Car Execs Making Fools of Themselves

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, and Carlos Ghosn, right

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left, and Carlos Ghosn, right

Renault of France is not a giant automaker (third largest in Europe), but it has built good cars and is part of a rather strange and complicated alliance with Nissan of Japan. The French government owns 15 percent of Renault; Renault owns 43 percent of Nissan; and Nissan owns 15 percent (non-voting stock) of Renault.

Carlos Ghosn of Brazil runs the whole shebang and for the past two months has been at the heart of a corporate spy scandal in which he dramatically accused three senior executives of stealing and selling electric-car secrets.

But Carlos the Competent is more and more looking like Inspector Clouseau in this convoluted and continuing corporate farce.

Turns out the three were recently exonerated, and Carlos was left with more than a little egg on his face. He has duly apologized, foregone stock options, and been given a vote of confidence by the board of directors. Whew!

But the scandal continues, in part because Renault’s security director seems to be implicated in an intelligence fraud, and in part because the French government is angry about this and about Renault’s depressed share price.

Investigations continue, with a threat to audit Renault’s finances and reform the organization—although Carlos’s job for now appears to be secure.

Ford's Mark FieldsAnother victim of foot-in-mouth disease, or corporate arrogance, is our old friend Mark Fields (right), Ford’s president of the Americas, and one of Alan Mulally’s golden boys. “President of the Americas”? What a title. He’s bigger than Obama, Calderon, and all the others.

Fields loves to run on in his media interviews. Check out this one from last October, as short on content as it is long on verbiage. At a recent launch of the new Focus plant in Wayne, Mich., Fields said, “Who says we can’t compete when we are competitive?” and

There is a natural kind of water level that if a gallon of gas goes over, that may shift the market mentality. When it starts getting over $4 a gallon or gets to triple digits when you fill up your tank, that catches people’s attention.

A new measure: the water level of gas prices. The guy uses language like he used to use the Ford corporate jet—freely and without regard to consequences. You remember how he formerly commandeered the company’s Gulfstream 5 to fly home from Detroit to Miami every weekend (costing $50-70,000), at a time when Ford was firing thousands of people.

Well, what do you expect from a Paramus, N.J., guy who went to Harvard Business School?

Auto executives still need serious lessons in public relations. Do you agree?

—jgoods

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5 Comments

  1. The only thing you’ll find in less supply than intelligence among auto execs is honesty, ethics and good ol’ hubris. Truly some of the dumbest people I’ve ever met were auto execs, who usually spread around their dung until it starts to smell, and then bug out to leave others’ to clean up the mess.

  2. As a former consultant in the transportation sector, I can say that water-level pricing is an important metric in price determination. On one hand it aims to take into account consumer liquidity, being that it is a fluid-based measure, and on the other foot, it relates one thing that has absolutely nothing to do with the other.

  3. @
    I don’t know about all of them, but many are callous pigs who prefer their own reality to any other. Jack Welch is kind of doddering now, at least when I last saw him on TV.

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