Posts tagged ‘car industry’


May is always quieter for blogging—and we get to 4,200 models on Autocade

12.05.2020

Again, proof that each 100th vehicle on Autocade isn’t planned: the 4,200th is the second-generation Mazda Premacy, or Mazda 5 in some markets, a compact MPV that débuted 15 years ago. If it were planned, something more significant would have appeared.
   I know MPVs aren’t sexy but they remain one of the most practical ways to ferry people around when it comes to the motor car. In terms of space efficiency and the percentage of the car’s length dedicated to passenger accommodation, they remain one of the best. And with the old Premacy, they handled really well, too.
   It must be the times we live in that people demand inefficient crossovers and SUVs instead, and that is a shame. Maybe with the pandemic people will re-evaluate what’s important, and signalling that you have some inadequacy with a large vehicle might fall down the pecking order. MPVs were usually cleverly designed, and the Premacy was no exception—what a shame Mazda, and so many others, are no longer in this market as buyer tastes shifted.

Out of curiosity, why do people visit Autocade? We haven’t had a big jump in visits with COVID-19 (contrary to some other motoring sites), as I imagine encyclopædias aren’t as fun as, say, AROnline, where at least you can reminisce about the British motor industry that was, back in the day when Britain had a functioning government that seemed terrible at the time when no one could imagine how much worse it could get. Obviously we haven’t had as many new models to record, but are they the reason people pop by? Or are the old models the reason? Or the coverage of the Chinese market, which few Anglophone sites seem to do? If you are an Autocade fan reading this, please feel free to let us know why in the comments.

One moan about Facebook. Go on.
   Sometimes when I pop in—and that remains rarely—and look at the Lucire fan page, I’ll spot an automated Tweet that has appeared courtesy of IFTTT. It’s had, say, no views, or one view. I think, ‘Since there have been no real interactions with this bot entry, maybe I should delete it and feed it in manually, because surely Facebook would give something that has been entered directly on to its platform better organic reach than something that a bot has done?’
   With that thought process, I delete it and enter the same thing in manually.
   Except now, as has happened so many times before, the page preview is corrupted—Facebook adds letters to the end of the URL, corrupting it, so that the preview results in a 404. This is an old bug that goes back years—I spotted it when I used Facebook regularly, and that was before 2017. It’s not every link but over the last few weeks there have been two. You then have to go and edit the text to ask people, ‘Please don’t click on the site preview because Facebook is incapable of providing the correct link.’ Now you’re down some views because people think you’ve linked a 404. Not everyone’s going to read your explanation about Facebook’s incompetence. (Once again, this reminds me why some people say I encounter more bugs there than others—I don’t, but not everyone is observant.)

   This series of events is entirely counterintuitive because it means that bot activity is prioritized over actual activity on Facebook. Bot activity is more accurate and links correctly. And so we come back to the old, old story I have told many times about Facebook and bots and how the platform is bot city. In 2014, I rang the alarm bells; and I was astonished that in 2019 Facebook claims it had to delete over 5,400 million bot accounts. You should have listened to me then, folks—unless, of course, bots are part of the growth strategy, and of course they are.
   So, when feeding in links, remember this. Facebook: friendly to bots, not to humans. It’s probably not a bad way to approach their site anyway.

I’ve looked at my May blogging stats going back a decade (left sidebar, for those on the desktop skin) and it’s always quieter. I blog less. I wonder why this is. The beginning of hibernation? The fact that less interesting stuff’s happening in late autumn as the seasons change?

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Posted in cars, design, internet, New Zealand, politics, publishing, technology, UK | No Comments »


Z cars

11.03.2020

I did say I’d blog when Autocade hit 4,100 models, which it did yesterday. Proof that the hundredth milestones aren’t planned: the model was the Changan Zhixiang (長安志翔 or 长安志翔, depending on which script system you prefer) of 2008, a.k.a. Changan Z-Shine. A less than stellar car with a disappointingly assembled interior, but it did have one thing many period mainland Chinese cars lacked: a self-developed engine.
   It shows the nation’s quick progress. The Zhixiang was Changan’s (back then, we’d have written Chang’an) first effort in the C-segment, after making microvans, then A-, then B-segment cars, with quick progress between each. The Changan Eado, the company’s current C-segment sedan, might still be rather derivative, but the pace of improvement is still impressive.
   After 1949 through to the late 1970s, Chinese cars in the PRC were few in number, with mass production not really considered. The first post-revolution cars had panels that were hand-beaten to the right shape in labour-intensive methods. Some of those cars borrowed heavily from western ones. Then came licensed manufacture (Jeep Cherokee, Peugeot 504, the Daihatsu Charade at Tianjin) as well as clones (Citroën Visa, SEAT Ibiza). By the 1990s some of these licensed vehicles had been adapted and facelifted locally. The PRC started the new century with a mixture of all of the above, but by the dawn of the 2010s, most Chinese press frowned upon clones and praised originality, and the next decade was spent measuring how quickly the local manufacturers were closing the gap with foreign cars. It’s even regarded that some models have surpassed the foreign competition and joint-venture partners’ offerings now. Style-wise, the Landwind Rongyao succeeds the company’s (and Ford affiliate’s) Range Rover Evoque clone, the X7, with a body designed by GFG Style (that’s Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro, the first production car credited to the father-and-son team’s new firm) and chassis tuned at MIRA. The Roewe RX5 Max is, in terms of quality, technology, and even dynamics, more than a match for the Honda CR-V—a sign of things to come, once we get past viral outbreaks. Styling-wise, it lacks the flair of the Rongyao, but everything else measures up.
   But the Zhixiang was over a decade before these. Changan did the right thing by having an original, contemporary body, and it was shedding Chinese manufacturers’ reliance on Mitsubishi’s and others’ engines. To think that was merely 12 years ago, the same year Autocade started.

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Posted in business, cars, China, design, interests | No Comments »


Autocade turns 12

07.03.2020

Autocade turns 12 today, as it’s now March 8 here in New Zealand. From zero models to 4,093 (the Hyundai Avante XD is the latest); and as I write this sentence, it’s netted 18,683,611 page views. Just four years ago this month, it had only managed eight million.
   Just this week, I added two public notes of thanks to Carfolio, with whom we’ve done a bit of an information swap, on the site. Admittedly that swap has been in our favour. The first fruits of that were four Toyota models. It shows that we motorheads have been able to find each other and work on a spirit of cooperation, to make the web more informative and useful.
   It’s a far cry from those early days when the site got its first few models; it took four months to get to 500. The timing wasn’t great, considering the Global Financial Crisis was beginning to happen around us, and more people were being sucked in to Facebook. As a hobby, I carried on, because it was a satisfying use of my time.
   I’ll leave a stats’ breakdown when we get to 19 million views, and no doubt I’ll do another post when we get to 4,100 models.
   Stuart Cowley, who shot the first Autocade video with me fronting it, has a few more up his sleeve that he’ll edit in due course. I’m open to seeing what the future will bring for the brand.
   Having one independent web publication that’s survived 22 years and counting, and another that’s now 12, is perhaps quite rare these days.
   Since I began writing this post, Autocade has gained another 73 page views.
   I’m grateful for all the support out there—thank you for all your views, feedback, generosity, information, and your shared love of cars.

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Posted in business, cars, internet, media, publishing | 1 Comment »


Peter Hanenberger’s unintended post mortem of Holden

19.02.2020


The 2009 Chevrolet Caprice SS, sold in the Middle East but made in Australia.

I came across a 2017 interview with former Holden chairman Peter Hanenberger, who was in charge when the company had its last number-one sales’ position in Australia. His words are prescient and everything he said then still applies today.
   He spent over four and a half decades at GM so he knows the company better than most. Since he departed in 2003 he had seven successors at the time of the interview; and I believe there have been a couple more since.
   A few interesting quotes.

‘It’s [now] a very short-sighted company.’
It feels like it. The sort of retreating it’s done, the dismantling of global operations, and the failure to see how global platforms can achieve economies of scale is something only a company beholden to quarterly stock price results will do. And it doesn’t help its longevity.
   Even Holden, which looked like it was going to simply depart the passenger-car sector at the end of last year before a full withdrawal now, tells us that there doesn’t appear to be a long-term plan in place that the US management is committed to. Not long ago they were going on about the two dozen models they planned to launch to field a competitive line-up.

‘For me General Motors was a global player. Today General Motors is shrinking to an American company with no foresight, which is in very bad shape, which has missed the market.’
Remember Hanenberger said this in 2017, when it still had presences in many Asian countries. In 2020 it very much looks like GM will be in the Americas (where it still fields reasonably complete line-ups, although God knows if they have anything in the pipeline to replace the existing models) and China. Russia, India, Australia, New Zealand and Thailand are gone or going, and western Europe went in 2017 before the interview.

‘Maybe it fits into the vision of Trump; America first. But how the world is going to work also in the future is not because of America first and America only. It’s global. I think there will be no GM in the near-future.’
Everyone else is desperate to do tie-ups while GM retreats. I think GM will still be around but it’ll be a Chinese firm.

‘I couldn’t give a shit what they thought in America.’
I don’t mean this as an anti-American quote, but I see it as a dig against bean counters (whatever their nationality) fixated on the short term and not motorheads who know their sector well.

‘For me Holden didn’t have enough product, and the second one [priority] was I wanted to get these cars they had into export. For me it was very clear the products they had could be exported and they should go on to export.’
You saw the failure of this in the early 2010s when Holden failed to keep its Middle Eastern deals, and the US models returned. It could have been so different, though I realize GM was very cash-strapped when they needed the US taxpayer to bail them out.
   Bruce Newton, who wrote the piece, says that the Middle East was worth up to 40,000 units per annum, with A$10,000 profit per car. It cost Holden A$20 million to develop them for left-hand drive. I’d have held on to that sort of opportunity for dear life.

‘There was nothing going on that was creative towards the future of Holden as in Australia, New Zealand and toward the export market. They just neglected this whole thing.’
That was Hanenberger when he visited his old workplace in 2006. With product development cycles the way they are, it’s no wonder they were so ill placed when the Middle Eastern markets lost interest in the VE Commodore and WM Caprice (as the Chevrolet Lumina and Caprice), and China in the Buick Park Avenue.
   It’s an interesting interview and perhaps one of the best post mortems for Holden, even if it wasn’t intended to be so three years ago.

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Posted in business, cars, China, leadership, USA | 1 Comment »


GM’s Holden to abandon C and D car segments, delivering them on a silver platter to competitors

23.01.2020


Stuart Cowley for Lucire

I haven’t spoken to Holden New Zealand to see if we’re following suit, but as far as Australia’s concerned, 2020 will be the final year for the Astra and Commodore, as Holden transitions to selling only trucks (utes) and SUVs.
   Here we are, with its most competitive C- and D-segment models for a long time, and Holden decides to abandon them.
   New Zealand did briefly chart its own course recently with the Holden Spark, which it secured supply for even after its cancellation in Australia, but it’s unlikely to depart from what’s happening in Australia.
   Beyond the obvious question of ‘What will the cops drive now?’ it’s a sad development for a brand that’s been part of the Australasian motoring landscape for decades, even before 1948 if you count the Holden coachbuilt bodies before the war.
   Holden points to the rise in truck and SUV sales and the decline in passenger car ones, and, unlike Ford, it can’t blame a lack of marketing for them—over here, it’s been fairly consistent in promoting each one of its lines.
   Over in Australia, Holden sales collapsed when domestic production ended, but in New Zealand, where we have no such allegiance to ‘Buy Australian’, I saw some reasonable sales’ figures for the Opel Insignia B-based Commodore. And it is a good car.
   The chief reason, I imagine, is that after GM sold Opel to PSA, which seeks now to merge with FCA, it didn’t really want to buy cars off a competitor. And PSA really didn’t want to be paying royalties off each car it sold back to GM. Basically, the supply chain ain’t what it used to be.
   By 2021, PSA will launch a new Astra based on a platform to be shared with the third-generation Peugeot 308, and Insignia B’s days are numbered, too, as it transitions that to a PSA platform (if PSA doesn’t just cancel it altogether). GM would earn nothing from this 2021 model, so there would be no point going forth with it.
   GM has also killed off the Cruze in Korea, the US and México, leaving Argentina the only country that still makes it, so it wasn’t as though it had anything else in the C-segment that it could bring in to Australasia. Many of its Chinese-market models are on the GEM platform, regarded as too basic for our needs, and there seemed to be little point to getting them complied with our standards or having them engineered for right-hand drive. Basically, there isn’t an alternative.
   This frankly strikes me as all a bit defeatist, not unlike Ford’s decision to kill off all passenger car lines (bar Mustang) in the US a few years ago.
   Toyota will have you know that the C- (Corolla) and D- (Camry) segments are doing quite well for them, and they are quite happy to pick up some conquest sales from the Americans.
   I’m not sure if ‘We’re not doing that well there. Oh well, let’s give up,’ is much of an attitude to adopt when certain segments could reignite as consumer tastes shift. And if one really wanted to compete—if there was a will—then one could.
   What I fear is that GM isn’t Mystic Meg and even though my previous post was in jest, there is a serious point to it: people might wake up to the big frontal areas and poor aerodynamics and high centres of gravity and general irrelevance and inefficiency of the SUV for everyday use. I mean, I still can’t reconcile people complaining that petrol prices are too high while sitting in a stationary SUV with the engine on awaiting someone, anyone, to leave a spot so they can park right outside the shop they wish to go to. While claiming they are concerned about the planet. I have a C-segment car because I do think petrol is expensive. And even if you had an electric-powered SUV, you’re still affected by the laws of physics and your charge won’t go as far if the aerodynamics are poor. I thought we got all these lessons in the 1970s and 1980s.
   Just as I warned that killing Plymouth was a mistake for DaimlerChrysler—because recessions can come and people want budget brands—I question whether becoming the vendor of ‘Australia’s own truck’ is a smart tactic. There are some segments that have a base level of demand, or so I thought.

Of course, this leaves PSA to do the inevitable: launch Opel as a brand in this part of the world.
   Opel CEO Michael Lohscheller said as much when PSA bought the firm, and while his eyes were probably on China, they could apply equally here.
   I realize Opel flopped in Australia when an attempt was made a few years ago, but unlike Australia, Opel has a reasonable history here, with its Kadett GSis and a full line of Vectra As sold in the 1980s and 1990s. Kiwis know that the Opel Vectra and Holden Vectra are part of the same lineage. And I have to wonder if the brand, with its German heritage, would do well here.
   Imagine the scenario where Opel launches here in 2022 with not just Astra and Insignia (because Kiwis love their D-segment wagons, unlike the UK), but with the Crossland X and Grandland X as well.
   They’d have the goodwill of the Astra name (just as GM predicted), and there may be enough Kiwis who have positive impressions of their Vectra As. Even our family one sold recently to a South Islander after my friend, who bought it off me, decided to part ways with it. Mechanics still think highly of the Family II units those cars had.
   And somehow, I think being independent of GM is a good thing in this case—no conflict of interest, no wondering whether Mokka might cannibalize Trax, resulting in stunted marketing.
   The new design language is looking sharp and I think it would find favour among New Zealanders who are currently buying Volkswagens and Škodas. They’d also be a darn sight more reliable, too.
   If you’re thinking the market is too crowded, remember VW didn’t think so when it determined SEAT could have another crack in the late 2010s.
   I can’t be alone in thinking this—certainly Australian media were speculating if Inchcape could bring Opel in to their country this time last year. Who’ll take it on?

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Give me a break

23.01.2020

From an Automotive News interview with Yves Bonnefort, CEO of DS.

   Um, that’s called a station wagon or estate car, mate.

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Posted in business, cars, France, marketing | 1 Comment »


Tesla or SpaceX doesn’t like you? They’ll say you’re an active shooter

24.11.2019

What does Tesla do to whistleblowers?
   They tell the cops you’re an active shooter.
   Apparently, this case about a gentleman called Martin Tripp emerged in 2018 but only today were the police documents released, and are worth reading.



Above: Two of the pages from the Storey County Sheriff’s Office over the false Martin Tripp ‘active shooter’ incident at Tesla.

   One could attempt to read it generously in Tesla’s favour but I think you’d be fooling yourself.
   Tripp had concerns about waste, and even raised them with Musk. From what I can tell, Musk only engaged Tripp after Tripp had been fired; and it was after that email exchange that the tip was given to police.
   It’s a far cry from the admirable firm I remember, being run by Martin Eberhard. Back then, it was optimistic and transparent. Nowadays it seems a truck prototype can’t stand up to scrutiny for 25 minutes, CEO Elon Musk disses one of the Thai cave rescue divers, Vernon Unsworth, calling him ‘pedo guy’, and Tweets misleading information that lands him in trouble with the US SEC. As far as I can tell in the Twitter thread above, Musk knew about Tripp—enough to speak on the case and be excessively paranoid about him, thinking he could be part of a conspiracy involving oil companies, claiming he committed ‘extensive and damaging sabotage’.
   As Bloomberg put it: ‘Many chief executive officers would try to ignore somebody like Tripp. Instead, as accounts from police, former employees, and documents produced by Tesla’s own internal investigation reveal, Musk set out to destroy him.’
   Also from Bloomberg:

The security manager at the Gigafactory, an ex-military guy with a high-and-tight haircut named Sean Gouthro, has filed a whistleblower report with the SEC. Gouthro says Tesla’s security operation behaved unethically in its zeal to nail the leaker. Investigators, he claims, hacked into Tripp’s phone, had him followed, and misled police about the surveillance. Gouthro says that Tripp didn’t sabotage Tesla or hack anything and that Musk knew this and sought to damage his reputation by spreading misinformation.

   When Gouthro says Facebook (where he had worked before) is more professional than Tesla, that’s really worrying.
   In another case, Jason Blasdell claims that SpaceX, another Musk venture, where he was employed, falsified test documents. When he brought this to his superior’s attention, he was fired. In Blasdell’s case, two of his managers suggested he would ‘come in to work shooting.’ His account makes for sobering reading as the legal avenues he had get shut down, one by one.
   Google and Facebook might do some terrible things in the market-place, but I don’t think I’ve come across this level of vindictiveness against employees further down the food chain from the CEO.
   They seem to be mounting as well—I wouldn’t have known about the two ex-employee cases if not for spotting the Tripp police report Tweets. They both follow a similar pattern of discrediting people with valid concerns, going well beyond any reasonableness. We’re talking about lives and reputations getting destroyed.
   It all points to a deep insecurity within these firms, which go beyond the sort of monopolistic, anticompetitive, un-American, anti-innovation behaviours of the usual Big Tech suspects. Yes, Google will go as far as to get your fired, according to Barry Lynn of Citizens Against Monopoly (Google denies it), or it might play silly buggers and seemingly shut down your Adwords account, or blacklist your site by falsely claiming it is infected, hack your Iphone and bypass its ‘Do Not Track’ setting, expose your private information for years, and plain lie about tracking, but I’ve yet to hear them sicking armed police on you and having their staff say you’d be heading to the office shooting. So maybe in this context, Google can say it hasn’t been evil. Well done. Slow clap.
   At this rate, it’s Big Tech and the monopolies the US government has fostered that’ll drag down the reputation of ‘Made in the USA’.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, USA | 1 Comment »


A couple of days before it became official: thoughts on PSA and FCA linking up

01.11.2019


Companies in FCA’s and PSA’s histories did once produce the Plymouth Horizon, so historically there is some precedent to a trans-Atlantic arrangement—not to mention the type 220 and 179 minivans and the commercial vehicles currently in PSA’s and Fiat’s ranges.

This is a few days old, but it’s nice to know that these hurriedly written thoughts on a private Facebook group reflected what I read a day later in the automotive press.

   Copied and pasted from the above (and yes, I know it should be e-208):

I read that as well, Jonathan. Elkann would be chairman and Tavares the CEO. I guess Fiat had to move on from talking with Renault while they have their internal squabbles. While some praise Marchionne, I thought it was foolish to let the less profitable marques suffer as he did—the global economy doesn’t stay buoyant all the time and at some point not everyone will want a hotted-up Alfa or Maserati. Especially as there seems to be no cohesive platform strategy. I think Fiat realizes the shambles it’s actually in despite what the share price says. There is some sense to have PSA platforms underpin a lot of Fiats (let’s face it, very little of the Fiat range is on a Fiat platform—there are GM, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Ford and PSA bits—and the old Grande Punto platform can only go so far), but the more premium marques will still have to have unique platforms.
   Fiat really needs to do some rationalization of its own before approaching others but my sense is that it’s gone too far down this road and has no investment in either next-generation B- (Jeep Renegade) or C-platforms (Giulietta) where a lot of European sales will still lie. Its only real prize here is Jeep.
   Tavares will be able to slash a great deal and Europe could look good quite quickly, but I doubt anyone has any focus on the US side of things other than Jeep. PSA has some limited experience in South America but it won’t be able to integrate that as easily. And neither has any real strength in China despite being early entrants, with, again, Jeep being the exception. (Peugeot, DS and Citroën are struggling in China.)
   He had claimed that PSA was looking at some sort of alternative retail model for the US, but it also seemed a bit far off.
   If this happens, I think Tavares will “do a Talbot” on anything Fiat-related in Europe, eventually killing the Fiat marque (with maybe just a 208e-based 500 remaining), and keep Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Jeep. Chrysler will remain with the Pacifica, Dodge might still have the Durango, but everything else would get the chop unless they consider bringing in a rebadged 508. Ram and Fiat Profissional will stay as separate entities. Fiat do Brasil will get some PSA tech. Then there might be some logic to what is left but I still feel Fiat has to get itself in order first.

   On reflection, maybe I was a little harsh on Sergio, as ignoring the mass-market brands has left FCA, with a portfolio of specialist and premium ones, a reasonably good fit for an organization that has the opposite set of strengths.
   One question remains: which is the cheap brand, the Plymouth, here? You can’t always go premium: sooner or later, economies weaken and people will want something entry-level. There may be wisdom to retaining Fiat in some shape or form. One more 108 variant can’t hurt …

Anyone notice a pattern here? That any company that owns Jeep eventually diminishes its own brand. Willys, Kaiser, AMC, Chrysler, and Fiat are either dead or no longer the forces they once were. Renault managed a controlling interest in AMC with 46·4 per cent in 1982, but that was bought by Chrysler five years later. At some stage, we must tire of these massive vehicles, and already there’s a suggestion that, in the US at least, nonconformist younger buyers are eyeing up sedans. Great if you’re Nissan in the US (and China), not so much if you’re Ford.

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Reflections about Lee Iacocca—unfortunately, not all of it is positive

03.07.2019


The car Lee Iacocca will be remembered for, the 1965 Ford Mustang on the right.

Before I found out about Lee Iacocca’s passing, on the same day I Tweeted about one of the cars he was behind when he was president of Ford: the 1975 US Granada. Basically, Iacocca understood that Americans wanted style. That really was at the core of his thinking. It’s also why the Granada—really a warmed-over, restyled Falcon that had its roots in the late 1950s—was always compared to Mercedes-Benz models. It was a mass-market American pastiche of the German car, with the same size. It had a grille and hood ornament. But it was frightfully slow, underpowered, and heavy, one of the most inefficient cars that Americans could buy.
   It’s the antithesis of the Mustang, which Iacocca arguably spearheaded, though in his autobiography, he noted that so many people claimed to be the father of the Mustang that he didn’t want to be seen with the mother (or words to that effect—the book’s next to my partner who’s already gone to sleep as I write).
   That was a stylish car, too. It was a Falcon-based coupé. But it could be specified with the right power to match its looks, and it was priced and marketed brilliantly. Ford hit a home run, and Iacocca’s reputation as a car industry guru was sealed.
   He was also the man who came up with the idea for the Lincoln Continental Mark III. No, not the 1950s one (which technically wasn’t a Lincoln), the one that came out in the 1960s (Ford didn’t really follow a sequential numbering system—remember it went Mark, Mark II, III, IV, V, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII). The idea: stick a Rolls-Royce grille on a Thunderbird. It beat the Cadillac Eldorado, and Iacocca finished the ’60s on a high.
   I felt that history hadn’t been kind to the Mustang II, which also came out under Iacocca’s watch. The fact was it was a sales’ hit, at a time when Detroit was reeling from the 1973 fuel crisis. No V8s initially, which in the 21st century looks like a misstep; in 1974 it would have looked smart. Growing up, we didn’t think the II was as bad as history remembers.
   But the US range was, in some ways, lazy. GM was downsizing but Iacocca noted that people were still buying big cars. To give the impression of downsizing, Ford just renamed the Torino the LTD II. Look, it’s a smaller LTD! Not really: here was yet another car on old tech with another pastiche luxury-car grille.
   When Iacocca was fired from Ford, he went to Chrysler, and pulled off his greatest sales’ job yet: to secure loan guarantees from the Carter administration and turn the company around with a range of modern, front-wheel-drive cars. The K-car, and its derivatives, were a demonstration of great platform-sharing. He noted in his autobiography that Chrysler even worked out a way to shave a tiny amount from the length to fit more Ks on a railroad car. And Iacocca’s penchant for style re-emerged: not long after the original Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries, there were fancied up Chrysler LeBarons, and a woody wagon, then a convertible, the first factory US one since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado. Most importantly, Chrysler got the T-115 minivans on sale before Renault got its Espace out, though after Nissan launched the first MPV, the smaller Prairie. Nevertheless, the minivan was an efficient family vehicle, and changed the face of motoring. Iacocca was right when he believed people want style, because it’s the SUV that has succeeded the MPV and minivan. SUVs are hardly efficient in most circumstances, but here we are in 2019, with minivan sales projected to fall, though Chrysler has managed to stay the market leader in its own country.
   Chrysler paid back its loans years early, and it was under Iacocca that the company acquired American Motors Corp., getting the Jeep brand (the real prize) in the process. And it’s thanks to François Castaing and others who came across from AMC that Chrysler wound up with its LH sedans, the “cab-forward” models that proved to be one of the company’s hits in the 1990s.
   While having saved Chrysler, it was burdened with acquisitions, and in Iacocca’s final full year as Chairman Lee, the company posted a $795 million loss, with the recession partly to blame. The press joked that LH stood for Last Hope.
   It’s an incredible record, with some amazing hits. They do outnumber the duds. But what really mars it is an incident of sexual harassment I learned some years ago that never appears in the official biographies. Now, I don’t have a sworn affidavit, so you can treat this as hearsay. But until I heard that from a good friend—the woman who was harassed—Iacocca was a personal hero of mine. I bought the autobiography. I could forgive the financial disgrace Chrysler was in for 1991—one year out of nearly a dozen isn’t a bad run, even though the writing was on the wall when so much money was spent on acquisitions, hurting working capital.
   I know, his daughters and their kids won’t appreciate what I just said. That it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, especially when they can’t answer back. You could say that that was the era he was from, in an industry steeped in male privilege—his boss at Ford, Henry the second, was carrying on an affair behind his wife’s back. You might say that one incident that I know of shouldn’t mar this incredible business record. He has left his mark on history. It’s just when it happens to one of your own friends that it’s closer to home, and it’s hard for me to offer the effortless praise I would normally have done if not for that knowledge.

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Bypassing the media, Carlos Ghosn tells it as it is

10.04.2019

I haven’t blogged much about Carlos Ghosn, though I’ve Tweeted aplenty since his arrest last November. Earlier this week, his lawyers released a video of Ghosn stating his position, and it echoes much of what I had Tweeted. He couldn’t make a personal appearance at a press conference himself, thanks to some conveniently timed (for Nissan) evidence that prompted another arrest by the Japanese authorities.
   The way the original exposé was done and the way the Japanese mainstream media lapped up the one-sided story and propagated it verbatim told me immediately that something was rotten inside Nissan. A lack of investigation should always tell you that not all is what it seems.

   While it’s true that Nissan is worth more than Renault now, we can’t forget what a terrible shape it was in at the time the alliance was forged. While Nissan could have declared the Japanese equivalent of Chapter 11, it’s interesting to speculate how it would have emerged: would it have saved face or would consumers have lost confidence, as they have with Mitsubishi? And in the wake of Ghosn’s arrest, stories in the western media began appearing: Nissan’s performance was faltering (‘mediocre,’ says Ghosn). It had had a recent scandal and a major recall. More likely than not, it meant that certain heads were going to roll. To save themselves, they rolled their leader instead.
   We’ll see if there has been financial impropriety as things proceed, but to me there’s an element of xenophobia in the way the story has developed; and it was a surprise to learn at how ill-balanced the Japanese legal system is.
   I’ve been vocal elsewhere on how poorly I think elements of both companies have been run, but Ghosn does have a valid point in his video when he says that leadership can’t be based solely on consensus, as it’s not a way to propel a company forward.
   I’m keeping an open mind and, unlike some of the reporting that has gone on, maintaining that Ghosn is innocent till proved guilty. It’s dangerous to hop on to a bandwagon. It’s why I was a rare voice saying the Porsche Cayenne would succeed when the conventional wisdom among the press was that it would fail; and why I said Google Plus would fail when the tech press said it was a ‘Facebook-killer’. Ghosn deserves to be heard.

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