LAS VEGAS -- If you wanted proof that Dieter Zetsche is leaving the Chrysler group as a hero, you needed to be at the convention center of the enormous Mandalay Bay hotel here on Nov. 16.
Zetsche won a series of robust ovations from what is often an auto company executive's toughest audience: his own dealers.
When Zetsche took the stage, it was nothing short of a lovefest. And it was the thoroughly Vegas kind of lovefest that only an automaker riding a wave of success can throw.
Probably when General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner addresses dealers these days, he doesn't have a stand-up comic warm up the crowd.
Probably when Ford Motor Co. CEO Bill Ford talks to dealers, he's not preceded by an amazing performance of contortionists from the Cirque du Soleil - a spectacle that had a fellow behind me yelling, "It's not real. It's trick photography," although it was a live stage act.
And probably few automakers would cap the evening with a touch of genuine Hollywood star power.
In a skit, Chrysler group CEO Tom LaSorda gave Zetsche several James Bond-type emergency devices: disappearing fingerprints that leave no traces on unsuccessful projects, for example, and a jet pack to escape from meetings with hostile dealers (little need for that on Nov. 16).
Then a tall figure strode onstage and said in a familiar Scottish accent, "Who the hell stole my stuff?"
It was Sean Connery, the only real James Bond (apologies to partisans of Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and assorted others).
Connery bantered briefly with Zetsche - and later joined him for dinner.
Before the onstage festivities were finished, U.S. dealers presented Zetsche with an oil painting of himself side by side with Walter P. Chrysler.
Certainly the Chrysler group's healthy sales play a large role in dealers' affection for Zetsche.
But Zetsche made one statement that illustrated his effort to heal the wounds caused by the clumsily executed merger of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corp.
"Auburn Hills is one of DaimlerChrysler's two headquarters," he said. "And I intend to treat it as such."
Time to fly
If that could be taken as implicit criticism of outgoing DaimlerChrysler Chairman Juergen Schrempp, who trumpeted his sly plan to subordinate Chrysler to the German wing of the company oh, well.
Now Zetsche heads back to Stuttgart, where he will replace Schrempp as chairman of DaimlerChrysler starting Jan. 1.
Over there he is trying to cut 8,500 jobs from factory ranks. Meetings with German unions aren't likely to be lovefests. But Zetsche has his jet pack.