Skeleton crew uses its head — and some wind

One sport’s Olympic return is getting some support from the auto industry. The skeleton, a speedy sled run down an icy bobsled track, last appeared in the Winter Olympics in 1948, and is returning for the 2002 games in Salt Lake City. Lincoln DeWitt of Park City, Utah, is aiming for skeleton gold with the help of Ford Motor Co. and JE Sverdrup Technology Inc. DeWitt and Ford engineers met in mid-October at Sverdrup’s automotive testing facility in Allen Park, Mich., to use a wind tunnel platform to determine the most aerodynamic body position. Skeleton sliders race head-first and face-down on a tiny sled with no steering mechanism, so body position is crucial in gaining the hundredths of seconds that can mean the difference between winning and losing. Will the high-tech approach work? DeWitt will find out at the games next February.

HARD ON THE NOGGIN — As the head of corporate public relations for Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., Shuri Fukunaga probably is the highest-ranking woman at a Japanese carmaker. Asked at the Tokyo Motor Show last week if there is a glass ceiling in Japan, blocking the rise of female executives, she quickly replied, “No. It’s concrete.”

BIG CARS, SLOW LINE — At a Tokyo press conference, Osamu Suzuki, chairman of Suzuki Motor Corp., was asked about his goal to reduce the work force at the Kosai plant by 25 percent in two years. After all, the plant already is one of the world’s most efficient at 13 hours per vehicle made. Nodding to fellow panel member Jack Smith, chairman of General Motors, Suzuki said, “My friend to the right makes cars like Cadillac so people can work much more slowly than at my plant.”

NO LUMP OF COAL — Toyota is showing off a limited-edition Neiman Marcus Lexus SC 430 Silver Belle at the South Florida International Auto Show in Miami this week. Toyota built 100 for Neiman Marcus’ Christmas book, and 99 were sold in a single day. The one on display was auctioned off for charity. What makes it worth the hefty $70,000 tab, almost $10,000 more than the SC 430s on sale at dealerships? The hand-stitched red leather interior, fancy wheels and trim — and, of course, the spiffy Neiman Marcus gift card.

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