GM Defector’s Choice: New Sports Car or a Book
John Z. DeLorean grew up poor in Detroit and became an automotive engineer. He rose quickly through General Motors’ executive ranks and produced what he calls “probably the best track record of any manager in the last 30 or 40 years at GM.” Rut in April 1973, this 48 year-old GM vice president, with a good chance to become the giant company’s president, quit.
The resignation stunned the auto world but those who knew DeLorean were less surprised. He was chafing under the bureaucratic conformity and rigidity of the company. He wanted things to change for the automobile. GM could not put him through its corporate extruder as it had done with so many other of its men at the top. He was too independent, too confident of his own ideas, too contemptuous of the pettiness and narrowness of GM’s leaders.
DeLorean became one of the rarest of former company men — one who looked at the peak of “success” and turned away to become a pioneer. Now he feels constrained between a desire to have his insider’s book about GM published and his dream to build a new sports car which would set, in his words, “a new standard of morality in automobiles.”
SOME PEOPLE MIGHT wonder why he cannot do both. Some people may not appreciate GM’s power. DeLorean needs about 400 dealers to invest in his new company and sell his DMC-12 car. Many of these dealers hold GM franchises. DeLorean requires financing, and while a substantial amount will come from a Puerto Rican development fund, commercial bank financing would help. GM has some $5 billion at any given time deposited throughout the nation’s banks.
DeLorean recognizes all this. He told Fortune magazine that a displeased GM, “if they wanted to, could crush me like a grape.”
So for the time being, DeLorean is telling J. Patrick Wright that the 100,0e0 word autobiographical manuscript which Wright wrote for him should not be published. Playboy Press was ready to print the blockbuster volume in late 1975 with the title: “On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors: The Confessions of a $650,000-a-Year Executive.” ‘Based on long, taped interviews with DeLorean and numerous memoranda and documents, the book did what the former executive wanted done. It opened up GM from the inside, providing a rare view of the lethargy and inner workings of the executive suite in the world’s largest industrial corporation.
DeLorean reported how top executives were periodically pressed to make campaign contributions — a form of corporate pressure which at that time was of dubious legality. He said that GM knew the Corvair was unsafe long before the company started to improve the later models.
Wright, the Detroit bureau chief for Business Week, believes that DeLorean is in a strong position if GM tries to retaliate against his Puerto Rican-based car manufacturing venture for publishing his GM memoirs. ‘He thinks that the book makes a trail blazing contribution to business journalism that could itself be deterrence against GM.
DeLorean does not agree that GM would be adequately deterred by adverse publicity. Besides, he thinks that it is even more important to get his sports car on the road to show the rest of the auto world how to build in safety, pollution control, fuel efficiency, performance and style all in one vehicle.
THE DMC-12 IS scheduled for late 1978 if he can obtain adequate financing and dealer outlets. It is designed for driver and passenger survivability at collisions reaching 80 mph. It will have a 10 mph bumper to shield the stainless steel vehicle from expensive repair costs due to low speed impacts. The car is built of materials designed to crush at a controlled rate in a crash, thus diminishing the force that is transmitted to the motorists in the car.
Actual crash testing of the vehicle is anticipated in a few months to determine whether the designs work out in practice. As for sales prospects, DeLorean knows the odds are against him. Not one new domestic auto manufacturer has started and survived since World War II. But he notes that a number of foreign car makers, the latest being Honda, have entered the U.S. market and prospered.
Would it not be enlightening for the public and instructive to many executives, now wrapped with invisible chains somewhere in the suites of corporate gigantism, for DeLorean to come out with his new book and his new car at the same time next year? Write him your opinions c/o Playboy Press, ‘919 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60611.