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Insider: Quit Crying!

If there is a common refrain I am hearing in Detroit these days it’s “Woe is me.” Everyone seems to be crying in their beer as they wonder just what went wrong to make our beloved auto industry fall apart so fast.

If there is a common refrain I am hearing in Detroit these days it’s “Woe is me.” Everyone seems to be crying in their beer as they wonder just what went wrong to make our beloved auto industry fall apart so fast. Was it the result of rising gas prices, which caused people to leave SUVs sitting on the dealer lots stacked up like cord wood? Not entirely. What about those generous union contracts that provide gold-plated healthcare and pay workers for not working at all? They’re not entirely to blame.

The answer to the ills of the Big Two (Ford and GM) can be found in their product planning departments, where the geniuses who are supposed to know future trends got it all wrong. While their plans were filled with large trucks and SUVs, the train of prosperity was whistling past loaded with crossovers and fuel-efficient small cars. That phenomenon didn’t sprout up within the past few months. Toyota introduced its RAV4 crossover in 1996, followed by the Honda CR-V in 1997 and the Lexus RX 300 in 1998. Giving your competition a nearly 10-year lead time is not wise in this hyper-competitive market.

The Honda Civic has been the rage of the younger set for years. Meanwhile, GM and Ford kept pumping meager products into the compact car segment. “Small cars don’t make money,” Detroit cried. Bullpucky! You think Honda is a charity? I don’t think so. Producing reliable, fun-to-drive and stylish small cars can be a winning formula, even in the U.S. market. Chrysler has done pretty well with the PT Cruiser, while the Mini is a runaway success. It’s time for your small cars to get some character and remain fresh.

It’s time for all of us in Motown to wipe our tears and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We have to quit feeling sorry for ourselves, pointing blame in every direction, and prove to the world that we’re still a force to be reckoned with. Sure, we can debate the problems facing the industry to death, but sitting around gabbing isn’t going to do us any good. We need the metal, and fast!

Mr. Wagoner, what happened to the 18-month car? I remember it was August 2000 when you boldly predicted GM would be able to develop a vehicle within that timeframe and that being “big and fast,” was the new mantra for GM. Where did that go? Get your teams together and make it happen.

While I’m at it, I seem to remember Bill Ford saying, “I think we lost our focus in several areas,” and his commitment to return Ford to a “back to basics” strategy focused on building desirable cars and trucks. These revelations weren’t originally articulated during the recent “Way Forward” announcement, those statements were made back in 2001, when Mr. Ford showed Jac Nasser the door. Good to see the past four years have gone to good use.

All the rhetoric and questioning must stop! If both companies had done what they said they would do, maybe thousand of jobs would have been saved. Gentlemen, do what you need to do to turn things around or get out of the way. If both GM and Ford fail to heed that warning, they will become relics. 

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