By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. After 24+ years of writing content for this website, you would think I have seen it all. And yes, I pretty much have. But the beauty of the “swirling maelstrom” that churns and burns and defines this business is that there’s always room for one more act of head-scratching stupidity, one more example of flat-out ridiculous behavior, and one more reason to reassess exactly what the hell is going on out there.
“Duh” No. 1: Reuters uncovered a practice by Tesla to underreport the actual range of its cars, in some cases by as much as 30 percent. Not only that, the company employed a special team of people that dissuaded customers from taking in their vehicles for service, because Tesla service centers were overwhelmed. The team members involved in this calculated deception were rewarded with a clang from a metal xylophone when a customer’s service request was canceled. The team was expected to close 750 cases a week, and team members were closely tracked as to their daily output. That Tesla overpromised and underdelivered on mileage is this week’s No. 1 “Duh.” This goes along quite nicely with the fact that Tesla promised – and charged as much as $10,000 for – a “Full Self Driving” feature that didn’t work, and not only that, expected its customers to do the real-world beta testing on the feature. If any of the legacy automakers carried out this egregious behavior they would be hauled before Congress and fined until their bones cracked. That we are in the throes of a full-blown Muskian Nightmare has been the case for years now. Musk’s brand of “leadership” involves misdirection, misrepresentation and flat-out deception. And when that doesn’t cover it, outright lying is always his final play. That customers are still going along with the scam is disheartening and depressing. But the only shred of light piercing the darkness is that the Feds are slowly but surely closing in on Tesla, and as I’ve predicted repeatedly, it’s going to cost that company in the billions of dollars by the time this game is played out.
“Duh” No. 2: Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares told reporters this week that the industry must deliver competitive BEVs at a price point of $25,000. Now, to be sure, being a CEO of a major car company is a 24/7 grind that chews up men and women at an alarming rate. And they get paid quite handsomely for that. But for Tavares to come out and say this is so stating the obvious that it “makes my hair hurt,” as one of my former bosses said the morning after a raging advertising party back in the day. Yes, of course there have to be BEVs at the $25,000 price point if this “Grand Transition” to electrification is going to take hold. I just didn’t expect a CEO with the alleged credentials of Tavares to be so painfully obvious.
“Duh” No. 3. That the “Grand Transition” has devolved into a BEV Zealots vs. ICE Realists dance of antagonistic sparring is about as surprising as the Tigers flailing once again through another lost season. The BEV Zealots want to “flip the switch” and are generally intolerant of those who can’t see the EV light, wielding their pitchforks whenever they want to make their point. Much of their ardor is based on the fact that BEVs – at least on the surface – are much cleaner than ICE vehicles, conveniently forgetting where and how the electricity is generated in the first place. BEV Zealots are touting China as the BEV nirvana, because sales of BEVs are exploding over there. But again, they’re conveniently forgetting that China’s rapid BEV adoption is fueled by rampant use of coal, which is making their air even more unsafe, and unsafe for the world too. On the other hand, ICE realists are often inflexible and quick to dismiss EVs – in their present early stage of development – as a dead-end because of the limited infrastructure available, the limited range, and the limited charging speeds, discounting the fact that improvements to every aspect of the BEV equation will be constant and rapid. The High-Octane Truth about this battle between these opposing factions is that they both have forgotten one fundamental aspect of life: And that is things are rarely cut and dried or in hard-edged black & white, but in reality, are played out in the vast gray area of “the in-between.” Yes, BEVs are coming, that fact is indisputable. But rapid development in zero-carbon fuels and even hydrogen mean that ICE vehicles will be around for a long, long time to come.
“Duh” No. 4. GM is going to reconfigure the Chevrolet Bolt with its next-gen Ultium BEV platform so that the nameplate lives on. This is about the farthest thing away from being shocking as you can get. The Bolt, despite its recent high-profile recalls, is one of the most recognized BEV nameplates in the market today, and it would be criminal if GM squandered the Bolt name and let it die. I expect the Bolt to be back more contemporary and better-equipped to compete in the future. As it should be.
“Duh” No. 5. We are two weeks away from the annual Greed-Fest out in Monterey, California. As most longtime readers know, I have gradually become even more aggravated with the state of the so-called car “thing” as it exists today. It’s clear that the car enthusiast culture – or what’s left of it – has been overrun by con artists, clueless marketing twerps, greed merchants, poseurs and too many (but not all) in the media who display more go-along-to-get-along, “Thank you sir, may I have another” cheerleading than your average SEC school. Where is it all going? Nowhere good, I’m afraid. Right this minute, there are shiny happy auto marketing troops preparing to gather out in Pebble Beach, where they will be thrilled to be present and accounted for at Monterey Car Week, even though the research gleaned and goodwill bestowed to prospects amounts to a giant bowl of Not So Much. As for the few brighter lights at the car companies who realize that the million-dollar bills they accrue at Pebble Beach really don’t add up to much of anything quantifiable, they’re unfortunately offset by the marketers who will whine because they aren’t there and who can’t wait to get out there next year. So, it seems that the cycle will continue. That this will continue indefinitely is yet another “Duh” in this business. C’est la vie, y’all.
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