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Letter from Europe: Ford’s Problems; VolvoXC90; Jeep Wrangler; AMG C32; Porsche Cayenne

by Andrew Frankl European Bureau Chief

It is rather ironic that Ford Motor Company should be getting more bad publicity in year 100 than in all the previous 99 put together. Yes, the blue oval will be 100 years old in June, and if some of the pundits can be believed it will be lucky to make it to 110.

The silliest problem, getting the most publicity is of a personal nature. To my absolute amazement joint CEO Nick Scheele- an astute businessman and a great and honest guy- allowed his son to join the advertising agency which looks after the Ford account. For someone who knows the very strict codes governing nepotism of any kind within the company he really should have known better. Surely he can remember what happened to a former UK managing director, a certain Roger Humm?! In a four letter word- exit.

This, I suppose could have been a storm in a teacup but the quality problems with the Focus proved to be expensive as well as the Explorer/Firestone fiasco not to mention the various mistakes made by former CEO Jacques Nasser,

I was at a press conference in San Francisco when Nasser announced great and ambitious plans to sell cars via the internet with a beaming Microsoft executive beaming alongside him. You can imagine how much the dealers loved him for that even if it came to nothing in the end. As for appearing in Ford commercials looking like a leftover from The Godfather, well, enough said.

It is of course no laughing matter. Ford Motor Company, allow me to state the obvious, is huge and vital to several countries, not just to the United States. The UK, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Australia, and Sweden all have major Ford Company factories with hundreds of thousands of people depending on Big Oval for their livelihood.

Of course some parts, such as Volvo could be sold for a profit tomorrow, other bits I am not so certain about. I just hope that top management will pull itself together and save this great company because right now there seems to a lack of cohesion. Even if you are not a fan of the company how would you like the world of motoring without Jaguar, Aston Martin or the Cosworth engine?

As someone who worked for the company in the 60s and has some wonderful memories of its products and especially some its people I really am keeping my fingers crossed.

One thing is certain. If all their cars and trucks were as good as the Volvo XC90 I’ve been

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driving lately the shares would not be languishing at around 7 dollars. I took my stepson and fiancée for a test drive and they were sold within seconds. They loved the comfort, the driving position and studied every nook and cranny with regards to the forthcoming dog and –hopefully-several healthy children. Before they lynch me, yes, I know, first it’s the wedding.

I would however make one point. The fuel consumption is nothing to write home about at 15 miles per gallon in town and 20 mpg on a highway. I do think that just like DaimlerChrysler they should encourage the oil companies to improve the quality of their diesel in the United States. With enough pressure the car makers might just succeed. Then, with a turbo diesel the XC90 would be a truly unbeatable proposition.

Talking of DaimlerChrysler like everyone else I was pretty upset when the proposed merger turned out to be a takeover by Jurgen Schrempp and the boys in Stuttgart. Boy, oh boy, am I grateful now! Not to put too fine a point on it, Mercedes saved Chrysler from extinction.

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The quality has improved dramatically and with more and more synergy coming on stream things are looking up. Well, most of the time. Having spent a week in a Jeep Wrangler X I hope soon it will be this legend’s turn for a makeover. As a little boy I remember the –very welcome- American soldiers driving through Budapest in these amazing little machines distributing Hershey bars on the way. I can fully understand how these rugged vehicles got from Normandy to Berlin and beyond, but nearly 60 years later I would have expected a little bit more in a way of change. A noisy, pretty rough old engine, an ancient gearbox combined with a fuel consumption of 16mpg in town confirmed my feelings of déjà vu. Time to move I think.

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On the other hand the new C32 AMG C class is total magic. From the second you get into it there is a feeling of class. No, of course I am not trying to compare an off-road Jeep with a 150 miles per hour rocket, the C32 is special in any company. Now that AMG are an integral part of Mercedes there is no feeling of a go-faster company, the sort one finds advertised in the back pages of buff magazines, some good, some awful, AMG is the real thing. I think it is a little bit over-priced at 57 thousand dollars but if you are looking for a relatively small, very quick, comfortable luxury car then the C32 has to be very far up on your list.

Taking of expensive cars I went to the launch of Porsche’s Cayenne at Sonnen, the local dealer in Marin. Vow! I don’t know how good the car is although reports to date have been very favourable, until I get a chance to take it for a spin I reserve judgment. As far as Sonnen are concerned all I can say is well done. OK, they’ve spent 60 thousand dollars in two days-tents, food, music, wine, beer, but seeing the sort of wealthy families pouring through the doors it must have paid off.

The Cayenne does not look anything special, certainly not more distinguished then the BMW X5 or the new Volvo XC90 but I am told that once the power is unleashed it will be a totally different story.