Former automotive PR exec Jason Vines is out of the industry and has a new book out, which means that he's spreading dirt on everyone, calling out "prick" New York Times reporters, stupid CEOs, and arguing that Bob Lutz would have been CEO of Chrysler if he'd have kept his big mouth shut.
C/D: How did you get into PR?
JV: As a mistake. I was a human-resources guy working at Chrysler and got into marketing, and I was supposed to become the marketing head at Eagle. And the Friday before the Monday my new assignment was to begin, [Jeep/Eagle division head] Joe Cappy said, “Hey, can you do PR instead of marketing?” And I said: “I don’t care. What’s the difference?” I was 26. I had never even seen a press release.
C/D: How did you come up with those stunts at the Detroit auto show? You know, driving through a glass wall and a downtown cattle drive for the new Ram pickup.
JV: It was a team of people—usually with a lot of wine. But our events always had some meaning to them. That’s what was beautiful about them. We sold the message about what the vehicle was about. The cattle drive may be the greatest. Automotive News said it was the image of the year, and my last CEO, Bob Nardelli, just hated every bit of it. And tried to kill it. Because he was completely stupid.
C/D: So Mr. Nardelli wasn’t one of your favorite CEOs.
JV: No, no. He’s a clown.
C/D: So who was your favorite CEO?
JV: Jacques Nasser [at Ford]. He saved a lot of people’s lives. Because in May of 2001, we got this scientifc report from our engineers that eight people were going to die that summer if we didn’t recall the Firestone tires [on the Explorer]. He made the decision with me to recall the tires without Firestone. And nobody died that summer. I’m very proud of that.
C/D: So it wasn’t easy to deal with Firestone?
JV: Do you want me to say something nice about them?
C/D: That’s okay. One of the assertions in the book is that Ford was bugging your phones.
JV: Yeah, that’s kind of a trivial thing. At the end of the game, I don’t give two craps about that.
C/D: Who’s the smartest guy you worked for?
JV: Nasser, then [former DaimlerChrysler and current Daimler CEO] Dieter Zetsche. And in a close third place, [Renault-Nissan head] Carlos Ghosn. Those guys are really smart.
C/D: Should Nissan have kept its headquarters in California instead of moving to Tennessee?
JV: Oh yeah. It was a colossal mistake. They lost their character. And Toyota ought to stay on the West Coast. Stop trying to Americanize yourself. People buy you because you’re Japanese.
C/D: What was your best time in PR?
JV: Yeah, 2004 and 2005, when we were winning all the awards for the 300 and living large. It was so much fun at Chrysler. And we had the best CEO in the world, Dieter, who’d do anything we told him to do. It was just fun.
C/D: Through the years, were there any vehicles that, from the first time you saw them, you knew were going to be terrible?
JV: Well, yeah. The Aztek. The world’s ugliest vehicle of all time. The Jeep Compass. The world’s second-ugliest vehicle of all time. Almost everything AMC made was a complete disaster.
C/D: PR guys have to work with journalists. Did you find any particularly tough to deal with?
JV: I’m very proud that most of the journalists and I became close friends. The only ones I didn’t become friends with were assholes—like Keith Bradsher of the New York Times. Just an absolute prick. Did I just say that? Yeah. He’s a piece of shit.
C/D: What was Lee Iaccoca like to work with?
JV: He was a taskmaster but was the smartest guy in the room.
C/D: Bob Lutz?
JV: I was his speechwriter for a while. Bob has a big fucking mouth, and that’s what killed him. If he had just shut up a little bit, he probably would have been CEO of Chrysler. I love Bob Lutz like a brother, but he’s got a big fucking mouth.
C/D: Why is your book called What Did Jesus Drive? instead of What Would Jesus Drive?
JV: Because Jesus would drive the truth. I begin my book with the same question: Why do we have such a hard time telling the truth?
C/D: Is there anything you would have done diferently?
JV: Oh shit, of course. But as I told Dieter Zetsche once, quoting John Candy in Planes, Trains & Automobiles: “I like me, my wife likes me, and I’m not going to change anything for you guys.”
That’s the way I feel about my life.
This article appears in the February issue of Car And Driver, on news stands now, and also online right now. It was reprinted with permission. Go subscribe. It costs like $4 for 17 years. Photos: Getty Images