Former GM Economist: Detroit Ignored Demands For Efficiency

former gm economist detroit ignored demands for efficiency

Walter McManus, former GM economist and current head of the Automotive Analysis division of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, wants you to know GM’s SUV strategy of ignoring efficiency as a marketing input was his fault. In an interview with Energy and Environment News [via Edmunds Green Car Advisor], McManus explains how surveys in the 1990s showing consumers did care about efficiency were ignored:

The survey would estimate that people would estimate fuel economy fairly highly. Being a good economist, I said, ‘No, they don’t,’ and I changed the results. There was a systematic bias against such results. Our job was not to seek the truth, but to justify decisions that had already been made… It’s my fault they had the wrong vehicles until now

Can you say culture issues? McManus’s explanation for the insular attitude is a familiar refrain, namely that decisions “are being made by upper-middle-class white males, by and large. They don’t understand that the customers are not the same as they are.” Now that gas prices have made efficiency impossible to ignore though, McManus sees change coming.

People have a hard time thinking about their fuel savings. It’s hard for people to understand the abstract, that a mile per gallon means this many dollars saved every month. But if you actually start experiencing by driving the vehicle, then you understand it.

And for the domestic automakers who buried their heads in the sand on efficiency, declining market share is having a similar effect.

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  • PeteMoran PeteMoran on Oct 28, 2009
    They made a ton of money on SUVs for years after that conference Yeah, that's the American spirit. Damn the torpedos and screw the customer. They won't remember that they ended up with worthless oversized vehicles when (apparently) other companies were thinking a bit more deeply. whereas Honda and Toyota missed that boat What did they miss? Camry and Accord were two of the strongest sellers during that period. Profitable too. While Corolla was (is?) the "most" popular car in the world. Toyota and Honda grew faster than any time in their histories, and established the product leadership they have now. GM’s mistake (among others) was in failing to develop its non-SUV products for when the SUV craze would inevitably end ... and thinking they could just arrive on the scene claiming "well, we knew how to do fuel efficiency after-all". The 2006-08 oil bubble did not prove Peak Oil Theory .... calling them so is the most intelligent thing to do. Conservation isn't bone-headed. Recognising that an item's supply is finite for provable reasons and taking steps early to avoid the consequences is much more intelligent. That would involve thinking past this quarter and being able to understand what is meant by "scientific theory".

  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Oct 29, 2009

    I don't blame GM for selling people trucks and SUVs that customers wanted to buy. I do blame them for not making a competitive small car. When I bought my Mazda3 in 2004, it was competing against the Cavalier and Sunfire. Those cars were even cruder than the '87 Grand Am (RIP) I was replacing.

  • MRF 95 T-Bird Sears and JC Whitney also had similar dune buggy kits. The VW accessories along with the running gear for legal use just bolted on. Hmm Amazon? A Bradley GT or Kelmark kit using an electric “skateboard” platform would also be cool.
  • Inside Looking Out Cadillac now associates with rap music. In the past it was all about rock'n'roll. Rap is environmentally friendlier than rock'n'roll.
  • EBFlex This is nothing compared to what Ford is doing. The fake lightning is seeing massive price increases for 2023. Remember how they self pleasured themselves about the fake lightning starting under $40k? In 2023, the price jumps by a very Tesla like $7,000. And that’s not the biggest price jump. And much less talked about, the government fleet discounts are going away. So for a basic 3.3L Explorer, the price is jumping $8,500. S basic F150 is also now $8,500 more. Im sure the same people that complained about the oil companies making “obscene profits” will say the same thing about Ford.
  • Bobbysirhan Sometimes it seems like GM has accepted that the customers they still have are never going to come to their senses and that there aren't any new dupes on the horizon, so they might as well milk their existing cows harder.
  • Buickman how about LowIQ?