By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. It has been The Best of Times, it has been The Worst of Times. And it has been a journalistic rocket ride like no other. When we started this publication back in the summer of 1999 there was no real plan other than I was ready to recount a lifetime of automotive history that began in Detroit’s heyday, combine that with my life’s work in the auto advertising and marketing trenches, and blow the lid off of the status quo in a business that had become petrified and jaded.
I was going to tell the real stories and name the real names and I wasn’t going to hide behind the usual journalistic chestnuts of “deep background” and “off the record” sobriquets. I was going to make people accountable in a business in which not being accountable had become a cottage industry.
Back when we started AE the car business as writ large here - this once glorious, exuberant business that created The Arsenal of Democracy and made up the fabric of American industrial might - had become overrun with blood-sucking parasites and spineless weasels.
This industry that once boasted industrial giants who roamed the earth creating fabulous machines while leaving heroic legacies in their wake had been reduced to a mewling chorus of sycophants making excuses for what couldn’t be done and why “they” – aka Detroit - couldn’t compete, while churning out mind-numbing, rolling monuments to mediocrity that drove millions of consumers away, for good.
Watching Detroit’s collective market share do a pirouette into The Abyss was not so much sobering as it was frightening, and my writings took the fight to these purveyors of boneheaded excuses and feckless mediocrity and changed the conversation forever.
I challenged every single convention and blew the lid off of the excuse-making machines that the car company PR functions had become and turned this business on its ear, which was, in reality, much harder to do than it sounds now.
But think about the relationship between the press and the auto companies back then. There was no news or opinion of any substance, just rote regurgitation of the auto company press releases with an occasional “tough” question thrown in for good measure. But if it was too “tough” an editor would get “the call” and be taken to the proverbial woodshed because, well, you know, it just wasn’t done. And for their penance the offending scribes would be denied access to a top a executive – especially the CEO - which back then was akin to the death penalty. Without access they wouldn’t be able to distinguish themselves in the swirling maelstrom of predictability that the industry press corps had become. Without access, they were pretty much dead.
But the key differentiator for me was that I didn’t care about access, because I knew the Detroit auto executive mindset intimately, inside and out. I knew what they thought and why they thought it. So much so in fact, that on more than one occasion – okay, make that more times than I can even count – I heard comments that went something like this: “I don’t know who you’re talking to, or where you’re getting your information, but it’s so uncannily accurate that it is scary.”
In fact it was so disconcerting to the car company PR minions that it struck fear into their very hearts and kept them awake at night. And as they watched their digital clocks tick over with a sickening thud, the prayers that could be heard in the darkness sounded achingly similar: “I hope he stops. Or starts writing about somebody else. Or gets hit by a truck, whichever comes first, Dear Lord.” But those prayers fell on deaf ears.
I am gratified to say that Autoextremist.com changed the tone and tenor of the media coverage of this business once and for all. Countless imitators and wannabes sprang up and are still springing up to this day. I have had writers attempt to copy my style while brazenly calling it their own, and I’ve even had Internet trolls blatantly steal my copy and post it on their websites thinking no one would notice.
But it didn’t really matter in the end, because the voice – and the impact - of Autoextremist rang loud and true and has been powerful for going on sixteen years, and the imitators and freeloaders slunk away from under the rocks from whence they came.
To say that Autoextremist.com has been a labor of love doesn’t even begin to cover it. It has been my passion - and my life - for sixteen years.
I walked away from car advertising because the relationship between the car companies and their ad agencies had become so polluted that it was a too embarrassing for words, a sickening dance of egregious malfeasance that was an insult to the craft – on both sides of the ball. What had once been a pretty damn great way to make a living – one filled with bristling creativity and collaborative excellence - had deteriorated into a cesspool of go-along-to-get-along and “thank you, sir, may I have another?” bullshit. The profoundly inept were leading the spineless order takers, and the resulting chaos masquerading as marketing was devastating.
Is it better now? Well, let’s see, two of the three American car companies went bankrupt, with one of those being gifted to a foreign car company because no one else had a better idea as to how to save it. But, let’s get back to the question - is it really better now?
Yes and no. The products are better, make no mistake about that. In fact we are experiencing the finest machines in automotive history at this very moment in time. And that is no insignificant thing, either.
But the romance and art that once fueled this business, and the passion and willingness to do great things and strive for excellence that took it to lofty heights, are now confined to the pockets of True Believers spread out among the car companies. These are the people who keep the passion of this business alive and who stay true to their beliefs against overwhelming odds.
Because in reality this “new” auto business has been defined by the deal makers and the interloping carpetbaggers hell bent on maximizing their balance sheets while embracing commoditization and globalization. The art of the machine means less than zero to them. It has become irrelevant. And it’s sad.
Suffice to say that you have no idea of the time, effort and energy that it has taken to deliver the Bare-Knuckled, Unvarnished, High-Octane Truth to you every week for going on sixteen years now.
And if you knew, I mean really knew, you would be shocked. It has been an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege - as Jerry McGuire once famously said - that few people can comprehend and even fewer will even begin to understand.
It was our blood on these tracks. And it was our unwavering passion and unflinching standards amidst the torrent of mediocrity and just plain dismal behavior on the Internet that stood out. That’s not just us talking; that was the consistent refrain we heard from a countless number of our readers out there, week in and week out.
The fact of the matter is that you can go anywhere and read anything about cars on the Internet, but we’re extremely grateful and proud to say that the best and the brightest came here.
But this day had to come. I knew it. WordGirl knew it. And Dr. Bud knew it too. The End for Autoextremist.com is a terribly sad day for all of us. But we’re very proud of what we achieved here, and extremely thankful for the support, for the kind words and for all of the True Believers we met along the way.
I will miss this terribly. Yes, I will. Because even though it was a relentless grind, I am very proud to say that we made a difference and we made a lasting impact. We set out to influence the influencers in this business and that is exactly what we did.
It has been one glorious ride.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth on this last day of 5,767 days of Autoextremist.com.
But, in case you’re wondering, this isn’t the last you’ll hear from us. I have been courted by a consortium of financially gifted individuals from Silicon Valley “South” – aka Austin, Texas - who want the “King of the True Believers,” as they embarrassingly refer to me, to lead them into the car business.
These movers and shakers are blessed with extreme wealth, the kind of wealth that is, for all intents and purposes, incomprehensible. Their pockets are deep and their vision is clear. This small group of talented, decorated, and deeply creative men and women can see the Big Picture clearly. They thrive on a challenge and have the wherewithal to see a project of this immense scope through. They will remain undaunted by the withering costs and myriad difficulties that the automobile business presents on an hourly basis, because they simply won’t be fazed by any of it.
The new company, called HOTMotors - High-Octane Truth Motors – is based in Austin, Texas and will combine my vision for the future of transportation with large measures of enduring passion and artful expression so lacking in the current automotive environment.
HOTMotors is already staffed with 350 technical people working feverishly away in secret on the future of transportation in a nondescript warehouse not too far from the outskirts of the city. WordGirl will be the Chief Marketing Officer - with my assistance - and Dr. Bud will be Director of Public Relations, which will be interesting to say the least, so the gang will remain intact.
It has been my lifelong dream to lead a car company, and it’s probably the only thing that would make me give up Autoextremist.com.
So here we go.
That our first machine – the Bandini X37 – looks remarkably like one of GM Design’s historical gems - the Corvair Monza GT concept - is no coincidence. After all, why mess with perfection?
Happy April 1st!