No. 963
September 12, 2018
 

About The Autoextremist

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 Autoextremist.com, 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  witchhuntbook.com). 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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Wednesday
Sep052018

CRAPTASTIC ODES TO MEDIOCRITY, AND A LIFE OF ENDURING RESONANCE.

By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Now that the summer has stumbled to a close, this business is a hunk of churning love right now, with car sales descending into the abyss, while truck and SUV sales are propping everything up. The best example of what this market has become is Porsche and its Macan SUV, which is now responsible for half of Porsche sales in the U.S. market. The days of fretting about what the Cayenne SUV would do to the integrity of the Porsche brand seem quaint and a long time ago now. Porsche is now a truck company that happens to produce sports cars to remind people what they used to be about. 

Yes, there are pockets of bright spots in the August sales numbers, but there’s no doubt the overall market is slowing down and will continue to do so. What does that mean? There will be furious deals to prop up the numbers from here on out, especially on leftover 2018 vehicles that are piling up on car lots as new models are arriving. And the pickup truck sales battle, which is shaping up to be the most intense in automotive history, will be bloody and ongoing with only the profitability of these companies is at stake. In other words, it’s controlled chaos and business as usual.

Adding to this ongoing chaos is the dawning of The New Mobility, with car companies preparing to launch a whole series of BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles), promising that they will be the greatest thing since sliced bread and hoping that they will be able to convince consumers that these fully-electric vehicles will somehow change their lives for the better. On paper these vehicles all promise a new, bright-eyed future centered around the concept of freedom, as in freedom from visits to gas stations, and freedom that comes from the reduced service required for these vehicles.  

And that all might be true, but the reality for these vehicles is that they are functionally limited, with their use more suited to the urban slog. The infrastructure in this country – or lack thereof – for BEVs is so woeful that it is almost nonexistent, and to pretend otherwise is just delusional. So, needless to say, it has already been established that this will be the marketing challenge of this or any other century. 

What will it come down to? Or, what does it always come down to? The efficacy of the product. ICE or BEV, it has always been about the product and it always will be about the product. And some of the vehicles on deck are interesting, like the new Porsche Taycan (for those in the $100,000 price range, that is). But some are flat-out puzzling, like the new Mercedes-Benz EQC introduced yesterday in Stockholm. The Mercedes-Benz PR minions said that, "With its seamless, clear design, it is a pioneer for an avant-garde electric look while representing the design idiom of Progressive Luxury." But as I said in this week’s On The Table: “The Mercedes-Benz EQC's lackluster design and uninspired look doesn't represent 'Progressive Luxury,' it represents a Design staff phoning it in.” 

I am dumbfounded by Mercedes-Benz of late. How can Mercedes-Benz Design do such breathtaking concept cars like the Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet and then turn around and drop this craptastic ode to mediocrity – the EQC – and suggest that it’s avant-garde? But then again Mercedes has been a seething cauldron of contrasts of late, presenting vehicles that are either wildly good or incredibly bad, with nothing in between. But if the EQC signals the “Future of Mobility” for Mercedes-Benz, I am less than optimistic.

(Mercedes-Benz)

The Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet.

(Mercedes-Benz)

The Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet.

(Mercedes-Benz)

The Mercedes-Benz EQC.

In other topics this week, NASCAR has been rocked by the news that Furniture Row Racing, who provided the championship-winning Toyota for Martin Truex Jr. in 2017, is closing up shop at the end of the year. Now, no one does head-in-sand thinking and creative excuses better than the brain trust down in Daytona Beach; they’re experts, in fact. But there’s no amount of PR spin that’s going to make this sound the least bit good. 

NASCAR has needed a fundamental makeover for so long that it’s a recurring joke. The antiquated business model that propelled its upward trajectory became obsolete more than a decade ago, and now, even its strongest teams are scrambling to attract sponsors, albeit at a reduced rate. The costs to field a front-line car have accelerated at a prodigious rate, while the ability to attract sponsors is becoming extremely difficult.

As I said early last month in “The NASCAR Mess”: The list of negatives created by these corporate bumblers at NASCAR is lengthy. NASCAR has the worse death march of a schedule in all of sports (and with the NBA and NHL in existence that’s saying something), and its steadfast refusal to even entertain any changes to its calendar has been a tediously recurring joke. On top of too many races, the repetitiveness of the schedule and the double visits to the same tracks each season is almost incomprehensible. Everything about NASCAR is stale, and the stench of sameness hangs over the enterprise like a black cloud. The racing organization’s relentless intransigence and its strict adherence to “we’ve always done it this way,” combined with the most virulent strain of “not invented here” that you’ll ever see, have created a moribund corporate entity in need of a giant kick in the ass. 

Unfortunately, I don’t see a good end for NASCAR’s continued downward spiral. And the automobile manufacturers – GM, Ford and Toyota – NASCAR’s chief enablers, are not helping the situation by continuing to blindly dump money into the enterprise. NASCAR needs an all-hands-on-deck intervention, or it’s going to go back to being a regional nostalgia series within five years, if not sooner.

And finally, a note on John McCain. His military service was exemplary and beyond harrowing, and his continued dedication to this country over his entire career was admirable and an example of the way it should be done. Many have suggested that his funeral celebrated an end of an era that we’ll never see again, but I disagree. The current divisiveness will not hold, and the enduring resonance of the McCain era will serve to be a reminder of what this country stands for, and what it will be again.

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

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