MORE OF VINES' TALES OF DETROIT
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Published on Mon, Sep 26, 2016
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
LACar.com BOOK REVIEW The Last American CEO by Jason Vines and Joe Cappy Waldorf Publishing ISBN-13: 978-1-944245-10-8 Published September 15, 2016 252 Pages w/photo chapter 5” x 8” $22.95 Here’s the latest, way, way, way inside poop on yet another wonderfully inglorious, seriously dysfunctional, era in the ongoing annals of the American automotive industry, again from the acid-dipped pen of the redoubtable Jason Vines … this one a sort of “Halt and Drip Oil” with cars. Of course his first all-out insider: “What Did Jesus Drive? Crisis PR in Cars, Computers, and Christianity” did a great job of opening up on Ford and Chrysler, along with the bible industry. So why would former top Chrysler PR monster shot-caller Jason Vines not want to solidify his tell-all/bad boy status with one more book about the earlier byzantine inner workings of those companies and a couple of others at home and abroad. Hail Jason! the living, burning, self-appointed conscience of the autobiz. He’s up to bat again and, according to the authoring credits, this time he’s not going it alone. As “plausible” as it sounds, old-school nice-guy and former automotive top cat Joe Cappy (upon reading “WDJD? CPRinCCandC”) ostensibly latched on to old friend Vines enlisting him to co-tell Cappy’s personal story of his days in Detroit (and surrounds) that ends up a panorama of the politics of badge engineering and entangling mis-alliances (pun intended) in the awful eighties. (Why else would my reading notes say, “I sink deeper into my seat with every page …”?) I must admit that the first thing that I do whenever I get a history book the first thing that I do is check out the index (an old habit from my library days) this one has a rather light-duty index with the names of the players, some of whom such as Lee Iacocca, Ben Bidwell, Jose Dedeurwaerder, and Georges Besse who all get multiple listings (16, 14, 15, and 4 respectively) … hell, even Yogi Berra got one listing! Everyone is there, and fair game. For me this book really needed was some sort of a flow-chart/score card/points system that would allow readers to keep all the players sorted out. On second thought ... one of those big cops and robbers storyboards with all the photos and lines crisscrossing all over the place that they use on all those police procedurals in the movies and on TV would be perfect as a gatefold for this one. By the way, and speaking of the police, Renault Chairman’s Georges Besse’s brutal 1986 assassination (virtually in his own doorstep outside his Paris apartment by two women pulling automatic weapons out of a baby carriage … honest!) is reported right up front here by Vines with the full-certain indication that horrific slaying was a turning point that will later explain much (but not all) of the enfolding business of this saga. Interesting enough, author Vines (or was it co-author Cappy talking at that point) is introduced as one of the key players in the latter stages of this four wheeled Iliad, page 198 (of 243 to be accurate), thus: “The car was named the Eagle Talon … The Talon was phenomenal and was launched in the media by Joe Cappy’s new PR guy, Jason Vines, whom Cappy was grooming to be an Eagle marketing executive before the Eagle PR guy was abruptly fired...” Shortly thereafter Vines takes a call from the number two PR guy at Chrysler, Steve Harris, and he’s out of marketing and just like that running the media side of Eagle. As the reader has most likely figured by now, this book is not for the casual automobile buff; not what I honestly would call a “fun read”. I’m not a chess player, but I’ll bet that many of the moves, behind the scenes/behind the back double and triple crosses, bluffs, counter-moves, total misreads of the public’s tastes ... perhaps even the Bronstein Delay, or the Spanish Bishop ploy might have a familiar feel when compared to the carryings-on that Vines, Cappy and their all-star cast of characters from both sides of the Atlantic deploy and undertake. On the outside this is a simple story: there were once many (hundreds, in fact) automobile manufacturers here in the USA, and one-by-one they either went under or were absorbed by the bigger guys. At one point early in this adventure, Packard still existed and Nash had just been “absorbed”. Ask a 30 year-old if they’ve ever heard of AMC … American Motors Corporation, and be prepared for a blank look. OK … So Cappy actually turns out to be a good guy (and actually keeping the title honest, he was the last CEO of AMC). Vines thinks a lot of Cappy, and both of them have a whole bunch of fun with a whole lot of “Who shot John” information here about big mergers, big sales, the misfortunate introduction of mal-formed and mis-timed automobile models, and the fact that the Jeep name and brand had its own indomitable life-force (no matter who held the reigns of ownership), with Vines rightfully proclaiming that it “saved” Chrysler, along with myriad communication gaffes and breakdowns. Somehow this one not quite as much juicy/wild-ass read as “What…” (this is an 8.5 and that one was an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10) which roiled with deep insider intrigue that (for many) confirmed suspicions that everyone at the top in Detroit (save maybe Iacocca and provisionally Lutz) were all effete, overpaid idiots who hated cars and the people who drive them. “Last …” does, if nothing else, add more chapters to the lore and legend of Motown’s very own thrones game. The author(s) say it best in the prologue: “This book was written to be informative and entertaining, as well as to demonstrate how business situations are impacted by rational and irrational human behavior – and conditions beyond anyone’s control." The auto biz … often a hot mess, but ya gotta love it. We’ll close this “slim” (5” x 8”) glovebox-sized volume for now and anxiously await more. -DS