And ANOTHER thing ...
I'll miss Dennis Pawley. He's an automotive original, a shockingly blunt factory guy who worries about results. I once spent a day with him at Chrysler's Bramalea plant. He was congenial with the workers and demanding and even abrupt with the managers. And at age 57, he's walking away from the power and the perks to live at his own pace.
Incidentally, for those who worry that Chrysler will lose its way in the DaimlerChrysler merger, take heart. Word is that Chrysler's top people are holding up just fine, thank you. Remember, these Chrysler guys are all rich and decisive people. They're not awed by the committee structure of the old Daimler-Benz.
Also, Juergen Schrempp has been massively forceful in ensuring that everybody feels respected and fairly treated.
As I was talking to Steve Yokich, a thought occurred: His biggest problem is the relentless loss of market share by his biggest generator of members, General Motors. As Yokich shrugs, 'I don't design the cars.' He still seems truly saddened over the two-month UAW strike that doomed GM to fall below a 30 percent market share this year. The strike was a catastrophe, but the loss of market share was part of a trend.
LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME!' Those are Detroit's automakers as they approach the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. For weeks, they have been showing their cars and technology to reporters. And while other important shows get by with two days of press conferences, Detroit's four days just aren't enough. The Big 3 (hey, they're still the three big) are summoning the press on the Sunday after New Year's Day to get a jump on the show. One automaker considered starting on Saturday. Call it press creep.
A public-relations guy points out that the ink from the Detroit show fades fast. There is huge coverage in all the media on Monday, big coverage on Tuesday, and a whimper after that.
A modest proposal: If you get only a couple of days of big coverage anyway, why not agree to start on Monday or Tuesday?
Look for lots of environmental technology at the show, but not because consumers want it. Ford wants to pull ahead as the environmental leader. (That's one reason Ford broke up the American Automobile Manufacturers Association; it didn't want to be seen as part of the pack.)
Automakers never get credit for it, but they're far ahead of the American consumer in environmentalism. Automakers spend hundreds of millions on alternative powertrains and new materials for which there is no market. Why no market? Hint: Gasoline is cheaper than dirt. WAIT! I'll have a V-8!
The Big 3 still exist. Ford and GM have not expelled Daimler-Chrysler from America's government-sponsored, red, white and blue Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles.
Andreas Renschler is a brilliant choice to lead cultural integration of DaimlerChrysler's management. The tall German fit in with America like a native as he put together the Mercedes-Benz M-class project and built and ran the Alabama plant. And his tastes in food have moved from his native Schwabian to barbecue and burgers.
Yes, business is demanding. But 1998 was fantastic for America's industry. Approaching the millennium, American automakers are back on top of the world and Japan is in the dumper. If somebody predicted this a decade ago, I never heard it.
Remember, Japan is still adjusting to prosperity. As recently as 1960, few Japanese had cars, refrigerators or TVs. America has had a long time to adjust to market-driven prosperity. It's one reason we ought to be very careful about making radical changes to our order.
Here's to a great 1999. May we all work hard, treat people right and spread prosperity into the next millennium.
You can reach Peter Brown at (313) 446-1600 or [email protected]