No. 946
May 16, 2018

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The Sound of Silence.

Your comments about Porsche made me think of NASCAR and F1. Why? Because the whole allure of racing and the car culture revolved around sound. Yes, speed, handling, racing victories and the danger of someone getting hurt all played a role too, but ultimately it comes down to sound. Think of a Harley-Davidson without the trademark sound. Think of a Ferrari without the wail. Think of a Porsche without the flat 6 purr. Think of a Mustang without the 5.0 or whatever V8 sound, a Camaro without the small block burble, a Challenger without the Hemi roar. A Formula 1 car without the 18K RPM scream or a NASCAR vehicle without the thunder? Etc. Etc. Etc. Electrification by default will erase those memories from us who remember and the young ones will mostly never be a party to those incredible sounds that cars made. I am in the audio visual business. Having one without the other is the same as the car business is going through. Without the distinctive sounds associated with cars, along with looks that are not die cut from the same press, means that cars will become the appliances that most people seem to want nowadays. Dammit! I'm a CAR GUY and I cannot tell you how many times something goes by and without seeing the badge, it could be any vehicle. Sucks. At least we can stare at our phones. Me, I'll stare at my 18-year-old Porsche and then go for a drive.

Budd Lake, New Jersey

Standard of Lust.

Cadillac ought to be able to define luxury, American style. They definitely need to go their own way. Much of their recent show car design language would scale up nicely as luxury crossovers. As has been pointed out on these pages, they have some of the best names available either from the past (Eldorado, Fleetwood) or recent concept cars. Cadillac should have styling and a presence that makes people stop, stare, and envy the person behind the wheel. Elegance with a touch of in your face American arrogance. The Escalade is the only one that comes close. Their show cars nail it. They already build cars that are objectively as good as any; cars we would only have imagined they would make during the dark days of the bustle back Seville and the V8-6-4. Nobody's buying. “Standard Of The World”? Lets start with the “Standard of Lust”.

Brian Daniels
East Nassau, New York

Congratulations to Roger Penske.

Thanks for reminding us that Roger beat my personal hero Dan Gurney on multiple occasions. I think that simple statement along with Roger's success over time just illustrates that we have been lucky to see an absolute master at work for over 50 years.

Jack W.
Roswell, Georgia

Getting out while the getting is good.

My thoughts were that the France family sale of NASCAR had nothing to do with the sport or the family honor and everything to do with the billions Liberty Media paid for Formula 1. Time to cash out for big bucks before it was worthless!

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Don't forget Subaru.

You forgot to mention Subaru, the company that is eating Fords lunch by using the game plan that Volvo apparently discarded. A “small” auto company surpassing Ford at EVERY level...

Detroit, Michigan

Editor-in-Chief's Note: I didn't forget Subaru, but this week's column wasn't supposed to be part of our annual Brand Image Meter column, where I discuss almost every brand. That column is coming up soon. -PMD


Less than mediocre.

Regarding GM, I don’t understand all the praise they and their leader, Mary Barra, receive. Since Ms. Barra took over, the stock has declined from above $40 to $37 or so. Heck, it’s about where it was at the IPO years back. During that same time, the S&P has made major gains. And, during that time GM has spent billions on share buybacks. Yes, their earnings are strong. But are they really winning? I think not, as they withdraw from markets and see their global market share decline. Doesn’t seem like a company positioning itself for long term sales, share and profit growth, but rather exclusively short term profits.

Regarding Ford. What a mess. Apparently the departure of Mulally has uncovered their need for adult supervision and real, legitimate, executive leadership talent. They too, don’t have it.

The U.S. automakers, Ford, and GM, just don’t seem to have confidence in the business that they are in. They are slow to innovate. They are easily distracted to side projects, especially GM. Why not just focus on actually designing and building the best products in the world that the most people want to buy. I’ve got news for you, there are a lot of people wanting to and who will want to continue wanting to buy a vehicle of their own.

Somewhere along the line, America convinced itself that people don’t want to buy stuff. So we stopped making a lot of stuff we used to make. Mistake. People around the world buy stuff. Lots of stuff. This is what has propelled the Chinese economy past ours in PPP GDP over the last fifteen years and created huge amounts of jobs and wealth. Meanwhile, the U.S. just treads water.

Conclusion: The Detroit automotive industry is desperate for truly visionary, inspirational, and effective leadership. It is so bad, that less than mediocre is labeled as great.

Detroit, Michigan


Porsche’s future.

Regarding brand identity for Porsche while moving into an electric future, I think they can pull it off given two things.

First, they must retain some semblance of sport in their electric cars, otherwise they just disappear into the clutches of MB, BMW, and Audi. If they retain enough of an association with racing that their customers see sport in their products, then they have a distinction that only MB can match. Given that Porsche is associated and races primarily with the profile of the 911, they can likely retain that mantle. MB's dominance and deep association with F1 does not translate as well into road cars as does the 911 used in races all over the world.

Second, their electric cars must evoke all the same Porsche luxury and performance as the gas cars, save the sound. I see their clientele insisting on high performance as such and if they can continue to deliver that in electric cars, I don't see a problem. Given their history of thinking differently, and with a distant legacy in electrics (i.e., Dr. Porsche's early engineering work), one might be able to see success for them in this area in less difficult ways than the other manufacturers. At least they have the old photos to start a marketing campaign.

But, their customers don't suffer fools easily. To be successful, Porsche will need to be on top of their game. And their vehicles will need great style, performance, and luxury.


 Atlanta, Georgia 


As the Kaleidoscope Turns.

This week's rant brings out in stark terms the true face of the ‘swirling maelstrom’ that defines today's auto industry. I remember when buying a BMW came down to size: “Do I need the 5-Series, or will the 3-Series work for me?” Now it's SUVs, crossovers, hybrid powertrains and equally hybrid body styles (Sport Activity Vehicle anyone??) How is a company supposed to do what it does best in this environment? Having experienced first-hand the complexities of automotive product planning, I really do appreciate the challenges these people face and I think the tendency is to build as much as possible to fit into every product niche, throw it into the market and then see what sticks. It's an unimaginative – and also hugely expensive – way to gain (or protect) market share, but if you've got the cash its seems like a reasonable strategy. How else to explain the BMW X5 and X6? Ford, on the other hand, appears to be doing the opposite, which I think will end well for them, poor communications notwithstanding. Saving $20-$30 BILLION and focusing on making products people actually want to buy seems smart to me, and since most of their cars have European roots, and Europe is not yet ‘MPV’ crazy, it seems simple that, if the appetite for cars returns to these shores, adapting Euro spec cars for the US market seems a fairly straightforward prospect as Euro emissions and crash standards are comparable (if not more strict) than US standards.

And then there's Cadillac, building the best cars they've made in at least 40 years, with all of it looking like the question “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” Nobody cares because either nobody remembers, or nobody identifies today's vehicles with that storied marque. Porsche finds itself in a similar bind. An electric Porsche seems to be the equivalent of the short-lived Rolex quartz watches. The latter was an abject failure in the market because Rolex fans loved the MACHINE on their wrist, which was inextricably linked to the brand. A quartz timepiece in a Rolex case was seen as a fraud; a gussied-up Timex. Reliable and accurate, sure, but still not the same. Not even close. It remains to be seen if the former suffers the same fate. I wish Porsche well, but redefining a brand through revolutionary changes to the product is not easy – and history shows that it doesn't often end well.

Motown, DC and Other Places



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