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"This is an impressive crowd--the haves and have-mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base" -- George W. Bush, to the VIPs at New York's Alfred Smith DinnerEdited by Robert McNattReturn to top

A Motown/Mad Ave Deathwatch

Come Nov. 7, hundreds of Detroit area ad folks could be out of work. That's the date DaimlerChrysler expects to decide which of its two ad agencies wins its $1.5 billion business.

The high-stakes shootout for the nation's third-biggest ad account is between BBDO Worldwide, which created the "Dodge. Different" campaign, and True North Communications subsidiary FCB, which develops Jeep and Chrysler ads. The winner snares all three brands. Each firm has about 500 employees on its DaimlerChrysler account, and each expects to win. While some employees from the losing agency will likely join the winner, big job losses are expected.

Saving money is high on Chairman Jurgen Schrempp's agenda. The Chrysler unit would like to cut up to $2 billion in expenses this year. It is already squeezing suppliers and reportedly delaying or canceling future products. Chrysler wouldn't comment on that, though it admits that down the road it would like more "out-of-the-box" thinking in its ads. But it needs savings now. Thinking "Different" can wait.By Jeff Green; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top

Did Explorer Get a Bad Rap on Safety?

To hear tort lawyers, consumer advocates, and Bridgestone/Firestone tell it, Ford Motor knew or should have known its Explorer sport-utility vehicle is a death trap prone to rollovers.

An internal Ford memo written in 1989, a year before the SUV was introduced, however, may make their case more difficult. Overlooked in that memo, which Ford released, is strong evidence that the carmaker took serious steps to minimize Explorer rollovers. The memo thus seems to tilt responsibility for the 119 deaths linked to Explorers with Firestone tires back toward the tire company.

In 1989, many SUVs were under fire, with the Suzuki Samurai, AMC Jeep, and Ford's own Bronco II all being sued for rollover-related incidents. The Bronco II ranked in the middle-to-poor category in federal fatality rankings. So Ford's goal for its new Explorer was to be "near B-I-C," or best-in-class, says a memo from Ford research engineer D.S. Starr.

To improve stability, Starr wrote that Ford had lengthened the Explorer's wheelbase and dampened steering responsiveness to reduce over-corrections, which he cited as the main cause of rollovers. When a prototype with those changes still showed rollover tendencies, Ford stiffened the front springs and lowered the chassis closer to the ground to improve stability. Ford even built more four-doors than two-doors, aiming for older buyers with families and fewer younger, presumably more reckless, drivers.

As a result, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that the four-door Explorer has the lowest rollover fatality rate of any large SUV, while the two-door is rated second-best in the midsize category. Notably, the institute established its rankings for Explorers with Firestones. Ford initially recommended underinflated tires, but has since reversed that recommendation.

Ford, however, did decide not to lower the front suspension angle or widen the SUV's stance. Both measures would improve stability, but would have been costly. So was it just the money? A Ford spokesman now says that because the Explorer had passed safety tests, the changes weren't needed. It will probably take many years of litigation to see if that was true.By Stan Crock; Edited by Robert McNattReturn to top


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