1st Gear: This Is How A Rebirth Begins
Last year, at the New York Auto Show, if you looked hard enough, you just might find the Mitsubishi stand. It was in the basement. Seriously, it was in the basement. When you got there, all you saw was a sad collection of would-be Toyota and Honda competitors that nobody seemed to want because everyone just wanted to buy Toyotas and Hondas. The once-proud maker of Monteros, Eclipses, and Evos was now reduced to a boring crossover thing, something else, and a forlorn Evo in the corner, ready to shuffle off this mortal coil as Mitsubishi geared up to kill it..
Clearly, Mitsubishi was in a bad way. But then Nissan swooped in, and bought a controlling stake in the company. And now Nissan is re-making Mitsubishi in its own image, according to Automotive News:
Nissan Motor Corp., the most international and diverse of Japan’s automakers, is increasing its stamp on new alliance partner Mitsubishi Motor Corp. though a new management shuffle that puts more foreigners and a woman into top executive slots.
The personnel changes, announced Tuesday, aim to align Mitsubishi’s management structure with that of its top shareholder and give it a broader outlook, Mitsubishi CEO Osamu Masuko said in a conference call. Mitsubishi will also bring onboard several Nissan executives.
And if you think it’s quite galling that an international automaker in this century would have a complete lack of women or those holding a non-Japanese passport, you’re right. Furthermore, Mitsubishi’s CEO issued a statement actually saying that the company had to “wean off from the seniority-based system.”
For those unaware, “seniority-based system” is usually the three-word collection that people scream at corporations when they want to terrify them. Promoting people because they are there, and not because they are good, is pretty much the definition of how you drive anything into the ground.
Nissan has its work cut out for it.
2nd Gear: Nissan’s Long-Time Design Chief Is Out
Speaking of Nissan, amidst all this corporate re-shuffling its long-time design head, Shiro Nakamura, is out, Automotive News says:
Karim Habib, the former head of design at BMW, has been named as global design chief for Nissan’s premium Infiniti brand. Alfonso Albaisa, currently the head of Infiniti design, has been promoted to senior vice president of global design for all of Nissan Motor Co.
Nakamura, 66, who currently serves as senior vice president and chief creative officer, will retire on March 31. Albaisa, 52, takes the reins the following day. Habib, 46, joins Infiniti on July 1.
And while it’s always great to have new blood, it’s a bit sad to see Nakamura go. During his 17 years at the top of Nissan design, the company’s come out with some of its boldest styling experiments yet. There’s been the Nissan GT-R, the 370Z (which had the courage to go smaller than its predecessor, rather than bigger), and the quirky Cube. These were all good cars that looked good as well. Damn.
3rd Gear: Trump Administration To Ease Fuel Economy Rules
President Donald Trump is about to order the Environmental Protection Agency, a government body that now has a sick joke of a name, to revise rules on automakers that would compel them to raise fuel economy standards for all of us, Bloomberg reports:
In tasking new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt with reviewing the standards, Trump is handing a victory to companies he initially targeted for their trade practices and has more recently embraced for their investment in U.S. manufacturing and hiring plans. Automakers have argued for months that the Obama-era rules impose higher costs, don’t reflect consumer preferences and carry risk for American workers. They’ll make their case with Pruitt, who last week discounted how much human activity contributes to climate change.
The focus of Trump’s visit will be “highlighting the need to eliminate burdens from regulations that needlessly hinder meaningful job growth,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday.
Let’s say that again:
If you want to increase job growth among carmakers, you need to increase demand for cars. Right now automakers have plenty of capital, and increasing the supply of capital is not the issue. It’s increasing demand. Car companies are not shuttering plants and dropping shifts because they don’t have the cash to keep them going, it’s because they don’t have the demand to prop them up. In essence, this becomes a gift to corporate executives and large investors, not American workers. Right now there are ways to help American workers, American car companies, and the American people without destroying the planet for everyone else.
This is basic economics.
4th Gear: VW Might But Definitely Won’t Buy FCA
Sergio Marchionne, the thirstiest man in cars, wants someone – literally ANYONE – to take the asthmatic corporate heap that is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles off his hands. GM and Ford flat-out said no, so how about Volkswagen? Reuters reports that VW CEO Matthias Mueller is receptive, but not really:
“I am not ruling out a conversation,” Mueller told reporters on Tuesday after the carmaker’s annual earnings press conference in Wolfsburg.
Marchionne has long advocated car industry mergers to share the costs of making cleaner and more technologically advanced vehicles and has repeatedly relayed his desire via the media.
“It would be very helpful if Mr Marchionne were to communicate his considerations to me too and not just to you,” Mueller said.
While that is some good shade from Mueller, the only reason Volkswagen might buy FCA, that I can foresee, is to get Jeep. Everyone loves Jeep. That’s it. Maybe. But it won’t happen. If it does, I’ll eat a pie.
5th Gear: Ford Is Having Trouble Finding Smart People
As cars go autonomous, they’re going to need a lot more people who are good with computers. But the good people are hard to find, Ford chairman Bill Ford told the Detroit Free Press:
For Ford, such chaos presents opportunities, whether that’s selling talented engineers on the company’s corporate culture or buying new companies.
“It’s an arms race,” he said. “If you have smart people, you have a chance to win. And if you don’t, you won’t.”
Ford’s pitch to entrepreneurs: “Whatever you do, we can scale it.” To engineers: “We can give you interesting assignments all around the world.” To both: “We offer our culture. That gets undersold but it’s incredibly important.”
Hey, Bill! You know what people like, even more than a posting to some country away from home and friends and family or some old stodgy Detroit car company culture? Money! They like money! This is how a capitalistic society works!!!! Just pay them more money!!!!
John “Jack” Mack, who co-founded what would become one of North America’s largest makers of heavy-duty trucks, is killed when his car collides with a trolley in Pennsylvania on March 14, 1922.
Neutral: What Should Mitsubishi Do Now?
There’s no point trying to be a Toyota/Nissan/Honda competitor, because Toyota and Nissan and Honda do that already. What should Mitsubishi do now?