By on May 30, 2005

Robert Lutz, Vice Chairman of The General Motors CorporationBob blogs. Mr. Lutz' entries on fastlane.gmblogs.com are irregular enough to merit cybernetic Metamucil, and the GM Vice Chairman's comments are about as 'off the cuff' as the State of the Union address. Even so, the blog provides fascinating insight into The Main Man's mindset. Sure, you have to slow the spin and read between the lines. That just makes it more fun. Bob's last entry, May 12th's 'The Game Plan… an Edited Version', is a perfect example.

Even before we start, he's waffling. The 'edited version' in the title implies that the full blueprint for GM's turnaround is too long or complicated for the General's public. It's a stunningly efficient projection of corporate condescension. In case you missed the point, Maximum Bob immediately reassures visitors that he reads their comments. The hand-holding exercise is necessary because Max Bob never answers a specific post, yet understands that his impersonal commentary violates the spirit of the exercise. To wit: 'I know that some bloggers more quickly than others…we're all doing what we can.'

Now THERE'S a commitment to customer satisfaction. You might even call it GM's attitude in microcosm: "I know some companies build better cars and make more money than GM… we're all doing what we can." Maximum Bob's reliance on the royal "we" is predictable enough, but it still demonstrates that he's ready to hide behind his title when responsibility time rolls around.

Bob's blog then says 'The second and more important issue I've seen asked repeatedly is, 'What is GM's strategy for fixing its issues?'', leading to '…there's no magic bullet for our issues, at least none that we've uncovered.' Michael Jackson has "issues". Dr. Phil has "issues". Auto execs up shit creek without a 300C-shaped paddle should be talking about "problems" or "challenges". And is there or isn't there a magic bullet? Fence-straddling is not an attractive attribute for the head of an automaker losing market share like the Titanic lost buoyancy.

After raising and praising the 'watcha gonna do?' question, Maximum Bob runs away. First he claims that he's already outlined 'what we intend to do", then he says "what we won't tell you is exactly how we intend to do those things." Huh? I'd like to believe that Max Bob is concealing a secret plan to upend the United Auto Workers or unleash new product, but I doubt it. As he doesn't justify his silence, it's all too easy to assume that Max Bob simply doesn't want anyone taking shots at his strategy (should one exist). It reminds me of Nixon's secret plan to get us out of Vietnam, and we all know how THAT turned out.

It gets worse. Max Bob slams the door on any discussion of GM's underlying "issues": "We will not turn this into a debate about health care costs or public policy or anything related." So that's that then. GM has a "game plan" for extracting itself from its financial woes, but the Vice Chair can't tell you what it is and won't talk about what it needs to do. But what really galls is the previous sentence, which says "This is intended to be a blog about cars and trucks, by the way, and some of the peripheral issues surrounding the buying and selling of same." By the way? Call me an unpatriotic GM-basher, but the expression used in this setting sounds an awful lot like "fuck you". That's not helpful.

After a brief bout of self-congratulation, Max Bob reveals his master plan: build higher quality cars, price and sell them more effectively and cut "waste" across the board. Bizarrely, MB publicly admits that his plan isn't dressed to impress: "Sound pretty general? You bet it does." In fact, Bob might as well have promised to implement my father's business plan: "Take in more money than you spend"– only his record so far indicates an inability to follow this simple recipe.

MB then compares his "game plan" to the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots', insisting that the Pat's coach wouldn't have "turned over the script for his first 15 offensive plays from scrimmage…not even on his blog." I'm sorry; when did GM's corporate strategy become a matter of national security? And if loose lips sink automakers, what was Max Bob's lieutenant Rick Wagoner doing playing footsie with Toyota in Japan? Offensive plays indeed.

And then Max Bob throws the Hail Mary: "Believe me, GM has a crystal clear strategy in place to turn around our fortunes, particularly in the U.S." When an exec pulling down a ten-digit salary resorts to "believe me", you know he's in trouble. Especially if that high flying exec does nothing to establish his credibility with the people who count, in the one forum where earning trust is as easy as telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

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