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October 16, 2019

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On The Surface


On The Surface #441

April 16, 2008 

arrowdown.gifBMW. Please tell us why the base price of the new BMW xDrive50i crossover starts at $63,775? We get the fact that German auto manufacturers are masters of the greed angle, and we get the fact that some people are blinded by the blue and white propeller emblem, but since the "xDrive50i" (how's that for a committee-think vehicle name?) is already one of our leading candidates for next year's Answer to the Question that Absolutely No One is Asking, where are they going to find buyers for the homely thing? And at $53,275, the xDrive35i doesn't sound any better.

arrowup.gifNissan. Chrysler hires the former Nissan quality chief - Doug Betts - to perform his magic in Auburn Hills. Which means he left one job to do the same job for a different car company, only he's probably going to end up working for the original car company in his old job after all is said and done. Wait a minute, what was that again?

arrowdown.gifTesla, Henrik Fisker. From the "Lawyers, Guns and Money" File comes word that Tesla Motors is suing designer Henrik Fisker because Fisker has plans to introduce his own electric-hybrid four-door sedan after designing the same type of vehicle for Tesla. The lawsuit accuses Fisker and Bernhard Koehler, the chief operating officer of Fisker's design company Fisker Coachbuild, of misappropriation of trade secrets, fraud and breach of contract. Fisker had been hired to design the interior and body of the Tesla "WhiteStar" sedan in 2007, but he then showed up at the Detroit auto show last January with a "green" sedan of his own, and needless to say, that didn't sit well with the Tesla boys. The lawsuit was filed on Monday in San Mateo Superior Court in California. The winner in all of this? The lawyers, of course.

arrowdown.gifAlfa Romeo. Trying to scrounge up revenue any way they possibly can, Chrysler has offered to produce Alfa Romeo cars in its U.S. factories, the German newspaper Handelsblatt reported late yesterday. Somehow a U.S.-built Alfa just doesn't sound right, the more we think about it.

arrowup.gifFord. The "Drive One" campaign is right for the brand, and right for the real world context that the brand has to live in. Well executed and compelling, now it's up to Ford to stay focused and be consistent with the campaign for years to come. If they can do that, the campaign may just begin to resonate with consumers.

arrowup.gif  arrowdown.gifarrowup.gif John McCain, Hillary Clinton. From the "He Said, She Said" File, Sen. John McCain says that if elected, he won't bail out the Detroit auto companies with federal funds. Sen. Hillary Clinton says that if she's elected, however, the Detroit auto manufacturers wouldn't be allowed to go bankrupt under her watch. Which proves convincingly that political candidates will say anything to get elected. It would be nice if once elected that the President-elect - whomever it is - considers the steadily eroding manufacturing base of this country as an asset that needs nurturing and revitalizing. That would be at least a start.

arrowdown.gifThe Detroit Three. The "buzz" in Detroit is that gas prices are starting to seriously affect car buying decisions. Not exactly a revelation by any stretch at this point, but the industry was wondering if and when people would start altering their choices in vehicles beyond the inevitable gas price spikes. Some analysts have gone on record as saying that gasoline would have to go north of $5.00 per gallon - and stay there - before people started to alter their buying/driving habits. That's not the case, apparently, as industry analysts are seeing a noticeable shift away from large trucks and SUVs, one that not only seems to have staying power, but one that's accelerating too. A case of not anticipating the biggest "duh" of 2008? No, a case of the Detroit automakers not being able to shift away from big truck and SUV production fast enough to keep up with a major swing in consumer tastes.

arrowup.gifFord. It's not all bad news in Detroit, however. Ford Focus sales are up 23 percent in the first quarter (a stunning 35 percent in March), and the Focus is now third in U.S. small car sales behind the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

arrowup.gifThe Delta-Northwest Merger. We can't imagine things could get any worse when it comes to flying these days (jammed flights, climbing ticket prices, nonexistent service, etc.), so we're not thinking the merger will make much difference for Metro Airport. We do have a glittering, first-rate terminal, but that's about it. Given that, however, since optimism is in short supply around these parts we're hopeful that something will be better when flying out of Detroit on the "new" Delta.

arrowdown.gif"Team Shelby." From the "Losers Be Us" File comes word that 2,000 people have actually signed up for Carroll Shelby's new "Team Shelby" - the organization formed to cut the legs out from under the Shelby American Automobile Club. P.T. Barnum was so right. 

arrowup.gif arrowdown.gifGM Marketing. If we had a sideways arrow for this item, we'd use it. A year after we first reported that substantive changes were afoot for GM marketing, Mark LaNeve (GM's vice president of North America sales, service and marketing) has hired former Nissan executive Mark McNabb to run its premium brand channel as part of a total reorganization of GM's marketing function. The changes include the elimination of GM's regional sales manager positions, while giving GM's new brand-channel executives decision-making authority. GM's four brand channel strategy includes Chevrolet (run by Ed Peper, 46, who becomes North America vice president), Buick-Pontiac-GMC (run by Susan Docherty, 45, who becomes North America vice president), Saturn (run by Jill Lajdziak, 51, who continues as Saturn general manager but adds sales responsibility to her role) and Cadillac-Hummer-Saab, (run by McNabb, 47, who also becomes a North America vice president). Jim Bunnell, 52, formerly the general manager of Buick-Pontiac-GMC becomes executive director of the channel support group. The general managers, Jim Taylor (Cadillac); Martin Walsh (Hummer) and Steve Shannon (Saab) stay, but they all will report to McNabb. On paper, this plan should work much better, especially now that Brent Dewar has been moved over to Europe and out of the way, leaving a more streamlined, responsive organization. We'll see how the reality of it plays out.

arrowdown.gifStephen A. Feinberg. The "reclusive" founder of Cerberus Capital Management has discovered the value of Public Relations, apparently, as he seems to have embarked on a very limited charm offensive for the first time in his life. In a frankly weird story in yesterday's New York Times reported by Andrew Ross Sorkin, Feinberg tried to portray himself as just a regular guy caught up in the maelstrom of shit that his company's involvement with Chrysler has caused. Not to mention his company's GMAC troubles. It didn't work. Feinberg's reluctance to understand the power of the media all of these years, on top of the fact that Cerberus is totally overwhelmed by the scope of its Chrysler misadventure, has proven to be disastrous for the company. And there's no amount of "spin" articles or a new, "enlightened" communications strategy that will undo the damage that has already been done to Cerberus as a brand, and a company.