By on July 13, 2009

That’s right, the CEO in charge of Government Motors. (Okay, don’t really ask me why I think I’m qualified; let’s just suspend belief for a few minutes shall we?) So what would I do? First, I’d insist on a new wardrobe for every person at every level. Gone are all the suits for the white-collar workers. Factory workers can’t wear jeans and t-shirts or whatever. Nope, everyone in the company now wears the GM uniform, kind of like the military. The new GM garb consists of coveralls in blue and white with a GM logo on the back, and each worker gets a name tag to pin on the front. Ranks are determined by stripes, bars and stars, just like the Army. As CEO, I get four stars on the shoulder epaulets. And, of course, there’d be a “dress uniform” for outside events.

Crazy? Perhaps. But everyone needs to get on board that the car business is like a war where the fight begins with winning the hearts and minds of fickle customers. It’s not just the folks at Dearborn down the road with whom we do battle, but it’s a worldwide onslaught of talented engineers, designers and workers from other car companies that want to sell their products to my customers. GM needs to defend the little bit of turf it’s got left and conquer new ground, especially with those folks who won’t even consider a GM product at any price.

Next, I’d fire all of the advertising agencies that work on the GMNA business. Frankly, you can’t really blame the agencies for the lousy messages of the past; it’s more the fault of GM’s executives for giving them little to work with to start and corporate blandness requirements second. A bad car still sucks no matter how good the advertising might be.

C’mon, what could anyone really come up with creative to say about the Aveo? And how chicken-shit was it for GM to not allow that hot woman driving the CTS with her fancy high heeled strappy shoes to say the truth that her CTS does turn her on?

So I’d look all around the country for the most creative, daring, and provocative ad agencies—and I’d pick one for each of the four remaining brands. Different car/truck lines need different messages. Of course, this begs the questions of exactly what are the four brands and what do they stand for? So I’m going to define them for everyone once and forever.

Chevrolet: the mass market brand for every man, woman, and teenager in America offering a full line of cars and trucks. Mass market means Walmart, Sears, and Penney’s shoppers.

Buick and GMC: the affordable luxury brand of cars and crossovers. More upscale than Chevrolet with better finishes, upgraded powertrains, and refined NVH characteristics. Think Nordstrom.

Cadillac: let’s get back to its roots and go for the “Standard of the World.”  The most technologically advanced, powerful, and stylish vehicles. The brand has to become more of an adjective rather than a noun. Harrod’s in London for example. Everyone comes to see the merchandise, but few can afford to make a habit of shopping there. Yet, everyone buys something.

Third, I wouldn’t hire a single MBA except perhaps in the finance department to deal with Wall Street (’cause we’ll be back there soon enough). But finance will be a dead-end department for advancement to the top since a skilled finance guy can’t sell a car to a Grandma in Peoria if he tried. I want kids from the state schools, particularly engineers and designers. Guys and gals who got their hands dirty tinkering with cars or drawing them in high school.

But the biggest challenge still will be getting skeptical consumers out of their Toyotas and Hondas. There’s only one way—and that’s to put an American face (mine) in front of the public all the time telling them they’ve got to try a GM product.

And most importantly, tell them the truth. Let them hear from the CEO of GM about the particulars of each model in the line up. (OK, I won’t talk about how really awful that tin-can Aveo is, or that the Cobalt is a warmed-over Cavalier. But we’ve got some good stuff too that really does compete with the Japanese, so that’s what I’ll say.)

I’d personally go out and visit all my big suppliers and thank them for standing by GM even though we tried to screw every last nickel out of them in the past. That’s now history. Everyone needs to play nice and profit isn’t a dirty word. But we want their best efforts with higher quality controls than before even if it costs another nickel or two. Sure, they’ve got to be cost-competitive but we’re going to put a premium on quality, on-time delivery, and superior engineering. Just like the Japanese.

Finally, I’d get my dealers behind me. A car company can’t win without its dealers going whole-hog on the brand and the products. I’d put a stop to practices that make no sense, like loading the channel up with cars and then blowing them out at huge discounts. And I’d put more money into the regional dealer ad groups. Let the dealers tell the story to their buyers about the new GM. They’re a creative bunch with money at risk—if they win, we win. It’s just that simple.

So that’s my strategy for GM in the USA. Basic blocking and tackling, no miracles needed. I really want to pay the taxpayers back for the money we got, and I certainly want GM buyers to take pride in their vehicles. It’s time to get in the game of making and selling cars, and it’s a game GM can’t afford to lose.

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18 Comments on “Editorial: Imagine a world where Steve Rattner decides that Ken Elias should become the anointed King of GM...”

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I’d take it one step further. I’d make a deal with Wal-Mart. It’s where you’d buy your next Chevy.

  • avatar
    Gotta Chime In

    This isn’t innovative. Fritz said he was going to do all this and then some last Friday. New GM will kick ass and take names faster than any ass-kicker or name-taker has done ever before! And on their second day …

  • avatar

    Another topic – parts and components quality. GM has been penny pinching itself to death here for years. As president, you would have access to warranty and failure rates on various parts and components. They should all be designed for 15 yrs/200,000 miles, or some other reasonable yardstick that equals the life of the normal car. Sure, it will be expensive, but what better time to incur this cost than when backstopped by the government.

    When water coolers across america are surrounded by people saying “Gee, I never have any problem with my Chevy”, then the perception gap closes. When Chevy resale values are high because everybody knows that they are overbuilt and mostly problem-free, then new Chevys sell for a premium and lease rates are cheap, and GM makes lots of money.

  • avatar

    Yes, we want cars for the average American, such as that “I want a horn here, here, and here,” because “You can never find a horn when you’re mad.” And that “They should all play `La Cucaracha’.”

  • avatar
    Samuel L. Bronkowitz

    The one thing that would make me stand up and take notice of GM: being able to buy a car without ever having to deal with the bullsh!t of buying from a local dealer.

    If I could go online, pick what I want, get a fair price and then pick it up at the local dealer without any haggling, dealer add-on, I-gotta-ask-my-manager, last-minute nonsense I might (might!) consider GM once again.

    Truth is some other company with a better culture will implement this first.

  • avatar

    Bronkowitz beat me to it. Change the sales model, significantly.

  • avatar

    Well… you have mastered the first part of being the head of GM, coming in with grand plans that are a total rehash of the exact same stuff that they have been doing for years.

    There is nothing innovative, new, or frankly different than what GM has been trying.

    How about 1. buy direct online and eliminate non-GM owned dealers, 2. fixed price, 3. order your car exactly how you want it, 4. eliminate repetitive brands entirely (GMC for example). That would be a start.

  • avatar

    GM should adopt the Saturn pricing strategy (minus the high MSRP’s). If the car can’t be sold profitably, either figure out how to sell it for more money (i.e. make it a hell of a lot better) or dump it.

    Then adopt a separate trade-in agency in every town for all GM dealers, where you go get a free, BINDING “appraisal”.

    Then at the appraisal place, you go to a computer terminal, put in your financial information and get a BINDING financing deal outlining how much car you can afford new is printed out.

    There you have it. You take the car, the appraisal (within 10 days) and the binding financial statement and go to the dealers of your choice and there is no pressure, no arm twisting, no gimicks, no hassles, no upselling, no
    Bullsh!t – just a civilized exchange.

    You could even do as happens now and look online for the car of your choice, or order it online and simply ask that it be delivered to the dealer closest to you in a given time.

    In fact, this is something ALL car manufacturers should do.

    I’ll put it another way; why do we put up with buying cars the way we do? None of us likes it.

    Would we buy a suit if we practically had to armwrestle the tailor for a price? No. How about a TV? I don’t think so. Would we put up with it at the gas station? When renting an apartment? No and no.

    Cars are very expensive – they take a lot of our paycheck.

    If GM or Ford or Chrysler could figure this stuff out, they’d actually “have something”.

    It “figures” that GM actually was almost there with Saturn and are throwing it away.

    Knuckle dragging sub-moronic imbeciles don’t deserve a penny of MY taxmoney. Or yours.

  • avatar

    This is one option of getting rid of the competition, probably the only thing GM hasn’t tried yet.

  • avatar

    I think watching the CEO of GM come on TV in a pseudo-military corporate dress uniform telling me about the greatness of the CTS, Terrain, and Lacrosse would make me uncomfortable.

    Also, add another person that thinks drastically changing the car buying experience is the best way to make people consider a GM car.

  • avatar

    Consolidate the dealer networks into one sales channel, as in a General Motors dealer, with Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands all under one roof.

    Eliminate all, or most, of the duplication and re-badging.

    – Chevrolet – mass appeal, low-cost (but high quality) small and medium size cars and small SUV/CUV models, and NO TRUCKS

    – GMC – trucks, vans and large basic SUV models

    – Buick – medium and large FWD cars and luxury medium and large SUV/CUV, and perhaps a Riviera type coupe (based on the CTS platform?)

    – Cadillac – return Cadillac to it’s former glory and position on the top of the heap. Build only RWD performance/luxury sedans and coupes and make them desireable – they need to be more than better than the competition, they also need to be styled better than anything else on the road, and NO TRUCKS

    No overlaps, no rebadging, no duplication and give each brand it’s own identity. Now is the time to do it, because the Government gravy train will run out, eventually, and all of the above requires a lot of cash for development.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    I’d kill GMC and Buick.

    And I’d think long about whether Cadillac should stay.

    It’s nice to say that GM should use Cadillac to build the finest cars in the world. It’s wholly another to actually do it. It’s very difficult, very time consuming, and very expensive.

    And if Cadillac is to be true millionaire cars, then they aren’t selling stuff like the CTS or SRX. And that means it’s incredibly low volume.

    Or they can keep trying to chip away at 3-Series sales.

    Even still, this is all low volume work, and it’s expensive. On top of that, Cadillac shouldn’t be sharing anything with Chevy, except perhaps the Escalade, so we’d be looking at investment(s) in at least one unique platform, possibly more.

  • avatar

    Sorry Ken – Rattner’s quitting:

    Good ideas, but it looks like you’ll have to deal with the ex-UAW’s Ron Bloom.

  • avatar

    Ken, I think you got it right here, “Different car/truck lines need different messages”, but wrong here, “…telling them they’ve got to try a GM product”. People buy Chevrolets or Buicks or Cadillacs, they don’t buy GMs. GM is a corporation, not a car. Advertising GM is pointless if not counterproductive

  • avatar

    OK, I’ll bite; what’s new?

    Fritz? Nope.
    Mark? Nope.
    Bob? Nope.

    New cars? Nope.

    New business model? Nope.

    Is dumping non-essential assets the new “New!” Perhaps only in the Kingdom of GM. Good thing the lessons learned in The Emperor’s New Clothes haven’t been completely forgotten.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    KE, it looks to me as though from the ninth paragraph through to the end, you cribbed off Lee Iaccoca’s playbook circa 1981. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily; Lido made it work well for Chrysler. I’m just sayin’.

  • avatar

    Monty – you’ve got the right idea. Unique products (no overlap), GM dealers, and your product spread is the kind I’d suggest too.

    Get rid of the games at the dealer level and the false promises at the corporate level. Stop the UAW game playing (and whatever the management does to antagonize the UAW). If anyone is unhappy with their job or management or how the company is being run then that person is welcome to look for employment with other corporations. Striking might once have had a point when it earned worker’s rights and safety rules but these days it looks infantile. We’ve got two people who have spent the summer sitting outside of my employer on the lawn with a big sign that says “Shame on ” and “labor dispute”. What a waste of time. None of the rest of us is publicly complaining – in fact we are thankful to have jobs and most of us are working hard to keep them.

  • avatar

    Article isn’t doing it for me.

    Finding a new way to buy a car that actually the experience positive is exactly the way to dominance.

    I have a feeling Penske will figure out how to create this new distribution model first since he has so much dealer experience.

    I like menno’s concept, but I’ll take it one step further:

    Each vehicle has a fixed price and a fixed payment plan period. The price tag would have 5 different monthly payment options based on your credit score and denoted by different color codes. You can either go online to process an application and receive your color, or use a kiosk at the GM dealer.

    GM could even strike deals with the reporting agencies to advertise by showing which GM color your score gets you on the self-printed credit reports.

    Then, Customer A with a Blue score walks into a GM dealer, directly to a red Corvette and sees the following:

    Green = $345/mo
    Blue = $388/mo
    Yellow = $399/mo
    Black = $419/mo
    Red = $445/mo

    Asks a salesperson for the keys, and is driving off the lot in 20 minutes after the paperwork is complete.

    No haggle. No shady deals. No asking the manager.

    Plus, it will show Americans the value of a good credit score because based on the recent mortgage crisis and bailouts we seem to have no concept whatsoever.

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