No. 915
September 20, 2017

Follow Autoextremist




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Bring on the Jetsons!

I'd like to think I am pretty smart. I'd like to think I have skills. I know t have enough to design and execute many things, but an automobile is not one of them, which is why I buy one. Same with my computer and my phone. The trick in life is to know where your skills lie, run with that and then find other people to do the things they do better than you.

I want my car to take me in comfort, safety and economy to my destination near to the time I wish to get there. I would like it to pair easily with my phone and be able to change the radio station or the temps with ease. If it can safely take over the driving on the 101 into downtown during rush hour, that's great. But I am never going to be completely comfortable with that. My computer and phone goes wonky every few months. Do I really want to be on my iPad at 55MPH frantically trying to find info on how to reboot Super Duper Autopilot? I don't think so.

You really want to impress me? Come up with a car that folds itself up into a brief case a la “The Jetsons” so I don't have to park it...

Tom Pease
(AE's L.A.-based correspondent)
Beverly Hills, California



Countdown to ecstasy.

When I read your comments about "automakers reinventing themselves as IT companies" I can't help but think they are all chasing the same "front-runner": Tesla.

But who are they chasing? An "automaker" whose payroll contains about 60% software engineers? An "automaker" whose NEV offerings in China come in 14th and 16th in sales?

How about an automaker whose Model 3 deliverables are MIA? Good thing they don't have any "traditional" dealership lots to fill, else we'd notice. But even then, Elon can throw up the smokescreens of eco-nice SolarCity (a subsidiary that burns cash like the wooden effigy at Burning Man) and SpaceX rockets.

Maybe that's Detroit's problem: they sponsor no missile launches.

Dave Guyette
AE's Portland-based correspondent Portlandia, Oregon



What you’re seeing is the conflict created by companies which wish to expand but which are in a mature industry. Cars have little place to improve as transportation goes. A 2018 Fast Flyer is no better than the 2017 one or, for that matter, the 2015 one. The auto industry has thrived on constant improvement for its 100-year life but now must find ways to differentiate its products in ways other than making them better transportation devices.

As an analog, look at Apple which also found itself in a mature industry it needed for its growth: the iPhone series. So what does it do? It can’t improve the phone itself because it’s as good as it can get so it adds sophisticated cameras thus pushing itself into the camera industry. It has succeeded to a certain extent along with the other large phone manufacturers. They’re camera companies too putting paid to most point and shoot camera sales for cameras which only take pictures. Apple, Samsung, et. al. have actually eaten share from dedicated camera companies.

Sure, there’s a difference. Cameras even before the iPhone were really computers with lenses so the high-tech companies were a good deal more comfortable pushing into this realm than ‘Detroit’ may be with high-tech, but it has to happen or they fall into a non-growth mode. As an industry, they’ll be France and that’s not going to thrill shareholders.

My Toyota Tacoma is now 18-years-old. Every time I park at the dealer to buy a part, a salesman asks me if I’d be interested in a new Tacoma. I ask him in what way is it better than my truck? Usually, that quiets the fellow but sometimes one will pop up with something like push-button starting. So in eighteen years of work, Toyota has managed to ‘improve’ my truck by adding a feature I’d prefer not exist. It’s computers or nothing.

Paul Cassell
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Well, they don't call him The Autoextremist for nothin'.

I agree with you that the auto companies need not transform themselves into IT companies. And most of them won't as long as cars still need body systems, chassis systems, engine & drive systems, cooling & exhaust systems, electrical systems, etc etc. We've been through this before with all those great predictions regarding EVs and the electrification of the automobile. Didn't happen. Auto companies have a long history of doing what the other guys are doing. That way no one can really get a leg up and have a big competitive advantage over the competition. Conversely, if the're all doing the wrong thing, it's like lemmings going off the cliff. In a nut shell, that's what you're predicting. But it's rather extreme.

Frank S.
Rochester, Michigan

Ya' think?

I thought my head was going to explode as I read your rant about car companies becoming IT centers of the world. GM tried that back in the 80's and it did not end well for GM's balance sheet. Forming metal things and manipulating digital data just don't seem to go well together but here we have a whole bunch of metal formers hell bent on trying it again. It's not likely to end well this time either.

I hark back to the good old days when the large car company I worked for entered into a research project with a pretty good engineering consulting company. The project involved vehicle ride and handling coupled with some (for the day) pretty sophisticated real time data analysis and control. At one of our monthly meetings held to update our senior engineering management, one of the “big picture" thinkers opined that we needed to get some really good computer guys on board to help bring this project along. “Wrong!” said the consulting company. “What you need are some really good ride and handling engineers who can understand what these systems are doing. We can teach them the computer skills they need. We cannot teach computer guys to be vehicle dynamics engineers. It would take way to much time and some would never be successful at it.”

Wow!! You don't suppose the same principles apply to this headlong rush by the car companies to be “computer people?”

Wilmington, North Carolina

NASCAR's downward spiral.

From 2002-2008 I attended several NASCAR races at tracks such as Daytona, Talladega, Bristol, Atlanta, and Kentucky… multiple events yearly at these same tracks. My family and I would spend several hundred... maybe thousands of dollars to attend each race (hotel, tickets, food, gas, souvenirs, plus incidentals). With the regression of NASCAR (Car of Tomorrow, the ‘chase’, the expense, retirement of several drivers… you get the idea) NASCAR became less and less appealing to me, and it was easy to not spend the money to line the coffers of Daytona Beach's monarchs. The ‘way we always done things’ mentality made it easy to look elsewhere. I really don't know the last time I watched an entire race on TV, and I haven't attended an event since ‘08. Kind of like MTV, ESPN and CNN; each of these entities abandond that which made them what they were in an attempt to become more! By doing so, they have become a shell of what they once were, making it very easy to leave things for the new millennials’ short attention spans. Oh, I became a NASCAR fan in the late '60s watching on Wide World of Sports, so NASCAR wasn't a 'flash-in-the-pan' to me. The point is, I agree with much of your commentary/suggestions. 'Fraid deaf ears are prevailing!

Troy Lovett
Benton, Kentucky


Here at AE we call it "racertainment."

Change NASCAR? Good luck with that! It has become the motorized version of Championship Wrestling. Contrived off- (and on-) track rivalries between drivers; suspicious caution flags for “debris” nobody can ever see; they stop racing (yes, I know I'm supposed to drop the “g”) every few laps; pit stops using lug nuts (it's 2017!); you know the drill. It's not Racing or Motorsport, its entertainment that resembles auto racing. A waste of time…

Southbury, Connecticut



What's next for NASCAR?

I was an ardent fan of NASCAR for most of my life. I really bought in to the race on Sunday, buy on Monday dream that NASCAR was selling. Well at least they did when the cars were actually based on real stock cars. Seeing Fusions and Camrys racing as two-door, rear-wheel drive V8 cars is ridiculous. Even the Chevy SS (of which I own one and love it) is not based on the actual car even though it's probably the closest with rear drive and a V8 from the factory (and now discontinued). So I am reduced to watching two races a year, Sonoma and Watkins Glen where the talent of the drivers really shines. I would accept average speeds of 50-75MPH less to see real cars with small safety mods racing each other. If it's a four-door Camry then so be it, same with a Fusion and whatever GM decides to base their next NASCAR racer on. (FYI: GM has already revealed a "Camaro-esque" front clip for its current NASCAR chassis starting in 2018. -PMD.) Of course safety has to be considered and respected above all but new vehicles are pretty safe as designed these days. And while I'm at it, reinstate the homologation rule so that I can buy what I'm watching should I choose. Your comments for years have been right on. Attendance at the events is pitiful compared to the past and I get bored watching these bespoke race cars follow the leader and win on fuel mileage or pit stops. It's why I don't watch Formula 1 or IndyCar anymore either. I would be interested n your thoughts on this.

Budd Lake, New Jersey

Editor-in-Chief's Note: As you know, I have written extensively about fixing NASCAR over the years. Unfortunately, the only time NASCAR executives change anything is when they're backed into a corner. The last time this occurred was when Ford and GM threatened NASCAR with pulling out of the series completely unless they got rid of the dreaded "Car of Tomorrow." NASCAR did ditch the CoT, of course, but only after taking credit for the origins of the "Gen6" idea, which they had nothing to do with. (I should know, because I worked behind the scenes to help facilitate the manufacturers' aggressive move against the CoT.) It will take the same kind of effort by the manufacturers again in order to extract more changes from NASCAR (different spec cars, engines, shorter schedule, etc.), but in lieu of that NASCAR is going to get smaller, with the erosion of in-person attendance and TV viewing numbers continuing until they're forced to react. It would be better for all concerned if the powers that be in Daytona Beach weren't so arrogant and locked into their "we've always done it this way" mindset, but that's asking too much apparently. NASCAR's destiny is the downward spiral at this point, and it's anyone's guess how far down it will go. -PMD



Memo to automakers: You're kidding, right?

Digital masters? Are you kidding? You can't even update an in-car Nav system without risking the gadget and spending $200-$400.00. There are few updates or support for 99 percent of in-car electronics. Not Confident.

Casey Raskob Esq.
Green Leafy Burbs, New York



One SUV too far.

As to your Marchionne/Ferrari comments (rant); please try a bit of calm. It's OK for Porsche but not Ferrari? What the hell; we have a Maserati SUV, let's go for a Ferrari iteration. However, should Bugatti go SUV; I agree, the collapse of Western Civilization would occur shortly thereafter.

Ted P.
Siesta Key, Florida



Mr. Brightside.

All is not lost yet. If you can sit for a few in a new Bentley Continental GT, do it. Ii almost cures thoughts of FCA and autonomous soap bars. Even if its just an aspiration.

Rockville, Maryland

Car Companies and IT? They don’t have a clue.

I purchased a new car back in 2014 and created an account in their digital garage that stores service history and such. Checked back a few months later after having first oil change and see additional service items. Hmmm... these were done at a dealer in California and I live in Michigan. 

I call their crack customer service team and informed them that one of their dealers in California entered my VIN in error and I needed it corrected. After no response for a couple of days, I contact them again, still looking into the problem…. Two months go by, nothing, still not corrected. So, I make a few phone calls in my network and get contact info for a director level person at this car company. He’s able to get the problem corrected in a day.

Can you imagine the horrors as you sit stranded in your autonomous vehicle needing a software upgrade or remote reboot and having to wait while the incompetents figure out what to do?

Another issue, someone in New Hampshire bought a new vehicle and gave the salesperson my email address in error. I live in Michigan. I contact the sales manager and inform him of the situation, he says he’ll get it corrected. A month later and I’m getting surveys from the car company. 

Since it doesn’t look like the sales manager did anything, I complete the survey giving the dealer the worst scores. Guess what, I get an email from the sales manager asking about the low scores and what can they do? I said nothing because I didn’t buy a vehicle from them and I’ll continue to give them low scores if I receive future surveys. I did receive two more surveys. If the car company and dealership can’t verify a simple email address and correct it if in error, just think what the future will hold.


Troy, Michigan