When President Obama’s Auto Team meets for the first time Friday morning, it will be off camera, behind closed doors, away from reporters. Maybe that's good. After all, fixing this industry could be messy, very messy.
With the industry already seeking more than $90 Billion and likely looking for tens of billions more, there could be several choice words, phrases, and ideas flying around at this meeting. As there should be. The Obama Auto Team has been charged to make the hard choices the Big 3, UAW, Suppliers, and others in the industry have failed to make for years. For the sake of the industry and the American public I hope this team goes as far as it can to straighten out this mess.
After a decade of covering this industry and its ups and many downs, I've always marveled at how the Big 3 would make strides partially fixing what was wrong. I say partially because with each new model, labor contract, or marketing plan it would be an improvement over the previous one, but rarely the best possible. As a friend of mine would say, "It was just good enough."
That has to change, and fast.
The auto team needs to force this industry to stop decades of doing the same thing. It can be done. Need an example? Look at Alan Mulally at Ford.
When Mulally first stepped in at Ford, I had many years of previous experience dealing with him when he ran Boeing Commercial Airplanes. So shortly after he started, he asked me, "What's your take on what Ford does right and wrong?" We had a lengthy discussion. I remember ending it by telling him, "Break Ford workers of the nauseating habit of saying, 'We're doing it the Ford way' because the 'Ford way' isn't working,"
Now, I am not so naive as to believe my comment is the reason Mulally has Ford marching to a better beat. Still, he has transformed Ford and finally has people there realizing they have to do things differently. There is no Ford way. There is only the RIGHT way.
Let's hope the Obama Auto Team sends a similar message to GM, Chrysler, and the rest of the auto industry.
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