Blog: Dave LeggettStefan Jacoby in town

Dave Leggett | 7 February 2013

Stefan Jacoby (cut his teeth at VW, then went to Volvo Cars as CEO, left last year) was on good form earlier this week. He was in London for a media lunch and he delivered a wide ranging pre-lunch presentation that was refreshingly 'big picture' in style. I have written up some of his remarks on the global market, observations on the retail end and the final customer. 

He also had some other interesting things to say:

  • Big is better? To an extent. Jacoby agrees that scale economies account for a lot. The auto industry comes with big capital costs. The common engineering architectures, powertrains, modules spread across high volumes will always count for a lot. But he stressed: “Scale does not mean everything.” Brands have to be managed. Cultures in merged mega-companies can clash (he cited everyone's favourite example, DaimlerChrysler). Renault-Nissan is a smart arrangement, he said. The entities can retain independence, but get access to scale benefits. And he clearly is still an admirer of the strategy of his old VW boss. “Volkswagen,” he said, “manages brands very well. They are integrated and yet can develop in their own ways – develop their own brand image. Look at Audi, Skoda and Bentley.” Ford, he suggested, wanted to change Volvo, its products and the company. That met change from Swedes who wanted to protect the firm's traditional values.
  • Does Geely-Volvo have a good chance in the future? He said it has “a fair chance”, but said it is unpredictable. He sees the global auto industry and its companies as increasingly divided between the highly successful players and the weak ones. He believes the Volvo brand has a chance if it can position itself successfully as differentiated from the mainstream premium brands; an individualistic proposition of those who do not want a BMW, Audi or Benz.
  • A company's management can have a strategy, but any company has to take the middle management with it. They are the management challenge and can act as a force of inertia that resists change, human nature. Jacoby was not slow in changing the senior managers who reported to him. Martin Leach, also present, chimed in to say that at Ford they had a term for the massed ranks of middle managers: “layer of clay”.
  • Downbeat on electric vehicles, upbeat on hybrids.

Stefan Jacoby was also looking very well after his potentially very serious illness last year. “I have been lucky,” he said.

COMMENT: Understanding your customer is a growing challenge – ex-Volvo Cars chief


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