GM, Ford, DCX: Big Three IPhone Home?

gm ford dcx big three iphone home

According to yesterday's Yahoo finance, Apple juice is the Detroit’s drink of the moment. Mark Fields, FoMoCo’s Prez Del Americas: "I admire their pure understanding of the brand and the type of customer they're going after.” Mark LeNeve, GM’s Veep of SS&M (Sales, Service and Marketing): "We're really trying to be more like companies like Apple, where we can innovate and move faster.” Eric Ridenour, COO of the C in DCX: "I think a fresh, creative mind is something that you can appreciate and focus simply on some complicated things." While the Big Two Point Five’s top execs are happy to sing the praises of the iMac, iPod, Apple TV and iPhone, it's lip service. They’re unwilling to learn the true lessons of Apple’s recent success.

Apple Lesson Number 1: Revolution, then evolution

When Steve Jobs returned to ailing Apple, he cut product lines into three core offerings, cut hardware licensing agreements with third party vendors, replaced Macintosh’s Operating System and orchestrated the ouster of the company’s CEO. AFTER Jobs consolidated power, stopped the bleeding and banked some cash, the company expanded its product line. Apple was then in a position to take a chance on a “game-changing technology” like the iPod. And keep improving it on a regular basis.

“GM expects the Chevrolet Volt to be a breakthrough product.” Uh, I don't think so. Although GM has no shortage of engineering expertise, GM is far too sick to realize anything even half this ambitious. Unless the company transforms itself, it will not survive to see its electric cars wean Americans from Arab oil.

Detroit’s pattern of gradual tweaks to the status quo will not rescue the languishing leviathans. They must cut or sell superfluous brands, focus product lines, restructure supply and labor contracts, and defenestrate the senior managers whose neglect drove these once great companies into the ground.

Apple Lesson Number 2: Lead from the front

The Yahoo article counsels the domestics to imitate Apple and focus on customer appeal. This Apple does not do. It doesn’t conduct customer clinics to ask specific demographic groups whether they like a potential product. It doesn’t float trial balloons; unveiling new ideas to trade show audiences YEARS before they begin production. Apple creates something inherently appealing and builds it.

At best, a fast-acting auto manufacturer needs three years to move from concept to production. By the time a new Camaro– sorry, car comes to market, the customer survey data it’s based upon has expired. AND it’s old news. If automakers want to live on the cutting edge, they must lead their customers. They must abandon auto show onanism and unveil complete and completely radical new products, coming to a showroom near you in months, not years.

Apple Lesson Number 3: Put the visionaries in charge

Steve Jobs surrounds himself with top-drawer creative engineers that propose far out new technologies. When he sees a product that appeals to him (that conforms to his strategic vision for the company), Apple makes it.

A former CFO runs GM. A former airplane designer runs Ford (or not). A productivity genius (or not) helms Chrysler. While there are plenty of “car guys” charging around Detroit’s halls of power, they’re not in charge. No car guy would ever green light a Pontiac Aztek, Jeep Compass or Chrysler's new Sebring.

Apple Lesson Number 4: The brand isn’t everything; it’s the only thing

In general, Apple has stood by its brand identity and product naming conventions since it began business. The iMac started as a Bondi blue colored jelly bean-shaped computer. The name remained through numerous motherboard revisions and a LifeSavers roll of colors. Later, Apple repackaged the iMac as a floating flat screen design. Today it is the all-in-one unit. Throughout the configuration changes, Apple products have retained their identity as quirky yet reliable, user-friendly (yet expensive) computer-related products.

Mark Field’s paean to Apple’s “pure understanding of the brand” is a strange observation for an executive whose company has neglected and abused both brands (Lincoln, Mercury, Jaguar) and models (Town Car, Cougar, S-Type) for decades. At the same time, GM is happy to slap the Caddy badge on a pickup, and Chrysler builds so many different products at so many different price points that the name has become virtually meaningless.

Let's do the math. Of the all the US nameplates Toyota produced in 1996, 55% are still for sale, including the continuation of the Camry’s 24-year run. Fifty percent of Honda's model names also extend back to that date. That’s a stark contrast with Chevrolet (13%), Pontiac (17%), Buick (0%), Cadillac (0%), Ford (23%), Mercury (17%), Lincoln (33%), Chrysler (40%) and Dodge (34%).

“If I only had a killer car, then I'd be as meteorically successful as Apple,” bleat The Big Two Point Five. Nope. If they were healthy companies with product guys at the helm, unwaveringly focused on the long-term development of their products, then they’d be prepared to seize upon new technologies and develop insanely great products– just like Apple.

[Read the original Yahoo Finance article here.]

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  • Dolo54 Dolo54 on Jan 19, 2007

    I didn't actually read your whole post, but I can see by its length that you want it way more than me... so congratulations! You win! bask in the glory of a long sought internet argument victory. However your triumph shall be short-lived when you realize that nobody else is reading these comments anymore... they've moved on to arguing about which c-pillar the suzuki minivan most takes after.

  • Artman Artman on Jan 19, 2007

    I see a thread running through your posters , ( and even in your original story), about Mac stuff being more expensive, hyper expensive or worse yet being at all overpriced. ( Most often this is the bleat of the uninformed, and the clueless about computing). It isn't true. The computers have all of the required items to operate included. The cut rate Dells and HP's advertise a low end product and if you call in and order a comparable box to the Apple it usually costs more, does less and has the panache to come with no software; let alone the incomparable ilife suite the Apples all come with. Like all of their products the mac is seamless, it just works, and it lasts. I'm currently typing this out on a 1999 blue and white G3. As far as a comparable product to the ipod their aint any. Zune notwithstanding.

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  • MaintenanceCosts There's no mystery anymore about how the Japanese took over the prestige spot in the US mass market (especially on the west coast) when you realize that this thing was up against the likes of the Fairmont, Citation, and Volaré. A massacre.
  • MaintenanceCosts Chevy used to sell almost this exact color on the Sonic, Bolt, and Camaro, as "Shock." And I have a story about that.I bought my Bolt in 2019. Unsurprisingly the best deal came from the highest-volume Bolt dealer in my very EV-friendly area. They had huge inventory; I bought right when Chevy started offering major incentives, and the car had been priced too high to sell well until that point.Half the inventory had a nice mix of trims and colors, and I was able to find the exact dark-gray-on-white Premier I wanted. But the real mystery was the other half of the inventory. It was something like 40 cars, all Shock on black, split between LT and Premier. You could get an additional $2000 or so off the already low selling price if you bought one of them. (Neither my wife nor I thought the deal worth it.) The cars were real and in the flesh; a couple were out front, but behind the showroom, there was an entire row of them.When I took delivery, I asked the salesman how on earth they had ended up with so many. He told me in a low voice that a previous sales manager had screwed up order forms for a huge batch of cars that were supposed to be white, and that no one noticed until a couple transporters loaded with chartreuse Bolts actually showed up at the dealer. Long story short, there was no way to change the order. They eventually sold all the cars and you still see them more often than you'd expect in the area.
  • EAM3 Learned to drive in my parents' 1981 Maxima. Lovely car that seemed to do everything right. I can still hear the "Please turn off the lights" voice in my head since everyone wanted a demo of the newfangled talking car. A friend of the family had a manual transmission one and that thing was fun!