By Peter M. DeLorenzo
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
– Jack Kerouac, On the Road
We’ve reached an inflection point in this mad, mad automobile industry. Creativity is at a new peak in Design, Engineering and Product Development. The onset of the BEV Age is demanding everything, all the time, out of everyone involved. It’s all hands on deck for the True Believers across the entire spectrum of the auto industry.
The auto companies – and their supplier partners – are deploying their “best and brightest” talent to massive BEV development programs. What does that mean, really? In GM’s case, to consider one company in particular, that means that the majority of the people who were involved in the development of the new Corvette – hands down the best car GM has ever built – have been hard at work on the company’s BEV programs for going on three years now, which says a lot about how Mary Barra, Mark Reuss & Co. see The Future.
I have noticed that some DoomSlingers have started to come out of the woodwork to suggest that some of these companies – FCA, Ford, GM and VW just to name a few – are way out front of the transition to BEVs, too far out front, to be more precise. That means that some out there feel that the auto company executives who are actively bullish on this BEV transition are leaving their companies exposed to the vagaries of a driving populace that is still not down with the EV “thing” yet.
These are the same people, of course, who made a cottage industry of mocking the Detroit automakers over decades for always lagging behind the curve, for always being behind the trends, for always playing catch-up. They’re the same people who suggest that the only worthwhile auto manufacturer is Tesla, that “Detroit” is collectively behind yet again, and that it would be better for all concerned if the “traditional” American automakers just faded away and allowed “hip” Tesla to become the only American automaker.
And that is so much unmitigated bullshit too.
Last time I checked, Tesla is still not out of the woods when it comes to building its vehicles without major quality issues. We’re not talking about minor electronic either – a common annoyance for all manufacturers – no, we’re still talking about system failures and parts falling off. It’s hard to mask that with descriptions of “minor” issues – unless you’re a card-carrying member of the Cult of St. Elon. It is simply unacceptable by any measure. Can you imagine if some of the quality horror stories that have plagued Tesla had hit FCA, Ford or GM? The mainstream media and the stumblebum politicians in Washington would be wielding their pitchforks with glee, demanding that “Detroit” be punished for their atrocities against humanity.
The fact of the matter is that Musk has become a toxic, malicious entity on several fronts, and I predict Tesla will pay the price for his rapidly deteriorating persona. One good thing about the Twitter fiasco? It has exposed the fundamental failings of Musk to a much broader swath of people, which is a very good thing from where I sit. That he pushed “full self driving” as an authentic feature on his cars – and charged thousands of dollars for the “privilege” of ordering it – and then had the temerity to have Tesla customers do the real world “beta” testing of the feature, when it clearly didn’t even come close to working as advertised, is one of the most unconscionable and egregious affronts ever to be perpetrated on this industry. And that’s saying something with the outrageous – and unforgivable – VW Diesel cheating scandal still fresh in everyone’s minds. As I’ve said previously, I predict that Tesla is going to be slammed with massive fines from the U.S. government that will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions. And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy. It’s just too bad the rest of Tesla’s workforce will be subjected to the penalties of beinf associated with America’s Creep in Chief.
Resuming our regularly scheduled programming, the notion that the more “traditional” automakers are too far ahead of the unfolding BEV transition is laughable. It’s not just traditional industry lead times at play here; it’s the fact that the prevailing winds across the globe are blowing in the direction of fundamental change, and to deny that is simply akin to plunging one’s head in the sand. This can’t be dismissed as a “trend” or a “fad” either. We are moving into a new global sensibility that is picking up speed by the day.
Consumers will slowly but surely come around to the efficacy of BEVs, while the last vestiges of the “ICE Age” play themselves out over the next decade. But major issues remain, specifically the charging infrastructure – or lack thereof – and affordability, battery durability and the limitations of long-distance travel. Just today (November 14th), the New York Times published a lengthy article about the growing acceptance of EVs. The article started off with glowing reports from the EV front, with people gushing about how much they’re loving their EVs. But that perspective was countered with a story about a mom and dad driving their daughter up to Michigan State – with all of the associated flotsam and jetsam needed for college life – in a VW iD4. The mom thought she had charted the trip from Columbus, Ohio, to East Lansing with precision, planning to stop for a recharge in Toledo. Except that with the extra load of people and belongings on board, she realized as she was approaching Findlay, Ohio, that they weren’t going to make Toledo, because the VW was using juice at a prodigious rate. Upon arriving in Findlay, the few chargers available were either not working properly or were behind locked gates. The family ended up having to rent a van to complete the trip. As you might imagine this was a giant bowl of Not Good and perfectly crystalizes why this transition to EVs is going to be painful, as I’ve been saying all along.
But to pretend that this “Grand Transition” isn’t marching inexorably forward is to simply deny the reality of what’s happening. Yes, this new “EV Age” is going to take time, especially in the heart of the mainstream market. The super-expensive “show pony” EVs are nice and everything, but the real action will unfold in 2024, when many more affordable choices arrive on the scene.
So – and this is coming from a diehard high-performance ICE enthusiast – the new EV Age will take more time in this country, but there’s no denying where this is going. So, are the companies going “all-in” to the BEV transition gambling with their futures? Guess what, these companies gamble with their futures every day, so this is nothing new; it’s just part of the game.
As I mentioned earlier, the transition to BEVs is demanding everything out of everyone involved, all the time. That this business isn’t for the faint of heart has been well documented in these pages. That it’s an “up at dawn, pride swallowing siege” (thanks, Cameron Crowe) is just part of the deal. The BEV imperative is placing new demands and new urgencies on the True Believers across the board.
And right now, it’s time for these True Believin’ shooting stars to soar to new heights. Good enough isn’t even part of the lexicon for these people. Neither is complacency or going through the motions. These people push and strive as a matter of course. Yesterday’s breakthroughs give way to tomorrow’s starting points. Make no mistake about it, the BEV Era is bringing out the best from the best and the brightest, which is why I remain optimistic about where this is all going.
Yes, a booming V8 will always remain close to my heart, but I envision that the BEV Era will accelerate the possibilities for companies and consumers alike. Change, in this case, as hard as it is to contemplate at times, will be very, very good.
Not that these companies need to be admonished to do so, but unleash your shooting stars and let them soar unimpeded. I firmly believe that the results will be breathtaking.
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