Thursday, January 23, 2020

ANOTHER WOMAN ON TOP? NOT FOR LONG! by John Crawford

The ranks of top women CEOs in the automotive world witnessed another tentative step above the glass ceiling last October, when Clotilde Delbos was promoted from the position of Renault’s Chief Financial Officer to interim CEO, as both Renault and Nissan cleared the executive suites of managers associated with the Ghosn era. But, will it last?

On October 18, 2019 Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard booted former Ghosn confederate Thierry Bollore out of his role as CEO, and planted ms.Delbos in the job to hold the fort, until a short list to permanently replace Bollore could be completed.


Clotilde Delbos applied for the job to be a permanent appointment, but she is up against a trio of highly-favoured replacements for Bollore, including Frenchman Didier Leroy, who is a senior executive at Toyota France, plus two outsiders – Patrick Koller of the Franco-German parts maker Faurecia; and the Italian head of VWAG-owned SEAT, Luca de Meo.

It’s notable that both Koller and de Meo are also fluent French speakers. Luca de Meo in fact speaks 15 languages.

In the past days, Luca de Meo, right (who began his automotive career at Renault in 1992), has firmed as the favourite, after resigning from SEAT on January 8.

The speculation is that Renault will appoint de Meo as CEO for two years, and then appoint him head of the Alliance.

Looks to me like ms. Delbos will be back in her old office with her calculator, spreadsheets and the Renault cheque book before the end of the month.

GUPTA - NISSAN'S NEW GO-TO GUY by John Crawford

In a bold move aimed at recovering from the unravelling of the company caused by the Ghosn saga, Nissan Motor Company has finally done something right. It has announced the appointment of Ashwani Gupta as Chief Operating Officer (COO) reporting directly to CEO Makoto Uchida.

Gupta (right) is an impressive automotive executive with extensive experience managing various enterprises within the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

He has held posts in all three companies, and told the media he is a firm believer in the strength and future of the Alliance.

His career began, working for Nissan in India, in the mid-1990s before joining Renault in 2006 to establish both Nissan and Renault in the Indian market.

Facing Nissan’s rapidly declining sales and profits, Gupta is a man who knows the gravity of the problems facing Nissan and the Alliance, and finally establishes that Nissan recognises the true depth of the salvage job ahead.

Makoto Uchida
Uchida-san, a career Nissan executive, whom nobody seems to have heard of previously, was appointed CEO following the firing of Hiroto Saikawa.

He  may well be a Nissan veteran, but his lack of abilities to deal with the complex web have been revealed by the appointment of Ashwani Gupta. You could liken Uchida to a night watchman.

Whilst Gupta is no Carlos Ghosn, he has been witness to the work Ghosn did to turn Nissan around, and also in setting up the Alliance. He is clearly the best man for the tasks ahead.

GONE GIRL by John Crawford

On November 8 last year, DRIVING & LIFE celebrated the appointment of two very competent women to key positions at the two French automakers.

Anouk Poelmman was appointed head of Renault’s operations in Australia.


More impressively Linda Jackson was made global head of Citroen. I postulated that, although I welcomed the moves, it was/is unusual to see women at the very top of the management pinnacle in the car industry, although I did also mention the female CEOs at Ford Australia and GM in the USA.

As a reminder of the post, cut and paste this link: http://www.drivingandlife.com/2019/11/women-in-power.html

Linda Jackson came from a background as a Brand Manager and Brand Reputation builder, as opposed to a (sales) manager responsible for ‘moving the metal’ in larger and larger volumes. My view at the time was that ‘Brand Specialists’ always see the potential for the brand in obscure as well as established markets, and often resort to investments in brand building which may well more firmly establish the brand in the consumers’ consciousness, however, inevitably, it ends up producing minor volume increases, so the Return on Investment (ROI) simply isn’t a successful result.

I forecast that I would be surprised, if Linda Jackson’s address to the Australian motoring press about building bigger and bigger volumes for Citroen in Australia, would be a key element in building Linda’s position also into one of strength within Groupe PSA, or in fact even bring the increase in volume she was forecasting.

Her simple methodology was that if you created 10 x 5000 unit per annum markets in previously-ignored global locations, you ended up with 50,000 extra sales previously unrealised. Correct, but at what cost in marketing terms?

In 2018 Groupe PSA sold 3,877,765 vehicles, an increase of 6.8%, including impressive sales of 564,147 commercial vehicles, up 18.7%, and giving PSA leadership in the European Commercial Vehicle market.

The Oceania market which includes Australia and India rose just 1.6%. Still a lot of work to do.

The news from Paris this week is that Linda Jackson will move sideways to “lead a study to clarify and support brand differentiation within a large brand portfolio” and she is replaced by m. Vincent Cobee (right), whom Groupe PSA chief Carlos Tavares poached from the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

Seems like my crystal ball is working at 100% efficiency. 


Mind you, I think Ms. Jackson will be very happy in her new role, dealing with brand issues which are close to her heart, and which formed much of her previous experience.

It will be up to the new man, to ‘move the metal’ in substantial numbers, because given the staggering investments in mergers and acquisitions which Groupe PSA has made, in acquiring GM Europe and merging with FCA, there will be intense pressure and scrutiny to ensure bigger volumes bring in the anticipated ROI to support the new mega-group.

Keep in mind the relative weakness of FCA in the Franco-American-Italian menage à trois, so I think this new merger is going to soak up lots of money, before any real savings and synergies emerge from the partnership.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

DRIVEN PERSONALITIES - SIMON SPROULE by John Crawford

One of my very dear friends in the automotive industry has just taken his next step up the career ladder towards the pantheon of automotive public relations greats.

Simon Sproule will leave his current job as Chief Marketing Officer with Aston Martin to become Head of Communications for FIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES on February 3, which is described as variously based in Auburn Hills, Michigan and Milan, Italy.

I have known Simon from when he became PR Vice President at Jaguar Cars North America, when it was (once again) trying to rediscover its mojo, and boost its reputation. As someone who formerly held this role at Jaguar USA, I am delighted to report that he was instrumental in achieving both targets.

Ford was smart enough to recognize his potential, so he was bound for Dearborn not long after.

However, it was probably the next role which was so important to Simon's career and allowed him to gather an enormous breadth and depth of experience. He joined Nissan-Infiniti, where he served as a close confidant and advisor to Carlos Ghosn. Together they headed the team which brought Nissan back from the dead, and created the behemoth which grew again to become the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

His next role was working alongside Elon Musk at Tesla, which although it provided Simon with a window into the world of electric and autonomous vehicles, it was his next job which seemed a very serendipitous development. He was appointed Chief Marketing Officer at Aston Martin Lagonda, where he excelled at building the brand, and guiding it through its developing relationship with Red Bull Racing.



At this point I have to offer a personal opinion on the timing of Simon's latest move, from Aston Martin to FCA.

I believe Simon recognised that Aston Martin is changing, and that the challenge of maintaining the brand's image is going to get harder, and that may be a job he no longer sees as 'interesting'. Personally, I think the role of Chairman and CEO has gone to Andy Palmer's head. He has been the source of an amazing number of dubious statements recently, like "We don't make cars, we make experiences."



However, again commenting on timing, FCA is about to undergo massive cultural and engineering changes, which will have a dramatic outcome on the company's image, position and status in the USA. I think this is just the sort of challenge that Simon Sproule thrives on.

It is not going to be easy integrating FCA and France's Groupe PSA. There will be turf wars, product development battles and also the challenge of developing a cohesive image and status for the 'merged' companies. My own view is that FCA will lose its status (as an equal), when the 'merger' occurs, because Groupe PSA under Carlos Tavares is now a European powerhouse.

Also Simon Sproule knows Tavares, from their days together at Renault, and I believe the decision to hire Simon Sproule was probably driven by Tavares, rather than FCA's Chairman, Mike Manley.

FCA is going to need the sort of high-powered assistance Simon can bring to the role, and I look forward to the developments over the next few years.

Good luck Simon, you're a champion in my eyes, and you will be Aston Martin's loss, and FCA's gain.

JOHN CRAWFORD


Monday, January 6, 2020

CARLOS GHOSN - FUGITIVE FROM INJUSTICE by John Crawford

I have to say, I continue to admire Carlos Ghosn's chutzpah.

Here's a guy who has continually professed his innonence of the alleged charges against him, and recognizes he's never going to get a fair trial in Japan.


So, what does he do? He acts decisively, like always, and at noon a few days ago he walked, alone, from his Tokyo home and - disappeared. 

Amazingly, it was two days after Nissan curtailed its round-the-clock surveillance on his house.

Next, he turned up in his birth country of Lebanon after swapping executive jets at a private airport in Ankara, Turkey.



We all await, with baited breath, his press conference scheduled for this Wednesday, where he will outline his defence against the charges he was to be tried on in Japan.

Although an employee of the MNG executive jet hire company has been charged with deleting his name from the passenger manifest on both jets, I suspect that the Japanese guards were distracted at exactly the right time, for Carlos to slip out of the country.

This was a complex and carefully-planned escape, and I don't think it could have been achieved without a certain 'lack of attention' from all parties.

There's the expected 'harrumphing' from both Japan and Turkey, but I suspect that's hot air, quite frankly. Who knows what will happen now. I doubt Ghosn will be extradited, or that he will stand trial in Lebanon. In fact I think if his Japanese trial had proceeded, he may well have been found not guilty.

Despite Japan Inc.'s 99% success rate for convictions, I think they would have struggled to prove the charges.


He is now reunited with his wife, Carole, and he has gone to great lenths to assure everyone that his escape plans were conceived, directed and executed by him, and him alone. 

However, I'm sure we may well see a Netflix feature on the story in a year or two. It makes for a great script.

JOHN CRAWFORD




WHAT DO THEY SMOKE IN AUBURN HILLS? By John Crawford

You may never have heard of Auburn Hills, Michigan, but it's where you'll find the headquarters of the Chrysler division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Now, this division of FCA relies on only one product badge to sustain it financially - Jeep.


The rest of its product line is aged, irrelevant and very forgettable. Mind you, Jeep has its moments too, with global sales looking like a roller coaster most of the time - especially with its constant safety recalls.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, FCA showed its 'Airflow' concept. Why? It has little chance of building it, and no resources to budget for it. Also, the 'Airflow' name dates back to 1934 - how's that for leveraging history?


Maybe some bright spark at its new (maybe) partner, Groupe PSA, in Paris may think it's worth gambling on, but I think not.

FCA is devoid of a number of things: product, inspiration, talent, foresight, product planning, and most of all - funds.

The late Sergio Marchionne (former Chairman of FCA) recognised that if FCA was ever going to survive, it needed a partner. Finally, the FCA management has convinced Groupe PSA to come to the party.

Make no mistake. Groupe PSA recognises one thing, and one thing only - acquiring (sorry, merging) with FCA is its footprint into the USA. It's far cheaper to take over (sorry, merge) with a loser, to get a foothold in the American market, than foolishly invest in establishing your own operation.

The name of the game these days is - volume - that's what makes running a car company viable. It doesn't really matter how you achieve it, so long as you can increase economies of scale.

As I wrote many months ago, who will survive in the years to come? Only huge car making conglomerates, made up from mega-mergers and acquisitions. The joint ventures, mergers, acquisitions and other link-ups are going to come thick and fast in the next few years.

What happens to badge loyalty among potential buyers? 

Well, it's this way. As an example, if you look at Peugeot-Citroen today, there is very, very little to distinguish one brand from another.

Both marques use the same engines, the same platforms, the same transmissions, the same suspensions - the only thing which differentiates them are the external body panels, the interior trim, and the badges.

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance is going down the same road.

Mind you, the same thing occurred when GM did a deal with Toyota to 'create' the Holden Apollo, which was a Toyota Corona with Holden badges.


And that was years ago, which I remember vividly, due to a consumer  I met at the Sydney Motor Show who was a rusted-on Holden fan, and he impressed on me that Holden would not 'sell a car made by someone else' - until I lifted the hood and showed him all the Toyota and Japanese-language stickers on the components under the hood.

Really, don't ever invest any capital in believing that most car buyers know what's going on. They don't. To be truthful, they are not really hurt by such deception anyway.

The intrinsic value of car company heritage and engineering brilliance is going to be seriously blurred as the automotive world moves to anodyne concepts like electric and autonomous vehicles. There'll be no value in marque history, brilliant engineering achievements and unique product values - they'll all be pretty much indistinguishable from each other.


By the time all this happens, this old dinosaur will have joined all the other extinct species. Which is probably okay too.

JOHN CRAWFORD

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

THE ROAD AHEAD by John Crawford

Okay, no resolutions because I find them hard to keep, but here's some predictions for 2020:

1. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe PSA's planned merger will go through, but don't be surprised if a few years from now this doesn't also turn out to be just like the Mercedes-Benz & Chrysler 'Merger of Equals', and the FIAT CHRYSLER names gradually disappear from the corporate mantle. The brand names will survive.

2. Nissan is going to end up exactly where it didn't want to be - the VERY JUNIOR party in the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, now that Hiroto Saikawa has been replaced by a Nissan executive who hasn't said 'boo' since he was appointed. Now what was his name again?

3. Carlos Ghosn's 'trial' in Japan will come to nothing. Already, we know he has apparently 'skipped bail' and has arrived back in his birth country, Lebanon. However, given he was wearing a security anklet and was under surveillance, something tells me the authorities have blinked, and he has been 'allowed' to leave Japan.

4. In Australia, Holden will be totally re-invented as a small to medium-sized importer, and GM will sell off the management rights for the distribution of its  SUV/truck range to Inchcape plc. Remember I reported that GM had already offered Holden to Groupe PSA; but PSA may eventually have some input into the new operation, because Inchcape plc is the Groupe PSA distributor in Australia.

5. The transition of the sale of masses of electric cars to the ICE-car-owning community will not happen any time soon. For all the hoo-haa from the industry about how quickly it is moving to electrify its ranges of cars, the re-charging infrastructure on a global scale simply cannot support such a rapid growth of cars. There isn't a single, developed country in the world today which could cope with masses of electric cars. In addition, battery technology (whilst much improved) is still not able to compete with the dense-energy component of petrol/diesel powered engines.

6. To add to that, renewable energy is still, and won't be able for a long time, to generate any more than roughly 5% of a base load. Not only that, and this is aimed squarely at the Greens, the breakup and recycling of old, out-of-use windfarms, plus the recycling of 'dead' solar panels will be an environmental cleanup nightmare.

7. Despite my early objections, I now believe the only solution to large scale energy generation for the future will be from modern nuclear plants.

Regardless of my dire outburst, I hope you have a happy, challenging but satisfying, and healthy New Year.

JOHN CRAWFORD