By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Having been immersed in the swirling maelstrom that defines this auto business and witnessed here at AE for going on 24 years now, I have arrived at some fundamental truths. Some will be unpopular (there’s a shocker -WG), some will be, of course, brutally unforgiving, and all will resonate with a searing accuracy that will make grown men and women weep. Or something like that.
So, without further ado, shall we? 
I am very pleased to say that the days of designing, engineering and developing vehicles to the lowest common denominator have finally been laid to rest. This wasn’t the case for decades in this business, because taking the path of least resistance – and often blindly cutting costs for no rhyme or reason – propelled countless companies to achieve relentless, mind-numbing mediocrity at every turn. This new EV era will not tolerate any of that. Mediocrity is never bliss.
That’s not to say that the old days don’t rear their ugly head in unanticipated – and highly inopportune – ways at times. After all, there are still legions of unctuous pricks, recalcitrant twerps and spineless weasels operating in the shadows in this business. And they still have the capacity to screw things up if left unattended. The incidents of this, however, have been severely curtailed, thank goodness.
Speaking of unctuous pricks… The human condition is ripe for egomaniacal behavior, in any endeavor. That this afflicts automotive CEOs more so than others in this business is no secret and no surprise. After a while, with bootlicking sycophants constantly lapping at their feet and agreeing with every random thought balloon uttered, it’s easy to see how these executives lose their way. Look no further than Elon Musk, the new Unctuous Prick in Chief. That Musk openly hawked “full self-driving” on his Teslas – and charged customers through the nose for it – when it never worked, was the most egregiously unconscionable act ever perpetrated on this business, and that’s saying something with the VW Group’s diesel cheating fiasco still fresh on everyone’s minds. If there’s any justice left at all in this world, the criminal charges being discussed right now for Tesla at the DOJ will result in billions – not millions – but billions of dollars in fines meted out to that company. (I’m thinking that a nice round 50 billion ought to cover it.) Amazingly enough, there are certain CEO-types in this business who openly admire that walking, talking Muskian Nightmare, which is just pathetic and sad, and their respective companies are going to pay dearly for their blind fealty, especially when their company overlords aren’t paying attention.
Design matters, even more so than at any time in automotive history. The one very good thing about the coming “Grand Transition” to EVs is that creating the notion of desirability in new, expressive designs has become the basic price of admission for every single automaker. Achieving anything less will result in lackluster sales – at best – and falling behind the competition in no uncertain terms. Since design is my favorite part of this business by far, I take solace in this aspect, and I look forward to seeing each new design emerge from the minds of creative designers around the world.
Car companies completely walking away from ICE vehicles do so at their peril. Yes, the “Grand Transition” to EVs is coming, but the engine powering these car companies’ EV development budgets – and profits – is coming from the sales of ICE vehicles. This is the most delicate dance going on in this business right now. These car companies are walking a razor-thin line between profitability and drowning in “yester-tech.” The companies with a strong ICE portfolio will weather the coming storm and end up with an advantageous position in the market. But timing will be absolutely everything.
Memo to automotive advertisers: The “Smokey Burnout” thing is played out. End it now. I am begging – begging – auto advertisers to resist doing the smokey burnout thing in the upcoming advertising for high-performance EVs. That Dodge has beaten the “smoke show” to death with its Challenger and Charger Hellcats has been well-documented. In fact, it appears to me that Dodge and its ad agency are predictably incapable of creating a commercial without “smoke.” And that’s too bad. But, that said, everyone has the opportunity to turn the page on this practice with the upcoming EV advertising. Will they? I see only a slim chance that this will happen.
Memo to the car companies: Stop enabling the NASCAR “clown show.” I have railed against this for years now, and I don’t apologize for it one bit. That these car companies piss away hundreds of millions of dollars collectively on a racing organization that is so resistant to change is simply unacceptable. And no, the “new” cars don’t count. It’s a step, but only a miniscule one. We’re talking about a racing entity that continues to burden us with a 36-weekend race schedule, which is the most ridiculous in all of sport. (And that’s saying something with the NBA and NHL stumbling around.) There is no “ROI” that can possibly justify the budgets these car companies piss away on NASCAR. There is no production technology transfer, no aero “learnings,” no remote connection to anything that these manufacturers are doing in their R&D labs at this very moment. The automakers’ involvement in NASCAR is the most egregious example of “we’ve always done it this way” in this business and a mindless inertia that became obsolete long ago. Someone at one of these car companies needs to step up, wield a giant reality stick and finally put an end to this pathetic cycle. 
Memo to auto company marketers: Now is not the time to be shy. Automotive marketing remains one of the toughest disciplines in this business. Too often an automobile company’s image is corroded by the personal whims of the upper-management hierarchy, or even more ominous, the egomaniacal ramblings of a misguided CEO who thinks they know what constitutes good advertising. As Jeffrey Lebowski once famously said: “This cannot stand, man.” Auto marketers need to push harder and aim higher. The coming “Grand Transition” requires bolder thoughts and expressive ideas that must not be derailed by minimal thinking. The problem for auto marketers is that the kind of advertising they need to project is not aimed for the top executives of the company, or the painfully conservative board members. In fact, most of them need to stand down and let the professionals do their job. After spending 22 years on that side of the business, I know for a fact that is extremely difficult to get a strong advertising concept – that somehow remains intact – all the way through to production completion. Too many people think they should have a hand in it, and too many of those same people are woefully unqualified to have a say. The car companies with strong marketing leaders are going to win out. As it should be.
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


Read More