No. 743,
April 16, 2014

About The Autoextremist

After a more than two decade career in automotive advertising, Peter M. De Lorenzo founded Autoextremist.com on June 1, 1999 as a weekly Internet magazine devoted to news, commentary and analysis of the auto industry and the business of motorsports. Since then the site has become a weekly "must read" for leading professionals within and outside the auto and motorsports industries, and De Lorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

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


Monday
Mar242014

Industry Follies.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. Considering we will be in the throes of the GM safety recall news frenzy for the next two weeks solid and probably another eighteen months after that, with the legal maneuverings dragging on years after that, perhaps we can set that aside just for a moment and talk about other things going on in the business.

Not that the GM story is going away any time soon, by any means, but it’s clear that it demands a separate level of hand-wringing requiring and an entire warped dimension unto itself, and it will be there for the foreseeable future everywhere you look, so, what else is going on in the business?

Let’s see, there are a couple of stories rumbling around that had me glance at a calendar just to make sure I hadn’t been sent back in time. And, lo and behold, this isn’t an industry remake of Groundhog Day and we weren’t the last to get the memo. No, it’s even worse than that.

It’s repetitive posturing and preening from the same players, desperately trying to project that it’s real news and that this time, this time, things will turn out differently.

First up is the earnest gang from Acura. Just how desperate are these folks? Desperate enough to go to the “We Got It All Goin’ On” well one more time.

I wonder if Mark Rechtin, one of Automotive News’ brighter lights, actually does think he’s been asked to play a role in the remake of the Bill Murray film classic, because this week he’s covering for oh, I don’t know, maybe the fifth time in the last seven years the same story that has been covered by all angles so many times before. His headline: “Acura gains clout, searches for cachet.”

Now, to spare you all the gory details, although Rechtin’s piece is typically informative and interesting to read, as is his wont, this story revolves around Acura management once again trying to convince the consumer world out there – and themselves - that they belong in the luxury category, and that this time, this time, they have made all the right moves to make it happen.

Acura will now have a distinctly separate sales and marketing organization from Honda, for one, as if this is some grand revelation, and it will also have its own R & D team dedicated to the brand as well. And out of this - according to the Acuralytes, of course - will come new vision, new marketing clarity and more focused products.

Really? This is going to do it this time? These are the moves that will allow Acura to take its place at the luxury table, where it truly belongs, according to the True Believers associated with the brand?

This just in: I’ve seen this movie before and it never ends well.

So why should I believe this time will be different? Is it because headquarters is finally admitting to serial incompetence, coming to the understanding that they’ve pissed away years fumbling around with Acura and they’re finally scared straight enough to fix it? I’m not buying it. 

With all due respect to the dedicated players out in California engaged in the Acura mission, Honda as a company has never understood the luxury market and never will understand the luxury market. Period. It’s just not their thing. But they still think they can parachute into the discussion and do a credible job when they do. With that naively arrogant attitude is it any wonder that it has never really worked out for them in the luxury space?

Any current success enjoyed by the MDX and RDX is most definitely not the result of brilliant vision and effort by Honda in Japan, it’s because of the people in California fighting for products and for the money to execute them, as well as the long-suffering Acura dealers in the U.S. who have stayed the course in spite of having every reason not to.

The only thing that will convince me that Acura has a shot in the luxury space, a real shot and not some half-baked quarterly plan to gain some momentum and some favorable press in the trades, is for Acura as an organization to be split from Honda altogether while establishing a permanent headquarters in the U.S. that is totally separate from Honda’s U.S. operations.

That also means that instead of Acura operatives going begging at Honda headquarters in Japan for every nuanced change that will give their products a distinct identity from their Honda counterparts, the situation will have to be reversed, meaning that Honda executives would have to travel to Acura’s headquarters in the U.S. to see how they can help support and fulfill Acura’s mission.

Would that ever happen? Could that ever happen? As if.

Why? Because it represents a fundamental difference in the way things are done regarding Acura that Honda operatives in Japan will never allow, and it’s exactly the reason why Acura will never achieve its desired place at the luxury table and compete head-to-head with the other prime time players in the market.

There is no real news to be had in this story, unfortunately. Acura will continue to achieve limited success in fits and starts solely based on the rate of success Acura operatives in California have in extracting concessions and allowances from the home office in Japan. And that is no way to compete in the luxury market, in case you need to be reminded of that fact, and truly pathetic when it comes right down to it.

But then again, since it’s Industry Follies week here at AE, do you think I could close out this column without mentioning the one recurring folly that transcends all others?

No, of course not. As a matter of fact this particular folly attains an entirely new designation, and that is one of Industry Fantasy.

The German publication AutoBild magazine is reporting that Fiat plans to have seven new Alfa Romeo models by 2018. No, you just can’t make this stuff up, folks, and yes, you read that correctly.

Let me repeat that little news tidbit s-l-o-w-l-y:

Seven. New. Alfa Romeo. Models. By. 2018.

Wow, Sergio, it just never ends, does it? When it comes to folly and fantasy, you are da man.

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