second to none. Having spent enough quality time with Bob over the years I can safely say that he is, in my estimation, the greatest product guru of the last 35 years and he will leave the stage as one of this industry’s all-time greats.” (“The End of an Era: The Ultimate Car Guy Takes His Leave.” 2/9/09)


“To understand the travesty of Pontiac's current state you have to go back and understand the impact Pontiac once had on the U.S. market. It's hard to believe this now but at one point during its glory days in the '60s Pontiac was the hottest car company in the country, breathing down Ford's neck for third place in sales. If ever a car company defined ‘swagger’ - Pontiac was it. Pontiac was GM's pirate division, and if they could have raised a ‘skull and crossbones’ flag over its headquarters in its heyday, they would have. On any given day, Pontiac was always pissing off someone down at GM headquarters because they just couldn't help themselves from bitch-slapping Chevrolet and sending Chevy executives whining to the 14th floor like little school girls over some perceived transgression.

Starting with Bunkie Knudsen, Pontiac pushed the envelope and marched to a different drummer. Pontiac tweaked their cars to the point that they didn't even seem like they were part of the GM family. More than any other American car company, Pontiac delivered cars to the market bristling with a maverick, rebel attitude, edgy appeal and genuine soul - a commodity so far removed from most of Detroit's products today it's appalling. The street ‘buzz’ around Pontiac was undeniable - and it was fueled by some of the most memorable advertising ever done for an automobile. For one fleeting moment in time, product and advertising came together in such a way that it created an American sensation. If you drove a Pontiac, it definitely said something about you. You were different from the crowd and you went your own way. And the aura that was created around the brand translated into gold in the marketplace, sending Pontiac sales soaring. Now, Pontiac is a mere shadow of its once-glorious self.” (“Reports of Pontiac’s death have been greatly exaggerated.” 2/25/09 - shortly after, of course, it was announced that Pontiac would be euthanized)


“The domestic automotive industry - much to the chagrin of its critics - is home to some of the most advanced technological expertise and innovative minds in the world today - yes, equal to if not better than any car maker from any other country too - and I am absolutely confident that they have the talent and the know-how to move this country forward when it comes to meeting the goals of environmental responsibility. It will take a serious commitment and incredible amounts of research and development time and money to get where we eventually want to go, but we will get there.

We won’t get there, however, if we leave it up to the people who have little or no understanding of concepts like production feasibility or the idea that a car company must deliver vehicles a.) that people actually want to buy, b.) that they can actually afford to buy and. c.) that the company producing it can actually make real money in the process. That last part is the real kicker for the Green Horde. Not only is profitability a dirty concept to them - after all, someone might actually make money by taking risks and delivering a desirable product (how radical is that?) - but I get the idea that after all of their pronouncements and hard and fast rules that they’re so quick to throw around they’ll feel ‘entitled’ to paying less than ten grand for a car that will allow its passengers to walk away from a 60 mph crash into a bridge abutment while emitting nothing but the faint whiff of Pacific sea breezes going down the road.” (“PMD Unplugged: The ‘Old Broken Down Piece of Meat’ Edition.” 3/11/09)


“But there was another side to Rick Wagoner's tenure that the instant pundits out there either refuse to acknowledge - out of their out and out hatred for anything to do with GM and Detroit - or that they simply couldn't fathom because of their abject lack of experience or what is probably closer to the truth, their complete lack of understanding of how this business actually operates. And that is that if Rick Wagoner hadn't taken the aggressively decisive actions that he did take, GM would have been out of business years ago.

Wagoner's move into the Chinese market (a continuation of the doctrine laid out by his predecessor, Jack Smith) proved to be pivotal in providing a road map for the company's future. And Wagoner's insistence on utilizing and exploiting the global capabilities of GM's far reaching corporate empire, with forays into Korea, Brazil, Mexico and Eastern Europe, laid the groundwork for a completely modernized and globally competitive endeavor.

But Wagoner's most impressive move during his tenure was to recognize his own limitations as a financially-oriented leader, while at the same time setting his own ego aside in order to bring Bob Lutz into the company. Wagoner handed Lutz the keys to GM's woefully moribund product development system and said ‘Fix it,’ while giving Lutz carte blanche to do it. And the results were magnificent. During Wagoner's tenure - while benefiting from the vision, passion and sheer will to succeed that Lutz brought to the table - GM saw its greatest design, engineering and product era since its glory days of the 60s.

Down the road, long after the lynch mob hysteria subsides - and this administration's pitchforks have been hopefully melted down into brand spanking new American-made automobiles - Rick Wagoner's tenure will be judged more fairly and with the proper perspective. But until that time it must be said that the economic catastrophe that overwhelmed this country conspired to bring an entire foundation American industry to its knees, and there was no leader - socially ‘approved’ or otherwise - who could have prevented GM and the rest of the domestic automobile business from collapsing.” (“GM's Rick Wagoner is sent packing as President Obama opens a Pandora's Box of Not Good.” 3/29/09, Special Autoextremist Update)


“It’s no secret that Chrysler has been teetering on the brink for months, even though they’ve been insisting all along that they’re in better shape than GM (which flat-out isn’t true, by the way). Add to this the fact that the Cerberus corporate bylaws won’t allow the company to sink anymore money into Chrysler (what, they can’t change the rules, or is the reality that they will do anything to get out from under this mess without spending one more dime closer to the High-Octane Truth?) - the worst financial play in the company’s entire history – and pretty much nothing associated with the Auburn Hills bunch is sitting too well with anyone in Washington these days.

Which brings me back to Nardelli. Remember, this is the guy who stated upon being tapped to run Chrysler that ‘the New Chrysler has the opportunity to prove that private business models can thrive in this industry.’ How is that working out for you and the Cerberus brain trust so far, Bob? I’ll answer that for you: Not so much.

Nardelli brought his ‘don’t let the screen door hit you in the ass on your way out’ exit strategy from Home Depot with him to Detroit, the only problem is that no one at Cerberus bothered to do due diligence to see if he was equipped for the job or not. (Not that anyone at Cerberus actually had the first clue about running a car company to begin with.) And guess what? He wasn’t. And there’s no amount of Jack Welch/GE-tinged business school mumbo-jumbo bullshit on the planet that can cover that fact up. The wayward Welch acolytes at Cerberus weren’t just ill-equipped for the task at hand; they had no business even going near it. And it has been such an unmitigated disaster of incalculable scope that even Jim Press’s once-golden reputation has been destroyed in the process.” (“State of the Motor City Nation: The ‘Polishing of the Pitchforks’ Edition.” 3/25/09)


Editor’s Note: We’re re-running Peter’s entire April 1, 2009 column next, which was and still is one of his most popular columns in the history of AE. The column caused quite a stir and caught quite a few people - who at first thought it was really happening - off-guard. – WG

NEW AUTO CONGLOMERATE BASED IN CHINA SET TO REDEFINE THE GLOBAL AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY; SECRET NEGOTIATIONS RESULT IN STUNNING DEAL TO BUY BOTH GENERAL MOTORS AND CHRYSLER.

Shanghai. (AP) Capping off a tumultuous week, the global automobile market is set to be turned upside down yet again after a stunning move to consolidate the auto industry has been announced by Endless Green Horizon, a newly-formed global automotive conglomerate based in Shanghai, China. "We are pleased to announce that our initiative into the global automobile market is progressing rapidly and that we're being welcomed with warm greetings,” said Co-chairman James "Jimmy" Fu. "We look forward to redefining the automobile industry and intend on being a significant player for decades to come." Mr. Fu's partner, S.L. "Sonny" King, added, "We live our lives to achieve this goal. This is no pretend moment. Our reality will become the industry's reality shortly."

Initial skepticism followed by a grudging acceptance.

Coming hard on the heels of President Obama's bludgeoning of GM and Chrysler this past Monday, including the forced removal of GM CEO Rick Wagoner, the secret negotiations and subsequent deal were announced abruptly overnight Tuesday, after rumors began to emerge late yesterday in Shanghai.

GM released the following prepared statement this morning: "When first approached by Mr. Fu and Mr. King we weren't able to ascertain the seriousness of their intentions early on, and admittedly, we were dismissive of the overture,” said CEO Fritz Henderson. "But over the last few weeks the complexion of their offer changed, as did the tone from the Obama administration, obviously, and it was clear that this whole thing with Washington was going nowhere good. Given all that has transpired in the last six months culminating in the chaos of the last few days, we feel Endless Green Horizon's offer was in the best interest for GM, its employees and retirees, our dealers, our suppliers, the United Auto Workers union, and all interested stakeholders including our bond holders and most important, the American tax payer."

Jason Vines, the executive vice president and Director of Global Communications for the new automotive endeavor, said in a statement that a special media briefing would be held on Thursday morning, April 2, in Detroit, in the Wintergarden lobby of the RenCen. "As you can imagine, given the global impact of these developments it is imperative that we give everyone enough time to digest what has just happened. The press conference is scheduled for tomorrow morning at 10:00AM, and it will be broadcast live around the world for media sources unable to get here on such short notice."

Steve Harris, GM's PR chief, said there would be no additional comment forthcoming from Mr. Henderson or GM until the joint press conference scheduled for tomorrow morning.

A statement was also released by Robert Nardelli, the CEO of Chrysler LLC this morning: "We were first approached by Mr. Fu and Mr. King a month ago, and we too were unable to muster the energy to take them seriously. That of course changed over the subsequent weeks. After long hours of consideration fraught with soul searching and hand wringing, we believe this is the best deal for Chrysler, its employees and retirees, our suppliers, our dealers, the UAW and for our corporate parent, Cerberus. It is the end of an era for the American automobile business, but the beginning of a new chapter for the global automobile industry."

Mr. Nardelli was approached for a comment as he got into his car at the main entrance to Chrysler's headquarters, but he waved off reporters' questions with a brusque, "I really don't give a shit anymore. Buh-bye." Last seen, his car was seen peeling out of the driveway heading to whereabouts unknown.

Ron Gettelfinger, the head of the UAW, refused to comment after his arrival at Solidarity House this morning, the labor union's headquarters in Detroit. "I can assure you that I'll have plenty to say later tomorrow when we have our own press conference," Mr. Gettelfinger said.

Secret negotiations climax in fifteen minutes that would change the automotive world forever.

Negotiations began in late February, according to sources, the timetable of which was later confirmed by Mr. Vines. "Initial overtures were made to GM and Chrysler in late February by Mr. Fu and Mr. King," Mr. Vines, a long time industry PR veteran with notable stints at Ford and Chrysler, said. "It was made clear from the outset to both automakers that the offer being made by Endless Green Horizon was serious, legitimate and substantially funded,” Vines continued. "After GM and Chrysler leadership demonstrated their initial skepticism, actual common parameters emerged over a very brief period of time. This deal didn't come together until it was made quite clear by President Obama and his administration this past Monday afternoon that these two automakers were just north of being expendable, or as I carefully explained to Mr. Fu and Mr. King, they were toast."

Mr. Henderson made his first appearance in front of the assembled media as GM's CEO yesterday at the company's headquarters in Detroit. He talked about the car business and his plans to reinvent the company, a new customer assurance plan, how much he respected the Obama administration's automotive task force and the President himself, and other topics. There was no indication whatsoever that this deal was in the works. But things would soon change.

The dramatic moment came just after 9:00PM EDT last night (9:00AM this morning in Shanghai), when Fritz Henderson called Mr. Fu at the end of a hastily called emergency board meeting led by newly-minted non-executive chairman of the board Kent Kresa and said, "We're done here. Let's do it." Thus ended 100 years of U.S. industrial history as the American corporate icon finally acquiesced to a complete takeover.

Mr. Henderson then had Mr. Nardelli informed of GM's decision immediately, and Mr. Nardelli called Mr. Fu and accepted the conglomerate's offer fifteen minutes later.

The financial details of this historic agreement were not released, but Mr. Vines made a point to a small group of reporters gathered in front of the GM building at 5:00AM this morning that the debt issues that were strangling both companies had been addressed by the Chinese conglomerate. "Complete financial details will be forthcoming at the press conference tomorrow morning," Mr. Vines said. "But I can safely say to you that the massive debt of these companies, something that's of primary interest to all of the parties involved, has been covered, in cash."

Shadowy backgrounds.

The details of how Mr. Fu, 61, and Mr. King, 59, accumulated their staggering wealth are, as a kilted Angus McPherson, the notably acerbic Scottish journalist stationed in Shanghai put it, "...missing in action, a wee bit sketchy, I would say," as he stuffed his notebook back in his sporran. The two figures have operated in the shadows of the burgeoning Chinese industrial machine for years. Mr. Fu started manufacturing model cars in the late 70s and is now rumored to control every toy making concern in China, though none of this has actually been confirmed after years of investigations. Mr. King became partners with Mr. Fu after initially supplying the elaborate wheels and carefully detailed tires on Mr. Fu's model cars. The two have been partners ever since.

Said to be fond of younger women, fast American muscle cars, Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon and Gulfstream jets, Mr. Fu and Mr. King nonetheless pride themselves in avoiding the limelight. Both men were married and divorced in their 30s, but little is known about that part of their life stories. It is known now, however, that Mr. Fu is trying to push the career of a budding 26-year-old Chinese pop star, his current girlfriend, while Mr. King seems to be addicted to an endless succession of young female gymnasts nearing the end of their competitive careers.

Mr. Vines provided no details other than to say, "Mr. Fu and Mr. King are reclusive, talented, workaholics who also enjoy life to the fullest. Other than that, I really have no further comment."

Shock in
Washington.

President Obama's Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, clearly caught off guard when asked by reporters of the development early this morning before a press briefing said: "Huh?" to the news. "We know nothing about it, but, uh, er, you're kidding, right?" When assured the news was genuine, he cut off the media briefing and raced out of the press room.

A statement was released by the Obama administration just one hour later. "President Obama has been assured by the new owners of General Motors and Chrysler that all existing pension obligations will be met and that their crushing debt burden has been addressed. He looks forward to meeting with the new owners to hear of their plans to contribute to America's industrial fabric and help lead us to a sustainable, green driving future. The President is also pleased to announce that the additional money discussed for both GM and Chrysler on Monday will no longer be needed, and that the money initially borrowed by the two companies since last December has been paid back in full."

When pestered for more details on what the President knew and when he knew it, Mr. Gibbs said, "I got nothin'."

Mouths agape in Detroit.

The mood in Detroit was one of resignation when the news emerged. "People are walking around in a daze, looking like that '1984' Apple TV commercial," said one high-ranking GM executive. "First there was Monday's shocker and now this."

One administrative assistant who did not want to be identified was found at the Starbucks in the RenCen (GM's headquarters) staring off into space, pouring Kahlua in her Grande Iced Chai Soy Latte Triple Dirty. Asked about the news she shrugged her shoulders and said, "GM, Endless Green Horizon...what's the f---ing difference?"

Another GM employee commented as he was leaving the building, "At this point, I'd prefer a couple of Chinese cowboys owning this place over those numb-nuts in Washington."

A homeless man, queried on the street corner in front of GM headquarters muttered, "Monica Conyers for President" as he walked away.

A UAW member speaking on condition of anonymity added, "That's fine, man, but what's in it for me?"

Stunning choice for CEO.

In another stunning development, Peter M. De Lorenzo, a longtime industry marketing veteran, was named to be the Chairman and CEO of the new company's North American operations - to be renamed Fu-King Motors - which will include the remnants of GM and Chrysler. Mr. De Lorenzo, capping off a controversial ten-year run as the man behind Autoextremist.com - the highly influential industry publication - was a surprise choice by Mr. Fu and Mr. King to lead its new venture.

Mr. De Lorenzo got the call moments after the deal was consummated, according to Vines. "It turns out that Mr. Fu and Mr. King stumbled upon Mr. De Lorenzo's website when they first became familiar with the Internet. As a matter of fact, both gentlemen learned English by having Mr. De Lorenzo's 'Rants' columns translated for them. They also learned to say some of Mr. De Lorenzo's patented sayings phonetically, like 'notgonnahappen.com,' 'halle-frickin'-luja,' and 'the Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking.' And when the two gentlemen used some of Mr. De Lorenzo's sayings in the negotiations with GM and Chrysler, the blood drained out of the faces of the Detroit executives, to put it mildly. Mr. Fu and Mr. King have been in contact with Mr. De Lorenzo for six years, after they first approached him at the Los Angeles Auto Show. When they first contacted GM and Chrysler about their interest, Mr. De Lorenzo became part of the behind-the-scenes team orchestrating this deal. Mr. Fu and Mr. King said that Mr. De Lorenzo was their clear choice for CEO from the very beginning."

"Mr. De Lorenzo will bring years of experience leading our company," said Mr. Fu. "He puts pedal down hard, no b.s.," Mr. King added, as they addressed a small group of reporters gathered in Shanghai. "And if he doesn't like something, NOTGONNAHAPPEN.COM!!!" they shouted in unison to the bemused expressions on the reporters' faces, as they clearly had no clue as to what the two men were talking about.

Mr. Vines said that Mr. De Lorenzo would not be available to the media until tomorrow's meeting.

Comments from around the world pour in.

The development was so swift and stunning that comments were just starting to pour in as we were completing this story. Volkswagen released a joint statement from VW's Ferdinand Piech and Porsche's Wendelin Wiedeking moments ago: "We look forward to hearing more details about what appears to be a fanciful quest to re-make the automobile industry. We know who we are and what we do best. We will crush them."

Ratan Tata, CEO of Tata Motors, was equally dismissive, saying, "It won't make a Nano-bit of difference to us."

Sergio Marchionne, the Fiat CEO, was apparently stunned at the news: "I do not understand, this can't be true. I mean, we kinda had a deal." And then he slammed down the phone.

Toyota released the following statement from CEO Katsuaki Watanabe: "We find this to be a perplexing development. We have no idea what this means, or why this is happening. We want the auto world to go back to the way it was, when we dominated everything. And it's not happening. Why?"

When contacted by cell phone for a comment about the choice of De Lorenzo, Robert Lutz, the Vice-Chairman of GM, who was on the roof of the RenCen, said, "Oh, hell yes. That's an inspired choice. He'll shake the rafters, kick ass, and will that company to greatness. I might just re-up to work with him!" Mr. Lutz then got into his helicopter to fly home.

And finally, Keith Crain, the Publisher of Automotive News had this to say: "It's a wonderful time to be in the automobile industry."

By Wang Liu for the Associated Press, with Vikram Bhan in Mumbai, Thurston Chesterton IV in London, Tammi Sue Jenkins in Detroit, Heather Elizabeth Wellesley in New York, and Masami Katsuta in Tokyo

 

“But for the majority of consumers ‘out there’ the overriding message that has been hammered home since the end of last year is that GM is not only over, dead, and buried, it’s a company with no redeeming value whatsoever and the country would be better off without it…

And I’m not so sure it can be done, either. A relentless cacophony of GM = Bad coverage in the media has enveloped the company in a shroud of negativity emphatically punctuated by the President of the United States getting up in front of the American public saying, for all intents and purposes, that GM was damaged goods.

I am sure, however, that it can’t be done with the General Motors name attached to whatever this new ‘good’ GM entity is. The GM name is that far gone. One hundred years of accomplishment and historic value to the American industrial fabric has been decimated in a matter of months. Once one of America’s corporate icons, GM has now been reduced to being a punch line for a running national joke, and this new car company will have to be unburdened of the GM name, pronto.

Will a name change be the magic elixir for this “good” version of GM’s new automobile company? No, of course not, but it won’t be the focal point of negativity, either.” (“Turn out the lights, the party’s over for the ‘old’ General Motors. But does a ‘new’ GM really stand a chance if it’s still called General Motors?” 4/15/09)


“The once-proud car company that riveted a car crazy nation with a brilliant combination of high performance and high style and became an integral part of the culture of the 60s thanks to a wide-open marketing campaign that still resonates to this day is no more.

To see the one GM division that actually had a pulse - and lived to flaunt its rebel soul to great success while thumbing its nose at its corporate overseers - reduced to a historical footnote while lost in a grim morass of debt holders and looming bankruptcy is almost unbearable.

The Soul Survivor is now just Dust in the Wind.

Pontiac deserved so much better.” (“The Soul Survivor is now just Dust in the Wind.” 4/29/09)


“So is this the darkness before the dawn?

This administration is certainly hoping so, and I do too, frankly. But it’s not going to be smooth, and it’s not going to come easy. There will be no “finger-snap” engineering miracles or breakthroughs that appear overnight, either. This will require serious long-term investment, tireless work and a realistic set of expectations from all sides of the equation.

And it’s going to cost all of us who like to drive more. A lot more.

If you would like a sneak preview of what the mainstream American sedan of the year 2016 will look like, a machine that’s eminently capable, comfortable and remarkably efficient, a machine that is the embodiment of where these new regulations are taking us, and a machine that surprisingly enough isn’t Japanese, German, Korean or Chinese, but an American design from an American car company, take a good long look at the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. America, welcome to your driving future.” (“The darkness before the dawn.” 5/20/09)


“It wasn’t just another company, no, far from it. It was, at its peak, the mightiest corporation the world had ever known, a juggernaut among mere mortal companies and a shining beacon of American industrial strength, resolve and leadership envied around the world. Now, General Motors, after an incredible slide to oblivion that no one could have predicted, is officially bankrupt.

How we got to this point has been dissected, discussed and downloaded for years now. I founded this website ten years ago on the premise of telling it like it is about this industry - as someone who was both lucky enough to be around and experience GM up close and personally in its heyday and one who was also around to witness the abject futility and stupidity of the ‘bad’ GM while mired in the marketing trenches attempting to make a difference.

At its best GM was a monolithic corporate dynamo bristling with brilliant personalities and talent so deep that its bench could have easily led the other two domestic car companies in their spare time. From the late 50s through to the late 70s GM set the tone for the entire automotive world. It had some of the finest designers, the most gifted engineers, the most savvy marketing and sales people, and without question, the sharpest financial minds in the business…

But the world changed, and what worked for GM in its era of dominance became woefully obsolete and untenable in a new automotive world that didn’t put much stock in the past ‘glory days.’ Detroit’s market share eroded right along with each new competitive entry from Europe and Asia that arrived on these shores, but GM, steadfast in its refusal to acknowledge that the world was changing dramatically around them, stuck to a game plan that was simply unworkable.

And at that point the ‘bad’ GM took over, and we got to see the company at its worst.

GM took its eye off of the ball for the better part of two decades as its management became more and more complacent, unable to take their focus off of their painfully narrow-minded 30-day sales reports. And when they weren’t doing that they were building – except for a very few exceptions – bland excuses for automobiles that were engineered to the lowest common denominator and that were religiously benchmarked to their competitors' previous generation models, so that they fell further and further behind the curve with each subsequent year.

And while lost in their own little world pretending things would get better - and that a turnaround was ‘just around the corner’ - an entire generation of customers who were turned off by the mundane choices and the shoddy, or better yet, nonexistent workmanship combined with a relentlessly piss-poor dealer experience simply walked away in droves, never to return.

On top of it the timeless adage of this business - It was, is, and always will be about the product - somehow got lost in the shuffle, and GM and the rest of Detroit simply either forgot about that simple premise or even worse, pretended it really didn’t matter anymore - while the import manufacturers handed them their lunch, month after month, quarter after quarter, and year after year.

And because of it traditional automotive reputations were destroyed for good and new reputations were created overnight and the entire domestic automobile industry became unglued.

And even still, GM - while grappling to slow the inexorable downward spiral of its plummeting market share - clung to its hoary divisional structure despite all evidence and rational reasoning to the contrary. The classically ingrained Alfred E. Sloan concept of ‘a vehicle for every purse and purpose’ was brilliant when GM controlled 50 percent of the U.S. market, but it was flat-out disastrous with a market share that was deteriorating with each passing year.

I wrote about GM’s burden of too many models, too many divisions and too many dealers from Day One of this publication, but it was such a fundamental part of GM’s raison d’etre that the company’s paralyzed upper management and entrenched bureaucracy could never deal with it with any permanence or make even a substantive attempt at retuning its structure for a radically altered automotive landscape. And it absolutely killed the company.” (“Going, going, gone.” 5/27/09)


“Taking this town and this business by the scruff of its neck and trying to shake some sense into it proved to be, at times, exceedingly difficult, always enlightening, terribly frustrating, wildly exhilarating and every conceivable emotion in between. I never thought it would be easy, not by a long shot. How could it be? After all, this is the most heavily guarded, painfully conservative, religiously self-important, myopically reasoned, carefully orchestrated and minutely calculated business in the world.

But I never thought it would be quite like it was, either. I never thought ‘The High-Octane Truth’ would elicit such wildly divergent responses from everybody, but it sure did. And I certainly never thought that simply telling it like it is would be such a controversial and explosive venture. Over the past ten years I've learned one irrefutable truth: It's far easier to criticize the U.S. Government than it is to criticize the insulated sacred cows of the auto business.

When I decided to expose everyone from the fakes to the scammers, the bright lights to the schemers, the ones with the brains to the ones still in search of one, I knew I was venturing into hostile waters, but I was bound and determined to say what needed to be said.

From the very first issue of Autoextremist.com I began regaling our audience about how the Detroit automakers had lost their way and how they were clueless about their true place in the automotive world. I zeroed in on the countless missteps and the mind-numbing culture of bureaucratic mediocrity that was the cancer eating Detroit car companies from within in minute detail.

And to say the automobile business has changed dramatically in these past ten years is a supreme understatement. Detroit’s car companies went from being totally clueless, to starting to claw their way back into the game (at least to a certain degree); to finally veering toward almost total collapse.

Zero to oblivion in a decade, basically…

What started out with the simple premise of me having something to say and needing a forum to say it has turned into one of the most influential publications of its kind. We set out to ‘influence the influencers’ with Autoextremist.com - as we often said in the early days - and we did exactly that. And we’re still doing it today, albeit with a much larger audience and with much greater impact, nationally and even internationally….

To say that I’m extremely grateful for what Autoextremist.com has become goes without saying. But to imply that the past ten years have gone by in an instant or that doing this has been in any way easy or some sort of cakewalk doesn’t even come close to conveying how difficult it is to create Autoextremist.com to the standards we set for ourselves every single week. The reality is that it has been a relentlessly intense grind of unimaginable scope and ferocity, day-in and day-out.

Would I have it any other way? Of course not. Anything worth doing is worth doing well – and in my case, flat-out too.

I have had the pleasure of bringing my thoughts and perspectives to you every week, and it has been an honor to do so. I have made countless new friends and gotten to know interesting colleagues here and around the world in the process.

And it has been a wildly gratifying ride.

Autoextremist.com is such a part of me now that it defines who I am and what I do, and to drop it cold turkey just like that wouldn’t have worked. So for the time being at least Autoextremist.com will continue on, but stay tuned because that could change at any moment, depending on what comes my way.

In closing, I think it’s important to point out that in the face of a business that grows more rigid, regulated and risk averse by the day, there are still lessons to be learned and new heights to achieve.

If anything, we must remember what really matters in this business above all else - and that is to never forget the essence of the machine - and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams.

And that in the course of designing, engineering and building these machines everyone needs to aim higher and push harder with a relentless, unwavering passion and love for the automobile that is so powerful and unyielding that it can't be beaten down by committee-think or buried in bureaucratic mediocrity.

Thanks for listening and for helping us call it a decade.” (“Ten Years After.” The Tenth Anniversary Issue of Autoextremist.com. 6/3/09)


“There seems to be a growing cacophony out there suggesting that we are at the End of The Road in terms of the consumer society that we’ve grown to accept as being never-ending, and that the emergence of strident environmentalism will mark the end of consumerism as we know it.

But I’m not buying it.

Developing countries are just ramping up to their age of consumerism, and I don’t think there’s enough guilt in the developed world that will quell that. I’ve often said that by the time America is fully engaged in its ‘Shiny Happy Smiley Car’ environmentalism-driven era - with neutered green automobiles being the norm - China and India will be fully immersed in their own version of the muscle car era.

The global financial doom and gloom that we’ve all been experiencing won’t last, it’s just that simple. New technologies will be developed, and with new technologies come new solutions, and with new solutions come new opportunities, ultimately leading to economic expansion.

Will it be all rainbows and bunny rabbits? Of course not. The world is faced with deep problems that seem to grow exponentially by the hour. But I also believe that we are about to embark on a new age of achievement that will combine new growth as well as enhanced and enlightened environmental responsibility.

So will there be challenges? Yes. Will there be changes? Absolutely.

But it’s clear that the global demand for automobiles – as well as new forms of transportation and personal mobility – will continue on an upward trajectory for a long time to come.” (“Mid-term Musings.” 6/24/09)


”Creating noteworthy advertising in a communications world dominated by YouTube - where far too many people with access to a video camera and an editing program fancy themselves as instant auteurs – is no easy task. That’s not to say that creating interesting videos is only the purview of a handful of ad agencies and an even smaller pool of directors, either. Far from it, in fact, as video expressions by the millions travel the Internet constantly, with a few of them actually being eminently watchable or even ‘buzz-worthy’ now and again.

But the difference between creating videos on a lark as opposed to creating compelling advertising for a product that balances the needs of a demanding client in precarious financial straits – in a crippled industry to boot – and effectively communicating that product’s strengths/reason for being while enhancing its image is another thing altogether.

Right now, the Buick division of GM, one of the Gang of Four left (along with Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC) finds itself in just such a precarious position. As one of the designated ‘survivors’ of the ‘new’ GM, Buick - which is already tremendously successful in China, the largest automobile market in the world - is being forced to reinvent itself yet again in the eyes of the American consumer public, and it’s going to be an extremely difficult challenge.” (“Buick ascendant. The marketing? Not so much.” 7/1/09)

 

“So the ‘new’ GM emerges from bankruptcy, now what?

If you focus on the products on hand and the products in the pipeline, GM is even better positioned than Ford in terms of the depth and breadth of the vehicles they have coming.

Oh, if it were that easy.

The biggest problem by far for GM - and something I’ve been hammering on for years now - is the perception of the company, which is now at the lowest point in its history by far.

Start with building decidedly mediocre to crappy cars - with a few notable exceptions - for about 25 years (roughly 1977-2002, aka “The Darkness”), add in the negative word-of-mouth ‘buzz’ associated with that, and add in the fact that a generation of buyers walked away from GM (and Detroit) because of that hovering negativity, add in the anti-car, anti-Detroit ‘intelligentsia’ adding fuel to the fire at every opportunity (with the NY Times’ Tom Friedman acting as self-appointed Patron Saint of the movement), add in the congressional hearings in Washington last December - aka ‘The Witch Hunt’ - where GM and the rest of Detroit became the scapegoat for all of America’s ills - both real and imagined - and finally, add in the constant drumbeat of the two ‘B’s’ associated with GM for over eight months now – ‘Bad’ and ‘Bankruptcy’ – and the fact that the government and the UAW now control the company, which has turned-off legions of consumers predisposed to buying American cars, and you have a recipe for disaster unprecedented in the annals of American industry.” (“The toughest job in marketing history.” 7/8/09)

 

“The new way of playing the mileage/emissions game as rendered by the current administration – without the fine structure in place – puts an unfair burden on the volume manufacturers, and “the provision” or, as I like to call it – the Immaculate Dispensation – sets up a grossly unfair situation where select import manufacturers can operate with impunity in this market, giving them a clear-cut, unfair advantage.

What’s wrong with this picture? Everything, actually. That our government would willingly put our domestic manufacturers – two of which they own now by the way, in case anyone forgot – at any kind of a competitive disadvantage after all this industry has been through in the last nine months and all the taxpayer money that has been expended is almost unfathomable and at the very least unconscionable. This is the best these braniacs can come up with? What a bunch of Bush-League Bullshit.” (“The Immaculate Dispensation.” 7/29/09)

 

“When GM jump-started the auto business - and the nation’s economy - after 9/11 with its ‘Keep America Rolling’ campaign, it was a boon to the industry and to the economic mood of the nation. And it worked well. Too well when it came right down to it. Invigorated by the awe-inspiring sales numbers, GM marketers adopted a strategy that would use the artificially compelling aura of ‘the deal’ to crush its competition in the market, move the metal and grab points of share.

But what was a noble gesture after 9/11 turned into a nightmare in short order. After that, when consumers thought of American cars, their thoughts turned only to the size and scope of the deal. Whether or not the products were actually desirable or not rarely entered into the equation, because for the American consumer, domestic cars and trucks had officially become commodities attached to deals, not image-enhancing conveyances attached to hopes and dreams. Those kinds of thoughts were now reserved for imported brands, except in a few instances.

And to this day America’s car-buying consumers for the most part associate ‘the deal’ with American cars, and nothing else.

Short term, yes, ‘Cash for Clunkers’ is an undeniable boon. Hallefrickin’luja and all that. Long term? Not so much. Because the ‘hangover’ after this program could be severe, with consumers sitting on the sidelines waiting for the next sales gimmick to get them off of their couches. And if that’s what the future holds for the Detroit automakers – conjuring up the next sales gimmick to generate showroom traffic - then this Yellow Brick Road paved with ‘Cash for Clunkers’ is going nowhere good.

If Detroit is ever going to have a shot at long-term survival, then consumer attention must be shifted to the integrity and inherent competitive goodness of the products themselves, rather than the deal. Consumers have to understand why vehicles like the Cadillac CTS and SRX, Chevrolet Equinox and Malibu, Ford Fusion, Flex and Taurus, etc., etc., are worth consideration on their own merits. And until that happens, I’m afraid that this inexorable commoditization of the domestic-sourced automobile will continue.” (“Cash for Clunkers: A Yellow Brick Road to Nowhere.” 8/5/09)

 

“After months of being battered in the media, after two of what were once quaintly known as the ‘Big Three’ have pirouetted into bankruptcy, after an entire industry - an industry that played and still plays an inexorable role in the industrial fabric of America - has been repeatedly vilified and lambasted for all manner of egregious sins both real and imagined, it’s nice to see that this week - this celebration of where we’ve been, where we are now and where we need to go - has not only survived, but it’s alive and thriving.

Yes, the corporate sponsorship component of the event has diminished almost down to nothing this year compared to past years, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the event has returned to its roots, which at its simplest was and is a gathering of people who just love and appreciate cars.

And for the people still immersed in this industry, the passion displayed at this event – The ‘Dream Cruise’ - is a poignant reminder that we must remember what really matters in this business above all else, and that is to never forget the essence of the machine, and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams. And that in the course of designing, engineering and building these machines everyone needs to aim higher and push harder, with a relentless, unwavering passion and love for the automobile that is so powerful and unyielding that it can’t be beaten down by committee-think or buried in bureaucratic mediocrity.

We’re embarking on a new journey of transportation in this nation and around the globe, and far from being disenchanted with it or upset about it; I’m looking forward to it. Exciting new solutions and new technologies will be brought forth, and it will be an exhilarating time to be alive and be a part of.

And much to the consternation of the naysayers out there, this passion for the automobile that has been derided and criticized by so many will not only live on, it will get even stronger. And for one exquisitely simple reason: The freedom that personal mobility brings will never get old.” (“It never gets old.” 8/12/09)

 

“I read over some of the bullshit statements that GM put out about ‘the Lab’ and I just cringed. You guys need to take a deep breath and move slowly away from the keyboard and go back to designing vehicles. That’s what you’re paid to do, that’s what you went to school for, and you have all the tools necessary to do great work right within the halls of GM Design. As a matter of fact you’ve been doing a superb job of it of late, so please, please don’t screw it up by organizing kumbaya campfires on the Internet so the hordes can all weigh-in about what they don’t know about while flaming each other relentlessly in the process.

We get it. You screwed up, you had to get bailed out by the U.S. taxpayers, and now things are going to get demonstrably better, just you wait and see.

But at some point GM has to remember that they’re in business – or should be anyway – to actually make cars and trucks that are desirable and that people want to buy. The constant communication and reaching out, the relentless public self-flagellation, the mea culpas on top of mea culpas? I say enough already.

Transparency in this business is one dimension of the bigger picture. When you need to be transparent and it’s appropriate to do so, fine, have at it.

But there’s also a point when you have to step back, stop the public powwows and the informational hand-holding and believe in your mission.

And then shut up and do your frickin’ job.” (“GM’s transparency offensive goes too far.” 8/19/09)

 

“After almost a year of hand-wringing, political grandstanding, the bankruptcies (and bailouts) and now, the end of ‘Cash for Clunkers,’ this industry needs to get down to the business of the business.

It can’t simply be about ‘the deal’ if these car companies - especially our domestic manufacturers - want to survive, let alone thrive.

Instead it must be about delivering emotionally compelling designs built on engineering excellence, while executing them with a focused consistency resulting in extraordinary cars and trucks that bristle with vision, creativity and undeniable appeal.

The car companies that get it right will give consumers compelling reasons to consider their vehicles.And the car companies that get it really right will give consumers compelling reasons to actually buy.” (“After ‘Cash for Clunkers,’ it’s time to get down to business.” 8/26/09)

 

“Laughable? Not from where I sit. This isn’t a technology issue or a talent issue, because Cadillac has everything it needs to succeed as a luxury-performance automaker.

No, it’s a want to issue.

If the organization revolves its existence around its famously historic advertising theme it will be forced to not only live up to it on a daily basis, but merely competing with its competitors all of a sudden becomes completely unacceptable. Cadillac will be forced to will themselves to greatness, to soar beyond their competition and occupy a plateau all their own.

In short, Cadillac needs to become ‘The Standard of the World’ once again.

It would demand an all-consuming passion and uncompromising commitment to being the absolute best there is in the business, and the few True Believers left at Cadillac (and at GM) who understand the importance of the mission and want to do the right thing will have to push the organization the rest of the way.

Bob Lutz has his marketing troops hard at work crafting a new advertising strategy for Cadillac that is expected to carry the brand for its next round of new product introductions and beyond.

But whether or not they get it remains to be seen, because if they’re working with anything less than ‘The Standard of the World’ for Cadillac’s advertising theme, then they – and the entire organization – will come up short.” (“Can Cadillac be ‘The Standard of the World’ again?” 9/9/09)

 

“The plague of lowest common denominator everything. I’ve written about this since Day One of AE, and I’m still not seeing enough evidence to convince me that this kind of rampant serial mediocrity isn’t still flourishing in some corners of these car companies. What do I mean by it? Lowest common denominator thinking – the concept of good enough is ‘good enough’ – is what drove Detroit in its darkest days and yielded 20 years (approximately the late 70s to the late 90s) of slipshod - or more accurately nonexistent – quality, piss-poor engineering decisions, and a total lack of focus, cohesiveness or philosophy of how it’s done.

In other words - and I’ll use GM as an example - there was no GM ‘way’ of doing things. Yes, there were pockets of lucidity throughout the corporation, and some decent cars and trucks managed to escape the bowels of the company in spite of the pallor of mediocrity that cloaked the company in a dark evil shroud, but at the end of the day if good vehicles slipped out it was usually because of a small group of committed individuals working together who refused to settle for the bean counter-driven mediocrity that ran unchecked throughout the rest of the company.

There was nothing like the ‘Honda Way’ of doing things at GM. None of the focused consistency that drove that little car company to do great things, no, not even close, as a matter of fact. GM was overrun by the bean counters and the P&G marketing hacks who were hell bent on extracting every last cent of cost out of the system and reducing the passion and commitment required to build great cars down to a process that could be researched, distilled, quantified and finally, repeated.

And it failed miserably.

In an interview conducted by the Detroit News this week, Bob Lutz said ‘For decades, we directed ads at the lowest common denominator, and not saying too much about the product…’

Actually, Bob, and to be more exact: GM built lowest common denominator cars, developed with a lowest common denominator mindset, fueled by years of serial abuse by a bean-counter-driven ‘culture,’ all enabled by a passel of lowest common denominator thinkers masquerading as marketing ‘experts’ who rotted the company from within. And GM got exactly the advertising it deserved.

I am still not convinced that GM gets it, by the way. I am still seeing pockets of lowest common denominator thinking throughout the company. And I’m still seeing evidence in some of their marketing missteps that are happening at this very instant that the rampant serial mediocrity that drove the corporation into bankruptcy is still alive and well and percolating underneath the surface. Which is a mile-long freight train of Not Good from where I sit.” (“Things that make me want to go ugh.” 9/16/09) 

 

“Needless to say it has been fascinating to watch as Toyota dances about the rim of mediocrity and Hyundai cranks it up.

Is Toyota going to shrivel up and shrink from the challenge from Hyundai or anybody else? Of course not. Toyota will be a formidable player for the foreseeable future.

But there is a pronounced difference now that wasn’t there before. Toyota isn’t the invincible, infallible player that it once was. Everything Toyota management touches doesn’t necessarily turn to gold, like the old days. As a matter of fact Toyota has become so frighteningly ordinary that it’s threatening to become – heaven forbid – just another car company, a dreaded fate previously reserved for only the most mundane and mediocre car companies that exist in the world.

Yes, Toyota, even you are susceptible to mediocrity and turmoil.

Even you can be caught wildly flailing away hoping that something, anything sticks.

If this was a horse race, it would be easy to place a bet on Toyota to place or to show. But the days of picking Toyota to win automatically are long gone.” (“Et tu, Toyota?” 9/30/09)

 

“The bottom line is that automotive advertising needs to soar again. It needs to turn people on and get people talking, or laughing, or whatever.

The mope-a-dope, apologetic, ‘inoffensive is best’ tone being employed by too many marketers in automotive advertising today is tedious. And wrong. They need to get over themselves and in a big hurry too.

One automotive marketer who seems to get it is Scott Keogh, Audi of America’s director of marketing. In an interview with Automotive News this week he had this to say:

’Automotive marketing has become very conservative, very safe and entirely focused on the transaction – how cheap can I get it? You still have to be in the business of selling desire, dreams and great products.’

Amen, Scott.

Is it any wonder that Audi is on an upward trajectory in the luxury-performance class, threatening to take over its chief German rivals, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, while giving Lexus fits? I don’t think so.

Memo to automotive marketers: Stop banging out singles and start swinging for the fences. Stop anesthetizing the masses and start energizing the few who will jump-start that word-of-mouth buzz.

And whatever you do, just remember one thing: Before you can make us believe, you need to convince us that you believe.” (“Automotive marketing needs a swift kick in the ass.” 10/14/09)


“… the California Air Resources Board, those blithering idiots who are absolutely relentless in their ‘we know what’s good for you and you will do what we say and like it’ attitude, are pushing a proposal for ‘cool cars’ – but not the kind of ‘cool’ that the average automotive enthusiast would understand, mind you – but a proposal that would limit solar energy entering vehicles beginning in 2012 (requiring new vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less to prevent 45 percent of the energy from the sun from entering a vehicle by 2014, and 60 percent by 2016), which would in turn require less use of air conditioning, which would in turn reduce greenhouse gas emissions, etc., etc.

As you might imagine, this proposal is not going over too well with the auto companies, or anyone who happens to live in the real world, which at this point constitutes everywhere but Sacramento and its immediate environs (and in Washington, of course). As David Shepardson reported for the Detroit News Washington Bureau, the Association of Automobile Manufacturers - the trade association whose members include Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and other foreign automakers - asked the California Air Resources Board to reconsider its plans, with Association President Mike Stanton saying in a letter released yesterday that the ‘cool cars’ standards ‘would do exactly what we are trying to avoid: force automakers to build vehicles solely for California.’

This thinking is in line with other auto manufacturers around the world, who when not putting out politically massaged letters like the one released yesterday are privately saying that the C.A.R.B. is frickin’ crazy, per usual.

Not that such things as name-calling or common sense ever bothered the California Air Resources Board. After all, this celestial body has operated in its own solar system for years with impunity, not really answering to anything but the dulcet tones of their own delusional thought balloons.

The same thought balloons that suggest that only they have the vision and wherewithal to save the United States – and the planet in its entirety for that matter - from certain environmental death. This, of course, while developing nations like China and India embrace rampant pollution at such a prodigious rate that C.A.R.B. could order the citizens of California to immediately switch to Shiny Happy pedal-powered rickshaws and it wouldn’t make one iota of difference in the big picture of things.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the strident minions at work in the government of California and their blind ardor for regulating everything that moves has done more to create the economic disaster that currently paralyzes that state than any global or localized economic calamity could have.

But until the people of the state of California start electing officials who are responsive to the needs of the people instead of delusional bureaucrats who are hopelessly in love with their own blue sky – and relentlessly unrealistic – agendas, then this situation will continue until the whole damn state comes to a screeching halt.” (“On Mystical Wizards, Marketing ‘Geniuses’ and Blithering Idiots...” 10/21/09)

 

“Ford is being taken to task by these pinheads in the UAW because of the most evil word in their limited vocabulary, apparently: Profitability. It’s a terrible thing that the Ford Motor Company mortgaged the future of its very existence in order to survive a looming global economic downturn, according to the warped UAW mentality. It’s a terrible thing that Bill Ford Jr., in a desperate move to save his company and his family’s legacy, hired the most gifted leader to come to this industry since Alfred Sloan - Alan Mulally. It’s a terrible thing that Mulally then led his troops on a mission to save the company and ensure its profitability for years to come by putting the organization’s collective noses to the grindstone in order to develop new, efficient and desirable cars and trucks that could sell on their merits alone.

And it’s a terrible thing - at least according to the virulent union mentality, apparently - that because of those ahead-of-the-curve and costly sacrifices, the Ford Motor Company is just now on the verge of better-than-expected earnings, and that there’s a fiber-optic pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel for the company. Not halcyon days by any stretch of the imagination - because Ford is still haunted by massive debt - but at least a shred of optimism can at least be seen off in the far distance.

And now that Ford has done the heavy lifting, the bottom line is that the UAW wants its cut. It wants to be ‘rewarded.’ For what, exactly, I have no clue.” (“The UAW’s true colors exposed again for all to see.” 10/28/09)

 

“Okay, I must say right up front that the much-anticipated unveiling of Sergio Marchionne's five-year reinvigoration plan for the ‘new’ Chrysler-Fiat was special. So special in fact that I was falling asleep 20 minutes in to it. If the organization of this death march is any indication of the kind of organizational ‘synergy’ these guys are employing going forward, well then, watch out. Overwrought and overindulgent, this was by far the worst media event I've been to in ten years of doing this publication. Imagine beyond category tedious and then go sharply downward from there and you'd have at least somewhat of an inkling of what it was like…

The bottom line in all of this?

Chrysler is a car company still very much on the mat with a plan to get off it, but that's it. It's only a plan. The painful reality for Chrysler is that it is far behind its domestic competitors, which means it is behind every other car company too. This in a global market that has no time for laggards and excuses. Chrysler sales numbers are pitiful, and its quality performance is flat-out inexcusable.

Chrysler has a reputation of being a perennial loser, thanks to gross mismanagement by Daimler and Cerberus compounded by a very publicly-financed bankruptcy that cannot and will not be fixed overnight. Yet Sergio and his troops actually believe all of this is going to get fixed with a creative five-year plan?

I'll put it succinctly for you: No frickin' way.” (“They came, they saw, they bored us to death.” 11/4/09)

 

”The sad thing about all of this is that BMW used to have one of the most unimpeachable images in this business. They stayed focused, they rarely wavered and they stuck to what they knew best year-in and year-out. But then things got weird. They started chasing segments that they had no business playing in, and they went off the rails with a parade of vehicles that had nothing to do with who they were and what they were about.

In short, they got greedy.

The problem is that if a car company does this wandering around lost in the desert routine long enough, they wake up one day finding it difficult to remember what they were about in the first place, which is exactly where BMW finds itself today.

What is BMW again, exactly? Is it a sportier Mercedes, or is it not-quite-as-hip competitor to Audi when it comes to considering the German auto manufacturers?

It used to be a question that never had to be asked. I am certain of one thing, however, and that is with every bloated 5 Series GT or X6 that’s unleashed on the landscape a little bit more of BMW’s original essence and once-distinctive character is slowly but surely being eroded away.

There once was a time - a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away - when BMW marched to a different drummer and confidently went its own way. Now? It’s a ‘me-too’ car company flailing around with other ‘me-too’ car companies for the exact same piece of marketing ground.

And, as we like to say around here: Not Good.” (“The Ultimate “Me-Too” Machine.” 11/11/09)

 

(BMW)


”The travails of the Smart car adventure in this country reveal two, time-honored High-Octane Truths about this business.

The first is that this is a relentlessly tough business (yeah, I know, that’s a bulletin, right?). You can line up all of the seemingly essential ingredients – and believe me having Roger Penske involved is very much about having the right ‘essential’ ingredient - but that unto itself is really no guarantee of the level of success that will be achieved. There is a kaleidoscope of variables involved - distribution, pricing, the retail component, market conditions, promotion, marketing, ‘the buzz’ etc., etc., etc., and any one of those things can go awry, and in a big way too.

Which leads me to the next High-Octane Truth about this business and that is you can have all of those aforementioned variables in perfect order, but if the product itself isn’t up to snuff it ultimately won’t matter, because it is, was, and always will be about the product.” (“The travails of Smart reveal some High-Octane Truths for all.” 11/18/09)

 

”But there’s one American automobile company that not only saw it coming, but made all the right moves in anticipation of what was coming. This company not only went its own way, it pulled itself up by its own boot straps and toughed it out through a combination of painful restructuring steps, gutsy but brilliantly executed financial strategies, and by charting a visionary course fueled by a newly invigorated devotion to the efficacy of the product that would lead them out of the wilderness.

I am, of course, talking about the Ford Motor Company. And there are two men chiefly responsible for where Ford is today, and where it’s going in the future.

Three years ago, with his company’s back against the wall and the fate of his family’s glorious industrial legacy on the line, Executive Chairman William Clay Ford, Jr. made the toughest decision of his life by deciding to bring in someone from the outside to run the company. Someone who could break up the notorious fiefdoms that were rife within Ford, finally putting an end to its paralyzing, tyrannical bureaucracy once and for all. (A bureaucracy that even Ford himself couldn’t slay, by the way.) Someone who could grab the company by its lapels and shake it to its very foundation, because at that point in time the Ford Motor Company was out of time and out of options.

Bill Ford made a sensational pick in Alan Mulally, and it should be pointed out that Bill just didn’t ‘pick’ Alan - he was relentless in his pursuit of him until Alan finally agreed to give it a shot.

Mulally was the gifted Boeing executive with an engineering background who would come to Ford bristling with energy and armed with a plan to launch the car company in a new direction.

Mulally’s Plan for ‘One Ford’ was nothing short of brilliant. Quickly realizing within moments of his arrival that the company needed to get focused and in a hurry, Mulally streamlined the product plan, while making visionary use of Ford’s global resources, setting the company on a new course that would not only yield exceptional products, but do so profitably too. Mulally’s ability to marshal his troops and get everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction was equally as brilliant.

But don’t be fooled, because Mulally - an immensely likable Kansan with a disarmingly pleasant demeanor - is also a demanding, steely-eyed analyst who can cut to the heart of the matter in an instant and who expects the very best out of every single person in the company. He demands excellence throughout the organization, and he gets it too.

I firmly believe that by the time he’s finished at Ford, Alan Mulally will be considered one of the icons of this industry, on par with the handful of all-time greats who came before him.

The Ford Motor Company now stands alone as the last authentic American car company. It has tremendously competitive products already on the ground and a slew of sensational products on the way. It not only has momentum in the marketplace, there’s a genuine positive buzz around the company that is separating it in this market from the rest, both in the eyes of the consumer and its competitors.

The new reality for the American market is that it will be a competitive jump ball between Ford, Toyota and Honda, with the emerging Hyundai and Kia nipping at their heels. Which GM will show up remains to be seen, but who would have thought that this would be the competitive make-up of the U.S. car market just three short years ago?

Before the accolades get too thick, however, the people of Ford are by no means even close to being finished, because there are a set of daunting challenges still facing the company, and it will take a relentless dedication, an unwavering persistence, a focused consistency and an unyielding discipline to keep moving in the direction they are going.

But I have every confidence that with Alan Mulally at the helm - and the entire outstanding team at Ford behind him - that the Ford Motor Company will be a formidable force to be reckoned with in this business for many, many years to come.

So congratulations to Bill Ford Jr. for his unshakable belief in Ford and his willingness to set aside his ego for the enduring good of the company, and congratulations to Alan Mulally for his brilliant leadership and visionary plan for the future success of the Ford Motor Company. Our very first Autoextremists of the Year.” (“The Autoextremists of the Year.” 11/25/09) 

(Courtesy of the Ford Motor Company)
Alan Mulally and Bill Ford at the company's annual meeting in Wilmington, Delaware, on May 14th, 2009.

 

”I’ve often said that the True Believers within GM - meaning the tremendously talented individuals in design, engineering and manufacturing who have delivered outstanding products time and time again despite the corrosive GM system and against all odds - and who are some of the most capable people in this business - will be the ones who will have to lead the company out of the wilderness.

That means the people behind machines like the Corvette ZO6 and ZR1, the Cadillac CTS-V and new Cadillac CTS Coupe, the Buick Enclave and LaCrosse, etc., etc. – outstanding products by any measure – are the ones who will bear the burden of delivering GM’s future success, or failure.

As I've often said, it’s all about the product, it has always been about the product, and it always will be about the product in this business. And in GM’s case, the company has some of the most competitive products in this business either here or on the way. But the systemic cancer fueled by the go-along-to-get-along mentality that’s still alive and well within GM and that still fights against its progress every single day will have to be eradicated in order for these new products to shine.

GM needs to identify a candidate with a scintillating track record in this business, a product-focused True Believer with the guts and the guile to blow up the GM system and shake the company to its very foundation, while marching the company out of the wilderness of organizational mediocrity and unjustified arrogance that has dominated the company for the last 30 years.

‘Big Ed’ Whitacre and the GM Board better do their homework and choose wisely in their search for someone to lead the company into the future. Anything less will be unacceptable.” (“It’s time for a True Believer to run GM.” 12/2/09) 

 

“But the most crucial issue facing GM is the fact that a highly skeptical American consumer public is finding it hard to be impressed with GM’s excellent new vehicle lineup. And until that consideration needle is moved in a dramatically positive direction, the company will literally and figuratively be nowhere.

And it’s the one crucial issue that has not been addressed by Whitacre’s changes.

Why is that do you suppose? I’ll answer that one for you: 1. He doesn’t have the first clue at to how to go about it, and 2. Even if he did there’s no one currently in the building in the post-Lutzian era who is capable of taking them where they need to go.

There continues to be a massive disconnect between GM’s excellent new products and the ability or, more accurately, the inability of the company’s marketing minions to communicate their strengths in compelling fashion to an entire nation of consumers who are all of a sudden from the ‘show me’ state of Missouri.

And until this company figures it out – or somebody is brought in to figure it out for the Board and ‘Big Ed’ – then this company will continue chugging along in time-honored fashion, lost in its classic ‘M.O.’ - the ‘two-steps forward, three back’ dance of mediocrity - indefinitely.” (“GM’s classic ‘two steps forward, three back’ dance of mediocrity is alive and well.” 12/9/09)

 

And that was 2009 in a blur.

The domestic automobile business has been turned upside down with Ford being the new - and clear - leader. It is focused, it has outstanding products, it has measurable market momentum, and it has the best leadership, hands down, in Alan Mulally. And Mulally has forged a team - and a company - that will be formidable for years to come.

GM on the other hand is scrambling. Excellent products, yes, but GM is still mired in a Zombie-like holding pattern that it can’t seem to shake itself out of. Lacking a clear leader – “Bid Ed” will never be that guy (as a matter of fact, he has to be jettisoned, and soon, if they’re going to move the needle) – the company is reeling and stammering when it should be putting the pedal down hard. GM’s “two steps forward, three back” dance of mediocrity – especially when it comes to their marketing efforts - has crippled them for years, and if they don’t rise above it they will not only end up falling far behind Ford, but behind other, far hungrier car companies as well. Without serious and sustained traction in this market – sales progress that’s not overly-dependent on incentives – GM is in danger of a slow, painful erosion that could ultimately prove fatal, at least in the North American market.

As for Chrysler? I’m not buying Marchionne’s act in the least. Smart guy? Yes? Successful guy? If you use his initial turnaround of Fiat’s fortunes as a barometer, yes. But frankly, the Fiat model means zero in this case. And Marchionne blew his credibility to smithereens with his fanciful prognostications of where Chrysler will be by 2014. I’m all for setting achievable goals with some “reach” built-in to inspire the troops, but Marchionne’s market share – a five point increase in four years - and sales gains (doubled) for a company that is barely breathing were flat-out ludicrous and undermined every other pronouncement he’s made.

Chrysler sales are threatening to fall right off a cliff, and their product pipeline over the next 24 months is suspect, at best. If you’re a firm believer in miracles, then Marchionne’s your guy. I, on the other hand, see a company with four – count ‘em – four – vehicles worth talking about until 2014. The Ram truck, the new Jeep Cherokee, the restyled 300, and the Charger (which has already been pushed back to the end of 2010). There is no frickin’ way that Chrysler gains five points of market share out of those vehicles. None. Zero. Not a chance in hell.

I’d rather hear fewer pronouncements coming out of Auburn Hills until they can prove to me that they have their shit together. But Marchionne is a “genius” who loves to hear himself talk. And he really loves the media hand-wringing that accompanies his pronouncements too.

I wish the company and especially the hard-working people involved all the best, but Marchionne’s verbal gyrations are doing absolutely nothing to help their chances. Chrysler is hanging by a thread now, and it will likely continue to be well into the fourth quarter of 2012. Don’t be surprised if you’re hearing about the “new” Fiat North America by 2013, with a few Jeeps thrown in for good measure.

Amazingly enough, Toyota has managed to become just another car company. Bad publicity on top of nasty, headline-grabbing recalls combined with a shaky and at times dismal sales performance would have been almost incomprehensible 24 months ago. Who would have thunk it? Now, not only do they have Honda giving them grief in the market, Ford is proving to be formidable, and that - combined with the looming Korean threat made up of Hyundai and KIA - has the Japanese automaker formerly known as “The Juggernaut” sweating. Will Toyota fade into the woodwork? Of course not. But their dominance of this market is well and truly over.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz will continue to struggle, partly because of their own unending infatuation with being all things to all people, but mostly because Audi is the New Force in luxury-performance motoring. While the two traditional German automotive powers were stepping all over each other chasing their tails in niche segments du jour, Audi was keeping its head down, keeping focused and kicking ass by designing and building fantastically desirable mass-market automobiles and crossovers.

I could go on, but I won’t. I’m sure I’ll hear from Subaru fanatics out there because I didn’t mention their favorite brand, but I just did, so there.

As for this market, I rate the following automobile companies as the ones to watch over the next twelve to eighteen months: Ford, because they know where they want to go and because they finally understand what it will take to get there. Hyundai/KIA because of their relentless will to achieve respectability and the fact that they finally understand the crucial importance of serious design and the credibility of authentic driving dynamics. And Audi, because they quietly stuck to their plan and believed in their mission and they’ve exceeded all expectations on the way to becoming the German luxury brand. Audi’s upward trajectory will continue.

Suffice to say, 2009 has been an incredible year.

The very foundation of what once was America’s premier manufacturing industry has been shaken to its core. But it’s not just the U.S. auto industry that has suffered. Automakers around the world have been forced to scramble in wildly diverse directions in order to cover their bets in hopes of finding at least a pinpoint of fiberoptic light at the end of the tunnel.

But make no mistake, the seething cauldron of turmoil will continue, because the only thing that will remain certain in this business is the uncertainty. And the competition – already relentless, unyielding and frantically fierce – will intensify. Add to that the swirling Green winds of environmental ideology and you have a recipe for disaster. There’s no question that we are in the midst of a rampant regulatory frenzy with little or no understanding of the consequences that will be unleashed. And it will not be pretty, especially when the American consumer public starts to put a real world price on the facts – and the realities – of what’s being legislated. When the cost of mandated “blue-skies” comes into focus for the American car-buying public, I would not be a bit surprised if there’s a massive consumer backlash that will grow very loud in the upcoming mid-term elections.

Anyone who thinks that this business is poised to emerge from the woods is sadly mistaken. The forest is deep and blacker than a moonless night, and even the players who have it together are going to struggle, that’s just the nature of what this business has become.

Will the annual sales rate increase in 2010? Yes, of course. I’m seeing a 12-12.2 million unit market in 2010, but that’s only if everything keeps gradually progressing with the economy.

But then again after the last 24 months, what do we really know? Or as Dr. Bud so eloquently puts it, “the more you know the more you just never know.”

Let’s just say a lot of people are praying for continued momentum for the auto industry as a whole and leave it at that. At this point, that counts for wild optimism.

So there you have it. That’s all I have for this year in this column, but please go to “On The Table” for much, much more about this crazy year 2009.

Thanks for listening and we’ll see you back here on January 6, 2010.

Peace to you and yours.

 

 

See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" hosted by Autoline Detroit's John McElroy, with Peter De Lorenzo and friends this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.

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