Editorial: Nine Questions I'd Like Answered

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams
editorial nine questions i d like answered

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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  • Greenb1ood Greenb1ood on May 19, 2009
    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.

  • CamaroKid CamaroKid on May 19, 2009

    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)

  • Arthur Dailey I grew up in an era when a teenager could work pumping gas or bussing tables and be able to purchase a vehicle for a couple of thousand dollars and drive it with 'uninsured' status.If a parent advised on the purchase of the vehicle, they would most often point us to a large, stripped/base version, domestic sedan with the smallest possible engine.These cars generally had terrible driving dynamics and little to no safety features, but were easy to work, had large bench seats/interiors and not enough power to get out of their own way.
  • MaintenanceCosts I'll guess: 3rd owner, never did even basic maintenance, major component failed, car got towed from the apartment complex parking lot, no one bought it at auction because the repair bill exceeded the value.The chrome pillar appliques support this hypothesis.
  • MaintenanceCosts I'm generally in the "I want them to have all the new safety stuff" camp, but new cars are both too fast and too isolating these days. They mask speed enough that a new driver can get way in over his head without really realizing he's even going that fast. This is especially a concern with my youngest, who wants to do everything he does faster. (He has zero fear tearing down hills at 25 mph on his little 20" wheel bike.) I'm hoping for something that is slow and communicates speed well, although I'm not quite sure there is any such thing in today's market.
  • KOKing I test-drove a used Equus Ultimate (the one with all the back seat doodads) that was a trade-in at a Ford dealer, and although it was VERY nice to be in as a Lexus LS with Ultra Luxury, it was supposedly in a minor fender-bender that probably wasn't repaired correctly (like a pinched bus cable or something?), and random features didn't work at all.I think this car suffered the same problem in the US that the VW Phaeton did, and probably would've done better if it was badged a Genesis from the get-go.
  • Analoggrotto Tesla owners are still smarter than anyone else, regardless.