The Truth About Cars » management The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » management Hammer Time: Are Shareholders Worth It? Wed, 28 May 2014 14:20:07 +0000 balancing act

Capitalism has no loyalties.

Everybody is replaceable.

Products. Employees. Employers. Services. Alliances. Joint Ventures. Financiers. Even the executives of multinational firms along with their board of directors are only as good as whatever quarterly numbers can be cooked up by their ‘independent’ auditing firm.

Capitalism is the ultimate “Let’s go!”, “Do it!” and “Screw you!” of economic systems. You name the angle or need in capitalism, and chances are that there is a market substitute that can immediately fill the gap. Even government regulations can be routinely challenged by trade organizations, international courts, and the all too common political handshake.

All this reality happens… on paper.

The truth is that capitalism is tempered by the culture where it’s practiced.

In the world we live in today, corporations and industry interests always pursue laws and relationships to protect their gotten gains. The ultimate goal of some companies isn’t progress. But to keep certain competitors and market substitutes far away from the hands of the free market.

Consumer first? Hell no! Earnings first? Hell yes! This brutal reality of corporate self-interest brings on a few tough questions when it comes to the American auto industry in particular.

Everyone has their own hierarchy of worthiness when it comes to an automaker’s success. Bonuses, dividends, stock options and pensions are all realigned to account for the rewards of good work.  So with that in mind, let me have you think about a question that has bugged me now for several years.

Are individual shareholders worth it?

As I look through the recent history of our industry, I am having trouble figuring out a single scenario where individual public shareholders made the difference. Ross Perot couldn’t kick Roger Smith’a ass into gear. Lee Iacocca and Kirk Kerkorian were the crown jesters of a pointless takeover exercise. As for Ford, wasn’t the fact that the Ford family held sway the major reason why an industry outsider like Alan Mulally was successful at restructuring the company? He didn’t need to worry about holding off on a strategy, or hiring some lackey to his management team,  just because some schmuck with a big block of stock thought he knew more.

Smaller shareholders are nothing more than gamblers. If something bad happens, they are the last to know and for good reason. They don’t know anything. Even if they did, their shares don’t enable them to help create that change. I can’t think of one solitary situation in the last 50 years where a small shareholder has been able to make a difference in any automobile company.

Who has offered the greatest stability and success in the long run? In our industry it may very well solely rest in the wiser and more patient hands of the family controlled business.

The most successful Japanese auto company is owned by the Toyoda family. The most successful European company, Volkswagen, is ruled by Porsche Automobil Holding. A German holding company owned by the Porsche families.

As for American manufacturers, only Ford, a company controlled by the Ford family for well over a century, was able to survive the 2008 meltdown without a direct bailout. The shareholders did nothing but lose all their money and offer many of us a golden opportunity to short their stocks. John Q Public and Cerberus were inevitably replaced by the unions, Fiat, and Uncle Sam.

Could individuals shareholders ever make a difference in this business? If not, do they simply make it easier for the family with limited resources to control the business?

Instead of offering a reflexive yes/no based on ideological allegiance, I want you to also think about the financial issues. We are in a heavily cyclical industry. White knights, along with new leaders, have helped save nearly every automaker from bankruptcy or a hostile takeover at one time or another.

But can this defense be better executed with a family that has their own name and reputation to defend? Instead of a bunch of shareholders who are in it simply for the stock price?

My answer is yes. I think small shareholders serve as nothing more than a money pool for those who are doing the real work. In a well-run organization they offer liquidity. In good times, they get dividends and stock appreciation. In bad times, they usually don’t have any means to change the running of a car business for the better.  This business has far too many influencers on too many levels for public shareholders to effect change.

Am I wrong?

Author’s Note: Even when Steve is wrong you can reach him at

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Toyota Shakes Up Its Leadership Wed, 06 Mar 2013 18:44:07 +0000

When Toyota gets on the horn by lunchtime to tell Tokyo’s media to show up at 4:30 the same day, everybody knows it will be a big surprise and an even bigger deal. Today, Japan’s Fourth Estate already knew what’s coming when the phone rang. It still was a big deal: Toyota completely reshuffled its top executives. It even brought a non-Japanese on board, a former GM man to boot.

Earlier in the week, sources told Reuters that there will be changes at the top of Toyota. So nobody was really surprised when a day later, the changes happened.  The biggest change was a further shortening of the long decision making where even the smallest project needs a series of “hanko,” or seals by the boss, his boss, and that boss’s boss.  Said Akio Toyoda today at the Megaweb in Tokyo:

“It is healthy for decisions to be made by those close to the products and the ground, and there is a limit to what I can do.”

“As vehicle sales start growing again, my aim is to build a group in which everyone is aware that they are in charge.”

As expected, Toyota made Takeshi Uchiyamada, the father of the Prius and the engine behind Toyota’s hybrid drive, chairman of the board.  By doing so, Toyota once again put someone in charge who knows his cars. Uchiyamada has shown that he doesn’t just know cars, he knows how to engineer cars for the future.

For the first time, Toyota brings outside directors to its board, one of them surprisingly Mark T. Hogan. Hogan was president of Magna before taking over as President of the Vehicle Production Group, a high level car consultancy. Those tidbits are ignored by Toyota’s press release which mentions instead that Hogan is a “former General Motors Corporation group vice president.”

Hogan was at GM for 31 years. Interestingly, his GM career began in 1973 with the Electro-Motive Division in Chicago. Hogan met Toyota as General Manager of NUMMI. After that, one of Hogan’s many jobs was Managing Director of GM do Brazil, where he became known for making simple, low cost vehicles though fully integrated organizations and lean manufacturing. Before he left GM, he was Group Vice President of Advance Vehicle Development. Even Toyota’s outside directors know their way around cars.

More Americans will be affected by the revirement: Toyota’s U.S. Jim Lentz advances from Managing Officer to Senior Managing Officer. Lexus chief Mark Templin advances from General Manager to Managing Officer.

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Dr. Z Nearly Lost His Job Mon, 25 Feb 2013 11:22:56 +0000

“Dieter Zetsche is lucky that he can stay for three more years,” writes Der Spiegel in Germany. The labor side of Daimler’s Supervisory Board had demanded Dr. Z’s head, the magazine writes. After long debates with Daimler’s Supervisory Board Chairman Manfred Bischoff, a compromise was found.

Says Der Spiegel:

“Early in the year, Daimler Works Council chief Erich Klemm and metalworker union boss Thomas Klebe approached Bischoff. They announced that the labor side of the Supervisory Board will unanimously vote against an extension of CEO Zetsches’ contract.”

Labor, but also management criticized Zetsche’s style, or rather the lack thereof. Bischoff threatened that he could veto the decision. In a large German corporation, the Supervisory Board consists of 50 percent representatives of labor, the other half represent the capital. If votes are tied, the Chairman can break the tie.

Instead, a compromise was reached. Zetsche’s contract was extended only for three years instead of five. Wolfgang Bernhard, unloved by the unions for his gruff style, was sent to manage trucks.

For everybody’s edification, a German Supervisory Board  is not a Board of Management. The Supervisory Board supervises, it does not manage. The Supervisory Board cannot tell management what to do. All it can is approve or disapprove management’s proposals.

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The Castration Of Daimler’s Leadership: Only Three More Years For Dr. Z & Co. Fri, 22 Feb 2013 13:47:27 +0000

It is unusual that the supervisory board of a large German corporation denies the dearest wishes of its Management. If the board does not like a wish, the wish usually won’t be rendered in the first place, the tight community of executive assistants will see to it. It would be most unusual that the board denies the wish of its CEO to run the company for another five years. Daimler’s board did the impossible: It denied Dieter Zetsche’s wish for another five-year contract, and gave Dr. Z. three years to get Daimler’s house in order. It’s a mission impossible. The mustachioed will sit out his career as a fall guy.

Daimler‘s and Zetsche’s target, to be the world’s largest maker of premium cars, has moved into a foggy future far, far away. What’s especially unnerving in Stuttgart: The Bavarian “peasants” and “upstarts” of Audi and BMW are far ahead, they are picking up speed and customers around the world.

European industry insiders, and the better informed media are taking the decision as what it is, “a warning signal,” writes Der Spiegel, “the board is at the end of its patience.”

Most of Daimler’s troubles are in the land that is home to the success of Germany’s automakers: China. The board fears that “Daimler’s luxury Mercedes Benz brand is losing out to Volkswagen’s Audi and BMW, particularly in the important Chinese market,” as China Daily can’t help to opine. Daimler is expecting flat earnings this year, mostly because it had been asleep at the wheel in the Middle Kingdom.

Especially in China, Daimler has become a victim of its institutional arrogance. The Benz brand has degenerated into the choice of affluent has-beens. The standard joke in China is that many Audis parked in front of a restaurant are signs of a party meeting. A row of BMWs signal a party by nouveau-riche hooligans. Whereas a parking lot full of Benzes indicates retirees having tea. Being a party boss or a rich hooligan is highly aspirational in China. Retirement not so much.

The castration of Daimler’s leadership has been made complete by castling Zetsche’s darling and crown prince Wolfgang Bernhard with truck chief Andreas Renschler. The 58 year old R&D chief Thomas Weber also received only a three year extension. The board tried to cover this with a new rule that says that top managers who will be 60 years or older during the next extension will only get three years. Other carmakers are led by more virile seniors. The current contract of Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn, who will be 66 in May, won’t expire until January 1 2017.  His Chairman Ferdinand Piech celebrated his 75th last year, and he hopes to live and work as long as Suzuki’s spunky Chairman Osamu Suzuki, who just turned 83.

Then there was the matter of the new contract of Legal and Compliance chief Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt. The former judge is 63 already. The board punted and delayed a decision until April, as Germany’s Handelsblatt heard. Then, that new rule is most likely forgotten.

In this both cynical and cyclical business, three years are not enough. The top of Daimler is set up for the fall. The competition is producing new cars faster than fertile rabbits, all the while Daimler received rancor for using a Renault engine in its latest A-Class, a sacrilege among Daimler’s aging customer base. The recent rise of the Euro already is blowing in the faces of German makers, it is especially chilling for highly “exportabhängig”, or export-dependent Daimler. Speaking of aging: Savvy insiders name Daimler as the next victim of Europe’s counting-down demographic time-bomb. Daimler’s customer core is around 60, and that segment is turning into a dying breed in Europe, very literally.

There are voices that say that there is a much higher order problem in Stuttgart. Daimler’s shareholdings are all over the place, and there is no big shareholder that puts his foot down and demands action. Credit Suisse analyst Erich Hauser opined to Reuters that part of the problem is “that no large Daimler shareholder, such as Kuwait, has a seat on the supervisory board like either the Quandt family does at BMW or the Porsche and Piech clans at Volkswagen.”

We have said that five years ago. But who’s listening to TTAC?

PS: Now that king and crown princes have been castrated, everybody is on the look-out for a new CEO. Three years is barely enough for such a search. Daimler’s CFO Bodo Übber is said to have the best chances at the moment. That’s just what Daimler needs, a bean-counter at the helm. But he is qualified. Übber is only 54.

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Ex-Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli Leaving Cerberus Mon, 12 Mar 2012 18:23:36 +0000

Bob Nardelli will be leaving Cerberus Capital Management, the private equity firm that famously owned Chrysler during the company’s 2009 bankruptcy. Nardelli served as Chrysler CEO from 2007 until the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Nardelli previously worked at General Electric and Home Depot as a senior manager. At Home Depot, Nardelli left amid slowing growth, and was then hired by Cerberus to help turn around Chrysler. Despite Nardelli’s failure, he remained in a top role at Cerberus, including a stint at the Freedom Group, which owns firearm brands like Remington Arms and Bushmaster. Nardelli was frequently criticized for his roles at Home Depot and Chrysler – he was once named as one of America’s worst CEOs of all time.

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Marchionne Is The Man In North America, As Fiat And Chrysler Align Management Thu, 28 Jul 2011 20:08:35 +0000

[UPDATE: Fiat press release outlining the complete new management structure added]

The awaited consolidation of Fiat and Chrysler operations is complete, reports Bloomberg, and CEO Sergio Marchionne is taking the North American job for himself. Joining Marchionne at the top of the company’s new regionally-based divisions, are Gianni Coda, former head of purchasing at Fiat and now the boss of European, African and Middle East operation; Cledorvino Belini, erstwhile head of Fiat in Brazil is now in charge of all of South America; Michael Manley, previously boss of the Jeep brand, will be leading the firm’s effort Asia. These four regional bosses will be part of a 22-member “group executive council” which will manage all of Fiat and Chrysler’s operations. The details of the council’s makeup still haven’t been released, but the big news is well encapsulated by a quote from Gianluca Spina, chairman of the business school at Polytechnic University of Milan.

Marchionne’s decision to keep the role of overseeing the business in North America shows that the center of gravity of the combined entity will be in the U.S… The integration process is going extremely fast, as is Marchionne’s style.

Given all the questions about the national character of the new Fiat-Chrysler, Marchionne’s personal emphasis on the US market is a heartening sign. Meanwhile, another point that Marchionne seems to deserve credit for is keeping his team intact. Where GM has been shuffling and reshuffling its management since the bailout, Marchionne seems to be keeping a steady hand on Fiat-Chrysler’s human resources situation. Which is all the more surprising for the other bit of management news coming out of Chrysler this week…

The AP [via BusinessWeek] reveals what may have been the most interesting tidbit from Chrysler’s Q2 financial results analyst call earlier this week: the revelation that Chrysler’s new freedom from government pay restrictions (a condition of the bailout) does not mean there are plans to alter compensation.

QUESTION: Will your executives get across-the-board raises when you put the new management team in place?

MARCHIONNE: “No. I think that … you’re assuming that once we’re out of jail, that we’re going to start distributing cash indiscriminately to return to the old ways of sin,” he said. “We’re not going to do that. Obviously we want to remain competitive, but I think the industry itself has learned how to be much more cautious and judicious. I think we tend to follow that trend.”


[UPDATE: Fiat press release, detailing the full management structure follows]

Fiat Announces Key Appointments

Fiat S.p.A. is pleased to announce significant organizational changes effective September 1, 2011. As a result of the acquisition of majority ownership of Chrysler Group and consistent with the objective of enhancing the operational integration of Fiat S.p.A. and Chrysler Group, Fiat S.p.A. is today announcing the formation of a Group Executive Council, similar to the one that managed Fiat S.p.A. until the demerger of the Fiat Industrial activities.

The Group Executive Council (GEC) is the highest executive decision making body within Fiat outside of its Board of Directors1. It is responsible for reviewing the operating performance of the businesses, setting performance targets, making key strategic decisions and investments for the Group and sharing best practices, including the development and deployment of key human resources.

The GEC will have 4 main groupings.

The first is composed of 4 Regional Operations Groups for car manufacturing and sales, plus Parts and Service (MOPAR), Automotive Components (mainly Magneti Marelli) and Systems and Castings (Teksid and Comau). Each will be the responsibility of a Chief Operating Officer (COO) who will drive the organization via a regional Management Team (subject of a separate announcement prior to September 1, 2011). The COO’s are accountable for Profit and Loss of their region/business, the management of regional resources, including manufacturing and commercial activities.

The COO’s appointed to the GEC are as follows:

NAFTA (including Chrysler): Sergio Marchionne

Europe, Africa and Middle East: Gianni Coda

Latin America: Cledorvino Belini

Asia: Michael Manley

Parts and Service (MOPAR): Pietro Gorlier

Components (Magneti Marelli): Eugenio Razelli

Teksid/Comau: Riccardo Tarantini

The second grouping is reflective of the Group’s focus and emphasis on its brands. Each of the global or potentially global brands is represented in the GEC, and their responsibility will be to improve and develop an appropriate brand portfolio and to assist in the development of adequate commercial and marketing strategies in each of the Group’s operating regions.

The Brand Heads appointed to the GEC are as follows:

Fiat: Olivier Francois

Commercial Vehicles: Lorenzo Sistino

Alfa/Abarth/Maserati: Harald Wester

Lancia/Chrysler: Saad Chehab

Jeep: Michael Manley

Dodge: Reid Bigland

They will be supported by a Chief Creative Officer, Olivier Francois.

The third group is composed of industrial process leaders, who will drive consistency and rigor across the operating regions, and optimize the capital allocation choices the Group will face in the years to come.

Chief Technology Officer: Harald Wester

Design: Lorenzo Ramaciotti

Manufacturing Technology and Coordination: Stefan Ketter

Group Purchasing: Vilmar Fistarol

Quality: Doug Betts

Powertrain Coordinator: Bob Lee

Product Portfolio Management: Mark Chernoby

The final group is composed of support / corporate functions.

Business Development: Alfredo Altavilla

Fiat Services & Holdings: Alessandro Baldi

Chief Financial Officer: Richard Palmer

Chief Human Resource Officer: Linda Knoll

The GEC will utilize Alessandro Baldi as the Executive Coordinator.

“We have now reached the right moment to step on the accelerator of the Fiat-Chrysler integration” said Sergio Marchionne, Chief Executive of Fiat and Chrysler. “These appointments are the result of an extensive process of evaluation of the technical and leadership skills of the individuals who have been appointed to the GEC. But equally important is the fact that they reflect the multi-cultural geographically diverse nature of our businesses. We recognize in these leaders the future of Fiat-Chrysler as an efficient, multi-national competitor in a global automotive marketplace. It is a privilege for me to have the opportunity to lead this group of people and see them grow, to watch them as they transform challenge into success and into faith in themselves and what they can achieve.”

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Fiat And Chrysler To Make It Official, Unified Management Coming “Soon” Thu, 14 Jul 2011 14:29:20 +0000

When Fiat and the US government collaborated to bail out and restructure Chrysler, many hailed the news as nothing less than the rescue of the American auto industry. Though Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne became CEO of the Auburn Hills-based automaker, he maintained much of its management corps on the strength of brief interviews, only relieving a few key members of the old guard. But the debate over whether the rapidly-aligning Fiat-Chrysler is more Fiat or Chrysler is going to be resolved “pretty quickly” according to Marchionne, as Bloomberg reports that a unified management structure is in the works.

Marchionne is working on management changes as he steps up the integration of the two companies. He plans to merge the carmakers to reduce costs and achieve a target of more than 100 billion euros ($140 billion) in combined revenue by 2014. The executive said in May that the timing of a merger hasn’t been decided yet, adding that a combination isn’t likely this year.

But just as there was furor in Italy when Marchionne suggested that the unified Fiat-Chrysler could be headquartered in Detroit, the unified management structure could be yet another source of controversy. It will, after all, be the most direct signal yet as to whether Fiat-Chrysler is an Italian firm with global operations, an Italian-American alliance or a truly global firm. For one thing, unified management should force Marchionne to commit to a single headquarters for the group, reviving a controversy he temporarily cooled by fatuously suggesting there be four Fiat-Chrysler “headquarters,” in Turin, Detroit, Brasil and “Asia.” Having masterfully finessed the PR messaging transition from “rescue of an American automaker” to “wholly owned subsidiary” thus far, a unified management could bring up a lot of unresolved issues. In short, it’s a branding challenge that makes the Chrysler-Lancia transformation look like child’s play…

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Kia Recalls Its Management Tue, 07 Sep 2010 14:47:04 +0000

I hate to get all “workers of the world unite”, but management seems to get away with a hell of a lot more than the rank and file. Take Prudential’s bid to take over AIG’s Asian arm. The bid failed and the whole exercise cost Prudential £377m (about $579.5m). Digest that figure for a second, then digest the next fact. The CEO, Tidjane Thiam, refuses to stand down over this mistake. Now consider this, if you, as a rank and file member, would cost the company you work for just 1 percent of that previous figure, could you honestly expect to keep your job? Now let’s look at the FIATsco incident. The whole affair cost GM $2b. Again, had you have cost the company you work for just 1 percent of that figure, could you keep you job? After writing this paragraph, I find the next story almost heartwarming.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Kia Vice President, Chung Sung-Eun has resigned. The reason for his resignation was to take responsiblity for a series of recalls which Kia had to issue. Michael Choo, spokesperson for Kia, said that Chung Mong-Koo, CEO of Hyundai, which owns 39 percent of Kia, allowed Chung Sung-Eun to leave as he failed to ensure the quality of Kia vehicles. The recalls in question are 104,047 units of the Soul, Sorento, Borego and Cadenza cars.

The problem was faulty wiring. Business Week posits that resigning over 104,047 recalled cars is a bit harsh, but that’s the way the industry is going since the recalls of Toyota. “Jeong (Chung) resigning is a pre-emptive action, “said Chae Hee Guen, Korean analyst for Mertz Securities Co., “Quality is a top priority for Kia and Hyundai Motor Co. management. They don’t want to tarnish their image.” While this is admirable, are we going too far in the other direction?

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Toyota Raises Board Level Domestic Content Thu, 24 Jun 2010 09:52:39 +0000

Further to Ed Niedermeyer’s comments on local content of cars, Toyota announces changes to the most precious content of all: Who’s in the top slots of their presences abroad. In one fell swoop,  Toyota replaced leading positions in the U.S.A. and Europe with local content.

In a press release, Toyota said the company” is stepping up the appointment of local personnel—with intimate knowledge of local conditions—to senior management positions.” Here’s the table of recent changes:

Appointment of Local Personnel to Senior Management Positions at Overseas Affiliates

Company Title Holder Current Holder
North America Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, Inc. President Chris Nielsen Kenji Fukuta
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana, Inc. President Norm Bafunno Kazumori Oi
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. Chairman*1 Steve St.Angelo -
President Wil James Steve St. Angelo
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. Chairman*1 Real C. Tanguay -
President Brian Krinock Real C. Tanguay
Europe Toyota Motor Europe NV/SA (TME) President Didier Leroy Tadashi Arashima
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Turkey Inc. President Orhan Ozer Tamer Unlu
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Poland SP.zo.o. President Carl Klemm*2 Kenji Manabe
*1Newly created position; *2Effective as of April 1, 2010
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GM Management Purges Over Sat, 10 Apr 2010 19:07:44 +0000

GM’s CEO Ed Whitacre has told the remaining employees that his purges of senior management are complete. “I want to reassure you that the major leadership changes are behind us,” Whitacre wrote in a March 31 letter obtained by Bloomberg. “The team we have in place today is the team that will take us forward.”

Whitacre, 68, said he wrote the letter to quell employees’ anxiety. Apparently, they wondered who will be next. Never good for morale. “People who have been there a long time, even if they are doing a good job, they worry about getting the phone call because of all the turmoil,” said Joe Phillippi, president of consultant AutoTrends in Short Hills, New Jersey. “Getting out there and saying the team is in place is a good idea.”

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NYT: GM Tries Harder Fri, 13 Nov 2009 16:47:32 +0000 Zen and the art of gritting your teeth. (courtesy

You know how terrorism experts talk about increased “internet chatter” as foretelling some kind of attack? On Monday, GM will release its post-C11 financial results which, thanks to dubious accounting, could very well mean nothing. Even so, I’m getting the feeling that there’s some bad news a brewin’, ’cause the MSM is kissing some major GM butt today. First, the Freep shows GM’s Chairman of the Board the love that dare not grant it an interview. Now the Times’ Bill Vlasic, late of the Detroit News, shows up with a piece that supposedly reveals the depth and breadth of GM’s much ballyhooed “cultural change.” Mea culpa comes in the form of “After bankruptcy, G.M. Struggles to Shed a Legacy of Bureaucracy.” While I’m a firm believer that cultural change starts at the top—such as, I dunno, firing the ancien regime that led to GM’s nationalization—I’m all ears, Bill. Where’s the evidence that la plus ca change, la plus ce n’est pas la même chose?

In the old General Motors, employees were evaluated according to a “performance measurement process” that could fill a three-ring binder.

In Terry Woychowski’s case, for example, his job as director of G.M.’s vehicle engineers was spelled out in exhaustive detail, and evaluated every three months.

But in his new job as vice president — a promotion he was given 20 days after G.M. emerged from bankruptcy — his performance review will be boiled down to a single page, something he had never seen in his 29 years with the company.

Mr. Woychowski said he felt the grip of G.M.’s legendary bureaucracy start to loosen, something he never imagined possible. Now, such reviews are being scaled down and simplified across the company.

“We measured ourselves ten ways from Sunday,” he said. “But as soon as everything is important, nothing is important.”

So, a shorter evaluation form. Uh-huh. OK. That’s great! So what happens to the new, shorter evaluation forms then? Bill? Hello? Nine paragraphs later . . . we still don’t know.

Replacing a binder full of job expectations with a one-page set of goals is just one sign of the fresh start, said Mr. Woychowski.

And the other sign? The delayed debut of the Chevrolet Cruze, to fix the vehicle’s six-speed gearbox for unspecified problems. Oh wait, that was yesterday’s excuse. (After the original generic excuse about a ensuring a “flawless launch.”) Today we learn that “The delay . . . was needed to improve engine performance and the quietness of the Cruze’s ride — important areas of comparison with the segment-leading Honda Civic.”

Anyway, point taken, although citing a failure to launch as a sign of success is a pretty twisted way of looking at things. And Vlasic might have mentioned that the delay is to a timetable set for Chevy by the . . . the Chairman of the Board. You know, the former telecoms guy. Whitacre.

Bill finishes with an odd anecdote, if ever there was one.

“There has been fear in the organization, and people have been afraid for their jobs,” he said. “But now we need to be open and transparent and trust each other, and be honest about our strengths and weaknesses.”

As he drove north, Mr. Reuss, 45, reflected on his own career at G.M. He started as a student intern in 1983, and worked his way up the engineering ranks. One of his biggest assignments was serving as the executive in charge of one of the most ridiculed cars in G.M. history, the Pontiac Aztek.

The Aztek was half-car, half-van, and universally branded as one of the ugliest vehicles to ever hit the market. Mr. Reuss had little to do with the design, but his job required him to defend it as if it were a thing of beauty.

It was brutal, he said during an interview as he drove, to grit his teeth and pretend that the Aztek was something to be proud of.

“It was something that flame-hardened me personally,” he said. “I’m in the ‘never again’ business. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anybody.”

And there you have it. In the new GM, everyone tells the truth and does their best because they’re not afraid of losing their job like they used to be–even though the lifer responsible for the Aztek is now in charge of GM’s global engineering. Who knew?

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