Virtual Car Company Idea Stalled

Joseph Szczesny from the Oakland Press: The theory of the virtual car company is a favorite concept of a lot of consultants and analysts that are part and parcel of the car business, not only in the U.S. but around the world. The idea draws a lot of its energy from the idea that a virtual company wouldn't need to have expensive engineering labs and assembly plants. Instead, they would belong to a supplier. In addition, the virtual company would limit the need to keep many expensive employees on the payroll and the "legacy" costs for pensions and health care benefits, leaving more money for critical things like executive bonuses and, of course, very lucrative contracts — or so the theory goes anyway. Last spring, Roger Penske, one of the most respected men in the car business and the founder of the industry's largest chain of auto dealers, the Penske Automotive Group of Bloomfield Hills, set out to create what might have become a virtual car company by utilizing General Motors' Saturn. Penske, of course, is immensely successful. But the reasons he is immensely successful is because he is pragmatic and disciplined. He also decided, rather quickly, that the current environment was quite right for a virtual car company. If Penske couldn't make it the idea work, I doubt anyone can.

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GM Vice Chairman of global product development, Bob Lutz, recently talked with Motor Trend magazine about the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. Part of the discussion touched on GM's use of consumer clinics to judge upcoming future car designs. "We're dialing back on clinics when styling is a home run," Mr. Lutz told Motor Trend in their October 2005 issue.