It's been 20 years since any of us sidled up next to Inaki Lopez, surely the most controversial global auto executive of the 1990s.
Actually, it's been 20 years since most of us have laid eyes on the former General Motors and Volkswagen purchasing czar, who in 1998 nearly died in a car wreck in Bilbao in his native Basque region of Spain. The accident left Lopez in a coma for months, affected his memory and caused personality changes, his lawyers said at the time.
Yet there was Lopez this month in Amorebieta, Spain, his birthplace, looking better at 77 than we might have expected — a little shaky when he walked, but still with that blazing intensity in his eyes.
The fanatically energetic Lopez, whose ability to mesmerize underlings was mythical, attended a 25th anniversary celebration for ACICAE, the automotive industry consortium for the Basque region. Our German-language sister publication, Automobilwoche, which received an award at the event, was represented by Publisher Helmut Kluger, who chatted briefly with the man himself.
Lopez remains the stuff of legend, with a history that goes something like this: As head of GM global purchasing in the early '90s, he revolutionized the industry by ripping up long-standing contracts, ending cozy relationships and demanding ever-lower prices. He was a sort of industry spiritualist who spoke in aphorisms. For suppliers, he was a prophet of doom.