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Once Upon a Car: The Fall and Resurrection of America's Big Three Automakers--GM, Ford, and Chrysler Paperback – September 25, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review


Amazon Exclusive Essay: Bill Vlasic on the Men who Battled for the American Auto Industry

Bill Ford: The great-grandson of Henry Ford realized he had to give up his job as chief executive in order to save the company. He confided to aides: “I’m not the best person to operate this place,” he said. “I want to get somebody who can do it right.”

Alan Mulally: The former Boeing executive’s fresh approach turned the company around and kept it from begging for a government bailout. “These three companies have been slowly going out of business for eighty years,” he said. “And their arrogance caught up with them.”

Rick Wagoner and Bob Lutz: They were convinced G.M. was on the right track, until the 2008 recession. Wagoner, G.M.’s chairman and CEO, lost his job after leading the Big Three to Washington for emergency assistance. “The moral of the story,” he said, “is never put yourself in a position where you have to go down there.” Lutz said, “Those people down there hate us.”

Kirk Kerkorian and Jerry York: The Las Vegas billionaire and his aggressive advisor tried to grab General Motors, but failed. “Wagoner has never accomplished anything,” said Kerkorian. York urged him to buy Ford shares – and ride Mulally’s turnaround plan. “It’s pretty damn clear to me that Ford has a huge sense of urgency compared to G.M.,” he said.

Steve Feinberg: The intense chairman of Cerberus Capital Management believed his private-equity company could turn Chrysler into a moneymaker, and so he bought the smallest of the Big Three carmakers from Daimler Benz. “What could be a better opportunity than an orphan in an industry that’s at the bottom?”

Sergio Marchionne: The crafty head of Fiat offered the Obama administration an alternative to letting Chrysler go broke which would liquidate tens of thousands of jobs. Marchionne knew Detroit was facing its reckoning in 2008. “I can smell the fear in this town,” he said. “I can feel it, the feeling of impending doom.”

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Essential account of the United States auto industry.” (New York Times Book Review, Editor's Choice)

“Compelling... a human approach to an industry that couldn’t be less human in scale... entertaining.” (Wall Street Journal)

“The book is extraordinary. Vlasic offers what will probably become the definitive retelling of the crisis that nearly felled America’s three carmaking icons.” (Financial Times)

Once Upon a Car is the best book on the whole shebang that you are ever going to read... a critical history.” (Huffington Post)

“With almost anthropological precision, Once Upon a Car is a thorough and compelling account of the collapse of the domestic auto industry” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“A deeply reported, full-on narrative in the style of Barbarians at the Gate or Game Change.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Even with all the ink spilled on Detroit lately, Vlasic’s tale is as fresh as a new car… Vlasic says he wanted to write a fast-paced narrative, and he’s penned a page-turner in Once Upon a Car” (Fortune.com)

“Vlasic delivers a devastating account of auto industry arrogance, ignorance, and tragedy.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Terrific... better than most novels... truly fascinating.” (Free Lance Star Virginia)

“Vlasic enriches his journalistic attention to detail with the drama and pacing of a thriller.” (800ceoRead)

“Vlasic is a master storyteller whose prowess makes the absorption of many complex facts painless.” (strategy-business.com)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (September 25, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061845639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061845635
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #796,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By jm2 on October 19, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like the previous reviewer,i was also employed for a car company.Over 30 yrs at GM. Mr. Vlasic's book is one of the only ones I have read lately that really captured the essence of what took place in the domestic auto industry over the last several decades,and more specifically ,what happened since 2005.It is an unbiased telling of a very important chapter in American history.The book is so well written,it was very difficult for me to put it down.Knowing many of the characters mentioned in the book made it that much more relevant and interseting.
I've had the opportunity to have read pretty much every book that has been written about the Detroit car biz over the past decade,and I would put this one near the top for both storytelling,and an objective analysis of the ills and triumphs of the domestic auto industry.If you have even the slightest interest in the automotive business,and the people that run it,this book is a must read.
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Solid, well grounded analysis. This book shows what a skilled reporter can do, writing about a topic he is very familiar with.

Bill Vlasic has access to the top people in the auto industry and uses it well. He tells his story through people but doesn't get bogged down in their personal issues. His writing makes the other authors who have written about the recent history of the American auto industry look like amateurs.
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For a book billed as a "uniquely American story of success, failure and redemption", Vlasic does a remarkable job in narrating the "failure". While referencing the past success and mostly hope as bookends, Vlasic provides an informative and entertaining look into the events that shaped the stories of the American automobile industry. Narrating this story with the CEOs, other key execs, investors (activist and passive) as the key actors, Vlasic is able to provide a backdrop devoid of any need for political overtones or editorial liberties or an 'academic' analysis. That lack of analysis may deter some readers who may find the almost complete focus on the key players (see Amazon's own review for a snapshot of the key 'actors').

Another key insight a reader will glean is the role of labor unions and the power (right or wrong) in directly impacting the fate of the very companies that employ them. In a rare editorial comment, Vlasic points out that there is "nothing inherently better in American workers than...." and almost goes on to make the case of how unions may have been over-reaching.

Through the intertwined narration of the Big 3's trials and tribulations, a reader will be able to discern almost three unique management styles ranging from a benevolent leader who knew when to step down (Ford), a degree of detachment bordering on indifference. The stark contrasts in the management styles and personalities is a treat for any reader and could easily form the basis of leadership case studies. A neutral observer would end up having a more positive view of Bill Ford and to some extent both Bush and Obama (how Bush didnt want the incoming president to be faced with the crisis and how Obama imposed conditions on bailout). Ford comes out looking as a better-run company.
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By the time I'd gotten about a quarter of a way through Bill Vlasic's "Once Upon a Car," I was ready to throw my Kindle across the room. It wasn't because of the writing -- Bill Vlasic, who knows the U.S. auto industry about as well as anyone who doesn't actually WORK for one of the Big Three, was spot-on with his analysis in so many ways. No, the reason for almost wrecking my Kindle was because I couldn't believe the stupidity of the entire industry, from the UAW, to management at the Big Three, to mega-investor Kirk Kerkorian, who seemed to be dabbling in the industry for the sheer joy of making mischief.

In this book, Vlasic tells the full story of why Chrysler and GM imploded (and why Ford came close to doing so) when the Great Recession hit. He starts with General Motors, nicely outlining the very insular and out-of-touch culture of that organization then moves onto Ford's slow turnaround. He handles one of the highlights -- the breakup of DaimlerChrysler -- with enough drama to keep readers riveted. Vlasic fills out his tale-telling with interviews with many of the principals. For example, thanks to his positioning of Dieter Zeitsche with DaimlerChrysler (and Mercedes-Benz), I no longer think that the Germans were soulless creatures, determined to "Germanize" Chrysler into becoming Mercedes-Benz/US. He added color to these people whom most of us know from the press. Vlasic even lends a sympathetic brush to Rick Wagoner of GM -- though Wagoner was so hopelessly out of touch with his actions, he was, at least, humanized.

Why only three stars? A couple of things. First, I was a little taken aback at the portrayal of Alan Mulally as Ford's savior. Vlasic brushes by the fact that Ford was in just as much trouble as GM and Chrysler by 2008-2009.
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This is an excellent book and anyone with an interest on how and why the American auto industry fell and rose again should read this book. Vlasic expertly and professionally gives you an insider's perspective of what was said during all those corporate meetings, and gives you a look on how those executives were feeling at the time (a period from 2005-2011). If you want to know why Daimler dumped Chrysler, why some executives left #1 Toyota for jobs at Ford and Chrysler, how Alan Mulally got recruited by Bill Ford, how Kirk Kerkorian and Jerry York played (or tried to play) a role in the resurrection of the Auto Industry, how mergers between companies were contemplated and abandoned, and why Rick Wagoner got ousted as CEO of GM, read this book.

What you might also like about this book is that not only does Vlasic interview the top players and CEOs within the companies but he also interviews blue collar line workers to get and show their perspective on what was going during this major shake up in the American auto industry. What you receive is a well-rounded picture of what happened during this time in history.

The thing I liked the most about this book is that it is a professionally written book and is written like a story or a fly on the wall during the fall and resurrection of the Auto Industry. So many books I have read on the subject are just one person pontificating on his opinion of what happened. What Vlasic does is he tries to give a complete and unbiased account of what happened.

Some have stated that Vlasic is too pro-Ford, or too pro-Mulally.
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