THE MOLE

Dodge and the bullets

In the basement at Mole Headquarters there is a vault in which the old case files are stored. It is known as The Morgue and presided over by a sad little man called Schmutzli, who frightens children when he stands at bus stops and consequently prefers to pass his days in the safe, secure and sterile world of The Morgue. The files are his children.

The Mole had gone down to The Morgue to read up on Dodge. Strange things are happening in relation to this American car firm and The Mole had a theory that the company might end up in Formula 1.

"Conspiracy theories!" said Schmutzli.

"Maybe," said The Mole. "But they are Germans."

"Ja," said the archivist. "They are an ambitious nation."

The truth is that Dodge is about as German as popcorn. John and Horace Dodge did not come from Germany. They were just a pair of clever investors who made a pile of money as backers of Henry Ford and used this cash to start their own automobile business. Fourteen years later they made a pile more money when they sold the firm to Walter Chrysler. Fast forward 70 years and Chrysler is sold to Daimler-Benz and thus today Dodge is run by a man called Dieter Zetsche and decisions are made in Stuttgart.

The Mole's theories about Dodge had first been ignited by the strange news that NASCAR team boss Ray Evernham is opening an engine development company in England. It was true that NASCAR might benefit from British technology (Ford has been using Cosworth to develop its NASCAR engines for years) but even so a stand-alone facility was an odd thing to do. Even odder was the fact that Evernham was sending over his top engine man to head the programme.

This did not mean much until Dodge announced that it had plans to launch itself on to the world automobile market with plans to go into the luxury mid-size car sector. If The Mole's office had bells and flashing lights on the walls they would have all gone off when this news came in. The Mole's men in Detroit scrambled for more information and back came the news that Dodge had plans for Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. It read like a list of countries where Formula 1 is at its most effective.

"Does it make sense for Mercedes-Benz and Dodge to compete against one another?" said The Mole.

Schmutzli shrugged.

"Well, I suppose that Ford and Jaguar had engines branded differently last year. And Ferrari had the Sauber thing as well."

"And," said The Mole, following the thought, "the manufacturers are talking about supplying smaller teams with engines and so dual branding might make sense."

"When you know the men in the black leather jackets in Stuttgart, you will know that they always want to go one better than every one so having two distinct programmes is better than just supplying identical engines. They will think that having two engine teams will get better results. They would share information but apply it differently."

The Mole smiled.

"That's almost like a Honda management theory," he said.

Schmutzli nodded.

"Ja," he said.

The Mole thought for a moment. If you had Ilmor and Evernham working on parallel but different programmes it would be cheaper than having two programmes but would appear to be very different. That would produce impressive value for money in marketing terms. It would produce benefits not just in F1 but also in NASCAR and might even result in the possibility of driver exchanges in the future. Dodge has Kasey Kahne on its books. He's 24 and already NASCAR Rookie of the Year, the youngest rookie of the year since Jeff Gordon in 1993, and if he were to win the NASCAR title and then go international he could be a major star in the United States, which would be good for the sport and great for Dodge. As to which team might be involved in such a deal there are a couple of options. Red Bull is looking for an engine and trying to promote its coolness in America (Kahne would be just the icon that the Austrians would love to have) and might be willing to supply money to fund the engine. Mercedes affiliate McLaren is also talking about a secondary team, with funding from Dubai, a major target for Dodge products.

Dodge's sporting achievements to date are mainly in NASCAR where the company won titles with great names such as Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson and Bobby Isaac and in recent times, at a lower level, with the Viper sports car.

The Mole's reverie was interrupted by Schmutzli opening the drawer of one of his filing cabinets.

"The good thing would be that there would be another manufacturer in F1," said The Mole.

"Ja, that is quite important." said Schmutzli, "I cannot see how Ferrari can go on dodging the bullets if Fiat takes away Maserati. Maserati was there to be revamped and to generate cash for Ferrari. Fiat will now pay Ferrari a lump sum in cash but once that is spent what are they going to do? If Fiat sells more shares in Ferrari the shareholders will want better returns because now Ferrari spends all of its profits in F1. The other option is for Ferrari to take over another Fiat brand and spruce it up like they did with Maserati. That could generate more cash for racing."

The Mole smiled.

"Yes," he said. "Fiat has used Ferrari to make Maserati look good. Now Maserati will make Alfa Romeo look good. That would leave Fiat boss Luca di Montezemolo with only two brands with poor images: Fiat and Lancia. Fiat is always going to be Fiat but if he can build a new Punto or the Italian equivalent of a Peugeot 205 he would have that sorted out. Lancia is a bit more difficult but if he let Ferrari have it and then did the same job on it as they did with Maserati they could end up building cars that people want to buy again. It is probably the only way that he can hope to make Fiat Auto profitable again. He needs to sell more cars because the Italian unions will not let him close factories and lay-off workers, so he has to wait for Fiat employees to retire. Building new factories in different locations is a good way to improve production and to cut staff without the unions complaining."

"That would do the trick," said Schmutzli.

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