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Even Though He Was Wrong, Jac Nasser Was Right

Reality is a funny thing. I believe it to be an unchanging constant modified by the beliefs, hopes, perspective, and agenda of each person on earth. It's why no two people see things in the same way. It's also why many disagree with my views, and even more will once they finish reading this.

Reality is a funny thing. I believe it to be an unchanging constant modified by the beliefs, hopes, perspective, and agenda of each person on earth. It's why no two people see things in the same way. It's also why many disagree with my views, and even more will once they finish reading this.

I was speaking with a friend recently about his new career. A died-in-the-wool car freak, a former motoring journalist and industry consultant, he dropped out of the auto industry recently and literally went back to school. He's now working in the communications office of the University of Southern California's School of Engineering, far away from Detroit and its car culture.

He served a five-year stint in Dearborn, spent a brief time in Hiroshima, Japan with Mazda, and consulted for them in the acidic vendor-OEM relationship that unfortunately typifies this industry. I'd tell you what he thinks of these experiences, but I can't use that kind of language here.

Most who've met him–and some who haven't–describe him as brash and arrogant, full of himself, and prickly. They wouldn't be wrong. He, on the other hand, would say he was handsome and even-tempered, insightful, and always right. It's easy to understand why some people have an unflattering opinion of him.

My view of reality is different because I breached his Atlantic Wall of self-protection for the simple reason that I too had been an automotive journalist. When we met, I worked with Lotus, and he worked with Ford's Special Vehicle Team. When the mood struck us, which was fairly often, we'd write missives to our respective clients outlining what we thought they should do. We presented them with opportunities, and invented vehicles that could be built using existing pieces and a bit of creativity.

One of his papers included ideas for a front-engined V12 Aston Martin coupe, a Hot Rod V10 Lincoln (an idea we held in common and refined in rambling conversations), and numerous others. Although these ideas were roundly ignored at the time, it's interesting to note that some are in production, and others are being considered for same.

Were the ideas borrowed? Perhaps, but that's not the point of this story. The real crime lays in the rabid arrogance within the OEMs and their dismissive attitude toward those who aren't part of their inner circle. Without an MBA from Harvard, an executive v.p. title, or knowledge of the secret handshake, you aren't going to get in. So, after years of feeling ignored, he went back home to California, thoroughly disgusted with Detroit.

Which brings me to the title of this column. Ford's former CEO Jac Nasser railed against the lack of diversity in the auto industry, but limited it to sex, skin color, environment, or other accidents of nature. It goes far, far beyond that. Yet Nasser was right in the sense that the auto industry is closed to ideas and people outside the inner circle. It's populated by folks unwilling to think about, much less try, new things. So the OEMs lose people like my friend Mark Ewing–and countless others like him–every day for the simple reason that working from outside the box isn't encouraged or allowed. And their "harebrained" ideas go with them. Ultimately it's the reason automakers drop to their knees with nauseating regularity when the market shifts, forcing them to grasp at seemingly radical ideas that had been delivered on the proverbial platter long before. It doesn't have to be this way, but I doubt it will ever change.

Good luck in your new life, Mark.

"Nasser was right in the sense that the auto industry is closed to ideas and people outside the inner circle." 

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