By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. With the holidaze (misspelling intentional) fast approaching, I thought it might be a good idea to hand out some stocking stuffers to some of the more illustrious members of the automotive community.
Now, in case you were wondering, this isn’t some altruistic-tinged rebirth or me turning over of a new leaf. That would be a little weird, wouldn’t it? No, this is me playing full-on Bad Santa, complete with rosy red cheeks aglow, black boots polished to a mirror finish and spurs sharpened with razor-like precision. Wait, a Santa with spurs? Yes, and spiked gloves to complement them.
After all, while much high-fiving is going on in the corporate hallways throughout the industry over the The Boom That’s Never Gonna End, I thought it would be most appropriate to offer up some merry lumps of coal and a few other things to the proceedings. So without further ado then…
Alfa Romeo: If Alfa were in The Wizard of Oz, I would so love to bestow courage on the brand, or even a brain, because having a heart is only going to take the Italian ghost of a car company only so far. As I said when it appeared in L.A., the new Giulia Quadrifoglio is the most spectacular piece of vaporware this business has seen in years, but it won’t be enough to forge the grand vision for the brand harbored by Sergio The Great. And the more pedestrian Giulia is just that, a pedestrian entry to an already overcrowded field. Sergio’s vision of hinging FCA’s future on launching multiple competitive Alfa Romeo-branded entries into a market that is already oversaturated within an inch of its life is nothing more than a Christmas fantasy. A stocking full of hand-painted green, white and red coal for those toiling away on the Alfa brand under Sergio’s boot heel, because from here on out it’s a train ride headed straight for oblivion.
Fiat-Alfa Romeo Dealers. No dealers in the last decade have had more unmitigated bullshit spewed at them from the factory – aka Sergio – than the long-suffering Fiat-Alfa Romeo dealers. They’ve been promised the moon and the stars and everything in between, and have little to nothing to show for it. They get an official Autoextremist Bullshit Detector and ten cases of Tito’s Vodka.
Sergio The Great. It’s refreshing to see that Marchionne’s delusions of grandeur get the best of him every time. Yes, he’s tempered his empty rhetoric of late, suggesting that he isn’t going to attempt a hostile takeover of GM, but that doesn’t mean he’s mellowed or that he's had a sudden change of heart. It just means that he’s resigned to the fact that he has to find another partner, and quick. Remember, this is the guy who insists that Alfa Romeo will be “the next Audi.” That failed promise of Alfa Romeo has been Marchionne’s Groundhog Day for a full eight years now. For that Sergio gets his very own stuffed groundhog.
Acura. We’ve waited three-and-a-half long years for a new NSX sports car to be released and now that it’s almost here, the feeling of emptiness surrounding the Acura brand is palpable. Strongly believing in technology for technology’s sake, the powers that be at Acura think that by ladling on large amounts of gee-whiz “stuff” they can deliver a genuine driving difference with real conquest appeal, even though they’ve demonstrated repeatedly that they can’t. The people of Acura get a hand-delivered copy of Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is?” in their stocking. Watch it here.
Audi. Four rings operatives tried hard to keep the stinking VW fiasco from hammering the brand, and they succeeded, at least for a while. Now, they’re making excuses along with the rest of the VW group. But the diesel thing will be fixed, eventually. What really worries Audi is that its dealers are seeing a softening in unit profitability across the board, because the cost of doing business – meaning the incentives needed to attract buyers – is killing them. Stocking stuffer? Lumps of coal with the four rings imprinted on them. Why sugarcoat it?
Bentley. The German-engineered and funded, British-badged luxury automaker already received its stocking stuffer. They pulled out of the Detroit Auto Show in favor of more “experiential” marketing initiatives and auto shows that actually mean something to hyper-luxury automakers. Smart move.
BMW. Several books about the development of the famed 2002 just to remind them of what started it all, and how far removed from the plot they really are.
Buick. A primer on Bill Mitchell and an immersion in all of the great Riviera production cars and Silver Arrow concepts. Then we’ll talk.
Cadillac. A personally delivered lecture by The Autoextremist. The title? “Go Big or Go Home. And Why You Won’t Find ‘Cojones’ in the ‘Restrained’ Bin.”
Chevrolet. A new campaign theme worthy of the brand.
Chrysler. A product plan that actually has something in it other than a new minivan. Never mind. That’s asking far too much of a company that has Alfa Romeo on the brain.
Dodge. The purveyor of badass cop cars and throwback Hell Cat muscle cars needs nothing, as long as it doesn’t try to be anything else.
Fiat. The nostalgic Italian division of Sergio’s Empire is a sub-niche of a niche desperately seeking more. Even if FCA stopped importing everything but the 500X it wouldn’t have a shot, and the new 124 isn’t going to make a damn bit if difference either. As I’ve stated previously, Fiat is the little engine that wanted to be, fulfilling a role that it was never really cut out for. Stocking stuffer? A one-way ticket back to Italy.
Ford. A white stocking with blue stripes filled with more of everything, plus a crash re-do of the front-end design for the Edge.
GM. Mary Barra and Dan “I’m the next chairman, just ask me” Ammann have to stop thinking they’re smart enough to get by without a Chief Marketing Officer, and go out and get one.
GMC. A desperately needed rethink on every piece of communication they do, because everything they’re doing now is beneath the reach of the brand.
Honda. More enlightenment, more interesting cars that are a blast to drive and a rush on that rumored next-gen S2000.
Hyundai. Design integrity and genuine driving dynamic goodness. Soon.
Infiniti. An identity other than “the brand for people who for some strange reason can’t identify with Audi, BMW or Mercedes.”
Jaguar. Much success as it dances dangerously close to the flame in order to attract the same “new” buyers that every other brand in the luxury-performance market wants - aka younger people with money.
Jeep. Despite the best efforts of the prosciutto-fisted Italians marching to Sergio’s whims, Jeep has succeeded because the True Believers in Auburn Hills charged with stewardship of this iconic brand have managed to keep the non-essential combatants – aka those same Italians - from screwing it up. More good cheer for them.
Land Rover. Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, or something like that.
Lexus. As I said in the AE Brand Image Meter, Lexus is still the Eddie Haskell of the luxury auto space - the smiling, complimentary, overly solicitous and definitely annoying car company for consumers who don’t really care about cars. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Toyota’s coldly calculated, blandtastic money machine doesn’t need a damn thing.
Lincoln. More and faster. And the Continental can’t arrive soon enough.
Mazda. Will Mazda ever be more than it is right now, the scrappy purveyor of interesting cars if you would just take the time to look? No, probably not, but Mazda operatives don’t mind and they don’t really need anything either.
Mercedes-Benz. The home of the three-pointed star, Mercedes is the most wildly inconsistent auto manufacturer in the world. When they’re “on” – see the magnificent new S-Class Coupe, for instance - they build absolutely glorious machines that live up to one of the great automotive legacies in the world. When they’re off, well, they can stink up the joint like no other. More of the “on” Mercedes, please. A lot more.
Porsche. Please, please, please don’t screw it up. Beyond that, nothing. The Porsche stocking is already overflowing with riches.
Subaru. For us personally, the brand is a non-starter. For the Subaru faithful, it’s like a warm campfire with s'mores and chamomile tea. Subaru doesn’t need anything more beyond that.
Tesla. Elon is reinventing the Christmas stocking, didn’t you hear? It will hover by itself, generate enough electricity to heat your house, and it will have enough smoke and mirrors to keep the kids entertained for days.
Toyota. Armed with a war chest brimming with billions, Toyota doesn’t need a damn thing.
Volvo. With the perception hanging out there that it’s the car for people who question even owning a car in the first place, Volvo needs all the help - and presents - it can get.
VW. Well, let’s see, a new idea and a new image, for starters. And an American consumer buying public with amazingly short memories. Oh hell, what am I saying? Even that won’t be enough to salvage the holiday for VW.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Check out the latest episode of The High-Octane Truth on AutoextremistTV below. -WG