Investor Kirk Kerkorian has kept a low profile while acquiring a 9.9 percent stake in General Motors. But that may change next month. Kerkorian's automotive expert, former Chrysler Corp. CFO Jerry York, will take the spotlight in the midst of the Detroit auto show. On Jan. 10, York is booked as keynote luncheon speaker for the Society of Automotive Analysts' annual Outlook Conference - a major conclave held each year during the show. The setting is as intriguing as the timing. The conference will be at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Hotel, which is in GM's Renaissance Center headquarters. If Kerkorian wants to deliver a message, he can expect that York will have the full attention of Wall Street - and GM.
NO HEDGING -- Nissan Motor Co. doesn't hedge its currency - and CEO Carlos Ghosn couldn't be happier. "If you cannot be smart, you should not try to fake it," he says. "In June and July, when the yen was at 107 or 108 to $1, everybody was forecasting it would be at 100 by the end of the year. And some people hedged," he says. "Well, I'm glad I didn't." The current exchange rate is about ¥119 to $1, compared with ¥110 then. If Nissan had hedged, locking in that ¥110 rate, it would have left unclaimed the ¥9 difference. On a full-year basis for Nissan, passing on that ¥9 would have meant about ¥100 billion in potential profits. Says Ghosn, "It's a $1 billion wrong decision."
BUILDING SCIONS IN NORTH AMERICA? The next-generation Japan-market Toyota bB will move from the Echo/Yaris platform to the Passo small-car platform. But U.S. drivers might want something bigger for the bB's sibling, the U.S.-market Scion xB, a Toyota executive admits. One possibility would be to move it to the Corolla platform, which could open the way to build the xB in North America. The Corolla is built in Fremont, Calif., and Cambridge, Ontario. But Toyota is tight-lipped about its plans.
DREAM COME TRUE -- It's a distinction 10 years in the making: the first auto dealer to win the coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. That's how long Texas retailer Ken Schnitzer has been pursuing his dream of winning the U.S. government award for management excellence. Two years ago he became the first dealer to apply for it. This year his Park Place Lexus, with stores in Plano and Grapevine, Texas, won over the Baldrige judges by maintaining a J.D. Power Customer Service Index rating of 99.8 percent and simultaneously raising gross profits more than 51 percent over four years. There have been few automotive Baldrige winners so far. Until now, all have been manufacturers, including Cadillac and Dana Corp. Winners receive a crystal trophy.