DETROIT - J. Ignacio Lopez may have embarrassed General Motors Chairman Jack Smith when he quit to join Volkswagen. But he also helped provide what Smith calls "one of the greatest moments in my career."
Soon after moving to GM Europe as executive vice president for cars in 1986, Smith heard that the Opel plant in Zaragoza, Spain, was proposing cost-cutting changes to the Opel Corsa. But Opel engineering wasn't responding.
So Smith and Fritz Lohr, the head of Opel's technical development, flew to Zaragoza, where Lopez presented his cost-cutting ideas in a novel way.
"We flew down one night, got there about 5 o'clock," Smith says. "Lopez had torn the entire car down, part by part. He had them all marked up. And he would say, 'We can do this and save this many Deutsche marks.' And Fritz would go with him and we went through the whole car, and Fritz would say, 'We'll do that. We can't do that. Study that.'
"We went through the whole car. We took something like 300 Deutsche marks out of the car just like that. (Snaps fingers.) You saw two guys who knew what the hell they were doing, and man, you just don't see that in this business. It was fabulous, really fabulous."