For nearly a week, Detroit became a sort of automotive United Nations, as industry leaders from around the world converged at Cobo Hall for the 2000 North American International Auto Show. They had plenty to discuss — both with each other and with the media — for the business of designing, building and selling cars is undergoing more radical change than at any time since the invention of the moving assembly line.
Here’s a summary of what the industry’s movers and shakers had to say about the new millennium’s most pressing issues.
THE INTERNET AND TELEMATICS
-The Internet "will transform how we think, design, manufacture and sell future products and above all, how we and our dealers connect and relate with our customers." Ford CEO Jac Nasser.
-"Go back 100 years, Henry Ford put the world on wheels. Today, Ford Motor Company will put the Internet on wheels." Ford Chairman and founding family heir Bill Ford Jr., while announcing a series of Internet and e-commerce programs.
Ford’s Mays: "I don’t want a car that’s talking to me all the time."
-"Is it the biggest thing since lean production? I guess so." General Motors President Rick Wagoner.
-"It’s just a tool." Honda Motor Co. President and CEO Hiroyuki Yoshino, countering all the Internet hyperbole.
-"It’s probably not the biggest worry I have when I wake up every day, but the people at Time-Warner probably thought that too." Mike Burns, President of GM Europe, on the possibility of being bought by an Internet company.
-"The real story isn’t Ford and GM (which have launched extensive Internet operations). It’s everyone else. They’re nowhere." GM Chairman Jack Smith.
-"I don’t want a car that’s talking to me all the time." Ford design director Mays.
--"The questions about trade-offs for teeny improvements in emissions for major improvements in mileage has to be asked now." David Cole, director of University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, on diesels in America.
-"I believe fuel cells will end the 100-year reign of the internal-combustion engine." Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr.
-"I’m not sure I would describe it (the internal-combustion engine) as fading away, but for the first time since its inception, it’s facing some real competition." Ford’s product development chief, Richard Parry-Jones.
2000 GM Precept concept Pearce
GM’s Pearce: the Precept was a "a real moon shot."
-"I’m doing this to make money. I’m going to make money on battery-powered vehicles." John Wallace, head of Ford’s new TH!NK brand, denying the electric car operation is a money-losing publicity stunt.
-"Everybody talks about ecology, but only a very few are willing to pay for it." DaimlerChrysler Board Member Juergen Hubbert, on growing pressure for the auto industry to "go green."
-"It was a real moon shot." GM Vice Chairman Pearce, when introducing the 80-mpg Precept "supercar."
-"Fossil fuels will be the primary source of energy for the next few decades." Honda CEO Yoshino.
-"The complexity and cost of developing environmental technologies are well beyond the resources of any single company." Toyota Motor Corp. CEO Fujio Cho. Last spring, Toyota teamed up with General Motors to jointly develop green car technology.
PROBLEMS AT GENERAL MOTORS
-"General Motors certainly needs to change. We can’t do business the way we used to." GM Chairman Jack Smith.
-"Interestingly enough, the top five sellers in this country had declines in market share (last year). Who gained were the Koreans and the Europeans. Nobody focuses on that." GM Chairman Smith.
2000 Chevrolet Avalanche and Pontiac Aztek
2000 Chevrolet Avalanche and Pontiac Aztek
-"When you’re big and fast, that’s a powerful combination." Wayne Cherry, General Motors’ director of design, during the introduction of GM’s newest concept vehicles, of which up to six may go into production, starting as early as 2001.
-"That’s our finest effort." GM Chairman Smith, noting that the new Pontiac Aztek went from concept to production in barely 18 months, a prototype for company efforts to further cut lead times.
-"The carmaker of the future has to turn itself into a dream factory that serves the needs and desires of consumers." DaimlerChrysler Board Member Juergen Hubbert.
-"When you’re messing with the crown jewels, you’re going to get a first-class product." David Cole, director of the University of Michigan’s automotive center, on the impact of competition on DaimlerChrysler’s new minivans.
-"We’re in the car and truck business, and if we’re not successful at that, nothing else will work." Ford CEO Jac Nasser, acknowledging that the Internet is not the solution to all the company’s problems.GLOBALIZATION AND MERGER MANIA
-"Nothing significant." General Motors President Rick Wagoner, when asked if his company has any other deals in the works, following recent tie-ups with Honda and Subaru, and efforts to acquire Daewoo.
-"If an opportunity presents itself, we’re ready for that." DaimlerChrysler co-Chairman Robert J. Eaton, acknowledging an interest in another major merger, particularly one that would expand the automaker’s presence in Asia.
-"I see no conflict between our independence and cooperation with GM." Honda CEO Hiroyuki Yoshino.CROSSOVERS AND ‘SEGMENT-BUSTERS’
-"It’s total desegmentation." DaimlerChrysler co-Chairman Robert J. Eaton, describing the vast array of new products blending attributes from two or more traditionally distinct product segments.
-"The boundaries are disappearing." Dr. David Cole, director of the University of Michigan’s Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation.
-"I think it’s the future." Ford Product Development Director Richard Parry-Jones.CONCEPT CARS
-"I’m not going to predict what will happen with these today, but you know our track record." Chrysler Executive Vice President Tom Gale, while introducing four new concept vehicles, several considered candidates for production.
2000 Jaguar F-type concept
Only "stupidity" would keep Ford from building this Jaguar F-Type, says CEO Nasser.
-"Stupidity!" Ford CEO Jac Nasser, when asked what would stand in the way of producing the well-received concept sports car, the Jaguar F-Type.
--"Ce n’est pas bon, mais ils ont courage" — more or less, "This isn’t good, but anyway, they’re bold." Patrick Le Quement, Renault vice-president for design and quality, while sitting in the Chrysler GT Cruiser concept and fingering a bad finish on the glovebox.THE STOCK MARKET
-"I’d settle for a tenth the Price/Earnings ration that Jerry (Yang) has," Ford CEO Jac Nasser at a joint news conference with the founder of Yahoo! announcing a deal between the two companies.OTHER ISSUES
-"Some people say Honda is an engine company that also makes automobiles." Honda of America President Tom Elliott.
2000 Dodge Nascar
Dodge’s Julow: "When we go racing, we race to win."
-"When we go racing, we race to win." Jim Julow, vice president of Dodge division marketing, announcing the automaker’s entry into the NASCAR Winston Cup series.
-"It’s still too early." Nissan’s new Chief Operating Officer, Carlos Ghosn, asked to evaluate the massive cost-cutting program he announced last October.
-"These people are a new breed of cat." GM Vice Chairman Harry Pearce, describing the company’s new, high-tech employees.
-"Coming to Detroit is a very humbling experience. Nobody knows much about us and very few care to learn." Louis Schweitzer, Chairman of the French carmaker, which may bring some of its products back to the States in 2001—but under the Nissan nameplate.