Editor’s Note: This week, Peter talks about the ugly reality that consumes this town – the “Detroit Thing” –that everyone wants to pretend doesn’t exist but rears its head on an all-too-frequent basis. In On The Table, we get a good look at the Lotus Emeya BEV,which doesn’t hold a candle to the Lotus Emira in our estimation. We also see how GM Design is reimaging the Cadillac “Goddess” for the CELESTIQ, and we review the Stellantis marketing efforts for Jeep. Our AE Song of the Week is something different, as we reprise the riveting performance of “Stairway to Heaven” by Heart live at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Led Zeppelin. In Fumes, Peter delivers the final chapter of his most-requested series, “The Glory Days.” And finally, in The Line, we have results and video highlights from INDYCAR at Laguna Seca, MotoGP from San Marino and Trans Am from Watkins Glen. Onward. -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. By all accounts this should be a banner week for the two domestic automakers based here (Ford and General Motors), plus Stellantis N.V. (the multinational automotive company headquartered in Amsterdam with a main presence here in the enclave of Auburn Hills). The “Remaining 3” are gearing up for the beginning of Detroit Auto Show week, with the second attempt at resurrecting the event beginning today (Wednesday, the 13th) with a single press day.
With last fall’s very tentative relaunch – and first official September show date – after many years of occupying a traditional January stop on the international auto show calendar, the relaunched Detroit Auto Show struggled to make an impact and resonate with the region. Yes, it was good to see it back, but a lot had happened over the years, not the least of which was the devastating impact of the pandemic, and frankly, people didn’t know what to make of the new date.
The organizers of the show did everything in their power to make it a real event, adding outdoor displays, brief ride-and-drives, and other attractions to lure people back, and though the show was well received by the media, there was no getting around the fact that it had difficulty regaining its footing.
This year will hopefully be different, as show organizers have had a full year to hone the event and make it even more desirable, with official unveilings of several new vehicles including the new Ford F-150, Mustang and Ranger; Cadillac Escalade IQ, XT4, GMC Acadia and Corvette E-Ray; Jeep Gladiator, and Toyota Tacoma, plus more engaging activities in and around the show.
But as is often the case here in the Motor City, this town can’t seem to get out of its own way at times. This Auto Show week – which was to be a joyous reminder of what’s special about this business – has unfortunately devolved into a dismal dance of mediocrity as the car companies, desperate to make a good impression by putting their best new offerings on display while welcoming the media and the locals to the show, instead are facing a giant black cloud, which is casting an unmistakable pall over the proceedings.
That black cloud hovering over everything is helmed by one Shawn Fain, the caustic, belligerent firebrand president of the UAW union, who has threatened a massive strike on September 14, the day the UAW’s contract with the automakers expires and, of course, the eve of the public days at the show. Fain has approached the negotiations with the three car companies based in southeast Michigan with a scorched-earth policy, demanding not only a 46 percent pay increase over the life of the new contract but a four-day work week as well.
Fain has dismissed contract offers from Ford, GM and Stellantis with utter disdain, even going so far as complaining to the National Labor Relations Board that Ford and GM are engaging in unfair labor practices which they, of course, have vehemently denied. So far, nothing is acceptable to Fain, and he is threatening to strike all three of the companies at the same time, an unprecedented move that would cripple the entire industry. (By the way, that 46 percent figure? Fain is basing it on the pay increases that the auto company CEOs have received over the current contract. He views those increases as being obscene, and he wants his cut for the UAW workers.)
That this comes at a perilous time for these auto companies is the understatement of this or any other year. They are expending boatloads of cash – reconfiguring factories and building battery plants, while completely rethinking the fundamental processes of building a vehicle – in a race to be essential players in the Grand Transition to BEVs.
Except they’re already behind. In fact, they’re way behind. The Korean auto manufacturers are already making substantial inroads in this market, the Japanese automakers are just now gearing up with countless new products, and the Chinese automakers and battery companies – which are fully-backed by that country’s Communist regime – are threatening to overrun this market in an unprecedented onslaught that could threaten the very existence of the U.S. domestic auto industry.
An overreaction? Hardly. I expect a lengthy strike, which will have devastating consequences to this domestic automobile industry. The loss of production will exacerbate the already precarious vehicle supply problem that has plagued this business for years (it is so bad that Automotive News reported this week that some dealers are resorting to picking up their orders directly from the factories, and the car companies are paying them $1,000 to do it), and it will decimate the financial balance sheets of these companies to the point that they will be put behind the competitive eight ball even more.
But Shawn Fain doesn’t care. He wants his, and to hell with the Big Picture and the competitive realities of the Grand Transition to BEVs.
When you think about it, this is the most “Detroit Thing” imaginable. This industry musters the energy to take two positive steps forward and ends up taking five back so frequently that you can set your clock by it. Sometimes it happens in the same week, like Auto Show week. Or sometimes even on the same day.
A Detroit Thing indeed.
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