As the 20th Century winds down, the auto industry has completed more than 100 years. It is a time to salute some of the people who have made the industry so important this century.
I remember Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who spoke at our Automotive News World Congress. Prior to his speech, his secretary called and said the good professor would like a blackboard and some colored chalk. I said that we'd be glad to make slides or create some sort of visuals. There would be more than 500 people in the audience, and it would be hard to see his blackboard.
She said in no uncertain terms that if you want Dr. Deming, have the blackboard. We did. He was a great speaker; no one could see anything on the blackboard, but it didn't matter.
Ralph Nader has had an impact on this industry for longer than almost anyone. Most of what he's done has been positive. Nader has saved thousands of lives by prompting the US government to create agencies that make the automobile safer.
Nader has character and ethics. His mistake was trying to do too much: You can't franchise Ralph Nader. His reputation suffered when he allowed others to use his name and fame.
Henry Ford II was one of a kind. He did more for Ford Motor Co. by saving it, than his grandfather did in creating it. His tastes ran from sophisticated to simple, and he was always very kind to me, a young publisher learning about the car business. I never met anyone who worked harder or longer hours, and I'm told he played just as hard.
Lee Iacocca is a contradiction. He shouldn't be selling electric bicycles. He accomplished a lot at Ford but left in humiliation. Within months, Iacocca was at the helm of Chrysler Corp., and he was one of only a few people who could have saved Chrysler. It took a master salesman, and he did the job. He became more famous at Chrysler than he ever would have been at Ford. But after retiring, Iacocca ruined his reputation by becoming part of an ill-conceived plan to take over Chrysler.
These are some of the people who made the industry so colorful. It will be fascinating to meet the next century's candidates.