No. 762,
August 27, 2014

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On The Table


ON THE TABLE - JULY 16, 2014


Editor-in-Chief's Note: Bloomberg News reported late Monday night that Michael Millikin, GM’s general counsel, said in written testimony to be delivered to a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee on Thursday that some lawyers failed the company, that his staff made mistakes in handling an ignition-switch defect and delayed recall that spurred U.S. government investigations. Bloomberg obtained advance copies of remarks by five witnesses, including CEO Mary Barra. “We had lawyers at GM who didn’t do their jobs; didn’t do what was expected of them,” Millikin said in his statement. “Those lawyers are no longer with the company.”

From my column on June 11th: Watching the events surrounding the GM ignition switch fiasco unfold last week was interesting, but not as interesting as you might imagine. First of all, none of it was revelatory or even shocking to me in the least. That the Anton Valukas investigative report was an indictment of GM’s so-called corporate “culture” and that the built-in silos existing throughout the corporation were ultimately to blame for the lack of accountability in this odorous recall situation was as predictable as saying GM had lost its way back in 1979.

The rationale by Valukas that GM’s hidebound, insular culture prevented the severity of this situation from ever getting to the upper echelons of the corporation was barely believable and had all the calculated indications of a soft landing for everyone who was allegedly in the dark or not involved. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed with it and I’m not buying it.

Most glaring of the dubious findings in the report was that GM’s General Counsel, Michael Millikin, was completely unaware of what was going on until this past February, but that two of his deputies were knee-deep in it and lost their jobs because of it.

Really? Millikin is the architect of GM’s feared legal department, an “Adjustment Bureau” of sorts that runs roughshod over anything and everything inside that corporation, whether it comes under the purview of the legal department or not.

“Not knowing” is as far away from Millikin’s modus operandi as you can possibly get. This guy takes great pride in knowing everything there is to know about the company, often putting his nose – and the boots of his legal stormtroopers – in places that they don’t belong, to the detriment of many. It should be no surprise that Millikin was one of Dan Akerson’s closest - if not the closest – allies, and the two were joined at the hip while plotting, ruminating and generally concocting mayhem within the company according to Captain Queeg’s mood on any given day.

So two of Millikin’s top lieutenants get the ax, but Millikin escapes to fight another day? That’s unmitigated bullshit, and it was a definitive indicator to me that the report was a vacuous document, one that left names out while selectively applying accountability where it seemed appropriate to placate outside scrutiny.

I will reiterate that unless and until Mary Barra blows up the GM legal department and starts over – and I mean take everyone out, starting with Millikin – then I am unwilling to say that she truly gets it. - PMD

The all-new Dodge Challenger SRT with the supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI Hellcat engine - which produces 707 horsepower and 650 lb.-ft. of torque - recently achieved an NHRA-certified 10.8 second quarter mile time (on drag radials). It will be available with a starting U.S. MSRP of $59,995. Yee-hah.

(Aston Martin The Americas)
Aston Martin has announced the 2015 V12 Vantage S Roadster. Powered by the latest Aston Martin AM28 6.0-litre V12 with 565HP and
457 lb ft of torque at 5,750 rpm and featuring state-of-the-art Bosch engine management, the machine sprints from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and is capable of reaching a top speed of 201 mph. It will be available in showrooms later this year.

(Images courtesy of Mercedes-Benz)
The S65 AMG Coupe is the new twelve-cylinder top-of-the- range model in the S-Class Coupe series. Loaded with every known technology that Mercedes has at its disposal and then some (
MAGIC BODY CONTROL, Active Body Control (ABC) and ROAD SURFACE SCAN, etc.), the new coupe has a 6.0-liter AMG V12 biturbo with an output of 621 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque. Following the S65 AMG and the SL 65 AMG, the new S65 AMG Coupe is the third AMG high-performance car with a V12 engine to come to the United States market. Orders can be placed for the S65 AMG Coupe in the coming weeks, and the United States market launch at Mercedes-Benz sales outlets and authorized dealerships is planned for the end of 2014.

The Volkswagen Group will build a new midsize SUV at their Chattanooga plant in Tennessee, adding as many as 2,000 jobs. The Group will be investing a total of approximately $900 million in the production of the newly developed, seven-passenger SUV, with about $600 million of it directly going to Tennessee.
The midsize SUV, which is based on the less-than-visionary CrossBlue concept vehicle that made its global debut at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, was developed especially for the North American market, letting the industry know that VW can do boring with the best of them too. The Chattanooga location will also host a new, independent National Research & Development and Planning Center of the Volkswagen Group of America (stocked with approximately 200 qualified engineers) for project coordination in the North American market. The objective is to identify customers’ feedback in the market - which they'll probably ignore - and "to integrate them more expeditiously into existing and planned vehicle models." Sounds good on paper, but as always, we'll see about that.

Editor-in-Chief's's Note: For our "Quick Take" this week we're in a 2015 Audi S8 4.0T quattro Tiptronic or let's just call it the S8 for short, as manufacturer nomenclature is starting to reach critical mass, and not in a good way either. It would be easy to go on and on about how nice the S8 is, with the prodigious thrust from its 520HP TFSI V8 being at the top of the list. And the silky smooth way it goes about its business. Or the simply superb fit and finish of our tester, with its shimmering "Moonlight Blue" metallic paint and luscious Vermont Brown full-leather interior presenting a most compelling and tasteful combination. And did I mention the gorgeous 21" wheels with their Titanium finish? The whole package comes off as a subtle yet emphatically demonstrative "wow." But then again, for $132,225, I would expect to be wowed. The problem is that once you get up into this price territory, you have to look at other machines, like the new Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG or the Porsche Panamera GTS or Panamera Turbo. And once you do that, the Audi comes up short. The drawbacks? It weighs 4,685 lbs. and you can feel every single one of those pounds when you're meandering through the urban slog. Don't get me wrong, because this car will hustle when you put your foot in it, but it feels sluggish and lethargic overall. Combine that with the absurdly annoying active lane assist (Audi isn't alone in this, as we find it to be incredibly annoying in every car we've ever experienced it with), and the S8 driving experience suffers. I actually prefer the regular A8 over the S8. In fact, I'm not sure the S8 is the best use of Audi's "S" treatment at all, because the A8 is a very nice car in its own right and the "S" add-ons don't really add up to a huge plus in my book.- PMD

2015 Audi S8 4.0T quattro Tiptronic: $132,225 ($114,900 Base Price; Moonlight Blue Metallic; Vermont Brown Interior; 4.0-liter TFSI V8 with 520HP and 481 lbs-ft of torque; quattro all-wheel drive system with sports differential; Six-speed Tiptronic transmission; Audi drive select; 9" x 21" 5-triple-spoke S-design wheels with 265/35 summer tires; Electronic Stability Control; Anti-lock brakes with ventilated disc brakes front and rear; Audi dynamic steering; Sunroof; Power trunk operation; Full LED headlights (DRLs, low/high beams, turn signals); Auto dimming, power-folding, heated exterior mirrors; 22-way power adjustable comfort front seats including lumbar adjustment; Heated front seats; Valcona leather seats; Four-zone automatic climate control; Head-up Display; Audi advanced key; Audi navigation plus with MMI touch; Audi connect (with six-month subscription); SIRIUS Satellite radio with three-month complimentary subscription; 3-spoke leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel with shift paddles; Garage door opener (Homelink); Preparation for mobile phone (Bluetooth); Audi parking system plus with topview camera system; Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System, $6,300; Audi Design Selection, S8 - Full leather package, Piano black shift lever, Black Alcantara headliner, Carbon Twill copper upper inlays - $5,500; Driver Assistance package, S8 - Audi active lane assist, Audi pre sense plus, Audi adaptive cruise control - $2,100; Sport exhaust with black finishers, $1,500; Cold Weather package - rear seat pass-through, Heated rear outboard seats, Heated steering wheel with shift paddles - $750; 21-inch wheel package - 21-inch 5-arm-Rotor-design in Titanium finish, 275/35 R21 summer tires - $250; Front filler panel (included); Destination charge, $995)

Adherence to Brand Image:
On the one hand, this big Audi hits on all of the grace notes that have made Audi a force to be reckoned with in the market. Tastefully drawn and artfully presented inside and out, it represents Audi's detailed execution at its best. But on the other, as I said above, the "S" configuration doesn't enhance this particuluar machine all that much, certainly not enough to justify it vis-a-vis its extremely formidable competition.