September 7, 2011
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain...
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Once upon a time in the Emerald City, the great Wizard of Oz – after urging Dorothy and her friends to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” – eventually gave the Tin Woodsman a heart, the Cowardly Lion courage, and the Scarecrow a brain, with words of wisdom and encouragement to go with it, before sending them on their way.
Oh, if it were only that easy for the needy players in the auto industry, because their individual wish list for success is long, urgent, and growing.
So bear with me for a moment and let’s pretend that there really is a Wizard of the Motor City, tucked away in a long-abandoned warehouse adrift in the sea of abandoned warehouses that dot this battered and bruised landscape that we call home. He surfaces now and again and walks among us in order to take the temperature and pulse of his domain, but alas only for fleeting moments and always incognito.
But his presence is deeply felt and those who know the double-secret password can request an audience so that he might deign to bestow his wisdom on the players, the misfits, the pretenders and the pathetic souls who toil away in this business searching for The Answer, or at least a shred of one.
Channeling his vision and wisdom, this is what the Wizard of the Motor City might say to the huddled masses clamoring for an audience...
To Acura: I’ll give you a design language that speaks from the heart instead of from the ghost of a long lost antique Kelvinator sitting in some appliance collector’s garage.
To Aston Martin: I will fashion you a pair of new glasses so that you might gain enough vision to see past re-hashing the same ol’, same ol’ designs. Granted your same ol’ designs are better than about half the rest of the car companies in this business, but still, risk and reach can sometimes be so damn liberating.
To Audi: I will bestow a deep breath to take in order that you not lose your way. The kind of roll you’re on is what car company dreams are made of, and you need the courage and wisdom to maintain that focus.
To Bentley: I will give you a swift kick in the ass if my Mulsanne isn’t ready soon.
To BMW: I’ll give you an antidote for the ‘being all things to all people’ drug that you’re clearly addicted to. Oh, and a tutorial for the general citizenry so that they might finally understand the difference between ‘Bimmer’ and ‘Beemer.’
To Sergio Marchionne: I’ll give you a succession plan that doesn’t require finding another espresso swilling power junkie in order to succeed. Oh, and the courage to admit – in public – that Chrysler is no longer an American company so that we might be spared one more tedious iteration of that Super Bowl spot touting Chrysler’s “American-ness.” That has been well and truly beaten to death and you desperately need a new idea.
To Chrysler-Fiat: I will bestow the courage for you to walk away from your current scorched earth, churn and burn marketing ‘plan’ that’s delivering lots of media hype about your ‘success’ while you burn through more cash per vehicle than anyone else in the business. I’m not in the ‘smoke and mirrors’ business anymore after the whole curtain incident. You shouldn’t be either.
To Chevrolet: I will give you the strength and wisdom to create a kick-ass Corvette that still falls under the ‘attainable’ position in the market that you so covet. I will also give you the balls to finally create a no apologies, no excuses Corvette super car that will be coveted the world over.
To Ferrari: I will give you a free pass on the new ‘FF’ sport wagon thing. But if you dare venture into people mover/crossover territory I will send squadrons of flying monkeys over to Maranello to lay waste to your pasta machines.
To Fiat-Chrysler: I will give you the courage to go out and find a real ad agency so that you might have a shot at elevating yourselves beyond ‘One Hit Wonder’ status after the ‘first on the block’ hordes get their fill of the 500.
To Ford: I will give you the courage to create a Mustang for The Ages and for The Future, with only a minimal tip of the hat to the past. A car that will create a whole new generation of rabid enthusiasts for Mustang and for Ford. Oh, and a new purpose-built rear-wheel-drive architecture too. Because you guys desperately need it, even if you won’t admit it.
To Lincoln: I will give you true separation from Ford, and the courage not to waver. It’s your only hope for automotive salvation.
To Dan Akerson: I will give you a do-over, and the humility to start over. Yeah, this business is just like any other business, except it’s not. And the sooner you realize that and understand it, the better off you – and GM – will be.
To the True Believers at GM: I will give you even more courage and conviction so that you can convince ‘the others who just don’t get it’ what you really need and why you really need it.
To Joel Ewanick and GM Marketing: I’ll make sure your ad agencies truly understand what being ‘on’ all the time really means. And that there are no substitutes and no second chances in this game.
To Honda: I’ll give you your mojo back since apparently you couldn’t find it even if I spotted you the ‘m’ and the ‘jo.’ This business was a lot more fun when you guys acted like Honda. Oh, and drink this potion three times a day for the next year. I guarantee that it will slowly but surely remove your heads from your asses.
To Hyundai: I will give you guys a modicum of humility and some long-distance binoculars so that you might see the mistakes coming before you make them. Oh, never mind. It never prevented any other car company from making a mistake and going off of the rails, and you’re no different.
To Infiniti: Report back to me in a month and come up with something to ask for, because frankly I don’t know where to begin.
To Jaguar: I’ll give you the courage and wisdom to come up with something really new that says Jaguar. And no, it’s not the C-X16 either.
To KIA: I’ll give you more balls so that we can be entertained by more of your quirky ads and your excellent cars. You’re sort of like Hyundai without the creeping arrogance, and that’s a good thing.
To Lamborghini: I’d like to say that I’d give you something for making the journey, but I won’t because you guys clearly don’t need anything at the moment. But you can leave that Adventador you came in as a parting gift if you’d like.
To Lexus: I’d like to bestow some wisdom on you but you guys and gals know it all and you’re convinced that if you just get back to ‘Lexus being Lexus” it will all work out. Be forewarned. The Wicked Witch of the West tried that and it didn’t work out so well for her either.
To Lotus: I’d like to bestow the gift of contriteness on you but you guys are too clueless to get it. I don’t need to see five fanciful cars, I’d just like to see two really good ones with competitive performance and quality, and the discipline to build them and sell them in a grown-up way. But alas, that’s apparently too much to ask.
To Mazda: I’ll give you the wisdom and courage to break out of your perennial second-tier status. But then again I’m not so sure that’s enough.
To Dieter Zetsche: I’ll give you a heart so that you can finally admit that you really don’t have a clue as to why Mercedes-Benz isn’t perceived as being Mercedes-Benz anymore. Years of volume plays and venturing into niches that you had no business venturing in to have not paid off, they’ve only diminished the brand. And I don’t have enough tricks in my bag to fix it either.
To Nissan: The courage to build more cool and wacky cars like the Cube and the Juke, because at least they have a point of view and at least they’re not boring. As for the Leaf? That’s another story altogether.
To Porsche: I’d like to say I’d give you guys a brain but you’re way too smart for yourselves already. I just hope you can keep the fragile balance between commerce (Cayenne and Panamera) and passion (Boxster, Cayman, 911) together so that the enthusiasts can always find the right Porsche for them. And please make the ‘new’ 2012 911 the last of the ‘big’ 911s.
To Range Rover: I’d like to take responsibility for bestowing a flat-out hit on you in the new Evoque, but you guys don’t need the Wiz’s help. Just be prepared for the onslaught of new customers lusting after ‘em.
To Rolls-Royce: Thank you for visiting the great and powerful Wiz, and thank you for leaving that Black-on-Black Ghost for me to drive. That was very sweet of you.
To Saab: I want to give you guys a great big hug but what you really need is a couple of billion dollars right now. And unfortunately I’m all tapped-out at the moment.
To Scion: I am going to give you a brain-clearing burst of energy and the cojones to put the new FR-S sports car front and center in all of your marketing plans. Forget about the touchy-feely Scion of old and reinvent yourself as the hip and happening sports car maker from Japan. At least you don’t have to worry about Honda, they abdicated that positioning long ago.
To Subaru: I am flabbergasted as to what to give you so I’ll just pat you on the head and send you on your way. You’ve managed to carve yourself out a nice chunk of the market based mainly on people who don’t really care about cars. Who knew?
To Toyota: Oh, where to begin. You guys are convinced that if you just go back to ‘Toyota being Toyota’ it will all work out just fine. Kinda like your Lexus brethren, right? Well, the Camry looked like yesterday’s product news upon introduction. Three years from now it’s going to look ten years old. So I’m going to give you a dollop of clarity together with a shot of NZT and the courage to get off your asses and design good looking, desirable cars. Because I’ve got news for you, Hyundai and KIA are not letting off the gas even for a second, and you’re still parked by the side of the road contemplating your next moves. As someone I know very well says, that’s a heaping, steaming bowl of Not Good.
To Volvo: I’d like to bestow some vitamin water and a never-ending iPod filled with spa music on you because frankly you’re going to need it. What’s a Volvo? Better yet, what will Volvo be next year or even five months from now? It even gives The Wiz a headache just thinking about it. Having boatloads of Chinese money is one thing. Knowing what to do with it is a completely different thing altogether.
To VW: I would give these maniacs a glimpse into the future so that they could reduce their expectations and get more realistic about this ‘we’re gonna sell 800,000 cars in the U.S. by 2018’ thing. Because based on my experience that’s not only assuming a lot, it’s assuming much more than the market can bear.
To Our Esteemed Politicians: You know, the ones in Washington D.C. and in Northern California who are absolutely convinced that they know what’s good for us when it comes to personal transportation, even though they don’t have a clue? I will bestow enough courage on them so that they can admit that they’re wrong 95 percent of the time, plus the brains to reevaluate their stance so that the discussion may lead in a more positive direction. And enough heart to let the sunshine in while I’m at it. It’s better than swift kick in the ass, right?
The Wizard of the Motor City has spoken, and now the players in the biz have a lot to go on, don’t you think?
Let’s hope so at any rate.
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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