Editor’s Note: In this week’s Rant, Peter talks about “CEO Monsters” and their favorite mantra. In On The Table, we feature the new Meyers Manx and the I.C.E St. Moritz, an event we’d love to attend. And our AE Song of the Week is “Rocket 88” – the first rock and roll song ever recorded. In Fumes, Peter continues with Part V of his new series “The Great Races” – with a look back at the 1971 Can-Am at Mid-Ohio, which Jackie Stewart won. And finally, in The Line, we have brief coverage of last Sunday’s season-opening NASCAR crash-fest at Daytona. Enjoy. -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. As I’ve often documented on this website (for going on 24 years now -WG), the automotive business is one of the most complicated endeavors on earth. Even if you have inspired designers, terrific engineering talent, the best product development people, the finest manufacturing experts and shrewd marketers, there are so many moving parts that have to come together “just so” in order to deliver an outstanding product with quality and desirability that it is daunting to say the least. Or, let me put it another way: It’s damn near a miracle.
The “biz” is marked by the highest of highs and the lowest of excruciating lows, and these are not just measured by the typical parameters such as good or bad quarterly results either, but sometimes by the tumultuous events on a given day. Just one example? The parts shortage/supply disruption situation has wreaked havoc on manufacturers, suppliers and customers alike, which means that things can go sideways – and often do – in an instant.
The automotive arena is a swirling maelstrom of triumphs and screwups, creativity offset by mind-numbing mediocrity, and unfettered brilliance dulled by abject mediocrity. The ebb and flow of this business can veer from elation to dismal failure in a matter of moments.
Given this picture I’ve painted, is it any wonder then that operatives in this business can conjure up excuses for a screwup du jour in the blink of an eye, aided and abetted by some of the finest PR practitioners/minions in the business world? In a word, no. In fact, it has become an art form in the auto business in particular. And it’s not just disaster mitigation PR, either. It’s a calculated maneuver to distract, deny and in in some cases, flat-out bend the truth. In other words, “Pay no attention to those disastrous quarterly results; instead, look at this shiny object over here.” A simpler translation? “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
One thing that can absolutely be counted on in this business? Delusional thinking. It runs rampant and it’s most ably demonstrated right at the top. Some CEOs begin misinterpreting the surface loyalty and seemingly undying fealty tossed their way by minions – both the calculating and the livelihood beholden – with a newly-acquired brilliance bestowed on them because of their titles.
In ancient times, it was referred to as “believing their press clippings” surrounding their every move, press clippings that were unwaveringly favorable, obviously. 
Now, it’s an entirely new game. The immediacy of the 24/7 social media-saturated landscape we live in today, combined with the embedded “beat” reporters who sometimes lose their way by becoming borderline PR minions for the CEOs they cover, has created CEO Monsters who have a tendency to lose their way, taking credit for stuff they shouldn’t, while shucking, jiving and deflecting their way around egregious missteps that they’re directly responsible for. These screwups are usually found in some grand “Plan” that these CEOs shove down everyone’s throats, and when things inevitably do go south, scapegoats are produced, blame is assigned – “it was the supply chain,” “it was the current challenging environment,” or the always-popular excuse: “sunspots.” Needless to say, basic accountability goes missing in action. 
Speaking of the blame game, suppliers are left to bear the brunt of CEO Monster wrath, which is always semi-amusing to see, unless you’re a supplier, of course. You remember those suppliers, don’t you? The ones who are presented as “our dear partners” when everything is all sunny and rosy, but who are left to twist in the wind and exposed at the drop of a hat for their failures – both real and imagined – when everything turns to shit.
And there’s one final excuse for the CEO Monsters that we’ve well documented over the years – the always popular and predictable, “It Won’t Be Long Now!” mantra. This phrase is right in line with “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” as in, “Don’t dwell on those piss-poor financial numbers, ignore the fact that we can’t launch a vehicle to save our life – and when we do the quality and recall incidents are so prevalent that they destroy our bottom line every single quarter – because it’s all good! It really is! We’ve got sensational products coming, including EVs that will turn the marketplace on its ear! Things may look bleak now, but trust us, It Won’t Be Long Now!”
Ah yes, it won’t be long now, indeed. Even though a company continues to wallow in mediocrity that shouldn’t in any way diminish the notion that its “I’m a genius, just ask me” CEO has it all figured out. After all, don’t be hatin’ on us because we have the best team in place that will allow us – soon enough, just you wait and see – to rule the automotive world. 
If I were to deliver a “State of the Auto Industry” speech today, it would revolve around two specific themes: 1. How delusional thinking is still running rampant in the business today. And 2. How the “It Won’t Be Long Now” mantra continues to wreak havoc on this business on a daily basis.
All together now: Not. Very. Good.
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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