No. 1010
August 21, 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. That I received considerable flak for my “too negative” column about the Detroit Auto Show last week was to be expected. After all, there is a large and vocal faction here in the Motor City that wants everything about the auto business to be great, with nary a discouraging word to be uttered. Add to that the fact that the ongoing rejuvenation of this city is seemingly off limits to criticism, too, but more on that later. Not surprisingly, this isn’t a cheerleading site, and some people are still getting up to speed on that fact.

And so, what about the Detroit Auto Show? Was anything learned? Were there any worthwhile developments that will live beyond the show? 

How do we get there from here? Let’s face it, June 2020, is a long, long, long way away. The date change is welcome, for a number of reasons, but the first year of the “new” show will have a very narrow window of opportunity in order to succeed. Will all the manufacturers automatically return in force? No. Displaying at an auto show these days is dependent on money, of course, but even more important is product cadence. If a manufacturer doesn’t have a product or products in the works within a year from a major show, they tend to say, “what’s the point?” I know that one of the missing German manufacturers is already dropping hints that they won’t be back in 2020, so nothing about the 2020 show will be automatic. But starting with a clean slate has its distinct advantages, and everyone involved in this business in this region is hoping against hope that the show organizers can deliver. Needless to say, the success of the 2020 show will be a giant “we’ll see” of epic proportions. 

(As for the ongoing rejuvenation of this city I have written since Day One that the eye candy of new and renovated buildings by Quicken Loans mogul Dan Gilbert, assorted “hot” new restaurants and hotels, and the continued gentrification of the city in its narrowly defined central corridor would be a top-down boon to certain denizens of the city. But I've also said that it would not deal with the fundamental issues of this city’s recurring problems, which need to be addressed from the bottom up. That seemed to be borne out in a recent story in the Detroit Free Press, which mentioned a report that indicated 40 percent of the population of Detroit is living under the poverty line – a sobering statistic of the first order. Most of the readers of this site really don’t want to hear any of this, but I write about it on occasion to give people who don’t reside in the area more of a “big picture” framework of the region that the auto industry dominates.)

Something is wrong at GM Design. There seems to be a burgeoning crisis at GM Design, which is shocking as much as it is surprising. But there’s no mistaking the fact that although GM Design seems to be able to muster a good-looking front end on occasion, there has been a notable decline in the overall execution of its interior designs. I’m sure the denizens of GM Design will scoff at this, but it’s clear to me that GM has become a second-tier automaker when it comes to interior design, and there’s really no excuse for it. GM is just getting hammered by its competitors, both import and domestic. All you have to do is study the Lincoln interiors (vs. Cadillac) and the interiors in the new Ram pickup (vs. Chevrolet Silverado) to see that GM is not even in the game. 

Do the bean counter overlords at GM really determine cost that much? That would be more palatable to me than thinking that GM Design has lost its mojo. But then again, the Corvette suffered from poor interior design for decades; it was as if the notion of putting $100.00 more in cost per car to elevate the interior was abhorrent to GM Purchasing. And it showed. Even now, with the Corvette being a fabulous car and its interior finally receiving some attention, it still feels less than great. This is a serious concern, too, because the way GM’s product cadence plays out it may leave its interiors unimproved for two to three years, short of an all-hands-on-deck emergency push to upgrade GM interiors across the board. 

But that’s not all. GM Design hasn’t been exactly hitting it out of the park with its exterior designs either. The new Silverado is lacking, to put it charitably, and as I said last week, the overall design language of the XT6 leaves a lot to be desired. The XT6 is unfortunately consistent with the new, contemporary Cadillac design signature, meaning, the front end is somewhat interesting, and then it looks like the designers phoned it in the rest of the way, with nothing worth talking about from the other angles. Uninspired doesn't even begin to cover it. Let's just say that this three-row Cadillac SUV is a major design disappointment and leave it at that. 

And there's more. The GMC Terrain starts okay in the front, but by the time you get to the sides and the rear, it looks like a different committee designed each section. The most urgent issue facing GM Design, however, is the Chevrolet Camaro. The design hasn’t worn well, at all. The Dodge Challenger may have retro overtones, but it has real presence on the road. And the Ford Mustang design still resonates as being clean and purposeful. But the Camaro is chunky and ungainly, and when the optional go-fast stuff is added it makes it even more so. That’s just not right. We’re talking the Camaro here, folks. It deserves better, much better.

The point I’m making here is that GM Design used to have a focused consistency that was evident in its work across all of the GM divisions. In fact, the look of its mainstream cars used to be GM Design’s specialty, carrying over the tradition from the Bill Mitchell era. But now there are glaring holes and missteps, and it’s depressing to see, especially with the fantastic history that has been such a part of the enduring legacy of GM Design. Will the new Corvette be great? There’s no doubt, because the day the True Believers at GM Design can’t do a Corvette is the day they should just fold up their tent and go home. 

The new Toyota Supra is a nonstarter. Speaking of chunky and ungainly, the new Toyota Supra is another major disappointment. Maybe the hype was too much, and maybe the fact that it was Akio Toyoda’s vanity project and nothing more hurt it, but in the flesh the new Supra was a mishmash of about five different cars with not a single cohesive element worth talking about. At the same time, I can’t deny that the fact Akio went ahead with the car on his whim is commendable. After all, this business is so risk averse now that it has become stultifying. So, kudos to Akio for that. But is it a milestone car? No. Will it sell? Yes, but only in miniscule increments. And maybe that will be enough to keep it around for a few years.

Do the Korean manufacturers finally have their shit together? This seems to be a question that comes up about every four years or so. Hyundai and Kia are hot, and then they’re not. They apparently have all the tools at their disposal, but then they manage to blow it. They go through executives so rapidly that any sense of continuity is lost and then they have to start all over again. I have given up trying to figure the Koreans out, because half the time they don’t even have a clue as to what they’re doing. But this time there is a palpable sense that they have finally acknowledged two absolutely crucial things: 1. Their glaring shortcomings as managers and, 2. They are admitting that they don’t know it all when it comes to product. If you know anything about the Korean automakers, this is nothing short of a revelation. They’re listening to – and have hired – serious and accomplished outside experts in design, engineering and product development, and their new products show it, displaying an executional presence that is unmistakable. You only have to give a close look to the new Kia Telluride to understand what I’m talking about. Will it continue? That’s up to the Koreans. They have a tendency to overthink everything and then the micromanaging starts, and at that point everything goes off the rails. Maybe this time it will be different. Maybe there are enough outsiders in place with the real authority to say, “No, we’re not going to do that.” Yet another giant “we’ll see.”

A lot of the locals here insisted that the Detroit Auto Show was a “good” auto show, but I disagree. It was an “adequate” half of a show that left a lot to be desired. Let’s hope that the 2020 Detroit Auto Show will be worth the wait.

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

Editor’s Note: If you would like to see our coverage of the Detroit Auto Show from last week click here. -WG