Joel Ewanick On "The Parent Company"

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
joel ewanick on the parent company

In recent interviews with Automotive News [sub] and AutoObserver, GM’s recently-hired marketing boss Joel Ewanick dished out some of the insights that have earned him the reputation for being an ace image guy. He tells AN [sub] that

Consumers don’t buy General Motors. General Motors sells nothing

Oh, really? Because GM decided to remove the GM Mark of Excellence from its vehicles right around the time it emerged from bankruptcy, the better part of a year before Ewanick was brought on board. Since the first Government Motors joke emerged on the internet, GM has sought to distance itself from its corporate umbrella’s brand… and this is the insight Ewanick is bringing to the organization? Hell, Automotive News [sub] suggested that “Stop mentioning General Motors” when he was hired in June of this year. Which leaves Ewanick only one choice: don’t talk about General Motors more than anyone might imagine.

AutoObserver notes

Ewanick even has been insisting lately on saying “the parent company” instead of “General Motors” or “GM.” He simply doesn’t want to give any quarter, any more, anywhere, to the notion of a corporate brand, because he believes it’s meaningless in helping sell vehicles and only gets in the way of the vehicle brands that must become clearer to American consumers.

Of course, there’s a fine line between emphasizing consumer brands and using the corporate brand to sponge up consumers’ righteous anger at GM’s bailout. Does Ewanick really want Americans to think of Chevy and Buick as truly independent brands, or does he just want everyone to stop talking about GM’s decades of failure?

We’re moving sheet metal instead of telling our story. We’ve got to get back to telling our story. What do we want to tell people about Chevrolet? We’re going to remind you from time to time that we’re part of the fabric of society

So Ewanick is against talking about GM, so he’s going to present Chevrolet’s “story” as being somehow authentically American? How does one separate Chevrolet’s contribution to “the fabric of society” without mentioning GM’s government ownership, bailout-bankruptcy, mass layoffs and dependence on overseas product development? According to AN [sub]

Ewanick said that to relax, he likes to watch auto auctions on cable TV. The shows reinforce for him the visceral connection that millions of Americans feel for specific brands of automobiles.

He said he noticed that most of the cars auctioned are GM products, and a lot are Chevrolets. He said he was surprised that one Chevrolet station wagon from the ’60s sold for $35,000. That’s the kind of feeling that GM’s four brands must tap into.

But there’s more to Ewanick’s vision than just charging more money based on emotional appeals. He tells AutoObserverIf you ask someone to build a ‘collage’ of the Chevy brand as researchers often do, you’ll see them include rational things like performance and quality, but they’ll always layer on the feelings that Chevy brings out. That’s the strength of Chevy, and you’ll see us take advantage of this.

Rational, emotional… Chevy can do it all. As long as it never mentions its parent company… or tries to do it all.

We made a conscious decision not to get too fancy about the brand as we launch these vehicles. We don’t want to get in the way of ourselves

In fairness to Ewanick, it can be tough to outline a vision… perhaps he should start with explaining the problem he was brought in to fix.

My boss, Mark Reuss, asked me to bring people into the organization that will challenge the way we look at things. As you go through a war and you get too close to things, you forget. You forget to see things through the eyes of the consumer

Wait, are we sure Ewanick wasn’t hired to be GM’s corporate PR boss? Because his ability to hide the truth about GM seem far more compelling than his ideas about selling GM’s cars or rebuilding its brands. In fact, his first truly innovative move in terms of selling GM’s products was just announced [via AN [sub]]: for the launch of the Chevrolet Cruze, GM is encouraging dealers to offer comparison test drives in Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas. Getting customers into those two market-dominating but aged competitors should help change perceptions about Chevrolet the way Ewanick was able to change perceptions about Hyundai, but goosing test drives has little to do with Chevrolet’s contribution to “the fabric of society.”

It’s nice to see Ewanick getting some of the “walk” right, but he might have waited a bit before so publicly talking the talk. After all, his interviews give the impression that GM has changed him more than the other way around.

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3 of 19 comments
  • Truckducken Truckducken on Sep 01, 2010

    I can't slag the guy for any of this. At least he's bright enough to recognize that the GM brand is worthless at best for selling cars, unlike the fools before him who thought that sticking the GM logo on Saabs would be something other than a $5000-off coupon. As for how to represent the actual brands: what the hell would you say about Chevrolet? He can't tell the truth - that they've been pushing total shite since the Vega era - so he's gotta come up with an alternative approach that alienates neither the public nor his company. And meanwhile, we all have to hope the product itself continues to improve.

  • Mjz Mjz on Sep 01, 2010

    If Ewanick were truly a marketing genius he would get Toyota and Honda dealers to provide Cruzes for comparison! Now that would be news.

    • Rob Finfrock Rob Finfrock on Sep 02, 2010

      Unlikel, of course. Despite their current woes, neither Honda nor Toyota are desperate for credibility, and have no reason to even acknowledge the competition... particularly this laughable "rival" that combines the worst of Detroit and Daewoo. Government Motors, on the other hand, is desperate. Ewanick best pray his dealers keep those comparison Civics and Corollas absolutely filthy, with under-inflated tires and other performance subtractors. That's really the Cruze's only hope.

  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.
  • Lorenzo In Massachusetts, they used to require an inspection every 6 months, checking your brake lights, turn signals, horn, and headlight alignment, for two bucks.Now I get an "inspection" every two years in California, and all they check is the smog. MAYBE they notice the tire tread, squeaky brakes, or steering when they drive it into the bay, but all they check is the smog equipment and tailpipe emissions.For all they would know, the headlights, horn, and turn signals might not work, and the car has a "speed wobble" at 45 mph. AFAIK, they don't even check EVs.
  • Not Tire shop mechanic tugging on my wheel after I complained of grinding noise didn’t catch that the ball joint was failing. Subsequently failed to prevent the catastrophic failure of the ball joint and separation of the steering knuckle from the car! I’ve never lived in a state that required annual inspection, but can’t say that having the requirement has any bearing on improving safety given my experience with mechanics…
  • Mike978 Wow 700 days even with the recent car shortages.