Editor’s Note: In this week’s Rant, Peter asks “Why?” about some of the most pressing issues going on in the business today, covering a lot of ground in the process. In On The Table, we preview the Dodge Last Call by Roadkill Nights Vegas event, as well as a the Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition and the Meyer Manx first-ever Remastered Kit. And, appropriately, our AE Song of the Week is “Why” by Annie Lennox. In Fumes, Peter continues with Part VI of his new series “The Great Races” – with a look back at the 200-mile Monterey Grand Prix at Laguna Seca in October 1964. And finally, in The Line, we feature comments about F1 never embracing electric, along with coverage of NASCAR’s Pala Casino 400 and the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli’s season-opening race at the historic Sebring International Raceway. We also preview Cadillac’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June with three of the newly named Cadillac V-Series.Rs. Enjoy. -WG
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. I often wonder about this crazy automobile business, and when I do, the same question keeps coming up over and over again: Why?
As in, why is it that it always seems to be a revelation to operatives in The Biz when compelling design sells cars and trucks? Is it really that hard? They can digest all of the strategic marketing analysis that is available to them, they can formulate a logical “can’t miss” marketing strategy that covers all contingencies and accounts for all variables, and yet they often ignore the one mitigating factor that will make or break a product launch: Design.
It doesn’t matter how sound a marketing strategy is, and how many millions of dollars have been spent to get to that point, because if the vehicle in question has something visually lacking, it will arrive in the market with a thud. This is especially true in this “look-alike” era, where so-called crossover/SUVs share the same basic shape configuration and struggle to find some worthwhile visual differentiation.
There are some notable design-focused exceptions out there at the moment, and more on the way. Some of my favorites?
The Hyundai IONIQ 5.
The Hyundai IONIQ 6.
The Kia EV6.
The Cadillac LYRIQ.
The Cadillac CELESTIQ.
The Ferrari 296 GTB.
The Ferrari Roma.
The Ferrari Purosangue.
Yes, I get it, it’s easy to post Ferrari pictures and talk about outstanding design, but that’s exactly the point. There’s a reason that Bill Mitchell, the GM design legend, brought the latest Ferrari models to the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, and parked them in the GM Styling viewing courtyard. It was to inspire his design troops and expose them to what was going on in the design centers of Italy. And it worked. Mitchell was considered to be the master of bringing design concept looks to the mainstream automobile business here in the U.S., and GM dominated the market because of it in its heyday.
GM is leading with design statements again with the LYRIQ and CELESTIQ, but the Korean manufacturers have the bit in their teeth, and they’re leading with compelling mainstream designs of their own. But as I said, too often auto companies come up short when they bring designs to the public, which makes me wonder why?
Here’s another question: Why is that automobile dealers regularly squander the hundreds of millions of marketing dollars spent by the manufacturers to position their products? I’ve seen manufacturers nurture and fine-tune their brand images down to the very last detail, making certain that all possible contingencies are accounted for and properly vetted, only for the whole thing to come apart at the dealer level because of a bad in-person experience. After all of the rah-rah dealer shows in Las Vegas, complete with the obligatory group-think buy-in and nodding approvals from the dealers in attendance, they go back to their dealerships and allow the whole thing to come apart because of their tactics that are, how shall I say this, incongruous with the brand image at every level. I’ve seen countless examples of this over the years too.
Nothing blows up a brand image more convincingly – and with stunning immediacy – than a dealer who conducts its business with an ingrained egregious attitude aimed at extracting as much short-term profitability as possible from prospects, while completely forgoing any sense of brand image whatsoever. Yes, this is the car business after all, as dealers will say, and consumers have to be savvy before they walk through our doors. Really? There’s a reason a majority of car-shopping consumers despise setting foot in a dealership. Simply put, it’s because bad things happen there. And it has gotten much worse in these supply-challenged times we’re living in.
Don’t like the “take-it-or-leave-it-because-someone-behind-you-will” situation? Tough. Don’t like the fact that all of the cars on a dealer’s lot are pretreated with some sort of “mystical” ceramic coating that you didn’t ask for and don’t want to the tune of $1,000 extra? Too bad. I have nothing against a dealer’s ability to make a profit – that’s the name of the game after all – but there’s a fine line between making a profit and flat-out exploiting consumers, and too often dealers are operating on the wrong side of that line.
I am seeing that because of the high interest rates and the free fall in used car prices (although they seem to be firming up a bit) that some dealers are softening their stance and actually trying to work with consumers as much as possible, knowing that these are difficult times for everyone, as they value the fundamental concept of gaining repeat business. But who’s kidding whom here? All it takes is one unscrupulous rogue dealer – and the negative word-of-mouth fallout that ensues from their actions – to blow up a $100 million marketing campaign. After all, it’s hard to embrace high-minded concepts from a manufacturer like “we provide an uncompromised experience that will envelope you in luxury” – or something like that – when a dealer is playing Hose-O-Rama on a consumer’s head. (And true to form, dealers are already squawking that the high interest rates are cutting into their ability to make money on F&I, a source of pure, unfettered profits. To that I say, Boo-Fucking-Hoo.)
There are plenty of other “whys?” of course. As in…
Why is a “legacy” auto company that claims to be an essential part of the American fabric at every opportunity simply unable to launch a vehicle without myriad problems showing up? The systemic failures are mind-blowing at this juncture, and the excuses are indeed wearing thin.
Why does the U.S. Government continue to allow Tesla to operate with impunity? The major recall just announced over Tesla’s “full self-driving” technology isn’t enough. The consumers who paid $10,000 for a technology that didn’t come close to offering what was promised by its Blowhard-in-Chief should be paid back that money in full. Period. After all, people died using this alleged technology. Until there are real consequences for this ongoing Muskian nightmare, it will continue to be a complete travesty.
Why is the EV infrastructure lagging behind BEV development? I have thought about this a lot, and I have to say that I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s three things: 1. The idea of a competent EV infrastructure was thought of too late in the process. 2. The cost and technical expertise needed to support and service new and existing EV charge points was never built into the equation. And 3. There wasn’t enough profit potential visible. Unless and until these points are addressed, the whole EV “thing” is going to take time, a long time, to come together.
Why do certain auto manufacturers continue to underwrite NASCAR at this point? And what again is the point exactly? Does the internal explanation revolve around the concept that a certain level of image wrangling needs to be maintained? I’m not buying that for a second. The NASCAR imperative seems to exist within these companies out of sheer “we’ve always done it” inertia. And that simply isn’t good enough. The OEMs could easily cut their financial involvement in NASCAR by 75 percent and guess what? The NASCAR Circus would figure out a way to go on.
Why do the EV startups (Lucid, Rivian, Fisker, etc.) get most of the attention from the automotive media? And why is the collective media surprised when those same startups have serious problems and are unable to meet even a fraction of their original production/sales goals? This is recurring unmitigated bullshit that needs to stop if the auto media wants to retain a shred of integrity. Memo to the carpal-tunnel challenged scribes: Call these companies out right from the start and adopt a giant “we’ll see” skepticism before the bullshit pile gets too high to get out from under. Because the way you’ve been doing it makes you look foolish.
I have plenty more “whys?” to cover, so I will be revisiting this topic down the road.
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