The Truth About Cars » People The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 18:25:17 +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 » People Mark Fields To Replace Alan Mulally, As Ford CEO: We Wish Him Mazel Tov Tue, 22 Apr 2014 04:01:06 +0000 Mark Fields, Ford Group VP Derrek Kuzak, Bill Ford Jr., Alan Mulally

Mark Fields, Ford Group VP Derrek Kuzak, Bill Ford Jr., Alan Mulally

Two of the most reliable reporters on the automotive beat, Karl Henkel and David Shepardson of the Detroit News, have reported that their sources confirm that Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally will step down later this year and that Mark Fields, Ford’s chief operating officer, will be named to the CEO position. Earlier on Monday, Bloomberg News reported that Ford “may announce the moves as soon as May 1.” Ford’s annual corporate meeting is scheduled for May 8 in Delaware, with the FoMoCo board of directors meeting the prior day. Mulally, 68, has been with Ford since 2006 and he’s generally credited with successfully guiding the automaker through the troubled waters that brought crosstown rivals General Motors and Chrysler to bankruptcy and a government bailout.

The move is seen by most as a formality and that Fields, 53, has been assured of replacing Mulally since he was promoted from President of the Americas to COO in late 2012. Mulally has previously said publicly that he plans to remain as Ford’s CEO through at least 2014. Other than a stint at IBM, Fields has been at Ford for most of his adult life, having joined the company 25 years ago.

A Ford Motor Company spokesperson declined to confirm or deny the reports.

So that’s the boilerplate news. In the background of the story, though…Ever since Fields started ascending the corporate ladder and was seen as a possible CEO at Ford, is the fact that Mark Fields is Jewish and the founder of the company, Henry Ford, was one of the 20th century’s most notorious anti-semites. If I was a betting man, I’d bet that 100% of the articles published in major news sources about the announcement, when it is made, will mention Fields’ religion and Henry Ford’s anti-semitism. Henkel and Shepardson’s DetNews piece certainly did.

That prejudice is a historical fact. In 1920, the Dearborn Independent, a newspaper controlled by Henry Ford, started publishing a series titled The International Jew, claiming that there was a worldwide conspiracy by Jews to control the world. Seven years later, under pressure from his son Edsel and other business associates, Henry would make a public apology, but the damage to Ford’s image was done. Growing up in and around Detroit, I can’t recall any of my friends’ parents driving Ford products before the 1970s. I’ve known Jews, the children of Holocaust survivors, who bought German cars before they would consider a Ford product.


To be fair, it should be said that Henry Ford was not an exterminationist Jew-hater, like Adolf Hitler was, though the two admired each other to some extent. Ford had good working relationships with Jews like architect Albert Kahn and he was friendly with his neighbor in Detroit’s Boston-Edison district, Rabbi Leo Franklin of Detroit’s biggest Reform Jewish temple, Beth El. In fact, Ford was perplexed when, following the publication of The International Jew, Franklin returned the Model T that Henry gifted to him, something Ford ecumenically did every year for all of the most prominent clergymen in Detroit. Henry, it seems, divided world Jewry into two groups, the “good Jews”, those whom he knew personally, and the conniving boogeymen of his imagination. Remember, Henry Ford was an uneducated farm boy who made good and he retained most of his beliefs, biases and prejudices all of his life.

Henry didn't like jazz. "Jewish Jazz - Moron Music" is what his newspaper called it. With one of his great grandchildren married to a Jew and another married to a black, Henry must be spinning faster than a Model T crankshaft.

Henry didn’t like jazz. “Jewish Jazz – Moron Music” is what his newspaper called it. With one of his great grandchildren married to a Jew and another married to an African-American, Henry must be spinning faster than a Model T crankshaft.

So it’s true that Henry was a crackpot and a Jew hater. However, Henry Ford has been dead since 1947 and his family has gone out of its way to right his wrongs. I’ve written before here at TTAC about how Henry Ford II cultivated close personal relationships with Jews and between Ford Motor Co. and the Jewish community, how the Deuce was personally generous to Jewish philanthropies (and FoMoCo did likewise at his lead), and how in 1973, at the height of the Yom Kippur War, Henry II personally arranged for Ford of Europe to ship trucks and trailers to Israel because they were needed to move tanks to the battle fronts.

Fields’ comments about not experiencing any discrimination at the Ford company ring true to what I have heard from personal friends who have worked there in the past few decades. Fields is also not the only high level Jewish executive at Ford Motor Company. Neil M. Schloss has been Vice President and Treasurer of Ford Motor Co. since 2007.

I see the appointment of a Jew to the CEO job at Ford as more of a non-issue than anything else. Yes, it’s worth noting because of the history involved, but 2014 is not 1920. It’s a different world, Ford Motor Company is a different company that it was under Henry and I’m sure that Bill Ford and his cousins (who collectively control Ford Motor Company) don’t care what Fields’ religion is as long as he does a good job running the company.In light of the fact that one of the Ford cousins is married to a Jew and has donated a Torah scroll to the temple they attend, my guess is that many in the family will be happy about Fields taking the job. A dark corner in their family history has been turned.

Let me be the first to wish a hearty Mazal Tov to Mark Fields, to his kvelling parents, to the Ford family and to Ford Motor Company.

* The term “anti-Semite” was coined by Wilhelm Marr, who was looking for a more polite term than “Jew-hater” to describe his opposition to Jewish political emancipation in 19th century Germany, so he pulled a word from linguistics, which references “Semitic” languages that include Hebrew, Ugaritic etc. Since Marr’s euphemism was intended to make him and his ilk look better and because some modern day Jew-haters have appropriated the term to fraudulently claim that Arabs are also victims of “anti-Semitism”, I prefer to call a spade a shovel.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Our Daily Saab: Muller Losing Faith, Antonov Going Down Wed, 30 Nov 2011 19:09:42 +0000

A TTAC tipster sent us a Teknikens Värld  interview with Saab’s long-suffering would-be rescuer, Victor Muller, in which the eternal Saabtimist seems ready to admit defeat. In essence, he admits that GM is unlikely to ever approve a plan involving Chinese firms, that the Chinese firms are throwing “money into a black hole” and that all the previous plans are off the table. Of course, Muller does seem to think that some kind of rescue may yet be possible, but he admits

If I doze off Saab would disappear in an instant

If Muller is losing faith, and doesn’t even have a hairbrained scenario to hype, it seems that the end may well be near. But then, the whole rescue of Saab is beginning to be eclipsed by questions about Muller’s erstwhile partner, Vladimir Antonov, who was recently bailed out of British jail, where he was being held on charges of embezzlement and document forgery. But first, to the Muller interview…

The following is an interview titled “Muller Does Not Believe In Th Chinese”:

Victor Muller doubts that GM will ever accept a Chinese Saab business. According to him, Youngman, Pang Da and Guy Lofalk sabotaged the whole business when they went from the original plan. It says Muller in an exclusive interview with the Teknikens Värld.

On the way home from Britain hits Teknikens Värld Erik Gustafsson, an unusually outspoken Victor Muller. The gate at Heathrow Airport, the plane to Stockholm, he says frank about Saab’s situation.

- This is how it goes when you put his partner in the back, says Muller continues:

- The deal was long time and the arrangement with a Chinese shareholding of 54 per cent was approved. Then began administrator Guy Lofalk run government affairs, to persuade the Chinese to a 100-percent ownership stake and GM slammed on the brakes.

Late yesterday evening, Swedish time, had GM in Detroit, a further meeting on Saab’s future, but Victor Muller strongly doubt one acceptance.

- I understand GM fully, it is clear that they do not want to jeopardize its market in China. But right now I understand the other side is not why the Chinese continue to pump money into the company. As the situation is, it just means to put money into a black hole, without getting anything back. The relationship with GM is so damaged that they (Youngman and Pang Da) can not even go back to the original plan.

While he acknowledges that the situation is tough, he means that there is a solution. He can not tell you how it looks, but he promises to fight till the end.

- If I doze off Saab would disappear in an instant

Muller may still be fighting for Saab’s future, but as prosecutors unwind the Vladimir Antonov situation, Muller could soon be forced out of the process. After all, Muller is said to have a personal debt to Antonov of upwards of €100m, and it seems highly likely that Antonov was using Muller to launder funds embezzled from his Baltic banks. Antonov ‘s sports business has been placed into bankruptcy, and he has stepped down as Chairman of the British soccer team Portsmouth, reports ESPN. And Latvian officials seem to be clear on the Saab connection as well, as the Moscow Times reports

Latvian officials on Wednesday said about 100 million lats ($200 million) was stripped out of Latvyas Kraybank to fund Antonov’s investment projects, including the ill-fated Saab bid.

And the investigation is ongoing, as BBC reports that

[Lithuanian prosecutors] said they were investigating everything that might have links to criminal offences.

They added they would be taking “all the necessary steps” to freeze assets belonging to Mr Antonov and Mr Baranauskas.

It seems inevitable that this investigation will eventually catch up to Muller, at which point he’ll have to plead ignorance of Antonov’s alleged crimes. And even if Muller does escape prosecution, his ability to organize a deal to save Saab will be fundamentally compromised by his association with Antonov. And as Muller himself says,

If I doze off Saab would disappear in an instant

The countdown continues…

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As Sales Rebound, Key Mitsubishi US Execs Depart Sat, 12 Nov 2011 17:14:47 +0000 Hear about two high-ranking Mitsubishi execs leaving their positions simultaneously, and you might be forgiven for thinking “rats leaving the sinking ship.” After all, Mitsubishihas been in deep decline for the better part of a decade, as sales have fallen from a peak of over 345,000 units in 2002. But in actuality, Mitsubishi is having something of a turnaround year. Sales are up 51% year-over-year, and volume crossed the 70k mark in October, guaranteeing the brand its best year of sales since 2008. So, why did VP of marketing and product strategy Gregory Adams, and vice president of corporate planning and incentives Mike Krebs leave Mitsu “to pursue other opportunities”? Automotive News [sub] offers few answers beyond pointing out that Krebs is a ten-year veteran of Mitsubishi Motors America, while Adams joined in 2010. Why the two decided to jump ship (or were forced out) at the same time remains a mystery  for now…


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Elon Musk And Bob Lutz Mix It Up On Charlie Rose Sat, 12 Nov 2011 00:07:37 +0000

From the first part of this clip from Bob Lutz and Elon Musk’s recent appearance on the Charlie Rose, in which the two discuss “The CO2 Thing,” you might guess that the two are at odds with each other. After all, Bob’s the gruff, “Global Warming is Bullshit” type and Elon is the sensitive, change-the-world type. But by the end of this brief clip, the two industry mavericks are falling all over themselves with mutual admiration. But then, both have learned from the other (however indirectly) over the past few years: Lutz’s legacy of the Volt was in part motivated by Musk’s endeavor, and Musk himself has a lot more respect for Detroit’s “old school” manufacturing know-how now that his firm is actually trying to build its own cars in volume. It’s a study in contrasts watching these two iconoclasts from such separate worlds going at it… and yet you get the distinct impression that these two guys aren’t quite as different as you might think.

Watch the complete Musk-Lutz interview here.

Watch Lutz’s one-on-one interview here.

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OICA President Walks Back Criticism Of US Auto Industry Wed, 09 Nov 2011 18:25:52 +0000

A week ago the president of OICA, Patrick Blain, ruffled some feathers on this side of the Atlantic by laying into the US auto industry with such bon mots as

If the American manufacturers had gone years ago to the government and said, ‘Listen, we have a huge project’ – electric cars, for instance, the government could at least have studied it. But they never tried.

Take the Chevrolet Volt (extended-range electric vehicle launched in 2010). Without government help, at least in the developmental stages in which certain economies of scale must be reached, it is too expensive. It’s just another example of the American industry being too late. They have missed many trends.

Because the sign of an innovative automaker is entanglement with the government… just ask Blain’s compatriots (and former colleagues) at Renault! Oh, and incidentally, Detroit did approach the government for help developing green cars back in the 1990s and managed to waste a cool billion dollars building three prototypes (see: PNGV). But there I go taking Blain at his word… when he’s already walking back his nonsensical comments.

Wards Auto was kind enough to give Monsieur Blain the opportunity to mitigate his unnecessarily inflammatory comments. Unsurprisingly, however, Blain’s walk-back is just as incomprehensible as his initial comments:

In a new auto world, with so many different power technologies (electric, hybrid, classical) things are getting more and more complex, and we must understand each auto world.

Every government, every nation has its own automotive culture. What I wanted to highlight is that manufacturers, with different technologies, gas prices, taxes, government incentives are all reducing, in a drastic way, (carbon-dioxide) emissions. That is definitely not what I explained. Some started sooner, some later, but they drive all in the same direction.

Apparently Blain’s volte-face came after the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents American-based automakers, entered “discussions” with Blain. Apparently it wasn’t hard to convince Blain that he was talking nonsense, but it seems to have been much more difficult to get him to actually start making sense. Meanwhile, Americans are now free to continue ignoring OICA as they have for decades.

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Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood “Not Running For Public Office Anymore” Fri, 14 Oct 2011 20:43:35 +0000

Having had an unexpectedly action-packed couple of years as Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood  has had enough. The Chicago Tribune reports that

the Illinoisan who heads the U.S. Department of Transportation, said today that he is staying in that job for one term only and will not run for public office again.

And no wonder. LaHood has created controversy over his vehicle-tracking proposal, his Toyota comments, his agency’s database quality problems and private information-leaking, his quixotic “War On Distracted Driving” proposals and hypocrisies, weak grasp of safety data, endorsement of toll roads and more. No wonder the man wants out of government… but what comes next for LaHood?

Per the Trib,

He said he expected there will be some “wonderful opportunities” for him in the private sector when he leaves government.

Ah yes. For the bureaucrat’s true reward lies not in government, but in the revolving door to K Street. But wait, isn’t this the guy who once said

I think we should have the highest standard possible which would prohibit NHTSA employees from working for car manufacturers for a period of time


Just thought we should put that out there. Meanwhile, we’re gonna miss you Ray, you crazy, magnificent bastard!

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Martin Winterkorn Less Impressed By New (European) Honda Civic Thu, 06 Oct 2011 17:37:32 +0000

Remember the video of Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn testing the quality of the new Hyundai i30? Thanks to Autobild, we’ve found a companion video from the Frankfurt Show, in which Winterkorn, along with VW Chairman Ferdinand Piech, gives the once-over to the new European-market Honda Civic. According to Autobild, Piech kept his nickname “Fugen-Ferdi” (Gap-Ferdi) relevant by checking the new Civic’s panel gaps. And, in contrast to the Hyundai video, the intelligible portions of Winterkorn’s commentary were less than entirely complimentary. The German magazine reports

A member of the VW entourage says that “(Honda) has had good role models.” But the big boss played down the praise for VW with a smile, and responded generously “they were once a role model for us.”

Note the use of the past tense, then contrast with Winterkorn’s reaction to the Hyundai. In just two videos you can see the balance of automotive power shifting…

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Automobile Magazine And The New Pimpatorialism Sun, 18 Sep 2011 17:10:14 +0000

Once upon a time, this stuff was easy. When Jean Jennings needed a little extra pocket change all she had to do was… make an ad. Like this one, for the Silverado. Or this one, for Jeep (which I swear was still visible less than a year ago). Nowadays, however, you’ve got to be a little more careful about how you go about lending your “editorial credibility” to one of the brands you’re supposed to be covering rather than shilling for. So instead of the straight-up “Hi, I’m Jean Jennings, Editor-in-Chief of Automobile Magazine, and here’s why I love Chevy’s Silverado” pimpatorial of the past, you’ve got to layer on the irony, load up on non-car-related distractions (I’ve got it… a puppet!) and generally avoid the personal testimonial format as much as possible.

Yes, the pimpatorial game is becoming more subtle… another example: Motor Trend boss Angus Mackenzie’s Subaru-funded adventure of personal discovery that happened to be featured in both his magazine and Subaru’s Drive Magazine. But when it comes to crossing the line between editorial and advertising, isn’t more subtlety a bad thing? If the editor of a buff book is going to shill for a product or brand, wouldn’t you rather they just come out and do it so you can get on with ignoring conclusions to comparison tests like

Ford has unabashedly pandered to those of us who care about driving by designing an efficient, comfortable mainstream car that absolutely nails the finer points of steering feel, suspension tuning, and overall driver involvement. Our vote goes to the Focus.

? Ford has also “unabashedly pandered” to your E-I-C and her appreciation for fat checks… and even if your conclusions are correct, they should be ignored. I’m generally a fan of subtlety, but to paraphrase Homer Simpson, I like my beer cold, my meat red, and my sell-outs shameless.

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Piëch: Stop Me, I’m Full Wed, 14 Sep 2011 16:51:46 +0000

Volkswagen will almost certainly finish the year as the second-largest automaker by volume… and if it wants to take the top spot, it will do so on sales, not acquisitions. Having gobbled an extraordinary number of acquisitions over the past several decades, including Bentley, Lamborghini, Bugatti, Italdesign and Karmann, VW’s monstrous appetite appears to be waning. And no wonder: the latest mouthful, a partnership with Suzuki, has gone sour and recent lustful glances at Alfa have drawn sassy rebukes from Fiat’s Sergio Marchionne. Accordingly, VW’s Chairman Ferdinand Piech tells Bloomberg [via AN [sub]] that no more acquisitions are planned and that

We’re big enough

Of course, this is also coming from the company that’s been struggling to swallow Porsche for the last several years. Once that deal is complete, we’ll check back on Herr Piech’s appetite. Because in an industry built on scale, you never know when hunger will strike…


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Sergio Shakes Up The Chrysler Board: Brings In Longtime Allies Tue, 06 Sep 2011 23:25:05 +0000

Today’s resignation of Chrysler’s chairman and two other government-assigned directors was hardly a surprise, as now-Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne had signaled that changes were coming in the wake of Chrysler’s “payback” of government loans. In fact, Rebecca Lindland of IHS Automotive predicted that chairman Robert Kidder, as well as the other two departing directors would be the ones leaving, telling the Freep

Three of the five Chrysler board members who are government appointees — Kidder, Stuart Scott and George Gosbee — are members of investment advisory firms.

“Now, you kind of need to have people that have distinctive automotive industry experience verses financial expertise,” Lindland said.

But Lindland was only half-right. She picked the departing directors perfectly, but Marchionne didn’t replace them with even a hint of “distinctive automotive industry experience.” But not being a dyed-in-the-wool “automotive guy” himself, he apparently had some slightly different qualifications in mind…

The two new board members, Léo W. Houle and John B. Lanaway both come from communications firms (Bell Canada and McCann Erickson respectively), and they’re both Canadians… and there isn’t a day of automotive experience on either of the press-release-provided bios. And yet both show existing ties to Fiat Industrial, namely:

In 2006, Houle was elected a director of CNH, a world leader in the agricultural and construction equipment businesses that is a majority-owned subsidiary of Fiat Industrial S.p.A.

In 2006, Lanaway was elected a director of CNH, a world leader in the agricultural and construction equipment businesses that is a majority-owned subsidiary of Fiat Industrial S.p.A.

And that’s not all… these are guys Sergio trusts personally. Lanaway had been working at Deloitte and Touche for 12 years, working his way up to Client Services Manager, when a young (31) Sergio Marchionne showed up there in 1983 and began work as an accountant. Two years later, both men jumped to packaging firm Lawson Mardon Group, where Lanaway was VP for Financial Reporting and Control, and Marchionne was his Group Controller. Houle joined them in 1987, as Group VP for Human Resources, and within two years Lanaway had become Group VP and CFO. At that point (1989), Marchionne left Lawson Mardon for brief EVP and CFO stints at Glenex and Ackland, but was back at “The Lawson Group” as CFO by 1992. Two years later, Algroup bought Lawson, giving Houle and Marchionne a new ladder to climb up. Though Lanaway left for a tour of corporate America that included stints at several tech firms before landing at Ogilvy and then McCann, Houle became Algroup’s HR honcho, and Marchionne’s official resume from the 1994-2000 period reads

  • 1994, Various positions of increasing responsibility until becoming Chief Executive Officer, Algroup

When the biopharmaceutical arm, known as Lonza Group was split off from the rest of the Group, Marchionne took it as his own while also running the inspection firm SGS. In 2003, Marchionne was elected to Fiat’s board, in 2004 he became CEO of Fiat SpA and in 2005 he became CEO of Fiat Group Automobiles. In 2006 he got the band back together by electing both Houle and Lanaway to the board of the Fiat subsidiary CNH, which he had just been named Chairman of.

You might be asking yourself what this all adds up to, and if you’ve been waiting for some dastardly theory or sinister implication, you’re going to be disappointed. Clearly Marchionne trusts these two men whom he worked with at a definitive stage of his career, both of whom he likely considers mentors as well as allies. What’s most interesting is that trust was clearly the overriding motivation for Marchionne’s decision. After all, Lindland picked exactly who would be leaving the board, but she got the reasons all wrong. Marchionne didn’t want the money men out or even the government out per se (two government appointees remain on the board)… he wanted his people in. And that’s just what he got. Now we get to find out if building an empire on personal trust will be as good for Chrysler as it is for Marchionne.

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Lutz Back At GM, Check Out TTAC’s Exclusive Interview With Him Next Week Fri, 02 Sep 2011 15:51:17 +0000

The original car czar is headed back at General Motors, as the company announced today that it was officially retaining former Vice Chairman Bob Lutz as a Senior Advisor. The General’s press release notes

Lutz will be available to executives on a part-time consultancy basis effective immediately. He brings a wealth of experience built over the course of more than 40 years in the industry, including two stints at GM. He has also been a senior executive at Ford, Chrysler, BMW and was CEO of Exide Batteries.

Lutz has been providing advice to GM executives informally since retiring from the company in 2010.

I spent nearly three hours with Lutz last week, and he never mentioned a possible return to GM. He did, however, discuss his entire career, his experiences at Chrysler and GM, his product development philosophy and much, much more. You can read all about it starting on Tuesday, when we begin to publish content based on our interview.

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What Do Lotus, Aston-Martin And Reebok Have In Common? Mon, 15 Aug 2011 17:24:03 +0000

The easy answer: desperation. More literally though, all three have recently employed the talents of hip hop producer Swizz Beatz in more or less desperate attempts to recapture some much-needed cool. Unfortunately for Lotus, the most recent employer of Mr Beatz, they’re not only getting “sloppy thirds,” but they have to actually share promotional space with Reebok, of all brands. So why did Lotus, a brand with loads of heritage and under-the-radar cool, hire a guy to pass along such brilliant advice as “the key is to infiltrate the market in a cool way” and “for a premium sportscar, they want the flash”? According to Lotus’s release (with video)

1. Like Group Lotus , he means business: He’s a risk taker with considerable credentials including music producer, rapper, designer AND painter.

2. Like our cars, he’s multi award winning: This year he shared a Grammy Award with Jay-Z.

3. Like Group Lotus he keeps good company: This man regularly works with the likes of Bono, Kanye West, Beyoncé and Alicia Keys.

Even if you think Lotus should avoid the “enthusiast trap,” this is a bad call. Having already pimped for Aston-Martin, Swizz’s automotive-sector cool has been spread thin… and does Lotus really want to be associated with his other comeback client, Reebok? The answer: no, but it’s already too late. Lotus was already putting the cool cart before the new product horse, and hiring a prominent and over-booked shill certainly won’t help.

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Quote Of The Day: Dr Z Rallies The Troops Edition Tue, 02 Aug 2011 19:16:29 +0000

With the luxury market defying sluggish economic conditions, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche doesn’t want the upstarts at BMW and Audi to slip past it… which they are. Six months through 2011, the Mercedes brand found itself in third place among the German global luxury brands, at 610,531 units. A surging BMW captured 689,861 sales in the half, while Audi took second with 652,970. This, for Zetsche, is an unthinkable state of affairs.  In a letter to his employees, excerpted by Automotive News Europe [sub], Zetsche makes it clear that leadership in the luxury space is a Daimler birthright.

Some of our competitors are now growing faster and more profitably than we are. Granted, those are just snapshots in time and should not be overestimated. After all, many of our best new products are yet to come… In the long run we can’t be content to be in a “solid second” or even “third” place: We are Daimler – we should be far ahead of the pack! And if that requires something that we don’t currently have, then we’ll identify and develop it.

Enjoy your summer and refill your tanks. Because in the second half of this year we’re going to continue to play some hard offense!

But does a sense of entitlement actually motivate workers?
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Dan Akerson Talks Down Hydrogen, Reveals Natural Gas Plans In Extended Interview Mon, 01 Aug 2011 22:49:37 +0000

In an extended interview with Fareed Zakaria this weekend, GM CEO Dan Akerson repudiated a lot of GM’s previous optimism about hydrogen fuel cell cars, saying

We’re looking at hydrogen fuel cells, which have no carbon emissions, zero. They’re very expensive now, but we’ve, just in the last two years, reduced the price of that technology by $100,000. The car is still too expensive and probably won’t be practical until the 2020-plus period, I don’t know. And then there’s the issue of infrastructure

The DetN points out that GM had previously said that it would have anywhere from 1,000 to “hundreds of thousands” of fuel cell cars on the road by 2010, and most recently said (in 2009) that the technology would be “commercialized” by 2015 and “cost-competitive” by 2020. So, if hydrogen is moving to the back burner, what’s moving up? Akerson revealed that

soon we’ll be introducing “bi-fuel” engines which can burn both compressed natural gas and liquid gasoline.

We’ve seen GM take early steps towards bringing a natural gas-powered car to the road, but this is the first sign from a top executive that a dual-fuel car is a certainty in GM’s near future. By talking down hugely expensive hydrogen cars and talking up cheap natural gas powerplants, Akerson sends a strong message that GM’s green car efforts are moving in a more pragmatic direction. Hit the jump for part two of the interview, in which Akerson talks gas tax and green cars.

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Trollhättan Official Calls On Saab CEO To Step Down Thu, 28 Jul 2011 21:57:23 +0000 reports that Paul Akerlund, Saab’s former IF Metall (one of Sweden’s largest trade unions) representative and now Trollhättan Municipal Council Chairman, has called for the resignation of Saab CEO Victor Muller, saying

I do not think Victor Muller is a good president. He is an owner and a contractor, but he has not sufficient knowledge about how to manage production and development

And Akerlund is no city government busybody, but a longtime company insider who has been influential in Saab’s post-GM life. Having shepherded Saab through the challenges of the past two years, this is another grim sign that Saab is about to succumb to the realities that have dominated TTAC’s Saab coverage for years now. A commentary in SvD, titled “Thank Muller for Painful Bankruptcy” sums up the somber mood in Sweden:

[Saab] has been on artificial respiration for nearly two years. It is down now, and from all indications we can only conclude that the whole process was a painfully protracted bankruptcy. And we have only one person to thank for it.

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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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Movie Review: Senna Thu, 21 Jul 2011 20:13:57 +0000

I was just a pre-licensed car nut when the July 1994 issue of Car and Driver passed along the news of Ayrton Senna’s death. Brock Yates’ column in that issue said, “In a sad way, Ayrton Senna’s death dignifies motor racing…He did not die in vain, but rather he made the ultimate sacrifice in seeking his own personally mandated pinnacle of achievement. Tragically, ironically, he may serve his chosen profession more in death than life.” This meant nothing to me at the time. But it means something now.

Fresh from the Audience Award for Best Documentary (World Cinema) at this year’s Sundance Film Festival is director Asif Kapadia’s Senna. Senna differs most notably from most docs in that there are no cutaway interviews–i.e., no talking heads that are a staple of the genre. Footage gathered from 15,000 hours of film, video, and YouTube (much of it from Formula 1′s closely guarded film archive) immerses the viewer in Senna’s late-80s, early-90s life of racing in the prestigious, political and pretentious world of Formula 1 racing.

Much has been made about Senna’s hard racing, but this film presents the softer side of Senna. We see him with his family. We see him charming television reporters. We see him helping underprivileged children. In fact, the portrayal of his relationship with rival Prost makes Senna out to be the guy who just wants to win, while Prost revels in the glitz, politics and good ol’ boys club atmosphere fostered by F1 officials. The Senna we see is quiet, studious, upstanding and spiritual.

The real treat for the audience is the access to Ecclestone’s vast library of film and video from years of Formula 1 activity. The pre-race driver’s meetings, tête-à-têtes with Ron Dennis and Frank Williams and catty interactions with Alain Prost are all there in their intimate glory. The exchanges with FIA president Jean-Marie Balestre expose the politics and egos of the sport. During the pre-race meeting before the 1991 German Grand Prix, Senna and Balestre butt heads over tires lining a chicane. When a desperate Balestre, losing the room, angrily presents the opportunity for a vote, Senna’s side wins. With the proletariat drivers rising up against the Balestre Bourgeoisie, it’s an “enemy’s enemy is my friend” dichotomy–and it’s riveting.

Another gem is Senna and McLaren boss Ron Dennis discussing how to handle the split before Senna races his last race with the team. Dennis says that he wants an amicable and professional split. Senna agrees and offers that he would have done it even without mention. Eagle-eyed hindsight lets the audience know that this is one of their final conversations. The F1 camera crew really pulled a CBS-not-1984-Big Brother act and gave us a moment better than any teary camera confessional. You can see the respect that these two professionals have for each other, knowing an era is over but not that it would be one of their last conversations together.

One the downside, the opportunity to use the F1 footage is the great strength and the great weakness. I want to see Ron Dennis recalling conversations with Senna. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then the voiceover is just the mailbox. We miss so much not hearing from Senna’s sister Viviane, friend and F1 doctor “Professor” Sid Watkins, Dennis, Williams and even Prost. We miss their faces tell us about the man they remember, loved, hated, respected, cheered and/or cheated. It was a conscious choice by director Kapadia to rely solely on the footage, so he deserves credit for trying something new. Whatever; just sayin’.

Any racing fan owes himself the chance to experience Senna’s career through the eyes of the world he lived in. The people that have been paying attention to Senna are not necessarily racing fans, though. I’ve been to the Sundance Festival a couple of times, and if the snooty, Hollywood Prius-driving greenies can love a movie like Senna, then more than a few of the Best and Brightest should, too.

Senna is out in limited release August 12; wider release starting August 19. A screener copy of the film was provided for this review.

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It Turns Out GM And Ford Really Don’t Like Each Other Thu, 21 Jul 2011 17:06:18 +0000
Earlier this year when it seemed that a price war could be brewing in the US market, one of TTAC’s industry sources noted that the problem wasn’t strictly a question of business competition. Speaking on background, the source told us that

when speaking with old friends at Ford and GM, the level of mutual distaste for each other is very high…it seems to be getting personal. Lots of egos involved, [which] increases potential for short-sighted decision-making

At the time, I was willing to chalk up this animosity to the usual industry hyper-competitiveness (or at least a return to form after the lockstep mutual support of the bailout era), but it seems I should have paid more attention to our source’s concerns. As it turns out, the bad feelings between Detroit’s cross-town rivals has apparently gotten worse…

Jalopnik reveals that NYT auto reporter Bill Vlasic’s forthcoming book highlights just how uncivil the Ford-GM rivalry has become:

What [Ford marketing boss] Jim Farley really wanted to do was kick the daylights out of General Motors. “I’m going to beat Chevrolet on the head with bat,” he said with a slightly wicked smile. “And I’m going to enjoy it.” There was a saying going around Ford: GM was like the kid who was born on third base and yells out, “Hey Ma, I hit a triple!” Farley and his fellow Ford executives and workers were ready to rumble.

…This was like the glory days again — Ford versus GM, let the better car company win. “We’re going to beat on them, and it’s going to be fun,” said Farley. “F—- GM. I hate them and their company and what they stand for. And I hate the way they’re succeeding.”

Now I understand why people are forever accusing TTAC of “hating” one car company or another… it seems that behind a thin veneer of professional courtesy, the auto industry nurtures a viciously competitive streak that crosses into hatred and contempt for competitors. What a pity it is that competition isn’t enough any more, and that executives have to “hate what their competitors stands for” to motivate themselves. Isn’t taking pride in your own products and achievements enough?

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Sergio Marchionne Is Not Superman, Will Delegate Responsibility Mon, 18 Jul 2011 22:41:44 +0000

Every time Sergio Marchionne makes the headlines, I half expect him to announce that he is not merely a mild-mannered accountant with a fondness for frump, but a mighty superhero, born to rescue failing automakers and the American and Italian ways of life. Having scored a sizable stake a bankruptcy-rinsed Chrysler for no money down, Marchionne has been ruling his Italian and American empires with resolute authority… and 50 direct reports. But Automotive News [sub] isn’t reporting that Marchionne spends his spare time in tights and a cape fighting Russian bandits and Italian labor unions… the word is that Sergio Marchionne is ready to delegate some authority. According to AN’s sources, Marchionne’s plans includes three basic planks:

  • Create four regions — Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia-Pacific — each with a regional boss.
  • Require brand bosses, who are powerful in the current organization, to work closely with the new regional bosses.
  • Establish a new layer of management, tentatively dubbed the steering committee, that would help run Fiat and Chrysler.

But is this new structure really going to end what AN terms “the one-man Sergio show,” a routine of 18-hour days and “catching catnaps on the plane as he flies constantly between Turin and Detroit”? Will it really “help overworked Chrysler executives catch their breath and adopt a saner work rhythm,” as AN puts it? That question remains to be answered…

In a move that’s symbolic of Fiat-Chrysler’s new regional flavor, Marchionne will announce the new 25-member steering committe when Fiat’s board meets in Belo Horizonte, Brazil next week. The only other details about the restructuring are as follows:

During the past 40 days, the workaholic CEO has been selecting the 25 executives who will run the two automakers. Characteristically, he is keeping his own counsel. He is talking with candidates about joining the steering committee.

Below Marchionne, Fiat and Chrysler now are largely run by brand bosses. The new plan would create four regions with a boss for each. Brand CEOs are tentatively scheduled to report to the regional bosses and not to Marchionne.

Marchionne would lead the 25-person steering committee. The four regional bosses would sit on the panel with heads of functions such as engineering, purchasing and sales.

The sources expect Marchionne to choose roughly an equal number of Chrysler and Fiat executives to sit on the steering committee. Executives of Fiat Group subsidiaries also may sit on the committee.

Executives who do not get a seat on the steering committee will continue to lead their functions in the Fiat and Chrysler organizations.

There’s actually one more bit that’s especially interesting:

The committee could take some operating pressure off Marchionne. But 50 executives, split about evenly between Chrysler and Fiat, would still report directly to him. The new structure would create many dual reports: Regional executives in, say, purchasing would report to their boss on the steering committee and to Marchionne.

The bulk of this AN piece is spent making it seem like Marchionne singlehandedly keeps Chrysler afloat, and that the impetus for reform is to take some stress off of him. But if he has the same number of reports and is merely adding in another layer of management along with the confusion of dual reports, it’s hard to see what this accomplishes in terms of either efficiency of management or reducing Sergio’s workload. Which leaves only one motivation for the change, namely succession (a motivation that is sure to nurture the inevitable dual report-sparked infighting). So maybe Marchionne is a superhero after all… only his superpower is the ability to add a level of management while not reducing his reports and getting the media to report it as his company growing independent of its supernatural benefactor. The real question that none of this answers is how does Marchionne pull of his rescues of Fiat and Chrysler if even he has failed to rescue himself from his 50 reports?

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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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Why GM Should Hire Alan Mulally Tue, 12 Jul 2011 23:34:59 +0000

Alan Mulally should be named Chairman and CEO of General Motors…immediately. The General needs talented executive leadership with experience in the automotive industry. And if you look at the track record so far of GM’s present top management – Lt. Dan and his sidekick Girsky – there’s no reason to believe they’ll do any better tomorrow.

Let’s call this the way we see it – Alan Mulally is more talented than anyone else running an auto company today. He comes from an industrial production background, he’s an engineer by training, and knows in his heart that product supremacy wins sales. And let’s keep in mind that Ford was a basket case when he took the reins. Today, it’s net cash positive, its corporate credit rating will move to investment grade within a year, and the cars and trucks are industry-leading, not me-too followers. This is a result from a guy that has had two jobs proving that he can run complex industrial companies successfully (Boeing Commercial Airplane and Ford). And GM needs him desperately.

I’m not here to bash Dan Akerson. Others have already done that. Maybe he’s the right guy to run a telecom company. The real question is – and one US Taxpayers should ask – don’t we want the best guy (or gal) possible running the largest industrial beneficiary of our funds? We still own 32% of this company – and need the stock price to be at least $54 to come out whole. At today’s price of $31 share, that’s a lot of ground to cover. Ask yourself this – can Dan Akerson achieve the results needed or is there someone better? Duh…the answer is….Alan!

So here’s the pitch. First, Alan’s departure from Ford wouldn’t decimate that company. The plan is already in place for the next five years of future products. The groundwork is done – everyone knows the plan. The only questions remaining for the company are: 1) Can Ford succeed in Asia; and 2) Can (or should) Lincoln be resurrected? We just don’t know who could replace him – and another outsider might be the best choice to keep the company from backsliding into endless turf battles. To the point though, Ford is in good enough shape today that a new CEO already has a good roadmap from the start.

Second, there’s no such thing as industrial secrets in Detroit – everyone has a view (mostly) into what everyone else is doing. So Alan would bring the industrial secrets with him to GM but so what? Where Ford has been successful to date is well communicated – and that’s its EcoBoost strategy combined with global platforms (where possible). Continued leadership in NAFTA light trucks with its own diesels in the heavy duty models (and maybe in the F-150 soon). Layer on top of that advances in electronic wizardry and there you have the future of Ford’s products. Would his knowledge of Ford’s future strategies benefit GM? I doubt it. GM has a different set of problems, a larger and somewhat disjointed global footprint, and no real discernible or differentiating product strategy (at least in North America). Building 120,000 Chevy Volts (and Opel Amperas) per year, if even possible, isn’t a strategy.

Third, it’s time to realize that Ford and GM are US companies with a depository of industrial talent and know-how that should be nourished and cultivated. The real battle isn’t between these two Detroit companies as in the past (Chrysler was always a third-place player with no global presence) but against the Germans, the Japanese, and now the Koreans. Eventually, everyone will be competing against the Chinese too (but that’s a way off). It’s important that the US have two leading companies in automotive – especially given that there is an explosion of new technology (engines, electrification, materials, safety, electronics, emissions, etc.) coming. This is a worldwide battle for dominance – not a regional play – and that takes scale and reinvested profits to play the game. Ford’s got the profits but GM is still finding its way everywhere but in China. Alan’s leadership at GM will make it the global automotive powerhouse it should be – and help secure for the USA the intellectual property, the talent, and the industrial base needed to keep the USA in the game.

And last, the Government needs to exit its ownership of GM promptly and at least on a breakeven basis. To get to the finish line, you go with your best horse and jockey. The bankruptcy of GM fixed most of the ailments of the old horse – and that was its crushing debt load, its retiree benefits, and superfluous brands and factories, and its uncompetitive labor costs. But what hasn’t been yet fixed at GM is the problem of real leadership from the corner office. GM’s Board needs to hire Alan to the job.
Everyone wants GM and Ford to succeed. We want these two companies to battle it out for dominance of the US market – and carry the flag of American innovation and brilliance to the other corners of the globe. (Chrysler in third place – still – keeps everything interesting though.) But to get there, GM needs Alan Mulally.

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The Downsides Of “Culture Change”: GM Sued For Age Discrimination Tue, 28 Jun 2011 15:12:07 +0000

I love General Motors. I’m bringing this age-discrimination suit action because it’s the right thing to do — for me, my family, as well as my GM peers who have been severely affected by GM’s conduct.

A critical aspect of GM’s turnaround was breaking a culture that has been held up for decades as an example of insularity, stagnation and inefficiency [for more read Ron Kleinbaum's classic four-part editorial on the subject here], a task that various recent CEOs have gone about differently. Fritz Henderson had a “change agent” vanguard approach, while Ed Whitacre took more of a “set tough goals and fire regularly” tack towards GM’s culture wars. But regardless of differences in tactics, everyone’s agreed that GM’s culture needed to be seriously retooled if the company’s huge advantages after a government-backed bankruptcy-bailout weren’t going to be pissed away, and as a result a lot of GM’s “lifers” found themselves on the outside looking in. And rather than slinking away, one of those jilted lifers is suing GM for age discrimination.

The Freep reports

[Daniel Plouffe's] lawsuit says that when GM emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, it embarked on a campaign to replace older executives with those under 50 by encouraging older executives to retire.

Many of those who didn’t retire were demoted out of the executive ranks with no chance of being considered for future promotions, regardless of their qualifications.

Plouffe, who has worked for GM since 1971, said he was demoted to a level 9 position, resulting in a 20%-25% pay cut, even though he assumed the responsibilities of three other executives who left.

He said a succession of GM officials told him that he was being demoted because the company wants to promote younger people — those under 50 — even though his last performance evaluation said he far exceeds expectations.

Plouffe is seeking class action certification, but legal experts say he’ll “face a daunting task.” After all, to defend itself GM simply needs to prove that there were business advantages to thinning the executive ranks. Still, perhaps this will make current CEO Dan Akerson think twice about saying things like

It’s just like the Communist party in China in the 1960s: There has to be a cultural revolution here.

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Ask The Best And Brightest: What Would You Ask Bob Lutz (To His Face)? Fri, 24 Jun 2011 19:41:09 +0000

Typically we try to accompany our book reviews here at TTAC with an author livechat, giving you, our readers, a firsthand opportunity to engage influential thinkers in TTAC’s trademark frank, open discussion of the most important automotive issues of the day. Today, however, is something of an exception. As I noted in my review of Car Guys vs Bean Counters: The Battle For The Soul Of American Business, Bob Lutz’s call-out of myself led to an opportunity for me to exchange words with the former GM “car czar,” which in turn led to his graciously agreeing to meet me for a face-to-face interview. Because Lutz is in the middle of a book launch media blitz (not to mention my own fairly well-laden to-do list), that will have to happen later this summer… but I assure you, it will be worth the wait. Meanwhile, I thought that we should at least honor the spirit of our author livechats by giving you the opportunity to submit your own burning questions for “Maximum Bob.” I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to get answers to all of them, but I’ll certainly do my best to make sure that the most germane queries at least get an airing. After all, if I’m going to tangle with one of the more formidable figures in the auto industry, I’ll need the full weight of TTAC’s inquisitiveness and savvy at my disposal.

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Rethinking Distracted Driving Thu, 23 Jun 2011 23:54:53 +0000

Edmunds recent Auto Safety Conference featured a number of high-profile speakers including NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl, IIHS President Adrian Lund, Toyota Under Fire author Tim Ogden, Rep John Dingell and more. I haven’t had time to watch all of the presentations from the conference, but from what I’ve seen, the conference seems to have been one of the most forward-thinking, diverse and lively explorations of auto safety in recent memory. The video above, featuring Virginia Tech professor Tom Dingus, offers enough provocative insights to fuel a lengthy discussion on distracted driving, but I encourage you to go check out the rest of the speakers here, and if you really want to get stuck in, you can download their presentations here.

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Dodge CEO Moves To “Newly Recreated SRT Brand” Tue, 07 Jun 2011 19:01:47 +0000
When is a brand not a brand? Or, perhaps the real question here is “when does a brand become a brand?”. In any case, Chrysler introduced its Street and Racing Technology “brand” way back in 2002, and has sold SRT versions of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles ever since. But for 2011, a model-year which saw the launch of the group’s Fiat-fettled lineup, the SRT lineup dwindled to just the Challenger SRT8. Now, Chrysler is announcing the “re-creation” of the brand, while noting that

While we still made SRT vehicles, there wasn’t as concerted effort in development and marketing in recent years.

The new effort will be led by former Dodge CEO (and current VP of product design) Ralph Gilles, who will be replaced at Dodge by Reid Bigland, the erstwhile President of Chrysler Canada. And with SRT’s rebirth will come new products, including SRT8 versions of the Charger, 300 and Grand Cherokee, joining Challenger SRT8 in the initial wave. Though big, powerful SRT8 vehicles are traditionally a hoot to drive, they hardly rehabilitate Chrysler’s rep for poor fuel economy or prepare it for forthcoming CAFE increases. As is so often the case, good news for enthusiasts can mean less than entirely positive business news.

The SRT “brand” may be a key (and ongoing) element of Chrysler Group’s identity, but the distraction of a newly senior executive-led “brand” can’t be ignored. While GM has cut back on its brand portfolio since falling on hard times, the “recreated” SRT is yet another in a ballooning list of Chrysler brands (Chrysler has added Fiat, Ram, and MOPAR since bankruptcy, with Alfa allegedly on the way). With many consumers already daunted by the overwhelming array of brands and nameplates on the US market, adding brands can create as many challenges as opportunities.

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