By Peter M DeLorenzo
Detroit. Yes, the inexorable automotive march continues. To where, no one really knows for sure. The EV thing is definitely coming, and it will be coming over the next fifteen years. Make no mistake, the developments in battery technology, weight reduction and charging speed are unfolding at a furious pace, and the seemingly insurmountable problems of today will give way to radical solutions in seven to ten years.
In the meantime, the show pony EVs – the six-figure-plus vehicles of all stripes – will continue to dominate the headlines, but the tipping point will be when the more affordable mainstream EVs arrive. Even so, until the public charging infrastructure is dramatically improved – and steps are taken to anticipate and improve the supply of electricity – the EV “thing” is going to play out in fits and starts. As I’ve said many times before, when you can pull off the highway and get a 80 percent charge in five minutes or less, you will know that the EV “moment” has arrived.
Some have suggested to me that the High-Octane Truth will not survive that “moment.” But rest assured, that will not be the case. This business remains a kaleidoscope of vision, projection and yes, even the day-to-day mundane. That has been the reality of this business since its inception. And that will not change anytime soon.
And where does that leave AE?
Every now and then I think it’s an excellent idea to take a step back and remind people what this publication is all about. It’s good for the mind, it clears the air and it provides a moment of clarity for the lost souls wandering around in the automotive wilderness, the ones who can’t seem to separate the real from the imagined, or the pipe dreams from what’s truly important.
I find most of the confusion lies with the unfortunates who have managed to create their own very special fantasies about their place in this motorized circus. Because some of you out there seem to get confused, or some of you let your self-appointed “insider” view – which is loosely based on a remarkable propensity for self-delusion when it comes to your place in the automotive world – get in the way. Which is inherently sad, because learning to live in world of disappointment must be a particularly tedious cross to bear, but I digress.
As I’ve said repeatedly, this business isn’t for the faint of heart. And though it seems that there are still legions of recalcitrant twerps, two-bit hacks and spineless weasels running around out there who add nothing of import to the discussion and who pump up their self-worth for reasons that remain a mystery, the real essence of the business remains unsullied.
When we first contemplated doing Autoextremist, I wrote a manifesto for what it was and what it was not. Today it seems like a good time to update it, because some of you out there, as I said, seem to be confused.
First things first, and this is something that too many still find out the hard way – I’m talking to you, Elon –that designing, engineering and building automobiles is one of the most complicated endeavors on earth. And to do it properly takes vision, creativity and an unwavering passion that makes other pursuits seem positively ordinary.
Note that there is nothing in there about doing it just good enough to get by, engineering to the lowest common denominator, covering your ass or any of the other pillars of “standard operating procedure” that once dominated certain quarters of this business and have been, for the most part, purged.
Except that isn’t really true, unfortunately. All the bad old habits are still present and accounted for and then some, and as much as reasoned, logical and eminently bright executives in charge at these auto companies protest otherwise and insist that “we don’t do that stuff anymore,” that kind of bad behavior is just one wrong product or marketing decision away from rearing its ugly head, and usually at the most inopportune time too.
That’s what we do here in this publication, in case you haven’t noticed. We expose the go-along-to-get-alongs and the kick-the-can-down-the-road hordes on a regular basis, because the damage they cause can bring these companies to their knees in a heartbeat.
This is a key point in the Autoextremist Manifesto, because it resonates throughout this business. This just in: Mediocrity – in any way, shape or form – isn’t bliss. Instead, it’s an insidious disease that has not only decimated this industry, it has screwed up life as we used to know it too.
At some point this business – and American life – turned down the wrong path. Pushing the envelope, getting knocked down and picking yourself back up and going at it again, battling to the buzzer, and striving for achievement were part and parcel of the upward trajectory of the automobile business – and country – we used to live in. Achieving greatness wasn’t just a goal, it was an expectation to shoot for, because anything less would be, well, ordinary. And even worse, boring.
In the old days, this business often gave way to an unspoken attitude of just doing enough to get by because when it came right down to it, judging by the chorus of muttering I used to hear, doing more begged the question, “Does it really make all that much difference?” Back then, fundamental accountability was replaced by “It’s not my problem.” And “It’s okay, at least you tried” not only became more than just an acceptable phrase, but a mantra that too many people lived by. After all, when everyone got a group hug and a trophy just for showing up, why bother extending effort to do better, or achieve greatness, or strive to be the best?
Why bother, indeed.
The result? Abject mediocrity became a virulent disease in this business (and rampant throughout the country too). I recall some people saying to me (and with a straight face), “Get over it, it’s the world we live in today.” But I didn’t buy it then because it was simply unacceptable to me. And I’m not buying it now either, which is why I will continue to call people and companies out on it whenever and wherever I see it. It’s not a value-added path for this business, and it’s already proven not to be the answer for the country, either.
The stellar machines of our day – and we are living in the golden age of automotive greatness in case you haven’t noticed – aren’t the product of “it’s good enough.” Instead, these machines bristle with the passion, vision and commitment of the men and women who created them, those “True Believers” that I often write about. If it weren’t for them, this business would be riding on the Last Train to Nowhere, next stop, Oblivion.
Railing against mediocrity and mediocrity “creep” is an essential component of the Autoextremist Manifesto. And it’s not confined to the designing, engineering and building of automobiles, unfortunately.
The marketers at these car companies can be wildly suspect as well, too often taking the easy way out when the situation is just aching for a bold move. That they often end up taking the road frequently traveled rather than risk ruffling some feathers, even though their gut tells them the results will be well worth it, is a sad commentary. Because repackaged tedium stinks; it always has and it always will.
Are there exceptions and exceptional people involved in the marketing functions at these companies and their advertising agencies? Yes, absolutely. And thank goodness. The creative cream still rises to the top, and when it emerges in a bit of magic it is something to savor.
And let’s not forget the media, because mediocrity is prevalent there too. In fact, I maintain a reservoir of intense loathing for certain journalists on the auto beat who blithely sleepwalk through their coverage, performing rote regurgitations spoon-fed from the company PR staffs and calling it news (or even worse, writing) because after all, going-along-to-get-along is a lot easier than having their oftentimes clueless editors field a phone call from an irate PR minion who is upset about a story.
Ever wonder why there’s sameness to the coverage of the auto business? That you can plug and play stories from one publication to another and not see any difference? There’s a reason for it. It’s a lot easier to cover the auto companies the way they want you to, because going against the grain is difficult, because bad things happen to those who don’t toe the line.
Thankfully, there’s no danger of that happening here. Going against the grain is our specialty. It’s what we do best and why you keep coming back. I don’t say what people want me to say; in fact, as much as the mediocrity-brandishing hordes (oh, you know who you are, the recalcitrant twerps, the self-important hacks clinging to their little piece of the pie – and their dubious titles – by their fingernails, hoping to get out before being exposed for the worthless parasites they truly are, and of course the spineless weasels who continue to wreak their particular brand of righteous intransigence and havoc to the detriment of companies everywhere. Yeah, you) who are so protective of their pathetic little fiefdoms want me to sit down and be quiet – for good – the likelihood of that happening is slim. And none.
As a matter of fact, I’ve got really bad news for those who so wish I would just go away, because the Autoextremist Manifesto has been recharged and powered up to a new level of intensity.
You won’t find restrictor-plates, aero matching or “spec” anything around here.
For many, the kind of unflinching commentary that we specialize in is like a tonic for the soul in this swirling maelstrom of shit masquerading as the world we live in today.
As for the rest of you?
Well, it’s quite simple: You can’t handle the High-Octane Truth.
THE AUTOEXTREMIST MANIFESTO RECHARGED. — from Rants
By Peter M DeLorenzo