No. 926
December 6, 2017
 

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with Autoextremist.com, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo'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. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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The Autoextremist - Rants


Tuesday
Mar042008

RANTS #435

March 5, 2008

Porsche gobbles up VW. Next up? Brand chaos.

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit. It was announced on Monday that the supervisory board of the company that owns Porsche AG - Porsche Automobil Holding SE - gave its approval for the luxury automaker to take a majority stake in Volkswagen, Europe's biggest car maker. Porsche took great pains to say that Monday’s decision does not mean the two companies are merging, but who’s kidding whom? The companies may not be formally merging, but there’s only one guy who will be calling the shots, and that’s Wendelin Wiedeking, the Porsche CEO.

Wiedeking has repeatedly gone on record of late saying that he would be cracking the whip at VW and bringing the monstrous enterprise into compliance with his vision of what VW should be in the automotive world, which means emphasis on profit, first, and he’ll figure out the rest on the fly.

Wiedeking should by now be a familiar character to Autoextremist readers. He is the understudy of one Ferdinand Piech, the once-gifted racing engineer, Porsche scion and now legendary megalomaniacal ball buster who almost ran VW into the ground with his wild product mood swings and capriciously arrogant management style. Piech, deservedly dubbed by us as The Man Who Wouldn’t Leave because of his reluctance to give up control of anything for more than five minutes, has taught Wiedeking well, and now Piech’s chief apostle will go forward with his Master’s teachings, prepared to wreak havoc on anything and everything in his path.

Wiedeking, whose official new AE title is “Piech Too,” has rapidly grown into his self-inflated persona and has now achieved megalomaniacal ball buster status of his own, fueled by the slavish German automotive media, which has repeatedly used the term “genius” when referring to the Porsche CEO and has gone out of its way to canonize the executive at every opportunity. And Wiedeking has, of course, let all of this go to his head, which has been standard operating procedure for every German auto executive who has come before him, from memorable Col. Klinkian screw-ups like Piech and the now disgraced Jurgen Schrempp, all the way to the more polished but still misguided Dieter Zetsche.

And now that Wiedeking’s Reign of Terror on the moribund VW “culture” – or at least what passes for one – has well and truly begun, what does it mean for auto enthusiasts and VW and Porsche dealers here in the U.S. in particular, and why does it matter?

Well, for one thing, if I was a VW dealer and I was hoping for a modicum of clarity finally emanating from headquarters, I would go in full “duck and cover” mode because things aren’t going to get better, they’re going to get even worse.

VW tipped its hand at the North American International Auto Show by unveiling the Passat CC sedan, yet another attempt by VW to distance itself from its “German Driving Value” persona here in the U.S. As I’ve said in the past, the VW execs back in Germany chafe at the idea that VW can only be presented one way here, and they’re desperate to disprove that notion by shoving ever more expensive products down their dealers’ – and American consumers’ – throats.

How has that strategy worked so far? Disastrous would be the only word that comes to mind. And yet here is VW, pushing the Passat CC sedan, which loaded up will once again venture across the border into Audi territory, and for what reason exactly? Ego? Arrogance? Try both.

And on top of that, VW is seriously contemplating the idea of bringing the Phaeton back to this country. Uh, I would recommend that Wikipedia better make way for a new lead definition of “Blind Arrogance” because VW has the concept covered.

Add to VW’s own particularly inbred way of thinking the willful and egomaniacal leadership of one Wendelin Wiedeking and the meddlesome (and wildly irrational) “vision” of his mentor in crime, Ferdinand Piech, and you have a classic recipe for disaster.

I’ve often been taken to task by Porsche loyalists for having the temerity to criticize Wendelin Wiedeking for green-lighting the Cayenne SUV, seeing as in their minds the vehicle has ensured the company’s profitability and independence for years to come and allowed them to build really cool cars like the 911 GT3 RS.

And I’ve responded in kind with this: Promoting short-term profitability ahead of decades of accrued brand equity is a fool’s errand, one that will ultimately prove to have disastrous consequences. Sell enough Cayenne SUVs and the upcoming Panamera four-door sedans to people whose interest in the vehicles only goes as far as wanting a Porsche emblem – an emblem that’s being slapped on a wider array of vehicles totally disconnected from the brand’s raison d’etre – while being clueless as to why they’re buying it in the first place - and eventually they’ll displace the hard-core True Believers who bought into Porsche’s original brand essence in the first place.

And then what?

Well, then at that point you’re left with just another car company, which, under Wiedeking’s tutelage will be “the most profitable car company in the world,” but one with little connection to anything else, especially to the company’s own glorious but now rapidly fading history.

And by the way, that atrocity called the Panamera? That Porsche sedan masquerading as a “four-door coupe” in Porsche marketing speak? The vehicle that the magazines are already saying doesn’t look quite as homely as first indicated (how’s that for a ringing endorsement) but that flaunts its decidedly un-Porsche-ness from every angle?

Well, let’s see, the bodies will be built at the VW plant in Hanover, Germany. And the interior and engine will be mated to those bodies at the VW facility in Leipzig. In other words, except for the Porsche-designed engine and the crest on the hood, the Panamera is, for all intents and purposes, a new VW luxury sedan that will be marketed in the U.S. as a Porsche.

Let the chaos begin.

Thanks for listening, see you next Wednesday.