General Motors Death Watch 113: Hey Diddle Diddle

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
general motors death watch 113 hey diddle diddle

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: GM Car Czar Bob Lutz is a gift. To the media– not GM stockholders. The General’s Vice Chairman of Global Product Development feels free to make it up as he goes along, paying scant regard to the current state of the world market or his own company’s plans. Lutz proved the point, again, at his Swiss birthplace. Speaking to reporters at the Geneva auto salon, Lutz outlined his vision for Cadillac. Unfortunately, Cadillac’s General Manager was at the same show.

So, Mr. Lutz, Caddy’s flagship sedan, the DTS. The model accounts for 25.6% of the brand’s U.S. sales. Does it? I’m not surprised. Yes, well, moving forward, front or rear wheel-drive? Rear wheel-drive. That’s the way we’re going with all our mainstream– I mean, upmarket cars.

Jim Taylor, General Manager, Cadillac. DTS. Front or rear-wheel drive? Good question. We could put the DTS on the Zeta rear wheel-drive platform– which we’re using for the new Pontiac G8– or merge it with the STS line. Or keep it in its current form. So no decision yet? No decision yet.

Mr. Lutz, what about a small Caddy? You guys sell the front wheel-drive Cadillac BLS in Europe, South Africa and Mexico. Any plans to bring it to the States? We don’t want a front wheel-drive Cadillac in the domestic market. As for a small rear wheel-drive car, "there's certainly an opening, whether we choose to fill it or not."

Jim, you on board with that? "We're not going there. We're a $30,000-to-$40,000 player, not a $20,000-to-$30,000 player."

Even now, I find it astounding that a company as large as GM is run by people who don’t know the first thing about competitive strategy. Strike that– who don’t HAVE a competitive strategy. Or if they DO have one, the people in charge of implementing it have no idea what it is. How could the two men determining the fate of GM’s flagship brand have various, nebulous plans for its future?

No wonder GM is getting its ass kicked.

Even a cursory glance at Toyota’s success tells us the company’s top executives have read, understood and implemented Sun Tsu’s “The Art of War.” To wit:

“The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.” Think Camry.

“He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.” Think Toyota’s rep for reliability and their limited product line.

“Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected.” Think Prius.

“We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole, which means that we shall be many to the enemy's few.” Think Toyota’s three divisions.

Need I go on? The really depressing bit is that you can read Sun Tsu and marvel at all the ways GM has violated virtually ALL of the principles set forth by the master military strategist.

GM’s seemingly endless strategic failure seems preposterous, given the fact that Maximum Bob Lutz is a former Marine aviator. Surely a top flight military man should understand the rudiments of armed conflict enough to formulate something akin to a coherent plan for victory.

But then, Lutz served from 1954 to 1965, before Colonel John Boyd changed Marine fighting strategy to reflect Sun Tsu’s principles. Lutz was trained to execute what Boyd called "hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle.” In other words, Lutz and Co. still believe in a direct assault on Toyota, using strength of numbers to overwhelm the enemy.

Why else would GM even entertain the idea of buying Chrysler? Even though it’s clear to anyone with a modicum of common sense that the last thing GM needs is more cars, workers, bureaucrats, divisions and dealers, the fools running the company couldn’t immediately see that the concept offered nothing more than a corporate suicide pact. How many examples of ruined conglomerates do you need to see before you realize that “synergy” is another word for insanity?

If GM had some genuine mental firepower at the top, could they turn the company around? Absolutely. But they’d need to adopt Sun Tsu’s final strategy: if all else fails, retreat. Many see GM’s successful expansion into foreign markets as its final hope. Others do not. As Cadillac’s lackluster lineup proves, GM needs to regroup, conserve its remaining resources and marshal them for the fight on the home front. Otherwise, all will be lost.

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  • Cowbell Cowbell on Mar 14, 2007

    I know this editorial is now buried in the back pages of TTAC, but with the announcement of GM's "profit" last quater, did anyone happen to see what the North American cash flow numbers were? It's in none of the reports I've read and I'm too lazy to dig through any detailed releases.

  • Johnson Johnson on Mar 14, 2007

    Hey diddle diddle ... brilliant ... it should be Putz', erm I mean Lutz' new tagline. First off, Tundra incentives are mostly for the base model. The fullsize truck segment is tough, and Toyota is fighting an uphill battle. Many truck buyers actually *expect* incentives, so Toyota is competing very hard here. As RF stated, the Tundra having incentives is a BAD thing. Toyota has never tried this hard in the fullsize truck segment before, and believe me, the Tundra will slowly bring the pain to Detroit automakers. Steven_Lang, most of your points are wrong. Cadillac is not a top luxury contender, far from it. Also, Toyota by far outsells GM when it comes to subcompacts. What I'd really love to see is how GM loyalists and optimists who are far from reality will respond to GM's 2006 financial results.

  • FreedMike Needs a few more HP to really spice things up...
  • Oberkanone Absolute insanity on our public roads! A danger to society. Bravo Dodge!
  • Lou_BC Cool car but 35k USD?
  • Lou_BC I've owned and ridden many litre class sport bikes. Those bikes render anything on 4 wheels boring. This is cool but even if I had the cash, it would be a hard pass.
  • Jeff S Some of us don't care either way we are not into this type of car. Most of these will be stored in garages waiting for their value to go up. As someone above noted this is an old body style which is retro 70s Challenger which after researching it came out in the 2008 MY which means a long run for a model that is in its 16th year. I have always liked these but if I bought one I would not spend this kind of money on one probably get the V-6 version and use it as a family car but then I am not into drag racing or muscle cars. For the type of car it is it has a decent rear seat and not too bad of a trunk. Most of us are not going to spend 100k for any vehicle at least currently so its not something most of us will buy and stick in a garage waiting for its value to increase. I am glad that these editions came out for those who can afford them and it keeps a little more color into what has become a very dull vehicle market but then with age I pick the dull appliance like reliable vehicle because that's what I need. Impressive car but not for me.