We have huge issues in the auto world: diesel or hybrid or hydrogen, global warming, the fear of competition from China.
Overshadowing all those areand and their shot at survival.
The difference today between the auto makers is that GM seems to have a comprehensive product plan anddoes not.
You may not agree entirely with GM’s strategy. I don’t like what GM calls its global reach, because it seems more about shifting car engineering and development out of the U.S.
But it’s a plan. GM is renewing its trucks and SUVs and rebuilding nameplates, starting with Saturn.
It’s putting some excitement into the family sedan with the coming Malibu, and it’s going rear-drive with big cars, such as the future Impala. Plus, it’s doing neat stuff along the edges with roadsters, the Pontiac G6 hardtop convertible and the HHR panel truck.
Meanwhile, it’s holding down incentives and reining in retiree and health-care costs.
At Ford, there are solid, but unspectacular, new products such as the Fusion-Milan-MKZ (nee Zephyr)-Edge-MKX. But after that it’s hard to see a strong progression of new products.
Auto makers must not drift in a storm. They need a plan that everyone inside and outside the company sees and understands, a fighting spirit and key new vehicles to rally around.
I go back to 1979, whenwas in much worse shape than Ford is today. Ford has $20 billion in the bank and a credit line for $18 billion more. Chrysler couldn’t borrow a nickel.
But it had a feisty leader, Lee Iacocca. He gathered a team of real car guys around him, forced the union to swallow a pay cut, and before long the whole country was cheering for.
But most important, Iacocca had the “K car,” named for its code designation; a front-drive sedan, something new. Then he turned the K-car platform into the first minivan, something else really new. Chrysler stock sank to $3, but then turned around to make the true believers rich.
During its comeback in the early 1990s, Chrysler introduced its pivotal L-H sedans. They featured an innovative cab-forward architecture that was different from anything else on the road.
Then came the Ram pickups that won over converts with outrageous styling and beefy powertrains. Once again, true believers made money investing in Chrysler.
Right now, Ford seems more concerned with spending billions making sure its workers leave the company happy than creating true believers. It needs more fight and some flashy new vehicles to symbolize its recovery and make everyone root for its success.
Jerry Flint is a columnist for, and a former senior editor of, Forbes magazine.