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De Lorenzo’s Inferno

De Lorenzo is nothing if not passionate—which can make him . . . extreme.

Without a doubt, this is an industry predicated on passion. Or at least those who are most successful in the industry have a particular drive that isn’t characteristic of any other industry, at least not to the extent that it is of auto. As is sometimes pointed out, there aren’t a whole lot of songs written about washing machines. And for all of the glory of Apple, people undoubtedly associate a rite of passage with an automobile, not with an iPod.

One of the most passionate people in the industry is a man named Peter M. De Lorenzo. He is probably best known by a moniker that he self-applied in June, 1999, when he started a weekly web-based rant, Autoextremist.com. He calls it “The Bare-Knuckled, Unvarnished, High-Octane Truth.” For those who are the people whom he respects, who he calls the “True Believers,” the truth sets them free. For those who he recently described in one of his columns as “the sloths and the quagmire dwellers still embedded in these companies [auto companies], the ones who threaten to bring this business down at any moment with their serial incompetence, unbridled arrogance and lowest-common-denominator mediocrity”—well, as you can imagine, for them, De Lorenzo’s trenchant observations are more like a bare-knuckled punch in the nose.

But here’s the thing: De Lorenzo isn’t all that extreme, except inasmuch as he has a genuine love for the auto industry—the U.S. auto industry, in particular—and he’s not afraid to attack those whom he sees as not having the best interests of the industry in mind.

Consider, for example, this passage: “Great cars and trucks result from a focused consistency in product philosophy and an unwavering commitment to excellence in design, engineering, performance, overall operating efficiency and quality.” That could be used as a touchstone slogan for this publication. It is taken from one of the chapters of De Lorenzo’s new book, Witch Hunt: Essays on the U.S. Auto Industry and the Blithering Idiots Who Almost Killed It (Octane Press). By and large the “idiots” in question are (1) politicians, (2) finance people (e.g., the people from Cerberus, who bought Chrysler and then seemingly did their darnedest to destroy it), (3) incompetent executives, (4) the “Green Horde” (those who embrace “green” without considering all of the ramifications, both economic and environmental), and (5) people who think that manufacturing capability isn’t essential for the health and well being of the United States:

“But I am really much more concerned about the negative and wildly naïve attitude that has been allowed to fester in and around Washington and across the country of late, the attitude that suggests that our manufacturing base in this country’s ability to make things somehow doesn’t matter in this brave new consumer nation that the U.S. has become in the twenty-first century.

“It’s the same attitude that suggests—if not outright promotes—the idea that we can exist in some alternative consumerist universe of our own creation, a Starbucks Nation of ‘whatever’ consumers who don’t really care where whatever it is we’re coveting comes from as long as it’s here now and c-h-e-a-p.

“This is the same attitude that has left this country ill-prepared for the burgeoning realities of this global world we’re living in. And this ‘whatever’ posture that has become far too commonplace in our nation, and the idea that this will all workout somehow—because it always has—is not only beyond scary, it’s just flat-out wrong.”

Arguably, De Lorenzo should be invited to make the next keynote at the National Association of Manufacturers annual meeting.

In some ways, Witch Hunt can be considered to be analogous to Dante’s Inferno, inasmuch as it takes us through the muck and mire as two proud American industrial firms—GM and Chrysler—descend into bankruptcy. During this travail, the characters are the types that De Lorenzo would undoubtedly like to put in some unspeakable circles of Hell. And there is no Purgatorio and certainly not Paridiso: even though he follows them up and out of their despair, there is certainly no redemption, at least not yet.

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