December 12, 2012
From the “Sometimes You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up” File.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 12/10, 3:00 p.m.) Detroit. Every time I think there’s a week where there isn’t going to be much happening in this business I’m always surprised to the contrary. People ask me all the time, “Will there ever come a time when there won’t be anything to write about?” The answer is no, not by a long shot. How could there be a lull with the cast of highly questionable characters roiling the waters, the ones who have been gifted the reins to some of these companies?
It never ceases to amaze me, in fact, how some of these people have been entrusted to run some of these companies. It is beyond me, but I digress. Is there something in the water around here? Oh hell, no. Stupidity and boneheadedness run rampant in the global auto industry, free of charge. So let’s get to some of the interesting bits for the week, shall we?
I said they were going to erect a statue to “The Great Sergio” in Auburn Hills, but I never envisioned this. Yeah, I’ve been criticized by the peanut gallery for my relentless criticism of Sergio Marchionne, the Opportunist of the Century and our resident all-knowing and all-seeing leader of the espresso-fueled minions out in Auburn Hills. Too bad is my answer. I have special prosciutto-encrusted night-vision goggles that allow me to see through the Fog of War (otherwise known as the festering bullshit generated by Sergio’s PR machine) that wafts over the landscape out in Auburn Hills like signal smoke from the Vatican, and I will never hesitate to call him or his minions out for their egregious bullshit. Talk to the True Believers out there and the picture Sergio wants you to believe is radically different from the reality. They work for their own professional pride and their belief in doing a job well, not for Sergio, in case anyone is thinking otherwise.
Getting back to the statue thing, last week the Chrysler Group LLC Board of Directors approved the establishment of a charitable foundation in recognition of the leadership and outstanding dedication of Sergio Marchionne.
“Sergio is an exceptional leader with the unique ability to inspire his people and lead change. Creating this foundation is a fitting tribute to all that has been accomplished at Chrysler,” said Ronald L. Thompson, Lead Director of Chrysler Group LLC Board of Directors. “This foundation will ensure that the values and impact of his leadership will be felt by many others, while the structure ensures that funding for the foundation reflects Chrysler Group’s future success.”
Um, sure, why not? If you buy into all of the other manufactured and carefully orchestrated gravitas surrounding Marchionne, a charitable foundation named after him makes all the sense in the world. Who knew there was a Board of Directors out in the business world who could instantly sink to the level of GM’s board in one fell swoop? But there you go. I guess if you’re a rubber-stamp board why not glorify your meal ticket, right? It all makes perfect sense.
And if Sergio and his minions projecting jaw-dropping hubris across the landscape isn’t enough, there’s always Captain Queeg. Referring back to the title of this column, thank goodness for GM CEO Dan “Captain Queeg” Akerson because every time this guy opens his mouth it’s like a cornucopia of blather, a testament to misguided thinking searching for a clue. And he’s arrogant about it to boot, suggesting that everything and everyone that has come before him in this business is a complete joke, and his brilliance will lead us all to the Promised Land. Just a scintillating combination, no? This week, Captain Queeg weighs-in on all sorts of salient topics in an interview conducted by Automotive News, and it reveals much about the man. When asked in the interview why he chose Bob Ferguson – the company’s lobbyist and a resolute non-automotive guy – to run Cadillac globally, this was his answer:
“Bob Ferguson was the president of a large, complex information technology company called Pacific Telesis. He's had profit-and-loss responsibility and not just top line responsibility. As we see this organization evolve, we will have people with global responsibilities for certain functions that have profit and loss from top to bottom. Bob has been in the industry, can articulate a strategy and be a good leader and has the bandwidth of having lived overseas and understands cultural differences and can look through that prism.”
In other words, Bob doesn’t have a frickin’ clue as to what he’s doing or what to do with Cadillac, does he, Dan? I mean, really. In fact, there are any number of people from within and outside the company qualified to do that job, but if Captain Queeg deems Bob Ferguson is the man, then it should all workout just dandy, right?
Let us review: “Bob Ferguson was the president of a large, complex information technology company…” No question that qualifies him to project the image of one of the world’s aspiring luxury automotive brands across the globe. In fact, I couldn’t envision a more logical scenario than to hand your chief lobbyist the keys to one of the most crucial pieces of business that GM has on the table.
The title of this column is ringing in my ears again and this is yet another piece of evidence about where Dan Akerson is coming from. Once again he has reduced GM to a punchline and his seething dislike for anything to do with the auto industry before he graced us all with his presence just oozes out of him.
Revenge of the Telecomies indeed.
What happened to building good quality cars that are interesting and fun to drive? Why isn’t that enough? Why can’t Mazda fulfill that mission and be content in doing so? And finally, we have Mazda CEO Takashi Yamanouchi, who tells Automotive News of his plans to take the brand upscale in an interview. Here’s his take on things:
“Even if we achieve our target of 1.7 million, we will still be just 2 percent of the global industry. The question is: In the global market, what is the significance of a player with a mere 2 percent? It's something that we frequently discuss internally. We've come to the conclusion if we make ordinary products for the mass market, there would be no reason for us to exist. The rotary engine is one distinctive element of our technology, as is Skyactiv. Even if we're small, we want to be a brand that shines and is loved by our consumers. That's how we aim to achieve being like premium. In a broader sense, it's not relying on discounts but having consumers understand the value of our product.”
Wait a minute, Takashi, Mazda makes “ordinary products for the mass market?” Really? I always thought Mazda offered enthusiast-oriented machines that were fun to drive. Now you’re suggesting that Mazda has been a purveyor of “ordinary” cars? What’s wrong with this picture?
Here’s a clue, Takashi: Every single manufacturer in the world craves to move upmarket. They see it as the rolling panacea for all of their ills, both real and imagined. The problem is that it’s the equivalent of jamming 50 lbs. of stuffing in a 25-lb. turkey. Everybody wants a piece of the action, but there isn’t room for all of the manufacturers who want to play in that segment, no matter how optimistic their executives’ sales projections are.
Mazda going upmarket is a colossal mistake. The company doesn’t have the real money to develop the products to do it, first of all, and they certainly don’t have a grasp of the marketing money necessary to get a foothold in the segment on top of that. And lastly, they don’t have the time. It would take a good ten to fifteen years for Mazda to even register on the upscale market radar screen, Skyactiv or no.
Ten to fifteen years. Got that, Yamanouchi? What, are you channeling that unicorn lair in North Korea or something? You think you can actually do it better or different than the players who are cutting each other’s throats in the upscale segment on a daily basis? No, you can’t. Moving Mazda upmarket is a flat-out fool’s errand of egregious proportion.
And so it goes.
This business is such a target-rich environment of hucksters, accidental tourists, clueless practitioners, misguided bozos and relentless disappointments that the fountain of news continues to flow unabated. And if it weren’t for the True Believers it would really get depressing.
But it’s still pretty damn entertaining from where I sit nonetheless.
That’s the High-Octane Truth for this week. We’ll see you back here next week for the colossal Autoextremist Year in Review issue!
See another live episode of "Autoline After Hours" with hosts John McElroy, from Autoline Detroit, and Peter De Lorenzo, The Autoextremist, and guests this Thursday evening, at 7:00PM EDT at www.autolinedetroit.tv.
Subscribe via iTunes:
Subscribe via RSS: