No. 1001
June 19, 2019

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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By Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. When John D. Stoll broke the news last week in The Wall Street Journal that the organizers of the North American International Auto Show were seriously considering moving the show to October, it not only raised a few eyebrows but some of the homers in the local automotive media got somewhat freaked out about it. Then, when it was subsequently confirmed that the moving of the show from the icy-gray doldrums of January to one of southeast Michigan’s most beautiful months was an actual thing, the hand-wringing began in earnest. The coup de grâce was that the show organizers all but confirmed that the name of the show would officially become The Detroit Auto Show.

To all of that I say, hallefrickinluja. I have only been writing about the desperate need for a rethink for our auto show for oh, easily five long years now, with the most recent being a few weeks ago when we ran my column entitled “The Detroit Auto Show is Dead. Now What?

Yes, I suggested moving the show to an early June time frame, immediately after the Grand Prix on Belle Isle, but believe me any move away from bleakest January is a very good thing (well, except if it was moved to February, which makes January seem quaintly bucolic). And to finally do away with the cumbersome “NAIAS” moniker makes it all that much better, especially since I’ve been hammering away at that idea for years. 

My only caution is that the Detroit Auto Show organizers simply cannot drag their feet on this. I fully expect the 2019 Detroit Auto Show to happen in October; the only question being whether or not show organizers get cold feet and attempt to hold a CliffsNotes version next January, just to ease people into the transition. I hope they dispense with that convoluted notion, however, because the CES in Las Vegas isn’t going anywhere and a half-assed show in January won’t help anyone. They need to make a clean break and just go for it. I’m sure the manufacturers and the media will all survive.

Make no mistake, moving the show is not only long overdue, this is seriously positive news for this area. It will bring back the wayward manufacturers who have been fading away like old ball players, and it will allow the media and other showgoers to attend the show without trudging through salt mounds and slush fields, while making cracks about being “sentenced” to be here in January. Believe me, we were just as tired of hearing about it as they were of being here at that time of year. But given this unexpected ray of sunshine that has temporarily parted the impending clouds of doom and gloom hovering over this business, it got me to thinking about a couple of other things that are in desperate need of changing around here.

“Delusional Hubris” and other sad tidings. Running glorified “Tier 2” Dealer Advertising in national advertising buys is an ugly development that has to stop. The primary shit disturber behind this revolting development is none other than the marketers at GM’s Chevrolet division plying their trade down in the Silver Silos hard by the Detroit River. These serially incompetent marketing operatives (of widely varying degrees of ability, I might add, usually rising just below the line of half-assed) have deluded themselves into believing that they seriously have it goin’ on, that they somehow have absconded with the golden key to the secret formula of marketing success. They’re actually so convinced in their belief that they’ve figured it all out that they bring a large measure of hubris to the proceedings, which would be remarkable and shocking if it weren’t for the fact that it’s GM, and that everyone in the marketing/advertising field has come to expect “delusional hubris” as part and parcel of GM marketing’s “M.O.” But just because it is GM and everyone has grown to expect the worst - and subsequently is rarely disappointed - that doesn’t make it right. 

Over my career, I have never heard the kind of negativity associated with a particular automotive advertising campaign the likes of which I hear when a Chevrolet spot comes up in conversation, both with marketing pros and civilians alike. I would say “universally panned” would be an apt summary of the comments I hear, and that’s being charitable. People simply tune them out and turn them off. I would venture to guess that this advertising has done more to instill an air of mediocrity associated with the brand than any other campaign in Chevrolet marketing history, and this in spite of the fact that Chevrolet is actually offering some excellent products at the moment.

Running insipid dealer spots isn’t a substitute for real live national advertising (image or product) that actually communicates something that’s memorable and worth repeating (see Subaru). Never has been, never will be. And two factors are directly responsible for this phenomenon at GM 1. Not enough seasoned advertising/marketing pros and, 2. A lack of fundamental “buck stops here” marketing leadership in the upper echelon of management.

The reason GM happens to strike out in both instances is that they are grossly underrepresented when it comes to having serious marketing pros at their disposal, and there is a steadfast refusal at the very top of the company to hire a proper marketing chief. I’ve brought up this last point repeatedly over the last five years, but both Mary Barra and Dan “I Am” Ammann have made it perfectly clear that they have little or no respect for the marketing function, to the degree that they’ve talked themselves into believing that the individual divisions can handle it and that C-Suite oversight is not needed or desired. Well, it shows. The Chevrolet “national” retail advertising is relentlessly dreadful, with no redeeming value whatsoever. It has cheapened the brand and made people skip over Chevrolet as being a nonstarter, also-ran brand because other than the big pickups and SUVs, there is no “there” there. (I am leaving the Corvette out of this discussion because it is an outlier to the rest of the Chevrolet brand.)

Another dimension of the “Delusional Hubris” File (particularly when it comes to the automakers around here) is the fact that in the midst of chasing every projected anonymous/electric vehicle avenue out there - both real and imagined – and thinking that they have it goin’ on just by participating in some fashion, the product programs that actually pay the bills are falling further and further behind. Which means that the fundamental operational integrity of this business - product cadence - is getting screwed up. Certain auto companies are leaving big money on the table because they can’t get their key vehicles to market. And once they do, they’re either wrong for current market conditions or criminally late, which is flat-out incomprehensible at this juncture in automotive history.

So alas, “Delusional Hubris” remains a cottage industry in this business, despite the protestations that there has been a “new enlightenment” that has somehow transformed the industry. But the “new enlightenment” is really just classically delusional thinking powered by an even more lethal form of hubris that has been repackaged to look like it’s not really there. But it is present and accounted for and then some. And it’s not likely to change anytime soon, which, needless to say, is unconscionable and a giant bowl of Not Good.

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