Industry Report 06/16/1999
16 June 1999
European Bureau Chief
It has been so hectic lately that this is the first time I've had a chance to report on all the various goings-on for quite a while. To some extent events have been dominated by Ford Motor Company. Even though there was a little bit of advertising to this effect in August publications such as The New York Times I still don't think many people know that for instance Volvo have now joined the fold having been bought more or less from the interest Ford are earning on their huge pile of cash sitting in the bank. Can't blame them really, it is a great name and a great company from whom they will learn a great deal in matters of safety. Then there was the launch of the new Jaguar S type closely followed by the debut of the Lincoln 2000. Hardly surprising bearing in mind that the two were designed by the same team and the two cars are on the same platform. Having started my career -for what it's worth-at Ford Motor Company way back in the 60's what really amazed me was the new feeling that seems to have swept through the company recently. Over the years there were public statements and private, off the cuff, not for publication remarks mostly of a cynical nature. Not, you will appreciate just at chez Ford but right across the industry. This situation still exists at Rover who are still struggling but at Ford I came across genuine enthusiasm for the company and the way its going. Take a bow Jac Nasser-CEO since the beginning of the year. Jac the Knife, as he is known internally is certainly no Mother Teresa but he is certainly a man of vision. Realizing talent when he sees it and regardless where its at he goes and gets it! Not so many years ago it would have been inconceivable for one of the Detroit big three to hire people from each other and as from abroad, that was totally unheard of !
So what does Jac do? He hires Dr. Reitzle from BMW and he hires some of the best-disillusioned- brains from DaimlerChrysler. No doubt he will appoint someone from Volvo as Head of all matters relating to safety, in the public relations more people speak the Queen's English than the local variety, he even poached my old magazine's Editor in Chief to join him!
For those of you unfamiliar with Dr. Reitzle I should point out that he is one of the best engineering brains in the World, responsible for all those much coveted BMWs. This is as far as I got with the story when my fax machine started to churn out some not altogether surprising news-Ford have just paid Jackie Stewart about 150 million dollars for his Grand Prix team! The PR blurb talks about all sorts of reasons, the bottom line is that Jac and Co wanted to have 100% control. Full stop. This will enable them to exploit the team to the full in their key market-the United States as well as all over the World. With Grand Prix racing re-entering the States at Indy in September 2000 after an absence of several years Ford are making certain that they will ready. Jackie-who is 60 years old today is of course delighted although as he pointed out, having been associated with Ford for some 35 years he just happens to be their best paid employee. By some considerable margin I hasten to add! Whilst the wee Scot is staying on as Chairman of Stewart Grand Prix I am sure it will only be a matter of time before he becomes Life President or some such important sounding but not particularly powerful, decision-making position. Anyway, good luck to him, we've been friends for over 30 years and he has come a long way from filling up customers' cars at his Father's gas/petrol station.
I am not quite sure what GM are doing to counter this invasion of talent and the erosion of their market share. One thing they did not do was to appoint Bob Lutz as CEO when he left Chrysler. Bob, every motoring journalist's favourite industry person ended up at Exide, the battery company. I cannot quite see the dashing, ex-fighter pilot, Indy 500 pace car driver as someone fascinated by making long life batteries but I could of course be wrong.
In any case he is not at GM where he started all those years ago. Pity.
DaimlerChrysler are of course heavily involved with Grand Prix racing and there have been suggestions that they too might well buy their partners, in this instance McLaren. If the trend continues then BMW might well end up with Williams and Honda with Jordan.
It is amazing how many millionaires have been created by Bernie Ecclestone, the Czar of the sport.25 years ago Frank Williams, Ron Dennis and Eddie Jordan were fast talking, penniless hustlers with a passion for motor racing and money. There is nothing wrong with that, they spent years in telephone booths pretending to be in a boardroom somewhere, they owed money here and there, and had sponsors who paid and others who didn't, in other words they struggled and worked very hard to get to the top. What Jackie has done for them was to clarify what they are worth! After all Stewart have yet to win a race whereas the others -Williams and McLaren- have umpteen world championship titles under their belts whilst Eddie's team chalked up their first victory last August. So with Toyota looking for someone to buy the price has just increased by a few 0-s.
All this at a time when Grand Prix racing is seen as boring with nil entertainment value.
FIA President is obsessed with safety but according to most experts is getting it completely wrong. Yes, the cars are safer but the processions are appalling. Bernie has just agreed with the drivers as opposed to Max so stand by for some frank and honest discussions as politicians during the Cold War used to say.