Editor’s Note: In this week’s Rant, Peter describes the “Road To Reinvention” for individuals and companies as a difficult one indeed. In On The Table, we feature a brief review of the ads from Super Bowl 2023, along with a look at the new Bugatti Mistral on the Cote d’Azure, just because. And our AE Song of the Week is a tribute to Burt Bacharach, who passed away last week at the age of 94. In Fumes, Peter continues with Part IV of his new series “The Great Races” – with a look back at the 1968 Can-Am at Road America. And finally, in The Line, Peter blasts F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali with his calculated arrogant remarks aimed at Michael Andretti. Onward. -WG

By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. “Reinvention” is one of those words that people seem to be glomming onto of late with a finger snap. It’s a life goal, a “turning over a new leaf” process. A way of leaving the past behind and moving in a new direction. 
Is reinvention a good thing? It can be. Wanting something new and different is part of the human condition, it seems. It can also be a wince-generating train wreck, like a previously bald guy all of a sudden showing up in a full jet-black pompadour. That would be a giant comb over of Not Good.
Is “reinvention” overused? Absolutely. There seems to be a whole lot of reinvention goin’ on at any given moment. Everyone seems to be grasping at it, or at least looking for an excuse to pursue it. That’s all well and good, to a point. But wanting a genuine “reinvention” and actually achieving it are too vastly different concepts – the difference between a pipe dream and latching on to a fundamental new reality.
Beyond the human yearning for something new, we are now awash in auto companies in the midst of their own reinventions. The move to BEVs has unleashed a torrent of change: from design, engineering and infrastructure development, to identifying and harvesting the necessary raw materials and precious metals for batteries, to building entirely new factories and to end-of-life battery recycling, etc. 
This massive level of change is the most transformative in the history of the automobile. And it is proceeding at a furious, everything-all-the-time, all-hands-on-deck pace. Ironically enough, this is where the human yearning for reinvention and the corporate push for reinvention cross. Note, I didn’t say “merge” because at times it seems like never the twain shall meet.
The following phrases seem to hang in the air untethered: “We are reinventing the process.” “We are reinventing the company.” “I am reinventing myself.” And they’re noble phrases indeed. Well, sort of anyway. Because the difference between having a plan for reinvention and causing a train wreck is the finest of lines.
Some automotive participants are constantly talking about “reinventing” the auto business. Some of these companies – one right here in southeast Michigan, in fact – are beating this drum emphatically, insisting that whatever the “old” automobile business was needs to be quickly buried in the past. And that is, to be blunt, a fool’s errand, because ignoring history is never a good idea, especially in the auto business. The history of this business is marked by remarkable thinking and at times, visionary brilliance. It has also suffered from flat-out misguided thinking and major miscalculations. It’s pretty simple actually – when humans are involved, soaring triumphs are often counteracted by debilitating mistakes. And sure-fire strategies are often combined with a calculated arrogance and a large dollop of delusional thinking, inevitably yielding disastrous results.
I am not surprised by this, but it’s amazing to me that there are always newly “hatched” executives who have no concept of historical perspective at all. That somehow everything they’re thinking of is completely new and has never been thought of before, and is therefore unequivocally brilliant. The naiveté on display is at once shocking and almost incomprehensible. Allegedly “smart” executives careening around leaving chaos in their wake, paralyzing organizations and executive underlings who are left to guess as to what they were really thinking on that particular day. Was it an actual direction? Or just the meanderings of a misguided fool masquerading as our CEO?
Are there any “finger-snap” solutions to any of these shenanigans? No, unfortunately. But I will say this: the auto companies heavily investing in ICE-powered vehicles now are being reverential of history. Despite their glowingly optimistic public statements about our EV future, they know and understand that this “Grand Transition” to mainstream EVs is going to take a while. A long while.
The smarter auto executives are focusing on the fundamentals of designing, engineering, developing and building vehicles first. All of their vehicles. It does no good to brag about future EV projections if you can’t take care of the basic fundamentals – the blocking and tackling of this business – right now. EVs are the shiny objects filled with promise and potential, but ICE vehicles pay the bills, and they will continue to do so for years to come. These smarter execs will also take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, whether they be in EVs or with ICE vehicles. They will steadfastly avoid skipping a step, because understanding the past, they know that would prove to be costly, on too many levels.
The road to reinvention is paved with good intentions, but it is an unruly one. But then again, it is meant to be. Nothing is given or preordained and certainly nothing is guaranteed, for individuals or companies. In fact, too often the road to reinvention is riddled with broken dreams left smoldering by the side of the road.
And some executives are meant to find that out the hard way.
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

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