Reflections, observations and snapshots as Thanksgiving approaches, a special time for Americans — and clearly more special than ever as the war on terrorists moves into its third month.
The Afghanistan Taliban. Apparently Toyota Land Cruisers are its vehicles of choice. Until the bombing began, they appeared frequently on CNN, outfitted with machine guns and missile launchers. The Toyota 4×4s are not a big factor in the U.S., however: Only 8,901 were sold in model-year 2001, half their '00 total.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Asked if the U.S. air attack was targeting Taliban military vehicles, he allowed that yes they were, taking out everything that moves including “Datsuns.” That's a nameplate Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. hasn't used in around 20 years. Not wishing to single out Datsun/Nissan, Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters to forget he said the word, indicating what he meant to say was Taliban “trucks.” No matter. His attack photos showed complete wipeouts of targets, vehicles included.
Zero financing in the wake of Sept.11 attacks. Apparently the flag-waving tactic is working. General Motors Corp. kicked off the sales-starter with its “Keep America Rolling” campaign, quickly matched by the Ford Motor Co.'s “Ford Drives America” maneuver and a similar program at DaimlerChrysler Corp. September sales still dropped 9% from a year earlier, but less than expected. There was nothing to suggest that October results will tail off significantly, but most automakers already have lowered their calendar-year industry sales to around 16 million, down from 17.2 million last year. And forecasts as low as 14 million for 2002 have surfaced.
Ford's foibles. I've argued that Ford might be worse off if it fires President and Chief Executive Jacques Nasser (see WAW — Aug. '01, p.60). But his time may be running out. Dealers are the latest to lambaste him, saying Ford's quality sucks and that he treats them shabbily. He tries to make amends, but they reportedly are not exactly mollified. When Ford halved its dividend in mid-October, the dump Nasser rumors grew hotter. If he does go, pundits see Nick Scheele, named to head Ford's North American Operations in August, as a likely successor. A Brit, Mr. Scheele gets major credit for Jaguar's turnaround and progress at Ford of Europe, where he served briefly as chairman. Publicly known mainly as an amiable executive with strong marketing credentials, he lacks the broad global experience Mr. Nasser brought to the presidency. Mr. Scheele reportedly has tacitly admitted that Ford has tough quality and product problems to overcome. He's trumpeting “back to the basics,” a familiar refrain in automotive circles, as his rallying cry.
Who's on Ford quality hot seat? Jim Padilla, vice president for manufacturing and quality, has got to be feeling the heat. Ironically, it was Mr. Padilla more than anyone else who overhauled Jaguar's ancient manufacturing operations in the U.K. by adopting Toyota Motor Corp.'s, manufacturing process. Defects disappeared while quality ratings — and sales — soared. So he knows how to do it. It may help that he and Mr. Scheele worked closely on Jaguar's comeback.
Whatever happened to the Thunder-bird? Ford's revival of its classic T-Bird hardtop and convertible for 2002 so far is all sizzle and no steak. As in no T-Birds. Through September a paltry 563 of the much-sought-after sportsters had been delivered, and only 2,872 had been built. Ford halted production in mid-August, citing a problem with faulty fans produced by a supplier that could cause the T-Bird's V-8 to overheat. Production resumed on Aug. 30, yet only 808 were built in September, suggesting more problems have been encountered.
Aztec vindicated? OK, it still looks clunky, and with '01 sales slightly under 30,000, the Pontiac “crossover” hasn't set many hearts fluttering. Still, J.D. Power & Associates reports that Aztec scored highest in its recent survey of entry-level sport/utility vehicle (SUV) owners. Aztec also tops entry-level SUVs in government crash tests. GM scored highest in two other JDP categories: Chevrolet Trailblazer/GMC Envoy, in the midsize SUV category, and Cadillac's Escalade in the luxury SUV group.
Camaro and Firebird. The once-proud “pony” cars, introduced in the late 1960s to take on Ford's Mustang, join Oldsmobile in getting the axe at GM. Neglected for years — no significant changes in a decade — the cars will be phased out in 2002. GM will close the Ste. Therese, Que., plant where they're built, although hinting they may make a comeback some day. During their best year, 1978, the duo — which grew into larger high-powered “muscle” cars — generated 448,413 sales. In '01 42,000 were sold, down from 74,000 the prior year. Sidelight: Camaro is a coined word. Kicking off the car in late 1966, Chevy handed out dictionaries with “CAMARO” emblazoned on their jackets and printed inside to hype the new name.
Juergen Schrempp. Apparently the old boys network is alive and well in Germany. Despite his tattered record at DaimlerChrysler AG, his contract is extended two years to April 2005. DC's stock price has been halved since the Chrysler takeover three years ago.
Green Bay Packers 35, Detroit Lions 10. That's my forecast for the annual Thanksgiving Day game Nov. 22 between the historic rivals. With all of its problems, maybe the “Fords” — Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr. and his son, company Chairman Bill Ford Jr., — could be more productive by going to work that day than shedding more tears for their sad-sack team. As for me, I'm just thankful we have a free press. A Newsweek report indicates that press freedom is non-existent in any Middle Eastern nation.