Into the Vortex – Part Three

The vortex claims its sacrifice.

Double-sided full-size Toni styling model – 1979. Image: (c) Steve Saxty

Despite what Uwe Bahnsen later stated publicly, both he and his design team were placed squarely in the firing line as Sierra’s disappointing early sales figures were thrown in their faces, as Patrick le Quément recalls: “Design was the centre of acrimony, we had designed a car that started slowly in the UK, the cash-cow land of Ford in Europe. We entered very difficult times”.

Having taken something of a leap of faith with Sierra rather than their usual practice of exhaustive market research, Dearborn’s executives wanted someone’s head. Bahnsen would be a convenient choice and at a Star Chamber interrogation at Merkenich, chaired by Detroit Ford executive, Harold A. (Red) Poling[1], and witnessed by a horrified le Quément, they got their man. “The end of Uwe Bahnsen’s career was a tragedy and they almost managed to break him, but he left, dignified and became head of Art Center Europe in Switzerland”. Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part Three”

Into the Vortex – Part Two

The headwinds intensify.

The Merkenich team discussing strategy at a Toni design review. Right to left: Uwe Bahnsen, Friedl Wülfing (Studio Chief), Patrick le Quément, Ray Everts and Dietrich Tenner (Chief modeler). Image (c) Steve Saxty

Early 1979, and as Patrick le Quément wraps up his assignment at Ford UK’s Dunton research centre for the Ford Cargo truck programme, he receives a summons back to Merkenich from Chief Designer, Ray Everts. [With] “6 months before the Go With Two[1] decision, I was asked to dedicate all my energy to the Toni project, for the battle was far from being won, there was much to do, to convince, to improve!”

Part of what Bob Lutz would later characterise as le Quément’s “decisive role” in the Toni design programme was to help build up a detailed analysis of Ford’s design strategy with a view to providing Uwe Bahnsen with the precise data he required to convince the Detroit board of the necessity for radical change. Using analysis and experience from both Erika and Cargo programmes (the latter a revolutionary design in itself), Everts, le Quément and the team concluded that promoting aerodynamic efficiency was the route to take. “We felt we were ready to appeal to our Lords and Masters for, after all, aerodynamics was to be had for free (or so we thought at the time), but it also gave us the opportunity to invent a brand new formal language and take a divergent route from the Me Too approach”.

Part of Bahnsen’s role here was to Continue reading “Into the Vortex – Part Two”

Hardly Noble, but not Inert Either

An American take on the small car.

Before the all-conquering SUV transformed the automotive landscape, America’s taste in automobiles was really quite conservative and the traditional three-box sedan in a variety of sizes was very much the norm. Americans didn’t really buy into the European fashion for hatchbacks, preferring station wagons or pick-up trucks for lugging loads around. Even younger buyers, whom one might have expected to be more receptive to new fashions, still wanted to drive around in a car just like mom or dad’s, only smaller and, ideally, more economical.

Bob Lutz, who had joined Chrysler in 1986 as Executive Vice President in charge of global product development, saw an opportunity to develop a new small car that would be specifically aimed at younger American drivers. It would take Chrysler’s contemporary styling tropes, which were cab-forward proportions and organic, curvaceous shapes, and adapt them to create a small car with a friendly, unthreatening face and a ‘fun’ personality that would Continue reading “Hardly Noble, but not Inert Either”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Five)

Daniel O’Callaghan’s digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’. In this concluding part, GM hits the buffers and goes cap in hand to the US Government.

(c) leblogauto

At the start of 2008, the outlook appeared quite promising for GM. Its more recent models had been well received and the company had won North American Car of the Year for 2007 and 2008 with the Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Malibu. The company had agreed with the UAW a new wage deal and a plan to move the worker healthcare liabilities off the GM balance sheet and into a new fund that GM would set up, but would Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Five)”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Four)

Daniel O’Callaghan continues his digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’, examining GM’s latterday approach to alternative propulsion.

1996 GM EV1. Image: oldcarbrochures

GM’s expansion to become a global company had largely been built on acquisitions: Opel and Vauxhall in Europe, Holden in Australia and Daewoo’s automotive business in South Korea. These companies continued to operate with a high degree of autonomy in product design and engineering. It was argued that this enabled the companies to Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Four)”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Two)

Daniel O’Callaghan continues his digest of Bob Lutz’s 2011 book, ‘Car Guys vs Bean Counters’, which charts the decline of General Motors and Lutz’s decade-long struggle to rescue it.

(c) consumer guide auto

In an effort to understand better what gave the Japanese manufacturers such an edge in terms of quality and reliability, GM established a joint-venture with Toyota in 1984, the quaintly named New United Motorcar Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) to Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part Two)”

The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part One)

An industry insider’s account of the decline of General Motors and his struggle to revive its fortunes.

(c) iveho.com

In the last quarter of the 20th Century, General Motors went from being one of the most highly respected and successful US corporations to the butt of stand-up comedians’ jokes. In his 2011 book, Car Guys vs Bean Counters, Robert A (Bob) Lutz charts the decline of the once great company and describes his decade-long struggle to rescue it. What follows is a digest of that book, supplemented with additional information where appropriate.

Bob Lutz would, I’m sure, proudly describe himself as a Car Guy to his core. In this, his second book, Lutz describes his efforts to Continue reading “The Fate of Empires and Search For Survival (Part One)”