No. 927
December 13, 2017
 

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 Ujian-nasional.info, 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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Wednesday
Jan232008

Home #429

By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Auto Show Aftermath.

Detroit. You would think that after all of the speeches, the posturing, the weaseling, the self-promoting, the hype and the media chatter about the 2008 version of the North American International Automobile Show that there wouldn't be a damn thing left to say about it. Oh, but there's always more, and in this case there are lessons to be learned by the manufacturers, some of which have already said "next" and moved on without letting things sink in. Big mistake. So today, I'm going to make sure that the important stuff gets through to them, whether they like it or not.

First up is Porsche. That's right, The Car Company That Wasn't There blew it, Big Time. And their rationale for pulling out of the show - that they don't retail enough cars in Michigan so it's a waste of their time - is even more ridiculous in hindsight, especially when the Detroit show organizers had a special reception and private showing during the media days for high rollers whose main claim to fame was that they weren't short on cash, and who actually buy the exotic luxury and super high-performance stuff displayed on the floor. A dozen sales commitments were made, according to media scuttlebutt, during the special invitation-only event.

If the exotic manufacturers like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Rolls-Royce based their decision on buying floor space at the NAIAS on retail sales numbers alone, none of them would be there. It's about crafting the image of the brand and portraying that image to the assembled automotive media from around the world in the best possible light. And by not being there, Porsche missed a golden opportunity to enhance its image. Period. They may say they don't care, but I predict Porsche will be back as soon as next year, although if there's a way to screw things up, Porsche will find it, so we'll see.

A major auto show is all about image, and most of the players get that. If Porsche is a glaring example of how not to do it, then Mercedes-Benz is not far behind in the futility department - and they were actually at the show. Upon further review, the Mercedes GLK small crossover is even more of a disaster than I first indicated in our show review. The thing is hideous. And if the only positive comment you can make about it is that the video screens built into the rear headrests are nicely done, then Stuttgart, we have a problem. Dieter Zetsche was back to his old self in Detroit, beaming, jovial and telling anyone who would listen that he was thrilled to be free of Chrysler and that he can "focus" on Mercedes-Benz. If the GLK is an example of his "focus," then if I were a Benz dealer I'd start to be seriously concerned that Dieter has gotten lost in The Land of I Don't Get It.

Speaking of arrogant Germans in the car business (btw, is there a more accurate and time-honored descriptor than that? Uh, no - ed.), you gotta hand it to BMW. I swear these guys don't understand the word "restraint" in the English language. These guys are inventing niches within niches, and in their obsessive quest to become all things to all people, I believe they get lost in their own talking-to-themselves brilliance to the point that they can't even see the Black Forest for the trees. Add to that their annoyingly unhealthy habit of believing half the shit that Chief Designer Chris Bangle shoves their way, which just compounds matters, and you have a recipe for a truly ugly little bundt cake. Once again, some of my esteemed colleagues (cough, hack) in the media just couldn't wait to gush over Bangle's latest atrocity, the BMW X6, but believe me, it will not "redefine the category" or "set the standard for crossovers for years to come" or any other such nonsense. On the contrary, as a matter of fact. The X6 is nothing more than a German-accented Pontiac Aztek, a vehicle for Bangle's self- aggrandizement, a rolling monument to one man's mediocrity and an unmitigated P.O.S. that is "beyond category" tedious. Trust me on this one, the only inspiration other designers will take away from the X6 is the inspiration to turn their heads in horror and then walk - make that run - away. If it weren't for the perfect albeit overpriced 1 series, I'd be worried that BMW has finally gone off the deep end.

As for VW, we love the GTI because it still represents the classic VW idiom, which means offering the German enthusiast driving experience at a somewhat affordable price. The rest of what VW has going on is eminently forgettable. The Passat CC? It's everything wrong with the VW management mindset all rolled into one car. The CC is a derivative M-B - Audi wannabe sedan that reemphasizes the giant disconnect between where the German VW managers - led by the maniacal Ferdinand Piech - believe they should be as opposed to the reality of where they are and always well be in the U.S. market.

The one German car company that does seem to get it, however, is Audi. I continue to be amazed at this company's refusal to be swayed by the media or thrown off track by industry trends of-the-moment. These guys are focused and consistent in what they believe in. That means that they don't just do things a certain way, they do it the Audi way. And they never waver from their goal, chase their tales or wallow in stupidity, like BMW or Mercedes are wont to do. The R8 sports car is brilliant in its execution and its overall drivability, and the turbo-diesel version is ahead of the oncoming green performance curve - and by a long shot too. The one quibble I have with Audi is that for all of their focus and unwavering passion about doing things the Audi way their cars are starting to get too heavy, and for a company that prides itself on its intricate aluminum structures and its pioneering efforts for the industry in that regard, that continues to be a black mark on an otherwise near-flawless performance.

As for Chrysler, what's left to be said? This is a car company in such disarray and one that's so lacking in focus that their public pronouncements have no credibility whatsoever anymore. It was a brilliant strategic move to part ways with their PR Chief Jason Vines, wasn't it? Not. Their current Kremlin-esque communications plan of "Let's only tell people what we want them to know because they're too stupid to figure out the rest of the story by themselves" is beautiful in its ineffectual simplicity. And when a company with a design "legacy" of Chrysler (a rapidly fading one, I might add) shows up at Cobo Hall with three concepts - two of which wouldn't have gotten past the first cut in a design bakeoff at the College for Creative Studies - there's no amount of spin that can mask the utter futility of what's going on over there. Going forward, I suggest you all keep reminding yourselves when reading anything about Chrysler (gushing Challenger puff piece or no) that the only formula you need to remember is this one: Bob Nardelli Arrogance + Jim Press Smugness + Cerberus Cluelessness = Not Good. Let's hope that Carlos Ghosn makes the Chryslerbus boys an offer that they can't refuse, because watching this train wreck unfurl in slow motion is excruciating.

The big news for Toyota in Detroit during media preview week was that the chinks in their armor manifested themselves in surly, testy and belligerent comments by their executives, totally out of character from the controlled, carefully orchestrated quotes that had always been their trademark in the past. Yuki Funo, CEO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., suggested to Automotive News that the Detroit Three tried to "destroy" their Tundra launch by fighting back with a series of incentives, which he took great umbrage with. He failed to mention, of course, that when the Tundra launch was stalled in the market Toyota added massive incentives to create a false momentum for the brand-new truck - and Detroit responded with incentives of their own. That an executive of Toyota would deign to suggest that Detroit wasn't playing fair is laughable, considering this company has made a killing through the currency manipulation practices of the Japanese government and the fact the company has never turned down an opportunity to exploit the vast disparity between its labor/legacy/health care costs and those of the Detroit Three.

Then, Toyota CEO Katsuaki Watanabe fired off a series of green pronouncements designed to convince the media that Toyota hadn't lost its green mojo, and that they would maintain their green dominance in the market. The only problem is that the assembled multitudes in the media weren't as willing to concede the green mantle automatically to Toyota as they once did in the past. The media is savvy enough, in spite of their frightening lemming-like thinking at times, to finally get the fact that Toyota has a serious challenger in the market in the presence of General Motors, and that the game has not only changed - it has been blown wide open by the newly aggressive GM.

One good outcome of the Detroit show is that a brace of reporters got an in-your-face dose of Toyota arrogance in all of its unbridled glory. No longer given a free pass by the media, the cracks in Toyota's usual manufactured sheen were evident for all to see. All of a sudden, Toyota has a real dogfight on its hands and on every front too - technology, efficiency, alternative propulsion systems, quality and market credibility - and they're finally being exposed for what they have been all along: a merely mortal mercenary car company that is as prone to missteps and blatant gaffes as anybody else.

The Honda faithful seemed distressed that I pummeled the new Pilot that's coming, but upon further review, like the M-B GLK, it's even worse than I thought it was originally. Nothing distinctive, nothing creative, nothing memorable, nothing Honda about it all - and blunderbuss ugly to boot. Other than that, it's damn near perfect.

As for Ford, I would say they're where GM was about five years ago. They have a few solid mainstays on the ground now - the Mustang, Fusion, Edge (and its Lincoln variant) and of course, the F-150 - but their definitive future lies in the new stuff that's coming. The stuff they needed yesterday, like the unfortunately named Flex and the upcoming production executions of the Verve concepts. I believe Ford has great promise, but they need to maintain enough momentum in the market with what they have, so that when their new stuff gets here it has a chance to hit the ground running. A tall order indeed, but I believe that Ford is finally - finally - on the right track.

GM is the one car company that demonstrated a clearly upward trajectory in Detroit, but beneath its obvious triumphs (their green initiatives, the Cadillac resurgence with CTS, CTS-V, CTS Coupe Concept, Provoq Concept; the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, Malibu, Saturn, etc., etc.) is the ever-present danger that at any given moment they could fall off the wagon and slip into bad old habits again. The GM divisional structure is still an impediment, because whenever they want to do a proper launch - like they did for the Malibu - another division suffers. In this case, Chevy's gain was Saturn's loss. The $100 million launch for Malibu begs the question of when is that same kind of attention going to be given to Saturn? When GM insists on keeping eight divisional balls in the air, something is going to fall through the cracks. And they haven't even begun to think about Pontiac or the upcoming rear-wheel-drive G8 yet.

But the biggest challenge by far facing GM is prosperity. I mentioned the phenomenon of "Complacency Creep" last week, and the fact that GM must maintain focus and keep it from infesting the organization at all costs. As good as GM has performed in the last 24 months, it's the next 36 months that will define GM in this new century. They can ease up on the throttle, start believing in their press clippings and start thinking that "good enough" is indeed good enough. Or, they can turn it up a couple more notches and put the pedal down even harder still.

I'm betting on the latter, because I'm seeing a hunger at GM that hasn't been seen since their Glory Days of the 60s. They not only want to fight, they want to win, and they want to go after the opposition - especially Toyota. These two companies are going to be battling toe-to-toe for market supremacy for years to come, and it's going to be fascinating to watch.

My final word on the Detroit show concerns the popular notion in the media that a dichotomy exists between "green" and high-performance. And that the two are mutually exclusive.

I disagree.

A manufacturer that expects to compete at the highest levels in this business in the future will have to compete on three distinct playing fields at the same time: full Green technology vehicles, cars and trucks that balance real-world performance capability with efficiency and desirability, and vehicles that combine both green and high-performance technologies at the same time. A manufacturer on the global stage cannot afford to leave any of these bases uncovered, because if they do they will suffer the consequences and be in danger of giving away that part of the market to a competitor.

I do look forward to what's coming, however, because in spite of the monumental challenges facing this industry I believe we're on the precipice of one of the most exciting eras the automobile business has ever seen.

Thanks for listening, see you next Wednesday.