June 15, 2011
Vindication for the True Believers at GM.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 6/12, 2:00 p.m.) Detroit. The dedication in my new book, “Witch Hunt” (Octane Press), is aimed squarely at the people in this business who make a difference every day on behalf of their respective companies. The remarkably dedicated people all over the world who are engaged in designing, engineering, building and marketing the automobiles that have not only enabled societies to develop and grow, but that have become essential personal conveyances, in fact becoming much more than just “transportation” for many. It reads as follows:
For the True Believers
The ones who, in the face of a business that grows more rigid, regulated, and risk-averse by the day, remain unwavering in their passion, commitment, and dedication to the essence of the machine and what makes it a living, breathing, mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams.
I come across the True Believers engaged in this business every day, from those slugging it out in the trenches to the visionaries at work at the very top of the biggest automobile manufacturers in the world. And all of them share an unyielding dedication and an unwavering passion for this business and what they do in it. For most of these people what they do isn’t just a “job.” In fact it’s much closer to a calling, because the kind of dedication they bring to bear on behalf of their respective companies is awe-inspiring to behold.
From the suspension development engineer leaving no stone unturned to get that last bit of driving “feel” dialed-in just right, to the designer pushing the boundaries to deliver that unmistakable on-the-road presence that will define the face of a brand for a decade – and those involved in every aspect of designing, engineering, building and marketing cars in between – these relentlessly dedicated people are actively engaged in doing the very best they can possibly do on a given assignment each and every day.
These are the people in this business who make a fundamental difference, whose performance can push a given product program from being merely competitive to being truly great. These are, in fact, the people who truly get it, the ones who understand the essence of these machines, and whose focus and passion resonate through them.
Once upon a time in an industry galaxy far, far away, these people were labeled “car guys,” but it was a moniker that was eventually sullied by poseurs who donned labeled polo shirts and khakis and who regaled the media about how they were “car guys” when in fact they couldn’t be further from that. Not surprisingly enough it was right about then that these car companies, bulked-up with non-car people fueled with a shocking lack of perspective – especially here in the Motor City – started their long, slow, pirouette into mediocrity and the chaos that ultimately ensued.
But even through the domestic industry’s Dark Ages (i.e., the bankruptcies of two of the Detroit Three), the True Believers – at least the ones who were left – at Chrysler, Ford and General Motors were keeping the fires alive. Why do you think the freshening of Chrysler’s current product lineup has been so well received? Was it Sergio & Co.? No, it was the True Believers within Chrysler driven by pride in what they do and focused on the job at hand that resulted in excellent products like the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango and Chrysler 300 that made the difference.
The same can be said for Ford. When Alan Mulally came in and got everyone pointing in the same direction on the way to becoming One Ford, it was the True Believers who delivered big time and who helped create the outstanding product lineup that you see today.
And last but not least there was GM, the once-glorious American corporate icon which, after celebrating its 100th anniversary, found itself heading for the depths of despair as it endured the ignominious realization that it just couldn’t keep the balls in the air any longer. And it was game well and truly over.
That’s why in hindsight the True Believers at GM may have done the most impressive work of all. Why? Because the sensational Chevrolet Volt is The Car of This New Century.
Envisioned by Bob Lutz – who I believe will be enshrined as one of this industry’s greatest icons – as his last contribution to this business (at least on the grand scale he liked to operate in), the Volt is a stunning machine, a technological Tour de Force that will go down as one of the magnificent achievements in automotive history.
The Volt was conceived, designed, engineered and built under duress and in an incredibly short amount of time to boot. That the True Believers involved in the program had their backs to the wall the entire time the Volt was under development is the understatement of the decade. For all intents and purposes GM was a failed company at that point in time, plagued by self-inflicted wounds and crippled by the burgeoning economic storm sweeping the country. It was a company on the ropes and with no prospects for relief either.
And these True Believers – the men and women tasked with bringing the Volt to fruition – were not only expected to deliver a great car, they were expected to deliver a breakthrough machine that would literally save the company, while firmly establishing GM once and for all on everyone’s short list when the discussion of environmentally forward thinking companies came up.
A tall order by any measure.
And for the most part, the True Believers at GM succeeded brilliantly. The Chevrolet Volt is not only a technical wonder, the fact that it goes about its business so seamlessly is beyond impressive. As a matter of fact the most impressive aspect of the Volt may lie in the fact that from the moment you first take off down the road in it you forget that it’s an extended-range electric vehicle altogether, except for the eerie silence of course. It’s that well thought out and that well executed. (See more on the Volt in this week’s “On the Table” – Ed.)
I’m often asked if I’m growing tired of what I do, if the constant grind of creating Autoextremist.com has grown tedious for me, or even worse, a chore. And though I’m often caustic in my criticisms and cynical about much of this business, make no mistake - my passion for all things to do with the automobile still burns white hot.
And when I come across a car like the Chevrolet Volt, which is a rolling embodiment of everything great about this business, a magnificent machine that absolutely bristles with the kind of ingenuity, creativity and passion that has defined greatness in this business from Day One then no, far from tired, I’m energized all over again and I’m absolutely thrilled with the possibilities that lie ahead.
For as long as there are True Believers out there, and as long as that fire inside them continues to burn bright, then this business is in excellent hands and we will be driving great machines for many, many years to come.
I, for one, can’t wait for what’s over the horizon.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
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