No. 969
October 24, 2018

About The UjianNasional

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press  ). It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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Editor's Note: So, The UjianNasional says he's tired (exhausted is more like it), and there is clearly more to be tired of than ever before in this business. This week, things reach a fever pitch with events leading up to both the Woodward Dream Cruise here in Detroit and the monument to all things automotive that is the Monterey Peninsula in August and its crown jewel, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. To that end, this week's Rant continues the ongoing theme of all that is wrong with the car enthusiast craze these days - and there is much to lament. (And don't miss Peter's take on the latest from Acura and Infiniti in "On The Table.") It is impossible not to be cynical about the sorry state of so much that defines the business today. But it is also impossible not to be awestruck by a car that is jaw-droppingly beautiful or outrageous or crazy or just plain cool. Weird, right? No, it's one of those "don't hate the player, hate the game" things. Because no matter how bad things get, there is always one more car we've never seen before, one more car to turn our heads, one more car to make a memory. And that's because we absolutely love, love, love cars. -WG


By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Since my column last week (“Tired. Not Tired.”) seemed to have struck a nerve and is still jangling about the Autoverse, I have become even more aggravated with the state of the so-called car "thing" as it exists today. But it’s not just the current sad state of the OEM kaleidoscope that’s frustrating. No, it's clear that the car enthusiast culture - or what's left of it - has been overrun by con artists, spineless weasels, clueless marketing twerps, greed merchants, poseurs and too many (but not all) in the media who display more go-along-to-get-along, "Thank you, sir, may I have another" cheerleading than your average Big Ten home game in the fall.

Where is it all going? Nowhere good, I'm afraid. 

Just this past week we were subjected to the site of normally rational (at least for the most part) auto “journalists” foaming at the mouth because FCA operatives staged a media preview of its “Roadkill Nights,” which allowed the carpal-tunnel-challenged to do real live “burnouts” in Dodge Challengers, Chargers and of course the Demon, as if this required a level of skill heretofore unknown to contemporary life.

In case you need to be reminded, “Roadkill Nights” is a creation of FCA that shuts down Woodward Avenue in Pontiac on the Saturday before the “Dream Cruise” so that legal drag racing can take place on a very abbreviated strip of asphalt. People can pay their money and drag race on the track, and a good time is had by all. Except it was an organic “happening” the first year when it was held in the parking lot at the abandoned Pontiac Silverdome, and somewhat novel the second year when it was relocated to Woodward, but it was by the third year – this year – when various forms of motorized “entertainment” were added and FCA leveraged everything they had to market their line of muscle cars, that it was played out.

That the media – both auto and otherwise – was completely enthralled by doing burnouts is beyond me, but they dutifully played into the FCA PR minion’s hands by positively gushing over everything having to do with “Roadkill Nights.” I couldn’t quite understand it, unless of course they signed a release beforehand stating that they must surrender all credibility at the gate before entering. It was that bad.

I’m sure FCA operatives are slapping themselves on the back this week as they celebrate the marketing “coup” they pulled off on behalf of their muscle car lineup, except that it’s only indicative of the woefully warped bubble they’ve created for themselves. Marketing a lineup of muscle cars with extremely narrow appeal to an audience of smoky burnout enthusiasts is nothing more than preaching to a choir that’s getting smaller by the day. But hey, since Sergio is about to sell out to the Chinese lock, stock and barrel (as Peter has predicted for years. See this week’s “On The Surface” –WG), maybe the prevailing attitude out in Auburn Hills is that they simply don’t give a damn anymore.

But I digress. I’m going to talk about three things in this business that are overhyped, overblown and overrated. Things that need to be singled-out, dissected… and hammered.

1. Fear and Loathing at “Monterey Car Week.” I’m unhappy to report that right this minute there are shiny happy auto marketing troops out in Pebble Beach patting themselves on the back that they're present and accounted for at Monterey Car Week, even though the research gleaned and goodwill bestowed on prospects amounts to a giant bowl of Not So Much. As for the few brighter lights at the car companies who realize that the million-dollar bills they accrue at Pebble Beach really don't add up to much of anything quantifiable, they're unfortunately offset by the marketers who are whining because they aren't there and who can't wait to get out there next year. So the cycle is likely to continue. 

“Monterey Car Week” has become an an excellent indicator that luxury automakers and their marketing troops are completely out of ideas when it comes to marketing their wares, and you only have to look as far as the week of over-the-top events going on right now on the Monterey Peninsula.

The relentless, ever-present din that hangs in the air out there is defined by the drunken spending among the luxury automakers and unremarkably enough, the way they go about it has the stench of sameness attached to it that in the end makes it indistinguishable from one brand to another. It’s the same luxury accoutrements, the same rote regurgitation of “luxury” words and phrases that are mumbled in an interchangeable soundtrack from brand to brand, and the same platitudes and cloying familiarity that blend together in a dismal cadence of vacuousness that goes by like a blur of marketing cotton candy, a fleeting sugar rush of pseudo substance followed by the inevitable crash of emptiness.

Yet automakers drop, collectively, at least a hundred million dollars like clockwork out in Monterey every year. Why? Because, as I’ve stated before, the lingering question hanging over the marketing troops isn’t “Maybe we ought to reevaluate this whole thing” but, “What happens if we’re not there?”

Which isn’t exactly an answer that makes a lick of sense, now does it?

2. The calculated feeding frenzy manufactured by the auto auction houses has decimated the fundamental enthusiasm that used to define car enthusiasts of all stripes. There, I said it. The whole auto auction game has graduated from being merely tedious to a threat to car enthusiasm itself. Speaking of something not making a lick of sense, the fevered business surrounding auto auctions has come to define the car “hobby” for a lot of people, which is a very bad thing. Why? Because it’s not about the cars anymore, or the fleeting moments in time that defined what those machines represented, or the memories they created for the enthusiasts who drove them. No, it’s about flat-out greed, pure and simple.

Whether it’s resurrected cars over-restored to perfection or “survivor” cars brokered “as is” it’s really all the same. It’s a circus of artificial enthusiasm marked by overheated auction hucksters in cahoots with the blatant sycophants at the TV networks who all do their very best to add to the faux cacophony, which is only punctuated by the projected “record” dollar figures that seemingly get attached to every car. (The usurious buyers’ and sellers’ premiums are barely mentioned.)  

Car auctions have destroyed the last vestige of rational thought that was once associated with being a car enthusiast. In fact, rational thinking when it comes to the car enthusiast experience was steadily reduced to collateral damage years and years ago by the “greed merchants” at the auction houses. And it really stinks.

As if to emphasize the point, in the last few weeks we have received an unending series of come-ons from the auction houses that tout the latest and greatest cars, all of which are pegged at absurd bid levels, and it frankly leaves me cold. There is no excitement generated by these communiqués, just a gloomy emptiness hanging in the air over machines that once brimmed with passion and creativity, but are now relegated to marks on a ledger, which will count toward a tally that will be used to promote next year's installment of the circus.

This tedious drill went far beyond the "Fools and their money..." adage well over two decades ago. These machines are paraded on stage - souls removed - only to end up in antiseptic, "perfect" garages until they're prepared for another auction down the road. This isn't about the car culture or the sheer passion once associated with these automobiles; no, now it's the living, breathing embodiment of Greed is Good.

3. And last but not least there’s our very own “Dream Cruise,” the annual car happening in August that went from being a spontaneous celebration of the automobile to an event wearing a leaded cloak of marketing sameness as orchestrated by the manufacturers and suppliers. Yeah, it’s really too bad, but the High-Octane Truth about the Dream Cruise is that it simply doesn’t ring true anymore, as unpopular as that notion might be with some around here. The spontaneity that once bubbled up organically in the early years has been replaced by manufacturer displays, manufacturer “drive-bys” (the novelty of 50 cars of the same make driving up and down Woodward Avenue was never, ever, cool - trust me), and a rigid sameness that is as predictable as the local media coverage of the event, which is nothing but a regurgitation of the last decade’s worth (at least) of stories.

The Dream Cruise has been overhyped, overblown and overrated for years, just like Monterey Car Week. I reserve particular ire for some of the card-carrying members of the local media who fall over themselves trying to pump up the volume on the latest edition, when a sameness hangs over the proceedings in a giant haze of "we've seen this all before, right?" Then again, when the local media collectively defines the term journalistic “homers” it should be no surprise at all.

The drill is the same every year. The manufacturers and suppliers mark their territories along Woodward Avenue, which means any anticipation is missing in action, with the whole thing having been reduced to an annual dirge of predictability. Is this really what this business has come to in the "Motor City"? Is this "celebration" of our car culture the best we can do? I certainly hope not, because it has all of the spontaneity of the grim "back to school" ads polluting the airwaves right now.

So, at the end of this discussion a giant question remains. Is the car enthusiast thing a lost cause? Are we really going to slink off and wait for autonomy to put us out of our collective misery once and for all? Not by a long shot, thankfully. But those three aforementioned subjects should force everyone to take stock and remember the following very important points.

You have to love the car business. Well, let me rephrase that. Some of us immersed in this seething cauldron of runaway egos, shortsightedness, intermittent brilliance and, remarkably enough and against all odds, indomitable spirit, love this business. (Then again, when it comes right down to it, it depends on the day.)

We love it for the unbridled creativity demonstrated by its True Believers, who keep stepping up to the plate and swinging for the fences. We love it for the relentless 24/7 churn – and associated weariness - that it entails (even though everyone complains about it, they wouldn’t have it any other way).

We love it for the brief shining moments when an exceptional design or product advancement emerges to remind us all of what turned us on about the business in the first place, even though those moments are fleeting, at best.

But then again and truth be told, we love to loathe it too. It can’t be helped. We despise the carpetbagging mercenaries who seem to rear their ugly heads at the most inopportune moments to wreak havoc on this business. Oh, you know who I’m referring to, that “Murderer’s Row” of malicious connivers, "Minimum Bob” Nardelli, “Captain Queeg” Akerson and Sergio the “G.O.A.T.” just to name a few.

We cringe at the legions of spineless weasels that populate almost every corner of this business, the go-along-to-get-along hordes and dutiful, sniveling minions who project a positive demeanor but who wallow in serial, abject mediocrity at every turn. That part of the business is always depressing and tedious, there’s no doubt.

But yet, we press on. And for good reason too.

Yes, the overhyped, overblown and overrated aspects of this business, which we loathe, aren’t going away any time soon.

But fortunately the fundamental enthusiasm displayed by the True Believers and everyday enthusiasts alike who still like – make that love – everything to do with the automobile isn’t going away any time soon, either.

Thank goodness.

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