By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit (2:27 a.m. September 15th). Wow, now there’s a screaming news bulletin. Not only is Sergio The Great foregoing his appearance at the Frankfurt auto show, he has immersed himself in FCA’s talks with the UAW, which has prompted the talks to be extended on an “hour-by-hour” basis.
When you really think about it, how perfect is that? Sergio can fire up the espresso machines, the downtrodden media scribes who didn’t get free trips to Frankfurt can sit around waiting while Marchionne restructures the entire domestic auto industry to his liking, and then he can descend from the mountaintop - with digitally-etched tablets in hand, no less – and pronounce to the waiting unfortunates that he has saved the automobile industry yet again, in a deal purposely structured to force GM to bend to his will.
UAW-approved shower cap, or halo? When you’re on an “hour-by-hour” basis, both, we presume.
It’s a beautiful world, no?
(3:36 a.m.) Fortunately there are other things to talk about this week, what with the Frankfurt Auto Flog in full swing. And what have we learned so far?
That Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche continues to try to force the Smart car down the public’s throat, despite the fact that they’ve said collectively and repeatedly that they’re not interested. Fortunately, the new S-Class convertible redeemed the Mercedes presence from Uncle Dieter’s embarrassing proclivities. The jury is still out on the IAA Concept, however. (See “On The Table” –WG.)
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class convertible.
That Bentley and Jaguar have now entered the SUV race. As I said on Twitter yesterday: “I knew Bentley. Bentley was a friend of mine. That’s no Bentley.” The Bentley Bentayga is well, it certainly is, isn’t it? But we all better get used to it, because next year Rolls Royce will debut an SUV of its own. Oh, the horror… the horror. Or, in the immortal words of Vince Lombardi, “What the hell is goin’ on out there!”
The Bentley Bentayga SUV will sticker for around a cool $230,000.
(4:07 a.m.) As for Jaguar, they continue to act like a big-time car company while struggling to sell more than 15,000 units in the U.S. market. The Jaguar brain trust feels that an SUV – they call theirs the F-PACE (catchy name, that), in case you’re wondering – is just the ticket to legitimacy (See it in this week’s “On The Table” –WG.) The High-Octane Truth? That’s pure conjecture at this point. But, given the Jaguar situation and the fact that it’s a luxury-performance brand with a rich legacy and yet it struggles to make hay here, what do you think Sergio’s prospects for Alfa Romeo are, realistically? Remember, he’s saying 60,000+ Alfa vehicles will be sold here by 2018. Seriously? “Realistically” is the most inappropriate word you can apply in this discussion.
(4:30 a.m.) But I’m happy to get all “realistic” on Marchionne’s ass right here and right now: Every last word he has uttered to the media over the last several months has been a cry in the dark for a partner, or a sucker as the case may be. Why? Because the FCA circus is simply unsustainable. Selling Jeeps and trucks and a few gaudy hot rods is all well and good, but he isn’t making any money doing it. Why? Because FCA is spending incentive cash like a bunch of drunken sailors and handing out marginal loans like two-for-one popcorn at the movies.
Marchionne keeps trying to present FCA as some irresistible value when in reality he’s got the Jeep brand and a pickup truck franchise and little else (remember, Ferrari is no longer part of the deal). He has no advanced technical strategy, either, and this in a business that’s accelerating at a furious pace toward the future (see below). Why? Because FCA simply doesn’t have the money to muster the wherewithal to do anything about it.
This just in: FCA isn’t a deal. And it isn’t a diamond in the rough that can be polished to a sheen and then paired with another company in order to propel the new, unified venture to unfathomable heights. It’s a one-and-a-half trick pony with nothing up its sleeve. The clock is ticking on the Sergio Shit Show, folks, UAW deal, or not.
Speaking of The Future, one thing about the German automakers is that they are absolutely certain of their collective ability to dominate the automotive world. It is their history, it is their raison d’etre and it is their legacy. And anyone who has held on to the quaint notion that the German automakers would sit idly by and watch Tesla have the full electrification arena to itself and go on to become more than a niche automaker is kidding themselves.
And judging by two specific intros from Audi and Porsche at the Frankfurt show, Elon’s fifteen minutes in the auto arena are just about up. Thanks to many auto industry veterans who were enlisted to turn Musk’s vision into reality (although the green “intelligentsia” will continue to believe that it was St. Elon and St. Elon alone, make no mistake, industry veterans - many from Detroit - made Tesla work), Tesla has enjoyed a great, albeit unprofitable, run. And what was achieved is notable. But glory is fleeting in this business, and there’s far too much technical capability and talent at the German automakers’ disposal to think that Tesla will enjoy its run at the front edge of the grid for long.
Take the Audi e-tron quattro SUV concept, for example. It utilizes three electric motors: one drives the front axle, while the two others act on the rear axle. Total power output is 320 kW, with 370 kW and over 800 Nm (590.0 lb-ft) of torque available for short bursts, delivering sports car performance, as in zero to 100 km/h (62.1 mph) in 4.6 seconds with an electronically governed top speed of 210 km/h (130.5 mph). This machine will arrive in the first half of 2018, just in time to give Tesla’s Model X a severe headache. And with Audi’s dealer network and reputation? Watch out.
The Audi e-tron quattro SUV concept. See more details in "On The Table".
(5:30 a.m.) But the big news from Frankfurt was from Porsche. The Porsche Mission E concept is the first, all-electrically powered four-seat sports car in the brand's history. Porsche PR minions say that the concept car "combines the unmistakable emotional design of a Porsche with excellent performance and the forward-thinking practicality of the first 800-volt drive system." No kidding. Key details? (See more in “On The Table” –WG) Four doors, four single seats, all-wheel drive, all-wheel steering, over 600HP (440 kW) and over 500 km driving range. In other words, it’s the 2020 Panamera and nothing less than the reinvention of the sports car.
The Porsche Mission E concept. See more images and details in “On The Table”.
Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have gone on record as saying that because of ever more stringent regulations around the world, all of their vehicles will be a combination of extended-range hybrids and full electrification by 2020 at the very least. In automotive terms, that is right around the corner.
And while Marchionne is hard at work as you read this trying to bend the UAW to his will in order to remake the industry to his liking, the German automakers are taking the industry into The Future. And with no one to dance with, Marchionne's run as the self-proclaimed savior of the auto industry is thankfully coming to a close.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.