Commentary

There used to be a radio commentator who began his program with: “Ah, there’s good news tonight.”

And there is some good news, though there’s some bad, too. Let’s start with the good.

The General Motors board of directors actually did something: They told management they were wrong to sell the Opel unit in Germany, and they cancelled the deal.

Then they made Bob Lutz head of the Opel board of supervisors to lead the way. Lutz once was an executive at BMW and later headed Ford of Germany.

These are great moves, assuming they hold. German politics are heavily involved with the deal, so we never can tell.

GM’s Opel unit is the heart of engineering for many of the auto maker’s key new global products, even though there has been constant friction between the satellite operation and the mother ship in Detroit.

The bad news is GM managers initially opted to get rid of Opel. This raises the likelihood the GM board doesn’t think much of current management.

Now GM needs a top car guy to lead Opel, a German. Fortunately, there are a number of capable, ambitious executives available in the home market.

GM, indeed, has done a terrible job with Opel. Ford makes good money in Europe. Opel is about the same size and sells in the same markets with similar products. If Ford can be profitable, so can Opel.

At Chrysler, the good news is Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne shows serious determination to turn around Chrysler. He has made some good moves.

He killed Chrysler’s electric-car engineering group. Did anyone really think Chrysler had the resources for such an undertaking?

He separated the truck operation from the Dodge cars. He put a single individual in charge of each brand. He also is promising new engines.

The bad news is top management at Fiat does not understand the U.S. market.

For example, Marchionne says he loves Jeeps, but he’s planning more Jeeps without the macho character and off-road prowess the brand embodies. There will be Jeeps with 2-wheel drive and Jeeps built on Fiat platforms – vehicles that, in the end, will destroy the brand’s image for its core buyers.

Didn’t the anemic Patriot and Compass yield a teachable moment?

And who will run Chrysler? Rescuing it is a 24/7 job. No matter how smart he is, Marchionne can’t run this desperate effort part-time, while commuting from Italy.

Chrysler needs an on-the-job-every-moment leader, one who understands the U.S. market.

And maybe Chrysler should put a 4-cyl. engine into the Dodge minivan and create a bargain-price, high-mileage family hauler for these bad times. That could be a definite winner.

Ah, there’s good news tonight. Not enough, but at least it’s a change.

Jerry Flint is a columnist for, and former senior editor of, Forbes magazine.