This was going to be another column about the mistakes of the automakers, which is easy because fresh mistakes are always being made.
I was going to call the column "Foibles." I would explain how killing Plymouth was dumb and would cost Chrysler business. I would explain to Jac Nasser why a table of organization is absolutely necessary (Jac seems to want to do without one) and why you get chaos without one.
Jac: Ever been in the Army?
You really don't want every damn-ed corporal telling every damned private what to do, which is why you need a damned organization table. (That's how we talked in the ****ing Army.) And I would explain to General Motors Corp. that the terrible disorganization in its upper management is showing, and suggest that perhaps the chairman should meet with his officers every so often so they exchange views on what is going on.
But then I thought, "Jerry, why are you always so negative? Christmas is coming (I'm writing this in November.) Why can't you be nice?
So I'm not going to write that "Foibles" column.
But I want to explain something about journalism. A decade ago one of our Detroit companies was having a terrible time with the press, and one of its chief officers, a friend, even gave an angry speech attacking the journalists. So I wrote him a memo, which he passed on to his companions running that company. I still have his covering note
". . . At first, I thought it was from a fringe lunatic, and was about to trash it . . . but flipped to the end and saw it was from the old curmudgeon himself . . . In his own irascible way, I think Jerry's trying to be helpful . . ." I wrote back then:
"First, everyone should understand that the press is a negative institution. We thrive on bad news. 'Axes Wife on 50th Anniversary' is a Front Page story. 'Couple Celebrates Golden Anniversary' is a 1-in. item in the community weekly. True, a few positive stories are big: 'Liz loses 50 pounds.' Or 'Germany Surrenders, War in Europe Over.'
"But as a rule, the press is a negative institution, thriving on bad news. You cannot change us. You must learn how to deal with it."
The memo went on for four pages telling the company how to fight and win its press wars. I won't bore you with the remainder of it; Ijust wanted you to understand why so much of what I write is negative. I just can't help it.
But not today. He's some stuff that's going right . . .
General Motors: Terrific big pickups that will outsell Ford in 2000, and more good stuff off that platform coming: A Super-Duty line of extra-big pickups coming next fall. A six-door Suburban to battle the giant Excursion. The plastic pickup box (maybe $750 extra to start). The Chevy Avalanche SUV/Pickup 2001, which is a Suburban with the roof sliced off so it looks like a pickup, but doesn't have a separate box. Clever! And the coming Cadillac Catera is super.
GM finally has figured out that even if it is stuck with brand marketing, every model it makes just isn't a brand. Oldsmobile may be a brand, but not every Oldsmobile model. And GM's Europe, South America and Mexico are well-run operations.
Ford: Give Jac credit, he's hired some of the brightest minds in the auto business - Jac's not afraid to hire outsiders - to crank up his sagging car business in the U.S. and Europe. And there are four new SUVs coming out this year (2000), which will be an amazing achievement. There's also enough money in the kitty (maybe close to $30 billion) to buy Fiat SpA and still have more on hand than any automaker in the world - save Toyota Motor Corp. (and maybe even Toyota). And the coming Thunderbird looks promising.
DaimlerChrysler: Product Product Product is bringing in close to $4 billion of profits a year (on the U.S. side). And more product is coming: The new 4-door Dakota pickup, the future Jeep Cherokee coming from the new Toledo plant, the new Ram pickup being readied. DaimlerChrysler's refusal to buy dealers and go into the retail showroom business is really smart, unlike some Detroit companies we know. The new minivan (next fall) is just in time to kick the new Honda/Toyota competition.
And the coming PT Cruiser is not just terrific; it's the beginning of a whole new lineup of vehicles.
And don't forget the foreigners:
BMW: Don't these guys ever make a mistake? They will sell every X-5 they can make - and at $50,000, too.
And the new 3-series convertible, like every other new 3-series car, is excellent.
Volkswagen: When will it stop? Figure VW sales could pass 700,000 a year by 2003, if the dealer/marketing organization can keep up with the product, including the SUV and pickup. And the new Bugatti is super.
Other tidbits: Mercedes has the first 150-mph SUV. Toyota and Honda outsell Chrysler in cars - and no wonder, with their reputation for quality. Nissan Xterra is Motor Trend's Truck of the Year, and Hyundai and Kia from Korea are selling extremely well.
God Bless You Every One.
Next I'll be my negative self again.