Western Automotive Journalists Dinner Meeting

It really is a global village. Where else would you find a first generation Australian, of Greek heritage, running a Swedish auto company owned by an American car company, headquartered in New Jersey?

Anastasios Tassos Panas’ parents emigrated from Greece to Australia in the mid-1950s. Tassos, as he is known, worked his way through university at a Ford of Australia factory. He graduated with an engineering degree and went to work full time for Ford of Australia. He never left the Ford family. Now he is Executive Vice President of Sales Operations for Volvo Cars of North America. (It might seem strange that an engineer would end up in sales but it is a path well travelled.) Last night Tassos was the guest speaker at the Western Automotive Journalists dinner.

Anyone who draws a breath knows that North American auto sales are in the toilet. Volvo sales are even worse, thanks in part to the relationship of the Krona versus the dollar. To make matters even worse, Ford is trying to decide if they should sell Volvo or not. The suspense hurts.

Surprisingly with such a dark outlook, Tassos was relatively upbeat. At the beginning of his talk Tassos admitted that this was the first time he had addressed a group or journalists. If he was worried he shouldn’t have been, he was a natural.

I talked to Tassos (just about everyone called him by his middle name; I don’t think I heard one person address him as “Anastasios” or “Mr. Panas”) informally before the meeting. He was “one of the guys” as we talked about a variety of auto topics but I sensed a keen, probing mind. At the end of the night I would have to say that he is the type of guy who listens well, which in my book is the mark of an intelligent person. He knows his stuff – he was well prepared – and he is quick. I wouldn’t say our group peppered him with hard questions but he never had to search for an answer.

What does the future hold for Volvo? Like most auto companies Volvo is retrenching. If you go back in time, Volvo used to build basically one model. Sure they ventured outside the box (that’s a pun) now and then but their bread and butter was safe, reliable, long-lasting boxes. Volvos were big in the north east, Colorado, and many college towns.

Volvo went through a period of expansion, a time when someone decided that there should be a Volvo for everyone. Now Volvo is concentrating on their core, their higher margin vehicles. Volvo, like any company, needs to remain profitable to stay in business.

My advice to Ford (not that they listen to me), is to keep Volvo. Volvo has a lot to offer Ford. In some ways Volvo is the safety and environmental conscience of Ford. There can be more of course; Ford could – should – share some architecture with Volvo. The Volvo platforms are extremely sturdy and would make a good start for future Lincoln, Mercury and full-size Ford products.

After all, it is a global village isn’t it?


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