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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Insiders, outsiders drive the new Big 3

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Insiders, outsiders drive the new Big 3

Wayne I'm not sure Alan Mulally knew how to respond: Four years after arriving in Dearborn to attempt a revival of the Blue Oval, the voice in the scrum asked Ford Motor Co.'s CEO during a visit to Wayne Assembly, do you feel like an insider or an outsider?He smiled, shrugged a bit and said: "I felt like I was part of the solution. We're fighting for the soul of manufacturing in the United States."

He's right, of course. He is part of the solution, but not the only part. At Ford and at rivals like General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, they're fighting for the business case to keep building things here — and they're succeeding with an optimistic story that would have seemed impossible two years ago.

Ford is preparing to build a suite of fuel-efficient Focus compacts — from traditional gasoline-powered versions to a plug-in electric — in the refurbished heart of an old SUV plant whose hulking, gas-guzzler metal came to exemplify what was wrong with Ford's myopic product strategy.

A little more than 20 miles east, GM is beginning to ship Chevrolet Volts to dealerships, and dealers are reporting surging demand for the extended-range electric car. The plant is tooled to build 60,000 copies, but Vice Chairman Steve Girsky says a debate is raging at the top of the RenCen over whether to increase production — a move backed by CEO Dan Akerson.

Yes, American taxpayers subsidize the purchase of every Volt. Yet for the first time in very long time, GM, Ford and, to a lesser extent, Chrysler have the kind of problems they'll take gladly over the cash-burning white-knuckle rides of 2008 and the first half of 2009 because they're more focused on workable solutions to their most intractable problems.

That means recognizing, by the vehicles they're introducing, that real and probably enduring political and economic changes finally are driving alternative-fuel vehicles from the labs and faculty lounges into dealerships, driveways and the fleets of the U.S. government agencies.

That means doing it — delivering the Volt, offering multiple powertrains on a Focus — without shortchanging the vast majority of customers who aren't there yet and probably won't be without a) government fiat or b) a massive increase in the price of gas or c) both. Because the old technology still pays the bills and it will for years to come.

Who cares if it's insiders or outsiders pushing the solutions (it's both, actually)? Far more important is building evidence that Detroit's momentum is being powered by a confluence of high-quality products, new technology, legitimate business models, balance sheets that no longer look like a horror show and a competitive nemesis — Toyota Motor Corp. — laid low by its own hubris.

So much for the arc of history that predicted the collapse of a Detroit unable to meet the demands of the market and the inevitable ascension of foreign rivals who had better management, better vehicles and an iron-clad way of doing business.

They didn't. Nor are foreign competitors immune to the same arrogance and denial that plagued Detroit — and still does, more than the newish outsiders and their true-believer insiders might want to concede. If the past two years don't prove the Old Detroit way to be a road to nowhere, nothing will.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20101221/OPINION03/12210322/Insiders--outsiders-drive-the-new-Big-3#ixzz18knjSDBx

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