Home- ujian-nasional.infoHomehttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2018-03-19T13:14:54ZSquarespaceTHE LONG – AND SHORT – OF FORD.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2018/3/19/the-long-and-short-of-ford.htmlEditor2018-03-19T12:59:17Z2018-03-19T12:59:17ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Last week, key executives from the Ford Motor Company took members of the press under the tent in an “On the Record/Off the Record” presentation that basically laid bare the company’s product plans over the next 24 months. Though it wasn’t an unprecedented move – many auto companies have taken this route in the past – it was a signal that the company’s momentum has been brought into question, and that the gathering storm clouds off in the distance are getting closer.

There’s no question that the perception that Ford is in trouble triggered this rare press event. And the timing of this presentation was calculated to break through the cloak of negativity that seems to be lingering over the company, especially from certain denizens of Wall Street who view anything connected to Detroit and the automobile industry with skepticism, if not outright hostility. (Especially now that Elon Musk has become the Patron Saint of all that is righteous and good when it comes to the automobile for many Wall Street types, and that anything that isn’t Tesla must therefore be antiquated and bad.)

CEO Jim Hackett opened the proceedings by talking about the future of Ford and the advanced technologies that Ford is fully engaged in that will drive transportation into The Future. This has been “Professor” Hackett’s standard stump speech for a while now, just as it has been the standard fare for every other automaker of late too. But given that this was a product-focused meeting, Hackett’s remarks seemed a little stale, especially since they have been out there for a good long while now. After all, this was clearly an “all hands on deck” effort from Ford to convince the gathered press that the company’s products would be vibrant and competitive, so meanderings on where The Future was going had people looking at their watches.

This is the essence of the problem for Ford, and a source of much of the negativity hanging over the brand. Hackett has spent too much time talking about the long view for Ford – the connected cities, the coming fundamental changes to our lives, etc., etc. – and not enough time conveying the transformation going on at Ford right now. This event was designed to change that.

From there, the presentation was handed over to Joe Hinrichs, President of Global Operations, who laid out just how successful Ford has been with the F-150 pickup. And make no mistake, the F-150 is “The Franchise” of the Ford Motor Company. How much so? If the company stopped selling everything but the F-150 today, it would still generate more than $40 billion in revenue, a staggering statistic. But the point of the meeting was exactly that – that as successful as the F-150 is Ford needs more vehicles for the heart of the market, which means SUVs, and lots of them. In fact, 86 percent of Ford’s vehicle lineup by 2020 will be trucks and SUVs, up from 70 percent today.

To achieve this transformation – there wasn’t a peep about cars, except for a reveal of a King Kong Mustang that’s coming – Ford is working on a wave of SUVs, ranging from a total (and long overdue) revamp of its other hot performer, the Explorer, to a brace of new, edgier SUVs, including a sharp alternative execution of the Escape, and a very interesting BEV crossover that seemed dangerously close to being vaporware. (That I am suggesting that this particular product is vaporware speaks to the High-Octane Truth about Ford, and the fact that they are absolutely nowhere when it comes to BEVs. Not that BEVs are the be-all and end-all for this business, but the fact that Ford is clearly lacking in this area looms large.)

But by far the most interesting product (briefly, hinted at but not fully revealed) discussed last Thursday morning was the all-new Bronco. The Bronco is one of the iconic nameplates of this business, and the fact that Ford is bringing it back is crucial. And just based on a few glimpses, I expect it to be a full-fledged hit in the market. 

As I’ve said many times previously in this column, it’s shocking that FCA has been allowed to sell the Jeep Wrangler without any serious competition from Ford and GM. Due to the bankruptcy GM gave up Hummer, which was an egregious mistake, especially since the Hummer had made notable inroads in the market at the expense of Jeep, and the Hummer H4 concept, which was on GM Product Development computer screens when the bankruptcy hammer slammed down, was going to be a real threat, taking dead aim at Wrangler.

And now, here comes the Bronco. The fact that Ford waited this long to even consider bringing back the Bronco is borderline criminal, but now that they are bringing it back, the fact that it is still two years away is a real shame. In fact, that all of the vehicles discussed last week are at least two years away (except for the Mustang, which is scheduled for 2019) is a real problem for Ford. As people immersed in this industry know, 24 to 36 months is an eternity in this business. And though Ford displayed some very competitive-looking products to the media last week, this business doesn’t exist in a stagnant holding pattern. The players in this business are constantly percolating ideas and churning out new products, in fact the pace of competition is growing fiercer by the month. I have the utmost respect for and confidence in Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s executive VP of product development and purchasing. He is one of the most talented True Believers in this business, and if anyone can deliver on Ford’s product, Hau and his team can deliver, and then some.

So, this is the long – and short – view of Ford. 

On the one hand, Professor Hackett’s long view is indeed compelling, at least up to a point, but it’s only as compelling as every other automaker’s pronouncements on The Future and their role in it. Everyone’s putting their spin on the same idea: connected cars, ride sharing, AVs, and on and on and on. It’s allegedly going to be a beautiful world filled with shiny happy people skipping to a new beat and rolling in anonymously uninvolving vehicles, hassle free. The fact that whatever transpires is years and years away and will be confined largely to a few urban centers across the country is beside the point. All of the auto manufacturers are cut from the same cloth, they refuse to be dictated to by Silicon Valley and they will be part of the Driving Future, one way or the other.

That’s all well and good, but on the other hand the short view is that Ford has its back against the wall. The enduring success of the F-150 will go down as one of the lasting achievements in automotive history, but the ugly reality is that it isn’t enough, and Ford executives are now painfully aware of that fact. Ford desperately needs new products in-market, as in yesterday. Taking the automotive media under the tent was as much about generating positive buzz with Wall Street-types as it was to give the press something positive to write about when it comes to Ford.

But two years is a lifetime in this business, and the clock is ticking. 

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


HERE'S TO THE ONES WHO DREAM.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2018/3/14/heres-to-the-ones-who-dream.htmlEditor2018-03-14T13:28:43Z2018-03-14T13:28:43ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Though I'm tired of using the term "swirling maelstrom" to describe this business, I have yet to find a more apt descriptor. It's a land where you're only as good as your last hit, a state of mind where you're forced to make what's happening right now work, while struggling to make what's happening next come into focus. It's a cruel, nonsensical world that punishes those who would deign to march to a different drummer, but it's only those who dare to break through that gauntlet who rise to the top. 

It's easy to get mired in the minutiae of this business; the endless meetings, the constant "reviews," the endless hand-wringing and second (and third) guessing. Overthinking might be an operational component in corporate America, but in the automobile business it's a full-blown cottage industry, which makes effectual decisions extremely hard to come by. Why? Because 90 percent of the time is spent worrying about what an upper executive in question might want or might be thinking, which forces underlings to become interpreters and acquire the skill set of nuanced anticipation. 

This business is unfortunately littered with so-called genius executives who parachute into the decision process, make a few pronouncements, then helicopter out. And the worst part of this phenomenon is that they come back six weeks later and question why a particular direction was undertaken, totally forgetting that's what he or she directed. Thus, time, effort and money are wasted at a prodigious rate because executives are too self absorbed to get their heads out of their asses and realize how destructive their behavior is. And no, it isn't exclusive to the automobile business, but it's decidedly more pathetic when product programs or advertising campaigns are on the line.

And yes, product. Product is the straw that stirs the drink, the raison d'etre of the automobile business. It's not selling air. It's not about what a company's vision of down the road will be. That's all well and good and fine and wonderful, but it's not the business now and it isn't the business for the next 36 months. It's about product cadence, which means having the right products, at the right time, for the right market segments. Whatever a company's vision is for the future doesn't matter if it isn't generating serious profits to fund that future. 

Remarkably enough, some companies forget all of this. They get sidetracked and off kilter, they chase their tails, they start listening to the dulcet tones of their own thought balloons, and they become buried under the heavy mantel of their own hubris. In short, they lose their way and start making mistakes. Except this isn't a business that tolerates mistakes. It's not a strike three business, either. Two strikes and you're out. And in this league, playing catch-up is not only a brutally tough and long road, sometimes it just doesn't work out. And in the new reality of this globally-driven automobile business, some car companies are just not going to make it.

The companies stocked with True Believers, the ones unafraid to dream, the ones focused on delivering the best in all aspects of this business - Design, Engineering, Product Development, Marketing - will succeed. It not only requires savvy management, it requires a complete cessation of the normal bureaucratic cesspool that paralyzes these companies, which means loosening the reins of the True Believers so that they can do what they're capable of doing.

When it comes to The Future of this business, I will bet on the companies who value their True Believers, because those companies who refuse to do so will be ringing their death knells.

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

NOW THAT DETROIT AUTO SHOW ORGANIZERS HAVE FINALLY SEEN THE LIGHT, THERE ARE A COUPLE OF OTHER THINGS THAT NEED TO CHANGE AROUND HERE.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2018/3/5/now-that-detroit-auto-show-organizers-have-finally-seen-the.htmlEditor2018-03-05T21:30:34Z2018-03-05T21:30:34ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALMOST PERFECT.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2018/2/27/almost-perfect.htmlEditor2018-02-28T00:39:17Z2018-02-28T00:39:17ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it one thousand times in writing this column (for going on nineteen years now), and that is that the advertising business can be one of the most wonderfully creative yet relentlessly infuriating pursuits there is. It can be a wildly exhilarating ride one minute, and have you mining the depths of despair the next. And taking into account the particular genre of automotive advertising, which is an entirely jaundiced subset all its own, you can easily multiply the entire list of negative mitigating factors times one hundred.

What makes the automotive category in advertising so extra special, or excruciating? It’s a kaleidoscope of factors, really. First, you have relentlessly paranoid clients with varying degrees of talent, capability and understanding. Some clients assigned to the automotive discipline are experienced and even qualified with meaningful marketing and advertising experience, while others have been simply thrust into the role due to a promotion, or a “seasoning” assignment. 

As you might imagine, at its worst, this wild disparity in qualifications and capabilities can be a nightmare, with people weighing in on strategic direction and creative ideas and executions blissfully devoid of a cohesive thought or a halfway coherent rationale. I once had a client who had been freshly parachuted in from the Midwest region, and who overnight was tasked with making critical decisions on multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns, tell me - with a straight face no less - that, “I know what good advertising is, because I watch a lot of TV.” Needless to say, that agency/client relationship didn’t get off to an auspicious start.

What I am trying to convey here is that the Sturm und Drang behind the advertising you see on TV or on the Internet is considerable, and it is exceedingly difficult to get a creative idea through the gauntlet of too many cooks, misguided (and unwelcome) input that’s politically tainted within an organization, and my personal favorite – territorial agendas – and have it remain basically intact, still impactful, emotionally compelling and memorable. That’s why when we actually see an ad out there that is emotionally compelling and memorable, it is worth talking about and celebrating. 

Which brings me to recently new Ford advertising work called “We The People” that first landed in 60 sec. form on a wide range of media outlets. This high concept spot has a lot going for it. It is beautifully filmed, with authentic scenes that resonate, and the soundtrack is unobtrusive yet provides a fitting context throughout. And as a former copywriter I appreciate the artful beauty of the words, because they resonate without being preachy in any way.  At least until the end…

We the people

Are defined by the things we share

And the ones we love

Our book clubs

Our tee times

The moments… we don’t have to say a word.

We the people

Who mess with each other’s heads

And have each other’s backs

Who have songs and food and kids

Helping, hoping… and dreaming

Who never stop wondering what we’ll do, or where we’ll go next

We the people, who are better together than we are alone… are unstoppable.

Up until that point the spot is almost perfect… if it had only ended there. But then the voiceover lands this last line – at 56 sec. in – with a thud:

Welcome to the entirely new Expedition.

Had this spot been a high-concept image spot for Ford, with multiple Ford vehicles used throughout, I would have deleted the “almost” from the headline of this column, because it would have been heroic and perfect, and exactly the kind of spot that has been so badly needed from Ford for a long, long time. But no, the Expedition was used throughout, and Ford wanted to make sure we were reminded, not the least bit subtly I might add, of that fact at the end. By ending it that way, the impressive look, feel and overall tone of the spot was brought to a screeching halt. (You can watch the spot  – WG)

I get the fact that so-called “image” spots are anathema for most automotive marketers, especially with the two Detroit-based, domestic automakers left. Marketers think they’re a waste of money because they cost too much and give the product short shrift. And dealers have trouble with any spot that isn't "moving the metal," and besides, it’s extremely difficult to cut image ads down to 30 sec. in order to tout lease and financing specials, so they rarely get the green light. 

I should remind everyone that FCA doesn’t seem to have that problem, however, because CMO Olivier Francois understands the powerful potential of well-executed “image” spots better than any other automotive marketer out there, and he hits more often than he doesn't, but then again he is a rarity in the automotive marketing field.

I wasn’t privy to Ford marketers’ thinking on “We The People,” but to me it was a missed opportunity. It wouldn’t be hard at all to go shoot some new scenes using additional vehicles, and then re-cut the spot into a proper 60 sec. image spot for the Ford Motor Company.

Then I would change my assessment from “Almost Perfect” to Dead. Solid. Perfect.

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

BEATING A DEAD (FLYING) HORSE.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2018/2/20/beating-a-dead-flying-horse.htmlEditor2018-02-20T15:35:16Z2018-02-20T15:35:16ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away I actually had high hopes for the Genesis luxury brand from Hyundai, because the stars seemed to be lining up in its favor. The fledgling luxury brand had the deep resources of Hyundai behind it, and, to the company’s credit, it had gone out of its way to hire some of the best and brightest automotive talent available in the business. This seemed to demonstrate that Hyundai finally had the desire to play the luxury game properly, understanding that it would not only take considerable amounts of cash to fund the effort, but that it would require a fundamental fortitude in order to compete at the highest level over the long haul, which it had not yet demonstrated up until this point. 

So this, by Hyundai’s account anyway, was truly a brand-new day, and Genesis would become a force to be reckoned with in the luxury business in no time. And if you had seen any of the PGA’s Genesis Open from the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles over the weekend, you might have gotten the impression that Genesis is a real live luxury brand, with endless – and tediously repetitive – TV commercials to prove it, demonstrating its mettle, stating its purpose and offering its qualifications as a genuine automotive luxury brand to ConsumerVille.

But the requisite product look and features brought to life by slick TV commercials aren’t what they seem in this case, and if you dig a little deeper you will come to understand that Genesis is a brand in chaos, with a retail component that is in complete disarray. I’m not going to regurgitate all of the gory details here, but suffice to say Hyundai officials at first decided that Genesis would be sold at top-performing dealerships instead of going the all-new brick-and-mortar route, like Lexus did when it started here. But there were complications, starting with the fact that Hyundai already had a Genesis model in place at its dealerships. In typical fashion, Hyundai operatives decided to flip a switch and introduce the new Genesis division while its dealers still had the “old” Genesis model on their lots. (And let’s not forget that their previous top luxury model, the Equus, was still hanging around, which only added to the confusion.)

So, let’s review, shall we? The model previously known as Genesis became the new Genesis G80, while the top-line Equus would now become the Genesis G90. Capisce? If you think that sounds kind of confusing, you’re absolutely right, and Genesis sales – and the Hyundai dealers selling the new brand – suffered. The launch of the new Genesis brand was an unmitigated disaster, with piddling sales and only sporadic interest from consumers. 

What was the problem? Were the cars worthy? Yes, given the parameters needed to play the luxury game the cars came heavily equipped in standard form, were well executed, and cost thousands less than comparable entries from BMW, Mercedes and Lexus, especially the top-line G90. But it wasn’t enough. Why? Hyundai operatives have a long, dismal history of deciding how things will go for them in whichever segments they choose to play in and believing that they will automatically succeed, because a.) They want it to be that way and besides, b.) How could it possibly be anything otherwise? It’s that ugly “we’ll just flip a switch” mentality that rears its head every time with anything having to do with Hyundai. There’s this steadfast belief among Hyundai operatives that suggests that they’re the smartest guys in the room, and that they will not fail. And when they do, the executives in place – usually Americans – are jettisoned for not delivering unrealistic goals and assorted pipe dreams.

So back to the current chaos being unleashed behind the scenes with Genesis. Now, Hyundai operatives have decided that they do want separate Genesis showrooms, so they’re going around the country taking the Genesis franchise back from dealers in order to have a much smaller, more exclusive and more luxurious footprint for Genesis. That’s all well and good, but the proven reality for any launch of a brand – luxury or otherwise – is that you have a window of twelve to eighteen months to get it right. That means you have to decide on the image that you want to convey and then you have to demonstrate a focused consistency throughout the launch, making sure every last detail is accounted for. And since Hyundai has been stumbling around for going on three years poisoning the launch of the Genesis brand with its fits and starts and focused inconsistency, it has most decidedly blown its window of opportunity.

When I perused the Genesis website the company takes great pains to put their “Vision and Mission” for the brand in prominent position. It states the following:

We strive to create the finest automobiles and related products/services for connoisseurs around the globe. Our team of talented individuals around the world is led by our company’s values, where respect for one another in the quest of finding the best solutions for refined individuality dominates our work ethos.

Yes, of course, you could plaster those words on any luxury automaker’s website, but in this specific case they ring hollow. Connoisseurs around the globe? Please. And spare us the regurgitation of company values, because clearly the Hyundai work ethos counts for absolutely nothing at this point.

Hubris, arrogance and serial incompetence have defined the Hyundai modus operandi for so long that I’ve lost track. They operate in this vacuous netherworld of two steps forward and five back, and yet they insist on singing the “we got it goin’ on” song to themselves in a aria that is relentlessly off-key and stale. That Hyundai operatives have blown the launch and now re-launch of the Genesis brand was surprising only in its scope and its rapid descent into mediocrity.

I am reminded of those ominous words of narration by Joe Pesci’s character – Nicky Santoro – in “Casino.” I’m paraphrasing him here, but I can imagine Hyundai operatives sitting around a conference room table right now saying, reluctantly: “We fucked it all up.”

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

BRAND SPANKING.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2018/2/13/brand-spanking.htmlEditor2018-02-13T18:49:27Z2018-02-13T18:49:27ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo 

Detroit. Navigating the shoals in the automotive marketing game is a full-time and often thankless task. Beyond the enormous complexity involved with the fundamentals of launching an automotive brand, nurturing a brand over time is extremely difficult, as several factors often conspire to blow up even the most solid marketing plans.

Those factors include roller-coaster market conditions, the economy, a particular product cadence (or lack thereof), the efficacy of the product itself, and my perennial favorite: serial incompetence. Any one of those factors can derail even the most competitive products in the market, but if all of those factors somehow come together at once, it can prove to be disastrous.

There are a few brands right now that are wrestling with their very reason for being. Some have been floundering for a long time and are looking for a serious boost, some have achieved hollow success through questionable means, and some are just flat-out clueless and searching for brand relief any way they can get it. 

Let’s start with Nissan. The Japanese brand that roared into the U.S. market as Datsun and achieved notable success with some feisty products and one of the all-time great advertising themes – “We Are Driven” – (they never should have changed the name to Nissan, by the way, but that’s another column) lost its way in a big way when Carlos Ghosn put his spurs into the brand. 

One of the most overrated executives in the auto business, Ghosn pushed U.S. Nissan dealers into a churn-and-burn frenzy in order to achieve absurd sales targets and market share, and consequently the Nissan brand was degraded to the point that Nissan dealers became the Beacon of Hope for subsidized payment shoppers, aka “How much is that Altima a month?”

Just this week, in an interview that appeared in Automotive News, Nissan Motor Co. CEO Hiroto Saikawa lamented the fact that Nissan’s “M.O.” of massive incentives and fleet sales in order to meet Ghosn’s overly optimistic sales and market share targets had taken its toll on the Nissan brand, resulting in diminished brand value and reduced profitability.  

Gee, who would have thunk it? That’s only the biggest “Duh” of this or any other year. Nissan has been going down this road for years, thanks to Ghosn, and now the new guy tasked with revitalizing the brand has his work cut out for him.

Saikawa told Automotive News that he is giving Denis Le Vot, the Frenchman from Renault who took over as chairman of North America just one month ago a couple of months to come up with a plan so that Nissan can begin implementing short-term and midterm fixes in the fiscal year starting April 1.

"We have to first improve the brand value and profitability," Saikawa told Automotive News last week after Nissan reported that operating profit plunged 50 percent in the last three months of 2017. "Hopefully, we will be able to reach a very solid point in two years. This is the first mission for the new chairman."

Except what does Nissan stand for, exactly? Technology? No, the democratization of technology has absolutely swallowed this business whole, and Nissan’s ability to differentiate itself in that area is simply a fool’s errand. How about engineering expertise? Again, no, and that’s thanks to Carlos Ghosn’s relentless commoditization of the brand. No, what Nissan stands for now is ridiculously cheap payments – especially on the Rogue and Altima – and that’s pretty much it. Ghosn’s “churn-and-burn” strategy has been a complete disaster for Nissan in this market.

It sounds like Mr. Saikawa actually believes that there is a giant switch that can be flipped in order to jack up brand value and profitability by reducing incentives and fleet sales. And that it can all happen in two years. But I have news for the brain trust at Nissan headquarters: the negativity associated with Nissan’s obsession for pushing massive incentives wasn’t something that happened overnight. It has been going on for years and it has absolutely killed the brand’s value. In fact, I would venture to say that Nissan’s brand value is simply nonexistent at this point. 

What’s the short-term solution for Nissan? There isn’t one. It’s a long-term strategy that must revolve around building and selling outstanding products, and then increased brand value (and the much-desired resale value to go along with it) should be the ultimate result. But it’s clear to me that Nissan executives are delusional about the time it will take to move the needle, and that’s a giant bowl of Not Good.

Then there’s Kia. It’s no secret that the brand has been floundering. It has too many models that are basically indistinguishable from equivalent Hyundai models, and its brand image is somewhere between “How much is that a month” and “It’s a good buy for what you get.” Not exactly enough to hang your hat on in today’s cutthroat marketing world. 

But now Kia is out to change all of that. And to do that they’ve put all of their marketing eggs – and borrowed a bunch more to boot – toward the launch of its new Stinger sports sedan. Now, it’s not a shock to see the fanboys in the automotive media positively gush over the Stinger, because the overriding tendency for them is that anything new is better, and the latest is always greatest. So the Stinger is the here and now, at least for now.

Does the Stinger seem noteworthy? In some respects, yes, its suite of performance ingredients qualify and its specs seem substantive, although its exterior design is painfully derivative and nothing to write home about. Kia management operatives, however, believe that the Stinger has the elusive magic beans and will usher the brand into The Light of All That Is Wonderful and Good when it comes to automotive marketing, and that it’s the company’s ticket to a completely new elevated stratum for the brand. 

Really? That’s a lot, even if the Stinger were a testament to glorious autodom, which it decidedly isn’t.

A decent effort, yes, but the cold, ugly reality for the Stinger is that it exists in its own hermetically sealed vacuum within Kia, and because of that it can’t possibly carry the water for the brand. Can we expect that from this day forward all new Kia models will have a little bit of Stinger in them like a true “halo” marketing plan is supposed to work? Uh, how about no? Because in order to do that Kia operatives would have to completely alter the course of the brand going forward, ripping up existing product plans as they go. And I don’t see that happening, because until further notice the Stinger is a one-off in the Kia brand portfolio, an island unto itself, and it’s going to stay that way no matter how much Kia operatives believe that they have stumbled across the Holy Grail.

There’s that “flipping the switch” thing again. Marketers in this business have an inherent belief that they can change course with impunity and that things will work out in their favor. I appreciate the optimism but it’s remarkably naïve. If Kia really wanted to change course, it would embark on a ten-year plan to transform the brand, but that’s a laughable notion, especially given the utter lack of patience Kia executives have demonstrated in the past.

And then, there’s Subaru. This month, the Japanese brand is celebrating 50 years of selling vehicles in the U.S. To say that the brand’s success has been meteoric really isn’t accurate. Its growth has been slow but steady, and it has nurtured its brand and its customers along the way with impressive products and an unfailing consistency in messaging. And the dividends are piling up, with Subaru accruing a mountain of good will and increased sales that aren’t in danger of cooling off anytime soon. 

Perhaps the other two aforementioned auto brands should pay attention to what Subaru is doing, because it’s simply how it’s done when it comes to automotive marketing. 

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

FCA’s EMBARRASSING DISPLAY ON THE SUPER BOWL.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2018/2/5/fcas-embarrassing-display-on-the-super-bowl.htmlEditor2018-02-05T13:55:19Z2018-02-05T13:55:19ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. As longtime readers of this website know, I have the utmost respect for those toiling in the advertising business. Having worked in the business myself for more than 22 years, it is one of the toughest and at times one of the most enjoyable pursuits a person can engage in. Not that the ad biz is a touchy-feely stroll through Lollipop Land, by any means. The ugly reality is that it is also a constant battle fraught with clashing egos, blatant ineptitude and pitiful political theater that plays out in excruciating fits and starts. And this is only magnified in automotive advertising, where serial incompetence - usually on the client side - plays a prominent role.

After saying that, I reserve particular ire for those in the advertising pursuit who squander opportunities by letting unbridled hubris get in the way of creating advertising worthy of its biggest stage. What FCA unleashed on the Super Bowl in four out of five spots (more on the one that mattered later) was simply unmitigated crap brought to you by the self-appointed smartest guy in the room, none other than Olivier “I’m a genius, just ask me” Francois, Sergio Marchionne’s handpicked Guy Friday of Marketing. 

Now to be fair, Francois has been responsible for some terrific spots over his tenure, my favorite being “” from a couple of years ago, which used the stirring words and voice-over of the late Paul Harvey to great effect in a Ram truck spot. “Farmer” was an example of what great advertising in its most glorious form can be: Powerful, stirring and memorable. But what Francois unleashed on this year’s Super Bowl wasn’t even close to that, in fact, Francois demonstrated unequivocally that his time in the marketing arena has come to a much-needed close, as FCA proceeded to stink up the joint with spots that either were grossly ineffective, pegged my personal advertising Wince Meter, or both.

Starting with a spot for Ram trucks called “," which used words from Martin Luther King Jr., Francois went to the well one more time in search of this year’s “Farmer.” Except it backfired, horribly. Why? FCA’s agency cherry-picked Dr. King’s own words from a sermon that he delivered 50 years ago at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, which was, remarkably enough, a diatribe against rampant consumerism, particularly mentioning overspending on cars. He even went so far as to chastise those who “are so often taken by advertisers.” Uh, WTF? Francois offered up a lame excuse that he had the complete approval from the Martin Luther King Jr. estate, but that is no excuse. The outcry and outrage on social media was deservedly swift and unrelenting. This was a complete disaster of a spot, one that upon closer inspection was shockingly cynical and blatantly offensive.

Then there was “” for the Jeep Cherokee, which FCA said in a release. “… quietly draws an interesting parallel between roads and the idea of operating within someone else’s expectations.” Except that the highfalutin words in the release attempted to make more of the spot than was actually there. In fact, there was no “there” there.

Another spot, “” actually used borrowed interest - and Jeff Goldblum - from Jurassic World to sell Wrangler, and it was instantly forgettable. By the time I saw this spot, a slow smoldering rage was beginning to build, because FCA had simply blown untold millions on a disastrous marketing effort on the Super Bowl, and it was embarrassing.

But nothing prepared me for the out-and-out disaster that was “” for the new Ram truck which, more than any other spot, spoke to Olivier Francois’s unbridled hubris and woefully flawed thinking. The release from FCA was telling, in that it said the 60-second spot was filmed in Iceland “to ensure authenticity, given the country’s natural and heroic scenery, which was complimented by its low light and frigid look.” Really? What they should have said is that “the agency came up with an idea that would burn an atrocious amount of cash and give everyone a free trip to Iceland” because that would have been closer to the truth. Tell me what the net takeaway of this spot was supposed to be again? Anyone? Bueller? It wasn’t clever in the least and it wasn’t heroic by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, it was an overblown, overhyped, self-indulgent mess; and an egregious waste of time and money and a pathetic misuse of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” to boot. This is exactly the type of spot that gives the advertising profession a bad name. Nicely done, you unmitigated hacks.

And finally, there was one spot – out of five – from FCA that was actually worth seeing. The “” spot for the new Wrangler was brilliant in its 30 seconds of simplicity, actually demonstrating the romance of capability in an immediate, powerful way. 

Directed by Jeff Zwart (RadicalMedia) for Arnold Worldwide, the voice-over was spare and to the point: “How many car ads have you seen with grandiose speeches over the years … making claims to some overarching human truth? Companies call them ‘manifestos’. There’s your manifesto.”

It’s funny, but those words slam Olivier Francois right between the eyes. Spots with grandiose speeches making claims to some overarching truths? Those are exactly the kinds of spots that light Olivier Francois’s fire and speak to his massive ego, only this time the joke is on him. Nicely done, in this case. 

There were other auto spots on the Super Bowl, but they were all instantly forgettable, a mishmash of messages and non-messages that signified nothing. (The Kia spot with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler for the Stinger was a complete waste of time and money, with a USA Today cover wrap, too, in case you missed it. That Kia marketing operatives continue to think they’re going to move the needle with that car is astounding and remains one of the current mysteries of the marketing world.)

Ah well, there is no accounting for taste in the ad biz. When marketing and agency types get it right, it’s pretty damn great; but when it all goes horribly wrong, it’s excruciating and embarrassing. 

Olivier Francois’s considerable ego got in the way this time around. In fact, it blinded him to the point that after spending massive amounts of money on five spots for the Super Bowl, only one was worth the time of day. 

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

SELLING AIR TAKES ON A NEW URGENCY IN THE MOTOR CITY, PLUS FIVE (EXASPERATING) HIGH-OCTANE TRUTHS.- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2018/1/29/selling-air-takes-on-a-new-urgency-in-the-motor-city--fi.htmlEditor2018-01-29T20:44:01Z2018-01-29T20:44:01ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Now that the auto show hoopla and manufactured hype from the associated events has cooled, it’s clear to me that the ugly reality of this business has set in – yet again – and it is cold and unforgiving.

The reality for the collective “Detroit” is that it finds itself right back where it was before the temporary euphoria of the auto show clouded otherwise semi-rational auto executives’ thoughts. Yes, for a moment everything was beautiful, but add up the sum total of the content in the speeches and bloviating that went on in Detroit over the last two weeks, and it amounts to pretty much nothing. 

The evidence of the nothingness that went on in the Motor City was rampant. Here is a sampling of those (paraphrased) thoughts. Fill in your favorite car company as you see fit: 

“We feel that we are clearly positioned to take advantage of the transportation future, no matter what direction it takes.” 

“We are making massive investments in electrification and autonomy, which will hammer our balance sheet in the short term, but we should be good about three to five years from now.” 

“We are buying companies left and right in order to accumulate intellectual property, which will protect us in the connected future.”

“We are preparing for the day when the automobile will supplant the smartphone as the life platform of the future, and we aim to play a pivotal role in this development.”

A lot of the blue-sky pronouncements made in Detroit over the previous two weeks went beyond the usual blather, because the level of delusional thinking being projected was downright scary. The Pope of Silicon Valley – Elon Musk – can get away with it because, well, Wall Street is enamored with anyone who bends reality for their own financial gain; it’s the gift that just keeps on giving. But auto executives spewing their views on the autonomous future and their companies’ role in it? Uh, not so much. Why? Because it comes off as an egregious form of audio-visual desperation, like freshly energized-for-no-reason nerds trying to be like the cool kids in high school. Projecting manufacturing-centric automobile companies as the solution for our transportation future is extremely difficult image-wise, especially when Silicon Valley theorists and people who specialize in “selling air” for a living are writing the “rules.” (More on this later.)

With that in mind then, here are Five High-Octane Truths about the car business right now that jumped out at me over the last couple of weeks:

1. Data is not the new oil. The car companies in a headlong rush to accumulate data on consumers are kidding themselves and it’s a fool’s errand. This goes back to the idea that some well-meaning executives actually believe down to their monogrammed shirts that the connected automobile will supplant the cell phone as the personal communication device of the future. They envision an idealistic, Shiny Happy Future where our automobiles remember our favorite restaurants, our favorite place for a cup of coffee, our favorite dry cleaners, the best place for organic snacks and so on, and that somehow this knowledge will drive owner loyalty and revenue back to the automakers that will translate into untold billions in profit. But the idea that we will all just lap this up like there’s no tomorrow is ridiculous. The automobile will never replace the cell phone on the human connectivity scale, because that ship has sailed. The auto manufacturers creating huge data farms in order to glean countless bits of information about consumers that in their minds will change the world are in for a rude awakening. This is unmitigated horseshit on a grand scale, folks, and the car companies who are immersing themselves in this pursuit are in for a rude awakening.

2. The UAW is toast. The ugliness of the pay-to-play scandal that has grabbed this business by the scruff of the neck is not going away anytime soon. In fact, it is growing, with more indictments expected. The news that FCA officials paid more than $1.5 million to UAW officials and employees to sway union contract negotiations is part of a wider $4.5 million corruption scandal involving the foreign-owned automaker. The Feds said last week that the FCA executives’ actions were intended to corrupt UAW contract negotiations to favor Fiat Chrysler and that the corruption was more widespread than previously disclosed. In fact it lasted for years. Perhaps this type of payola may be standard operating procedure in Corporate Italia, but it doesn’t fly here, and with the UAW on very thin ice as it is, the outcry from the rank and file is growing louder by the day. Wouldn’t be ironic if on Sergio’s way out of town his henchmen were responsible for destroying the UAW too?

3. Are these guys really that stupid? Why yes, yes they are. The news, reported by the Stuttgarter Zeitung newspaper and Bloomberg, that the Volkswagen Group, Daimler and BMW sponsored tests that exposed 25 people as well as monkeys to diesel exhaust fumes – which can cause respiratory illness and cancer – at a clinic used by the University of Aachen, rocked the auto world on Monday. The report, citing annual reports from the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector, or EUGT, which closed last year, followed a report from the The New York Times that confirmed the tests using monkeys. Daimler immediately condemned the experiments “in the strongest terms” but, really? As in WTF? Were theses companies that driven to save the Diesel that they would acquiesce to such nonsense, or were they just following orders?

4. The Answer to the Question that Only a Few People Are Asking. The mid-size truck segment is as flat as a pancake, yet Ford and Jeep are jumping in (albeit in over a year) to go up against the Toyota Tacoma, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Honda Ridgeline and the Nissan Frontier. What gives, exactly? Is the demand there? Not really, but the automakers playing in that segment are afraid of being left behind. Of what, I’m not really sure. If a car company really wanted to make a splash in this segment it would come in with a product entry that was bare bones and priced aggressively, costing thousands less. That’s not happening and it’s the wrong move.

5. Buick’s station wagon to nowhere. Buick operatives are positively giddy about its new Regal TourX, its “don’t-call-it-a-station-wagon-call-it-a-crossover” entry into the market, insisting that they will attract buyers from Audi, Subaru and Volvo, except that I can assure you that buyers/drivers of those cars are about as likely to visit a Buick showroom as the Lions are of winning the Super Bowl next year, no matter what Buick marketing operatives have talked themselves into believing. On the one hand I can actually appreciate the kind of unbridled optimism displayed in small doses here, but on the other hand I recoil at the sheer, flat-out lunacy and delusional thinking. In fact it’s frightening when you spend too much time thinking about it. 

Aw well… getting back to this aforementioned “selling air” business. It’s not that auto executives aren’t proficient in “selling air,” some are quite adept at it as a matter of fact, but still, suggesting that the automobile manufacturers can pivot with a dramatic certainty and become technology companies overnight is simply not going to happen and is a totally unrealistic notion. 

And frankly, they don’t have to either. Instead of trying to become something they’re not and will never be, the auto companies need to maximize their expertise in manufacturing and mass production and be an essential part of the solution for our transportation future without being marginalized into irrelevance by it.

But this is anathema to the current "Detroit” mindset. How dare I have the temerity to suggest that the collective “Detroit” doesn’t have the talent or the wherewithal to compete in this arena, right? Let’s back that up a bit because this is not what I’m saying. There’s no question that the talent in this region is prodigious (as the denizens of Silicon valley have become well aware of). What I am saying is that yes, of course, “Detroit” could become experts in this arena well down the road, but at what ultimate cost? Does that mean “Detroit” should subjugate its knowledge accrued over a century to all of a sudden become what they really don’t have to be, or should be?

The short answer? No. We are going to be living with cars and trucks powered by ICEs (Internal Combustion Engines); Hybrid electric vehicles with ICEs; and Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) for decades to come. Let me say that again, for decades to come. Yes, autonomous and ultra-connected vehicles will play a role in the overall transportation equation going forward, but it will not be the dominant role. Instead, their impact will be confined to urban centers, delivery vehicles, and other select situations where favorably applicable

Does this suggest that the car companies throwing around money like drunks at a bottler’s convention in the hopes of catching up to Silicon Valley is a smart strategy? Are car companies that ignore their areas of expertise in the hopes of being part of a transformative transportation initiative guaranteed untold riches and success? Clearly they are not.

The automobile companies who keep things in perspective going forward will be the ones that survive, plain and simple. The auto companies that get caught up in the frenzy will be crippled if not eliminated all together.

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

THE DETROIT AUTO SHOW IS DEAD. NOW WHAT?- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2018/1/22/the-detroit-auto-show-is-dead-now-what.htmlEditor2018-01-22T19:07:17Z2018-01-22T19:07:17ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Yes, I can hear well-intentioned people all across this city choking on their cornflakes right about now. How could I? How could I knock the one event that – allegedly – defines this city? How could I have the temerity to suggest that the one big event in this town every year has somehow lost its focus and lost its way and no longer serves its purpose?

It’s easy, actually, because the Detroit Auto Show has been on a downward spiral for years now, and to pretend otherwise is exactly the particularly pungent form of head-in-sand thinking that has brought us to this point. And this goes far beyond renaming the show, although the hoary “North American International Auto Show” moniker has been a joke for at least five years, if not more. No, this goes to the very core of what’s wrong with what once was a must-see auto show. 

Way back when, the Detroit Auto Show started out as a strictly regional show created by the local dealer associations to generate buyer interest in January and February, the two worst sales months of the year. And it plodded along just fine in that role. The pivot came about when industry leaders grew tired of seeing the big shows – Frankfurt, Paris, Geneva – garner all of the headlines and all of the attention. This was the Motor City, damn it, and we deserved to have an elevated stature for our auto show befitting the Motor Capital of the World, or so the thinking went at the time. Thus the new name with heavy emphasis on the word “international” made its debut in 1989 and it was good, at least for a while, anyway.

In fact, it was as if the NAIAS moniker was enough for everybody involved, that now that the once local car show had gone international, it had earned its rightful place on the annual auto show calendar, and it would just rumble along unencumbered and unthreatened by challenges and challengers, no matter where they came from. But this business – big surprise – is constantly changing and boiling, which is why I have semi-affectionately named it the “swirling maelstrom.” And the Detroit Auto Show clearly hasn’t changed with it.

The first discordant notes came with the timing of the Los Angeles Auto Show, and for years balancing the L.A. and Detroit shows, which bumped against each other on the calendar, was a real problem. But then the L.A. show was moved to November so that crisis was averted, at least temporarily. Then new headwinds laid waste to the Detroit show. First of all, the emergence of the Consumer Electronics Show as a place where automobile companies wanted to see and be seen caught everyone associated with the Detroit show completely off guard. Yes, it corresponded with the digitizing of the known world and the automobile’s important role in all of that but all of a sudden the CES, which came just a week before the Detroit Auto Show, was completely stealing the Detroit show’s thunder.

But there was another emerging factor that proved to be equally as damaging to the Detroit Auto Show, if not more so, and that is the fact that automobile companies began skipping the Detroit show altogether. The reasons given were costs – putting on a major auto show display is extravagantly expensive – and marketing, as in what were the most important markets for certain manufacturers, and did the Detroit Auto Show really work with what they were trying to do? And clearly the answer to those questions didn’t work in the Detroit show’s favor. 

As an example of this let’s take Porsche, for instance. Porsche’s largest sales market globally is the state of California, no other market is even close in fact (although China is gaining steam). The other important market for Porsche is the northeast, especially in terms of the media attention generated at the New York International Auto Show. So Porsche made a business decision based on the most important sales markets here in the U.S., and Detroit (and Michigan) just didn’t make the cut. 

The Detroit show organizers downplayed the decision by Porsche (and the decisions by other auto manufacturers that decided to skip the show) and went along, business as usual, but the result is that for the last several years the show floor at Cobo Hall has been punctuated by black holes, spaces that were left empty by no-show auto manufacturers. Now, there has been attempt by show organizers to fill those spaces with supplier displays, but the bold-faced effect is that the Detroit Auto Show now looks and acts like a second-tier show.

And make no mistake, it is.

Yes, the show organizers have made an attempt at counteracting the CES by beating the drums for its “AUTOMOBILI-D” but who’s kidding whom here? Even though this region is one of the technical hotbeds of the world, the notion that the show organizers can flip a switch and make the Detroit Auto Show a player in the mobility discussion overnight is naïve and grossly optimistic. And competing with CES? It’s just not going to happen.

So, with that background, what can be done? Here are a few comments and recommendations:

1. First order of business is to change the official name of the show to the Detroit Auto Show. This should have happened five years ago but it needs to happen now. 

2. Next, the Detroit Auto Show needs to move from its traditional January date to June, immediately following the IndyCar weekend at Belle Isle. I am tired of hearing the media attendees at the press days complain about the weather. But I’m not tired of what they’re saying – because it’s dead accurate – I’m tired of hearing about it because it can be easily addressed with some calculated planning. And all of the naysayers who insist that it can’t be done are exactly the reason that the Detroit Auto Show is stuck in neutral. Everything associated with the Detroit show right now – the media attention, the charity preview, the positive affects on the economy – can take place in June when visitors will not only take away a much better impression of this city, they can see this city in a completely new light.

3. If Detroit Auto Show organizers don’t take the first two steps, there is no hope whatsoever of this show ascending to the top tier of auto shows again. Right now the top tier consists of Frankfurt/Paris (conducted on alternate years, still the most important two shows on the calendar), Los Angeles (because of the importance of the vast California market), Geneva (small, but high-quality reveals and intros) and New York (in the media center of the U.S.). CES isn’t an auto show but it has decimated the Detroit show because of its position on the calendar. Chicago is a retail show, a place where consumers actually look over the vehicles they’re thinking of buying. So, where does that leave Detroit? How about floundering and gasping for air? Detroit isn’t important enough to be considered an “international” show anymore; in fact it has taken a giant step backwards to being a regional show for U.S.-based automakers again. No one wants to hear this, but it’s the reality that has unfolded over the last half-dozen years and to pretend otherwise is to function with a level of delusion that is simply not healthy for anyone.

4. And then there’s the notion that auto shows in general have outlived their usefulness. This isn’t an illusion. It’s not just Detroit that has lost its luster and lost manufacturers, other major shows have experienced some of this too. Global manufacturers have grown tired of the costs associated with mounting a proper effort because those costs have multiplied exponentially over the last decade, and they’re realizing that there are more creative ways of getting their message out to consumers. (I still believe in auto shows as a place where people can actually see, feel and touch the vehicles in question, and you only have to spend a few hours at the public days of a show to be reminded of this. And I hope that never goes away.)

The 2018 version of the Detroit Auto Show was a lackluster exercise almost completely devoid of excitement. A lot of people attributed that to the fact that there were not enough concept cars from the manufacturers and that made for a dull show. There is some truth to that. People go to movies for the escapism and entertainment. Similarly, when people go to auto shows – even those people connected to the various car companies and suppliers here who are beyond jaded – they like to kick the tires of the vehicles they could buy or dream to buy of course, but they also like to see creativity and blue-sky stuff. That was decidedly lacking in Detroit and it hurt the show tremendously.

I realize this will be a highly unpopular column around these parts (gee, there’s something new –WG), because if we go by what those in the local media have reported the 2018 Detroit Auto Show was another grand slam home run and runaway success. But this kind of “homerism” by the media is just kicking the can down the road. 

I will assure you that if the Detroit show organizers continue on their merry way – which is to do more of exactly the same – the show will become exactly what it started out to be, a localized show for the people in the industry and the local dealers.

Maybe that would suit some just fine, but not me. It’s not befitting of the Motor Capital of the World and it’s not representative of the talent and creativity that lives and works here.

The Detroit Auto Show as we know it is dead, long live the new Detroit Auto Show. 

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

UNBRIDLED OPTIMISM FOR NO APPARENT REASON, ASSORTED PHANTOM THREADS AND ENOUGH OFF-SITE REVEALS TO KILL THE WHOLE DAMN THING ALTOGETHER. YOU CALL THIS AN AUTO SHOW? TRUCK, YEAH!- ujian-nasional.infohttp://ujian-nasional.info/current/2018/1/16/unbridled-optimism-for-no-apparent-reason-assorted-phantom-t.htmlEditor2018-01-17T02:31:03Z2018-01-17T02:31:03ZBy Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. After being hammered with relentless frigid weather for a record twelve – count ‘em – days around these parts, the assembled multitudes comprised of the card-carrying carpal-tunnel-burdened wretches in the media (and assorted hangers-on of various stripes) descended on the Motor City for a few days of free booze, free food and some car reveals interspersed among the chaos of another Detroit Auto Show.  

With temperatures in the balmy teens and with a constant snowfall peppering the proceedings, once again the out-of-towners sentenced, err, sent, to Detroit could be heard asking themselves “why?” As in the immortal, “why me, why now?” that Nancy Kerrigan uttered when she was attacked in this very city 24 years ago. 

Ah well, enough of that. Complaining about the weather here and wishing the organizers would move the show to a more civilized time of year is a fool’s errand because it’s not going to change and it’s just not going to happen. We’re destined to endure this until the industry implodes from its own self-absorption or misguided meanderings, whichever comes first.

So let’s, shall we? 

Memo to car companies lost in the Cloud of What Could Be: You better pay attention to your core automotive business for the foreseeable future, because if you don’t, you won’t have to worry about What’s Next, because you’ll be What’s Gone. Speaking of misguided meanderings, the industry’s unwavering fascination with “What’s Next” is consuming all that is righteous and holy with this business. Normally levelheaded executives (at least as much as they can be) are so hell-bent on carving out a piece of the autonomous future for their companies that they’ve completely lost the plot. It’s fine to pontificate about the transportation landscape of the future, but the reality is much less sanguine. In fact it’s flat-out grim. With manufacturers developing well over a hundred BEVs (battery electric vehicles) for the market between now and 2022, the multi-billion-dollar question remains: Is the infrastructure going to be ready for anything close to what’s needed even under the very best scenario? How about, no? It isn’t even going to be close, in fact. So, the immediate future is gasoline-electric hybrids. That’s ICEs (Internal Combustion Engines) with electric motor support. It’s rational, it’s achievable, and it’s already here and deeply in play. As for the autonomous future, you can forget about it. We’re talking 20 years away, and even by then it will be only in severely limited use.  

A new level of stupid, brought to you by BMW. BMW opened its press conference with a video of an eight-hour drift that apparently set a new “Guinness World Record.” Yes, you read that correctly, as in, WTF? If there were any doubts out there that BMW has completely lost it, they were buried in one fell swoop. This was followed by a word from its CFO. Now, it doesn’t get any better than when a car company brings its finance guy up to bore everyone to death, I mean, really. (You’d be better off if you had your PR minions hand out forks so people could stick themselves in the eye at that point.)  And this guy didn’t disappoint. But when I heard the words “our clear strategic focus…” drone-drone-drone and “we deliver on our promises…” drone-drone-drone, it was most definitely time to leave. The media was just an afterthought at these proceedings apparently, because BMW was clearly preaching to its dealers at this press conference. And then after covering BMW’s entire product portfolio, from electric scooters and motorcycles to MINI – tah-dah! - they rolled out the relentlessly uninspired X2 to collective yawns. At that point it was please help us all and you have to be frickin’ kidding me. To top it all off, BMW had more models strewn around than I even thought possible, verifying the fact that they are trying to cover every niche out there, both real and mostly imagined. The net-net of it all was a boiling sea of confusion and a clear indication that BMW has decided that its product strategy is “let’s throw everything we got up against the wall and see what sticks.” Lovely. 


The BMW X2.

Move it along, folks, there’s absolutely nothing to see here. Acura unveiled its new RDX prototype, and I must say, I’ve never seen more people with ADD in one place in my life, either that or the crowd was so bored with what they were seeing that they started staring at their phones and tapping away immediately. Why, you might ask? Because the lack of inspiration was palpable and the “new” about the RDX was hard to discern. Wait, were we lost and had we stumbled upon the Infiniti press conference instead? Good thing Acura had an NSX as well as one of its new Acura Prototype racers for the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship there; at least people could wander off and see something worth looking at.  


The Acura RDX Prototype. 

Yes, they look cobbled together and unfinished, what’s your point? Hyundai introduced its Veloster N and it became apparent to me that between this car and the Honda Civic Type R the Angry Ant School of Design has completely taken over the hot hatch market (the Veloster is going to make its debut in Marvel Studios “Ant-Man and The Wasp” so maybe that has something to do with it – see below). Don’t tell me about the performance of these cars because they’re so painful to look at that it’s borderline depressing. This isn’t a function-over-form thing, either. These machines look cobbled together and unfinished. And that’s being kind. There has to be a better way.


The 2019 Hyundai Veloster N. 


We’re in search of a look. Anyone? Bueller? Nissan has been flopping and floundering about when it comes to design for so long that we gave up hope that they’d ever emerge from The Darkness a long time ago. This is the latest attempt by Nissan to come up with a new SUV design language, the Xmotion Concept. Here it is in a few words: Chunky. Aggressive. Busy. Ungainly. Needs More Work. And Trying Too Hard. (At least the interior was weirdly cool.) Combine this with the fact that the assembled Nissan production models on the show floor were so tedious and uninspired that they were instantly forgettable, and nothing has really changed when it comes to Nissan. I hesitate to say that they need to go back to the drawing board/computer screen and start over, because they always seem to peg the Wince Meter when they do. Ah well, not everyone can have it goin’ on in this business.


The Nissan Xmotion Concept.



It’s about trucks, it has always been about trucks, and it will always be about trucks. The new Chevrolet Silverado, the new Ram from FCA, and of course the all-conquering, King Kong Ford F-150 represent more R&D, engineering firepower, technical know-how, sheer imagination and ingenuity than any other mainstream products in this business. Oh, yeah, and more profits, too, as in lots and lots of cold hard cash. The pickup truck segment is The Straw That Stirs The Drink in this business, and the first manufacturer to forget that fact will be doomed to a life of misery. You can talk about autonomy and “future cities” all you want, but this is where the action will be in this business for a long, long time to come. As for the new trucks, it’s more of the same for Silverado, only better in every way. And the Ram is also better, but FCA designers took a more conservative turn in its front-end design, which may not please Ram loyalists. Yet, who’s kidding whom here? They’re going to crank ‘em out and sell them hand-over-fist. That’s how America rolls.


The new Chevrolet Silverado (see more in “On The Surface”). 


The new Ram.

It may be a well too far, but it’s our well, damnit. Amidst its future cities discussion led by Professor Hackett, Ford introduced a new Bullitt to the Mustang Faithful. Appropriately tricked out in Dark Highland Green, the limited-edition Mustang Bullitt features a 5.0-liter V8 with 475HP and 420 lb.-ft. of torque and has a top speed of 163 mph. The Mustang Bullitt has subtle chrome accents and the interior highlights include a white cue ball shifter, 12-inch all-digital LCD instrument cluster and available RECARO® black leather-trimmed seats with unique green accent stitching. That’s all fine and dandy, but the real issue here is how much longer can Ford go to the Mustang Bullitt well? The demographic interested in this machine is, to be charitable, dying off, but apparently Ford thinks it’s worth doing one more Bullitt, one more time. Will there be a next one? I would be surprised, as the people interested in nostalgia rods are going to be gone with the wind. The other big news for Ford at the show was the introduction of the new Ranger mid-size pickup (see pics in “On The Surface” –WG). By all accounts a fine effort, but there may be trouble on the horizon. First of all, there is no question that the Ranger will cannibalize F-150 sales; that’s just inevitable. Secondly, the growth potential of the mid-size truck market itself is questionable; in fact it will probably be miniscule. And finally, the Ranger won’t be out until one full year from now, which adds up to a mid-size pickup bed of Not Good.


The 2019 Mustang Bullitt.

That’s all well and good, but we’re going to need a lot of NZT to get past that front end. Lexus PR minions waxed eloquently about the new Lexus LF-1 Limitless SUV concept, saying, “Like molten metal being forged into a fine Japanese sword, the lines of the Lexus LF-1 Limitless concept have the potential to shape the future of a flagship luxury crossover for Lexus.” It does have a beautifully rendered profile and side sculpting, and the back end is very nice, especially with its avant-garde taillight design, but then it goes completely off the rails when you get around to the front end. Maybe they needed more molten hot magma from Dr. Evil, or, sticking to the movie theme, a whole bunch of NZT from Limitless. At any rate, an excellent effort from Lexus designers that almost hit it out of the park. 


The Lexus LF-1 Limitless.



A dumb non-name, but a stunningly beautiful design effort from Infiniti. Yes, shocking, I know, a concept from the Nissan Empire that actually bristles with taste and style. The Infiniti Q Inspiration is a gorgeous-looking machine (albeit difficult to see in the photographs) that oozes an icy cool sex appeal from almost every angle. I say almost because the front end is a little challenging, but it’s not a big enough negative to mark down a superb overall design effort from Infiniti. Kudos to all involved. 


The Infiniti Q Inspiration.





“What’s the Point of Having Fuck You Money if You Never Say Fuck You?” Tough, improbably desirable, undeniably cool and a little nonsensical, the redesigned Mercedes-Benz G-Class was the one production-ready vehicle at the show that people couldn’t get enough of or say enough about. I spent 30 minutes around this vehicle at one point and the appeal was universal, with the typical comment being, “I’ve always wanted one of these.” Extremely well executed – especially the interior - but pricey and out of reach for 99 percent of the consumer-buying public, the G-Class is a flat-out hit nonetheless.


The Mercedes-Benz G-Class.



Other quick takes? The new VW Jetta is very nice, at least for the people who actually want a car. The new VW Tiguan is worth a closer look if you’re interested in that kind of vehicle. The Corvette ZR1 looks sensational in the flesh. The Lexus LC 500 Coupe is the closest thing to having a concept car on the street and it still looks great from any angle. The Jeep Wrangler looks like a Jeep with more stuff, and the Jeep Cherokee is a decent refresh. There was more at the show (the dancers at the GAC reveal were special), but not important enough to mention here.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on my favorite carpetbagging mercenary, one Sergio “I’m the G.O.A.T” Marchionne. He had yet another storytelling time with the media at the Detroit show, whereupon he crowed in no uncertain terms that he now has no plans to sell FCA, or split up FCA for sale, or anything of the kind. 

Not so fast. 

Marchionne is all fat, sassy and happy with the profits rolling in from selling Jeeps and Ram trucks, but remember one thing about Sergio, he’s a brilliant deal maker. This “FCA is off the table” is a negotiating tactic, pure and simple. FCA doesn’t have a plan to speak of – even though Sergio is supposedly going to release one – beyond 2020. Make no mistake, if a company comes up with the money – around $20 billion or thereabouts – Sergio will turn the lights off and head to Metro Airport so fast it will make your head spin.

There was a lot of grumbling among the assembled media that the spread of off-site events on Saturday and Sunday made the actual media days on Monday and Tuesday superfluous. In fact several commented to me that if this trend continues then the media days should be cancelled altogether and the media commitment should be confined to the weekend. I can’t say that I disagree. It’s pretty much a Dead Air Circus on Tuesday, (although the new IndyCar reveal on Tuesday morning was worth it), so something has to give. As I said earlier, moving the show on the calendar seems to be so daunting that every time I bring it up people run screaming from Cobo Hall. And that’s too bad because I heard more bitching about the weather from the out-of-towners this year than any other year.

But using off-sites to conduct the media days exclusively isn’t a foolproof solution either. GM has fallen into the very bad habit of importing “brand enthusiasts” to their press conferences, which generates lots of wild applause and cheering whenever a product is revealed or something is said that portrays the product in a winning light, but it basically gets in the way of having a media event. (The Chevrolet Silverado event at Eastern Market was a perfect example of this.) In fact it blows it up entirely. I think GM should rename their press conferences “brand events” and be done with it; at least the media wouldn’t have any illusions about what they’re being invited to.  

The Detroit Auto Show, version 2018, wasn’t quite the same as it ever was, but it wasn’t exactly riveting either. I guess somewhere in between will have to do for now, at least until the powers that be get a new idea.

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