It's Time to Play Santa Here's what you can expect under the tree It's that time of year - time to dip into the old burlap sack and dole out gifts to all of the good little boys and girls - and some not so good - who've made the first year of the new century a memorable one.
So let's get started: To:Juergen Schrempp -- AG chairman, "The Grinch Who Stole Chrysler Blitzen" blue ribbon for the way he brazenly took over the No.3 automaker - and for chortling that he planned all along to make Chrysler a "division," not a full partner.
How do you say "Nuts!" in German? And how does it feel out there in Auburn Hills to be looked on as second-class citizens? Nearly all of the oldteam who made it so exciting and profitable are long gone. Now it's losing money, slashing production, and President Jim Holden is, well, holdin' his pink slip.
To: Lee A. Iacocca - whose aborted attempt to make a comeback at Chrysler by teaming up with big stockholder and Las Vegas billionaire Kirk Kerkorian opened the door for Mr. Schrempp's imperial entrance, "The Michigan Masquerader of the Year" plaque. Once mentioned as a possible Democratic Party presidential candidate, Lido poses for TV commercials - and even calls me at home on a taped recording - urging folks to vote for George W. Bush. That's OK, but he gives the distinct impression that, like me, he remains a Michigan resident. Al Gore's environmental policies, he implies, would wreck the auto industry and kill jobs in Michigan. The trouble is, Mr. Iacocca hasn't lived in Michigan for years; he lives in La-La land (Los Angeles), so maybe that explains it.
To: Robert J.- former Chrysler Corp. chairman who cut the deal with Mr. Schrempp, "The Regis Philbin Who Wants to be a Multi-Millionaire?" award. He won't say how much he got by selling out to -Benz AG, and he hasn't said "boo" since he retired earlier this year. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission documents show he got at least $62 million, and some estimates put that figure much higher. But then he apparently thought it was a good deal. And indeed it was, at least for him and a few dozen other Chrysler execs, each of whom reaped seven- to eight-figure checks.
To: Maryann Keller - "The Titanic Sinking Ship" prize. Ms. Keller wasn't exactly living on food stamps when she left Wall Street's ING Barings Furman Selz as senior automotive analyst in July 1999 to head Priceline.com's auto services business. Her job: To develop Internet car sales using Priceline's name-your-own-price strategy, which she said at the time could revolutionize new car buying.
Priceline was flying high, and it's unlikely she could have been wooed away without lucrative stock options. But Priceline has fallen on hard times. In mid-November it was trading below a measly five bucks a share compared to its 52-week high of $100 and change. So she exited - quietly: Priceline revealed that Chief Financial Officer Heidi Miller had resigned but made no mention that Ms. Keller left the same day. That little tidbit wasn't revealed until a week later. Now Ms. Keller tells The Wall Street Journal that she decided to leave when she was told to cut her 23-person staff in half as part of a restructuring. More than that, she now apparently thinks much differently about the Internet selling scheme: "For car buying, the Internet is an idea whose time has not yet come and may never," she tells WSJ. Moral: Watch out for dot-com icebergs.
To: Jacques Nasser -Motor Co. president and CEO, "The Wilderness Don't Tread on Me" trophy. Buffeted by the Firestone tread-separation problem that caused rollovers, mostly in highly profitable Explorer SUVs that have made Ford water Steve's plants, Jac Nasser is, well, picking up the pieces. An avowed stickler for details, this one got by him. Still, he led the charge to engineer damage control and to do right by Explorer owners. I pity those who let another safety-related issue get by his desk; they'll get pink slips in their stockings.
To: G. Richard (Rick) Wogoner -Corp. president and CEO, "The Jerry Flint Fusillade" medal. Few have been peppered as heavily by WAW columnist Jerry Flint's caustic pen than GM - and its new top honcho, who took command at midyear.
"Oh, is he (Flint) still around? I thought he retired," Mr. Wagoner said recently with a wry smile. No such luck. While he officially retired several years ago, the rankling wordsmith still hits GM and Rick with impunity for all manner of alleged shortcomings. Don't take it too seriously, Rick, because Jerry just wants GM to be more successful. Still, keep your flak jacket at the ready.
To: Ralph Nader - the Green Party's presidential candidate, a plastic evergreen for his bachelor pad. Perhaps the auto industry's harshest critic over a 35-year run (I was the first reporter to interview him during my Detroit Free Press days, when he came to Detroit with his Chevrolet Corvair indictment, Unsafe at Any Speed, tucked in his briefcase). Mr. Nader siphoned votes from another notable "green," Al Gore, in the November election. Ironically, now it appears he'll have to face George W., who by most accounts is no environmentalist and a friend of big business to boot. That's a double loss for the vaunted crusader.
To: William Clay- chairman of a company by that name and owner of the hapless Detroit Lions, "The Clyde Beatty Lion-Tamer" trophy from his pals in the National Football League.
And to all of our readers, Happy Holidays and Happy 2001 from Ward's AutoWorld.