• U.S.

Autos: Two for American Motors

3 minute read

Far more than any other U.S. automaker, American Motors Corp. under George Romney has been a one-man show. Last week, when Romney stepped out as chairman and president of A.M.C. to campaign for the Republican nomination for Governor of Michigan, the company’s directors chose two men to take his place.

Roy Abernethy, 55, an A.M.C. vice president since 1954, will boss day-to-day operations as the company’s new president. He is called chief operations officer, while Richard Eugene Cross, 51, A.M.C. legal counsel and new chairman, will be called chief executive officer. Both will serve on a six-man policy committee charged with long-range planning. Cross plans to remain with his Detroit law firm but will I devote a “major portion” of his time to A.M.C. affairs.

Gospel of Success. Bluff, cigar-smoking (ten Coronas a day) Roy Abernethy started out as an apprentice Packard mechanic at 18¢ an hour in 1926. By the time he joined Romney seven years ago, Abernethy had won a formidable reputation as a Packard dealer ($1,000,000 worth of cars in a single year in Hartford, Conn.) and as sales vice president of Willys Motors. At A.M.C. he put new life into a listless sales organization by flying 50,000 miles a year to spread Romney’s gospel of the compact car. Cross, a quiet, analytical attorney, drew up the 1954 merger papers that created A.M.C. from Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motor Car Co., became a director of the company the same year, and a member of the policy committee in 1959.

Abernethy and Cross take command of a financially strong company whose sales have soared from $362 million (91,469 autos) in 1957 to more than $1 billion (422,273 autos) in 1960. Though sales slipped during recession-hit 1961, A.M.C. reported a record 137,337 Ramblers sold during the first four months of the 1962 model year, and Abernethy predicts a domestic total of 450,000 for the full year. The company’s working capital has swollen from a low of $46 million in 1957 to $103 million at the end of last year. A $10 million, long-term debt has been paid off.

No Throb. Nonetheless, problems loom for A.M.C. One of the new management’s first chores will be to find a replacement for Sales Vice President Virgil E. Boyd, 49, who was lured to Chrysler Corp. as vice president and general sales manager last week by a “tremendous offer I just couldn’t afford to refuse.” A.M.C. earnings fell from $48 million in 1960 to $23.6 million last year as spending on production facilities and merchandising was hiked to meet stiffening competition from Big3 compacts. Wall Street analysts are generally bearish about prospects for continued A.M.C. growth. Rambler, they reason, has lost its “uniqueness,” and American taste is trending back from the compact toward larger cars. “A.M.C. will have to restyle and shift gears completely,” predicted one Wall Streeter.

“They’ve got a headache.” So far, however, aggressive Roy Abernethy shows no sign of throbbing temples. “When they challenge me, brother,” he booms, “I take them on.”

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