By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. Every once in a while I think it’s an excellent idea to take a step back and remind people what this publication is all about. It’s good for the mind, it clears the air and it provides a moment of clarity for the lost souls wandering around in the automotive wilderness, the ones who can’t seem to separate the real from the imagined, or the pipe dreams from what’s truly important.
I find most of the confusion lies with the unfortunates who have managed to create their own very special fantasies about their place in this motorized circus. Because some of you out there seem to get confused, or some of you let your self-appointed “insider” view – which is loosely based on a remarkable propensity for self-delusion when it comes to your place in the automotive world – get in the way. Which is inherently sad, because learning to live in world of disappointment must be a particularly tedious cross to bear, but I digress.
As I’ve said repeatedly, this business isn’t for the faint of heart. And though it seems that there are legions of recalcitrant twerps, two-bit hacks and spineless weasels running around out there who add nothing of import to the discussion and who pump up their self-worth for reasons that remain a mystery, the real essence of the business remains unsullied.
When we first contemplated doing Autoextremist, I wrote a manifesto for what it was and what it was not. Today it seems like a good time to update it, because some of you out there, as I said, seem to be confused.
First things first, and that is that designing, engineering and building automobiles is one of the most complicated endeavors on earth. And to do it properly takes vision, creativity and an unwavering passion that makes other pursuits seem positively ordinary.
Note that there is nothing in there about doing it just good enough to get by, engineering to the lowest common denominator, covering your ass or any of the other pillars of “standard operating procedure” that once dominated certain quarters of this business and have been, for the most part, purged.
Except that isn’t really true, unfortunately. All the bad old habits are still present and accounted for and then some, and as much as reasoned, logical and eminently bright executives in charge at these auto companies protest otherwise and insist that “we don’t do that stuff anymore,” that kind of bad behavior is just a bad product or marketing decision away from rearing its ugly head, and usually at the most inopportune time too.
That’s what we do here in this publication, in case you haven’t noticed. We expose the go-along-to-get-along, kick-the-can-down-the-road hordes on a regular basis, because the damage they cause can bring these companies to their knees in a heartbeat. Do you really need to be reminded of the devastating effects of this kind of behavior, or haven’t you heard about GM’s little recall problem?
This is a key point in the Autoextremist Manifesto, because it resonates throughout this business. This just in: Mediocrity – in any way, shape or form – isn’t bliss. Instead, it’s an insidious disease that has not only decimated this industry, it has screwed up life as we used to know it too.
At some point this business – and American life – turned down the wrong path. Pushing the envelope, getting knocked down and picking yourself back up and going at it again, battling to the buzzer, and striving for achievement were part and parcel of the upward trajectory of the automobile business – and country - we used to live in. Achieving greatness wasn’t just a goal, it was an expectation to shoot for, because anything less would be, well, ordinary. And even worse, boring.
Today this business has too often given way to an unspoken attitude of just doing enough to get by because when it comes right down to it, judging by the chorus of muttering I hear, doing more begs the question, “Does it really make all that much difference?” Fundamental accountability has been replaced by “It’s not my problem.” And “It’s okay, at least you tried” has become more than just an acceptable phrase, but a mantra that too many people live by. After all, when everyone gets a group hug and a trophy just for showing up, why bother extending effort to do better, or achieve greatness, or strive to be the best?
Why bother, indeed.
The result? Abject mediocrity. And it’s everywhere. It’s in this business and it’s rampant throughout the country. Some people have actually said to me (and with a straight face too), “Get over it, it’s the world we live in today.” But I’m not buying it and it is simply unacceptable to me, which is why I will continue to call people and companies out on it whenever and wherever I see it. It’s not a value-added path for this business, and it’s already proven not to be the answer for the country, either.
The stellar machines of our day – and we are living in the golden age of automotive greatness in case you haven’t noticed – aren’t the product of “it’s good enough.” Instead these machines bristle with the passion, vision and commitment of the men and women who created them, those “True Believers” that I often write about. If it weren’t for them, this business would be riding on the Last Train to Nowhere, next stop, Oblivion.
Railing against mediocrity and mediocrity “creep” is an essential component of the Autoextremist Manifesto. And it’s not confined to the designing, engineering and building of automobiles, unfortunately.
The marketers at these car companies can be wildly suspect as well, too often taking the easy way out when the situation is just aching for a bold move. That they often end up taking the road frequently traveled rather than risk ruffling some feathers, even though their gut tells them the results will be well worth it, is a sad commentary. Are there exceptions and exceptional people involved in the marketing functions at these companies? Yes, absolutely. But the predominant mode is repackaged tedium, and it stinks.
And let’s not forget the media, because mediocrity is prevalent there too. In fact I maintain a reservoir of intense loathing for certain journalists on the auto beat who blithely sleepwalk through their coverage, performing rote regurgitations spoon-fed from the company PR staffs and calling it news (or even worse, writing) because after all, going-along-to-get-along is a lot easier than having their oftentimes clueless editors having to field a phone call from an irate PR vice-president who is upset about a story.
Ever wonder why there’s sameness to the coverage of the auto business? That you can plug and play stories from one publication to another and not see any difference? There’s a reason for it. It’s a lot easier to cover the auto companies the way they want you to, because going against the grain is difficult. And then bad things happen to those who don't toe the line.
Thankfully, there’s no danger of that happening here. Going against the grain is our specialty, it’s what we do best and why you keep coming back. I don’t say what people want me to say, in fact, as much as the mediocrity-brandishing hordes (oh, you know who you are, the recalcitrant twerps, the self-important hacks clinging to their little piece of the pie – and their dubious titles - by their fingernails, hoping to get out before being exposed for the worthless parasites they truly are, and of course the spineless weasels who continue to wreak their particular brand of righteous intransigence and havoc to the detriment of companies everywhere. Yeah, you) who are so protective of their pathetic little fiefdoms want me to sit down and be quiet – for good – the likelihood of that happening is slim. And none.
As a matter of fact I’ve got really bad news for those who so wish I would just go away, because the Autoextremist Manifesto has been refueled and powered-up to a new level of intensity.
You won’t find restrictor-plates, aero matching or “spec” anything around here.
For many, the kind of unflinching commentary that we specialize in is like a tonic for the soul in this swirling maelstrom of shit masquerading as the world we live in today.
As for the rest of you?
Well, it’s quite simple: You can’t handle the High-Octane Truth.