DETROIT - Philadelphia writer Mary Walton was apprehensive about returning to the Motor City.
'I had the feeling that everybody at Ford hated me,' she said.
That wasn't the case, but Walton had reason to be anxious. Walton was returning to Detroit to promote her book Car: A Drama of the American Workplace. It is based upon the three years (1993-95) that she spent tracking the redesign of what eventually became the 1996 Ford Taurus. Walton spent most of that time in Detroit, where she was given nearly unlimited access to the Taurus team's every move - with the Ford Motor Co.'s blessing.
What emerged was an often-turbulent account of relationships among Ford's management, suppliers and the 700-member Taurus team.
Prior to Walton's late-June trip, excerpts published in Fortune magazine portrayed difficulties between Ford and Taurus seat supplier Lear Corp. Newsweek stated, 'The story ... isn't pretty.'
As expected, Walton's story was criticized by the automaker. 'Ford suggested there was an imbalance in the reporting,' Walton said.
According to Ford spokeswoman Pam Kueber, 'Ford was disappointed that the book focuses so much on conflict, when in fact there was so much collaboration.'
Predictably, Ford tried to limit damage. Before Car was published last month, Kueber sent letters to employees who were mentioned in it - informing them of Ford's corporate opinion.
Walton had pitched the idea of a 'story of the people who make and market the cars,' to Ford Chairman Harold Poling early in 1993.
According to Kueber, when Ford approved the project, it didn't set any rules. It only requested a final review of the draft to delete confidential information.
So why would an automaker throw open doors it didn't have to? 'At the time,' Kueber said, Ford 'found it an interesting proposal. She's got terrific credentials. We agreed.'
Walton is a Harvard University graduate, former reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and author of three other books.
Yet her unbridled access to the inner workings of a Big 3 pet project is not unique: In the past year, three other authors have published books that are products of time spent inside at Chrysler Corp. or General Motors. One, James Schefter's All Corvettes Are Red, published in January by Simon and Schuster, praised the car but flayed GM's top management.