By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. As the last vestiges of the Detroit Auto Show fade into the twilight, it’s clear that what I said last week, though unpopular in some quarters, is painfully true. I said that “reality has a way of getting in the way. The High-Octane Truth is that the Detroit Auto Show is dead, no matter what form it takes. And what’s happening in its place this week will be a one hit wonder. There’s just not enough ‘buzz’ to sustain things beyond this year.”
As much as it pains me, I stand by those words. That a new idea to revive interest in what’s left of the Detroit show is desperately needed is clear. I’m just not so sure it’s in the cards. As I said last week, there’s no mystery or allure anymore, no waiting with anticipation for the dealers to remove the paper covering up the showroom windows like ancient times. People now know what’s coming a year or more in advance down to the last detail; it’s just the way things are done these days. And besides, people around here are aware of vehicles from all of the manufacturers well before everyone else. We see prototypes on the road all the time, years in advance too.
But therein lies the conundrum. Since the collective “we” who live in this region are immersed in this auto slog 24/7, and the urgency and interest in the Auto Show were basically destroyed by the pandemic, you could tell by the lightly attended charity preview on Friday night and the sparse crowds over the weekend that the air has been let out of the balloon, permanently.
So, can a new event be invented to celebrate the depth and breadth of the culture of the automobile in this region? After all, it’s not called the “Motor City” for nothing. This business permeates every minute of every day around here. You can’t really understand what that means until you’ve lived it, and it isn’t something that can be done from afar, either. But another Auto Show clearly isn’t the answer.
One takeaway from the events of the last week is that people in this business were collectively reminded that this EV “thing” is in its infancy, despite the constant bleating and promises of FSD being right around the corner by that grating “genius” on the West Coast. We are on the cusp of the total reinvention of everything to do with the automobile as we know it, and it is playing out in real time. And the monumental challenges associated with this “Grand Transition” in terms of development of an infrastructure, sourcing of raw materials, improving battery performance, building of new factories, revamping the dealer networks and the supply chain are ongoing.
And there are no “finger snaps” or flipping of a giant switch to make this all happen instantly, either. It’s a relentless grind marked by fits and starts. Major problems are counteracted by little victories, which ultimately result in meaningful progress. It’s the day-in, day-out of it all that’s the reality for the talented men and women in the trenches working on making the EV “thing” happen.
Is progress being made? Absolutely. The pace of noteworthy developments is accelerating. Remarkably enough, it mirrors what happened with the invention of the automobile way back when. Back then, the developments came in waves in little shops scattered around the Midwest and the rest of the world. People with vision and drive transformed the horseless carriage from being a curious novelty to a vehicle that fundamentally changed the world.
And history is on the cusp of repeating itself.
The daunting challenges of this “Grand Transition” to EVs will be solved by visionary True Believers who are working every angle and pursuing every avenue of improvement to make the EV “thing” work. As skeptical and impatient as I can be with the timing of all of this, I realize that those little victories will eventually yield major technical advancements. That said, however, it’s clear that we’ll be living with the duality of ICE and EV vehicles for another fifteen years, at least. And that’s perfectly alright.
Everyone wants things cut and dried and expects them to be fueled by instant gratification these days. It’s just who we have collectively become. It’s not pretty; in fact it’s the ugly reality of contemporary life, something that I’m not a fan of in the least. But if you’ve been around long enough, you gain some much-needed perspective. Things aren’t defined by cut and dried or counted in measures of black and white; instead, most of life unfolds in a vast gray area that is extremely difficult to quantify.
This is where the automobile business finds itself right now: Toiling in the vast area of gray. Letting go of what used to be, while embracing what is to come. Even though what form that will take exactly remains to be seen.
But as Robert Lamm once eloquently stated:
“Only the beginning. Only just the start…”
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