Tag: People

By on March 10, 2011

Within days of breaking, the Renault Spy Scandal has been in “full reverse,” and now it seems the story is becoming even more embarrassing than we had even imagined. The last time we looked at the case, Bertel forwarded two possible theories for the “farce”: either Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn wanted a distraction from a soft Nissan Leaf EV launch, or someone inside the company wanted to sabotage Ghosn. Now a new theory takes the farce to nearly unimaginable levels…

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By on March 10, 2011

Reuters reports that Saab/Spyker partner Vladimir Antonov has questioned whether Saab will hit its ambitious 80k unit global sales goal this year, saying

This means that the company could face capital problems

Thelocal.se provides a little more detail quoting Antonov as saying

I’m not involved in how the company is run so I don’t have access to the numbers. But according to earlier versions of the business plan, they have to sell 80,000 cars this year to stay with the plan. From my point of view, I think that’s a bit too optimistic.

If the goal isn’t reached it would be nice for Saab to have €50-70 million ($69-97 million) as a little something extra to lean on. We’re ready to provide that money if we’re allowed to do so by the [European Investment Bank].

Antonov went on to say that bringing in outside investors would be difficult and that if the EIB loan fell through, something he does not foresee, Saab could be bankrupt “in days.” Needless to say, Saab’s Chief Optimism Officer Victor Muller didn’t take kindly to Antonov’s remarks and is firing back in the press.

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By on March 10, 2011

General Motors has announced that Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell will be leaving the company on April 1, “having completed the largest public offering in history and stabilizing the company’s financial operations.” CEO Dan Akerson has denied that Liddell’s departure has anything to do with GM’s first-quarter financial performance or his relationship with the departing CFO, saying “we could finish each others sentences.” The former Microsoft man was brought into GM in January of last year, and helped guide the automaker through its IPO and eliminated its material weaknesses in internal financial controls, apparently the two tasks he needed to complete before riding off into the sunset.

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By on March 3, 2011

That’s right, the Executive Chairman of America’s only automaker to have never taken a bailout just raised concerns about the problem of selling too many cars. It’s not as if he doesn’t have a point… it’s just little like listening to Charlie Sheen leading an AA meeting.
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By on March 2, 2011

GM’s upper management is shaking again, as the Detroit Free Press reports that Jamie Hresko, The General’s global powertrain boss, has left the building. And unlike the last round of management shuffling, this move doesn’t seem to have been planned. The Freep reports:

Hresko’s departure comes about a month after CEO Dan Akerson took the product-development organization from powertrain engineer Tom Stephens and put most of it under Mary Barra, a manufacturing engineer. Stephens, a GM vice chairman, became chief technology officer and retained responsibilities for research and development. But Hresko’s resignation was his decision and not part of a management shakeup, a person familiar with the situation said.

As a 28-year veteran of GM who previously held top positions in US and Global quality departments, Hresko’s resignation is not inconsequential. Especially given his lack of post-GM plans. GM’s auto industry experience-free CEO Dan Akerson now has one less experienced advisor to rely on… or is that one less recalcitrant insider to fight?

By on February 21, 2011

Weeks after being appointed to the top of GM’s new product development team, Mary Barra remains something of an enigma to much of the automotive press. Like, what accomplishments earned Ms Barra her lofty spot on GM’s org chart? According to Newsweek‘s Doron Levin

When Mary Barra was a senior manufacturing executive a few years ago at General Motors, she spotted another maker’s car decked out in a rich metallic black color. It was unlike anything GM was offering, so she suggested the color be added to the company’s palette—and was promptly rebuffed by fellow engineers, who fretted about potential quality-control difficulties. But Barra wouldn’t take no for an answer, and before long buyers were able to get their Cadillac Escalades and Chevy Malibus in elegant “Carbon Flash.”

So, now we know.

By on February 15, 2011

The Daily Beast reports:

As General Motors Co. gets closer to emerging from government oversight, the automaker is trying to hire Bob Lutz, its former chief of vehicle development, as a consultant…
The U.S. Treasury has opposed Lutz’s appointment on the grounds that, since he left the company last May, paying him so close to his retirement could look like a sweetheart payout. The government could soften its opposition in three months, once a year has passed since Lutz’s retirement.

Could it be true? Could the man credited with all of GM’s success and none of its failures really be coming back for more? More to the point, as a consultant? Bob’s current gigs are advising an electric scooter company and the Lotus “revival”… does GM really want to put itself in that company? Oh, who are we kidding? We want Lutz back. The industry just seems so damn boring without him…

By on February 10, 2011

Chrysler and Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne has given Forbes’ Joann Muller what I believe to be one of his best interviews since arriving on the US scene. In it, Sergio dishes on everything from the bailout (“I risked everything – I got 35 percent of something that was worth nothing”), to Chrysler’s 2011 sales target (“a very, very tough uphill battle”), to its new product

I couldn’t have done more from a product standpoint than I’ve done. I mean you know, I tried every trick in the book that I knew and I invented some, but you know, 16 products in 12 months – at least that part of it was a record. The rest of it is to be proven.

But the strangest revelation from Sergio is that Alfa Romeo’s future success will be, in a manner of speaking, “Imported from Detroit.” Read the whole thing over at Forbes, or hit the jump for Sergio’s vision for his red-blooded Italian brand.

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By on January 20, 2011

For a company that’s crowing about its sales growth and profitability, General Motors has been doing the kind of executive shuffling we became accustomed to seeing in the bad old days before the bailout. Already this week, freshly-minted Global Marketing boss Joel Ewanick put his former Hyundai colleague Chris Perry in charge of Chevy’s US marketing, and transferred Buick marketing duties from John Schwegman to former Volt marketer Tony DiSalle. The head of Onstar, Chris Preuss, has also stepped down this week, leaving former Sprint Nextel and Verizon executive Linda Marshall in charge. And today came the big one: 49 Year-Old Mary Barra has replaced Tom Stephens at the top of GM’s new-product development team as Stephens ascends to the new position of Chief Technology Officer.

These changes come straight from the top, as CEO Dan Akerson created the chief global marketing officer and chief global technology officer positions, requiring other executives like Barra and Perry to move up in the company. But will “global” czars actually catch GM up on new product development, one of its major deficits vis-a-vis the competition? More importantly, will Barra simply become the latest GM lifer to bump up against the Peter Principle? The fact that she’s leaving Human Resources to take on The General’s most important task certainly has the scent of Old GM’s corporate politics on it…
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By on December 14, 2010

At a press conference announcing new cooperation between Nissan and Mitsubishi, Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn presented the tie-up as a far-sighted move that will help both sides prosper. The Renault/Nissan boss explained

In the global auto industry, cooperation on specific projects among automakers is becoming increasingly common. It is a signal of how our industry is evolving to sustain success over the long term

But if his words were saying “cooperation,” Ghosn’s body language said “I’m hungry and your company looks bite-sized.”

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By on December 14, 2010

When “Maximum” Bob Lutz showed up on the advisory board at Lotus, we were hardly surprised about his choice of post-retirement projects. After all, Lotus is one of the most audacious (privately-funded) turnaround attempts in an industry that runs on turnarounds, and Lutz is the king of building automotive hype, fresh off of one of the most overexposed automotive projects in recent memory, the Chevy Volt. Besides, Lotus’s shot at an overnight leap from niche enthusiast brand to Ferrari and Porsche-rivaling juggernaut is so brazenly implausible, that Lutz actually lends credibility to the project. At least, he would do if he didn’t have that irrepressible knack for saying things like

People keep asking me if I’m sure the new plan will work, and of course I can’t guarantee that. It’s a risk. But I’m quite certain it stands a better chance than the Lotus status quo, which for sure would eventually lead this great brand into terminal decline

Lutz goes on to tell Autocar that Lotus’s billion dollar turnaround “a big gamble,” and admits that “a fair bit of showbiz” is driving Lotus’s quantum leap towards becoming a full-line sportscar and supercar maker. Does it sound like Lutz might have some mixed feelings about Lotus’s rush to trample its enthusiast credentials? More maximum mixed feelings below the fold.

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By on December 13, 2010

Comedian Adam Carolla has been associated with so many efforts to bring Top Gear to the United States, it must have stung him just a little to not be included in the History Channel’s adaptation of the British car show. But instead of getting mad, Carolla decided to get even. With fans of the original Top Gear largely united in their indifference to the Ferrara/Foust/Wood presenter team, Carolla is joining up with several other Top Gear rejects to create a little competition for Top Gear USA. The show is untitled as yet, but according to Variety

Carolla will star along with Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal auto writer Dan Neil, ex-NBA star John Salley and Matt Farah from The Smoking Tire website.
Intriguingly, Dan Neil has said that he was rejected as a possible presenter for an early NBC attempt at a Top Gear USA series, because he “had zero chemistry” with Carolla. So, have Dan and Adam been working on their banter in the interim, or will the Speed Channel show’s presenters suffer from the same tepid chemistry as History Channel’s? At least one thing is for certain: because the show is being pitched as a hybrid of Top Gear and Fox Sports Net’s “The Best Damn Sports Show Period,” at least it won’t suffer from the need to remain faithful to a single original series. And, as the world of cars proves again and again, competition breeds excellence. Even if Carolla’s show can’t capture lightning in a bottle, it will keep Top Gear USA from coasting on its name and British-based reputation. That alone seems to make this project worth keeping an eye on.
By on November 29, 2010

Bill Mitchell, only the second man to head General Motors styling when he took over from the monumental Harley Earl, was not a man about whom people were impartial. GM’s official history reveres him. Harley Earl’s family reviles him. His coworkers and subordinates at GM either loved him or despised the man. Even landmark designs that were signatures of his reign at GM Styling, the split-window 1963 Corvette Sting Ray and the boat tail Rivieras, are polarizing designs that had detractors, including some on the GM Styling staff. He admittedly ran that department like a dictator, though he rarely fired anyone. Mercurial in temper, he’d have screaming fits at his design staff, laced with the most vulgar epithets, then defuse the tension with an offhand joke as he left the room. Shamelessly ambitious and self-promoting, often taking personal credit for his staffs’ designs, had the term “larger than life” not existed, Mitchell would have coined it to describe himself.

By today’s standards of workplace political correctness, diversity and racial and sexual harassment law, Bill Mitchell was an atavistic throwback to an age when ethnic jokes by supervisors were uncomfortably endured by the brunt of that ‘humor’. An executive then could tell his secretary to order him up some hookers after a multiple martini lunch, knowing that she’d hold all calls and cover for him if his wife (or another executive) got jealous. As a result, in addition to whatever praise and criticism his aesthetic direction and management skills have garnered, Bill Mitchell’s legacy has been somewhat tarred with the brush of bigotry.

The question is are we being fair to the man? Are we applying contemporary standards to an era that was simultaneously more innocent and more evil in terms of racial, ethnic and other prejudice?

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By on November 20, 2010

We all knew that Bob Lutz wasn’t going to spend his retirement circulating between the golf course and the early bird special, and when Lotus rolled out the most ambitious re-boot of any car company since GM, we should have known Lutz would end up involved somehow. After all, Lotus’s CEO Dany Bahar has bragged at length about making Lotus the “Real Madrid” (think Miami Heat) of  the sports car industry… and if there’s one high-profile prima donna in the car industry, it’s Mr Robert Anthony Lutz.
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By on November 8, 2010

When is it a good time for a CEO to step down from an automotive company? This year we’ve already learned that ditching mere months before a major IPO was not a great move for GM CEO Ed Whitacre. But that surprise drop-out may just have been topped by CODA Automotive’s Kevin Czinger, who just resigned a month before his firm starts sales of its very first vehicle. The firm is in the midst of its pre-sales marketing, and is also currently pursuing $125m in financing from Morgan Stanley and others, making this a highly unusual time for a CEO to leave. Czinger, a Goldman Sachs alum, was crucial in bringing investments to CODA from other Goldman alums, including former Treasury boss Hank Paulson and John Bryson. Czinger will stay on as an adviser to the firm, as co-chairman Steve Heller will take over as interim CEO and COO. Earlier this year, Czinger called the CEO position his “dream job” (see video above).
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