General Motors Death Watch 10: Great Landing, Wrong Airport
Vice President Spiro Agnew used to call the press 'nattering nabobs of negativism'. The barb was part of Agnew's campaign against the press during the Nixon administration. Today, GM and its apologists are also accusing journalists of negative bias. While their language isn't as colorful as the disgraced Veep's, the idea is the same: GM is the victim of a malicious media. Sure, the company has a few 'issues', but the media's perception of GM's products (and therefore the public's) lags behind reality. GM isn't bad. It's just misunderstood.
This anti-media bunkering was recently emboldened by customer surveys from Strategic Vision Inc. and JD Power. In Strategic Vision's 'Total Quality Award', GM scored more victories than any other manufacturer. Six GM products took the top slot in their genre: the Pontiac G6, Buick Rainier, GMC Sierra, Cadillac Escalade, Chevrolet Corvette and Hummer H2 (tied with the Range Rover). Given the G6' lukewarm reviews, the scorn heaped upon the gas-guzzling Hummer and the cold shoulder afforded the Ranier, Sierra and Escalade; the survey provided plenty of ammunition for GM supporters who consider the press 'hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history'. Well it ain't necessarily so.
Strategic Vision's Total Quality Award study is based on founder Dr. Darrell Edwards' 'Tree of ValueCentered Knowledge', a 'comprehensive theory of human behavior… that describes, explains, and predicts choices that any individual or group of individuals might make'. Strategic Vision uses this trademarked theoretical construct to measure a customer's feelings of 'balance, self-esteem, freedom and security' as they relate to a product. Strategic claims to have quizzed over 40,000 new car owners about, well, I'm still not really sure.
Even if you accept Strategic's enigmatic methodology, there are serious questions about the company's independence. Strategic lists GM, Daimler Chysler, BMW, Kia, Nissan, Ford and Volvo as clients. Is it a coincidence that these companies topped 18 of the 20 categories? I'm not qualified to comment on the Buick Ranier's ability to foster self-esteem, but the fact that this obscure vehicle scooped best mid-size SUV– on any level– is deeply suspicious.
JD Power's 2005 Initial Quality Study (IQS) appears to be more scientific than Strategic Vision's touchy feely assessment. JD quizzed 62k customers after the first 100 days of new vehicle ownership, measuring 135 attributes in nine categories (e.g. ride and handling). The survey establish a vehicle's 'problems per 100 vehicles' (pp100). JD awarded five GM products top slots in their segments: the Chevrolet Malibu, Buick Century, Buick LaSabre, GM Sierra and Chevrolet Suburban. Once again, the results are good news for GM (accepted without question by the 'pusillanimous pussyfoots' of the press). Once again, the results do not speak for themselves.
For one thing, JD's methodology is not subject to independent review. They also sell their services to the same companies they investigate. Equally important, the IQS gauges the discrepency between a customer's expectations and their experience. By that standard, JD's survey tells you more about a car's owner than the product's build quality. The results may well reveal nothing more profound than the fact that a working class Malibux Maxx owner is less demanding than a white collar Porsche owner.
The results may also be irrelevant. Since 1978, the auto's industry pp100 average has dropped from 176 to 118. As anyone who ever bought a car in the 70's will tell you, ALL vehicles are better than they were, most are damn fine and very few require lemon-aid. I wouldn't want to be at the bottom of JD Power's IQS chart, but neither would I assume that a top ranking equals brand loyalty.
Of course, neither of these psychological surveys is a reliable indicator of a vehicle's popularity in the only arena where it really counts: the commercial marketplace. There is only one objective measure for that: the sales charts. By this accounting, the vast majority of GM's cars, trucks and SUV's are failing to cut the proverbial mustard. Fixing that trend is the best– indeed, the ONLY way– to silence the 'impudent corps of effete snobs' known as GM's critics.
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