Armchair Executive: Where Should We Move Our U.S. Headquarters?

This is the weekly series where you, the Autosavant commentariat, are invited to take the reins of the auto industry, for at least as long as it takes you to write a comment. It’s all the responsibility, with none of the compensation!

Scarcely a month after being appointed president of Cadillac, Johan de Nysschen (formerly of Infiniti, formerly of Audi, formerly of a BMW dealer chain in South Africa) wasted no time shaking things up at GM’s luxury division, revealing that he would take the brand–and all its things–away from its family home, the Renaissance Center in Detroit, and pack it off to a high-rise in New York City. This is the first domestic GM auto brand to be headquartered outside of the RenCen since Saturn (next to its own plant in Spring Hill, TN).

Not long before that, as part of the finalization of the company structure that would become Fiat Chrysler Automobile (FCA), CEO Sergio Marchionne made the decision to headquarter the company, not in Detroit or Turin, but the Olympic Park area of London. That’s London, England. One of the most car-unfriendly cities in the world. Not exactly an epicenter of automotive culture. (The same could rightly be said of NYC.)

Per Marchionne, their move was purely for logistical reasons; it placed FCA’s offices in a politically neutral environment between Fiat and Chrysler’s existing headquarters, delicately removing one of the barriers to FCA’s healthy marriage. In Cadillac’s case, the reason cited was to get the brand out into fresh air, near two thoroughfares that define its target audience–Wall St. and Madison Ave. “If we stayed where we’ve been, nothing would change,” said de Nysschen.

And also, since it’s apparently moving season, Toyota is currently moving its U.S. headquarters from Torrance, CA to Plano, TX this year, to be closer to its truck manufacturing facilities in San Antonio.

None of these examples has had time to pan out just yet; we have no idea if history will view these moves as success or failure.

But what if you were in charge? Why do it? What conditions make it worth the cost and time and energy it takes to make a new home for yourself as an automaker? Have things gotten so stale at the home office that it’s time for a permanent change of scenery? Does that say more about your location or your people?

When is it worth the expenditure of finding new real estate, making deals with local governments, helming the PR blitz, transporting all your stuff, building out all-new offices, moving your essential staff, buying out your non-essential staff, hiring new staff?

Perhaps more importantly: where the heck do you want to go?

Do you pick a congested city center such as New York, downtown LA or Chicago? Do you shop states and local municipalities against each other, creating a bidding war of tax incentives and favorable zoning conditions, as Tesla did with its new Gigafactory site in Reno, NV? How about planting your roots in a smaller (but equally accessible) town with almost no automotive presence, such as Henderson, NV or South Bend, IN (ancestral home to Studebaker)?

Where to, boss?

Have your say below in the Comments.

Author: David Surace

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1 Comment

  1. I would move it to a location that the company can be proud of. BMW, Audi and Mercedes can say “Made in Germany”, which has all sorts of engineering/performance stereotypes associated with it. They can market themselves as being designed for the Autobahn. The marketing of those vehicles are associated with the national brand and image.

    What can Cadillac say? “Designed in Detroit?” What connotation does that carry, now that the world knows the condition that the city is in right now?

    What about “Built for the interstate highways”? Yeah. Right. The roads that are falling apart all over the nation. That may work for the F-150 if it was marketed as “Built tough to withstand treacherous pavement conditions on American highways.”

    I firmly believe that the image of vehicle manufacturers are associated with the overall image of its location, and plays a huge role in its marketing. I hate to say it, but Detroit just doesn’t cut it and Nysschen knows that. New York, California or even Washington would generate a more positive image (your iPhone proudly displays “Designed by Apple in California”).

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