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Golden boys, silk purse out of a sow's ear?
Peter Schmidt | Editor

Published: Thu, 21st April 2016 13:26:08 GMT

Dacia Duster and with duster

Open quote signNot so long ago, autoindustry whispers rather than predictions, forewarning of the slow death of Fiat, joined more recently by trouble-struck Peugeot Citroën, have proved overly pessimistic. Likewise, albeit after first biting the bullet and declaring itself bankrupt, previously woe-struck Chrysler also bounced back from the brink. Add GM and Ford to this list, and earlier still, Japan’s Nissan and Germany’s tradition-laden Porsche and Britain’s Jaguar, and what you’ve got is a pattern.

With few recent exceptions such as Sweden’s SAAB and Britain's MG Rover, the world’s carmakers, almost regardless of their woes, have developed a remarkable knack of keeping the undertakers waiting. 

More startling still, after standing at death’s door with seemingly little real chance of staging a lasting comeback, today’s carmakers appear blessed by cats’ uncanny skills of survival. 

Cast your mind back to the lifting of the iron curtain. 

Few industry visionaries would have envisaged that the Czech-Republic’s Škoda and Romania’s Dacia – as car brands - would survive, let alone flourish.

At the time, the widely shared view was that these carmakers - based in former Soviet Bloc countries, building technologically outdated cars of ancient designs at decaying labour-intensive factories - simply couldn’t survive. 

A stark reminder that most industries of former Soviet bloc countries were uncompetitive when exposed to the rigours of a market-driven economy. 

Today, in Western car markets, the perceived image of a brand counts more than ever. 

In retrospect, given their downtrodden image at the time, what realistic chance was there for Škoda and particularly Dacia to live another day?

Instead of opting for re-branding, both Volkswagen’s and Renault’s visionaries took on the challenge. 

The subsequent commercial success of Škoda and Dacia - not just in terms of global sales volumes, but particularly in terms of profitability - is bound to serve generations of business students. 

Doubtless, these intriguing automotive case studies will round off their management education. 

Broad brush, admittedly, and despite life-threatening initial difficulties, these companies were nursed back to health on the strength of amazing management skill. 

To name but a few genuine giants: Carlos Ghosn, VW’s Ferdinand Piëch and Porsche’s former CEO Wendelin Wiedeking

Thanks to their undeniable genius, tireless energy and fanaticism, these ‘can-do’ giants stand out as legendary autoindustry messiahs. 

Almost, if not quite, in the same league: Ford’s former revered chief Alan Mullaly and Fiat’s CEO Sergio Marchionne

Also knocking on this elite club’s door - judged as main architects in restoring credibility and commercial success under their helmsmanship - Daimler’s Dieter Zetsche and Peugeot’s Carlos Tavares.

Some of these brainy turnaround wizards, thanks to their dogged visions, idiosyncratic personalities, and plain talk, would likely fail the psychological part of your average executive job placement interview. 

And yet, while not quiet walking on water - and born out by history - these golden boys, given a free reign, simply shine with their stunning capacity to turn plain water into wine. 

More fitting for this industry, make a sow's ear into a silk purse
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