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Insider: One Step For?ward, Two Steps Back

For all the whining that’s been going on in Detroit of late, it seems that there is at least one glimmer of hope beginning to glow from the banks of the Detroit River.

For all the whining that’s been going on in Detroit of late, it seems that there is at least one glimmer of hope beginning to glow from the banks of the Detroit River. In the upper levels of the Renaissance Center, GM executives are painstakingly moving along on a path the automaker set out several years ago to revamp the organization into a more nimble, global player. The outlook, once saddled by terms such as “bankruptcy,” now seems to be brighter… so much so that Rick Wagoner had the gonads to tell Kirk Kerkorian and Carlos Ghosn to take a hike. GM’s product pipeline looks relatively strong, with a number of key products slated to take root in new segments, including the family of mid-size CUVs—Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave—and the resurgence of Saturn. There’re even hints of Chevy becoming a more emotional brand. The process for changing GM and building its revenue did not happen overnight. What we are about to witness took years of careful planning and some gut reactions that failed to exist under previous regimes. The promise of global sharing is finally taking root as is witnessed through the Saturn revamp. Another example on this front is the Chevrolet Captiva, Opel Antara and next-generation Saturn Vue—all of these products will share a platform that was developed through the cooperation of GM operations in China and Korea and will be marketed in one form or another in Europe, Asia and North America.

The lessons from GM’s trials and tribuations should be carefully benchmarked by the folks at Ford. The Dearborn crew has an excellent opportunity to copy some of GM’s plans, starting with bringing some of the breakthrough products from Europe over to our shores. Where’s our new Focus? Why wasn’t the Galaxy or S-Max given a passport to enter U.S. showrooms? What about the next-generation Mondeo? All of these products, and many more, would give Ford the much needed emotion lacking in several of its products. Along those lines, I thought badge engineering was a product of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but it seems Ford’s stuck on that retro tune, as the ’08 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner attest. When are they going to get with the program and develop vehicles that have truly unique interiors and exteriors, while sharing the same guts? Why do beltlines have to be the same? Why are all products required to share the same doors? The list goes on and on. Heck, even Chrysler has figured out that you can build truly unique looking vehicles off the same platform, just look at the Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass and Patriot and the Chrysler Sebring (OK, so the design is less than appealing) and the Dodge Avenger concept as proof.

Some inside Ford tell me that the automaker is on this path. Problem is that others will always be one or two steps ahead if Ford keeps following the trails they leave behind. The new Ford management team needs to take the dramatic steps to assure that they will be a truly global player and leverage their global resources to the best of their ability.  

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