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Automotive CEO's say the industry has turned a corner

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Mark Fields, President of The Americas for Ford Motor Co., addresses the 2011 Automotive News World Congress.

by Jason Rzucidlo
americajr@americajr.com

 

|

DETROIT -- The 2011 Automotive News World Congress was held during the media week at the North American International Auto Show. Attendees heard from top-level executives such as GM Chairman & CEO Dan Akerson, Nissan Chairman of the Americas Carlos Tavares, Toyota Managing Officer James Lentz, Volkswagen of America CEO Jonathan Browning, Dodge Brand President Ralph Gilles and Ford President of the Americas Mark Fields, among many others.

All of their speeches had one thing in common -- not only has the automotive industry turned around, but the industry will be profitable this year and for many years in the future.

Mark Fields said that Ford Motor Company is just as much a technology company as it is an automaker. In addition, he said 80 percent of new Edge vehicles will be equipped with MyFord Touch.

"We have a mobile app to help charge Ford electric vehicles," the president of the Americas for Ford Motor Co. explained. "We've connected with the Geek Squad. We also deliver technology to support their lifestyle while keeping all eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Satisfaction with SYNC is very high. The Edge is the fastest turning vehicle in dealers."

Fields added: "The Ford brand became viewed as more innovative. A whole new way of thinking. Ten thousand people have downloaded the SYNC app in the first three weeks. We worked with Pandora for our first app in just 10 days. It provides you estimates of your commutes on your smart phones. We are adding 750 salaried jobs this year."

After Sergio Marchionne became CEO of Chrysler, he gave Ralph Gilles the power to redesign the entire Dodge brand from the bottom up. Now, Dodge is offering 16 new interiors for its vehicles.

"All of us have revised, the consumer wins," the president and the CEO of the Dodge Brand explained. "No one makes a bad car. The change started a while ago. We saw the train wreck coming. We have to be relevant in every segment. Our dealers are profitable. I just love the culture -- we have flattened out. No one is on the 15th floor. Sergio's office is on the fourth floor. Sergio invented the eighth day. Don't forget to take care of yourself."

Gilles added: "Generation Y is aware of the future being in the balance. I'm amazed how respectful they are. We're forgetting to innovate. I'm not afraid of failure. I wake up scared of the next disaster. I really liked going to CCS. I like the young undiscovered. I mentor eight different people at Chrysler. I'm surprised by a great staff. Dodge will retreat from Europe. Brands when managed properly can proliferate.

James Lentz said that 50 percent of Toyota's sales are coming from the internet. In addition, the automaker will be launching 11 new or redesigned models by the end of 2012. Toyota hopes to have a zero-emission vehicle on the road by 2015.

"We all learned a lot and we're better for it," the president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. explained. "We do see the U.S. economy improving. We expect a better year in 2012 and beyond. We believe our sales volume will grow. Demographics are in our future. Every car is chockfull of electronics. Young people don't seem to be interested in cars as previous generations. We have to be flexible and prepared to do business in non-traditional ways. You can run, but you can't hide from Google."

Lentz added: "The Scion line is the youngest brand in the industry. We're seeing a shift in consumer values. Consumers are more willing to switch brands to get what they want. We have to respect people's times. Consumers expect a lot more fuel economy, environment. We're launching several new hybrids. The Prius V will have 60 percent more cargo room. We'll introduce a Prius plug-in next year."

Jonathan Browning said that Volkswagen is investing $69 billion to become the world's leading car company. In addition, he said the automaker is working to improve its quality after a short drop in J.D. Power rankings.

"The VW group is leading in Europe, Brazil and China," the president and CEO of Volkswagen of America, Inc. explained. "We need to respond to unique needs of different markets. The Passat and Jetta were specifically designed for the American consumer. The Passat has more rear legroom in the U.S. Our Chattanooga, Tenn. plant shows our commitment to the U.S. market. We signed a new 10-year lease on our facility in Auburn Hills. We are shifting our Rochester Hills office to Auburn Hills, making it our second largest office in the U.S."

Browning added: "Our year-end sales finished with good momentum. Over 60 percent of trade-ins are coming from competition. We predict to sell 300,000 [units] in the United States. The 2011 Passat and Jetta will be our sales leaders. The all-new Beetle is making better engineering more accessible. We were not pleased when we saw our J.D. Power study decline. VW beat the competition on products and dealer location. We fell short on salesperson knowledge. An hour to sign final paperwork. We will fix that."

AutoNation CEO says consumers are changing their buying habits

Mike Jackson said that today's customers prefer to make all of their selections online and then come into the dealer to sign the dotted line. In addition, he said consumers are less patient than they have ever been in the past.

"Retailers have a new challenge -- they are time constrained like never before," the chairman and CEO of AutoNation, Inc. explained. "How do we eliminate all of the hoops the customer has to go through? Can we move at the pace they would like? We have to step up and figure it out. There's going to be the temptation to go back to production push. It is very difficult to get back. Be thankful for our new chance. We are opening six Fiat dealers. I think for small cars to sell in the U.S. they will have a lot of flair. I think Fiat will sell well."

Jackson discussed Chrysler: "I don't think they would have made it without Sergio. It would have been swept away. Ron Bloom led the relationship with Chrysler. It was one of the most dramatic turnaround situations I've ever seen. He [Sergio] faced reality and knew what to do about it. He's one of the towering figures in the industry. It's exciting to see what's happening in this town. We try to price at market as quickly as we can."

For more information on the Automotive News World Congress, visit www.autonews.com/Assets/html/11_anwc.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / ©AMERICAJR.com

Lentz responds to a question from the audience.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / AMERICAJR.com

Mike Jackson is the Chairman and CEO of AutoNation, Inc.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / AMERICAJR.com

Browning said the automaker is working to improve its J.D. Power dependability ranking after it went down by a few points in 2010.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / AMERICAJR.com

Ralph Gilles laughs after Keith Crain tells a joke.

 

PHOTO BY JASON RZUCIDLO / AMERICAJR.com

Tim Manganello presented the Borg Warner Trophy to Indy 500 Winner Dario Franchitti.

 

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This page was last updated on Sun, January 30, 2011 2:35 AM

 

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