The Lopez war drags on

Early estimates are that General Motors Corp. will ask for between $3 billion and $4 billion in damages from Volkswagen AG in the civil suit filed March 7 in Detroit over Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua's alleged pilfering of parts price lists and future product plans when he defected to VW more than three years ago. "I think we could get this case to trial within a year," says GM General Counsel Thomas A. Gottschalk. Klaus Liesen, chairman of VW's supervisory board, denies the charges and says VW offered to negotiate, but rejected GM's condition that it fire Mr. Lopez before such discussions could begin.

Strike won't cripple economy just bruise it

The UAW strike against General Motors Corp. will take a toll on March employment and the first-quarter Gross Domestic Product by about 0.3%, says Diane C. Swonk, deputy chief economist for First Chicago NBD Corp. "Much of the losses will be made up in the second quarter," says Ms. Swonk. The strike at two Delphi Chassis plants in Dayton, OH, and subsequent shutdown of 29 GM assembly plants is expected to reduce the company's first-quarter production by 100,000 vehicles, and take a bite of about $200 million, or more than 75 cents a share, from first-quarter earnings. Paul D. Ballew, chief economist at J.D. Power & Associates, predicts GM will be able to catch up on most of that lost production in the second quarter, except for pickup trucks and its large sport/utility vehicles such as Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Suburban.

Ford 2000 undergoes tweaking

Would this be retreat or evolution? Suppliers familiar with Ford Motor Co.'s massive two-year-old reorganization say the company is seriously studying a return to only two vehicle-development groups in the U.S. -- one for cars and one for trucks -- and one for Europe. Isn't that the way it was before Ford 2000 created five vehicle centers? Not quite. Spin control in Dearborn is quick to clarify that even if this change occurs, all three centers would work on vehicles for their own market and overseas. In the old Ford structure those efforts were completely separate in North America and Europe.

Goldman Sachs' Thornton joins Ford board

Ford Motor Co. names 42-year-old John L. Thornton, partner in the New York investment banking firm of Goldman Sachs & Co., to its board of directors. Meanwhile, Colby H. Chandler, retired chairman of Eastman Kodak Co., and Kenneth H. Olsen, president emeritus of Digital Equipment Corp., are retiring after next month's annual stockholders meeting. Both have reached Ford's mandatory retirement age of 70.

Ground control control to President Bob

From our "Don't try this at home" file: Chrysler's daredevil President Robert A. Lutz tempted fate again on the afternoon of St. Patrick's Day. Barely three weeks after calmly helping a frantic student pilot land his single-engine airplane at his company's Chelsea Proving Grounds, Mr. Lutz got a little close to the edge on one of his Sunday afternoon jaunts in his $200,000 Russian-built Albatross jet trainer. Upon approach to Willow Run airport, Mr. Lutz apparently fixated on a plane that was landing ahead of him. The ex-Marine who flew A-4 Skyhawks in his younger years forgot to put the landing gear down and skidded to a belly-scraping, wheels-up landing before two emergency medical service ambulances arrived to find no harm done, except to the plane. Unscathed, Mr. Lutz walked away and later that day flew to Phoenix for a business meeting.

New marketing chief seeks to polish Chrysler's image

James P. Holden, recently named executive vice president of Chrysler's sales and marketing, says his main goal is to get the No. 3 automaker's image on quality to catch up with its styling reputation. "We still hear some noise on quality," Mr. Holden says. "We're never happy with it either, but we've come a long, long way." Chrysler has about 500 dealers -- 11% of its dealer body -- now developing a "self-authorization" system that aims to standardize the best customer-coddling techniques seen in certain luxury showrooms and at Saturn.

Wilkie leaves Ford for Motorola; McCammon retires

Dennis F. Wilkle, 53, one of the ground-floor planners of Ford 2000 and most recently vice president for the company's Business Development office, joins Motorola Inc.'s Automotive and industrial Electronics Group. A former head of Ford's electric vehicle program and an electrical engineer by training, Mr. Wilkie played an important role in developing the "matrix" structure behind Ford 2000. Meanwhile, David N. McCammon, vice president of finance and the point man in Ford's quarterly earnings briefings, will retire at the end of this year. He will turn 62 in November.