But first, my Question of the Month:

Would Chrysler be better off if Lee and his friend had taken over the management? Let's see, Bob Eaton and Bob Lutz would be gone, but then they're gone anyway. Tom Stallkamp might still be there. The company would be American-owned and there would be no Germans. I think the stock price would be higher. What do you think?

Now, back to what I learned on my winter vacation. When everyone says the same thing, it's time to start wondering. For example, everyone in Detroit says "Brand Brand Brand." But the biggest brand of all, Coca-Cola, just started laying off 6,000 employees because it's got troubles. You know something? I stopped drinking Coke. Got tired of it. I drink something called "Polar Orange." Ain't much of a brand, but it sure tastes good. Tell the carmakers there's less to brand marketing than meets the eye.

Everyone says "Global Global Global." Funny. I was at the Detroit auto show, and it was half full of sport/utility vehicles and pickups, very unglobal. Other auto shows, like Frankfurt, were full of sedans. The differences between the type of vehicles bought in the U.S. and the rest of the world are widening, not narrowing. The Detroit auto show proved it.

After all, how many "global" vehicles are successful? Those Mercedes and BMWs aren't "global." They are German cars that everyone likes. The New Beetle is a hit here and a flop over there. Most of the cars built in Japan aren't sold anywhere else. Does anyone at Ford want to bring out some figures on the global CDW27 program (the killed-before-its-time Contour/Mystique)? And how much time and money did General Motors waste putting that new Saturn on a German platform?

What about the theory that the auto business is so costly that global platforms are the only way to go?

Allow me to quote an executive who reached the top of the business here in Detroit. I won't mention his name. Why embarrass him? But I assure you, reader, that you know his name and admire him. This statement was made to me in 1996. We were talking about what were then called world cars, but I think the same thinking applies to world platforms.

"The difficulty in reconciling different market tastes, different tooling suppliers, different plant layouts, different manufacturing technology, (the way doors, for instance, are hemmed), different safety requirements, etc., etc., makes the coordination and engineering job so complex and difficult that the supposed savings of "engineering it only once" are absolutely swamped by the additional needless travel, communication, meetings, promise and, above all, lost time.

"And even, theoretically, you save only on engineering, which is about 20% of a new vehicle's total bill. Since you're producing on two continents, you've got to double-tool and equip, any time."

I do not believe the auto industry is global, not now. Maybe someday. Not yet.

What else did I learn on my winter vacation? I think I learned what the next Taurus will look like. There was a show car at the Detroit auto show, the Ford Prodigy. Forget that this car carries a hybrid engine. That's nothing. Just look at the design. Very Audi, very good. Think next Taurus. A winner.

What else did I learn? BMW people are nuts. They just don't want to give the Mini to the Land Rover dealers who already sell to rich people who like British wheels, just the buyers for the new Mini. They say the artificial Hill in front of Land Rover dealers means they can't sell cars. I guess that means that Chrysler dealers couldn't sell Jeeps. They want the Mini sold in BMW showrooms. But BMW owners won't want a British Mini. Nutsy.

What else did I learn? Chrysler will build a rear-wheel-drive 300 unless the Germans stop them, because they don't want the competition in the luxury field. The hemi engine Chrysler put in its concept RWD convertible isn't as important as the rear-wheel drive. That's coming (unless the Germans say no).

What else did I learn? If you want to make a Volvo man jump, just go behind him and shout, in an Australian or German accent, something like, "You've got to make your numbers!" I watched Jac Nasser and Wolfgang Reitzle hammer the poor Swedes so hard about making their "numbers" that I was embarrassed for them. I know one ranking Volvo man who said he didn't need this and would quit. Of course, if Jac hadn't overpaid for Volvo by a few billion dollars, the numbers would be easier to make.

What else? Those Honda engines will likely go to Saturn. You remember Saturn? That was the car line GM created to prove that Americans could build cars as well as the Japanese. Now some will get Honda engines. Shame on you Jack, Rick, Ron and Cynthia. Didn't they ever teach you? Never give up! Never surrender!