By on May 18, 2009

Anyone who’s spent any time around preschoolers knows they can ask some really hard questions. Fortunately, even questions like “why is the sky blue” or “where do babies come from” can be answered to their satisfaction with a little thought and careful wording. Questions from gearheads are a bit tougher and aren’t as easily answered. Here are nine questions I’d love for someone to answer. That is, if there really are answers to be had.

1. Why did Jim Press leave Toyota for Chrysler? He was sitting on top of the automotive world at Toyota as the President and CEO of Toyota North America. Press was the first non-Japanese member of Toyota’s management board. Suddenly, he quit, and went to Chrysler to work for Bob Nardelli. Was it Toyota’s executive salary cap that caused him to bail, or was there something more political going on? Did Cerberus promise Jimbo something more than just a co-presidency at Chrysler? Jim ain’t sayin’.

2. Why did GM keep Rick Wagoner around for so long? “Red Ink Rick” inherited a mess created by his predecessors. Instead of taking the draconian steps needed to get the company back on track, Rick accelerated the company’s slide to oblivion. If a GM middle manager had lost the company the kind of money that Rick did, he would have been given a box for his personal belongings and escorted from the building. Even so, how could it take a president of the United States to bring Ricky down. What power did RW hold over the GM Board of Directors that kept him in charge for nine years?

3. Does Fiat really think they can make a comeback in this country? Fiat sold just one vehicle stateside (pause) that met with any kind of critical acclaim: the 124 Spyder. Meanwhile, Fiat earned itself a stellar rep as the manufacturer of trouble-prone rust buckets whose dealers couldn’t get critical parts (even if they knew what they were and wanted to). Fiat’s decision to jump into bed with Chrysler is not the most ridiculously ambitious (or ambitiously ridiculous) idea in the world, but it’s in the top five. How does Fiat plan to market themselves? Just how big of a PR budget do they have?

4. How much longer can the UAW hang in there before it becomes a casualty of the “good” automakers? When American automakers were raking in the cash, the UAW demanded and received . . . whatever they wanted. In the cold light of day, the union priced itself out of the picture. The concessions surrendered during the last round of contract negations are the crack in the glacier [see: Ice Age]. By the time “new” Chrysler and GM find their feet [Ed: in our shoes], the UAW will carry about as much clout as the air traffic controllers union. How can they survive?

5. How long can GM’s ex-Car Czar, Bob Lutz, keep his mouth shut? Bob Lutz is the prince of WTF sound bites. Earlier this year, Lutz announced his retirement. Last week, he cashed in his remaining GM stock (what does he know that we’ve known for the better part of a a decade?). Why hasn’t Maximum Bob defended his legacy? Alternatively, how is GM managing to keep him quiet?

6. Why has Mark Fields been so quiet lately? Mark “Fly Me to Miami” Fields was another gold-mine of blogger fodder. Ford’s Presidente de las Americas even ran a web-based reality series, “How I Turned Around Ford Without Really Trying.” Lately, like Lutz, Fields hasn’t said boo to a goose. Did Big Al have a “come to Jesus” meeting with Fields? Or did Mrs. Fields finally silence her boy?

7. Where is Honda going with Acura? Honda’s schizoid sports/luxury wannabe division can’t seem to decide what part of the market it wants to play in. For a while, they sold a hard-core sports GT car and scrappy sports compacts and wanted to be the Japanese BMW. Now it seems Acura’s trying to be the Japanese Audi with soccer mom CUVs and AWD near-luxury sedans. Toss in styling only a Anime fan could love and who knows where they’ll go next on their voyage of self-discovery?

8.  How much longer will GM, Ford and Chrysler pour money into motorsports? Car and Driver ran an April Fool’s story reporting that budget constraints had forced GM to withdraw from NASCAR. It was so believable no one thought it was a joke. It isn’t. Nothing that any of the domestics are doing in motorsports has anything to do with what you can buy on their showroom. How can they justify spending millions on racing programs when they’re shuttering factories, firing people and begging for handouts to stay alive?

9. Will Toyota wake up and smell the coffee? Toyota’s creating superfluous brands, dragging their luxury division downmarket, trying to fill every market niche, and taking hits due to quality issues. Sound familiar? ToMoCo’s shaking up their management team. But will that be enough to keep them from becoming the GM of the Orient?

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47 Comments on “Editorial: Nine Questions I’d Like Answered...”

  • avatar

    1. wasn’t he sidestepped at Toyota in some way? Whatever the reason, he hit the roof of advancement at that company. Either he figured he was worth more money, or Toyota found him incompetent at any higher levels. Being head of Chrysler smashed higher than being middle-management at Toyota.

  • avatar

    Prepare to see a million redneck heads explode when the only thing keeping NASCAR afloat is Toyota.

  • avatar

    #6. When the competition is imploding it’s best not to interrupt.

  • avatar

    Just a few opinions:

    1.) Had to be money. There’s no other reason to go to Chrysler. If politics were at play, it seems to me Press could have gone to any number of other companies. Chrysler had to have offered him the moon.

    2.) Wagoner must have some pictures of somebody in a very compromising position. He absolutely must. That’s all I can come up with.

    3.) Fiat has been gone from the U.S. auto scene long enough for a new generation of American motorist to emerge. One that has no idea just how shitty Fiat cars were, and one that is probably more interested in how cute their cars are, or if they have iPod/Bluetooth connectivity.

    4.) I give the UAW another year. If that. The neck is in the guillotine waiting for the blade to come down.

    5.) Maximum Bob will probably have a few things to say when the big announcement comes from GM on June 1.

    6.) I have no opinion.

    7.) Straight into the shitter. There are plenty of great cars out there for the same money as an Acura, and there are plenty of boring cars out there for way less money. Acura has no reason to exist the way they are.

    8.) I’m surprised that Chrysler and GM are still being allowed to piss money away on NASCAR, and a little amazed that Ford’s still doing it with their cash flow issues. I guess there are contracts they’re hooked into? NASCAR isn’t looking too good these days anyhow, maybe the whole thing will just go away. One can only hope.

    9.) Toyota’s already figured out that they’re doing something wrong, it will only be a matter of time before they figure out what it is. I don’t expect them to be floundering about for too long. They’ll get it, and when they do, look out all competitors.

  • avatar

    Actually I think the UAW did a very good job in protecting their members and getting the most that they could from the car companies. Without the union auto workers would not make a fraction of what they make now. You may argue that Toyota workers make similar wages without being unionized but their wages are in reaction to the UAW benefits. The UAW did its job at getting good wages and benefits so well that they may kill their host. Just like an overly efficient immune system could kill a human by fighting a disease that it kills the host. The latest swine flu is a good example. The flu doesn’t kill you it is the body’s defenses overacting that kills you.

  • avatar

    3. Has Fiat ever specifically said that they want to re-enter North America by opening up Fiat dealerships? I don’t know, but I never remember them saying that they specificaly wanted dealership presence in North America. They could very easily slap a ram head or wings on their cars and sell them at Chrysler dealers and not have to worry about the whole ordeal, and they’d still technically be selling their products in the US.

    (This does not include Alfa Romeo. They already have brought Alfa back, technically speaking)

  • avatar

    #7. As a 2006 Acura MDX owner, I thank my lucky stars that I bought one when I did. The new Acura “look” is just horrendous! If I wanted to look like a Knight, I would just buy a suit of armor.My 2006 has a great combo of good ergonomics, a decent look, and reasonable fuel economy. It also does not sacrifice utility for style.If Acura does not fire their chief “stylist” and turn around soon, they will be off my radar when I purchase my next vehicle.

  • avatar

    Regarding 1, 3, and maybe even 2: like energies attract like, so a crappy guy will be attracted to a crappy company, and a more positive company will form partnership with another more positive company. Toyota wouldn’t touch Chrysler with a 10-foot pole, and look who wants to get in bed with Chrysler now – another maker of poor-reliability cars (well, at least Fiat cars look good), after the fiasco with Benz.

  • avatar

    Lenny, that’s pretty much why I think the people who benefit the most from a union are guys working in the same industry at non-union companies. Not only do they get to make more, but they get to slowly devour the unionized company, ensuring job security.

  • avatar

    If you understand that Chrysler was not intended to be a strip-and-flip, then Press’ decision can make some sense. Had the Cerberus outsourcing plan been adequately funded and had enough time been allotted to complete it, there was some chance that the plan could have worked.

    As it turns out, the plan was not adequately funded, and the time horizon wasn’t long enough. The concept itself was pretty innovative, and had it been done properly, it actually had a shot. But the timing was bad and Cerberus was probably not the one to lead it. It could have been an interesting challenge in an industry that doesn’t have a history of changing very much, very fast.

  • avatar

    re: Fiat reliability –

    1. An entire generation or two have grown up with no knowledge of their reliability history – the only baggage is with your early-mid 40s and older crowd.

    having said that….

    2. I was the proud owner of a 1979 Strada 4 door hatchback as a high school student in the mid 80’s – if you could ignore the facts that pieces of sheet metal regularly fell off when you hit potholes (thanks to Chicago street salting), and that every piece of plastic inside that was not the dashboard (including door and window handles) broke off eventually, the car ran like a top, especially after I removed the catalytic converter and put on a glass pack.

    A new Abarth 500 with gaudy stripes would look real nice in my garage.

  • avatar

    Nascar has a loyal following. The ratings numbers at NBC and FOX prove it. There is always a pop for Chevy when Jeff Gordon wins a race. Kasey Kahne in that shiny Dodge Dealers Dodge manages to help sell a few Challengers. I always see these die-hards in the black Monte Carlos with the number 3 decals on the back bumper. And you’ve got the Roushkateers like Matt Kenseth, riding around in the Ford Focus. I’d say, from a marketing point of view, it’s good advertising for the brands, but not a windfall. The question is, can this brand awareness opportunity justify the big expense?

    I’m going to miss that shiny red Dodge Challenger.

  • avatar

    You know, by this point we’ve got the message: car reviewers don’t like the new Acura body style. You’re conservative. You don’t like change. We get it.

    Consumers, however, sure seem to like it, or at least like it on the low end of their line. The TSX sold more in January, February, and March than it did in 2008, only giving up a few percentage points in April. Given the economy, that seems like a pretty good result.

    Maybe there are just a lot of us anime fans out here?

  • avatar

    6. Alan Mulally is now firmly established as the face of Ford and seems to be doing a pretty good job. Mark Fields has probably been told to keep his mouth shut.

  • avatar

    Kasey Kahne in that shiny Dodge Dealers Dodge manages to help sell a few Challengers… I’m going to miss that shiny red Dodge Challenger.

    Kahne’s car is a faux Charger, not a Challenger. He’s also driven a pseudo-Avenger – neither of which have anything in common with the “stock” cars the National Association of STOCK Car Auto Racing wants to pass them off as.

  • avatar

    The fit/finish and build quality of Acura’s blow away the competition. Just go sit in a new Tahoe then sit in an MDX as I did recently. Not even close. The Tahoe is not even in the same league as the MDX.

  • avatar

    The UAW’s hope was card check allowing the goons to come in and organize all the transplants without voting, allowing them to “compete” on a common footing.
    For some reason, card check is not happening in Wash DC.
    Also the UAW pay/benefits package is being shredded so quickly that it can’t be very enticing to a current transplant worker so sign up for this “great” future deal.
    The UAW has organized some non-competitive businesses like nursing and govt employees. That’s probably their future.

  • avatar

    Re Acura: I think their only option left is to be the Japanese Audi. Lexus is the Japanese Mercedes, and Infiniti pushed out timid Acura and brought enough real credibility (dedicated RWD platforms, V8s, etc.) to establish themselves as the true Japanese BMW.

    Who else is left? Nobody wants to be the Japanese Jaguar or Japanese Volvo. The problem is people buy Audi for not just Quattro AWD, you can get AWD on anything now. They buy Audi for their styling, and stellar interiors. Acura sucks at both styling and interior design.

    Acura has always been all over the place. The Legend was actually a pretty fun car to drive, but the Vigor was just a bland ES knock-off. Acuras strengths were the Legend and Integra, and they stupidly killed both of them. They never recovered from the RL disaster.

    Now Acura survives on the TSX, TL, and MDX. The TSX sells to those so afraid of European reliability that they will accept a gutless engine and an Accord quality interior. It’s only real competition is the similarly mediocre IS250.

    The TL used to be the bargain entry-lux car, but it keeps getting bigger and more expensive, but not better. Sooner or later people will wake up and realize that they are over-paying for a hideous, gussied up Accord that’s all smoke and mirrors and no substance.

    The MDX has no competition from either Lexus or Infiniti, and thus is the automatic Japanese answer to those who want a luxury-ish 3-row unibody SUV.

  • avatar

    Every automaker goes through slumps, like Acura seems to be going through now. It’s not really a sales slump compared with the competition, though, it is more of an image slump. Infiniti has positioned themselves as the clear sporty lux japanese brand and Lexus has the luxury lux japanese brand. Acura is stuck in the middle. Which actually isn’t a bad place to be if you want sales.

    If they want to spice things up and create some buz, they should target 2 segments, where the other 2 brands are weak or absent.

    First segment would be a rear-wheel drive convertible. Inifinit doesn’t have a convertible and I believe Lexus is phasing theirs out.

    Second- how about a full-size, three row, 8 seater SUV. The Lexus LX is rediculously expensive ($70k base) the GX really isn’t a full-size. As for Inifiniti, their QX might be one of their weaker models and is hard to justify over the Nissan Armada, which is mediocre to begin with IMO.

    For Accura’s full-size SUV, I’m thinking something along the lines of the MB GL, but obviously more affordable.

  • avatar

    Inifinit doesn’t have a convertible

    Coming soon.

  • avatar

    A new Abarth 500 with gaudy stripes would look real nice in my garage.

    Everyone keeps talking about the Abarth 500. I would LOVE one. It will NEVER hit our shores.

    We’ll be lucky if we get a 500 at all.

  • avatar

    Regarding Acura – I’ve had a TL since 1999 and had planned to replace it with another TL this year. But I can’t bear to look at the 2009. I’m sure it would be a well-built, enjoyable car just like my ’99 has been – but I can’t imagine what the designers were thinking. I guess I’ll stick with my old car for a while longer; either Acura will do a fast about-face on that ill-considered restyling, or I’ll shop elsewhere. Unlike some other readers, I think Acura has a viable market niche (well-made, cheap-to-run, long-lived near-luxury cars) and their sales bear that out. But I’d welcome a return to the brand’s conservative styling roots.

  • avatar

    I have a question that I wish would be asked, nevermind being answered.

    Why is it when talk show hosts interview someone from the D3 or a D3 butt kisser they never ask “So how come you guys have lost so much market share in such a short period of time?”.

  • avatar


    You beat me to the point about the Infiniti convertible. Regarding Acura, I think that they do need to lose the plot a little if they are going to make it. Perhaps I am odd, but I would like a luxury car that looks good and is frugal. Also, I feel that the never-was TSX coupe was a good idea. While the g35 is nice, there is an unfilled slot in the $25-30k coupe market. It isn’t Acura’s idea of being the Japanese Audi that is bad, it the terrible execution that does them in.

    As for Toyota, if Toyoda takes over as CEO from Watanabe, the rumor is that Toyota NA management will be right next to Wagoner on the unemployment line. Maybe then I could get a Celica or MR2 back.

  • avatar

    Good questions Frank.

    1. I think your last point nails it:

    Cerberus: “It’s more than just the money, Jim. We already rule the world. We’ve got the White HOuse in our pocket. Join us and you’ll be more than just a hack over-the-hill auto exec taking orders from Tokyo.”

    Press: “Sounds good.”

    2. There’s two rationales:

    – The same reason that New York State continues to be ruled by the inscrutable Sheldon Silver. I think RIR has pictures of the GM Board with sheep, or at one on Max Moseley’s post-F1 race black leather parties. With Obama in charge and BK looming, suddenly that doesn’t matter anymore.

    – If the above isn’t it, the simple truth is that Rick is “one of them.” He made them comfortable. He lulled them into a sense of complacency. They didn’t have to think, work, be challenged or uphold rules of governance. An outsider — or even an internal GM “radical” if such a thing has existed in the last 20 years — would have called them out for their laziness.

    3. No. Fiat is taking advantage of chaos to get something for nothing. Marchionne is having a great time looking like a genius global playa. In his shoes, I’d do the same. The reality is that there is no “plan.”

    4. They can’t. The UAW is a dead union walking.

    5. I agree with other posters. After 6/1, no one will be able to shut Maximum Bob up.

    6. I agree. I have to believe Big Al sees real exec talent in Fields beyond his institutional Ford knowledge. Otherwise, Fields would have been tossed already. Maybe it was like Don Corleone’s slapdown of Sonny after they met with Salazo the Turk: “Never let anyone outside the family know what you’re thinking!”

    Whatever, I like the subdued, mullet-less Fields.

    7. Acura? Who? RIP. I see consolidation and more “upscale” Honda-branded products in their U.S. future.

    8. It’s all about the NASCAR contracts; when they’ll end or be broken. Even if the Big 2.2 pull the plug, it won’t be until after the ’09 season when everyone’s used to Chrysler and GM being bankrupt and 1/4 of their dealers being gone. NASCAR will feel a whole lot of hurt, though. Marketers need to show the kind of ROI that the France family hasn’t been able to deliver in years. I see downsizing in Daytona.

    9. I think Toyota’s current management shake-up will be enough. There’s nothing like a few dead bodies to keep everyone in line.

  • avatar

    Why have so many cars gotten so much uglier over the last 8 years? Acuras used to have a graceful, if bland, look; now they have a cheese-slicer front end. BMWs used to be styled like sensible fast driving machines; now they look like they want to be rocketships on Saturday morning cartoons. Audis used to be some of the most stylish cars on the road affordable by middle-class people; now the sides and back still look good but you have to look past the big-mouth bass front-end. Same with Volkswagens.

  • avatar

    3. Fiat can come back… but Alfa is where the opportunities are.

    7. There are opportunities for Acura, but Honda is too timid to take them. They need a brand manager with some guts and enough power to get a couple of platforms. The RSX just isn’t quite channeling the success of the Integra (I would suggest the Mazda 3 took that crown), the new styling is a disaster, and the boulevard cruiser goes to Lexus.

  • avatar

    Wow. I didn’t know dwarves drove Mini Clubmans.

    Hi dwarf Mom! -You are a cute old lady!

  • avatar

    By the time “new” Chrysler and GM find their feet [Ed: in our shoes], the UAW will carry about as much clout as the air traffic controllers union. How can they survive?

    Perhaps, but in the meantime, the UAW still has enough clout to have the President of the United States work the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies in their favor.

  • avatar

    Nothing that any of the domestics are doing in motorsports has anything to do with what you can buy on their showroom.

    I think the Corvette racing team is an exception to that. Whether GM takes maximum advantage of the C5R and C6R success on the track in terms of marketing is another question, but the racing project works closely with the production Vette team.

    Also, the “Jake” Corvette racing skull logo is very, very clever.

  • avatar

    @ peterb: I loved my old Integra and like anime to an extent and can’t stand the way current Acuras look. Put it this way, I think the new Subarus look cool compared to an Acura. That’s how bad they fell off. They may still have a market, but they lost their following a long time ago. Acura used to mean cool car. It doesn’t anymore, ask anyone.

  • avatar

    Prepare to see a million redneck heads explode when the only thing keeping NASCAR afloat is Toyota.

    Why is prejudice against “rednecks” acceptable?

  • avatar

    I haven’t spoken to Fields at length, but people who have tell me that he’s much more knowledgeable about the business than the impression given by his empty suit public persona. He did a good job at Mazda.

    In any case, his position at Ford undoubtedly has Henry spinning at a higher rate or RPMs than an Ecoboost engine.

  • avatar

    I have a theory about why the current Acuras are so ugly and I would like your comments.
    I suggest that the designers adopted the “Upside down pentagon” look for the grille a couple of models back and then suddenly realized that the design was already taken by Mazda.
    Instead of backing off, they have maximized this look in order to make it their own. Meanwhile Mazda continues to use the Gonapent and looks good.

  • avatar

    Why is prejudice against “rednecks” acceptable?

    Because they’re rednecks.

  • avatar

    1. Why did Jim Press leave Toyota for Chrysler?

    2. Why did GM keep Rick Wagoner around for so long?

    RIR was a hypnotist. The BOD wanted to get rid of him, but he put them in a trance.

    3. Does Fiat really think they can make a comeback in this country?

    Not with anyone over 40. If their quality is improved, as Europeans sometimes claim, then yes. If not, they’ll be gone in no time at all.

    4. How much longer can the UAW hang in there before it becomes a casualty of the “good” automakers?

    The UAW will be around for decades and decades. Those of you rubbing your hands with glee at the thought of the UAW disappearing will be bitterly disappointed.

    6. Why has Mark Fields been so quiet lately?

    Don’t ask. Just enjoy.

    7. Where is Honda going with Acura?
    Nowhere. They have to figure out what the brand stands for, or kill it.

    8. How much longer will GM, Ford and Chrysler pour money into motorsports?

    Don’t know. It would make sense to stop, but they may still believe that winning on Sunday sells cars on Monday.

    9. Will Toyota wake up and smell the coffee?

    I don’t think so. The management shakeup seems like overreaction to me.

  • avatar

    Here’s a question: Why in the 21st century is it still impossible for the automakers to create a door that will electronically unlock even when someone is attempting to pull the handle at the same moment? I’m sure it isn’t just my wife who invariably pulls the handle at the same instant, but an entire world of wives. We all have this need, so it is mystifying that it has never been solved. We have Google and NASA but not car doors that unlock every time.

    I also don’t understand why restaurants can’t have *both* Coke and Pepsi but that is for another blog…

  • avatar

    ok, ok, the questions:

    1) Don’t know, Don’t care (DKDC)

    2) DKDC

    3) Yes, and if it means that I have a shot at owning an Alfa Romeo 8C (the prettiest car in the world,) bring ’em on!

    4)The UAW will be here forever.

    5) DKDC

    6) DKDC

    7) Acura’s look horrendous, but one of my co-workers just got one. The lease rates are fantastic, the electronics are dazzling and it’s very comfortable. They shouldn’t have shelved the NSX though.

    8) Until they figure out how to turn right! Just kidding. While I prefer F1 (don’t flame me) NASCAR is part of our culture, and will be funded with TARP proceeds.

    9) Toyota is smart. Don’t count them out. One good car (not the Venza) can turn everything around.

  • avatar

    I will try to answer each in 1 sentence or less.

    1. Why did Jim Press leave Toyota for Chrysler?

    He thinks he’s patriotic, he thought he was better than he was, and for a hell of a lot of money.

    2. Why did GM keep Rick Wagoner around for so long?
    He managed to sell his magical plan to the board, and the brilliant investors bought it.

    3. Does Fiat really think they can make a comeback in this country?
    Yep, it wouldn’t surprise me if they turn out to be the big winners in the Carpocalypse; then again, it wouldn’t surprise me if they epic fail either.

    4. How much longer can the UAW hang in there before it becomes a casualty of the “good” automakers?

    As long as they keep voting for big daddy Obama, and prop up our politicians.

    5. How long can GM’s ex-Car Czar, Bob Lutz, keep his mouth shut?
    5,4,3,2. . .

    6. Why has Mark Fields been so quiet lately?

    Ford “We don’t take your stinkin’ Goberment Handouts” is trying to keep a low profile, and it’s smart of them.

    7. Where is Honda going with Acura

    Straight into a ditch.

    8. How much longer will GM, Ford and Chrysler pour money into motorsports?
    They already canceled their high-performance divisions, but they won’t cancel it completely, they wouldn’t want to offend their rabid following amongst NASCAR dads, but I wouldn’t be surprised if good motor sports (AMLS) get the axe.

    9. Will Toyota wake up and smell the coffee?

    Yep, heads are rolling as we speak.

  • avatar

    I concur with all the previous comments about Acura styling.

    Perhaps Acura attempted to form an identity, a la the BMW and Audi grilles. Just so happens that they chose an ugly beak for their styling.

    On a second note, they’re basically going to siphon sales of the TL due to the new V6 TSX. Why buy the (grossly) bigger TL with an uglier look when you can get a relatively more stylish TSX with the same V6 power (and about the same size as the last gen. TL)?

  • avatar

    5) Lutz is slated to be a guest on Wednesday (05/18/2009) night’s episode of the late-night talk show.

    Let the fun commence! :-)

  • avatar

    2. Why did GM keep Rick Wagoner around for so long? We will find out the “meaning of life” before we find out the answer to this.

    3. Does Fiat really think they can make a comeback in this country? The Italians (and the French) must look at the success of the Koreans and think, “Surely we can be at least as good.”

    4. How much longer can the UAW hang in there before it becomes a casualty of the “good” automakers? Unfortunately, they will stick around, but be a shadow of a shadow of themselves.

    7. Where is Honda going with Acura? Easy. Into the dumpster. Even the mothership, I think, has problems deciding what it wants to be.

    8. How much longer will GM, Ford and Chrysler pour money into motorsports? I’m just surprised they have stayed with NASCRAP. When the only difference between Ford/Chevy/Dodge is some decals, there’s got to be a better place to spend the budget. Only slightly a pity Ford exited F-1, as they do have a strong historical link.

    9. Will Toyota wake up and smell the coffee? I believe they have, replacing a ton of execs. It remains to be seen if it’s the people or the process. I wonder if new blood can address the atrocious, dissonant styling, or the boring, appliance-grade driving dynamics.

  • avatar

    The question is, can this brand awareness opportunity justify the big expense?

    The answer is it can’t. For the millions of dollars that you are throwing away having a racing team in NASCAR, you gain a few hundred thousand in car sales. Doesn’t seem very lucrative and NASCAR’s inherent lack of innovation makes it even less so. There used to be a time when racing provided the technical advancement to the big brands. Audi has pushed the door open wide with Clean Diesel Technology with their diesel powered F1 race cars that have managed to dominate the racing scene for years. NASCAR is still puttering around with carburators and pushrod V8s. Little wonder that GM, Ford, and Chyrsler can’t pull their heads out of the ’60s.

  • avatar

    1. Why did Jim Press leave Toyota for Chrysler?

    Because while he was the first 外人 (gaijin) to be named to the Toyota BOD, he wasn’t going to go any higher, he was nicely set financially already and getting close to retirement age, and Cerberus offered him a lot of financial incentives.

    Press is a smart guy, was pretty successful at Toyota (he started at GM, btw), and from my talks with Toyota people, he seems to have been universally loved and admired by the people at TMNA. Going from the world’s most successful auto company to the most distressed is so counterintuitive that Press had to have some very strong inducements to jump ship.

  • avatar

    I think that Fields is taking a lower profile because Ford realizes that Alan Mullaly’s aw shucks persona works better for Ford’s public image than Fields’ slick, blown dry image.

    I noticed on CNBC, while the assembled automotive worthies were on the dias waiting for Pres. Obama to announce the new fuel and emissions standards, the announcers pointed out that standing apart from all the CEOs were Ron Gettlefinger and Alan Mullaly.

    Mullaly, Fields and the rest of the Ford team have maneuvered through all this beautifully, at least in terms of crafting Ford’s image in the minds of American consumers and taxpayers. I still think Ford should make up some Iaccoca style commercials using Mullaly. He’s one of the most effective spokesman in the auto biz today. He also works for a family that has almost lost their business before. I count this as the 3rd or 4th time the Ford family has faced serious trouble with their car company. The first was Henry losing control of his first automotive venture to his backers. The second was hanging on to the Model T way too long. The third was Edsel’s death and a by then senile Henry reasserting operating control of the company during WWII. The fourth was the Edsel debacle, which lost the company hundreds of millions of dollars just as the country was recovering from the 1957 recession (itself brought on by the UAW’s marathon strike against GM).

  • avatar

    Ronnie Schreiber
    Good post.

    You forgot the Firestone Tire debacle with accompanying 9/11 induced economy and horrible Jay Mays styling period.

    How did Ford get out of that one?

    Focus on innovation and new technology (SYNC), hire a no-nonsense outsider who isn’t afraid to tear down the toxic corporate culture left over from Nasser, and literally bet the farm on a $30B cash infusion to support scrapping all current plans for competent new models inspired by the success of Mazda and Ford of Europe.

    …the jury is still out on that one, but as you note it may have gotten a huge boost from the opportunity to tell the Govt ‘Thanks for the offer, but we’ll make it without a bailout’.

    The Ford brand now speaks to the anti-govt intervention crowd as well as the ‘everybody loves an underdog’ American public.

    Just wait until the SNL sketch of a fake Ford commercial where they skewer the competition for stealing money from the taxpayers.

  • avatar

    1) I agree with the above.. when I change jobs it usually has something to do with money. Money talks BS walks.

    2) Rick survived because of two things. a) initially GM’s decline was fairly gradual and b) No-one on the BOD could believe that it was happening… It was like old experiment where you slowly turning up the heat on a frog in a pot of water… The frog never figures out that he is cooking until he is done. Looking back in the 9 years there were over 20 things that he did that should have resulted in his termination… He F’ed up so regularly that the mistakes just became “businesses as usual” to the BOD

    3) Fiat might just surprise a lot of people.

    4) The UAW will live just about as long as Lutz can keep quiet. See #5

    5) Though the two events are not related, both #4 & #5 will happen relatively quickly. Bob will eventually lash out at the Government (again) for making him fly coach after 6/1/09 and VEBA will do to the UAW what it did to GM around 6/1/10.

    6) You don’t talk smack when you are winning the game… You just smile an point at the scoreboard… Lots of smiling these days at the blue oval.

    7) Honda is doing to Acura EXACTLY what GM did to Pontiac/Buick and Cadillac. Step one kill any model with brand recognition, (Integra, Legend, Regal, Seville, Grand Prix etc) Step two, replace them with meaningless and confusing alphabet soup (TL, G8, STS) Then to finish off… Step three.. Make the cars ugly as sin. At least We get to witness that F’ed up marketing works just as badly at a Japanese make as it does for a domestic.

    8) Right up to Ch11. Then some Federal BK Judge will shut this down and members here will blame Obama. After all he has been running GM for what? 5 months… And Rick ran it so well for the last 9 years…

    9) Unlike GM, the Toyota board seems smart enough to notice that the frog soup is getting hot, that the cars aren’t selling and that people have screwed up. People are getting fired and the company is making changes. To butcher that old Pearl Harbor quote… A sleeping Giant is about to awake. If I were any other manufacture I would be afraid… VERY AFRAID. (OK except maybe Hyundai)

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