Autos

Andrew Hill

French industry minister Arnaud Montebourg told: "How stupid do you think we are?" Getty Images

French Socialists and American chief executives make awkward bedfellows at the best of times. Just how awkward is evident from the extraordinary letter Maurice “Morry” M. Taylor – nicknamed “The Grizz” for his uncompromising negotiating style – sent to Arnaud Montebourg, France’s industry minister.

“How stupid do you think we are?” was Mr Taylor’s response to Mr Montebourg’s attempt to find out if Titan, the tyremaker Mr Taylor heads, would take over part of Goodyear’s factory in Amiens. Earlier efforts by Goodyear to forge a deal with Titan foundered on union opposition, which has not endeared French workers to the Titan CEO, who claims they “get paid high wages but work only three hours”. Read more

When David Cameron flew to Davos last week to tell companies that reduce their tax bills by dividing activities among countries to “wake up and smell the coffee”, his target was clear. Starbucks now faces a consumer boycott and has been publicly accused of acting unethically.

John Gapper

The news that Avis Budget is buying Zipcar for $500m evokes mixed feelings in me for two reasons.

One is that I was a regular Zipcar user for seven years in New York, where we did not own a car. On returning to sprawling London, I have just succumbed and bought a car again, thus reducing my Zipcar use. Read more

Once upon a time, companies simply made new products and sold them. In due course, they made them, advertised them to buyers and then sold them. Now, publicity frequently comes before the sale, the production and sometimes even the design of the item, with what modern marketers like to call a “pre-announcement”.

John Gapper

When a senior executive gets the boot from a company, it is usually covered up with some pablum about seeking new opportunities. So General Motors’ statement about the abrupt departure of Joel Ewanick as its head of global marketing is remarkable.

The FT reported it in this way:

“The resignation is disappointing but he failed to meet the expectations that a company has of an employee,” Greg Martin, a GM spokesman, said in an interview. He declined to give further details.

 Read more

Andrew Hill

“Day by day Volkswagen… appears less like a public company, and more like a complex oligarchy.” That’s how The Economist began a critique of the German carmaker’s flawed corporate governance – in December 2005.

Not much has changed since, as the latest developments in Wolfsburg suggest. In spite of periodic protests about governance, Ferdinand Piëch, VW’s chairman, has reinforced his hold over the group and is expected to seek another five-year term in the chair. The latest news is that his wife, Ursula, will stand for nomination to the board. This may be, as the FT wrote on Sunday, part of “a fairly well-established tradition of spouses taking up powerful positions at German companies”, citing the board positions held by Friede Springer at Axel Springer, and Liz Mohn, at Bertelsmann. But to anybody outside this tradition of family-controlled companies, it looks distinctly odd. As Dow Jones pointed out in its account, “there are no reports…. that would suggest she has any high-profile corporate management experience“. Read more

John Gapper

 BMW M5 Sedan: Design

The news that sales of Rolls-Royce cars in China have overtaken those in the US, and that China now accounts for 31 per cent of Rolls-Royce’s sales, makes me wonder if we have reached a turning point for luxury design.

That sprung to mind when I saw a BMW M5 driving along a parkway in the US the other day. Although this is subjective, my first reaction to looking at its rear view and tail lights was that it would have looked more at home on the Bund in Shanghai. Read more

The pun proved irresistible. “Mystery Ends, Mistry Begins”, ran the headline in India’s Economic Times on the appointment last week of Cyrus Mistry to succeed Ratan Tata at the head of the eponymous tea-to-steel holding company. If the succession was a mystery, it looked to have a pretty feeble final twist.