By on July 21, 2020

The setting: a dimly lit bar, which is the best kind of bar, and one that seems to have stepped out of another time. Old, overly varnished wood mingling with red faux leather on the chairs and booths, a stained glass lamp hanging over each corner nook, and a complete absence of daylight or identifiable exit. Are you even above ground? You can’t tell.

A din registering somewhere between pleasant background murmur and raucous cacophony ensures reasonable privacy from the introvert population of this half-filled saloon. The drinks adorning tables and bartop are not mango mojitos, but brown liquors. Some with ice, most without. This is a place where long-lasting, healthy relationships are not kindled, but where more than a few businessmen have stopped in for a last drink before jumping off that overpass or going home to clean dad’s rifle. Maybe Deep Throat drank here. Maybe, somewhere out there in the brightly lit streets that may as well be a million miles away, three-piece suits and sideburns are back in vogue, and every car has an ashtray.

As you ponder your surroundings, puzzled, disoriented, and more than a little intrigued, a figure moves towards your table.

Somehow you just knew that a chance meeting would occur, but this is no simple random encounter. You’ve secretly, or not so secretly, desired this moment most of your life. You know the person.

Tossing a coat over an empty chair, they join you at your table, snapping their fingers at the discreet-looking bartender and barking out a simple drink order that arrives in record time. You’re unnerved by their presence, but excited. As your newfound guest settles in, preparing for a long stay, their steely gaze fixes on you, eyes narrowing as they mentally size you up.

And a question kicks it all off.

“What would you like to know?”

The person you’re drinking with is an auto industry executive, and it’s entirely likely they’ve returned from the dead in order to share a candid moment with you. It can be whomever you choose. Walter P. Chrysler, Henry Ford, John Z. DeLorean, Robert McNamara, Lee Iacocca, Bob Lutz (wait, this exercise is probably playing out in real time for him somewhere…), Mary Barra, or any one of the lesser execs throughout history who played a role in the ascendance — or downfall — of their company. It can be the creator of a certain model you covet so much. The designer of a unique engine, or sculptor of a car body you’ve lusted after since childhood.

There’s plenty of stories to tell. So, whose brain have you always wanted to pick?

[Image: Seller]

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32 Comments on “QOTD: Ready to Go One-on-One?...”

  • avatar

    I would like to know more about the internal contingency plans at GM and Chrysler if the bailouts had not happened. We know what was said publicly. But it’s simply impossible to believe companies of that size would have simply liquidated and gone out of business. They would have survived in some form, so what were the forecasts/projections of that form?

    Note that I’m generally pretty pro-bailout. Given the economic uncertainty at the time and the large number of jobs at risk, it was a necessary step IMO. However, if the hypothetical discussion above somehow brings to light that the companies believed internally that they could have come back at something like 90% of pre-crisis size/employment without public money, I may change my tune.

    • 0 avatar

      People have this mistaken view that a bankrupt company simply vanishes, all its products and employees and assets just *poof* and they are gone forever.

      Ain’t so. All the bailed out companies would still have produced cars, just not as many, because the markets had spoken and did not want their products. Most workers would have remained, but only enough to produce the fewer cars. The rest would have gotten unemployment insurance and found other jobs, or retired, or moved.

      The bailouts were completely unnecessary, business-wise. Purely a political move to pay back the unions at taxpayer expense, which was nonsense, because the unions would never vote Republican anyway.

      • 0 avatar

        “All the bailed out companies would still have produced cars, just not as many, because the markets had spoken and did not want their products.”

        In a vacuum this might be true, but in practice it wouldn’t have been in ’08. There would have been severe supply chain disruptions even if the bankrupt companies eventually emerged in some form on the other side, and those disruptions would likely have caused a chain reaction among tier 1 suppliers and the other manufacturers they supported.

        Capitalism works really well to optimize a system like the auto industry for normal circumstances, but the same optimization that builds a building just strong enough to stay up in normal winds becomes a real problem when a once-in-a-generation hurricane shows up.

        In the end, it’s not reasonable to try to make the economic system optimize for black swan events, and it’s stupid to let the buildings all fall over when they occur; secondary efficiency is maximized by allowing the base system to optimize for normal situations and ‘breaking the rules’ once in a while when there are unusual external events.

  • avatar

    John Z. DeLorean, because despite all his troubles which makes him more interesting, he is also an automotive genius behind some of the most exciting cars of the 20th century. I would be more interested in the development of those cars then anything about his personal life

    Close 2nd, Harley Earl and Elwood Engel

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I would love to ask Robert McNamara what he was thinking with respect to his strategy in Vietnam.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, good question, but I think I already know. There’s a lot of money to be made in war

    • 0 avatar

      It’s been made clear in many books. Basically, he and his fellow bean counters thought bean counting was the be-all and end-all of management. The plan was to gradually escalate the response, which the Communists would recognize and correctly interpret, and back off, and all would be well. When they didn’t respond per bean counter formula, ie when reality didn’t match theory, they doubled down on the same theory, thinking maybe the Communists were just slow to understand. And on and on.

      And LBJ went along with it to distract southern Democrats from the betrayal of the Civil Rights acts, and to distract the public in general from the upheaval and expense of his Great Society. He had to prove how tough he was.

  • avatar

    George Romney. I’d want to ‘axe’ him about what happened to AMC. An auto company that had the position to be far ahead, but fell behind and faded away.

  • avatar

    Carlos Ghosn. I have a feeling there’s a hell of a story to be told.

  • avatar

    I have a question. Who can identify the car in the picture?

  • avatar

    I would love to pick the brains of various auto execs to learn the logic, if any, in making the worthwhile and beneficial switch to LED taillights, then switching BACK again in newer models to old-tech, “gonna burn out” incandescents. Examples: ’07 to ’08 Accord, ’11 to ’12 Camry, Escapes of the past 2 or 3 years, and doubtless many more examples. What gives?

    • 0 avatar

      Cost-cutting I suppose for warranty purposes. When a globe blows, its a consumable for the customer to rectify, even if it required to tear half of the vehicle apart to replace it, whereas LED lights are built as an assembly. A led or block of led’s go out, it is a complete assembly that has to be replaced, ie the whole taillight assembly $$$$$

  • avatar

    I’d like to talk to the stylists from BMW and Lexus.

  • avatar

    DeLorean and Iaccoca would likely be the most interesting of those no longer with us. Honestly though I think I’d like to know what either one thought of the giants they worked with strictly – “Off the record.”

    Mary wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those places.

    I’d rather host Lutz on my back porch, we could each bring a cigar for the other. I’d like to hear from Lutz what he would have done at GM if he had been totally unfettered and money were no object, or perhaps even at what point in time he would go back to where he felt that GM could have still been saved. (Although I expect its a time when each division had autonomy.)

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Agree with DeLorean and Iaccoca because they seem to be the ones who would be the most talkative, tell the best stories and be the best companions.

      Would also like to sit in on a conversation with Harley Earle and Virgil Exner regarding design.

      Regarding engineering and production, the Dodge Brothers who were largely responsible for the success of Ford.

  • avatar

    I would love to hear a play by play of the planning that led to VW’s dieselgate and the internal chatter when there finally came a knock on their door.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry


      It has never been made public, but I’ll bet you a warm beer that dieselgate was the product of Ferdinand Piech’s dictatorial managment style. When he told his minions that the TDI was going to achive emissions compliance, that was that—no options. If those engineers wanted to continue in their automotive careers, those engines would comply–or at least APPEAR to comply.

      –Piech has never been the kind of person one could say “no” to…and survive.

      • 0 avatar

        “Where there is fear you will get false figures.” – W. Edwards Deming

        (That’s the Piech+Emissions Targets = Dieselgate formula.)

      • 0 avatar

        I imagine it started small — some deadline which can’t be rescheduled, some minor temporary tweak to cover the gap until the real fix was ready a week later. Then another harder deadline, a tweak which everyone half-expected would become permanent but none wanted to voice that worry, and then other work came along and there was no time to fix it for reals because it was so much harder. It grew and grew, old timers left and said nothing, not their problem; new workers didn’t realize it was there or just assumed it was normal.

        There’s a story about monkeys in a cage with a bunch of bananas hanging over a ladder. Naturally the monkeys go for the bananas, and when they do, they are hosed down with icy water. Pretty soon they learn, and if any monkey makes a dash for the bananas, the other monkeys beat the crap out of him.

        Then replace one experience monkey with a new one. He naturally goes for the bananas but doesn’t make it more than a step or two before the other monkeys beat the crap out of him. Soon he knows better.

        Replace another monkey. Same thing, with the previous new monkey joining in on the beating.

        Pretty soon all the monkeys have been replaced. None of them have ever experience the icy water hosing down. Why do they beta up newcomers who go for the bananas? Because that’s how it’s always been done.

    • 0 avatar

      “I would love to hear a play by play of the planning that led to VW’s dieselgate and the internal chatter when there finally came a knock on their door.”

      Just look at Larry Householder if you want to know what makes people do these things. “We’ll never get caught.”

  • avatar

    Iaccoca more to discuss his time at FoMoCo, the 60s/70s, and his relationship with Henry II vs. Chrysler. Plus he was pals with Sinatra.

  • avatar

    I recently read the story of the VW Beetle’s Jewish designer, Joseph Gantz, and was more fascinated by his long quest to get independent suspension, light weight, mid-rear engine, low center of gravity, etc. I think I’d like to get all the main characters together and hash out why they were all so stubborn.

  • avatar

    Colin Chapman.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I would like to sit with Soichiro Honda in a Japanese garden, sipping some matcha tea, and just chat about his take on automobiles and life in general.

  • avatar

    Zora Duntov

  • avatar

    Pass on the famous designers (they would be incredibly bored with me).

    Have figured out what I need to know about DeLorean, Iacocca, Lutz.

    Am increasingly convinced that if Alfred P. Sloan were still around in 2020, he would be working with his team of MBAs to reduce paint thickness.

    I would meet with William C. Durant – at his bowling alley.

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