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4/13/2005

GM’s Gary Grates Let’s It Loose!

Filed under: — GM Guy @ 2:50 pm

Well, you have to give GM lots of props for standing tall against what they perceive as unfair treatment by the press, ie the LA Times. At the GM corporate blog, Fastlane, Gary Grates, GM North America Vice President, Communications, explains their actions in pulling all corporate advertising from the Times last week, and gives us insight into their attitudes toward criticism, both positive and negative. It’s a long post and well worth the read, here is just a taste:

We were one of the first companies to establish a blog where our executives could express their opinions in their own words, unfiltered by anyone else, and hear back directly from enthusiasts and others interested in what we do. Bob Lutz has stated repeatedly in this forum that criticism is welcome, and we’ve published a good amount of it, along with the praise.

But neither do we think that any business should remain mute when it sincerely believes it has been treated unfairly or attacked by reporting that is unsupported by facts and unrelated to reality. It is extremely rare that we take the kind of action we did with the Times, but it is fully within our right to spend our advertising dollars where we see fit.

We anticipate having more to say once the Times reaches its own conclusions, and we’ll share that with you here when the time comes. Until then, acting in good faith and out of respect for the Times’ process for dealing with such issues, we will opt to not add fuel to the media fire.

Guess we’ll wait for the Times’ ombudsman’s decision and see where the General goes from there. Now it’s really getting interesting. You know the old adage about exposure. Wonder why Ford hasn’t stirred up a fuss with someone to get their press freebie?

What Does It Mean To Drive a “GM"?

Filed under: — GM Guy @ 10:19 am

In the Fastlane blog post Sharpening Focus, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz explains the recent corporate reorganization at the top instituted by GM Chairman Rick Wagner, wherein Wagner is taking over responsibility for all of No. America, and Lutz is being moved to be the head of product development worldwide. Now, actually this is old news, blog wise, but a short blurb in today’s LA Times called All GM Brands to Get Logo made me go back and reread the Lutz announcement to see if I could find any hints at this new development.

My first reaction was, “wait a minute, they all HAVE logos now!", then I paid attention . . .

Saying that many consumers are unaware that Cadillac, Saab, Chevrolet and other brands are part of General Motors Corp., the automaker on Tuesday announced that it would add the GM corporate logo on the side of all its vehicles.

The addition of a silver badge with the GM logo on all 2006 model-year vehicles coincides with the automaker’s recent efforts to promote the GM brand, with increased spending on advertising and marketing.

OK, now I get it. But my question to Lutz, Wagner, and Mark LaNeve, who is now head of sales & marketing for No. America, is this – What happens to the significance of your divisional brands if you successfully brand all your vehicles as GM? What makes a GM Chevrolet Impala any different in the minds of car shoppers from a GM Pontiac Grand Prix? Not much, at least in today’s models, and many of those are destined to continue into ‘06, ‘07 and beyond due to the General’s killing of the Zeta rear-wheel-drive platform to speed up development of the next generation of trucks and SUVs. (Bet that decision sure looked better a few weeks ago before gasoline prices started their race toward the stratosphere!)

To be perversely positive about this GM branding decision, maybe it’s the upper management’s recognition that heritage aside, they have so much overlap in their overall product structure that no future plan can be conceived that will save it as it currently exists. At one time, in the early seventies, there was talk in Washington of severing Chevrolet from the GM family for anti-trust reasons and forcing it to become a standalone entity. Chevy was that strong. That plan failed in large part because Ford, Chrysler & AMC/Jeep (all separate US companies at that time) all feared the competition that would be unleashed with a Chevrolet unburdened from the stoic GM management’s restraints and from a lean/hungry General Motors forcefully separated from its Chevy cash cow. It would have been interesting.

But nothing like that would be possible today. GM no longer has anywhere near 50% of the U.S. market share it did in the late ’60s/early ’70s. Those were salad days for the then largest company in the world. Today, the General must go on a radical “fitness” program, shed dead weight, and speed up development of world-class products, or it’s not going to make it. If you drive the new GM products, and I have leased two since 1988, a Buick and a Pontiac, they are much better than they were in the early ’90s. Unfortunatley, the competition from Japan mostly, and Europe kinda, at least status wise, not to mention Daimler/Chrysler’s rebirth of a modern rear-wheel-drive platform for Chrysler and Dodge has upped the anti faster than the General has been able to react.

I was actually hopeful until I read about the outright killing of the Zeta program, and doubly disturbed to find out that, according to Automotive News, all the products were fully engineered, ready to go to tooling. Later it was announced that Cadillac’s Sigma rear-wheel-drive platform might be shared with some Pontiac & Buick models, but the Zeta was a more modern architecture and would have had less cost built-in as it was not intended for luxury vehicles like the Sigma. So maybe we will get an ‘08 or ‘09 rear-wheel-drive Pontiac GTO, but at what price level? Surely at a premium over what the Zeta based Goat would have been.

So, let’s see what the boys of the Renaissance Center’s upper floors come up with. I just hope they dont’ screw up Cadillac, which has truly put its house in order and only needs a few more product tweaks, mostly in interior materials quality/texture, to be totally competitive in the luxury performance universe. Good luck guys, you’ll need it!

4/8/2005

Virginia Kills Red Light Cameras

Filed under: — GM Guy @ 3:05 pm

Finally, a state with some brains and the stones to stand up to the hysteria of the “safety extremists"! Good going, Virginia. From TheNewsPaper.com:

On Wednesday, the Virginia legislature adjourned for the year without taking action to reauthorize the state’s red light camera program.
(…)
Virginia’s decision was prompted in large measure by a state Department of Transportation study showing an overall increase in injury accidents where red light cameras were used. Similar findings have appeared in studies from North Carolina; Ontario, Canada and Australia.

Go and check out this post as there are lots of links to similar actions in New Hampshire and Indiana.

The Empire Strikes Back - GM Pulls Ads From LA Times

Filed under: — GM Guy @ 9:47 am

In this AM’s Automotive News email wrap up and in the online edition of the Los Angeles Times it was announced that General Motors is suspending ALL advertising in the LA Times over what it calls “factual errors and misrepresentations in the newspaper” according to a company spokesman. AN goes on to say: [Reg. required]

GM did not specify what spurred it to pull its advertising, but the paper’s auto writer Dan Neil on Wednesday published a critical column about the company’s brand strategy and called on GM to “dump” Chairman and Chief Executive Rick Wagoner.

The LA Times response today to yesterday’s pullout by the General includes the following: [Reg. required]

A GM executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday’s review of the Pontiac G6 by Times Pulitzer Prize-winning automobile critic Dan Neil was particularly offensive.

Neil wrote that “GM is a morass of a business case” and called for the ouster of GM’s chairman and chief executive, Rick Wagoner. Among other things, Neil took the company to task for not more aggressively developing fuel-efficient cars and focusing instead on SUVs.

The Dan Neil critical bombast that appeared in Wednesday’s Highway1 section was certainly biting and hyper critical, especially of the newish Pontiac G6, which Neil describes as:

The G6 is not an awful car. It’s entirely adequate. But plainly, adequate is not nearly enough.
(…)
You want excitement from the “Excitement” division? Try to get this thing to turn in a sharp corner.

Bah.

This is an uncompetitive product, an assertion borne out not by my say-so but by sales numbers.

To be fair to the Pontiac, he has a couple of nice things to say about it, amid a plethora of negativity. To be fair to Dan Neil, on most of the points that he covers, I admit, regretfully, that I agree.

You see, when the G6 appeared at the Detroit Auto Show a few years ago it was a stunner, both inside and out, heralding a Bob Lutz driven rennaisance of design for the Pontiac division. With Bob’s track record at Chrysler for bringing incredible show cars to market with a major part of their mojo intact, I, and many others, were expecting him to do so here. But like the ill-fated first generation Olds Aurora and the current Buick LaCrosse, the G6 just didn’t make it out of the “clinics” with its excitement DNA on board.

Bob seems to be directly answering Dan Neil’s call for his head in the most current post at the Fastlane blog, which posted yesterday:

Some of you may may remember my opening salvo for this blog back in January: “After years of reading and reacting to the automotive press it is finally my turn to put the shoe on the other foot. In the age of the Internet, anyone can be a journalist.”

He goes on to assure his readers that his participation in the GM blogging experiment will definitely continue, and that those in power at the General

hear your words loud and clear. We’re redoubling our efforts to build great cars and trucks and we’ll continue to talk about them, right here.

What’s most interesting are the comments, where over-and-over Fastlane readers are pleading with GM to build world-class vehicles so that they can justify buying American, again . . . or still! This writer heartily agrees with that sentiment. I’ve been car shopping for several months now, and the only vehicle in the GM inventory that does anything for me is the Cadillac CTS-"V", which I simply cannot afford. The last two vehicles I’ve leased have been a supercharged Buick Regal GS and a supercharged Pontiac Bonneville SSEI, and both are discontinued, the Regal gone as of the ‘05 model year and the Bonne is gone as of this summer. Maybe I’ll just buy-out the Bonne off lease and sit tight for a few years while/if the company gets itself sorted out. The only Ford product that has any interest for me is the new Mustang (too small for our needs) and Chrysler is a German company, not a domestic any more.

Tom at The True Talk Blog also weighs in on the issue:

Is blogging going to save GM? Nah. But Bob Lutz is showing he’s going to do everything possible to do so, even if it means doing something stupid like blogging.

Swade at Trollhattan blog seconds the emotion:

If you haven’t been tuning in, Bob’s blog is a great forum for not only hearing him address some issues that get twisted in the press a little, but it’s also a great place to read comments from GM customers. People just like you and me.

And Neville Hobson at NevOn blog discusses the effectiveness of Fastlane as a communication tool for the General:

GM made it pretty clear from the outset that the primary purpose of the blog is to engage with customers and car enthusiasts about one topic - GM’s cars. And they have stuck to that goal. Judging from the many comments to every post, that’s what visitors want to talk to GM about. Indeed, just about the only comments that aren’t about the subject matter of a particular post are those by communicators commenting about the blog or the podcasts.

Ok Bob, if you are actually in charge of product worldwide for GM and haven’t just been given a sideways promotion into obscurity, go out there and kick ass, take names, and get the job done! With the resources and depth of talent that GM has at its disposal combined with a corporate commitment to world class products at all price levels, there is no reason that General Motors cannot survive and thrive. Just look within at your Cadillac division. Ten years ago, who would have ever thought a Caddy would again be cool . . . fast . . . and desirable?

4/1/2005

Lutz Sets Record Straight - GM/Ford Share Slips

Filed under: — GM Guy @ 5:47 pm

A little over a week ago business pages in newspapers across the country, as well as trade rags like Automotive News and consumer mags like Autoweek all ran stories about GM’s Co-Chair Bob Lutz’s statement that depending upon future sales results, the General might actually “kill-off” either Pontiac or Buick. This week on his GM blog Fastlane, he set the record strait and backed way off that statement.

Many of you probably read something to the effect that “GM is considering shedding a brand.” Let me say it now, for the world to hear: No, we have no plans to shed a brand. Period.

To my ears, that was great news, I root for the General. But two items that showed up today portend not such good news for the home town boys.

In two different stories, related news shows that our domestic manufacturers have some extremely high hurdles ahead of them due to escalating gasoline prices and declining market share, due to, you guessed it, high gas prices!

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Regular gasoline pump prices in the United States may average as high as $2.50 by Memorial Day, shattering the records as futures prices climb to new peaks, analysts said on Friday.

U.S. retail gasoline is already running above $2.15 a gallon, well beyond last spring’s peak of $2.05, according to government and industry surveys.

&

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Corp. (GM) and Ford Motor Co. (F) posted weaker March U.S. vehicle sales on Friday, losing further market share to Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. <7203.T and Nissan Motor Co. (7201) as high gasoline prices hurt sales of fuel-thirsty sport utility vehicles.

The two biggest Japanese auto makers recorded double-digit sales gains and their best-month ever, as their aggressive expansion into new segments of the market and fresher lineup of cars and trucks wooed customers away from the U.S. auto makers .

The exodus by car buyers, out of U.S. brands and into those of their foreign rivals, is a worrisome trend for Detroit, where Ford and GM have been struggling to revive profits in their automotive operations.

I love big cars, always have, even though I have owned more than my share of Fiats, Mazdas and small BMWs. I drive a Pontiac Bonneville SSEI at the moment, and it does get about 23-26 mpg on the freeway, but on surface streets, where I drive the most, it struggles to return 12.5 per gallon of premium! That’s wasn’t fun at 2 bucks per, and will be dreadful if/when gas hits $3 later this season, and it most likely will! My lease is up in a month . . . what to get now? There’s a question for you!

[Update: 04/02]
Similar discussions can be found at True Talk Blog, where after meeting Bob Lutz at the Auto Show Tom asks, is there still time for GM to make a comback? While at Auto Muse, E.L. Eversman comments on how detructive soundbites can be.

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