Tag: People

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.

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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…

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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…

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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…

By on July 12, 2011

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.

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By on June 28, 2011

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.

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By on June 24, 2011

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.

By on June 23, 2011

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.

By on June 7, 2011


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.

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By on June 6, 2011

The Detroit News snagged a lengthy interview with GM CEO Dan Akerson, giving observers one of the first in-depth looks at the man who will be leading The General for the next three to four years. The interview is to lengthy to summarize here, but there are a few items that are worth noting…

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By on June 5, 2011

I am sorry I am being brash but when you owe money to people and you pay them back you shouldn’t be celebrating. You just cut them a check and send them home and say thank you on your way out

We’ve given Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne some grief for his somewhat unseemly self-congratulation at his repayment of “every penny loaned less than two years ago.” This quote, given to CNBC, is more what we were looking for. After all, one imagines that Chrysler doesn’t hold such celebratory spectacles for folks who finish paying off loans on their Calibers and Caravans. Acknowledging the mundanity of Chrysler’s Wall Street re-fi is a much better way for the firm to re-boot its post-bailout relations with the American people. For this quote, as much as for the promising but still-wildly-uncertain turnaround of Americas most troubled automaker, I am happy to extend Mr Marchionne and his team a modest, unceremonious word of thanks.

By on June 2, 2011

UAW Boss Bob King spoke to Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference about what he calls “The 21st Century Union,” arguing that “the union has changed and we challenge business to change with us.” But while King talks cooperation and mutual benefit, his union is preparing for what promises to be a tough fight with the automakers to create a new contract that deals with the shop floor poison of the two-tier system, securing union representation on automaker boards, and rolling back union concessions without sending automakers back towards bankruptcy. Kings words are worth listening to and considering, but the upcoming contract negotiations will be the ultimate measure of the UAW’s professed changes.

By on June 2, 2011

AutoNation boss Mike Jackson has long been the front runner to inherit Bob Lutz’s mantle as the most opinionated guy in the car business, and recently he’s been moving to lock up the distinction. Jackson recently gave the world the concept of the gas price “freak-out point” as well as delivering memorable quips on “green car” demand (while calling for higher gas prices), and has been outspoken about the industry’s struggles with “push” production, oversupply, fleet dependence and more. And now he’s laid out what may very well be the basis for a solid “car guy consensus” for political progress on safety issues. Autoobserver reports:

The main points of Jackson’s outline to improve road safety: 1) Make text-messaging illegal – and since that’s unlikely to make much difference, install technology to block text messages in moving vehicles; 2) Raise the gasoline tax to fund safety-enhancing and congestion-reducing traffic-management technology, including intelligent road signals and total automation of toll collection; 3) Get serious about lane discipline by restricting trucks to right-hand lanes and passing only in the left lane.

Can I get an “Amen”? Politics are one of the most divisive issues in American life, and TTAC struggles with the inevitable polarization caused by political topics every day… so hats off to Jackson for solidifying a non-partisan agenda that all (or at least most) car guys can get behind.

By on April 23, 2011

An earlier report, stating that Bob Lutz would be returning to GM as a consultant was true… but so was the news that Treasury opposed GM’s plans to pay its longtime executive, who retired a little over a year ago. Speaking to the press at the New York Auto Show, Maximum Bob confirms that he is on the board of Lotus, and revealed that he is doing “pro-bono” work as a consultant for GM’s new product development boss, Mary Barra. According to Automotive News [sub], the prospect of Lutz returning as a GM consultant (ala Fritz Henderson) caused such a stir at Treasury, that he decided to work informally at GM, without pay. Given that Lutz’s heavily-hyped products have yet to return GM to steady retail market share growth, perhaps GM is finally paying him what he’s worth?

By on April 7, 2011

Automotive News Europe [sub] reports that, having lost “Mr Opel” to Volkswagen, GM’s European division is losing another veteran to the competition. The company announced:

We regret that Frank Weber has quit. We thank him for what he has done and wish him the best for the future

Weber, Opel’s product boss, had previously led GM’s global midsize vehicle development and was the head of electric vehicle development (where he wetnursed the Volt) before moving to Opel. It’s not clear where he’ll be going, but he will be going to an “as-yet-unnamed competitor.”
In other industry personnel news, AN [sub] reports that Hyundai has hired GM veteran Steve Shannon to fill its head marketing position, which was opened when Joel Ewanick left for Nissan and then GM. Shannon previously held marketing positions at Saturn, Olds, Buick, Hummer, Saab and Cadillac in his more than 25 years at GM.

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