Tuesday, November 7, 2017 at 10:03AM

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Now that Bob Lutz has dropped his dire predictions for the future of the automotive world in Automotive News - a Lutzian Nightmare that projects the total annihilation of the automotive world as we know it, while painting a grim landscape dominated by faceless autonomous transportation modules that come in small, medium and large, a dystopian scenario that will send traditional car companies and luxury brands to the scrap heap of history - maybe it’s time to step back and take a deep breath.

“Maximum Bob” is entitled to express his opinion when it comes to all things automotive - he’s certainly earned that right - but if that’s our final destination at the dawn of this autonomous era, then to paraphrase Samuel Goldwyn’s famous quote, “Ladies and gentlemen, you may include me out.”

I’m frankly tired of the subject at this point in time, because despite the prognostications, we’re talking far into the future. And though some of our readers have expressed irrational exuberance for all things autonomous, salivating at the thought of a Jetson-esque future of effortless transportation unburdened by driver involvement, I decline to get excited about it, because for most of the country, it’s simply not going to happen in our lifetime. 

Think about this: If we maximized the mass transportation systems already in place in this country, and added to them judiciously, the whole autonomy thing would be a sideshow, but because there are massive dollars on the table, and corporate entities both real and imagined are clamoring for their piece of the action, autonomous vehicles are going to be sold as the panacea that society is waiting for and shoved down our collective throats. 

But until that happens, there are a few pressing issues facing this business right now, issues that seem to crop up about every seven or eight years or so. 

Let’s start with subprime financing. This has been a plague in the auto business on and off for years, and in recent times FCA has egregiously and maliciously jump-started the practice to the extent that it has become that company’s standard operating procedure. It is simply unconscionable, but then again, when you consider the carpetbagging mercenaries running the place, it makes perfect sense. It’s just sad that the other manufacturers are being sucked into the swirling maelstrom, trying to keep sales momentum going in a flat market by relaxing their own loan standards. 

And that’s just one aspect of how this business can be its own worst enemy. Why do you think you’re starting to see 72-month financing rearing its ugly head again in countless advertisements? Because it’s good for the consumer? Hardly. Because in about three years it unleashes legions of unhappy consumers into the market hopelessly upside down in their loans. Yet the manufacturers willingly participate in this when their backs are against the wall. I’m not sure if these companies actually think they’re doing consumers a favor by offering these death-march-length loans, or they just simply don’t give a shit. I vote for the latter. 

It’s the manufacturers taking the path of least resistance by taking advantage of consumers, all for the sake of sales momentum. Anyone who believes this industry no longer lives by 30-day sales reports is delusional. Make no mistake, it’s still an essential part of the daily reality of this business, and it still sucks.

But that’s just one aspect of this business that’s annoying. The other grating thing about this business for me right now is that irrational thinking seems to have taken hold when it comes to the relentless proliferation of SUVs and crossovers. Yes, I get it, “that’s what sells,” as I am reminded by top execs in this business almost daily, but still, there seems to be no rhyme or reason associated with it. More is better and no niche will be left unsullied, it seems. The German manufacturers are most guilty of it, but the rest of the world’s manufacturers aren’t far behind.

It all started to go wrong for me when Audi proclaimed that SUVs were “the new sports car.” And it snowballed from there. Auto writers began to get sucked in to this canard too. Now, maybe it’s because most of the vehicles media-types get to drive these days are SUVs, given the production numbers, but still, SUVs and crossovers are in no way, shape or form, “sports cars” – no matter how you squint when you’re looking at them, or how far you go out of your way to suspend reality while driving them. (And yes, that goes for Porsche too.) They’re heavy and have a higher center of gravity; it’s simple physics that cannot be denied. And every time I see a manufacturer claiming its SUV/crossover is the fastest, especially at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, I cringe, because it’s just silly and stupid.

I much prefer a manufacturer touting its SUV/crossover du jour as being good at something that has nothing to do with performance and everything to do with the overall integrity and capability of the vehicle in question. Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is. I applaud Honda with its Accord and Toyota with its Camry for still caring about building quality cars, because when the pendulum swings back – and it will, because it always does – they can sit back and smile.

So, as we wait for the death of the automobile and the industry as we know it, and suffer through this lingering interregnum, I have a message for the True Believers at all of the car companies: Don’t ever forget that you’re in the business of designing, engineering and building the best cars and trucks that you can possibly muster right now and in the foreseeable future. As long as you relentlessly execute to that goal, this industry will continue to not only be relevant and survive, but maybe even thrive. 

Because this just in: the Jetsons, at least until further notice, was just a cartoon.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

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