Then and Now
It is beginning to look like the only rational people in Detroit are working at General Motors.
First, Ford hires a guy with absolutely no experience in the car business to run the company. Now, Chrysler has done the same, putting Robert Nardelli in charge.
Who would have thought running a car company was an entry level position?
But, they might just be right.
Look what happened when a car guy did run a car company: Ford.
The Times of London is reporting that Jacques Nasser is apparently interested in buying Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford. Reportedly, Ford has set a September 30th deadline for bids for the two brands, though a Ford spokesperson declined to confirm those reports.
Does that name sound familiar?
Nasser was the brilliant chief executive officer at Ford who bought Jaguar and Land Rover. And Aston-Martin.
That is, Mr. Nasser is the brilliant CEO who funneled no money into creating a new Taurus and effectively destroyed Lincoln as a luxury brand, but who did spend $2.5 billion to buy Jaguar, a division that has since cost Ford, in the estimation of auto columnist Jerry Flint, another $7.5 billion in investment and losses.
That is, Mr. Nasser is the brilliant CEO who invented the “Premier Automobile Group” at Ford, which last year lost – all on its own, not counting anything Ford might have lost - $4.8 billion.
Altogether, Nasser’s miscues have cost Ford something close to $20 billion.
Ford got $848 million when it sold Aston Martin, so they’re down about $19 billion at the moment. They’ll get something for Jaguar and Land Rover, but probably not as much as they’d like. Cerberus, the private equity firm that bought Chrysler, appears to have sucked dry the market in debt offerings to buy money losing car companies. The Chrysler deal left Cerberus’s investment bankers holding a $10 billion bag and they’re probably going to be pretty interested in selling off those bonds before taking on anything similar.
Moreover, Jaguar is not a self-sufficient company: it doesn’t make its own engines. Ford does. At least one of the potential bidders for Jaguar is demanding that Ford retain a 40% interest in Jaguar, in order to assure the engine supply. That’s a rational position for a buyer, but it also means that Ford gets less money for the sale and may still end up having to pour more money into Jaguar to protect its investment, but with no real control over the company. That is not a good deal for Ford.
But Nasser’s biggest blunders were not the brands he collected for his “Premier Automobile Group.”
His biggest blunder was the investment he didn’t make in Ford’s core products. The money he wasted could have been spent on keeping the Taurus brand alive and well.
There was a time when the Taurus was a true competitor to the Japanese brands. Even university professors bought them. The Taurus was a huge hit, one that caught GM flatfooted and that it never came close to matching.
Nasser didn’t invest in the car. Eventually, it became the rental car of last resort.
Then there’s Lincoln.
There was a time when Lincoln was a luxury car, always a rival to Cadillac, sometimes even more desirable. The original Town Car was an equal, albeit with more formal lines, to the Cadillac deVille. But Nasser starved the Lincoln brand, too. There wasn’t room in his business plan for an American luxury car – the “Premier Auto Group” would have the luxury brands at Ford.
There is nothing Ford can do to repair the damage caused to the company by Jacques Nasser.
Within two weeks of becoming Ford’s new president, Alan Mulally restored the Taurus name to the brand, renaming the Ford 500. But, he’s too late. Today, that name stands for “rental car.” Lincoln and Mercury are probably beyond resuscitation. No matter how many small cars they stick the Lincoln name onto, the brand is a has-been. The days when the Lincoln was an equal of the deVille are long past (which says a lot, because the deVille platform is eight years old).
But Nasser decided to feed his ego, instead of the company for which he worked.
Eventually, the Ford family fired him.
Unfortunately, they waited way too long.
Jacques Nasser probably won’t end up buying Jaguar.
But it would serve him right if he did.