By Peter M. DeLorenzoDetroit. As hard as it is to believe, we find ourselves at the end of summer. It’s not so much a case of “just like that” as it is, really? For the record, 2022 hasn’t been a stellar year for anything, including the automobile industry. The Swirling Maelstrom – the name I coined for the continuing chaos roiling this business – has ramped up exponentially, and there are no signs of a slowdown anytime soon.The “Grand Transition” to a world of shiny, happy BEVs is proving to be fraught with peril. Automakers are chasing precious metals and nailing down key resources while trying to execute their various product plans. It’s everything-all-the-time, and it’s exposing deep challenges on multiple fronts. Sourcing components for batteries is one thing, actually producing them in volume is quite another. Battery plants are being assembled as swiftly as possible, but it’s still not quick enough. In fact, everything is taking too damn long. And right on cue, costs to actually produce EVs are accelerating rapidly. The noble notion of “affordable” EVs – except for a few instances – is still a couple of years away. Price increases are becoming a quarterly exercise, as manufacturers struggle to wring profits out of EVs that are exceeding cost targets at an alarming rate. In the meantime, we have various show pony EVs promising the sun, the moon and the stars – as long as you have 100 Grand and much more to spend.  For instance, the Lucid Air Grand Touring Performance BEV sedan ($179,000), which did hot laps at Laguna Seca last week, is a great snapshot of how ridiculous the hyper-luxury EV game is being played at the moment. This car places a serious amount of horsepower (819HP) in the hands of people who, for the most part, aren’t capable of exploiting its capabilities, to put it charitably. And I have a real problem with it. To put a finer point on things, most of the people with access to this machine should probably stand down. Because we’re not talking enthusiasts here, we’re talking about the well-heeled, first-on-the-block types who are more likely to wrap theses machines around a phone pole after day-drinking at the country club while showing off for friends. Trust me on this, it is a combustible combination and a recipe for disaster, and if I were Lucid operatives, I’d seriously rethink the direction they’re going.Add to all of this hand-wringing and consternation, California has just announced that by 2035 it will phase out the sale of nearly all new, gasoline-powered vehicles in the state. Not that this was entirely unexpected, because California has been telegraphing this move for some time now. Remember, we’re talking about the most influential state in the Union, which, when it comes to the environment, sets the tone for most of the nation. Most of the serious players in the auto industry are preparing for this move and are striving to build mostly EVs in an accelerated time frame, but make no mistake, California has just officially set the date for when the “Grand Transition” will be well and truly at hand.But in spite of all of this, it’s interesting to see articles still praising the automobile in these difficult times we find ourselves in. Cars and trucks are still an integral part of who we are, and there is no indication that this idea is cooling in the least. It’s as if we have rediscovered our American mobility culture that has powered this country for well over 100 years. The idea of finding yourself in the great outdoors or taking that one grand road trip you’ve been promising yourself for years is a Real Thing now. In fact, I have to laugh at this industry’s frantic product and marketing push to produce off-road ready machines of all stripes, even though the most challenging trek they will embark on is to the Costco Canyons or the Home Depot foothills.One refreshing development? It seemed like just yesterday that we were being inundated with tales of how ride sharing would rule our immediate future and autonomous pod cars that could be summoned at our whims would be de rigueur in the not-too-distant future. The anti-car zealots were rubbing their hands with glee at the imminent demise of the automobile, because those evil mobility devices responsible for all of the world’s sins – both real and imagined – would soon be relegated to the dustbin of history.
And then once the pandemic happened, all of a sudden, cars – with their unique social distancing properties built-in – were cool again. I for one am not surprised that this has happened. But it’s a good time to take a look at our car culture and ask a few pertinent questions.How did the car “thing” evolve from desiring faster horses, to the building of transportation that transformed the world? What propelled the automobile from being an extravagant convenience, to a cultural touchstone that’s such an inexorable part of the American fabric that even the most hostile of the anti-car hordes can’t seem to dampen our collective enthusiasm for it? Is it the fashion statement? The fundamental sense of motion and speed? The image-enhancing power that automobiles possess? Or all of the above?If anything, I keep going back to the one thing that’s undeniable about our collective love for the automobile, the one thing that no computer simulation – no matter how powerful or creatively enhanced – can compete with. And that is the freedom of mobility.
The ability to go and do, coupled with the freedom to explore and experience is not only a powerful concept, it is fundamental to the human experience, which is why the automobile in all of its forms remains so compelling and undeniably intoxicating.
That the automobile has progressed from a device built around convenience and comfort to something more, much more, is easy to understand. That rush of freedom that we all experienced in our first solo drive in an automobile is something that cannot be duplicated or brushed aside. It is ingrained in our spirit and etched in our souls.I have talked to the most strident anti-car people over the years, and they love to say, “I’m not into cars,” but it’s weird, because inevitably, after acknowledging that it’s fine that they don’t share my passion for the automobile, something very interesting happens.
If the conversation is allowed to percolate long enough, every single anti-car person I have encountered in the 23 years of doing comes around to saying something like, “Well, there was this one car that my uncle (or aunt, or friend, or brother, or mom, or dad, or grandfather, etc.) had that I’ll never forget…” And they then proceed to tell me about a car that is so indelibly carved in their memories that they start talking about it in detail, including where they were, how old they were, who was with them, where they were going, what happened, etc., etc. For even those most dispassionate about the automobile – at least on the surface anyway – I find there are always stories if you dig a little deeper. Stories of coming of age, of adventure, of harrowing close calls, of love, and life and lives lived. And memories. Countless, colorful memories that live on forever.The automobile business itself can be mind-numbingly tedious at times, as I’ve well documented over the years. And it is without question one of the most complicated endeavors on earth, made up of so many nuanced ingredients that it almost defies description. But the creation of machines that are safe, reliable, beautiful to look at, fun to drive, versatile or hard working – depending on the task they’re designed for – is more than just a cold, calculated business. It is and has been an industrial art form that has come to define who we are collectively.The automobile obviously means more to me than it does for most. I grew up immersed in this business, and the passionate endeavor surrounding the creation of automotive art has never stopped being interesting for me. And it is very much art, by the way. Emotionally involving and undeniably compelling mechanical art that not only takes us where we want to go but moves us in ways that still touch our souls deeply. As I have reminded everyone often in writing this column, I for one will never forget the essence of the machine, and what makes it a living, breathing mechanical conduit of our hopes and dreams.On occasion, we’ve run an excerpt from one of our favorite pieces of automotive prose, which poet, critic and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, James Agee wrote for the September 1934 issue of Fortune. You can read the entire passage here, but this is the part that resonates the most for us:”Whatever we may think, we move for no better reason than for the plain unvarnished hell of it. And there is no better reason.”No better reason, indeed.And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Editor’s Note: You can access previous issues of AE by clicking on “Next 1 Entries” below. – WG

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