Ram CEO Quits After Uncovering Decades-Long Sales Scandal

Illustration for article titled Ram CEO Quits After Uncovering Decades-Long Sales Scandal
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Ram’s CEO is out, more automakers are going on Coronavirus lock down, farmers are still fighting John Deere, and much, much more in The Morning Shift for March 5, 2020.

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1st Gear: Whistleblowing Out The Door

Reid Bigland, the CEO of FCA’s Ram, is quitting at the start of April after filing a federal whistleblower suit and cooperating in a government investigation into his company’s sales reporting practices. It’s a big deal, as Bigland has driven Ram to success beating out the Chevy Silverado for second place behind Ford’s F-150 for the first time last year.

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From the Detroit Free Press:

Reid Bigland, whose name had been among those floated as possible candidates to replace Sergio Marchionne as CEO in the years before Marchionne died, plans to leave the company “to pursue interests outside of FCA” April 3, according to a news release.

Bigland had wide-ranging responsibilities at the Italian-American automaker, not only leading Ram but also as head of U.S. sales and FCA Canada. Ram has grown to become one of FCA’s two most important brands along with Jeep, and last year, Ram beat the Chevy Silverado to take the No. 2 spot in U.S. sales behind the Ford F-Series.

Bigland—I can’t believe the guy in charge of Ram is named Bigland—is almost certainly leaving after awkwardly revealing his company had been allegedly misreporting sales figures since, well, since the 1980s. Again from Freep:

Bigland’s departure might not be unexpected in light of the high-profile whistleblower lawsuit he filed last year that also shed light on a federal investigation of FCA sales reporting practices. Bigland, a 22-year company veteran, said the company had retaliated against him because he was cooperating with the government investigation into its sales reporting and that the company withheld most of his 2018 compensation as punishment and intended to use it to pay fines.

The lawsuit was dismissed in October, but there was a possibility it would be refiled.

Instead, the case was settled.

Bigland is almost certainly going to land big somewhere else. Considering Rivian is in the neighborhood, already boasts FCA alumni, and could use a guy who knows how to sell pickup trucks, it’d be interesting if he goes there. But I have no idea! That’s just me.

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2nd Gear: As China Slowly Loosens Virus Restrictions, Automakers Still Concerned For Employees

Ford announced two of its Chinese employees were infected with Coronavirus, but have since recovered, among other updates on how the automotive industry is moving to protect not only its supply lines and manufacturing, but also protecting global workforces.

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From The Detroit Free Press again:

After confirming two employees had been infected, Reid said Ford continues coordinating safety precautions with Chinese government officials, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The moves come as General Motors and the UAW also laid out travel and personal contact restrictions on Wednesday to limit exposure to the virus.

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Stateside, companies are now taking measures to make sure the virus doesn’t spread among their local offices, again from Freep:

Ford employees have been asked to look at the calendar for “at least 90 days and find creative ways to complete work without traveling or having people needlessly come to us. We can use the phone and email, and technologies like Webex, Skype and Bluescape, to meet and collaborate virtually. Some meetings or gatherings may have to be cancelled or rescheduled.”

[...]

GM CEO Mary Barra said Wednesday morning that no one at the company was known to have the virus. GM has asked all people who have traveled to China, South Korea, Iran, Japan and Italy within the last 14 days to not attend anything at any GM facility in North America.

[...]

Also on Wednesday, the UAW announced a domestic and international travel ban for all staff as a precaution related to the fast-moving contagion.

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It’s good to hear that China is slowly returning to some sense of normal after locking down over the virus, and even better to hear Ford’s employees have recovered. It’s an interesting issue for a global automaker to manage, and I’m sure creative new organizational structures may be discovered by testing just how far companies can push remote work, travel restrictions, and other methods of hazard.

It’s probably not a bad thing if these companies realize they don’t need to fly everywhere for every little thing.

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3rd Gear: Deere In The Headlights Of Farmers Over Tractor Maintenance

Farmers across the country are going to war with Big Tractor, fighting for the rights to access the software that controls their equipment purchased at a cost.

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From Bloomberg:

[Kevin] Kenney leads a grassroots campaign in the heart of the heartland to restore a fundamental right most people don’t realize they’ve lost—the right to repair their own farm equipment. By sheer dint of personal passion, he’s taking on John Deere and the other global equipment manufacturers in a bid to preserve mechanical skills on the American farm.

Big Tractor says farmers have no right to access the copyrighted software that controls every facet of today’s equipment, even to repair their own machines. That’s the exclusive domain of authorized dealerships. Kenney says the software barriers create corporate monopolies—and destroy the agrarian ethos of resiliency and self-reliance.

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There’s a lot about the state-to-state fight that’s sprung up over this issue in the Bloomberg article, but the following sums up the core of the issue, and why this is all so stupid on behalf of Big Tractor:

Kenney, not the type to wait patiently, recently emailed Gordon-Byrne a photo of a 2017 Deere combine he’d proudly tuned up for a friend with an extra 50 horsepower using gray-market software. She wasn’t impressed. Such tweaking could fall outside copyright law and amount to theft of services, she warned him, because Deere sells higher horsepower models of the exact same machine. The only difference is the software setting. She wishes she had “100 Kevins,” she says, but a provocation like this probably isn’t good for the cause.

Kenney wasn’t buying it. He wrote back: “Gay, thanks but why was it OK years ago to pull the diesel engine fuel pump off, screw the horsepower up, put it back on, and run it with no consequences of ‘theft’? Just because these engines are now electronic vs. mechanical, we’ve lost our rights to repair and modify? Back in my day we truly believed, Hot-Rodding is a National Birthright!”

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4th Gear: Daimler Calls For Fleet Same-ness In Cost-Cutting Strategy

Daimler is looking at Mercedes-Benz and seeing fat, apparently, as the company board is now pushing for cost-cutting that may see multiple model trims and even entire model lines axed soon, Automotive News reports:

“We will review our current lineup and the idea is streamlining the portfolio,” [Markus] Schaefer said on a conference call on Tuesday.

Potential cost-cutting measures at Daimler could see the company reducing the many variants of Mercedes’ vehicles together with entire platforms and powertrains, Schaefer said.

“Yes we will have fewer platforms in future,” Schaefer said in response to a question about whether Mercedes will build cars on fewer more flexible vehicle underpinnings.

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The S-Class coupe and convertible are already on the chopping block, and reports indicate the B-Class may be the next to go.

The cuts are coming for a variety of reasons, including minimizing engine options to limit the number of powerplants that need to follow new emissions regulations in Europe. Mercedes also wants to take new tax cuts for electrified vehicles into account, pushing forward models that may be more appealing to customers.

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5th Gear: C8 Finally Ships

The CorvetteBlogger forum seems to have confirmed the first shipments of the new mid-engine C8 Corvette, after initial production was pushed back due to holdups with last year’s United Auto Workers contract negotiations.

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The forum used security camera footage from the National Corvette Museum, which overlook the Bowling Green plant where the car is built, and saw the first trucks loaded with Corvettes rolling out at around 9:30 p.m. last night.

The forum also reported that owners are seeing their order statuses have changed from their initial “null” status.

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Reverse: Before Startups And Golden Parachutes

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Neutral: Does John Deere Have Any Legitimate Claim Over Control Of Its Tractors?

I think the answer is obvious—John Deere should let any farmer who spends upwards of $800,000 on their product make any modifications they want to it. But maybe I’m missing something?

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik

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DISCUSSION

It’s going to be weird to see the new Corvette’s rolling around the streets soon.