No. 770,
October 29, 2014

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Clueless, on a stick.

Lots of hot topics this week.  Chrysler, NASCAR, the state of racing as we know it... wow.

As for Chrysler, has Olivier developed a competitive blind spot?  He's exhorting the 200 as the equal of the Germans, Japanese and Swedes?  The Swedes, really?  I'd think there would be an ad aimed at the Koreans, Mr. Francois, as they are more closely aligned with your particular competitive set.  And good Lord, don't forget the Italians!  The level of Auburn Hills Myopia is staggering.  Clueless, on a stick.

Note to D.R. from Charlotte -- I suggest he stop reading Autoextremist and tune into the Speed Channel for his all-NASCAR, all-the-time fix of Daytona Beach unicorns and cupcakes.  Oh, wait, Speed no longer exists?  Huh.  Wonder what drove that Fox Network decision.

NASCAR/IndyCar/USCC spec racing has taken all of the fun out of being a fan.  Nothing the sanctioning bodies are doing makes any race "special" anymore.  The cars are more-or-less the same; the drivers are sanitized for our protection; the ROI, as you've stated, is the Factor That Must Not Be Ignored.  I wonder if, over the last thirty years or so, during which every youth soccer/baseball/gymnastics/BMX/peewee football participant was awarded a blue ribbon for just showing up, we haven't siphoned the competitive spirit out of our society in deference to political correctness.  We seem to have taken the least offensive approach to motor racing, which, at its core, is loud, raucous, violent and dirty.  

Send in the clowns... on the other hand don't bother, they're here.

Decatur, Georgia


Life in the AE lane.

As ever, I very much enjoy your writings and viewpoint; stated directly and succinctly.  I hope you don't let childish people like D.R. discourage you.  He obviously doesn't actually read what you write, he simply reacts.  I'm no fan of NASCAR, but completely agree with you about the talented people involved in the sport and the distinction you draw between them and the series ownership.  I understand why rigid, angry people act as they do, but it's a damn shame they blather their foolishness in your direction.

Charlotte, North Carolina

Editor-in-Chief's Note: No discouragement on my end. I will continue to call 'em as I see 'em. Thank you. - PMD


Message to D.R. from Charlotte: So you think the criticism of NASCAR is unjustified?  I just have one question for you.  One of the chase events was held at Charlotte on a Saturday night recently.  The few glimpses of the stands showed a lot of gaps between spectators, not to mention the number of stands that had been covered over by advertising banners. If NASCAR can't fill the stands to watch a chase event in Charlotte, where can they?  We're not talking suburban Chicago, it's Charlotte.  Think about that for a minute.  The NASCAR house is clearly on fire and the France clan can't smell the smoke.

Eden Prairie, Minnesota


Same as it ever was.

How ironic that as Fiat-Chrysler is crowing about its new ads and great products, Consumer Reports releases its latest quality survey and Fiat-Chrysler occupies the bottom four places. That is a tradition unlike any other!

Dick G.
Dayton, Nevada

Balance of Performance: The Early Years.

I can remember when NASCAR promulgated the rules to "depower" the Chrystler HEMI rather than force GM to come up with a new competitive engine design.  Ford was willing to give the public a better engine design.  But the final nail in the coffin for me was in 1981 when the Ford entries had a real weight distribution advantage in their design. GM was then allowed to reposition the engines in their "A" bodies without offering the same thing to the buying public. For me this was the start of the slippery slope that led to the "COTY" cars. Back then GM was so big, and NASCAR comparatively small, that NASCAR was kind of GM's whore. What do you think?

N. Ireland
Tequesta, Florida

Editor-in-Chief's Note:
It just confirms that the notion of "Balance of Performance" goes back to NASCAR's roots. Though NASCAR welcomed the manufacturers in its formative years, a lot of independent shops built cars with little manufacturer support. But once the manufacturers bought in to the "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday" proposition that NASCAR offered, everything changed. NASCAR's obsession with the "equalization" of the competition has brought things to where we are today. Is it safer? Certainly. Is it better? Arguably, no. The lack of technical diversity is glaringly evident, but NASCAR is about control, so they aren't going to change the way they do things anytime soon. - PMD


Mary's 300.

Mary Barra and the 300 reminds me of Lee Iacocca taking over Chrysler and firing 33 of Chrysler's 35 vice presidents. Does Mary have the guts to do what needs to be done, or is her whirlwind tour of meetings all that's going to happen?

San Diego, California

Hello, you must be going.

People who spent years climbing the ladder and avoiding responsibility in order to garner big salaries, stock options and status are not the people who will move on down the road, they will dig in their heels and protect their turf - exactly what has happened and will continue to happen at GM.  What Barra, and the moribund Board of Directors need to do - and should have done years ago is fire people.  Get rid of the people in the way, not ask them politely to leave.

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Yeah, that's the ticket!

I am sure by now you are aware that Chrysler "fired" their Top Quality VP. Wait - no he left " to pursue other interests" - yes, that's right.

I am sure that you and I can agree that this will solve all of their Quality Issues???

The quality Department is ALWAYS the problem!

Walt Oshinsky
Akron, Ohio


A giant sucking sound?

So Mary wants the dead wood to trim itself? She is saying she's not up to really be CEO but needs others to do her job for her. Why not also demand that those who leave recruit better qualified and better motivated replacements for themselves while she's at it?

I think the Mary years at GM will be looked back at as the Years of Vacuum in Management.

Paul Cassel
Albuquerque, New Mexico


Candid Mary.

While I've really appreciated Mary's work so far, every fortune 500 company needs outside help. To think otherwise is to say that "we know everything" and isn't that what got GM into trouble in the first place?

Hylton Jorssen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


Here's a clue Mary: Emulate Bill Ford.

Queen Mary is pathetic. Politely asking those moribund execs inside GM to leave because she’s not having any luck in getting things done? People talking behind her back after agreeing to her face makes her uncomfortable? Is this middle school mean girls management?

It didn’t happen overnight in Dearborn. Bill Ford tried for years and was met with the same resistance and inertia as Mary Barra is complaining about today. He smartly resigned. Alan Mulally had weekly meetings holding his team accountable for setting goals, hitting targets, and demanded honesty. Those that failed to meet his expectations at all levels found out the hard way just how serious he was. Mark Fields was scared shitless to announce the failure of his obligations resulting in a delayed product launch at one of those sessions, but his honesty saved his ass and the product launch. Look where he is today.

Quoting your own words “The reality is that if you’re a top performer, the chances of you being able to jump ship and land an equal or better position in this town is far from automatic”. If in fact you are a top performer shouldn’t you be able to stick around and deliver the goods? It’s the trickle down theory that shit rolls downhill and Queen Mary is blaming everyone around her for her inadequacies. She needs to grow some balls and make heads roll. If she can’t, she needs to emulate Bill Ford.

Jack J.
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Leaving GM.

I remember when I was asked to leave GM (Cadillac) at the end 1998 as part of a major downsizing of the nameplates into VSSM (Vehicle Sales, Service, and Marketing).  The deal was so good, how could I refuse?  Never mind that I had so many meetings to attend, I had to hire an additional person on my staff just to cover my meetings, and that I had three titles, and more work than I knew what to do with.  I loved what I did.  But the package was GREAT!!!  I went into the aftermarket and have never looked back.  No CEO worth their salt does what she's doing; you simply clean house.  That's it.  And only standard severance, whatever that is, no deals, no pull-aheads, no cars, nothing.  Good ones will leave, bad ones will stay behind.  And I want terribly for GM to succeed; the past ten years or so have been extremely painful to watch (especially the current Cadillac moves).

C. W. Bahlman
Dearborn, Michigan

GM mediocrity.

Your Rant on GM mediocrity contains lots of food for thought. Your valid suggestion for an engaged, transformed, energized, dealer body brought to mind another great purge of GM employees. The litmus was personal connection with GM dealers. If you were found to be a "Dealer Guy" your loyalty to GM was  questionable and you were terminated. A lot of good young and not so young talent was lost. Some of the best. Considering this, I'm wondering, who is left to drive the Dealer Body, still scarred from 2009, to an engaged, and energized state? Aside   from this, Ms. Barra's comments reveal her own perception that her reformation movement inside GM isn't going well. Fear as a motivator becomes tiresome and may have lost it's momentum. The peasants with pitchforks may be at her gate. Kind of right timing this close to Halloween.

Flushing, Michigan

Product is King. Still.

Interesting that Mary chose to share with the media her internal management objectives.  First she talks about getting something like 300 managers to fire themselves if they're not on board with the 'new' GM.  Of course, Mary's comments on this were for media consumption more than they were some kind of internal feed within the Silos.  My guess is that she wants to be seen on the outside as collaborative rather than a corporate ax-murderer ("I'm going to get rid of anyone who doesn't tow the line.").  

Her comments about solving GM's problems internally, on the other hand, were very likely for internal consumption - a reassurance to those who 'stay' that they will have the chance to do great things.  Of course, she will go outside when necessary - did we so quickly forget the hiring of de Nysschen for Cadillac?  

I agree with Peter that GM has treated marketing like some sort of viral rash - to be avoided if you can and minimized if you can't.  However, I also think that a marketing perspective can misinterpret management moves and take too seriously the external message as a true reflection of internal workings.  As Peter has long said, it's always about the product.  Not the management and not the message - but these two things should not be confused with each other.

Palm Springs, California

Paging Dilbert.

Ms. Barra asks: "Why would you want to be here if you don't believe in where we're headed?"

Wild guess as to the answer: because the job pays really well and if you keep your head down and pretend to go along, you'll outlast Mary Barra and this latest iteration of the GM re-org, just as you did with all of their predecessors.

My advice to Ms. Barra : throw out all of those sophisticated management books and consultants that you've been relying on and start reading "Dilbert."

San Francisco, California

Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.

So how does FCA get a help from listing Ferrari on it's own, is this the first of cash grab before Fiat losses suck all the money out of FCA to keep the brand going? Jeep and the Dodge  trucks can only make so much money before the rest of the cars kill the cash cow. I understand all the board members and shareholders will get a free boost of money but what does the troops in Michigan get out of this. Maybe I just don't get it but it seems like when Sergio leaves he plans on killing off the company on the way out.

Jim Haines
McLean, Virginia

Or carpet-bagging mercenaries like Captain Queeg.

I doubt Barra's going to exact any meaningful change within GM like Mulally did at Ford.  She's a product of the system that bases every decision on charts, graphs and spreadsheets instead of simply striving for greatness.

It's the belt and suspenders approach that completely pollutes American business these days -- courtesy of the business schools which grant people without a lick of instinct or common sense MBAs on book smarts alone.  

And when the time comes to hire someone -- GM'll pick the person with fancy sheepskin every time.

Michael Ostrofsky
Diablo Grande, California


Prince of Thieves.

The continuing destruction of the Chrysler Corporation (that's it's name, I don't care what the carpetbaggers from Italy call it) amazes me. Why would you sell your one HUGE cash cow (Ferrari) to prop up the losers at Fiat? Fiat is dead, and as they say in the insurance industry, dead is dead. That's like selling Walmart to prop up K-Mart. I was in Rome recently, and didn't see any Fiats on the road and only one Alfa Romeo. Mostly SMART cars and Japanese micro cars. One abomination spotted was a Chrysler 300 with a Lancia nameplate on it's butt. Sergio, what were you thinking? Chrysler has made some great headway in spite of the German Occupation and the Ceberus debacle, but, against all hope, I don't think Chrysler will survive the Great Sergio, Prince of Thieves. At least as an independent manufacturer of some kind. We as a country should not have let Chrysler suffer the fate that it has. Surely there was enough money and interest in the Company at the time by Americans to have saved Chrysler from another European onslought. Walter Chrysler must have jumped out of his grave and done 36 backflips over this Bowl of Not Good that has become his Company. Mercy on us all.

Panama City Beach, Florida


I'm the King of the World!

I don't think this Ferrari situation is about trouble (at least not yet) Its about maximization. No wonder Luca was suicided. Sergio has basterdized Jeep for volume, Chyrslerfied Maserati (despite what adoring fans will tell you theres an LX under that brand new Ghibli) and now will be pumping up Ferraris output to match. To me this screams of him building a war chest. He's picking up pennies in front of a steam roller for one last ditch moon shot.  

He has an aim, One Company to rule them all...  

Michael A.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada