If Cadillac had built a new SUV years ago, aX5, and the Seville was a Mercedes C-Class instead of a big front-wheel-drive boat, Cadillac would be selling 300,000 a year today without losing a single Senior Citizen customer.
My first wife used to say: “Better to be an old man's darling than a young man's slave.”
Which brings me to the subject of this column: Enough of this youth craze. In the hunt for younger customers and younger executives, Detroit gets younger losers.
First, let me credit a competitor. Andrew Cummins, publisher of Automotive Industries, who criticized this youth craze in his column. Now I'll say it.
First, the hunt for younger buyers: At Cadillac the typical buyer has Medicare and Cadillac is No.5 among luxury nameplates. But it's not their age; it's thatignored the trends in the luxury market. If Cadillac had built a new SUV years ago, a X5, and the Seville was a Mercedes C-Class instead of a big front-wheel-drive boat, Cadillac would be selling 300,000 a year today without losing a single Senior Citizen customer.
Lincoln brags that the SUV Navigator brings in younger customers. But the Lincoln Town Car platform (which is used on theCrown Vic and Mercury Grand Marquis) is Ford's most profitable car platform.
These cars are bought by old guys. Butseems to wish the customers would kick off so they could kill those models and build more money-losing front-wheel drives that young 'uns might like. Just build the best products, and the right people will come.
“No one wants to sell a car to anyone who doesn't have tight abs,” says wife Kate McLeod. I am not an Olympic Gold Medalist. Neither are most new car owners. I don't heli-ski, skydive or climb mountains, and I'm tired of car advertising that implies I'm not good enough for the car.
Now to the executives. We've all noticed that fine executives, men in their 50s, are being replaced by people in their 30s who come from outside the industry and don't know anything about the car business.
New ideas are fine, and throwing a young person in the pot may liven up the stew. But a pot full of young people who don't know the business is big trouble. This may be among the reasons that Detroit loses market share every month to foreign companies who think their executives should know the business.
In the old days, an auto executive rose by succeeding and by knowing the business. They knew engineering, selling and manufacturing. Yes, all three.
Now we have people who continually talk about “brands” but know nothing about building a better car.
Just imagine for a moment that theAccord was the Ford Accord, not a Taurus peddled to rent-a-car companies. How many would Ford be selling? Six hundred thousand a year? More?
These younger executives aren't very loyal, either. Wave a dollar at them and they'll desert their comrades. Attwo division chiefs, of Saturn and Cadillac, walked out with next to no warning and within months of make-or-break introductions for their divisions. At Ford, the head of Volvo quit to take the Cadillac job. And 's best-known designer, the PT Cruiser man, quit to join GM.
What a setback. The captains quit just as these companies are ready to charge. Still, when I asked one of GM's highest ranking executives about this, he said GM was happy happy happy that it has such wonderful people that other companies want them. He also said GM had thousands of people that could replace them.
I like to imagine that General Douglas MacArthur had quit the Army right after Pearl Harbor to go to work for General Electric. “Hey guys, the enemy will be invading any minute now, and you'll probably be massacred, so good luck. I'd love to be with you, but this job offer is too good to miss.” Would the President have been happy happy happy that he had such good men that industry wanted them?
When key executives walk out with little warning and in time of crisis, I smell corporate disorganization. Either the wrong people are getting the jobs, or they are getting fired (not so in these cases) or they are so unhappy with their superiors that they walk. There may be quite a bit of that in these cases.
Now, the latest chapter of “What fools these mortals be.” I hear the new Cadillac CTS, the Catera replacement due late this year, has a new engine. But the engine won't be ready the first year. With an old engine, the car gets so-so reviews instead of WOW. This happened with the Oldsmobile Intrigue.
Don't they ever learn that the new car should be finished when it comes out, with its new engine? What fools these mortals be.
Jerry Flint is a columnist for, and former senior editor of, Forbes magazine.