Last moth, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen Chairman Jean Martin Folz held a lecture at the Polytechnic of the Milan University. No reporters were admitted, as Folz was on a secret mission: to lure Italian engineers.
'Out of PSA's 160,000 employees, 135,000 are involved in our automotive activities,' said Folz. 'We have 16,000 people dedicated to research and development, out of which only 42 are Italians. That's not very many.'
To entice Italian talents, Folz outlined PSA's recent successes. He said capacity utilization has grown from 68 percent when he took over in 1997 to 112 percent in the first half of the year.
PSA is now Europe's second largest carmaker behind VW group.
PSA built 700,000 units of the hot Peugeot 206 supermini last year.
'We have already surpassed that level in the first nine months of 2001,' Folz said.
The 206 is the most popular PSA model in Italy and the No. 5 best seller overall. It is second in its segment behind the Fiat Punto.
Ghosn: Turning a profit ...
Want to know the secret of Nissan Motor Co.'s turnaround?
Sell profitable cars.
In the six months ending September 30, 2001, of Nissan's 38 models sold in Japan, 18, representing 42 percent of unit sales, were profitable, said President Carlos Ghosn. He predicted that in the fiscal year starting April 1, 2002, two-thirds of Nissan's models sold in Japan will be profitable.
That is a major improvement. A year earlier, only 11 of 40, representing 27 percent of volume, were profitable. Two years earlier, only four of 43, representing 12 percent of volume, were profitable.
And in the fiscal year ended March 31, 1999, only one of Nissan's Japanese-market models turned a profit.
... And turning pages
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has received the ultimate accolade Japanese society bestows on an individual: serialization of his life story in a manga, one of Japan's hugely popular adult comic books.
The cover of the November 30 issue of Japan's Big Comic Superior promotes the first installment of Ghosn's story. On the opening page, the story begins with Ghosn as a young boy in Beirut, Lebanon.
Ghosn has become a revered figure in Japan, and Big Comic Superior says it expects demand for his story may push the press run above the normal 500,000 per issue as the series progresses.
Ford's friendly approach
Mazda still has friends in high places within Ford, Mazda President Mark Fields said. 'Bill Ford ... is very supportive of us,' he said.
Jacques Nasser's departure from Ford came less than two weeks after Nasser had sent an e-mail message to all Mazda employees praising Mazda's restructuring efforts. Speculation then mounted in Japan that Fields might be linked too closely to the old regime.
Moreover, the rise of Nick Scheele, Ford's new chief operating officer and president of Ford Automotive Operations, was seen as perhaps troublesome for Mazda. Scheele came from Ford of Europe, which has never had as close ties to Mazda as Ford-North America.
But Scheele quickly sent his own e-mail in support of Mazda and Fields.
Fields said Ford had some good reasons why it would stick by Mazda.
'I think our working relationship will strengthen more. Mazda's strength in manufacturing will be appreciated more within Ford,' he said. Although he didn't say so, Ford will be looking for cost-saving efficiencies wherever it can, including in the manufacturing realm.
As for his own plans, Fields said that he intends to stay with the Japanese carmaker to see his restructuring completed.
'I plan on sticking around,' Fields said. But he declined to say how long: 'I'm not going to get pinned down: is it two years, one year, three years?'
Honda's engine room
What's the sales-weighted average size of a Honda engine?
Takeo Fukui, president of Honda R&D Co., recently posed that question to listeners at a conference. He reminded them that Honda makes more engines than any other carmaker in the world, for cars with engine sizes ranging from 660cc for its Life minicar, to 1,500cc for a Civic and 2,300cc for a Odyssey minivan.
The answer: 540cc.
Fukui's point was that Honda also makes motorcycles, lawn mowers and power generators, with its smallest engine just 20cc.