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ALL THIS FUN -- AND MONEY, TOO

Where's the serious dough in the auto business? Forbes magazine spells it out in its annual ranking of the 400 wealthiest Americans. Eight people on the list have auto ties, led by Kirk Kerkorian, No. 29, the Las Vegas gaming giant and major investor in DaimlerChrysler, with assets of $5.3 billion. Behind him were Jack Crawford Taylor, No. 67, founder of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, $2.8 billion; Wayne Huizenga, No. 97, AutoNation chairman, $2 billion; Red McCombs, No. 158, Minnesota Vikings owner and car dealer, $1.4 billion; James Moran, No. 172, Toyota dealer, $1.3 billion; William Clay Ford Sr., No. 189, Detroit Lions owner and Ford Motor Co. board member, $1.2 billion; Richard Manoogian, No. 296, former MascoTech Inc. chairman, $880 million; and Thomas Friedkin, No. 391, who founded Toyota distributor Gulf States Toyota Inc., $600 million. And who's No. 1? Who else: Microsoft founder Bill Gates, with assets of $54 billion.

FAMILY TIES - Jiro Yanase, 85, founder and head of Japan's biggest auto importer, Yanase & Co., had no sons and couldn't stand the thought of his name not being carried on. So he has adopted his grandson, the son of his daughter and son-in-law Takahide Inayama, as his own son and set him up as president-in-waiting. That makes the adopted son, 34-year-old Yasutaka, the brother-in-law of his father and brother of his mother. Son-in-law Inayama had been the president but, with the company doing poorly, has stepped aside to the position of vice chairman. The new president, Takahiro Inoue, 65, is just keeping the seat warm for a few years until Yasutaka can take over.

STAR WARS FOR THE HIGHWAY - It's more than three years late and more than 100 percent over budget. No, it's not high-tech weaponry for the Defense Department. It's the new National Advanced Driving Simulator, built for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at the University of Iowa. An inspector general's report last week harshly criticized NHTSA for poor management of the $81 million project. NHTSA spokesman Rae Tyson contended cost increases were necessary to create the one-of-a-kind machine and predicted it will pay safety dividends. He said car companies also are interested in the simulator's ability to test driver behavior in extreme situations, something that "just isn't feasible any other way." The machine, which is undergoing final testing, will remain at the University of Iowa, and research could begin this year.

HEADING WEST? - Volvo Cars of North America Inc. has moved from the East to the West Coast, but will its New York ad agency, Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, continue the cross-country caravan? "We have not resolved how we're going to work in the future," said Bob Austin, Volvo's director of marketing communications. "They have served Intel, who's based in California and has been a client for a decade, without an office in California." Speculation abounds that Volvo will dump the agency to join most other Ford Motor Co. brands at WPP Group PLC. Asked whether Volvo is conducting an agency review, Austin replied, "Hell no."

NAME GAME - Ford Motor Co.'s drive for clear branding doesn't extend to its engines. The Zetec line of inline four-cylinder engines launched in the mid-1990s is being renamed in Europe the Duratec line, a name previously reserved for V-6s. And the diesel variant in Europe will be known as the Duratorque line. Meanwhile, affiliate Mazda Motor Corp. has taken the lead in developing Ford's new family of inline four-cylinder engines, which will be known only as the New I-4. Fumiaki Inami, a Mazda managing director, says, "We didn't have time to come up with a better name."

Tags: Ford

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