James (Jim) Clinton Jones was not only among the best reporters and writers ever to cover the auto industry, he also was among the most cynical. But that also made him a digger par excellence, resulting in some spectacular scoops.

Newsweek's Detroit bureau chief from 1955 until he retired in the late 1980s, Jim always had the same response when I'd mention that some Big Three executive who'd gotten promoted was "a nice guy."

"How many times do I have to tell you, Smith, that the world is full of nice guys, and there's absolutely no demand?"

I never believed that because plenty of folks I'd describe as "nice" moved up and performed admirably without brandishing a whip or bullying the troops.

Others, of course, flamed out. That happens to the tough guys, too, but no one ever says tough guys finish last. That's tantamount to being un-American.

Chrysler Corp.'s decision to elevate Thomas T. Stallkamp, 51, to president, clearly marking him as a successor to 57-year-old Chairman Robert J. Eaton (see Auto Talk, p.22), reminded me of Jim Jones' favorite saying.

Personable, affable, forthright and witty are adjectives most who know him would use to describe Tom Stallkamp. Add bright, savvy and flexible. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of those same words could be used to describe Bob Eaton.

I've known both men for many years and often had thought they shared a remarkable number of traits. In my lexicon, both are "nice guys."

Still, that's not why Mr. Stallkamp, 51, got the job, bypassing several other likely candidates including Executive Vice President Thomas C. Gale (the company's design leader) and Executive Vice President Francois Castaing (nominally engineering chief), who together with now-Vice Chairman Robert A. Lutz led a new-product blitz that created some of the sharpest vehicles of the 1990s.

That triumvirate, however, is now broken up. Mr. Lutz turned 65 nearly a year ago and remains on until February 1999 under a special arrangement, with no direct reports. Mr. Castaing, 52, whom Chrysler insiders insist planned to retire early even before Mr. Stallkamp's ascendancy, stays on as technical adviser to Mr. Eaton for three years until he reaches early retirement age of 55. Mr. Gale, (54), also may depart before reaching mandatory retirement at age 65, Chrysler sources say.

Chrysler, of course, is a far different company than it was a decade ago. The platform teams established and honed by Mr. Lutz et.al. have been so successful that other automakers routinely now benchmark Chrysler's practices, and they've developed a cadre of top people steeped in those principles.

One could conclude that the product development side of the house is in good shape for the nonce. The quality and cost sides, however, still need more work. And that's where Mr. Stallkamp, formerly executive vice president-procurement and supply, comes in.

Although he has spent nearly all of his 17-year Chrysler career on the purchasing side, his responsibilities also have included minivan and large-car operations.

He's best known for working with suppliers to reduce costs, creating $3.7 billion in savings during this decade - $1.2 billion in 1997 alone. But he hasn't used a sledgehammer; indeed, Chrysler suppliers perennially name Chrysler as the best automaker to deal with.

Least integrated among the Big Three, Chrysler relies on suppliers for some 65% to 70% of everything that goes into its vehicles, pushing purchasing decisions and policies to the forefront.

To bind the marriage, Mr. Stallkamp coined the term "extended enterprise" to describe Chrysler's relationship with suppliers, with both purportedly sharing in cost savings. Some pundits call him a "cost-cutter," but certainly not of the slash-and-burn school.

Still, there's the suspicion that to meet Chrysler's cost targets some suppliers may have cut corners on quality, which provides a handy explanation for its lingering struggle with quality issues. After all, if suppliers account for two-thirds of the components, they must share some of the blame, right?

Mr. Stallkamp's successor is fast-rising Thomas P. Sidlik, 48, former chairman of Chrysler Financial Corp. and a relative unknown among suppliers. He brings not only a background steeped in finance, but also a stint as vice president for quality.

Don't look for a sea-change in Chrysler's dealings with suppliers, however. Just down the hall will be his boss, Mr. Stallkamp, who also has manufacturing, sales and marketing under his command, a "nice guy" destined to lead the company in the 21st century.

Cadillac's decision to offer a sport/utility vehicle (SUV) spun off GM's truck platform for1999 elicits pans-a-plenty. Lesley Hazelton, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press, typically laments Cadillac's belated decision: "Obviously Caddy needs one, lest its customers go out and buy someone else's luxury sport-ute . . . but hey, guys, you have a name to live up to, and that name should not be stuck onto a pickup truck chassis. Say it ain't so, Cad." Her advice: Design a Caddy SUV that beats the competition.

It's About TIME When TIME talks, titans listen. No, that's not TIME's tagline, but when the weekly newsmagazine speculates that William Clay Ford Jr. will become the next chairman of the Ford Motor Co. when Alex Trotman retires two years hence, it suddenly becomes GOSPEL. Never mind that auto beat veterans have been saying the same thing for months, if not years. And the fact is Ford's directors haven't voted on the deal, though with 40% control the Ford family can do whatever it pleases. Great-grandson of Henry Ford, Bill Jr., 40, echoes the official company line, calling TIME's report "premature." He'd be the first Ford to lead the empire since 1980 when the late Henry Ford II retired. No word on what role HF II's son, Edsel B. Ford II, currently president of Ford Motor Credit Co., might play if his cousin gets the top job.