It may be coincidence, but a lot of senior executives seem to be leaving the industry these days.
With global car markets rapidly heading for their nadir, the worlds most iconic car guy, General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, picked just this moment to announce his retirement.
At PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, Gilles Michel, a key executive and the architect of the carmakers platform strategy, announced late last year that he was leaving for a different line of work.
At BMW, renowned Chief Designer Chris Bangle is departing, apparently to pursue design interests outside the car business.
Fiats Luca de Meo, the young marketing whiz who successfully introduced the Fiat 500, resigned in January. He may stay in the business, if his contract allows him to jump to Volkswagen.
Big changes are also happening in the communications departments of GM and Nissan.
At GM, Tony Cervone, unofficially the designated head of the groups PR operations, is leaving to join United Airlines. At Nissan, Simon Sproule resigned as PR chief to join Microsoft.
It may not be a trend. But one thing is clear: With medium-term prospects for the global auto industry depressed, there is clearly less incentive for talented executives to stick around.
Thats unfortunate. In times like these, struggling automakers and suppliers need the best in the business to stay and help them pull through.
Companies need their top strategists to work through various scenarios. They need their best marketers to figure out what still sells, even in a down market. And they need their top PR people to get the right message across.
Being an auto executive today isnt much fun.
Executives spend a lot of their time fine-tuning their cost-saving strategies. They are holding one meeting after another with employees worried about losing their jobs.
And in many automotive companies they are laying off hundreds if not thousands of people.
All this takes place against a backdrop of grim prospects for at least 2009. In 2008, 63 million cars were sold worldwide. ACEA, Europes automaker association, forecasts 2009 sales of 55 million. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn, who also holds ACEAs rotating presidency, says that, based on sales in the first five weeks of the year, the total may even end up at about 50 million this year.
Weak sales ripple through to suppliers and their suppliers -- and beyond. EU Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen notes that chemicals, textiles and electronics companies are hurting too. The closer they are to the auto industry, the more they are affected, he says.
Still, there will be a time of renewed growth and prosperity in 2010, 2011, or 2012. Only those executives that remain will benefit from it.
We will overcome this, Verheugen said last week. The industry is much better equipped to deal with this crisis than on previous occasions.