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Oracle of Delphi

What if a Detroit 3 CEO came ? and nobody noticed?

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Richard Truett

Automotive News

January 13, 2008 - 5:14 pm ET

DETROIT -- What if the CEO of a Detroit 3 automaker walked the floor of the Detroit auto show -- and almost nobody noticed?

That's pretty much what happened today in what has to be the most surreal experience I have had in my 17 years covering this show.

Here's what went down: I'm walking the show floor this afternoon near the Chrysler display when Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Jim Farley, his newly appointed marketing chief, come strolling by with only two PR types and another journalist in tow.

For the next 30 minutes or so, Mulally and Farley paid unscheduled visits to the competition, examining the cars and trucks likely to give Ford the most headaches in 2008. When Mulally casually walked up to a bright blue version of the new Dodge Ram pickup and climbed in, he startled a Dodge engineer who was in the passenger seat.

Next, Mulally walked over to the Mercedes-Benz stand and asked a PR person if he could say a quick hello to Dieter Zetsche, and then he disappeared for five minutes and did just that.

Next stop was an unscheduled visit to the General Motors exhibit. There Mulally sat in the Chevrolet Malibu, which earlier in the day bagged the North American Car of the Year award.

A surprised Ed Peper, Chevrolet's general manager, greeted Mulally. Peper heard the Ford chairman congratulate Chevrolet for winning the award.

Mulally seemed impressed by the Malibu but said he wasn't sure about the car's dual-cockpit-style interior.

While at the GM display, Mulally waited patiently for GM Chairman Rick Wagoner to finish an interview. After the two exchanged greetings, Mulally, Boeing's former chairman, told Wagoner he ought to use the Blue Devil name on some future Corvette.

It's only taken about 15 months, and the airplane guy is sounding more and more like a car guy.

As Mulally and Farley walked the show floor, almost no one seemed to notice. I can never recall the chairman of any Detroit 3 automaker moving around the show without being pounced upon by a pack of roving, hungry journalists. Mulally and Farley were pretty much left alone.

Here's one thing that might be cause for concern for the competition: The warm rapport between Mulally and Farley is natural and strong. The two appear as if they have been friends for years. They are on the same page, and if they can't get Ford firing on all four cylinders, it probably can't be done.

In other business:

-- Green is the official color of this year's show, just as it was at the Geneva, Frankfurt and Tokyo shows last year. Almost every automaker is trying to outgreen the others with announcements about hybrids, E85, diesels or some other new technologies.

So that means the V-8 is dead and performance vehicles are on their last legs, right?

Don't believe it. Not for a minute.

It's going to take some time, but engineers are going to figure out how to make V-8 engines go farther on a gallon of something, be it diesel fuel, gasoline, E85 or maybe some new fuel. We've already seen this movie once before during the oil shocks of the early 1970s. Engines shrank, cars got smaller and performance went by the wayside.

GM's global powertrain chief, Tom Stephens, says V-8 engines are not going away. Although GM recently canceled a V-8 program for its luxury cars, the company remains committed to using V-8s in its performance vehicles and big trucks, Stephens said.

-- Chinese vehicles are improving rapidly but still have a long way to go before they are ready for prime time in North America. I spent some time in a Chinese SUV scheduled to be imported next year by Chamco. It's built by Zhongxing and is about the size of a Chevrolet Equinox.

The vehicle felt as if it has some substance when I slammed the doors. The overall style was a knockoff of a Mazda Tribute, but probably the same people who buy fake Ralph Lauren Polo shirts will probably ante up the $13,500 for this vehicle when it comes out.

I opened the glove box and cracked open the owner's manual. The Chinese need manual writers who have a stronger grasp of English.

The manual says: "Thank you for your trust and support. We will service you with our good quality and substantial technology."

Then I put the book back in the glove box, and when I closed the door, the lock broke off.

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Mulally will right the Ford ship, it just needs a bit more time.

Ford's biggest problem these days is styling demons and products need to be more precisely (ahem) Focused.

2010 sees the new Taurus and I think Explorer. New Focus or Verve or whatever as well. 09 F-150 will keep it at or near the top of the pack in sales.

Jac Nasser ruined and starved the company of product development early in the decade and that along with misguided styling and poor organizational management has put Ford in emergency mode having to sell less than beautiful or less than current products.

People have started to take notice of Ford's quality improvements and this will take off. Ford needs to reinvent their dealership experience and upgrade vehicle performance (whether it be mpg or accel and handling) across the board, but Ford's biggest problem right now is styling. Lots of other pieces are in place. Their invenstments in new powertrains are very prudent and they are spreading many of the same engines across many models.

Horbury, J Mays, I don't care who's in charge. They'd be gone if it were me.

Ford is arguably in a better position than GM to ascend back up the ladder. They have fewer divisions to manage and less powertrain duplication, and a smaller global network to manage. One weakness FOrd has is no third worldish sort of Korean link as strong as GMDAT. Mazda is tremendously valuable to FOrd but they are by no means a low cost global producer like Daewoo can be for GM.

Sounds like Farley will fix the marketing issues

Edited by regfootball
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Mulally will right the Ford ship, it just needs a bit more time.

Ford's biggest problem these days is styling demons and products need to be more precisely (ahem) Focused.

2010 sees the new Taurus and I think Explorer. New Focus or Verve or whatever as well. 09 F-150 will keep it at or near the top of the pack in sales.

Jac Nasser ruined and starved the company of product development early in the decade and that along with misguided styling and poor organizational management has put Ford in emergency mode having to sell less than beautiful or less than current products.

People have started to take notice of Ford's quality improvements and this will take off. Ford needs to reinvent their dealership experience and upgrade vehicle performance (whether it be mpg or accel and handling) across the board, but Ford's biggest problem right now is styling. Lots of other pieces are in place. Their invenstments in new powertrains are very prudent and they are spreading many of the same engines across many models.

Horbury, J Mays, I don't care who's in charge. They'd be gone if it were me.

Ford is arguably in a better position than GM to ascend back up the ladder. They have fewer divisions to manage and less powertrain duplication, and a smaller global network to manage. One weakness FOrd has is no third worldish sort of Korean link as strong as GMDAT. Mazda is tremendously valuable to FOrd but they are by no means a low cost global producer like Daewoo can be for GM.

Sounds like Farley will fix the marketing issues

You might want to look at the pictures of the 09 F-150...

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You might want to look at the pictures of the 09 F-150...

despite the spin, the 09 f-150 is nothing more than a cheap reskin. simply refreshing the F150 is ok for maybe 2 years. the bigger part of their refresh is the heavily revised engines and trannies. in that respect, they should stay competitive. the interior is no better or worse than any of the other trucks. GM's interior in the high line models is still the most consumer friendly.

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Let's repeat that in case a few people missed it.

So that means the V-8 is dead and performance vehicles are on their last legs, right?

Don't believe it. Not for a minute.

Ahh, but did you also see this "the company remains committed to using V-8s in its performance vehicles and big trucks", the question is, what will GM classify as performance vehicles and big trucks? :AH-HA_wink:

Edited by Pontiac Custom-S
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I'm a car guy and I wouldn't recognize Nardelli, Mullaly or Wagoner if they came up and slapped me

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