Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

For more than 40 years, the Management Briefing Seminars has been checking the pulse of the global auto industry.

The conference, held each summer in Traverse City, MI, highlights innovative manufacturing philosophies and new approaches to product development, as well as the hot topics of the day, be it Ford Motor Co.’s historic Firestone tire recall or General Motors Co. struggling with a United Auto Workers union strike.

This year’s issue du jour is one that has been talked about at MBS in the past, but purely from an academic or theoretical viewpoint: the role of the government in the global auto industry.

In an attempt to rescue two Detroit auto makers from the brink of insolvency and chart an economic recovery, President Barack Obama this summer ushered GM and Chrysler Group LLC through a rapid bankruptcy process that concluded with U.S. taxpayers assuming a controlling stake in the companies.

The auto industry is accustomed to boom and bust cycles, but never before – not even in the depths of the Great Depression – has the U.S. government intervened so aggressively in the financial operation of auto makers as a matter of economic policy.

A Wednesday afternoon panel session promises to be a highlight of this year’s conference. Sean McAlinden, executive vice president of the Center for Automotive Research, will host the session, titled “The Beneficent Hand? The New Role of Government in the Global Auto Industry.” Joining the panel are:

  • Ron Bloom, senior advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury, assigned to the presidential Task Force on the Automotive Industry.
  • Linda Hasenfratz, CEO of Linamar Corp. and chairperson of the Original Equipment Suppliers Assn.
  • Rod Lache, director-North America Equity Research at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc.
  • Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers lobbying organization.
  • George Perry, president and CEO of Yazaki North America Inc. Perry replaces Ken Lewenza, national president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, who initially was scheduled to be on the panel.

In addition, Edward Montgomery, executive director of the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers, speaks at a Wednesday morning session, which begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Grand Traverse Resort.

The headline speaker Wednesday morning is Akio Toyoda, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corp.

Other speakers throughout the week include Ford Motor Co. Chief Financial Officer Lewis Booth; Tom Stephens, GM vice chairman-global product development; Larry Dominique, vice president-product planning at Nissan North America Inc.; and James Womack, chairman of the Lean Enterprise Institute and senior lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Ward’s is providing complete coverage of the events as they unfold.

Due to the recession, CAR expects about 650 attendees at this year’s conference, down about 35% from 1,000 last year.

At its peak in the late 1990s, the event drew about 1,300 auto maker and supplier executives, financial analysts, government representatives, educators, labor leaders and media.

For years, the event has filled five days, but this year’s conference will run for four, ending Friday.

CAR spokeswoman Lisa Hart says the switch was made based on feedback from attendees, well before the economy tanked.

The agenda for 2010 is yet to be decided. “But our plan now is for four days next year,” Hart tells Ward’s.