By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. After all of my unforgettable experiences from being immersed in this business from a young age, after all of my involvement in marketing, advertising, consulting and motorsports, and after all of the columns I’ve written, there’s still something missing. There’s still a hunger deep in my soul for more. But what shape or form does that take, exactly?
We are on the cusp of the “Grand Transition” to EVs, and make no mistake, it is unsettling. The vibrancy, the visceral appeal and the mesmerizing sounds of the ICE era will not be fading or swept under the rug anytime soon. And auto enthusiasts still clinging to the ICE era will not have to turn in their ICE cards anytime soon, because we have a long, long way to go before the sun sets on this colorful dimension of our transportation history.
Conversely, this doesn’t sit well with consumers who are on a headlong rush to embrace The Future. Their impatience is driving the key decision makers in this industry to make bold, emphatic moves that will not only fundamentally alter the automobile business, but it will change the automotive footprint on the American fabric, and around the world as well.
Despite the idyllic predictions of the EV era’s positive impact on the environment, feeding the EV beast has its own set of challenges and environmental issues. None of it is “snap your fingers” simple, either. Mining the raw materials, generating the electricity, recycling the batteries to minimize the negative environmental impact, developing new types of batteries, etc. – there’s a long, long list of issues that comes with this “Grand Transition.” No, I’m not minimizing the fact that we are in fact poised for breakthrough technologies at every turn, but still, we’re talking a long, hard road here, folks.
But back to the beginning of this column. This “Grand Transition” is challenging my hunger for more. I will never get over the visceral appeal of a full-throated V8 or a hot V6 or a melodious V12, nor do I want to. And the appeal of EVs for me will lie in their provocative designs, not in their effortless performance. This sounds like a disconnect, but it really isn’t. “Whisper-jet”-like performance holds very limited appeal for me. Yes, I’ve experienced the “instant-on” high performance of EVs, and it is indeed impressive, but for me it is an empty, soulless exercise that actually detracts from wanting to experience it. Maybe that’s the secret idea? That the soulless exercise eventually discourages people from going 0-60 mph in 2 seconds, because, well, why?
And I am already tired of the argument that the considerable weight stuffed low in an EV’s architecture is a dynamic advantage for road-hugging cornering performance. To me, that weight is a dynamic albatross, not an advantage. These EVs feel heavy because they are heavy – the Porsche Taycan being a prime example of this. Others in this business sing that car’s praises, but I find it to be ponderous and heavy-handed, with zero appeal.
So, as I said, I will have to find interest and the notion of desirability in the new, expressive designs that are being revealed almost monthly. Since design is my favorite part of this business by far, I will take solace in this aspect, because the actual driving is too robotic-like for me.
I still find tremendous appeal in motor racing, but even that is under threat of becoming, dare I say it, irrelevant. It’s clear that the manufacturers will be living a “Jekyll and Hyde” existence in the foreseeable future. While they introduce EV after EV in every market segment, those manufacturers still participating in motor racing will be doing it for the sheer thrill of it, or for the image-wrangling, or both. But the direct ROI will be, in fact, dust in the wind. I wrote a Fumes column several years ago now where I brought forth the premise that all motor racing would become “vintage” racing. That observation is becoming more accurate by the day.
As for that hunger, the yearning deep in my soul for something more? I will still take life in fleeting moments as I always have. Devouring a country road with a great driving machine will never, ever get old. Drinking in a majestic, threatening sky or a powerful landscape. Breathing in the crisp, cool air of fall while nature’s paintbrush unfolds. The sheer joy of watching the unfiltered lives of animals as they weave their spell throughout our lives.
But my total embrace of the automobile business? Needless to say, it is evolving. I will still relish the emotional power of a brilliantly conceived and executed advertising campaign. I will still be in awe of a breathtaking design execution, and I will relish being drawn into its presence on the road. And I will always honor the True Believers in this business, the men and women who make a difference every damn day.
But the commoditization of this business grew tedious for me years ago. Some might say, “That is just not true, there are exceptions to that part of the business.” To that I say, really? Have you ever seen a picture taken outside of an exotic luxury automaker, with rows and rows of its production of super-hot vehicles lined-up like so much cord wood? It tends to dampen the notion of exclusivity immediately.
So, I will pick and choose my involvement – and my interest – in this business as I always have. But I will always be on the lookout for more, or what’s next, or what’s new.
Something that resonates deep in my soul.
Something that captures my imagination.
Something that satisfies The Hunger.
As U2 so eloquently put it, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
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