Anyone who’s spent any time around preschoolers knows they can ask some really hard questions. Fortunately, even questions like “why is the sky blue” or “where do babies come from” can be answered to their satisfaction with a little thought and careful wording. Questions from gearheads are a bit tougher and aren’t as easily answered. Here are nine questions I’d love for someone to answer. That is, if there really are answers to be had.
1. Why did Jim Press leave Toyota for Chrysler? He was sitting on top of the automotive world at Toyota as the President and CEO of Toyota North America. Press was the first non-Japanese member of Toyota’s management board. Suddenly, he quit, and went to Chrysler to work for Bob Nardelli. Was it Toyota’s executive salary cap that caused him to bail, or was there something more political going on? Did Cerberus promise Jimbo something more than just a co-presidency at Chrysler? Jim ain’t sayin’.
2. Why did GM keep Rick Wagoner around for so long? “Red Ink Rick” inherited a mess created by his predecessors. Instead of taking the draconian steps needed to get the company back on track, Rick accelerated the company’s slide to oblivion. If a GM middle manager had lost the company the kind of money that Rick did, he would have been given a box for his personal belongings and escorted from the building. Even so, how could it take a president of the United States to bring Ricky down. What power did RW hold over the GM Board of Directors that kept him in charge for nine years?
3. Does Fiat really think they can make a comeback in this country? Fiat sold just one vehicle stateside (pause) that met with any kind of critical acclaim: the 124 Spyder. Meanwhile, Fiat earned itself a stellar rep as the manufacturer of trouble-prone rust buckets whose dealers couldn’t get critical parts (even if they knew what they were and wanted to). Fiat’s decision to jump into bed with Chrysler is not the most ridiculously ambitious (or ambitiously ridiculous) idea in the world, but it’s in the top five. How does Fiat plan to market themselves? Just how big of a PR budget do they have?
4. How much longer can the UAW hang in there before it becomes a casualty of the “good” automakers? When American automakers were raking in the cash, the UAW demanded and received . . . whatever they wanted. In the cold light of day, the union priced itself out of the picture. The concessions surrendered during the last round of contract negations are the crack in the glacier [see: Ice Age]. By the time “new” Chrysler and GM find their feet [Ed: in our shoes], the UAW will carry about as much clout as the air traffic controllers union. How can they survive?
5. How long can GM’s ex-Car Czar, Bob Lutz, keep his mouth shut? Bob Lutz is the prince of WTF sound bites. Earlier this year, Lutz announced his retirement. Last week, he cashed in his remaining GM stock (what does he know that we’ve known for the better part of a a decade?). Why hasn’t Maximum Bob defended his legacy? Alternatively, how is GM managing to keep him quiet?
6. Why has Mark Fields been so quiet lately? Mark “Fly Me to Miami” Fields was another gold-mine of blogger fodder. Ford’s Presidente de las Americas even ran a web-based reality series, “How I Turned Around Ford Without Really Trying.” Lately, like Lutz, Fields hasn’t said boo to a goose. Did Big Al have a “come to Jesus” meeting with Fields? Or did Mrs. Fields finally silence her boy?
7. Where is Honda going with Acura? Honda’s schizoid sports/luxury wannabe division can’t seem to decide what part of the market it wants to play in. For a while, they sold a hard-core sports GT car and scrappy sports compacts and wanted to be the Japanese BMW. Now it seems Acura’s trying to be the Japanese Audi with soccer mom CUVs and AWD near-luxury sedans. Toss in styling only a Anime fan could love and who knows where they’ll go next on their voyage of self-discovery?
8. How much longer will GM, Ford and Chrysler pour money into motorsports? Car and Driver ran an April Fool’s story reporting that budget constraints had forced GM to withdraw from NASCAR. It was so believable no one thought it was a joke. It isn’t. Nothing that any of the domestics are doing in motorsports has anything to do with what you can buy on their showroom. How can they justify spending millions on racing programs when they’re shuttering factories, firing people and begging for handouts to stay alive?
9. Will Toyota wake up and smell the coffee? Toyota’s creating superfluous brands, dragging their luxury division downmarket, trying to fill every market niche, and taking hits due to quality issues. Sound familiar? ToMoCo’s shaking up their management team. But will that be enough to keep them from becoming the GM of the Orient?