Home- ujian-nasional.infoHomehttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2017-11-20T18:28:33ZSquarespaceAMERICA’S MASTER OF DECEPTION.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2017/11/20/americas-master-of-deception.htmlEditor2017-11-20T18:13:14Z2017-11-20T18:13:14ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. The script has become predictable. In what is now a staged “love-in” ritual more aligned with old-time tent preachers than anything else, the Supreme Leader of All that is Righteous and Holy in Silicon Valley descends from the mountaintop and bestows his wisdom and visionary brilliance to a frenzied crowd filled with his salivating disciples and adoring acolytes. 

Spewing his usual thought balloons filled with promises and boasts unburdened by reality, St. Elon Musk is The Master, orchestrating The Show to End All Shows, a wondrously self-indulgent and unbridled display of hubris and obfuscation designed to distract all in attendance from the High-Octane Truth about what’s really going on at the automotive cult known as “Tesla.”

Except it was apparent to everyone who still had the ability for rational thought – or at least those who hadn’t had the custom-designed - and fantastic!- Muskian chip embedded in their brains – that Musk was attempting the oldest trick in the con man’s handbook, which is to distract, deny and deter from the real issue at hand. But this was far more egregious than that “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” scene at the end of The Wizard of Oz; this was out-and-out calculated fraud on the grandest of scales. 

The Bright New Automotive Future as promised by Musk and embodied in the Tesla automobile is a canard that has been a failed enterprise from the very beginning. Ruthlessly unprofitable and racking up debt at a prodigious rate, Elon Musk has conned Wall Street and the holier-than-thous in the greener-than-thou enclaves of The New Enlightened to believe that he – through his Magic Pony, aka Tesla – is the solution to all societal ills and if only the rest of the automotive universe would simply cease and desist the world would be a decidedly much better place, free and unfettered by the dismal dullards who make up the defunct remnants of the failed U.S. automotive industry.

Needless to say, if any current automaker, or automotive supplier, or any corporate entity in America for that matter had conducted itself like Tesla, Wall Street would have moved decisively to bury the offending company while branding it as a criminal affront to the tenets of free enterprise. 

Instead, we have the enablers on Wall Street completely flummoxed by Musk, jacking up the stock while relentlessly praising his “vision,” conveniently ignoring the fact that Tesla builds $100,000 vehicles fraught with consistent, serious quality problems, and that the much-ballyhooed Model 3 – St. Elon’s promise of a mainstream, “affordable” Tesla that would doom Detroit with a resounding thud of certainty – has been an abject failure that is apparently unbuildable at anything approaching the promised $35,000 “loss leader” pricing or the fanciful boast of 500,000 per-year volumes. (Actually, that number is sheer lunacy. The real number will be lucky to reach 20 percent of that total, in three years.)

So, with his company about to go down, and the promise of the Model 3 finally making Tesla a respected automaker lying in pieces on the ground, what does St. Elon, this country’s resident con man, do? He holds a séance for the Muskian Faithful to introduce a Class 8 all-electric semi-truck – without an existing national infrastructure to support it (although Musk insists he will take care of that with a network of “megachargers”) – that will “transform the industry!” because, well, you know, everything Musk touches is transformative, didn’t you get the memo? 

And if that wasn’t enough, Musk plans on introducing a super sports car in 2020, which will be, in Musk’s words, “… the fastest production car ever made - period.” And, Musk being Musk, he just had to add, “The point of doing this is to give a hard-core smackdown to gasoline cars.” I’m not even going to bother regurgitating the details of this car because they’re completely irrelevant.

The net-net of this charade? The truck is a pipe dream, and frankly, other vehicle manufacturers will probably beat Musk to market with electrified trucks of their own. As for the sports car? Few people believe it will ever see the light of day, qualifying as even more of a pipe dream than the truck. At least the truck has a believable premise. The sports car is just more unmitigated bullshit and unbridled swingin’ dick-ism from America’s Master of Deception.

Despite Elon’s latest show, the facts are these: Tesla is a failed enterprise by every conceivable measure. And building a few high-priced machines for The Enlightened Elite does not constitute anything more than a boutique car company with nowhere to go but down. The Model 3 was supposed to fix all of that, but that is just not gonna happen, by any stretch of the imagination. Not even close, in fact.

As I said last week, I predict that Musk, after being horribly embarrassed by the total failure of the Model 3, will finally grow tired of the whole auto thing and wind down Tesla, selling off its technology to whoever will give him the most cash money for it, so he can then focus on his real love – firing off rockets and colonizing Mars.  

Then we’ll all finally have something to be thankful for.

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

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A BRAVE NEW BRAND WORLD.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2017/11/13/a-brave-new-brand-world.htmlEditor2017-11-13T22:02:11Z2017-11-13T22:02:11ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As the articles about the brave new transportation world just around the corner multiply, carefully nuanced discussion about the realities of what’s coming has given way to borderline hysteria. And now, as the snowball of commentaries turns into an avalanche, we’re being inundated with perspectives that cover the gamut from legitimate futurists to self-promoting hacks yearning for validity. As I said last week, I think it’s time to step back and take a deep breath.

But at the same time, to suggest that everything will be the same is to wallow in a level of delusion that is simply hard to fathom, because the changes - though slower than the aggressive, “Ding-dong the automobile is dead!” zealots would like everyone to believe - are coming and they will indeed be dramatic, altering everyday life as we know it. 

And when the automotive world is inexorably altered, the brands that we’ve come to know and believe in with varying degrees of certainty will be severely altered, too, if not disappear outright. And to be honest, at this point, would you miss some of them?

So, let’s take a trip on the road to The Future, and see how your favorite brand – and brands that aren’t even a force yet – fare. 

Acura. Once upon a time this brand allegedly represented Honda’s best thinking, although it rarely lived up to that lofty goal. It turns out that the current NSX would be the last highpoint for the brand, as once Honda merges with General Motors in 2022, Acura will cease to exist. The only thing that will survive from Acura is the “calipers” emblem, which will now grace the front of Honda’s fuel cell and autonomous vehicles.

Apple. Arrogance intact – no big surprise – Apple enters the autonomous ride sharing market with its “Air” automotive brand. The big selling point, according to Apple, is the ghostly, almost translucent bodywork on its vehicles, which allows people to see how hip the owners are.

Alfa Romeo. Before the St. Valentine’s massacre in 2019, when the Hyundai conglomerate buys FCA, lock, stock and espresso machines, Marchionne & Co. will spin off Alfa Romeo in the hopes that it will become a gold mine. Instead, it returns to being even more of a niche of a niche Italian brand than it is now, eventually fading from the American landscape by 2025.

Aston Martin. The British automaker continues to wave its luxury flag high, offering ICE-powered cars for the foreseeable future, while slowly but surely getting its electric/autonomous game face on. After expanding into all forms of luxury, from boats to private jets, Aston will be a survivor.

Audi. Steadfastly clinging to its “four rings” moniker, Audi will remain the mainstream luxury spear-carrier for the VW Group, adjusting its portfolio to 20 percent ICE entries – mainly for driving enthusiasts – while churning out a dizzying array of electric vehicles with autonomous capability when desired. Against all odds, Audi retains its icy German persona, even after being electrified.

Bentley. Abandoning all vestiges of its past, Bentley goes fully electric with autonomous capability for all of its vehicle offerings. Then, when its German overlords realize that no one really cares about electric Bentleys, they do an about-face and start churning out throwback ICE luxury-performance cars in 2026, to much industry-wide acclaim.

BMW. With “The Ultimate Driving Machine” advertising theme long since jettisoned to the dustbin of history, the automobile company once named BMW renames itself Happy Life. Churning out electric and autonomous vehicles to cover every possible market niche, as well as a few ICE-powered cars for the enthusiasts who still remember, Happy Life is acquired by Jaguar Land Rover in 2025, and is put to sleep in 2028 for being inconsequential and superfluous. 

Buick. The division of General Motors remains content to ride the ICE-powered slant on the automobile business, and finds its niche there. Targeting American consumers comfortable with “the way things used to be,” Buick plugs along selling nostalgia to American and Chinese consumers alike, right up until the point when China bans all ICE-powered transportation devices.

Cadillac. After chasing every possible German-esque (aka Audi) automotive quality it could mimic over the years and squandering one of the most hallowed automotive legacies of all time, once Cadillac goes all-in for electric and autonomous cars it finally runs out of people who care about the brand. A hard-core group of True Believers left at GM attempts to resurrect the brand at the end of the next decade, but by then it’s too late. Cadillac dies a miserable, lonely death here in the U.S. – except for the Escalade (see below) – and it will be sold only in China, renamed “Shining Light.”

Chevrolet. The once-proud GM brand is split into two. One half is relegated to building faceless, colorless transportation devices for the masses, with the iconic bowtie emblem jettisoned in favor of a stylized “thumbs-up” logo, signifying its new moniker - “UP.” The other half makes profitable Silverado pickups and SUVS, where you can still find the prominently placed bowtie on the front and back.

Chrysler. The brand dies in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 2019. Hyundai utilizes its minivan architecture for a while, but any knowledge of the brand will soon only be found in automotive history books.

Corvette. The hotbed of GM True Believers young and old, Corvette becomes the performance brand for the corporation. Churning out predominantly ICE-powered machines – from two-seat sports cars to sedans and coupes (Camaro) and medium and large SUVs (including the Escalade) - with hybrid assist, the Corvette brand becomes one of the last bastions for enthusiasts and cool stuff around the world. 

Dodge. After the St. Valentine’s Massacre of 2019 goes down, a group of True Believers remaining in Auburn Hills arranges for financing to buy the Dodge brand from the Hyundai Group and continues to build muscle machines and police cars. Once the police car business dries up due to the fact that police agencies all over the country go fully electric, American Muscle Motors continues to build about 1,000 cars a year until 2030.

Fiat. The failed Italian brand withdraws from the U.S. market all together, existing only for wistful nostalgia-istas back in the old country. 

Ferrari. Thankfully existing as a full-blown ICE-powered high-performance brand with hybrid assist, Ferrari makes a comeback of sorts after Sergio Marchionne’s grand plan to turn Ferrari into an “all things for all people” brand is met with stiff resistance. After the company is removed from Marchionne’s control in 2023, Ferrari blossoms again, even though the least expensive Ferrari will cost $750,000 by then.

Ford. After pursuing every possible way to become a cell phone-like technology player, Ford does a “180” and goes back to building real cars, trucks and SUVs for real people. Driven by its historic ad theme “Opening the Highways to All Mankind,” Ford survives by being the honest American brand.

Genesis. Just about the time that Hyundai actually instills its luxury brand with real mojo, the all-electric movement coupled with the autonomous imperative stops the brand in its tracks. Hyundai rebrands all of its SUVs as “Genesis” and leaves the rest of its offerings branded as Hyundais.

GMC. The other nostalgia brand in the GM portfolio, GMC soldiers on alongside Buick, although the “We Are Professional Grade” and “Like a Pro” marketing chatter is discarded in favor of the simple ad theme, “Faithfully.”

Honda. Once the powers that be at Honda acquiesced to the notion that they just couldn’t survive any longer by going it alone, its shocking merger with GM in 2022 turns out to be a very fruitful partnership indeed. Able to do a deep dive into shared technology, Honda comes up with a glittering array of advanced transportation vehicles that actually bristle with innovation, creative thinking and compelling design. Who knew?

Hyundai. After swallowing FCA whole for $20 billion, Hyundai lets Sergio & Co. keep the “F” and deletes the “C,” while retaining the Jeep and Ram Truck brands. While pouring more billions into both brands, Hyundai discovers that there’s an undeniable softening in the Ram Truck franchise, which is alarming, except that they can’t make enough all-electric Wranglers to keep up with demand, so the net-net of it is all good.

Infiniti. After power hungry Carlos Ghosn insists on making the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance the King of the Automotive World, the Infiniti brand becomes a casualty of the Fog of War and falls by the wayside. Consumers stopped caring after Ghosn started badge-engineering Leafs and calling them Infinitis, reminding automotive historians of the dark days of the Cadillac Cimarron.

Jaguar. Flush from making money hand-over-fist for years, the conversion to 80 percent fully electric and 20 percent ICE-powered Jaguars goes smoothly. Because of this seamless transition to its product portfolio and the fact that their products are just so damn good, its decision not to cater to the ride-sharing fleets, Jaguar’s viability in the market grows.

Jeep. (see above)

Kia. The Korean brand partner to Hyundai undergoes a tumultuous upheaval as its “all hands on deck” foray into becoming the Korean BMW falls flatter than a skinny pancake. Forced to reassess itself yet again, Kia decides to build transportation for the masses, but since it’s doing what any number of manufacturers are already doing, it gets lost in translation, ceasing to exist by 2028.

Lamborghini. The German-financed Italian supercar company finally eclipses Ferrari as the most desirable exotic automotive brand in the world. Committed to fully-hybrid performance, Lamborghini not only stays true to itself, it undercuts Ferrari at every turn with better design, higher performance and an ultra-cool factor that Ferrari took for granted and walked away from years ago.

Land Rover. After a disastrous foray into trying to become the most luxurious all-electric SUV lineup by 2025, Land Rover operatives shove the pendulum back and decide to go back to offering primarily ICE-powered machines with electric assist. Land Rover enthusiasts are ecstatic.

Lexus. Toyota management decrees that not only will Lexus be fully electric, but Lexus models will be exclusively hydrogen electric fuel cell-powered. To no one’s surprise they pull it off and Lexus not only survives, but thrives.

Lincoln. After chasing their tails while trying to become fully electric, Lincoln operatives go back to hybrid-electric drivetrains and build SUV variations in small, medium and large. Except for the upcoming giant, old school Continental, which will utilize the Navigator architecture to create the most imposing luxury sedan on earth.

Lotus. With an infusion of endless Chinese money, Lotus finally becomes the high-performance sports car player it has always wanted to be, much to Porsche’s chagrin. With slick ICE/hybrid assist drivetrains, Lotus matches Porsche segment by segment with competitive, compelling machines.

Lyft. The Lyft product portfolio revolves around a tall, phone booth-like appliance that it hopes will become the obligatory autonomous ride-sharing device the world over. Except that it’s so ugly that people refuse to be caught dead in them. 

Maserati. Before Marchionne & Co. cash out of FCA, they spin off Maserati, too, thinking that it will become another Ferrari. It doesn’t happen. By 2025 about 3,000 Maserati cars and SUVs will be built per year, but will only be available in Europe.

Mazda. Fully embracing its SKYACTIV moniker, Mazda wrings every last drop of viability and fuel efficiency out of its ICEs, becoming the only automaker in the world to offer a full lineup of them. It remains a cult brand, but even smaller.

McLaren. The British supercar manufacturer that marches to the beat of its own drumming will continue to build exotic hybrid supercars that revel in their non-Italian provenance. Its fans remain committed and enthusiastic. 

Mercedes-Benz. Flailing around chasing every niche that Mercedes operatives can dream up – both real and imagined – the company is finally split in two. The “Vision” brand will cover the gamut of ride-sharing and autonomous appliances the company offers, while “AMG-Mercedes” continues building machines that people actually desire and want to drive.

Microsoft. Running an open-sourced design competition, Microsoft comes up with an autonomous/ride sharing/flying car that resembles George Jetsons' ride. But it doesn’t fly and its default setting leaves operators stranded with a blank screen by the side of the road, waiting to reboot.

Mini. BMW finally runs out of variations on the Mini theme, with the brand going away in 2023.

Mitsubishi. The “Mitsubishi Miracle” never materializes because consumers ultimately couldn’t be bothered to give a shit, even with The Ghosnster calling the shots. End of the road by 2024.

Nissan. Shaking the leaves from the trees, Carlos Ghosn goes all-in for all electric, giving Nissan every piece of new technology that he can get his hands on. Except that all Nissan buyers want to know is how much that Altima is a month.

Porsche. The proud franchise of the VW Group leads with advanced technology, compelling designs, riveting high-performance and a desirability factor that remains sky high. It’s just going to cost a lot more to enjoy it.

Ram Trucks. For some reason the Ram Truck franchise gets lost in translation once the Hyundai Group gets its hands on it. The reason? In typical Hyundai fashion company operatives believe they know better and think they can do it better than it has ever been done before. Because of that the Ram Truck brand will be on the ropes by 2025.

Rolls Royce. Somehow the brand for people who continuously ask, “What’s the point of having fuck you money if you never say fuck you?” soldiers on with advanced technology only when it’s appropriate because after all, people who buy a Rolls Royce aren’t into being constrained by range limitations, or other such tedium.

Subaru. The brand grudgingly transitions to hybrid technology but only on its terms, and only if it can keep its rabid enthusiast base happy.

Tesla. The Grand Poobah his own self, Elon Musk, finally grows tired of the whole auto thing and winds down Tesla, selling off its technology to whoever will give him the most cash money for it. The beginning of the end was the disastrous Model 3 rollout, which craters the company once and for all. Tesla will continue to exist in other areas (batteries, home systems, etc.) but it will be out of the auto business all together by 2023.

Toyota. Akio Toyoda so desperately wants Toyota to not be left at the gate – any gate – that Toyota throws billions upon billions at any technology that even has a wisp of validity. Not exactly a focused strategy, but Toyota has enough cash to chase windmills, and in the end it will be there, one way or the other.

Uber. It will be taken over by Lyft. And nobody cares.

Volvo/Geely. This emerging automotive juggernaut will be equal to the competition in every transportation challenge that it puts its mind to. Behold the next great automotive empire, one that will grow in significance in the New Mobility economy.

VW. The world’s dominant automotive conglomerate – much to ol’ Carlos’s chagrin - VW will continue to dominate in all phases of the transportation/mobility game.

WAYMO. They think they can, they think they can, but will they? Or will they just keep demonstrating their gee-wiz autonomous technology on perfect, sun-baked roads in Arizona?

As you can see, some prominent brands will remain strong and thrive, while others will fade from the scene. Some of those will be dearly lamented, while others will hover somewhere near good riddance.

This Brave New Brand World will hold many surprises yet to come. In the meantime, just consider this fair warning.

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

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THE LINGERING INTERREGNUM.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2017/11/7/the-lingering-interregnum.htmlEditor2017-11-07T15:03:28Z2017-11-07T15:03:28ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Now that Bob Lutz has dropped his dire predictions for the future of the automotive world in Automotive News - a Lutzian Nightmare that projects the total annihilation of the automotive world as we know it, while painting a grim landscape dominated by faceless autonomous transportation modules that come in small, medium and large, a dystopian scenario that will send traditional car companies and luxury brands to the scrap heap of history - maybe it’s time to step back and take a deep breath.

“Maximum Bob” is entitled to express his opinion when it comes to all things automotive - he’s certainly earned that right - but if that’s our final destination at the dawn of this autonomous era, then to paraphrase Samuel Goldwyn’s famous quote, “Ladies and gentlemen, you may include me out.”

I’m frankly tired of the subject at this point in time, because despite the prognostications, we’re talking far into the future. And though some of our readers have expressed irrational exuberance for all things autonomous, salivating at the thought of a Jetson-esque future of effortless transportation unburdened by driver involvement, I decline to get excited about it, because for most of the country, it’s simply not going to happen in our lifetime. 

Think about this: If we maximized the mass transportation systems already in place in this country, and added to them judiciously, the whole autonomy thing would be a sideshow, but because there are massive dollars on the table, and corporate entities both real and imagined are clamoring for their piece of the action, autonomous vehicles are going to be sold as the panacea that society is waiting for and shoved down our collective throats. 

But until that happens, there are a few pressing issues facing this business right now, issues that seem to crop up about every seven or eight years or so. 

Let’s start with subprime financing. This has been a plague in the auto business on and off for years, and in recent times FCA has egregiously and maliciously jump-started the practice to the extent that it has become that company’s standard operating procedure. It is simply unconscionable, but then again, when you consider the carpetbagging mercenaries running the place, it makes perfect sense. It’s just sad that the other manufacturers are being sucked into the swirling maelstrom, trying to keep sales momentum going in a flat market by relaxing their own loan standards. 

And that’s just one aspect of how this business can be its own worst enemy. Why do you think you’re starting to see 72-month financing rearing its ugly head again in countless advertisements? Because it’s good for the consumer? Hardly. Because in about three years it unleashes legions of unhappy consumers into the market hopelessly upside down in their loans. Yet the manufacturers willingly participate in this when their backs are against the wall. I’m not sure if these companies actually think they’re doing consumers a favor by offering these death-march-length loans, or they just simply don’t give a shit. I vote for the latter. 

It’s the manufacturers taking the path of least resistance by taking advantage of consumers, all for the sake of sales momentum. Anyone who believes this industry no longer lives by 30-day sales reports is delusional. Make no mistake, it’s still an essential part of the daily reality of this business, and it still sucks.

But that’s just one aspect of this business that’s annoying. The other grating thing about this business for me right now is that irrational thinking seems to have taken hold when it comes to the relentless proliferation of SUVs and crossovers. Yes, I get it, “that’s what sells,” as I am reminded by top execs in this business almost daily, but still, there seems to be no rhyme or reason associated with it. More is better and no niche will be left unsullied, it seems. The German manufacturers are most guilty of it, but the rest of the world’s manufacturers aren’t far behind.

It all started to go wrong for me when Audi proclaimed that SUVs were “the new sports car.” And it snowballed from there. Auto writers began to get sucked in to this canard too. Now, maybe it’s because most of the vehicles media-types get to drive these days are SUVs, given the production numbers, but still, SUVs and crossovers are in no way, shape or form, “sports cars” – no matter how you squint when you’re looking at them, or how far you go out of your way to suspend reality while driving them. (And yes, that goes for Porsche too.) They’re heavy and have a higher center of gravity; it’s simple physics that cannot be denied. And every time I see a manufacturer claiming its SUV/crossover is the fastest, especially at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, I cringe, because it’s just silly and stupid.

I much prefer a manufacturer touting its SUV/crossover du jour as being good at something that has nothing to do with performance and everything to do with the overall integrity and capability of the vehicle in question. Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is. I applaud Honda with its Accord and Toyota with its Camry for still caring about building quality cars, because when the pendulum swings back – and it will, because it always does – they can sit back and smile.

So, as we wait for the death of the automobile and the industry as we know it, and suffer through this lingering interregnum, I have a message for the True Believers at all of the car companies: Don’t ever forget that you’re in the business of designing, engineering and building the best cars and trucks that you can possibly muster right now and in the foreseeable future. As long as you relentlessly execute to that goal, this industry will continue to not only be relevant and survive, but maybe even thrive. 

Because this just in: the Jetsons, at least until further notice, was just a cartoon.

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

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THE END OF THE BEGINNING.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2017/10/30/the-end-of-the-beginning.htmlEditor2017-10-30T18:54:29Z2017-10-30T18:54:29ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. That this business is headed for The Abyss is no secret. The headlong rush into autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles, electrification and the blank check-writing going on in pursuit of all things AI will be the final frontier for this business. 

Let me stress that word “final.” Because it’s clear that we’ve reached the end of the road as to the role the automobile and the auto industry have played and what they have meant to this country in particular for over a century. And the speculation as to where this business is headed covers the broad spectrum between absolute conviction of a promised brave new world of autonomy and electrification that’s allegedly almost upon us, and a massive hedging of bets revolving around the fact that for at least 80 percent of the country “the future” of transportation will pretty much stay the same for years and years to come. 

And as with everything in our world these days, the factions are polarized, and this spectrum is demarcated by a canyon-like divide. This is particularly true for the future transportation zealots, who wholeheartedly believe in the promised brave new world brought upon by the radical transformation of our transportation system of the future. The kumbaya aspects of this for these zealots cannot be overestimated, either. To them it represents freedom from the “tyranny” of the automobile and automobile ownership. No longer chained to monthly payments and insurance costs, the future will be a trip fantastic unburdened by the hoary conceit of what the automobile and its role in our society has been, and it can’t come soon enough. Is there a large measure of irrational exuberance in all of this? Absolutely.

Yes, as I’ve stated before, I will concede that for the most densely populated major urban centers here and around the world and other idyllic enclaves - aka Silicon Valley - the notion of advanced mobility technology for advanced mobility technology’s sake is a major motivator, and a way to demonstrate advanced intelligence, artificial or otherwise. And I can see that the onslaught of these new technologies will have some very specific and valid uses and applications, whether people are ready for them, or not. 

But remember, we’re talking select urban centers here. As for the rest of the country, much of the day-to-day realities of transportation life will largely remain the same, meaning the Internal Combustion Engine will prevail, with the attendant gasoline infrastructure intact. Because the fact of the matter is that the transition to full-on electrification in rural areas will be s-l-o-w, as in decades, and the notion of fully autonomous vehicles outside of the few major urban centers where they will dwell will pretty much be nonexistent. I will admit that this is not what the so-called transportation visionaries want you to hear, but this notion that a switch will get “flipped” and that we’ll all be chauffeured around in shiny happy autonomous cars overnight is a complete fallacy. That hasn't stopped the transportation futurists from doubling down on this notion, and squawking incessantly about it, however.

And that has made the growing dichotomy in this business more real, with the divide between the vision of what could be and the reality of what actually is getting more pronounced by the minute. Just last week the Ford Motor Company announced massive profits from the staggering sales of its industry juggernaut F150 pickup. That means real people buying real trucks are not going away overnight. In fact ICE vehicles are going to be the mainstay of this business for decades to come.

Yet Ford, while churning out the most popular vehicle on the planet is also, along with other car companies, planning for a day when car ownership as we know it becomes obsolete. How does all of this possibly get sorted out, and isn’t there a danger of it all going wrong for some of these industry players? Oh yes, very much so. Frankly, the ugly reality surrounding the ride sharing and autonomous vehicles “big idea” is that it is going to have a much smaller footprint than the future technology zealots would have us believe. 

But in the meantime, this dance of duality is going to take its toll. 

Now that these advanced technologies - electrification, autonomy, connected vehicles, ride sharing, etc. - have been brought forward and put on the table, they’re being dissected, researched, developed, invested in and promoted as the second coming of our transportation future. But devoting billions to what will prove to be a narrow part of the transportation equation is a dangerous game, one fraught with considerable peril. And to see auto companies spending huge amounts of money trying to straddle both sides of the equation is painful to watch, because some of them won’t make it. Mistakes and miscalculations are inevitable, and it will prove to be far easier to succumb to the vagaries of the market because of the wrong bets or the wrong roads taken than it will be to guess right and come out ahead. The car companies that will be most vulnerable going forward will be those that ignore the considerable cash that can be made over the next couple of decades selling traditional cars and trucks, because that’s where the real money will be made. 

Some argue that we are on the precipice of a transformative mobility, one that will free us from the stifling binds of a moribund industry rooted in its past. And that’s all well and good, but this whole impetus is just getting started, and there is a long, long way to go.

In fact, all it really means is that we’ve only reached the end of the beginning, and the next dimension of this business will play out in decades, not years.

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

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GOING NOWHERE GOOD.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2017/10/25/going-nowhere-good.htmlEditor2017-10-25T11:46:49Z2017-10-25T11:46:49ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. I love the fact that Wall Street has decided that “Detroit” is worth paying attention to now. It seems that Wall Street now deems that making noise about electric vehicles in the planning stages – which Detroit automakers have done in recent weeks – is tantamount to the Big Bold Idea, something that has been decidedly lacking, according to these self-proclaimed “investors in America.” 

Why is this happening now? Maybe it has something to do with the bloom coming off the Tesla rose, and the realization that St. Elon’s prodigious pronouncements about the Model 3 can’t be transitioned into deliverable cars. After all, the parasitic trolls on Wall Street breathlessly touted Tesla as the "magic bullet" that would transform and revolutionize the "moribund" domestic auto industry, which caused a run-up in the stock that was simply indefensible. And now that regular Jack and Jill investors have participated in the Tesla stock run-up with both feet, Wall Street is saying “never mind” – well, except for a few diehards still insisting that Elon walks on water – and moving on to something else, which is why the notoriously undervalued domestic auto stocks are suddenly hot.

This is ironic for a couple of reasons. First of all, the denizens of Wall Street have dismissed the industrial fabric of this nation - aka the auto industry - because it just wasn't sexy enough or profitable enough for their tastes. As if providing efficient mass transportation for the country was some sort of sin. And this has been a common refrain for decades.

Consistent with that attitude, the huckster-speculators on Wall Street have gone out of their way to ignore the fact that GM developed the Chevrolet Bolt, the all-electric machine that delivers more real world range – and value – right now, long before the Model 3 even becomes available in any notable quantities. But remember, anything to do with Detroit just isn’t sexy enough for Wall Street, because it doesn’t have the glittering facade of Silicon Valley attached to it.

Now? GM stock is up dramatically. What’s different? Have the clouds parted so much that the Wall Street-types can see the light? Not really. Sure, GM promised over 20 new, all-electric vehicles globally by 2023 or thereabouts, but is that all it took for Wall Street to flip the proverbial switch? No, it’s because Wall Street is participating in its specialty, which is betting on the come. (Oh, and the fact that Tesla isn’t delivering much except bad headlines connected with production delays for the Model 3 while still burning cash like a homecoming bonfire.)

This new light shining on Detroit from Wall Street is a double-edged sword, however. On the one hand it’s good to be recognized as one of this country’s technological centers of expertise when it comes to electrification and autonomy. In fact Silicon Valley did it long before anybody on Wall Street even thought about it. And it’s good to see Wall Street investors finally attaching real value to what Detroit does and can do, again. But I’m afraid this newfound attention has its liabilities too. And the news that GM is actively looking to acquire autonomous-based companies is a warning sign. 

One thing that hasn’t changed about Detroit is that if there’s even a shred of good news or prosperity auto executives’ brains get scrambled. The thinking goes like this: If a little bit is good, then a lot more must be exponentially better, even though that’s not necessarily the case. And because of this attitude they run things into the ground with impunity. It’s just the way they roll.

Right now Detroit is all-in with autonomous technologies, ride sharing and The Future. I’ve seen it and I’ve heard it. Some Detroit auto executives – let me stress some – have gone completely off the rails. These people believe that the corporate entities they work for will be tech companies, autonomous companies and digital communication companies; in fact anything but car companies. And in the process they’re forgetting that individual modes of transportation – as in cars and trucks – are going to be the primary component of their business for years and years to come.

This headlong rush into autonomous technologies has other warning signs attached to it too. Detroit car companies’ propensity to throw money around like drunken sailors is well documented. Add to this the fact that Detroit car executives achingly want to be thought of as being hip and on the bleeding edge of things, with the looming shadow of Silicon Valley constantly hovering over them, and it’s a recipe for disaster. As you read this there are legions of undiscovered autonomous geeks working in their mothers’ basements just chomping at the bit to be discovered by some earnest explorers from Detroit loaded with cash and looking for the Next Big Thing. 

And the potential for Detroit auto executives to go nowhere good – and nowhere fast – is high.

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

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BOOM TIMES FOR SELLING AIR.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2017/10/15/boom-times-for-selling-air.htmlEditor2017-10-15T19:40:53Z2017-10-15T19:40:53ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As I wrote last week in “Tesla Burns, Wall Street Fiddles,” this industry is living in a fog of delusional thinking made up of one part hubris and two parts arrogance, with a large dollop of the ever-present unmitigated bullshit thrown in for good measure.

A charlatan like Elon Musk, who has been deified as America’s most notorious blue-sky visionary, but who has also been enabled and empowered by Wall Street to fleece investors by repeatedly "selling air" when it comes to Tesla, is now dancing on the vapors of empty promises made about the Model 3, which is shaping up to be the Silicon Valley resident genius’s Waterloo when it comes to the business of making cars. When the ugly reality of the Model 3 hits home, with prototypes being slapped together by hand and promised volumes turning into a grandiose pipe dream, Tesla stock is going to crater faster than the latest product put on the field by this city’s hapless baseball team.

But even though Musk may be America’s Air Salesman-in-Chief, he is not the only one engaging in misguided hyperbole and fanciful notions about the future direction of this industry, because right here in the Motor City allegedly smart executives are bathing in the promised glow of a connected future for the automobile, which, by their reasoned analysis, will lead to a future of untold riches the likes of which this industry has never experienced before.

And it may be the most egregious case of delusional thinking that this business has ever seen.

These serious-minded executives are operating under the assumption that having the automobile of the future be a center of connectivity will lead to a world of endless possibilities and open up a vast, limitless future of unbridled profitability. Which is all well and good and even noble to a degree, but it also exposes a fundamental naïveté about the world that is excruciatingly painful to observe. And it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

The auto companies plan on mining reams of data collected so that they can “know” you down to the very last detail and proclivity, and then they plan on using that data so that your car can tell you where the nearest Starbucks is, or where the shoes you’re lusting after are, or where the best local French fries are, or even where your favorite movies are playing in town. And they think they’re going to monetize these and countless other scenarios of desirability until the cows come home, gleaning profits from consumers and businesses alike.

Right now certain manufacturers are feverishly building data collection “farms” and corralling the power of that data so that they can be an integral part of a connected movement that will propel them to what’s certain to be (in their minds) a new, utopian reality. Except that the movement has long been established, and we already have and use our smart devices for all of this so tell me, what is the driving difference that the auto companies will provide, again? No matter how hard the car companies try to usurp the power of our omnipresent smart devices and convince people that their cars are not only the new centers of connectivity but that they’re actually better at it than smart phones, it’s just never going to happen. Ever.

Do you think I’m exaggerating the gravity of this development? Well, you would be wrong. Auto executives are pissing away billions upon billions of dollars on the quixotic notion that if they turn the automobile – autonomous or otherwise – into a rolling hotbed of connectivity, that everything will be right with the world again and that they’ll be serious players to be reckoned with in The Game. In fact they are absolutely convinced of it.

The ugly reality? There is not a chance in hell that it’s going to happen. The automobile industry – domestic or otherwise – has never gotten over the fact that there has been a seismic shift to Silicon Valley when it comes to societal cool. Smart, handheld devices have transformed everything about the culture here and around the world, and even though the automobile companies are still an inexorable part of America’s industrial fabric and a center of technology and manufacturing expertise, the once ever-present automojo that dominated our culture isn’t there anymore. And it’s not coming back either.

So what to do? The automobile companies actually do know how to do some things better than The New Masters of the Universe in Silicon Valley. For instance the auto companies know how to mass produce a wide variety of precision, complicated machines for a bewildering kaleidoscope of applications that transfer people safely, efficiently and in comfort to their destinations. In fact, most in Silicon Valley – except for St. Elon, of course – have acknowledged that fact both publicly and behind the scenes, so what’s wrong with the auto companies concentrating on that? What’s wrong with the auto companies continuing their pursuit of building the best machines possible while exploring new avenues of propulsion and efficiency? Sure, future automobiles should be ready to be connected – at the discretion of consumers – but connectivity in and of itself should never be the raison d’etre of these machines.

Not surprisingly, rational thinking and logic are in short supply in the auto biz of late, and “selling air” has progressed from being a perennial cottage industry in marketing to an all-hands-on-deck pursuit at the highest levels of these companies. And the Siren Song of Connectivity has lured normally smart auto executives into a zombie state, which has caused them to lose all touch with reality. These auto execs actually believe that they can be Masters of the Universe again, when in fact that chapter of the storied history of the automobile was closed over 50 years ago.

The idea that connectivity is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the auto industry is preposterous. It may be boom times for “selling air” – but beyond that there is simply no there there.

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

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TESLA BURNS. WALL STREET FIDDLES.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2017/10/9/tesla-burns-wall-street-fiddles.htmlEditor2017-10-09T22:14:45Z2017-10-09T22:14:45ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Once in a while the swirling maelstrom starts to swallow this industry whole. It’s always a slow, almost imperceptible buildup, but as it gains speed, things – and people – start to lose their focus, and when that happens, watch out.

The Drill goes something like this: As counteracting forces push and pull, this business starts to reel from a cacophony made up of a particularly virulent strain of self-generated white noise, competing interests and entrenched fiefdoms, hidden agendas, a fog of delusional thinking made up of one part hubris and two parts arrogance, and a large dollop of the ever-present unmitigated bullshit thrown in for good measure.

And it’s a lethal cocktail. Why? Because every day unrealistic expectations are set, promises are made that can’t even remotely be kept and the business twists and turns on the latest pronouncements, rumors and conjecture. What is real gets lost in the shuffle, of course, and reacting instead of acting becomes a cottage industry. And it all contributes to the overall industry din as if it’s part and parcel of standard industry procedure because, well, this just in: It is.

I don’t have to go far to expose the usual suspects who are the hard-core contributors to the din. Let’s take Elon Musk, for instance. Please. Yes, he has cemented his role as this country’s resident blue-sky visionary, but shooting off rockets and talking about tunnels that will never be built is one thing; actually being able to build cars profitably is quite another.

When Musk started beating the drum for the Model 3, I said loudly that everything about the car – including the ridiculous production numbers that Musk promised – would not happen. In fact, it would be a complete disaster. Why? Because the company has demonstrated repeatedly that it a.) can’t make money building and selling cars and b.) can’t build automobiles with even a modicum of consistent quality.

And this week, we found out that the Model 3 was a pipe dream. And a handbuilt pipe dream, to make things worse. The hand-wringing in the media about Tesla missing the production targets for the Model 3 by a mile has been humorous to say the least, as if everyone has been living under a rock for a couple of years and is simply shocked. Not only is Tesla unable to produce the Model 3 with any appreciable volume, the cars being built are being assembled by hand because they’re still trying to figure out prototype parts. Remember when Musk stated emphatically that Tesla would sell 500,000 Model 3s by the end of 2018?

There wasn't even a remote possibility that Musk would reach the super-inflated – and overhyped – production targets for the Model 3. And this just in, he never will. That didn’t stop him from shouting it from the rooftops and pounding it into his adoring acolytes in the media and on Wall Street. It was a portrait of sheer fantasy fueled by Musk’s unbridled delusions of grandeur. 

Charley Grant, in The Wall Street Journal, wrote last week: "Still, Tesla’s persistent inability to forecast its results should raise concerns. Tesla issued the forecast of 1,500 cars just two months ago and missed it by over 80%. Monday’s announcement marked the third time since January that Tesla has cited production issues as a reason for a missed forecast, yet Tesla is no startup—the company has been in business since 2003." 

Raise concerns? That’s one way of putting it. And what about those cheerleaders on Wall Street? You know, the relentless hacks who were single-handedly responsible for the egregious overrun on Tesla stock? They’re now backpedaling faster than an all-pro defensive back, preparing to hide under their desks as the valuation of Tesla – which was criminally unrealistic from the get-go – makes like a giant hubris-filled balloon about to deflate at a furious rate.

But then Wall Street has been wrong about Tesla from the beginning, so I can’t generate any sympathy for those greed merchants now. The run-up in Tesla stock was partially based on Wall Street’s fundamental and unflagging hatred for anything to do with Detroit and this country’s domestic auto industry. These so-called analysts bought everything Elon Musk was spewing hook, line and sinker, figuring Silicon Valley would transform the auto industry and Detroit would finally get its much-deserved comeuppance for oh, I don’t know, building machines that were actually efficient and affordable for a wide spectrum of buyers?

The unrelenting fact about Tesla is that the company has never made dollar one designing, building and selling luxury cars. It’s simply not possible. Tesla lives on energy credits sold to other companies, and it has taken what was once one of the most efficient and high-quality automobile plants in the world (the NUMMI plant formerly owned by Toyota) and turned it into a cesspool of gross inefficiency and poor quality. And there is no way in hell that Tesla can sell a mainstream automobile at the volumes or the price point promised. Tesla will be lucky to build 100,000 Model 3s total by the end of 2019, and trust me, even that will be a stretch. But I can assure you of one thing – the company will not be able to do it profitably. Not even remotely close, in fact.

There is no doubt whatsoever that Musk has contributed to the relentless din in this business. He may be a visionary, but his short attention span doesn’t count for much in an industry based on precision mass production and efficient, disciplined processes. That kind of detailed discipline may bore Musk to death, but by not embracing the task it will mean the death knell for Tesla. Real live automobile companies that know all about mass-producing complicated machines profitably are about to hand Musk’s ass to him. Musk will move on to other pipe dreams, of course, but not before blaming the “recalcitrant” U.S. auto manufacturers, the U.S. government and the “rigged” system for his predicament. When in reality, he’ll only need to take a good long look in his special shape-shifting, ego-enhancing mirror.

As I said last week, Tesla's day in the sun is coming to an end, but it wasn't fun while it lasted.

And what about the complicit denizens of Wall Street? There is simply no excuse for their reprehensible conduct in blowing up the valuation of Tesla beyond all reasonable expectations. And a lot of people are going to get burned because of it, big time. But then again that’s the way the wolves of Wall Street roll. It’s not about the efficacy of the investments or the financial needs of small investors, it’s about their own private little Idaho and don’t you ever forget it.

But guess what? It seems that the home of America’s greed merchants is just getting warmed up. This week, after GM announced that it would offer two new all-electric vehicles based off “learnings” from the Chevrolet Bolt EV in the next eighteen months, and that those vehicles would be the first of at least 20 new all-electric vehicles to be launched by 2023, Wall Street ran up GM’s stock as if it was turning on a “buy now!” light switch.

Wait a minute, that's all it took?  A purposely-vague pronouncement that amounted to a giant “we’re working on it”? And all of a sudden it was okay to like GM now that it was talking about a partial fleet of electric cars that was at least six years away? Maybe GM and Ford should announce flying cars by 2030 if they really want to see their respective stocks skyrocket.
 
It’s clear that Wall Street was completely brainwashed about America’s electric future by Elon Musk, and it’s also clear that they haven’t learned one damn thing on their own about the automobile or the future of transportation. Because if they had, they’d know that all-electric fleets from automakers are a good 20 years away (in fact we may never reach “all-electric” for every conceivable application), and in the meantime they would also understand that the internal combustion engine has a long, long way to go.

A glimpse through the industry kaleidoscope can be flat-out frightening, because what is perceived as real is usually anything but.

But then again, it's not called the swirling maelstrom for nothing.

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

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SERGIO POLISHES THE GOLDEN CANNOLI AS THE SALE OF FCA IS NIGH.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2017/10/2/sergio-polishes-the-golden-cannoli-as-the-sale-of-fca-is-nig-1.htmlEditor2017-10-02T11:59:57Z2017-10-02T11:59:57ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

© Ujian-nasional.info

Detroit. If you’ve been reading this website with some regularity over the last eight years, you know that I have predicted from the very beginning that the endgame for FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne was that he would sell off the “C” part of FCA for one big fat payday for himself and his Fiat family heirs/overlords as soon as he could pull it off.

And we are on the verge of that happening.

It’s hard to remember now, but back in those halcyon days when the U.S. government – completely out of options and afraid that if Chrysler went down it would take the entire automotive industry and its supplier network down with it – “gifted” Chrysler’s assets to Marchionne and his Fiat handlers for a song, people who should have known better considered him to be a savior of some sort. And what qualifies as “a song” you might ask? Not only did Fiat – by any measure a failing automotive enterprise in the twilight of its long, mediocre existence – not have to put any money of any consequence up for over a year after the deal was consummated, its total cash investment in Chrysler amounted to around $6 billion. (To put this in perspective, the Jeep brand alone was conservatively estimated to be worth at least that much at the time.)

From the moment Sergio got here, he was a walking, talking blusterbus, the self-appointed smartest guy in the room – any room. And I watched in horror as he and his minions hand crafted a persona – aided and abetted by certain card-carrying bootlickers in the automotive media – as a linguini-stained White Night based on the false premise that he would be the salvation of the poor wretches at Chrysler and that he would be the champion of the “little people.” And it was all unmitigated bullshit, because the only thing on Marchionne’s mind from Day One was to 1. Prop up Fiat, that perennial loser of an Italian car company (not counting Ferrari), and 2. Generate as much profits from an eventual sale of Chrysler’s assets to keep him and his Fiat handlers in cannoli and espresso for a long, long time.

Oh sure, he was different than the arrogant, hubris-filled posse sent here by Daimler, who managed to turn a $36 billion “merger of equals” into a company on the ropes in eight short years, and he was light years better – and more qualified – than the inept stumblebums at Cerberus led by “Minimum Bob” Nardelli. Marchionne was, after all, the consummate deal maker and an expert at turning other peoples money into untold riches, but make no mistake, there was going to be no silver lining with Sergio and FCA. He was the king of the carpetbagging mercenaries wrapped in a shiny wrapper made up of bombastic promises and blue-sky bullshit and he would be this industry’s cross to bear for going on nine long years.

Needless to say, it has been a long, strange trip.

We had to endure Marchionne’s endless posturing and his thinly veiled put-downs of other executives in the business because they, after all, just weren’t in his league. We watched as Marchionne made embarrassing overtures to GM that were personally insulting to Mary Barra and were rightly dismissed out of hand, because it didn’t take much to surmise that they were Marchionne’s feeble attempts at controlling his destiny, and predictably they failed miserably.

But that was just one in a long list of egregious behaviors that “The Great Sergio” unleashed on this business on his way to becoming the self-proclaimed “G.O.A.T.”

Let’s review, shall we?

In the earliest days, Marchionne led potential dealers down a primrose path promising untold riches – requiring them to spend millions on brick and mortar to build stand-alone Fiat stores – and he exacted those promises by dangling the Golden Cannoli: being able to sell Alfa Romeos and make millions on top of millions. Except that didn’t quite pan out, did it? The Fiat brand is on the ropes, and Fiat dealers were left bitter and furious that they had allowed the Italian Snake Oil Salesman to take them for a ride. And Alfa Romeo? It doesn’t matter how much praise the resident fanboys in the automotive media bestow on Alfa Romeo models, the bottom line is that there is no bottom line of any consequence for Alfa Romeo. It is a niche brand and it has always been a niche brand, and Sergio’s Audi-esque dreams for Alfa were unrealistic, misguided and flat-out ridiculous.

And we had to listen to the monthly din generated as FCA recorded one sales record after another, with Marchionne crowing about it incessantly until it came out that the minions assigned to backing up Sergio’s boasts had been cooking the numbers for years; in effect FCA had been reporting phantom sales numbers to make Sergio look good so he could continue stomping around and chewing the industry scenery, shouting “I told you I was a genius.” Well, he told us, all right.

Desperate to make the “C” in FCA attractive, Marchionne was churning out Jeeps and Ram trucks at a furious rate, delivering the lowest quality numbers in the industry at every turn, every year. But despite that, the ugly reality for Marchionne was that he had assets in Jeep, Ram Truck and the minivan (the outsized marketing posturing for Dodge is inconsequential; it is a fading brand of nostalgic muscle cars and menacing police cars with no future) and not much else.

Thanks to Sergio keeping his mind on the endgame and with his eyes filled up with dollar signs, FCA was woefully behind the industry in advanced technology development by every measure, and Marchionne knew it. And he couldn’t snap his fingers and make it all better overnight, either. So he embarked on a ruthless cost-cutting campaign in order to make FCA look more attractive to a buyer, slashing costs throughout Auburn Hills, especially out of future vehicle programs, which were pushed back, delayed or cancelled altogether.

So now what? Well, it has come down to this: As you read this Sergio’s payday is being furiously negotiated. And the buyer? None other than the Hyundai Motor Group. For Sergio the Great, it couldn’t be a more perfect fit, but let me be blunt here, for Marchionne anyone who has the dough-re-me would constitute the “perfect fit.”

Hyundai has the major league cash it will take to buy out FCA. They will gladly take Jeep, Ram trucks and the minivan (and plant), and discard the rest. And what about those convicted hacks in Washington who will stomp their feet in protest at the very idea that an iconic American brand like Jeep might be sold to the Koreans? This just in: It matters not one iota. FCA is a foreign-owned company and there’s not a damn thing any one of those politicians can do about it, even though many jobs will be lost and many lives in this area will be disrupted.

There is some solace in that Marchionne’s notion of “merging” with an automaker was nothing more than the sugarplum dreams of an unrepentant egomaniac. There was never going to be a merger with anyone, because much to Sergio’s considerable chagrin, he was never going to have the upper hand.

Marchionne has been in a race against time to make some sort of deal before he leaves FCA sometime in 2019, so he can retire among his cronies back in Italy and remind them that he is and will always be “The G.O.A.T.” And that they should never, ever forget it (as they slurp their espressos in sleepy cafes awash in never-ending Italian sunsets and never-ending piles of cash).

But at the bitter end Marchionne was nothing more than a calculated charlatan with a Brobdingnagian ego, and the only thing “great” about him is that he will go down as one of the greatest carpetbagging mercenaries in automotive history.

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

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WRITE HARD, DIE FREE.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2017/9/26/write-hard-die-free.htmlEditor2017-09-26T13:46:38Z2017-09-26T13:46:38Z

Editor's Note: Every once in a while, we feel it's important to remind everyone what this site - and The UjianNasional - are all about. To do that, we need to journey back in time, to the beliefs that formed the foundation for this site, and that continue to drive us to this day. The world is a different place than it was that June day in 1999, but in so many ways, when it comes to this business, there’s a mind-numbing sameness about it all that is truly unbelievable. -WG


By Peter M. De Lorenzo

Detroit
. Eighteen years ago, when I became tired of what the ad biz had become, tired of the sycophants, the ass kissers, the spineless weasels and the other two-bit players who had turned what was once a pretty interesting profession into a vapid wasteland, I knew I had to do something different. I had also grown tired of seeing the auto business – as practiced here in Detroit - sink further into the Abyss of risk-avoidance-driven mediocrity, and watching legions of so-called "executives" make horrendous, piss-poor decisions day after day on behalf of their respective auto companies.

As I watched the carnage unfold around me, I knew that something had to be said by someone who had firsthand knowledge of what was going on - someone who was in the trenches and on the front lines of the ongoing battle - and that someone turned out to be me.

And Ujian-nasional.info became my forum to say it.

As some of you insiders may know, UjianNasional originally was a concept I had for a new car magazine back in 1986. The print version of UjianNasional was going to target hard-core enthusiasts, while telling it like it is with a distinctive, combative style. It would also be the first enthusiast car publication that wouldn’t accept advertising.

The state of the enthusiast car mags back then was a dismal parade of sameness that left me cold, and I was determined to breathe some life into the genre (and it is different today, how? –WG). But my ad career got in the way, and by the time I looked up it was the late spring of 1999, and I knew that if I didn’t do it then, I’d never do it - so the time was finally right for UjianNasional. The Internet, of course, would replace the print magazine idea, but the essence of my original manifesto written back in 1986 remained unchanged.

And that's how this publication and "The High-Octane Truth" came about, whether people were ready for it or not. A lot has changed about this business over the ensuing years, but as I am continually reminded, then again, a lot hasn’t.

I am certain of one thing, however, and that is my set of fundamental beliefs about this business hasn’t changed. I thought it would be a good time to reiterate what those beliefs are today, where I’m coming from, how I look at things and why I say the things I do.

I believe that the business of designing, building, engineering, marketing and advertising cars and trucks should begin with one simple premise - the Product is King - and everything else has to flow from that fundamental fact. Cars and trucks should be exciting to look at, fun to drive, flat-out desirable and worth owning in all respects. If you (as an individual or a company) forget that fact, you will fail.

I believe people whose cumulative marketing experience basically consists of 1.) An MBA combined with 2.) A stint at the zone level (with the added "benefit" of P&G indoctrination -WG) and 3.) Being part of a rotational executive "rounding" stint through the system, shouldn't automatically be qualified to get near the serious business of marketing and advertising cars, let alone be able to tell an ad agency what's good or not good about an ad campaign that has just been worked on for the last 47 days straight.

I believe that car company executives whose first order of business is to cover their own asses and then shamelessly promote themselves the rest of the time - while bringing absolutely nothing positive to the job at hand - should be encouraged to take that long "break" they keep droning on about in off-the-record moments. Please do us all a favor - and leave now.

I believe that a rampant, "let's not offend anyone" mentality taints every decision made by almost every car executive (yes, there are a few brilliant exceptions) working in the business today. (By the way Lowe’s called, backbones are on special today, Aisle 6.)

I believe that the typical car company executive's reckless and utter disdain for anything the least bit creative or provocative - while at the same time endorsing a process that consistently "dumbs down" the advertising and the product itself with a series of debilitating steps and hand-wringing meetings - directly results in the churning out of an endless stream of cars and trucks that are too often nothing more than monuments to tedium, mediocrity and bad management. Back then I called it "engineering to the lowest common denominator" - and it still stinks.

I believe that politics permeates every decision in the car business down to the very last detail, ensuring that all butts are "covered" and that no one is left "exposed" to any ugly consequences. The business is still populated by people more worried about what their political standing "entitles" them to than about bringing to the table an attitude of "what can I do?" or "how can we make it better?" Accountability? Maybe that can be found in Aisle 6 too.

I believe - and this is etched in stone - that whenever the shit hits the fan and there is the least bit of advertising or marketing or product controversy, a car company will always do the wrong thing, and then turn around and blame the agency or a supplier for their predicament at the drop of a hat. You can take that one to the bank.

I believe that the ad agency side of the business has strayed as far away from being a creative environment as you can get - short of working airport security. In many cases, it has deteriorated into a constant battle between The Wimps and The Twerps, people who are intent on taking over the agency and turning it into a cesspool of "Yes Men" and "Yes Women" who are more concerned with their political futures and the "process" than about working on great advertising and marketing.

I believe that ad agencies have forgotten what their mission is, because they're spending 90% of their time, money, resources and effort on everything else under the sun except actually trying to make great advertising. And I believe that, in most cases, their clients are directly responsible for this revolting development - and that they ultimately get the advertising they deserve because of it.

I believe that runaway complacency on both sides (car companies and their ad agencies), combined with an atmosphere corrupted by an absolutely suffocating fear of taking any kind of risk (or standing behind it once you do), is killing the chance to get great work produced. Don’t think that’s the case? Take a look at the dismal state of car advertising today.

I believe that in too many cases in this business bad people are making bad decisions negatively affecting good people who know better, people who have been shuffled off to the side for political "considerations" (i.e., they have a backbone and a point of view - and they're not afraid to share it).

I believe that instead of a joyful celebration of the indefatigable nature of the American Spirit and the role the automobile has had, continues to have, and always will play, the business has become nothing but a pathetic caricature of itself - complete with bad actors and even worse props.

I believe that the glaring sameness of the so-called “enthusiast” car mags is still there and it’s still highly annoying. And there’s no denying that the days for the hard-copy print mags are severely numbered, and when the shakeout finally comes, it will be ugly.

I believe the state of automotive journalism has never been as weak as it is right now. There are too few writers worth going out of your way to bother with today, and that’s a flat-out disgrace. Automotive journalism (yes, of course there are notable exceptions) has devolved into a thinly disguised pay-to-play-for-access game. And it’s embarrassing.

There are some positives in this business today, thankfully. But there are lingering issues too.

As for the car biz itself, is it still about the Product? Absolutely. More so today than ever before. But if you don’t have the accurate, enticing and properly funded marketing firepower to put behind a new product, then it doesn’t matter how good it is - it will be forgotten 120 days after its launch in this oversaturated automotive market we live in.

As for the execs making key decisions about the marketing and advertising at the car companies nowadays, I still see woefully underqualified individuals being given the reins on major marketing decisions, and it’s still baffling.

Are auto execs any more willing to take a stand these days? It’s intermittent when it happens, but there’s some noticeable movement in the right direction at least. But it’s not nearly enough. And I’m sure a search party will have to be organized to find executives with backbones to shore up the ranks.

As for those “lowest-common-denominator” product decisions, I’m thankfully seeing that mentality fade into the woodwork. Detroit is creating some excellent new products right now, but getting people to care about them is an entirely different story altogether.

I still believe leaving major product and marketing decisions in the hands of a few focus groups is a dangerous practice and a monumental waste of time and money. And it’s still being done. It has been proven time and time again that focus groups are, at best, inconsistent if not inaccurate barometers – and it’s a crime. After all, the only people actually listened to in these focus groups are the ones who agree with the client's preconceived mindset to begin with, which makes the whole process a colossal waste of time and money.

Politics and politically charged decisions still hold sway over these companies to a degree, some less than others, fortunately. As for accountability, it’s still in exceedingly short supply.

As for the whole ad agency vs. client thing, the profitability of the advertising business is being squeezed down to next to nothing, leaving agencies to fight over scraps while clients display the loyalty of your average fair-weather sports fan, In other words, the state of the ad biz when it comes to the auto industry is beyond pathetic. It’s no wonder that ad agencies have forgotten what their basic mission is - which is to deliver the best, most provocative communications on behalf of their clients that they can muster - in this toxic environment. Do clients still get the advertising they deserve because of it? Yes.

As for those aforementioned legions of Wimps and Twerps and “Yes Men” and “Yes Women” they’re all still present and accounted for – on both sides of the ball. I know, because some of the people who were shoveling shit in this town when I was still in the ad biz are still doing it today. And it’s unconscionable.

As for bad people making bad decisions negatively affecting good people who know better in this business, same as it ever was, unfortunately.

And what about that whole “joyful celebration of the indefatigable nature of the American Spirit and the role the automobile has had, continues to have, and always will play...” thing? Well, let’s just say that it’s a work in progress.

That “Detroit” finally got product religion and is saying and doing all of the right things is commendable, but there’s still the lingering fear that this business as practiced here will slip back into bad old habits at any given moment. Those shining beacons of product light and creativity are still threatened by churning storm clouds defined by a “three steps forward, five back” cadence of rampant mediocrity. And that is sobering.

Now well into our nineteenth year of Ujian-nasional.info, I am proud to say that we still take you "behind the curtain" to give you an up-close look at the Wizards, the Dullards and everyone else in between in this business. I still say what the others are only thinking (or whispering) in deep background, or “off-the-record” conversations, and I will continue to do so. And this publication will continue to "influence the influencers" every single week, even though they're loathe to admit it.

Delivering The Truth, The Whole Truth... and absolutely nothing but The High-Octane Truth has been an exhilarating ride.

Write Hard, Die Free indeed.

And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
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PRESENT AT THE CREATION? HARDLY.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2017/9/19/present-at-the-creation-hardly.htmlEditor2017-09-19T13:59:07Z2017-09-19T13:59:07ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. I’ve been writing about the automobile industry on this website since June 1, 1999, and at no time have I felt about this business like I do at this very moment. I’m observing the auto industry feverishly pursuing strategies and areas of expertise in a headlong rush to be out front of what’s next, even though no one has a real clue as to what that might be. Besides the autonomous movement and the ride-sharing nirvana that so-called visionaries in this business insist will be the panacea that we’re all waiting for, there’s also the flat-out sprint by certain players to become experts fluent in the digitized parlance of the day.

What does this all mean? It means that the collective “Detroit” is forcing itself to exit its wheelhouse and operate in a world that they have no fundamental comfort in. It means that car companies are expending tremendous energies and financial resources to become something they’re not and never have been, and that is “experts” in a digital realm that is unwelcoming in its shallowness and smug in its conceit.

And to what end? Where is this going and why, and if you give a damn about this business, should people be concerned? The short answer? Yes. Make that oh hell yes.

A fundamental and historic flaw of this industry – especially as practiced here in this region – is that car companies practically invented the “not-invented-here” dogma. It’s the at-times stunning belief that not only are there no new ideas out there in the world, if for some ridiculous reason a positively newfangled idea rears its ugly head, this industry will study it, copy it and abscond with it – leaving furious and newly-litigious suppliers in its wake as a matter of course – and then announce internally, usually in a backslapping ceremony complete with a gigantic dollop of hubris that, “not only can we do this better, we can do it quicker and cheaper too!”

The reality? Not only can a car company – left to its own ferociously myopic devices – not build the idea in question better and cheaper, it will take twice as long to build it. And that’s on a good day with everything falling into place just so. Usually it takes ten times as long and cost five times as much. Do you find it hard to believe that this still goes on in this business after everything that has transpired over the years? Don’t kid yourselves, because this dogma is not only alive and well, it is as current today as it has ever been. In fact, I sense a new vibrancy that is truly frightening.

When I read all of the gushing reports about car companies becoming IT Empires and masters of their own mined data, which they will in turn use to conquer the world, I just cringe. Why? Because it’s flat-out delusional and borderline comical. Car companies trying to reinvent themselves as IT companies is the fool’s errand of this or any other century. It is the absolute epitome of the “not-invented-here” dogma, only this time it is being unleashed at the most precarious time in this industry’s history, with companies willing to devote untold amounts of time and resources – not to mention monumental boatloads of cash – to a pursuit that is simply beyond their ken. In fact it will never be an area of expertise for any car company.

Nor should it be. The smart automobile companies operating today – and there are a very few – not only don’t want to be IT experts, they’re not interested in subjugating decades of manufacturing expertise in the pursuit of a sideshow that consumes massive amounts of resources, simply because they’re afraid of being left behind. These companies are perfectly comfortable engaging known experts in the digital arena – an arena they’re not interested in dominating by the way, but are interested in using for their best interests – and partnering with them in the pursuit of mutually beneficial goals. Seems rational enough, no? But yet here we are watching nominally smart people frantically trying to reinvent an industry into something it is not and will never be, all because they think they can do it better and in turn become Masters of the Digital Universe.

The reality? Well it is something entirely different. The digital IT world is not interested in welcoming the automobile companies with open arms. The digital swells view the auto companies as backwater entities, something to use and cherry pick when appropriate, and discard the rest when the time is right. 

Unfortunately, this is a scenario that will not end well for those players seeking to turn the auto companies into something they’re not. This instead will become a giant game of chasing tails. While well-meaning Detroit executives try to mold their companies into savvy centers of digital expertise, the real players in the IT field will blow right by them, all because the car companies couldn’t bring themselves to embrace the idea of partnering with experts with genuine, accumulated knowledge, the people who could actually help them get where they wanted – and needed – to go.

I will predict right now that the endgame in all of this is bound to get ugly, and anyone who assumes that this will all work out for the best and that these auto companies will be newly reimagined as fluent IT entities is being incredibly naïve.

Misguided and misdirected, these nouveau digital “experts” at the car companies will preside over the dissolution of some long-entrenched, historically important automotive empires, as these companies get sucked into a swirling maelstrom that they will simply be ill-equipped to cope with and get swallowed whole.

Listen to enough of these IT expert blowhards at the car companies long enough and you might think that we’re fortunate to be witnesses at the creation of a brave new automotive world.

Au contraire.

We’re present for the destruction of the automotive world as we know it, and it will happen sooner than you think. 

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

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