General Motors Death Watch 109: Fingerspitzengefuhl
Our man Mehta recently ran into a GM PR flack at an industry event. When Sajeev revealed TTAC as his spiritual home, the GM underling shook with rage. Still, it being the South and all, pleasantries were exchanged. After sweet talking the spinmeister, Sajeev promised I’d call and oil the troubled waters. During the ensuing conversation, I [once again] offered GM the right to reply– unedited– and promised to correct any factual errors. And then, quite out of the blue, she lost it. “Why do you hate domestic cars so much?” she demanded.
I asked my antagonist if she’d read our reviews of GM products. She admitted that she hadn’t visited the site “in about a year.” I pointed out that we’ve praised many a domestic product, and eviscerated plenty of imports and transplants. I also reminded her that several "foreign" cars have a higher domestic content than GM's wares (e.g. the Honda Odyssey) and mentioned GM's Canadian Buicks, Korean Aveos and European Astras.
I also told her I'm a patriotic American who’d love to see General Motors build a vehicle– any vehicle– that stands head and shoulders above all comers. “What about the Corvette?” she interjected. Yup, the ‘Vette offers unparalleled bang-for-the-buck. But clock that plastic craptastic interior. Could she honestly say a Corvette's cabin was even half as welcoming as a Porsche Boxster's? The silence was deafening. Not because she’d been trumped; she simply didn’t know.
“Have you ever been in a Porsche?” I asked, succumbing to the knife twisting urge. Faltering slightly, she admitted she hadn’t been in “one of the new ones.” An Audi? “My neighbor has one, and she’s had problems with engine sludge.” Volvo? Viper? Mustang GT? Clearly, the GM factotum had never spent seat time in much of anything that wasn’t sold by GM.
Although I find ignorance, arrogance, defensiveness, paranoia and aggression an unappealing combination, I blame nurture, not nature for the spinmeister’s ‘tude. Any automaker that doesn’t expose its front line workers to their competitors' cars gets the representation they deserve. Is it any wonder that GM makes a huge range of “nearly there” cars when even the people charged with their public promotion do so with their eyes wide shut?
When Toyota developed the new Tundra, they based it on information provided by a research team that traveled America to see how "real" pickup truck buyers use and abuse, love and loathe their vehicles. Once the Tundra was finished, ToMoCo then made sure all their dealers' staff– right down to receptionists– spent seat time in the new vehicle. And now they're organizing the Mother of All Ride and Drive Events, inviting anyone who so much as glances at the big rig for an extended test drive.
Meanwhile, GM's importing yet another Australian RWD sedan, re-badging it a Pontiac and sticking it on the showroom floor. The fact that they've done this before without success (GTO), the fact that the G8 has no visual connection to Pontiac's hit Solstice, demonstrates the company's profound inability to learn from mistakes AND capitalize on success.
Car Czar or no, GM lacks Fingerspitzengefuhl: an intuitive sense of what's happening on the battlefield. Put another way, they don't understand the automotive landscape in which they work. They are, quite literally, lost.
Of course, GM's uninformed and misguided executives could simply read The Truth About Cars. I’m serious. If GM wants a road map back to reality, they could do a lot worse than ask TTAC for directions. Our writers are deeply immersed in American car culture. They call it like they see it, without fear or favor. And our commentators add invaluable perspective.
Better yet, GM could actively engage TTAC and its audience. They could provide us with press cars and then publicly address our criticisms. Hell, what’s to stop The General from participating in ALL car enthusiast sites? Why not assign a team of literate, experienced and open-minded experts to demo the metal, confront critics, answer problems, correct mis-impressions, quash unsubstantiated rumors and, yes, toot their own horn?
Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot: all statements must be approved by GM PR. And GM PR's too busy
whining and dining beating up the buff books for “unauthorized” new product leaks to monitor a fast, frank and open exchange of ideas.
Anyway, for some reason, Sajeev's PR contact called me back. She told me Flack Central had declined my invitation to post on this website. “They prefer to use their own blog,” she announced, with no small amount of smug self-satisfaction.
And there you have it. GM will not “break the fourth wall” (as theater folk call it). The General’s majordomos will continue to hold tight to the reins of power, sheltering inside
The Kremlin The Renaissance Center, relying on their toadies, spies and consultants to tell them what’s going on in the real world, and then communicating pre-approved responses through "official channels." Thus empires do fall.
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