Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 11:44AM

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Editor’s Note: Part II of my “unplugged” interview with Peter occurred this morning (12/12, 9:30 a.m.). Though Peter is notorious for his early mornings, I got him to hold off until a more decent hour (a minor victory). We weren’t going to do a Part II, but because questions poured in from some of our readers, we decided to go ahead with it. We’re also including the previous questions/answers from Part I below Part II. So, here we go... –WG

What are your thoughts about Mary Barra, in terms of her performance so far? –RC, Nashville, Tennessee. 

I give her mixed marks. On the one hand she’s proven to be quite capable as a CEO, but on the other, I find some of her decisions to be on the ragged edge of being questionable. Walking away from markets is never a good thing, despite the long list of reasons given for GM’s decision to do so. I also think GM’s bet on The Future of the business has too much fantasy connected to it. It hinges on all sorts of things coming into play that really have no basis in reality. And that’s a recipe for disaster. Her performance yesterday at the Automotive Press Association event in Detroit was typical for Mary Barra - walking in the middle of the road, filled with platitudes, while carefully not saying much. Yes, I get it, much of an auto CEO’s life is about not really having a point of view and not saying anything that could be misconstrued, but at this point, I expect much more from her. And one last thing, the fact that she and Dan “I Am” Ammann have steadfastly refused to appoint a chief marketing officer for the company is a glaring mistake. The decision to have the divisions wander around in the marketing desert on their own has been an abject failure, especially given the insipid advertising they keep generating. I don’t know if she and Ammann are reluctant to add another million-dollar body to the executive suite because they’re deathly afraid of giving someone with serious marketing experience and a point of view the autonomy to make decisions, or what, but it’s an egregiously bad call and a giant, steaming bowl of Not Good.

What’s the deal, you haven’t said much about Elon and Sergio lately, are you going soft? –Hank J., Sausalito, California

I think I’ve pretty much covered those two, and I really don’t have much to add. Marchionne is positioning FCA to be sold and that’s the task given to him by his Fiat heirs/handlers, because they’re deathly afraid of running through – and out of – their money. And being the carpetbagging mercenary that he is he will do exactly that, most likely with Hyundai. As for Musk, for all of his brilliance and vision, the fact that he can’t build the Model 3 in quantity and with quality is an indictment of his entire automotive adventure. And his calculated distractions – an all-electric semi-truck! and I’m gonna launch my sports car to Mars! – are just that. And I love the fact that these companies are already lining up to order his trucks, when he has demonstrated repeatedly that he can’t build his vision with any semblance of consistency or quality. Do they live under a rock, or what? I do have a new name for him though: Teslon. Because he has become the Teflon Tech Guru in that criticism bolstered with facts just rolls off of him. If I didn’t hear about either one of them ever again I’d be thrilled, but of course that’s not going to happen.

What do you really think is going to become of Cadillac? –J.H., Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Cadillac chief Johan de Nysschen has made it clear that he is not only remaking Cadillac in Audi’s likeness, but his favorite buzzword of late is “global” in that every decision made about the brand revolves around that premise. What does that mean, exactly? What that means is that Cadillac is well on its way to becoming a Chinese brand. “Global” is just another code word for China in de Nysschen’s lexicon, and to think otherwise is just delusional. Any hoary notions of Cadillac being one of the most iconic and authentic American brands is just that, they’re irrelevant to de Nysschen’s train of thought. Will the brand survive in America? Yes, because Cadillac is going to crank out enough crossovers to satisfy the insatiable demand for them by American consumers. As for the legacy and heritage of the brand, forget about it. De Nysschen doesn’t care, and apparently Barra and Ammann don’t care either. 

What do you think of the car companies and their obsession to turn cars into mobile shopping platforms to rival the cell phone? –WG

I think it’s total, unmitigated bullshit. This just in: Cars will never replace the cell phone. They won’t even come remotely close to doing that, in fact. And this harebrained notion that by turning your automobile into a mobile shopping platform it will somehow draw new – and younger – owners into the auto orbit is the dumbest thing I’ve heard of oh, in the last three decades. The auto companies need to get over themselves, because they will never rival the Tech Gods in Silicon Valley. It just will not happen. But the auto companies do one important thing that Silicon Valley doesn’t do, and that’s build complex transportation machines that actually serve their customers extremely well. They need to stick to that, and leave mobile shopping and game playing to cell phones.



Uwe Ellinghaus announced he is leaving his chief marketing position at Cadillac at the end of the year due to “personal reasons.” What do you think about that?

Multiple research surveys have been conducted over the last decade that indicate that the average tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer, no matter what the industry, lasts anywhere from 24 to 30 months, and then they get fired, resign, get another gig, or simply wander off into the dusk and don’t come back. This is not surprising. The burnout factor is extremely high and depending on the internal battles involved, the job can take a tremendous toll. The chief marketing job at Cadillac involves constant travel to Shanghai, so, even though I haven’t spoken to Uwe since the announcement, I would bet that had something to do with it. Uwe is genuine, and a very bright guy. That Johan de Nysschen decided to transform Cadillac into the spitting image of Audi is a strategic direction that I flat-out disagree with, but I do wish Uwe the best.

What are your thoughts about the headlong rush to autonomous vehicles and the insistence by these auto companies – especially GM – and suppliers that they’re poised to make boatloads of cash in The New Mobility Economy?

I am beyond skeptical. First of all, the efficacy of the technology is suspect, because it’s fraught with fundamental issues and recurring problems. Anyone who thinks that a magic switch will be flipped and that we’ll all be suddenly awash in autonomous cars careening around faithfully doing what they’re supposed to do is simply wishful thinking. As for the companies lining up to be a part of The New Mobility Economy by cranking out cars for the masses to be squired around town in, on paper it all sounds good. The reality will be much less than that.

GM is insistent that they will be in the thick of The New Mobility Economy and that they will win. What do you make of this?

GM has been insistent about a lot of things over the years that haven’t panned out. What’s different about this time? They’re talking a good game, with Mary Barra and Dan "I Am" Ammann getting all puffed up about GM’s bullish future but it all remains to be seen. They are making a calculated shift to this “New Mobility Economy” but what they’re really doing is turning GM into a commodity company. And that may not end well for them.

So, what about the future?

Anyone who thinks that the idea – and the freedom – of personal mobility will give way to a blissful national stupor dominated by robo cars is missing the mark. As I’ve said repeatedly, robo cars will have limited use and applications in urban centers, but beyond that this country is going to be moved by personal vehicles that people acquire of their own volition for decades to come.  

And then what?

I do see a “transportation dichotomy” looming. Some manufacturers will completely throw over to building mass-use autonomous cars, while other manufacturers will retain brands – especially luxury brands – for people who want them, because they will remain profitable. I think in the future people will have a “gray” car, meaning an appliance for when they absolutely need one for mundane duty, but they will also continue to seek out real cars that they actually desire to own. The car companies that squander the legacy of their brands will simply disappear into the fog. Take GM for instance. I can see GM management’s judgment being clouded on the bet that obscene profits will come their way through the promised ride-sharing explosion. But that is a recipe for disaster. The smarter automobile companies will identify brands that they absolutely will not relinquish, and then they will continue to nourish them well into the future. I have zero confidence that Barra and Ammann understand that.

And what about electric vehicles?

They’re coming hard and fast. And once the big players start cranking them out we’re going to see 25-30 percent market penetration in no time. But the fact that this country doesn’t have a cohesive plan for a national charging network is a travesty and simply inexcusable. I do think that hydrogen fuel cell-powered electric vehicles will be the ultimate winning technology.

What do you think of these new monthly vehicle subscriptions?

I think it's an interesting way of retaining brand loyalty, except that the prices as they're being quoted now are simply ridiculous. I will be interested in seeing what Lincoln does, as Lincoln executives have promised that their plan will be much more reasonable. A giant "we'll see."

You’ve been relentless in “Fumes” with a series of columns about The Future of Racing. Where do you think it’s going, ultimately?

Racing is in deep trouble. With the manufacturers chasing their tails on myriad mobility options, racing will continue to be pushed down the list of priorities. As I said a few weeks ago, all racing will become “vintage” racing, as the disconnect between what’s going on in our street vehicles and cars used in competition grows by the day. The only hope in all of this is that certain manufacturers will understand that there will be money to be made with high-performance cars and parts for decades to come, and the manufacturers who continue to play in the personal vehicle market will want to be there. 

What about the two very disparate racing series, Formula E and NASCAR?

Formula E is the flavor of the moment but the series is completely devoid of excitement. This just in: The consistent allure of racing since Day One has been the visceral appeal of the sound and the fury. The woefully benign sound signature of a Formula E machine has all the audio appeal of a slot car, as in Not Good. Next year, when Formula E will run their entire races on one full charge (the competitors change cars half-way through the races now), it may become more interesting, but now? No.

As for NASCAR I have nothing good to say about it. It’s a nostalgia racing play and its appeal is fading faster than the Lions’ hopes of making the playoffs. The declining spiral of NASCAR’s popularity is actually accelerating, yet the powers that be in Daytona Beach steadfastly refuse to do anything about it, and NASCAR’s chief enablers – the participating manufacturers – continue to be dupes of Brian France and his inept posse. NASCAR management’s relentless intransigence combined with the litany of repeated mistakes is killing that form of motorsport. It’s up to the participating manufacturers to extract meaningful changes from NASCAR, and that means – at the very minimum – a 25 percent reduction in that death march of a schedule. I’m not holding my breath. 

What do you really think of the Lamborghini Urus, the car we’re featuring in this week’s “On The Surface”?

First of all, Lamborghini is my favorite supercar brand. The fact that the VW Group gets it and has actually nourished this brand to new heights is commendable. The SUV/crossover explosion in the market is a wave that shows no signs of abating, so wishing for a return to sanity is a waste of time. And I will say that the design of the Urus is compelling. But does anyone actually need an SUV with 650HP? No, but the Urus definitely is a Lamborghini, and for those out there who don’t want to take their Huracán out on bad days, it’s dead solid perfect.

And finally, you took a series of furious broadsides from a Motor Trend editor - which you agreed not to publish - over last week’s column. Do you have any further thoughts about that?

Not really. As I have said repeatedly, I loathe, detest and abhor any and all automotive “awards.” I think it’s all a load of unmitigated bullshit full of sound and fury signifying nothing. And anyone who actually believes that there isn’t a revenue component to these car awards is simply living in a dreamland. I don’t care how much the editors scrupulously put together their evaluations and vehemently insist that their integrity is unsullied and untainted by the commercialism of it all; the reality is that the marketing and promotion of those awards adds a substantive revenue dimension for the publication. As I said in “On The Surface” last week, at the very least the M/T editors are guilty of woefully piss-poor judgment in canonizing a car that doesn't deserve any of the accolades it has been given. And if any of these self-righteous M/T editors bothered to check out even a sample of the comments out in the Internet, they'd realize that M/T's credibility when it comes to the COTY is at the very least highly suspect, if not out and out dismissed as a perennial revenue grab.

On a final note, the winds of change blowing through this industry are ominous and cold. Seasoned, intelligent executives have convinced themselves that they’re on the cusp of a glittering, limitless future that will bury the traditional auto company model within the decade. Some of these executives are going to find out the hard way that their exuberant prognostications are not going to pan out. And because of that, some of the big-name auto companies that have become part of the American fabric will simply disappear. 

As Bob succinctly said, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. 

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

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