By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. It was 23 years ago to the day that first appeared on the Internet. Fueled by my fundamental frustration with the auto biz as it was being practiced here back then and utilizing my family background – which included being immersed in this business from and during its heyday – became a singular voice for change in this business, one that remains influential to this day.
Frustration isn’t quite an accurate description of my state of mind back then, because I was furious at what the business had become. What was once a passionate endeavor with the giants of automotive history roaming the earth, wielding their power and influence while spurring the True Believers to do great things had been reduced to an automotive version of “small ball.” The fun of the business had given way to a particular form of drudgery that was excruciating to bear, because the business had become overrun by spineless weasels, recalcitrant twerps, no-talent demigods, two-bit hacks and more gutless hangers-on, sycophants and delusional one-hit wonders than your average record company convention. These Legions of The Talentless, dominated by a stifling, cover-your-ass mindset, were accelerating Detroit’s pirouette into abject mediocrity, which would lead to its ultimate demise. 
And it pissed me off.
As we stated from the beginning, wouldn’t be for everyone, especially in this company town. In fact, the only company town in the same league as Detroit is Hollywood, and that’s saying a lot. As longtime readers know, I wrote the original manifesto for Autoextremist in 1986. It was going to be a new car magazine aimed at enthusiasts that wouldn’t accept advertising so we could blow the lid off the business and say what needed to be said. But my ad career got in the way and by the time I had had enough with “the biz” the Internet provided the opportunity we needed to get it going.
And on the morning of June 1, 1999, that very first issue of opened with the following statement:
The Bare-Knuckled, Unvarnished, High-Octane Truth.
You’ve come here for a reason. You’re either curious, bored, or in some internet-fueled haze that’s taken over your body and turned you into a quivering jellyfish that has lost all concept of time and space. Well, for whatever the reason, welcome. I’m not going to sit here and make promises about what will or won’t do for you. I will say, however, that you will not read anything like it when it comes to the weird world of automobiles, because the people here are the most committed automotive enthusiasts in the world. So much so, that we operate in a dimension that other so-called “car people” find bewildering and even frightening. The Truth will do that to people. Especially in Detroit, which is one of the strangest places on earth…
And from that point on we were off to the races. We noticed something weird happening with the automotive media right away. Journalists were poring over the website because we were writing the kind of hard-hitting stuff that they could only imagine having the freedom to do. (And they freely helped themselves to story ideas from AE while they were at it.) In the first three months of AE, I worked at my last ad agency by day and cranked out by night and on weekends with my longtime editor and ad colleague – and tremendously talented writer in her own right – Janice Putman (aka Wordgirl) with me every step of the way. became my crusade. It combined my living, breathing childhood experiences – which gave me a historical perspective others could only dream about – with more than two decades of in-the-trenches battles with the marketing, advertising and product troops who made the decisions that inexorably affected Detroit’s course, and contributed to the inevitable demise of the Motor City as we knew it. 
From Day One, the real essence of was the fact that we said what others in the media were merely thinking or would only discuss in “deep background” and in “off-the-record” conversations. was not only a labor of love for me personally, it became an influential force to be reckoned with in this industry with an impact far beyond my wildest imagination. Taking this town and this business by the scruff of its neck and trying to shake some sense into it proved to be, at times, exceedingly difficult, always enlightening, terribly frustrating, wildly exhilarating and every conceivable emotion in between. I never thought it would be easy, not by a long shot. How could it be? After all, this is the most heavily guarded, painfully conservative, religiously self-important, myopically reasoned, carefully orchestrated and minutely calculated business in the world. 
But I never thought it would be quite like it was, either. I never thought “The High-Octane Truth” would elicit such wildly divergent responses from everybody, but it sure did. And I certainly never thought that simply telling it like it is would be such a controversial and explosive venture. When I decided to expose everyone from the fakes to the scammers, the bright lights to the schemers, the ones with the brains to the ones still in search of one, I knew I was venturing into hostile waters, but I was bound and determined to say what needed to be said. And over the past 23 years I’ve learned one irrefutable truth: It’s far easier to criticize the U.S. Government than it is to criticize the insulated sacred cows of the auto business.
To say the automobile business has changed dramatically over these past two-plus decades is a supreme understatement. Detroit’s car companies went from being totally clueless, to starting to claw their way back into the game (at least to a certain degree), to veering toward almost total collapse, to finally struggling to resurrect themselves. Zero to oblivion, to back from the brink, in a little over two decades, basically.
But there’s another dimension to the unprecedented industry upheaval that we’ve experienced while doing too. We are now witnessing the automotive universe undergoing a seismic, “Grand Transition” to battery electric vehicles. And in the midst of this upheaval, I am sorry to report that there are some in this country who believe that the continued erosion of the U.S. manufacturing base is no big deal, that we can exist just swimmingly fine as a Starbucks Nation of consumer zombies who devour everything in sight but who don’t actually make anything of value. But if we as a country lose the ability to manufacture things and lose the ability to successfully compete globally with our heavy industries, the end result will be that we will become a second-tier nation, which would be the quintessential definition of Not Good. 
Suffice to say a lot has happened in this business, in this country and around the world since 1999. But one of the most fundamental changes – if not the most when it comes to this country at least – is that the domestic automobile industry that’s embodied in the one-word moniker “Detroit” will never be the same again. And that’s a very good thing, from where I sit. But the battle continues between the anti-car zealots trying to force this country into a future fraught with restrictions and reduced expectations, while the auto industry races to transform itself to meet a new level of environmental responsibility. One side demanding total capitulation and annihilation, the other side embedded in reality trying to respond to a challenge that will actually benefit the country. One hundred and eighty degrees apart doesn’t even begin to cover it.
It’s easy to question the automobile’s future role in this maniacally whipsawed environment. A lot of the “anti-” people are insisting that the automobile will never have the same impact, will never enjoy the mass acceptance of large swaths of the American population and will never hold sway over the American consumer consciousness like decades past.
But I vehemently disagree.
Personal mobility is a powerful concept, and the freedom it brings to people cannot be overstated. And it will remain that way too. Yes, in our urban city centers compromises must and will be reached. But this is a vast country, and people will still want to roam to the far reaches of it. And the automobile – newly reinvigorated and environmentally cleansed – will still play an integral role in America’s everyday life for a long, long time to come. 
And so here we are, 23 years later. What started out with the simple premise of me having something to say and needing a forum to say it has turned into one of the most influential publications of its kind. We set out to “influence the influencers” with – as we often said in the early days – and we did exactly that. And we’re still doing it today, albeit with a much larger audience and with much greater impact, nationally and even internationally. 
To say that I’m extremely grateful for what has become goes without saying. But to imply that the past 23 years have gone by in an instant or that doing this has been in any way easy or some sort of cakewalk doesn’t even come close to conveying how difficult it is to create to the standards we set for ourselves every single week. The reality is that it has been a relentlessly intense grind of unimaginable scope and ferocity, day in and day out. 
Would I have it any other way? Of course not. Anything worth doing is worth doing well and in my case, flat-out too.
I have had the pleasure of bringing my thoughts and perspectives to you every week, and it has been an honor to do so. I have made countless new friends and gotten to know interesting colleagues here and around the world in the process. 
And it has been a wildly gratifying ride.
I have plenty of people to thank. They’re running car companies, in the media, at ad agencies, shooting commercials, in racing, and just friends and readers who have been there for us every step of the way. Rather than list everyone I will just say you know who you are, and I want you all to know that I am sincerely appreciative for all of the support and kind words you have given us over the last 23 years.
In closing, I think it’s important to point out that in the face of a business that grows more rigid, regulated and risk averse by the day, there are still lessons to be learned and new heights to achieve. 
If anything, we must remember what really matters in this business above all else – and that is to never forget the essence of the machine – and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams. 
And that in the course of designing, engineering and building these machines everyone needs to aim higher and push harder with a relentless, unwavering passion and love for the automobile that is so powerful and unyielding that it can’t be beaten down by committee-think or buried in bureaucratic mediocrity. 
Thanks for listening and going along for the ride.
Now it’s time to carry on.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth, 23 years later.

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