You Get A Bailout, And You Get A Bailout, And You Get A Bailout!
The Freep’s Carol Cain has gone one better on the crazies who suggested that Steve Jobs should take over Detroit, nominating Oprah Winfrey to become Detroit’s cheerleader-in-chief. Noting calls from Senators for GM to declare bankruptcy and falling public support for the Detroit bailout, Cain suggests that desperate times call for desperate gimmicks. “I don’t know what kind of vehicle Oprah owns or if she even drives. I don’t know what she thinks about the auto industry or if she could be convinced to help. I know she likely wouldn’t be in this for the money, glory or stature,” writes Cain. But, “perhaps someone could appeal to her sense of patriotism in helping this industry that has been the bedrock of our nation for generations. Like many Americans, perhaps some family member worked in one of the auto factories. The industry still has dramatic impact on all 50 states and many livelihoods are impacted by it.” And hey, she has experience giving away cars!
But Cain’s suggestion has nothing to do with gaining insight from Winfrey’s business acumen or consumer insight. No, Cain imagines “the Big O could provide the right tune to help get the Motor City’s campaign on the right track.” Her pitch, in short, is that Detroit can’t find the right spin to make the Motown bailout palatable to average Americans and that somehow Oprah could. In reality though, Detroit is a whirling miasma that will simply suck Winfrey (and anyone else who gets too close) down with it. Just look what’s happened to poor old Pete DeLorenzo, whose latest rant showcases the kind of sad desperation that even Oprah couldn’t spit-shine.
Can you imagine Oprah getting up on a soapbox to echo DeLorenzo’s assertion that he’s “tired of the auto industry being treated like an old broken down piece of meat or something that should be taken out back and shot?” Or how about condemning “this ‘Green’ sickness that’s spreading due east from California like an out-of-control virus that there’s no known antidote for?” Or exorciating Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as “quintessential manifestations of vapidity—leading the charge and insisting on projecting their relentless lack of common sense and glaring inability to differentiate facts from outright fiction as the environmental platform that this nation must adhere to going forward?” I sure can’t. Detroit needs Baghdad Bob, not Oprah Winfrey.
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Jobs is a perfectionist, and would help any of the three if he chose to help them. Cars would look and feel good as Jobs does not put up with mediocre. Things would just work. Art & Design would be back in a big way - he doesn't put up with crappy beige appliances which is what the average American sedan is - slab sided, predictable, boring, and unreliable. However, it's doubtful that the dealer shenanigans such as invoice - spiffs & incentives + magic voodoo pricing model would survive Jobs. He's definitely a premium pricer with a fairly effective sales model that is rarely open to negotiation. He drives a Mercedes the last time I heard anything about his car (which admittedly was a while ago). If he ever took this supposed position, that would be his benchmark, even for the lowest Aveo through to the top Caddy. However, Jobs is seriously ill and is having six months off to get better. I doubt he would want to take on such a challenge even if offered to him. I think if the automakers could just "borrow" some of Apple's ideas - perfectionism, leading edge design, awesome reliability, ease of use and "it just works", the "oooh" factor with so many little things, and great sales experience and ease of ownership (most Macs are on the Internet about 1 minute after unpacking them and come with no circusware and so are immediately productive), I think they're onto a winner. I'm sure there are folks who would be challenged by great design, but there's Korean appliance makers for such people as they are not car people and should be ignored. Great design worked for BMW with Bangle's awesome designs. The 2.8 need their "Bangle". But... I can't see this crop of auto leaders doing it. The leadership is the reason they're in the mess they're in today, and they must go. Which is why C11 is so important. It's the only way for the US car makers to come out of this and one day resume their positions on the totem pole.
Ford did a good thing by picking Mullaly to run the company when they did. GM should have done the same thing, pick an industry outsider that has a track record of success like Alan's. The Cerebus fiasco choosing Nardelli was doomed. Nardelli may have had an impressive resume of GE and Home Depot but his style and tenure at these companies was not good. He also comes across as a figure head, whereas Alan does seem to be actively changing Ford. Alan might fail still, but at least he is trying. I don't see any evidence of Bob Nardelli changing Cryco in the least. These ships are listing hard to port and probably too far gone. Soon the ocean of C11 will overflow the decks and then it is too late. At least two of the people in Oprah's audience refused the car for tax reasons. Seems they knew what their 1040 was going to look like the next year and preferred not to deal with the hassle of disposing of the income.