By on September 15, 2009

GM’s constant reference to the “perception gap” is, without doubt, the most galling thing about the company. Despite sucking-up over $62 billion in taxpayer money, the nationalized automaker continues to insist there’s nothing wrong with our products. Oh no, American-consumers are a bunch of [Jap-loving] idiots. If if they would just open their minds they’d see that they’re idiots. And buy our cars. And save the company. And keep Mexicans Americans employed. And get their taxes back. Now, adding insult to insult, they’re launching a taxpayer-funded ad campaign based on that premise: “May the Best Car Win.” Note to New GM: it HAS been winning. Ipso ’effing facto. Now LEAVE IT ALONE. But oh no. In fact, the car Czar who drove GM into the dirt is flooring it, betting the company’s future on this series of comparison ads. And he’s got a new name for “the perception gap” not because he understands the problem but because he’s bored with it.

Here we go, from Daniel Howes’ column in this morning’s Detroit News:

What does it say about Buick when GM asks folks to identify the most prominent vehicles in the line-up and the answers are “Park Avenue” and “Rendezvous” — neither of which can be found (thankfully) in showrooms?

It says they know where Buick’s been, not where it is or where it’s going. Lutz calls that “false familiarity,” arguably worse than no familiarity at all with what GM’s doing today, just months after emerging from a whirlwind through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.It says they know where Buick’s been, not where it is or where it’s going. Lutz calls that “false familiarity,” arguably worse than no familiarity at all with what GM’s doing today, just months after emerging from a whirlwind through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Howes ignores the outrageousness of Lutz’s steadfast refusal to understand that Buick is an un-brand. As has become the norm, the Motown scribe sums-up with a piercing glimpse into the blindingly obvious.

In a company full of tough jobs, Lutz’s is among the toughest. He, his team and their cadre of outside agencies need to persuade skeptical, sometimes hostile, consumers to give GM another try.

Does that sound familiar? Of wait, that’s false familiarity. My bad.

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41 Comments on “Quote of the Day: “False Familiarity” Edition...”


  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    It really is very simple.

    Lutz failed before.

    He shouldn’t be allowed to tinker with the survival of the company again.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    If people still think that the “park avenue” and “rendezvous” are still part of Buick’s line-up, then surely (as a marketing bod) Mr Lutz can gauge from that when people started to lose interest in Buick? Use this information to your advantage, surely (insert joke about “don’t call me “Shirley”)?

    Mr Berkowitz,

    Lutz didn’t fail, he was a victim of the “Perception gap”. Did you not hear him….?

  • avatar
    rnc

    Did he fail because he’s an idiot or was it because the money just wasn’t there?, i.e., the cars got to a point and then GM just couldn’t afford to put anymore into them and rather than just focusing a couple of cars for each brand they continued to push the full line up for each without the funding? And was that because of him or Wagner and company?

    I mean all of these people who rave about how great ChryCo was b4 MB (i’m not one of them), he did that, he’s the one who led the coup against iacocca.

    However GM does seem to be following the “Heros of the Past” fallacy (There is a set of rules for turning around companies in distress, the first is: “Don’t Worship Hero’s of the Past” the past can’t save you). Apple is a rare exception, Dell is a good example.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    It says they know where Buick’s been, not where it is or where it’s going.

    No shit. This is why trying to make Buick into the budget version of America’s Acura or Audi is probably one of GM’s stupidest moves ever (after trying to make Olds into the same, trying to make Saturn in Volkswagen, and hallucinating that Pontiac was the American VW).

    They don’t get it. Bob Lutz or someone similar will say “Buick is the new Lexus” and suddenly they all expect us to participate in their common hallucination. It’s worrying when a company takes it’s own PR as gospel because it shows they really have no operational leadership: they’re running on hope and pronouncements.

    Buick is actually very good at what it does: selling Regals, Centuries and perhaps the odd Enclave to people who pay near-sticker. What they shouldn’t be is a way to sop up volume now that Pontiac is gone, and what they really shouldn’t be is a volume sop and a Lexus wannabe at the same time. That GM thinks this can work is myopic.

    It’s not a perception gap when the reality of what a brand is doesn’t match your six-week old marketing campaign’s vision for it. That’s not a perception gap or a “false familiarity”, it’s a gross failure to understand how marketing works.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    I think they ought to bring back the Buick Roadmaster. That name may be on of the best names in the history of cars. The name says it all: Roadmaster, Master of the Road. Perhaps some day in the future, when better cars are built…

  • avatar
    geeber

    What does it say about Buick when GM asks folks to identify the most prominent vehicles in the line-up and the answers are “Park Avenue” and “Rendezvous” — neither of which can be found (thankfully) in showrooms?

    This sentence sums up the real problem. About 10 years ago, the Park Avenue and Rendezvous were supposed to be the perception changers. Now, they are apparently part of Buick’s unwanted and best-forgotten past, at least according to the hometown editorial writer who has been one of the company’s chief boosters.

    How do we know that the new LaCrosse and Enclave won’t be viewed the same way in 2015?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    If people still think that the “park avenue” and “rendezvous” are still part of Buick’s line-up, then surely (as a marketing bod) Mr Lutz can gauge from that when people started to lose interest in Buick?

    Hah! Yes, that’s exactly true.

    The problem** at GM is that they see their failure to market effectively as a fault of the customer. Think about the combined hubris and ignorance that must take: Failure in marketing is not a customer problem by it’s very definition.

    It’s not up to the customer to establish a relationship with you, it’s up to you to do the same. If no one eats at your restaurant even though the food is pretty good, the solution is not to tell people they’re idiots for not buying your food. Good lord, Marketing as a profession figured this shit out a century ago! How is it that one of the largest and longest-lived consumer-product producers cannot figure this out!?

    ** ok, not the problem, but one of the big ones

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    GM’s products have improved, but their “executive-BS-clowns” haven’t. People don’t like to see A-holes win, thus the need for a very public firing of all 500-1000 of the top GM bozos. Only then will “perception” change, or more to the point, the willingness to give a company a second chance. People love a good butt-whipping, and a good comeback story.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    “How do we know that the new LaCrosse and Enclave won’t be viewed the same way in 2015?”

    Because, long term engagement, or lack thereof, has been one the most persistent sicknesses in the American auto industry since, I don’t know?

    1. Come up with a new hail Mary nameplate, the Next Big Thing, this is gonna bring home the bacon once and for all kinda cars. And benchmark it to the current competition, do not think ahead.

    2. Let it wither on the vine. No major up-grades, just let it slide.

    3. When the competition have launched a new generation, let it slide some more.

    4. When it’s obvious that your old hail Mary is a non-contender, lose the nameplate, and…

    5. Invest all your fortunes in the Next Big Thing.

    6. Rinse. Repeat. Profit.

  • avatar

    KatiePuckrik:
    “If people still think that the “park avenue” and “rendezvous” are still part of Buick’s line-up”

    Here’s how bad it is:

    I thought the Rendevous was still around…

  • avatar
    onerareviper

    Detroit-X,

    EXACTLY!

  • avatar
    26theone

    Get on with it and move the whole “Brand” to China already.

  • avatar
    stars9texashockey

    26theone,

    Couldn’t agree more. The minute that Buick was spared b/c of China’s love for the brand, GM was doomed domestically. Shows you where they think their future is that they kept their most irrelevant brand name.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    I’m not terribly young (48 in December) but to me “Buick” still = “Grampa Car.”

    In fact, I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t associate Buick and Oldsmobile with grandparents. If there was a time when Buick stood for innovation or performance, it was before I started getting an interest in cars (circa the mid ’70′s.)

  • avatar
    wmba

    Paragraph 2 above by Daniel Howes in the editorial space is deja vu.Paragraph 2 above by Daniel Howes in the editorial space is deja vu.

    Just like Lutz’s feelings about potential customers: “They don’t get it.” Again.

  • avatar
    ajla

    @Martin Albright:

    If there was a time when Buick stood for innovation or performance, it was before I started getting an interest in cars (circa the mid ’70’s.)

    Not a big Grand National fan I take it?

  • avatar
    jjdaddyo

    Here’s my question, which I have been asking for probably 3 years now: why does anyone in top management at GM (ESPECIALLY Lutz) still have a job?
    If you run a McDonald’s into the ground, you get fired. If you waste $100 billion plus, you keep your job? How does that work?

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    Maybe they should try improving their cars instead of scrapping the whole lineup and bringing out new models with new names every few years, in hopes that people will forget the old ones.

    When they badge-engineer the Volt into a Buick, they damned-well better call it “Electra”!

    @Ingvar: I fully agree regarding the Roadmaster. A new Roadmaster has GOT to be a fullsize RWD car though. They’d have to tap Holden again.

    @Martin Albright: Grand National

  • avatar
    MikeInCanada

    My dad, (in his late 70′s)recently referred to Buick’s as “Doctors cars”.

    I replied that “No dad, doctors cars are now Lexus and BMW’s…any doctor driving a Buick probably has another doctor – in a Lexus – following closely behind as he is likely to suffer some type of old age seizure at any time…”

    “Really? I find that hard to believe…all of my doctors always drove Buick’s.”

    “Umm, I better go talk to mom about your health care…”

  • avatar

    When you place the blame for your own company’s screwups on the customers, you’ll never be able to objectively see what went wrong. It’s arrogance cultivated for decades — GM still believes that its customers are morons who will buy any ol’ thing GM benevolently places at their dirty little feet.

    The public’s made clear they won’t buy from companies who think their customers are dumbfrucks. GM can’t see that — after all, those customers are just dumbfrucks, anyway.

    GM will never get anything right because they can’t see what the problem is. As long as the execs’ salaries and benefits are taken care of, they won’t see any problem.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    First, that picture of the 750i with the Buick logo is quite funny.

    Second, putting Lutz in charge of marketing is like bringing a baseball bat to a football game. Wrong tool, and I mean that in every sense of the word.

    Of course GM “leadership” blames the customer. It’s the same folks at the helm as Old GM. Expecting something different from them would be unrealistic.

    Since the bankruptcy was nothing more than Kabuki theater, nothing’s changed except Rick’s departure and the possibility that they turned some voice mailboxes back on.

  • avatar
    tedj101

    >>Here’s how bad it is:

    I thought the Rendevous was still around<<

    It is — on dealers’ lots… It just isn’t being produced any more !

  • avatar
    kamiller42

    @Detroit-X, it will take more than firing a bunch of white collar workers to turn GM around. The people on the line need to swallow a huge piece of humble pie and dissolve the union and forgive some promises it was made. This a defensive position. Take the offensive position when and if GM turns around.

  • avatar

    Buick: Unappealing. Bland. Been around forever. Gotta be an angle here.Let’s think…the brand needs edge — even, dare I say, an aura of forbidden excitement.

    I’ve got it! Just change a few words in those horrid Miracle Whip spots. Yeah, that’s it! Shout it loud, kids: We’re Buick, and we will not tone it down!

  • avatar
    Logans_Run

    I wonder when GM will reach the point where it will start blaming failure on the US taxpayers?

  • avatar
    AG

    This is a serious question:

    Did someone photoshop a Buick logo on that Hyundai Sonata?

  • avatar
    mikey

    @kamiller42 The people on the line {hourly workers}have granted massive concessions to GM. The union workers have seen huge cutbacks with entire plants being shut down.

    The higher up salary people took a 10% cut in pay. GM is giving them up to 9% back.

    The hourly people didn’t make the decisions that put GM in the position they are today.

  • avatar
    rnc

    The hourly people didn’t make the decisions that put GM in the position they are today.

    I don’t blame the union as a whole, but at some point in the 80′s they should have begun to realize that the costs associated with the benefits that they took in the 70′s were leading directly to the decisions that were being made by management and made a correction (the President of the UAW in the 80′s, the one who approved the saturn deal, did seem to understand this and for trying to make the changes necessary was pushed out). I’ve said it before, I bet there’s alot of former UAW workers that would love to have 80% of what they had before and there would be alot more UAW jobs now if they had.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I don’t blame the union as a whole, but at some point in the 80’s they should have begun to realize that the costs associated with the benefits that they took in the 70’s were leading directly to the decisions that were being made by management

    Well, yes and no.

    As has been pointed out already, GM’s operating costs are lower, on a per-vehicle basis, than Toyota’s. The problem isn’t cost as much as it is revenue: they’re not able to sell their products for enough money and/or in enough volume to meet their costs.

    Or, that GM hasn’t been able to come up with a compelling reason to get people to pay sticker for their cars.

    The union benefits packages are pretty ironclaed, but as per conservative propaganda of the seventies and eighties, lower taxes, less regulation and no social safety net should have offset that. They compound the problem, for sure, but GM management would likely still screw it up even if it’s obligations and legacy costs disappeared entirely.

    You can see this in how they do product development: they’re fully capable of making a decent car, probably moreso than Toyota, but they either don’t want to make it, engineer a myopic compromise and/or completely bungle the product planning and marketing.

  • avatar
    pnnyj

    This is just one more in a long line of statements that they think that their customers are morons.

    But in Lutz’s and GM’s defense, you must be pretty stupid to buy a car from a company that so obviously hates its customers. So there.

  • avatar
    ChristyGarwood

    @ mikey – good to see you commenting again – I was feeling lonely as the only GM employee/ retiree here

    @ Martin Albright – we are about the same age, didn’t the ’69 Buick Riviera catch your eye? Or the Reatta in 1988 with it’s touch screen controls? They did mine even though I couldn’t afford them then. Not really grandparent cars.

    @ AG and jkross22 – Regarding the picture, I believe someone “Shanghai-ed” the Park Avenue… if you know what I mean. Bertel probably spies them on the road.

    @rnc and psarhjinian – this is just my personal opinion, but GM’s financial woes cannot be blamed solely on superior UAW-CAW negotiators. Think of GM as a huge bank or national government with billions of dollars on hand every night. Think of GM as a holding company that is also controlling GMAC and all of it loans, commercial, residential, car, packaged combinations, etc. Think of the troubles that Lehman Bros. and AIG got into with billions at their disposal and the unfettered financial markets of the early part of this decade.

    Some of the other missteps by GM in the past are discussed in detail here, I won’t deja vu them all over again as in para. 2 of the DN quote above.

    But I will say that from my little sphere here in Warren, I will do my best to focus on what the customers want and push my coworkers to change to achieve that. Because I would prefer that my pension comes not from the tax dollars I have paid in the past, but from a GM pension trust fund supported by good old fashioned capitalist profits.

    And I hope that if any one here is thinking of a new car/ truck, forget GM’s ads and senior leaders and go for a test drive in a Chevy Equinox or Camaro, GMC Crew Cab Hybrid, Buick LaCrosse, or CTS Sedan or Sports Wagon. Drive like you would in the real world, not along some dealer’s planned route. If you don’t like it, go buy whatever you want because thankfully we live in free countries and can do just that.

    Thanks for listening everyone…

  • avatar
    mikey

    @ Christy…Oh yeah I’m still here. I read more and comment less these days. Though I will step in if I figure that GM employees are being treated unfairly in the comment section.

    However if I jumped on every anti GM comment,I would wear out my laptop.

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    Regarding the picture, I believe someone “Shanghai-ed” the Park Avenue… if you know what I mean. Bertel probably spies them on the road.

    How did you know that Bertel is the source of the picture? Were you Peking?

  • avatar
    rnc

    ChristyGarwood:

    Using your example imagine that the corporation with $ billions had lots of employees who felt that they were entitled to huge salaries and benefits regardless of the companies performance or economic conditions and everytime a new dollar was made or saved it was just looked at as another dollar to be taken (kind of like the employees at AIG, GS, ML or…)

  • avatar
    ChristyGarwood

    Lokkii – if it looks like a duck… ;-)

    rnc – I imagine lots of things, and then there are facts that most of us will never uncover. Greed occurs at all levels of the human existence.

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    My belief is that GM’s culture started to fail when they put an accounting type at the top. One of my professors taught that as a formula for failure back in the 70′s.

    Essentially, the game changed from making cars to making money. Once the cars became the means and not the end, fall was inevitable.

    GM had enough sales volume that they could increase profits by decreasing quality, and they had enough quality that they thought they could reduce it without hurting sales.

    And so it started – saving a nickle on every door handle by making them thinner. You have four on each car, so you save 20 cents a car. You end up saving $10 a car and you sell a half million cars. Nobody noticed the decrease in quality, the thinner metal, the cheaper cloth on the seats, because the changes were minimal.

    But it worked so well, they did it a second year. And a third, and a fourth… and a 10th. Since the declines were incremental, nobody really noticed until one day the door handles were breaking in customer’s hands, the sheet metal was rusting overnight, the seats were wearing out in a year.

    Then it was too late.

    No, it wasn’t the unions that killed GM, it was the accountants. They saved themselves into bankruptcy.

  • avatar
    brush

    Buick Park Avenue = old man’s car, doctor’s car
    “Did someone photoshop a Buick logo on that Hyundai Sonata” I don’t think so.
    “First, that picture of the 750i with the Buick logo is quite funny”, GM marketing will love that.

    For those that lusted after a G8, this will be a close as you will get to one, unless you import and convert to LHD, a Holden Statesman/Caprice to the USA.

    Chinese Buick Park Avenue = Holden Statesman with smaller motors than we Aussies’ enjoy. This is the car that killed GM’s idea of importing Cadillacs to Australia, and why GM won’t allow the Statesman to go over as an upmarket brand. It’ll show up the Cadillacs.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buick_Park_Avenue#Shanghai-GM_Buick_Park_Avenue

    If you want a real Cadillac/300c/whatever Ford has got destroyer, checkout the HSV Grange.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    If my memory serves me correctly (and I think it does) it was Lutz who championed decontenting claiming what was being decontented were things customers would never notice. So you can’t blame it all on the accountants.

    I think Lutz is entering his last flameout and seriously doubt he or any of the rest of the current top brass will be around much longer. I don’t think the Task Force will allow it. Although I am surprised they’re all still there.

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    geeber :
    This sentence sums up the real problem. About 10 years ago, the Park Avenue and Rendezvous were supposed to be the perception changers. Now, they are apparently part of Buick’s unwanted and best-forgotten past

    Or does it mean that Buick customers would really rather have a Park Avenue than what is currently being offered? (I refuse to defend the Rendez-poo)

    I saw the picture at the top of this story and I hoped, vainly I gather, that I was looking at the 2011 US market Park Avenue. So, I have to go to China to get a new car that is genuinely full size and has windows that you can see out of?

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    My belief is that GM’s culture started to fail when they put an accounting type at the top. One of my professors taught that as a formula for failure back in the 70’s.

    That would be Alfred Sloan, then. Though I will agree that for all his success, the rot did start with Sloan’s policies

    Essentially, the game changed from making cars to making money. Once the cars became the means and not the end, fall was inevitable.]

    Again, that was a Sloan thing. GM’s founder, William Durant, was a car guy, but he was also suffered from corporate ADHD in the worst way. Sloan got that under control and focused GM on profits, not niche-chasing.

    Saying “it’s the beancounters” is just as much an oversimplification as saying “it’s the UAW”. The problem is that GM’s leadership has, since Sloan, been unfamiliar with the idea of accountability. It didn’t matter that they were accountants or engineers. What GM needs is someone, or a group of someones, who want to make them a successful company by the objective standard of selling people good cars at a profit.

    People are fond of saying Toyota is the new GM, but it’s really not true. There’s an important difference between the two companies: Toyota acknowledges mistakes and takes corrective action; GM does not. GM has no ability to be introspective or self-critical: Rick Wagoner or Bob Lutz would never have made Kat Watanbe’s admission of failure, and certainly would never have accepted responsibility and resigned of their own accord. You’d never see Henderson saying anything near as concrete as what Akio Toyoda has about where this company needs to be. They’d just push on, throwing shit against the wall.

    GM actually comes across as a badly-run government, not a corporation who has to compete in a cut-throat marketplace, and they have been this way since long before they were panhandling at Uncle Sam. They act as if they have a right to exist in perpetuity and show no sense of changing, not even now.

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Christy et al: Nope, never heard of the Grand National. I was 7 years old in 1969, not much interest in cars at the time.

    Reatta? Never heard of it. Sounds like either the name of an exotic disease or one of those drugs that they sell on those long commercials where they tout the product for 25 seconds and then spend the next 2 minutes on warnings and disclaimers.


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