No. 979
January 16, 2018

About The UjianNasional@PeterMDeLorenzo Author, commentator, influencer. "The Consigliere." Editor-in-Chief of

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On The Surface


On The Surface #457

August 6, 2008

George Fisher. Publisher's Note (Wednesday, 11:45PM, EDT): The Wall Street Journal reported tonight that George Fisher, the most vocal of the GM board members, reinforced his support of CEO Rick Wagoner and defended the board's actions in a phone interview with the media saying the board is "informed and very involved" in the auto maker's efforts to stem losses and turn around its North American operations. This after the company's staggering $15.5 billion second-quarter loss. Fisher offered up this gem as reported by the WSJ: "This is not just a passive board sitting by. It is a very experienced group of people who have run or been involved in complex organizations." Mr. Fisher, you have got to be kidding me. You have the unmitigated gall to sit there and defend yourself and the board - after you collectively sat on your asses and watched GM's downward spiral accelerate over the last eight years - and insist that you're not passive? Pathetic is the only word that comes to mind. The GM board of directors is the most embarrassing, do-nothing group of corporate has-beens ever assembled. They have repeatedly and consistently shirked their responsibility over the years while sitting around cheerily back-slapping and glad-handing each other chanting "it won't be long now" waiting for yet another turnaround to take hold as one of the iconic corporations in American history crumbled around them. Any other company in any other industry would have found a way to broom these stumblebums for gross negligence and dereliction of duty long ago. And the fact that this guy feels it's his duty to actually defend their inactions and inadequacies at this juncture is flat-out insulting and borderline incomprehensible. Well, Mr. Fisher, you might have gotten a free pass in the old-school media days, but let this be a warning to you: will make sure the world knows how utterly incompetent and ridiculous you and your cronies on the GM board truly are. It's the least we can do as you and your "experienced" fellow board members continue to ride a once-shining beacon of American enterprise right into the ground. - PMD

Chrysler. After sending Jason Vines packing (because he actually believed in the power of effective Public Relations and knew what was needed in order to help smooth the Cerberus transition into being an auto company owner), Chrysler all of a sudden is trying a bit of a charm offensive by communicating some of the company's financial details to the media. It's a tad late for that, especially when the media has already moved on to the story of which companies get what when Chrysler is pulled apart and sold off.

Toyota. No auto company is immune from the bad tidings in the U.S. car market. Toyota reported a huge (39%) reduction in profits today (8/7) directly as a result of the deteriorating market conditions here and the strong yen.

Rick Wagoner. Undaunted by calls to step aside, the GM CEO now has a renewed vote of confidence from the GM board, apparently (granted, coming from that flat-out inept bunch it doesn't count for much). On the one hand, the argument could be made that making a change to GM's leadership at this point would accomplish nothing, and maybe even derail GM's efforts to go forward. On the other, Wagoner has been trying to get in front of the snowball going down the mountain for at least five years now, with restructuring plan after restructuring plan being torn up and replaced almost annually. At this point anything could happen, so it remains a giant "we'll see" as to what becomes of GM's - and Rick Wagoner's - fate.

The American Driver. The price of oil by the barrel goes down, and so do gasoline prices all across the country. But for how long? We're betting the next run-up in the price of oil and the subsequent increase in gas at the pump will make the most recent gas spike seem tame.

Mazda. Franz von Holzhausen, 40, Mazda’s highly-regarded North American design director, has resigned to become Design Director at Tesla Motors. von Holzhausen will allegedly have a "blank check" to establish a Tesla design studio, with the hopes that his presence will attract additional top design talent. von Holzhausen's most recent work was the Mazda Furai, a stunning concept for a modern, Le Mans-spec sports racer that was the hit of the international auto show circuit last winter. This is a huge blow for Mazda.

The Auto Ad Biz. From the "Masters of the Obvious" File, Adweek reported that a new analysis of the automotive industry by Todd Turner, principal at consultancy Car Concepts, in Thousand Oaks, Calif, shows significant disconnects between the segmented sales performances of some vehicles and the marketing dollars spent to promote those trucks and cars. Turner discovered that, lo and behold, no matter how much is spent on advertising, if the product isn't worth a shit, it doesn't matter. The dissonance between spending and results, Turner said, is further proof that "no amount of marketing can make up for product that isn't competitive in its segment." And that's our AE "Duh of the Week." (Thanks to old friend and ad colleague Harvey Briggs for sending this item along to us today.)

Saturn, GM. Publisher's Note: I had the opportunity to experience Saturn's new retail direction at their store in Danbury, CT, last week and came away impressed. Starting with the smart, beautifully-designed showroom that is bright, airy, efficient and customer friendly, the new look and feel of the Saturn retail experience is contemporary and engaging, and it's a decidedly dramatic step forward for the brand. It's also clear that GM is bound and determined to keep Saturn on an upward trajectory with new, market-right products even in the face of the company's dire financial straits. - PMD

Publisher's Note: We've had two cars to drive in the last week that are worth talking about. In one corner is the new Saab Turbo X - the limited-edition tribute to the early Saab turbo cars that gained a near cult-like following in the U.S. in the early 80s - which is based on the Saab 9-3 sedan. The Turbo X is powered by a modern, 2.8-liter turbocharged V6 with 280 HP, and features a highly-sophisticated all-wheel-drive system -"Cross Wheel Drive" (XWD) in Saab parlance - that will be available on regular Saabs this fall (and should see duty in other GM vehicles in the coming years too).
The overall packaging of the Turbo X gives us a glimpse of the future of what a typical full-size sedan’s footprint will look like. Most consumers downsizing from SUVs and other larger vehicles would probably scoff at that notion, but they better get used to it because the overall dimensions of the Saab 9-3 (it’s 182.5” long) will count as a very large car in this new era of high gasoline prices and the more stringent EPA fuel economy requirements that are looming.
I think it’s safe to say that the Turbo X is the most sophisticated and technically advanced Saab ever built. And driving it is, if not a revelation, at least an eye-opener - especially for you old-time Saab drivers out there - because it doesn’t act like any Saab that has come before it. The Turbo X dispenses with the heavy, front-wheel-drive “feel” of previous Saabs, and instead has a sophisticated, up-level and surprisingly balanced driving quality that is communicated wonderfully well through its perfectly shaped sport steering wheel. (Its particularly handsome interior helps set the “right” tone for the new Saab too, and the seats are superb.)
But the drawback to the new Saab is that it’s heavy – it weighs around 3,800 pounds - and that weight impacts the car’s fuel economy in a big way. With the manual transmission it comes in at 16 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway, according to the EPA estimates. Our automatic-equipped test car, however, loses one mpg, delivering 15 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway.
In the other corner we have the new Mustang Bullitt. The 2008 Bullitt package is the second tribute to the famous Steve McQueen movie car that the Ford Motor Company has done (the first one being in 2001), and it is by far the most successful of the two. Devoid of all Ford emblems except for the Mustang pony in the wheel centers and clad in the authentic Highland Green clear coat (Black is the only other color available), the Bullitt is powered by a 4.6-liter V-8 that delivers 315HP, and the car offers simple, to-the-point performance unburdened with the technical overkill that reigns supreme in so many performance cars today - and it does so in a tremendously satisfying manner. The Bullitt is delightfully raucous, but its understated, fly-under-the-radar persona is perfect for these radar jockey happy times we live in. It's interesting to note too that the Bullitt is rated at 15 mpg in the city, 23 on the highway by the EPA, exactly the same mileage rating as the Saab Turbo X.

The Saab Turbo X is the finest Saab ever built in my estimation, and that's a good thing. And GM seems committed to keep Saab in the fray, with a couple of new-think products slated for the brand that will actually give it a raison d'etre beyond 2010. But, as I was asked by a colleague, given the choice between the two vehicles and their real-world mileage, which would I choose to own? And for me the answer was easy, because as much as the Saab represents a new level of excellence for the brand (in the European idiom) and is no doubt a fine car, the Mustang Bullitt is the clear choice for me.

Why? Especially in these times of our national hand-wringing over every little hiccup in the world oil market and the dismal strife our national economy is facing?

Because the Mustang Bullitt represents authenticity without the pretense, and high-performance without the apologies - and without the technological overkill too. Devoid of superfluous add-ons, the Bullitt has an honesty about it that's so welcome and refreshing in these daunting times that it's a revelation. That it's flat-out fun to drive is icing on the cake. The 2008 Mustang Bullitt is everything a high-performance car should be, and if this is truly the end of the last great piston-powered high-performance era, then the Mustang Bullitt will be a car to hold on to and treasure for decades to come. - PMD

Editor's Note: You can hear The UjianNasional in a very interesting podcast on (a very cool web site/motorsports talk show, by the way), in a wide-ranging interview covering the current status of the Detroit automakers and the latest on the Detroit Three and the future of their involvement with NASCAR. Peter's segment starts about 17 minutes in if you're pressed for time, and we'd like to take this opportunity to thank The Duke and Co. for having Peter on their show.