Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

It's a Tough Crowd

Speakers stepping on stage here are looking out at crowds that are smaller than normal. They understand the enormous toll the recession has taken on the industry as a whole and particularly on those losing jobs.

So a number of speakers are beginning their comments with words of inspiration or levity to break the somber mood. Bruce Hettle, executive director-manufacturing engineering at Ford, chose the former.

“I’ve never been more confident in our future at Ford and in the future of our industry, because I’ve seen us come together as a group, and I see the power of what we can do,” he tells attendees.

“Within this chaos and this turmoil, there’s one thing within our company and that’s been an absolute relentless focus on our plan – a plan around delivering great products and a strong and sustainable business while improving the world in which we operate.”

Open Mouth, Insert Foot…Again

“I’ve gotten myself in trouble on this one a number of times. I’ll try and stick my foot back in my mouth again,” says Toyota Motor Sales President Jim Lentz when asked the infamous “Prius-brand” question.

Lentz tries to clarify the creation of a Prius vehicle range is his personal passion and not Toyota’s.

“The rest of the world hasn’t agreed with my vision yet, (so) we’re working on timing,” he tells media gathered for a roundtable discussion here today.

Lentz says the Prius has “tremendous brand equity” and could be a family of models. However, Toyota must be careful not to “slap” a Prius badge on just any hybrid.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The liberal use of photos with presentations at the conference here appears to be a theme, as if everyone read the memo.

They range from the famous (Henry Ford) to the not so well-known. Pictures also are used to illustrate ideas.

Jeff Disher, president-Disher Design and Development, shows some eye-catching images, including an 18-wheeler (we think) almost entirely submerged below thick ice to illustrate the poor way some companies execute innovative ideas.

Another photo, the “Spirit of Innovation” statue at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center, causes Disher to quip all he saw when looking at it was “an aging body, balding head and a strange desire to mix chemicals.”

A Little Pro Bono Goes Long Way

Bankruptcy lawyers are busy at Butzel Long, the Detroit firm that does about 40% of its business with automotive suppliers.

Meanwhile, the mergers and acquisitions department hasn’t got much to do now, nor do most of the company’s other departments.

The company has cut its own costs in traditional ways. But it is optimistic enough about the future of the auto industry that it’s also cutting its own revenue by working some hours off the clock to help clients get through the rough patch.

Taking Taurus for a Spin

The all-new Ford Taurus is bigger than a Toyota Avalon and Chevrolet Impala. So why does Ford insist on sending subtle messages to the contrary?

During a Tuesday session, Ford’s Bruce Hettle plugs the “gorgeous” new Taurus.

“If you haven’t seen this vehicle, it’s going to be a tremendous hit in the marketplace,” the director of manufacturing engineering says. “It’s going to redefine the midsize sedan.”

Catch the “midsize” reference? That’s subtle spin, an attempt to give the Taurus a boost by positioning it against big-volume players such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, where the Taurus no longer has the production capacity to compete.

Come on, folks, call it what it is: a large sedan with a trunk big enough, as former Ford President Jim Padilla once infamously said, “to fit several bodies in the trunk.”

Talking Heads Remembered

To introduce himself to the automotive crowd here, Roger Curtis, the Michigan International Speedway president, quotes a lyric from rock ’n roll’s Talking Heads.

“You may ask yourself, how did you get here?”

The line is from the 1980s song “Once In a Lifetime,” which does have an automotive angle: Another line goes, “You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile.”

Tiger by the Tail

During Tuesday's "Accelerated Innovation" Q&A session, the Center for Automotive Research's Dave Cole unexpectedly goes off on a tangent.

"I wish someone would ban Facebook," he exclaims, which leads one panelist to retort, "You're old."

Cole's beef with the uber-popular social networking site? The quickness with which golfer Tiger Woods' "gas pains" made news around the world during last week's Buick Open.

The ensuing attention didn't harm Woods, who went on to win the tournament. But it apparently did not set well with Cole.

Ringside Seat and Retreat

A 10-member management team from CRH North America, an Alabama maker of seating-adjustment mechanisms, is using the automotive conference here as the base for its executive retreat.

The group listened to speakers today and on Thursday will plot company strategy for the next five years elsewhere in Traverse City.

Unlike many suppliers, CRH will make money this year, although not much, managers insist.

Perhaps, but the company is holding to its plan to build a new plant next year in South America to support the Fiat Linea, built on the Fiat 199 platform, that will come to North America in 2012.