Tag: People

By on September 2, 2011

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.

By on August 15, 2011

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.

By on August 2, 2011

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?
By on August 1, 2011

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.
(Read More…)

By on July 28, 2011

SvD.se 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.

By on July 28, 2011

[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.

(Read More…)

By on July 21, 2011

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.

(Read More…)

By on July 21, 2011


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…

(Read More…)

By on July 18, 2011

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…

(Read More…)

By on July 14, 2011

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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