Editor’s Note: In this week’s column, Peter reminds us of a few things, because it seems that some out there still have a tendency to forget. In On The Table, we look at Giorgetto Giugiaro’s interesting connection to Hyundai, and our AE Song of the Week is “Linger” by The Cranberries. In Fumes, Peter continues his much-praised series on “The Drivers,” this week featuring one of the iconic motorsports figures of all time – Dan Gurney. And check out The Line for any new developments on the racing scene. -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. And so, we go on. With Part II of The Holidays – Thanksgiving – completed (Halloween has become the de facto Part I), the inexorable march to Christmas (or Part III) will unfold in the coming weeks. It’s always a weird time in this business, as next year’s budgets are being finalized with a fervor that swings wildly between calculated, reasoned business decisions and capricious whims and gut feels. Production and sales projections are also (gulp) being laid on the table with much hand-wringing and trepidation, and manufacturer operatives and dealers are scrambling to record as many sales as possible. In other words, the Swirling Maelstrom continues unabated.
I would love to report that things are progressing nicely in terms of the “Grand Transition” but it turns out that the chip shortage is nowhere near to being jettisoned to the rearview mirror, and this will affect ICE and EV builds all through next year. In fact, 2023 is shaping up to be one giant drag for the automobile business in general, a seething cauldron of Sturm und Drang that will hang over this business like a long, low black cloud for another year, at least. This is, needless to say, a giant bowl of Not Good.
Going into 2023, which I’m now officially naming “The Year of The Dangerous In-Between,” the progress I’m looking for is only coming in fits and starts, and too often it seems to be veering off into the three-steps forward, five-back Dance of Mediocrity that has plagued this business for decades.
To wit, just last week, Phoebe Wall Howard reported in the Detroit Free Press that Ford’s product issues not only remain unresolved, they’re actually getting worse. To wit:
“Ford Motor Co. has issued yet another recall on 2020-23 model year Ford Bronco Sport and Ford Escape SUVs following customer reports of fires with injuries as well as under-hood fires that occurred after the vehicle was turned off.
The cause: spilled fuel or leaked vapors on the hot engine or exhaust components caused by a cracked fuel injector.
As many as 521,778 vehicles, with 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engines, are potentially affected in the U.S., including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Specifically, 333,342 Escapes and 188,436 Bronco Sports.
More than 100,000 vehicles in Europe and South America are also affected, Ford spokeswoman Maria Buczkowski told the Free Press on Thursday.”
At one point, Ms. Howard provided a succinct summary of Ford’s continuing product problems:
“Ford CEO Jim Farley tapped a new quality czar early this year, revamped quality management and has seen recalls and warranties eat into the company’s profits.
This latest action follows a recall of 550,000 F-150 pickup trucks for a broken windshield wiper motor. Ford has had more recalls in 2022 than any other automaker.” (Italics mine.)
The continuing saga of Ford’s product issues keeps unfolding like a bad dream for the company’s wunderkind CEO. Except that Ford’s “savior” CEO is now 60 years old and the problems aren’t being solved. In fact, they seem to be accelerating at a prodigious rate. Make no mistake, every auto manufacturer has recalls, because designing, engineering and developing automobiles is one of the most complicated endeavors on earth. But there is something deeply wrong within the Ford system of developing and building cars, and if the guy running the show – who claims to be preordained for that role (as if) – can’t get a handle on it, his tenure will fizzle out like all of the previous tenures that fizzled out before he arrived on the scene.
Changing the subject, there is definitely a virulent anti-EV faction “out there” that is equating the notion of the “Grand Transition” to EVs as some sort of plot against politically right-leaning individuals. The vitriol aimed at anything to do with EVs – and any individual who comments on it one way or the other – is growing uglier by the day. It’s easy to see why this ugliness is happening too. It’s part and parcel of the deterioration of any shred of rational discourse that has consumed this country over the last six years. The polarization of our society has now crept into the EV vs. ICE discussions, and it is truly unfortunate.
I have repeatedly gone on record as loving the sound and fury of high-performance ICE vehicles, and I will miss them once they fade from view. But realistically that will not happen in our lifetime or even a couple of lifetimes after, either. Those vehicles will remain part of our nation’s culture for many decades to come.
But I also see a role for EVs going forward, especially in urban environments where the driving is limited and travel is becoming more and more restricted. Are there still monumental challenges associated with EVs? Absolutely. As I’ve stated repeatedly in this column, the national infrastructure for EVs isn’t there yet; in fact it’s not even close. And there are several critical issues that need to be solved, including the search and sourcing of critical raw materials, the generation of electricity itself and the systematic recycling of batteries that will ultimately benefit all. These are not insignificant problems, but we were at a similar point 125 years ago with the countless issues and problems associated with the dawn of the “horseless” carriage era, and we figured it out.
EVs will be a key part of our transportation future, there’s simply no denying that fact. Will it leave some behind? I have no doubt that it will. But to simply rain hate down on anything or anyone associated with the coming EV era is predictably short-sighted and flat-out stupid.
As I suggested last week, I take the hate-mongering trolls with glee. In fact, the constant vitriol directed at me fortifies my spirit. So yes, go ahead, keep making my day.
The Year of the Dangerous In-Between is going to be challenging and tedious. But I am confident that the True Believers operating in every discipline in this business will make the difference for The Future. They always have and they always will.
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