By on January 25, 2011

It probably won’t come as too huge of a surprise to many of TTAC’s regular readers that the first car blog I ever read was Pete DeLorenzo’s Autoextremist.com. This was years ago, years before I ever imagined that I would get pulled into the crazy world of the auto industry, and at the time I was deeply impressed. Here was a guy who, having seen the Detroit machine from the inside, was documenting the self-destruction of an industry with an unmistakable bravado and flair for storytelling. In retrospect, it’s strange to realize that my tastes for automotive coverage were well-defined before I ever considered entering the profession.

In any case, writers are forever challenged when the stories they grow to love take a turn for the unexpected, and DeLorenzo seemingly abandoned his caustic style by the time the auto bailout hit. But cheerleading never quite sounded right coming from the man peddling “bare-knuckled, unvarnished, high-octane truth,” and TTAC took the Autoextremist to task for some of his more brazen pom-pomery during the fevered bailout debates. Still, when the bailout-era wagon-circling was over, DeLorenzo could no longer contain the angry spark that once inspired TTAC’s founder to offer to post Autoextremist rants on this very site. And after warming back up over the past year by using Ed Whitacre as his rhetorical punching bag, I’m pleased to say the Autoextremist is back to his bombastic pre-bailout form. His inspiration: the leadership (or lack thereof) of GM’s latest CEO, “Lt. Dan” Akerson…

DeLorenzo tears into “Lt.Dan” with such enthusiasm, it’s impossible to encapsulate all the anger into a single blurb… so let’s just call the whole piece TTAC’s Quote Of The Day. Surf on over to autoextremist.com to read the whole thing. Or, for just a taste of the shellacking dished out by Motown’s “insider’s outsider,” consider this passage:

Marching to the dulcet tones of a soundtrack based on his own unimpeachable convictions – even though they are unencumbered with any real depth of knowledge or understanding of what this business of making cars is really all about – “Lt. Dan” Akerson has launched an offensive to put his stamp on the company, no matter what the cost. And I predict those costs will be cataclysmic for GM and may just cripple the company down the road, just when it needs to be firing on all cylinders.

If this is a business about product cadence – which it most definitely is – then the “new” General Motors is on a runaway train to Hell. After all, this is a guy who has proudly admitted “I’m not a car guy” from the get-go, underlining that statement by making some plainly horrific comments to the Wall Street Journal in a revealing interview conducted right before the Detroit Auto Show.

Do you want to know just how dangerous this guy is to the future stability of GM? In that interview Akerson insisted that GM has too many engines globally, and he’s going to “fix” that. Uh, and he’s basing that on what, exactly? Secondly, Akerson is quite certain that GM is spending too much time and money differentiating sheet metal between the divisional nameplates, when a little creative marketing would suffice.

Oh really?

The last guy who believed that at GM was John Smale and we all know how that turned out, don’t we? The Smale “Reign of Terror” (executed by his Chief Acolyte, Ron Zarrella) was so mind-numbingly wrong-headed that it ended up unleashing a string of products bristling with all of the P&G-infused, marketing-driven mumbo jumbo that the Smale/Zarrella brain trust could muster – revolving around the fundamental premise of it doesn’t matter how good the product is, because brilliant marketing can overcome anything – and resulting in the most woefully uncompetitive and out-of-touch products in the market. Not only was it a complete disaster, it ultimately helped set the table for the most humiliating corporate bankruptcy in American history.

Ouch. You know when Sweet Pete reaches for a Smale/Zarella reference, he’s spitting mad… and in this case, the shoe just might fit. Akerson has definitely done a better job “making his mark” on GM than explaining just what exactly he’s trying to accomplish. And there’s no doubt that the “if you’ve run one corporation, you’ve run them all” attitude is poison in an industry as complex as the car game, as Zarella and Smales proved with aplomb. Is Akerson doomed to “shake the neck of GM until it falls limp in his hands so that he can then rebuild it in his image” as DeLorenzo has it? Not necessarily. But DeLorenzo’s critique provides a fantastic counterpoint to the MSM’s rush to crown the newest savior of General Motors.

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31 Comments on “Quote Of The Day: The Autoextremist Gets His Bash Back Edition...”


  • avatar
    mtypex

    These guys are still screwed. I don’t miss them.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Where’s Forest Gump when you need him?

  • avatar
    M 1

    Anybody know who wrote Car-Truck.com back in the day? They had all the deep dirt on Chrysler, including the ugly details of what Daimler was really doing (e.g. raping the corporate bank accounts) — then they were gone. I heard the lawsharks of Daimler-Chrysler started circling a little too closely for comfort. Now the domain is parked at GoDaddy.
     
    That’s where MM would write if it was alive today. It was like TTAC’s eye for business news with all the non-posing “we don’t give a damn what you think” approach that Jalopnik had before Gizmodo absorbed them into the collective, which apparently involves a great deal of castration and general pussification.
     
    Christ I miss that site.

    • 0 avatar
      cdotson

      +1, I’m glad I’m not the only one that remembers that.  They were early in calling out the Liberty as a fail (the “Kan’t Jeep”) in brand abandonment.  I’m missing the Buzz Report too.

    • 0 avatar
      jimboy

      Me, too. I always wondered what happened there. I was a huge fan of that site. Sadly, I don’t quite buy the ‘bare knuckled, unvarnished truth’ slogan. While DeLorenzo often has some pithy comments to make, he also suffers from the ‘I know more than anyone’ syndrome. If he is so expert, why not sign on at one of the majors? Show us what you got, Pete.

    • 0 avatar
      faygo

      @jimboy :
      Petey has done various consulting inside at Chrysler (pre-Daimler IIRC) and a few other things, but I think he’s burned his bridges with too much gusto to get officially (or unofficially) recognized by anyone high enough up at any of the current Detroit companies.  as others have noted here, if even half of the sh!t he notes is going on inside GM is true, they are in big trouble.  appointing yes-(wo)men to ram through mis-guided plans with product development is never going to work.  it won’t be immediately obvious, but by the time it is (after another couple of years of good profits which Akerson can claim credit for, while in reality having had nothing to do with any of the product decisions) it will be way too late to fix things.

  • avatar
    Ralph ShpoilShport

    Yes, I was over there earlier today checking AE out.  He certainly didn’t pull any punches and continued on in the “On the Table”? section. I enjoyed it very much but I’m a certified GM hater, for reasons just like these (above).

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Lorenzo makes sense. Akerson’s actions and putting a manufacturing person in charge of product seem to say “after all, if GM knew what they were doing, I wouldn’t be here, would I?  Living in this cold wasteland forfeiting all the money I could make at Carlyle. So, we’ll do something different for a change!” I wish Akerson well, lots of people (still) are depending on GMs success.

  • avatar
    TomH

    Hell hath no fury like a Consultant cum Blogger scorned.
    In the pre-bailout days it looked like Peter DeLuxe was fishing for some GM consulting revenues, but once it was apparent that they had gone elsewhere,  he got back to his old form.  Having grown up in Generous Mother’s busom, his father was a Pontiac PR exec, you can understand the call of The Tubes, but it’s nice to see Peter has recaptured his Mojo.

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    Since Ford has a much more talented leader in Mullaly, GM could try and and follow Ford the same way Ford used to mimick GM. There’s only one well run US car company now and everyone knows it is Ford.

  • avatar
    pleiter

    Car company doing well > Run by an engineer
    Car company doing average > Run by an Accountant
    Car company doing poorly > Run by a Lawyer
    ???????????????????????? > Run by an Outsider
    From: Audi unintended acceleration days

  • avatar

    realize this is repetitive but the trouble at GM is, and has been, they just don’t have anyone who knows how to sell cars, what a concept!

    • 0 avatar
      Omnifan

      We’ll ask again.  How would Buickman restructure GM to “sell cars?”  Talk is cheap.

    • 0 avatar

      Omnifan, like a typical GM executive you are looking at this incorrectly. the problem is not the Structure, it’s the Strategy. this is why the almost constant reorganizations and reassignments do not bear fruit and continue to witness loss of marktet share.

      from Alfred Chandler (himself a duPont)…
      Strategy is the determination of the basic long term goals and objectives, and the adoption of courses of action and the allocation of resources necessary for carrying out goals…

      Structure is the design of the org. through which the enterprise is administered…two parts, (1) the lines of authority and communication between the different admin. offices and (2) officers and the info. and data that flow through these lines of communication and authority
      Structure follows strategy.

      in terms of Structure though, I have been preaching for years on end that General Motors is far too large to allow one individual to serve as both Chairman and CEO. a Chairman focuses on, and provides, long term direction while the CEO focuses on operations.

      see The Buickman on FaceBook

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Buickman – John G. Smale from Procter and Gamble shared responsibilities at the top with Jack Smith for a few years during the 90’s.  While they made the General profitable for the short term, the end result was mediocrity redux, to include the end of the Buick Roadmaster.
       
      GM needs at least one car person at the helm. Bunkie Knudsen and Pete Estes aren’t around to run with the ball.

  • avatar

    If even half of Peter’s rant this week is true it’s a frightening scenario for GM. Read the post if you haven’t already done so and consider some of these nuggets:
     
    “…implying that he has ordered the product development troops to cut $10,000 worth of cost out of the Volt…” For those of us of a “certain age”, we’ve seen this movie – and its sequels. 1960 Corvair, 1971 Vega…trot on over to http://www.ateupwithmotor.com and read Aaron Severson’s outstanding histories on how both these cars began…and ended up the way they did. Or go see the Curbside Classics about both the Vega and the X-bodies.
     
    Volt is too expensive – we all know that – but maybe GM needs to take a page from Toyota and sell them at a loss until the costs can be amortized.
     
    “…Akerson is quite certain that GM is spending too much time and money differentiating between the divisional nameplates, when a little creative marketing would suffice.” If that’s truly an issue then there are still two brands too many in this company. But what I think is really going on here is a self-proclaimed “not a car guy” with zero sense of history. From the 1971 Nova clones to that horrific automotive abortion known as Uplander/Montana SV6/Relay and a couple other forgettable names for that minivan-cum-crossover I can’t think of right now.
     
    “…GM has too many engines globally, and he’s going to fix that…” I think that gem stands on its own.
     
    Anyone living in the USA cheering on GM’s downfall would do well to remember that this ain’t Fiatsler. GM’s market share is still big enough – though deservedly less than half of its onetime 53% share decades ago – that if it went down a lot of supplier jobs would go with it…making it all the harder for remaining companies to build quality, competitive products.
     
    It’s bad enough that GM was bailed out the way it was – I still think a Ch 11 would have saved taxpayer dollars and done less damage to the company’s perception in the marketplace – but what’s done is done and now for Akerson to come along sounds like a prime recipe to destroy whatever positive feelings anyone has left for GM’s products.
     
    If this guy isn’t reigned in, the next stop could well be Chapter 7.

  • avatar
    pgcooldad

    My brother-in-law who is an Engineer for Cadillac e-mailed me Peter’s recent “Rant” the same day it came out.
     
    The title of his e-mail?   “Uhhh-ohhhh”!
     
    Another auto journalist who has jumped on the same wagon is John McElroy who wrote a similar piece on Barra’s appointment to product development by “Lt. Dan” but with a much more interesting twist on Lutz’es genius “secret weapons” of product development.
     
    http://www.autoblog.com/2011/01/25/how-bob-lutz-made-four-auto-journalists-his-secret-weapons-at/

  • avatar
    ajla

    In that interview Akerson insisted that GM has too many engines globally, and he’s going to “fix” that. Uh, and he’s basing that on what, exactly?
     
    I can’t speak globally, but by my count, in the United States GM currently offers 26 different engines. Ford Motors offers 17. ChryslerCo offers 11.  Honda/Acura offers 9.  Toyota/Lexus/Scion offers 18.

     
    Sounds to me like Akerson might actually be on to something here.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      And Nissan does even better – they offer a variant of the VQ V6 in anything larger than a Sentra, ranging from Z-cars to Infiniti sedans to pickup trucks to the Quest minivan. If there’s a “Most Versatile Engine Award”, the VQ has to be a contender.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I count 15 different engines offered in the US by Nissan/Infiniti right now.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      You missed the point, too. He’s on to something for what reason? Because the number is larger? Perhaps the others offer too few. Perhaps there is no magical correct number. Perhaps the number of engines offered globally is completely irrelevant to the health and welfare of the manufacturer.
       
      Sounds to me like Niedermeyer might actually be on to something here.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

       
      @M1:

      You missed the point, too. He’s on to something for what reason?

      Seeing as you just want to ask questions, I’ll ask you one. You really don’t think that GM offers several out-of-date, redundant, or just plain bad engines in the US market? You’re happy with GM’s recent engine decisions?
       
      Go look at GMNA Powertrain right now and tell me it’s not a mess. I hope Akerson fixes it.
       
      There is no magical number, but GM absolutely does not offer 26 competitive, irreplaceable engines.

    • 0 avatar

      GM Global Powertrain is now being run by a guy named Hresko. he turned around Orion with the G6 then ran Stamping and Global Quality. he appears to be an up and comer, sharp fella from what I can tell. as I have said for years, GM has good people, it’s their marketiing that’s killing them, that and their clueless at the top executives.

  • avatar
    raincoconuts

    “He brings a wealth of experience…”
    Couple of interviews I’ve seen don’t inspire much confidence, does not seem to know very much about the large corporation he heads..
    The past few decades everybody-car guys included have made an unholy mess at GM maybe the phone guy will fix it all up..BTW what happened to Nextel and MCI?

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Lutz has forgotten more about cars (OK, more about what constitutes a good car)  than Akerson and Barra will ever know.

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