Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Smoldering Lions

The Detroit Lions fired Steve Mariucci with a losing record as head coach over the past 30 months. We can conjecture all day whether he deserved the boot for mismanaging arguably the best talent in the NFC North. Regardless, the team sucks, and you can’t fire the team, so Mariucci, despite his past Super Bowl successes (something the Lions have never done), is left dusting off his resume.

A seemingly unrelated news item is that we recently bought a used Toyota Camry. No, it didn’t once belong to Steve Mariucci. After years of buying Tracers, Sables and Broncos, the Grodge Family eschewed Ford Motor Company for an Asian “import” made in Ohio. The heresy. Last year, the revelation was made that Ford ignored a faulty power steering switch in it’s F-150 that could catch fire even while the vehicle was park and the motor off. Ford knew of the problem but refused to re-call the trucks after running a cost-benefit analysis and figuring the few potential lawsuits would amount to less cost than a nationwide re-call to fix the $50 part. A woman was killed in her home when her F-150 ignited while she slept; and Ford could have prevented it.

That’s a deal breaker. That’s negligent homicide.

Granted, in over ten years, none of our Sables has ever caught on fire. My wife drives 40,000 miles a year and goes through cars like J-Lo goes through engagement rings. Every two to three years we've bought a 2 year-old Sable and she drove it until the fenders fell off. They have served us well, but I admit that I was growing uneasy about having a smoldering Ford product in the garage every night about to explode into flames. What isn’t Ford telling us this time? This past summer, she was due for another car and we both asked, how much is that Camry again?

Fast forward to yesterday and the Mariucci news. The common thread in these two poor product lines, Sables and Lions, is none other than the Ford family. William Clay Ford is the top of the heap, the owner of the Lions, and the CEO of Ford Motor Company is Bill Ford. The rot in both of these organizations comes from the top and the top is the same family.

I’m not about to make some bold prediction about Ford filing for bankruptcy, or the Bears winning the Super Bowl in Detroit this January (we can dream); but I will say that the automobile marketplace, like the NFL, is a very competitive arena. If the management cannot make a product that the consumers can trust, then your company is doomed.

I imagine little happens by accident in the business world. Quality ratings for Fords are dismal and their trucks catch on fire; Ford market share has dropped and their stock price has been cut in half. The spiral began when Bill Ford moved his laptop into the corner office. A coincidence? Doubtful.

Steve Mariucci should have learned a valuable lesson this week: be careful that the vehicle to which you've hitched your wagon is not a smoldering Ford product, because it may blow up in your face. Does Toyota have a football team?

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