This has been a year for change

Few industries have seen as many executive changes as the automobile industry has lately.

It’s like your favorite sports teams, where you rarely see a coach retire voluntarily. In North America alone, a whole bunch of new faces have taken over in the auto industry in the past year or so.

We have seen giant General Motors turn into a “car” company with the arrival of Bob Lutz. GM’s new vice chairman is being assisted ably by GM veteran Gary Cowger, who is now president of GM North America. They have awakened the sleeping giant, and it will be interesting to see what happens.

At Ford Motor, once again we have a Ford running the company. Bill Ford

has risen along with his new COO — longtime pro Nick Scheele — and a new group vice president of Ford North America, Jim Padilla. David Thursfield has been put in charge of Europe as well. These are four guys with lots of experience and plenty of problems. What a difference a year makes.

The Chrysler group seems to have the old pros. CEO Dieter Zetsche and COO Wolfgang Bernhard signed on from the Daimler side of DaimlerChrysler slightly more than a year ago, and they’re now the executive partnership with seniority in the United States.

Sometimes the executive changes happen on schedule. Volkswagen announced last month that former BMW chief Bernd Pischetsrieder will succeed Ferdinand Piech in April.

And at BMW, Helmut Panke, a longtime executive, will take the helm from Chairman Joachim Milberg, who is retiring early but at his own request.

There are also new heads at Mitsubishi, Fiat and Opel, to name just a few.

Today’s top executives don’t seem

to have the staying power of their predecessors.

It’s a different ballgame.

There was a time when if someone signed on, it was a commitment for life. Not anymore.

The best and the brightest are recruited throughout their careers, and there is no way of knowing where they might be in the next couple of years.

Perils go along with high-powered, high-profile jobs. The demands are tremendous, and so are the rewards.

The automobile business has to be the most exciting business in the world, and it certainly has some of the most exciting executives. But that comes with a price, as this year’s changes show.

We can only wish them all good luck and Godspeed. Next year is going to be a real challenge for everyone.

So happy holidays to everyone and a prosperous New Year.

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