By on August 14, 2011


If I would have a dollar , euro, yen for each time a marketer says “we want to be the next Apple,” I’d be rich by now and could stop writing.

As you see, I am forced to continue.

Apple appears to be the brand to emulate.  But everybody thinks they saw it first. The last to do so was Joel Ewanick, Chief Marketing Officer of GM. He was lured away from Hyundai, because he was the man with the ideas. Now what is he doing? He joins the long line of marketing managers who just want their brand to be like Apple.

Joel, take a number:

Shall we go on?

London’s Daily Mail, assisted by the Bishop of Buckingham, thinks it knows what marketers want when they want to be like Apple: Blind faith. It’s the wet dream of every marketer:

“The desire for iPods and iPads can occasionally border on the religious. An MRI scan of an Apple fanatic’s brain has found the same part lit up as a believer’s did when they gazed upon religious imagery.”

The Daily Mail is not the only to complain. “We so often hear ‘we want to be like Apple or Google,’ the success stories of today,” writes Forbes. Forbes has a less complicated explanation for the lust for Apples. Forbes says it’s pure nostalgia:

“Production lines hummed and capitalism flourished.  Millions of Americans literally bought into the American dream, enjoying new levels of comfort and security. Diligent workers toiled on production lines or equally mechanized corporate machines.

This was the time of BIG things in the US. Big government, big population growth, big ambitions and big civic construction projects sprang up.

In truth, it was a time when the world’s biggest economy was then a young, dynamic, fast growing market.”

It also was the time when things like the Apple computer were invented. By hippies in a garage. While  lusting for Apples, we secretly want the boom times of the boomers back. But you can’t just say “I want to be Apple,” and the paradise lost comes trotting back. Continues Forbes:

“Fast forward to 2011, America now competes in a fierce global market against young and dynamic economies. New companies emerge as world leaders such as India’s Tata, and new brands take top spot like China’s Snow Beer which is now the biggest selling beer in the world.

In addition to this, the US is suffering from a seriously stalled economy, job losses, and corporate giants losing their way. To top it off, in many parts of the world Brand America is now viewed with alarming degrees of vehemence.”

Don’t try to be like Apple. The secret to branding is to create ye olde Unique Selling Proposition. You don’t want to emulate a produce department of wannabe Apples. Not unless you have read and observed that other USP when taking medications. It’s not THOSE tablets we are after.

You don’t want to be like Apple, GM. Apples rot if left unsold for a few weeks.

You want to be the biggest, baddest, and most successful car company in the universe.

For that, you need something simple, yet hard:

You want your own good ideas.

Or in the words of another trite but true campaign:

You don’t want to be like Apple. Try harder.

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73 Comments on “You Seriously Want To Be Like Apple, GM?...”

  • avatar
    Brian E

    The thing about Apple that almost nobody gets is that even when their competitors as a group control more of the market than they do, they’re moving more units with fewer model variations and more platform commonality than any single competitor. Apple has very few distinct models, and Mac OS X and iOS share large amounts of code and many common engineers, which means there are more platform economies of scale than any other competitor. This means that they can afford a much higher capital investment into each model and into their platform as a whole, making things like the aluminum unibody construction of the Macs or the expensive glass front and back of the iPhone possible at a price which is competitive with the bulkier and less well made competition.

    If GM wants to be like Apple, they need to cut the number of individual models they sell dramatically and focus on having no more than two or three platforms that form the basis of the entire model line. They should have just a very small number of distinct engines in order to focus on building economies of scale on each one. There should be no brand variations within a single region as having separate brands with distinct product just reduces the amount by which you can spread around your up-front investment into any given model.

    Somehow I don’t think that GM will be doing this any time soon.

    • 0 avatar

      Brian- you have a really good point about Apple’s focus on unique product features (aluminum unibody construction, etc) and its ability to drive down price through minimal product variation.

      The thing I’d like to add to that is Apple’s amazing record of new product introduction. Because that depends on a very wide variance in functionality- from GUI-driven computers to iPods to iPhones. Each has a very different core functionality from what came before (User interface vs. portable music playing vs. telephone calls).

      So to my mind, Apple’s success is from massive variance in product ideas combined with minimal variance in product deployment. And the inability to master this dichotomy is something that prevents so many companies from being “the Next Apple.”

      • 0 avatar

        I disagree – Apple can afford to do things like the aluminum uni-body and the glass iPhone because they actually ARE significantly more expensive than their competition. Especially when you adjust for how feature-poor their products actually are relative to the competition. And I say that as a very happy iPhone 4 owner.

    • 0 avatar

      Indeed this is an excellent point. GM just announced they want to reduce the number of platforms and engine variations considerably, so this might indeed what GM meant by “wanting to be like Apple”.

      Then again, Apple products are only designed and engineered in the U.S., they’re all made in China or elsewere. I bet GM would very much like that too, if it were at all possible…

      • 0 avatar

        It’s been happening for a long time now.
        I work in a GM dealership, and just for laughs a few years ago, I took a tour through the shop, looking at VINs on the cars that were in there new and used.
        The Tahoes, Suburbans, Silverados and Sierras were all built in Mexico. There were a couple of “foreign” cars in the shop too. There was a Toyota Corolla, a Honda Civic, and a Geo Metro, all built right here in Canada.
        Kind of twist your head around a bit. Now we have a really nice Buick Regal built by the Adam Opel Company in Germany.

        The world’s a smaller place. Your grandpa’s Buick is not the same.

  • avatar

    Is Snow Beer any good?

    • 0 avatar

      yellow snow beer?

      i think there are other car companies that are closer to the Apple ideal (‘idyll?’)

      BMW has a large amount of supporters who will buy ugly little cars if they have the roundel.

      What about Porsche? Engine blows up? That’s your fault.

      GM will never have that rabid fervour of people camping outside Apple stores on the midnight before release day.

      • 0 avatar


        There was a time when people “lined-up” to see the new model year of GM products – I’m still only in my early 50’s and I can remember when this happened.

        There was a time when consumers craved GM products, and GM was the smartest marketer in the world.

      • 0 avatar

        Tony, Monty is spot-on. In that respect, Apple emulates the GM model from back before 1971. Harley Earl established it: build a product that you absolutely love and exceeds your expectations…until next year’s model comes out. Then you MUST have the new one. The “rabid fervour of people camping outside (the) store on the midnight before release day” BEGAN with GM waaay back when.

    • 0 avatar

      Is any beer not good?

      • 0 avatar

        Just about any american beer, after spending some time in the father land you begin to understand what crap we have over here, the best is Corona, the mexicans just laugh at us (my neighbors own about 20 san jose’s), it’s crap beer (think of the sledge left over from making MGD and we pay $8/six pack and the only thing that makes it drinkable is a lime, don’t beleive me, try one without sometime).

        Now to Apple, the most amazing success story of our generation, there is nothing else to say (and from someone who bought stock at the bubble burst of 2001 that small amount of stock outvalues my f’ing 401k after 11 years). Every company that has tried to emulate it has looked silly in the process, even MS realized being friends would be better than foes. Why do you think ES left google, he realized that fighting a war against mordor and isangard would be foolish (add in the southrons and easterlings, aka IBM and Oricle) and Google is getting to have thier asses handed to them despite having a monopoly (and using that cash to try and give away for free what is the life blood of the other four), the tech industry is the only one that I find more fasinating than the auto one, four every billion in cash that google has they’ve picked a fight against four companies that have 6-7 times as much (And a judge has already told google they need to give alot of money to oricle for android or oricle will receive an injunction and thier will be no more android) it’s an all out war, playing on a level that car companies could not imagine playing on (PS I do not own a single apple product).

    • 0 avatar

      Good lord no. Watery and bitter at the same time. And pricier than Tsingtao.

  • avatar

    I suspect the same areas of activity light up in an Apple fan’s brain as do a Ford fan or a Chevy fan — and likewise for a zealot of each brand.

    Apple succeeds because they sell decent, cleanly-delineated products at semi-premium pricing. Like Toyota and Honda, used resale prices tend to be higher because significant demand exists to buy-in to the brand at a slightly cheaper price.

    GM doesn’t (presently) because they have a history of selling crap.

  • avatar

    There is an enormous amount of Confirmation Bias in companies wanting to “be like Apple” or “be like Google”

    Yes, these companies have been tremendously successful.

    But that does NOT necessarily mean that anyone could have predicted that ahead of time.

    Google emerged from a whole pile of similar search engine companies, and before things shook out there were perfectly good reasons to think that Yahoo or AOL or Excite or some other company would emerge as the “winner” from that pile.

    Similarly, when Apple introduced the iPod, the ‘conventional wisdom’ was that Ipod was going to be the Betamax in a VHS-like world of cheap common-technology mp3 players.

    Meanwhile in the car world, who would have predicted that the makers of the cheap disposable Hyundai Excel would be making a Mercedes-Benz E-Class competitor in 20 years? Or that dynamic with-it 1990s golden child Chrysler would fall off of a cliff and end up being owned by Fiat? Or that all-conquering Toyota and Honda would lose the plot to the point that Consumer Reports would stop recommending their cars?

    There is lot more luck than magic in the business world.

  • avatar

    Ford is closer to being the Apple of the industry, especially given that the success of both companies has hinged mostly on one man: Mulally for Ford, and Jobs for Apple (what would happen to Ford’s stock if Mulally became ill?)

    Since the “bailout”, more of the younger, anti-corporate types are interested in Ford; as they are in Apple.

    And Ford is no longer a bargain-priced automaker. They are commanding pretty high prices, while their cars contain cutting-edge technology. They’re on the road to being looked at in the same light as Apple, and commanding the same sort of respect, though how far on that road is debatable. They still have a lot of bad history to overcome (who doesn’t know someone whose Taurus, Windstar, Tempo, or Contour drove them to the poorhouse?)

    • 0 avatar

      Ford has less baggage than GM and Chrysler, in terms of past product quality. Although they had some generic issues with reliability in the cars you mentioned, they’ve never had a monumental engineering failure like Chrysler (2.7L anyone?) or a car that was well and truly a total lemon from the ground up (like the Citation). I suppose you could say that the Windstar was close, but it still offered better quality than the Chrysler products of the time and was safer than the Astros and later the U-body vans.

      • 0 avatar

        For Fords, it seems that for everyone who had a lemon for a Tempo (or Taurus etc) there was someone who had amazing luck. I know a number of people who managed over 400,000 trouble-free kilometers on with their Tempos.

        I also know a married couple who bought identical Tempos. Same maintenance, similar amount of driving. One was constantly in the shop, and the other was flawless. I’ve heard similar stories with Explorers. To me, this indicates that the engineering was fine, but the UAW build quality was inconsistent.

      • 0 avatar

        In terms of Ford and quality, the problem has always been inconsistency, not bad design. Heck, the Windstar was probably the crappiest thing they sold in the 90’s (outside of the Aspire, but then again that wasn’t actually a Ford), and even that was reasonably reliable for a lot of people despite having a lot of design flaws. My parents had an 84 Tempo, the first new car they ever bought. No A/C so it was rather miserable in the summer, but the only problem they ever had with it was a burst coolant hose, which was an easy fix. I’m not sure how many miles they put on it, but it never gave them any problems outside of what I mentioned. It was a sharp contrast to the Dodge Spirit they later bought, which was a nice car when the transmission wasn’t grenading itself yet again.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        The only Ford product my Uncle Tim has owned was a Ford Winstar (first generation) that he bought brand spanking new for hauling his two teenage children around. It did eventually go to that great scrap yard in the sky and he had a few minor electrical issues with it, but he did put over 300,000 miles on it. He litterally used it up.

        But he replaced it with a Buick Rendezvous (which as also been pretty good to him, maybe he’s just lucky?)

      • 0 avatar

        Geo, who says the inconsistent reliability performance of the cars was the UAW’s fault? Most of a car is supplied by subcontractors. All the line workers do is put the parts together.

        My Pennsylvania VW was perfect on delivery. It was the pathetic oversight of suppliers by VW-USA’s management that resulted in 68 distinct failures over the ensuing 60,000 miles.

      • 0 avatar

        PintoFan: In terms of Ford and quality, the problem has always been inconsistency, not bad design.

        Sorry, but no. The head gaskets in the old 3.8 V-6 and the transmissions used in the 1990s Taurus, Sable and Windstar equipped with this engine were badly designed, and virtually guaranteed to fail.

        The engines and transmissions were very consistent – they were guaranteed to fail.

  • avatar

    I agree with Brian above. People who only look at the marketing are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

    Taking lessons from Apple is valid if you actually have some real grasp of what makes Apple successful.

    1: Pare down to the minimum number of models. Apple has the iPhone. One model (minor variations) competitors like Nokia/Samsung have DOZENS (50+ for Nokia). With this one model Apple captures more revenue than the entire rest of the industry combined!!! Economies of scale, supply/inventory management are all much more efficient, economical with limited models.

    To some extent the Japanese were better at this. Camry/Accord for decades, while Detroit has a multitude of midsize cars.

    2: The best customer service in the industry. Apple has had the top customer service of any of it’s competition for a long time running.

    3: Be fanatical about making your limited number of models, the best that they can be. Jobs is perfectionist task master that sets very high standards for all their products.

    4: Marketing/Fans. Really this part flows from the above. If you have great product, simplified models, great customer service, you have also simplified your marketing. Think about trying to market 20 different model phones like Samsung/Nokia vs just one. Loyal fans come not from “Reality Distortion fields” that detractors like to joke about, but from consistently delivering top products and consistently giving the best support. People then know they can rely on the company to deliver again and again. That keeps them returning.

    If you want to take lessons from Apple it is simplify models, then perfect those few, then support the heck out of them. The rest should follow if you maintain a commitment to keep doing the same.

    • 0 avatar

      Although I think I understand where you’re coming from with the Samsung/Nokia comparison, you have to remember that Apple isn’t trying to sell to every corner of the market like those two companies are. While more and more people are demanding smartphones of the type that Apple sells, there is still a huge demand for basic and intermediate level cellphones that Samsung and Nokia are chasing. Apple has ignored this market thus far. but if it really wants to expand its phone business then it will have to try and go downmarket at some point.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Lemming

      The approach you describe sounds a whole lot like Honda in the 1970s, VW in the 1960s, and AMC in the late-1950s. Each of those automakers were in their prime. Can you see GM saying, “We want to be like AMC under George Romney.”

      GM doesn’t have a chance of being like Apple as long as it maintains so many brands and nameplates. Hard to see that changing until they crash again.

      • 0 avatar

        GM tends to destroy Brand equity like how they replaced the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa derived Holden Barina great little car GM decided a heap from Korea would do the job, wrong the Daewoo Kalos is junk and noone was fooled, thats the kind of stupidity GM is knowm for certainly nothing like apple Thats the kind of decisions GM Detroit makes just to save a few $ they kill a brand

    • 0 avatar

      I have to disagree with Bryce on this one. Although the little Aveo is different and harder to figure out from a GM employee’s point of view, it seems to me to have fewer problems than a lot of it’s bigger GM brohers. We keep some front wheel bearings in stock and the odd BTSI, but aside from that, there are few problems.
      I’m kind of impressed.

  • avatar

    I’d like to be Apple too. Wait until a tech is ready for the mainstream, make a nice simple interface for it, charge twice as much as your competition, and roll in the dough.

    • 0 avatar

      If GM could match Apple’s record of making products that were easier to use, less troublesome to their owners, and more helpful to their productivity than competitors’ with similar technology, GM would deserve every penny they’d get.

  • avatar

    You have to put the Apple comments into context here.

    What GM is really saying is that in its quest to create global magical brands, it is going to start segmenting (read: marginalizing) Opel/ Vauxhall, and possibly Holden. Instead of maintaining the regional branding and product strategies that it has for decades, it is going to start building cars with the intent of making them world cars with unified branding.

    The Apple commentary is justification for this move, as the primary beneficiary of this Apple-oriented strategy is the Chevrolet brand. In other words, American managers telling Korean engineers what to sell to the world, including Europe and, I would expect eventually, Australia.

    • 0 avatar

      @Pch: “In other words, American managers telling Korean engineers what to sell to the world, including Europe and, I would expect eventually, Australia.”

      I don’t see how this is any different than any other multi-national corporation who has assembly plants across the world. Japanese, German, Italian and Korean managers telling their (insert locality here) to produce whatever the market demands.

      It’s funny that folks on this board alternately demand that GM functions like it did in the 1960’s, and then function like Toyota, Ford, and BMW do today.

      IMO, GM is trying to break out of the 1920’s Sloan model of marketing and rationalize a wildly diverse world of engineers, designers and marketers. It reminds me of the old saw about how no one likes to see sausage being made.

      Many time during the BK proceedings people opined that GM should only be Chevrolet and Cadillac. They may be moving to this idea, and referencing Apple as a target for marketing success is an admirable goal.

      People take the alliteration far too literally. Trying to compare iPhones to automobiles (in regards to manufacturing or other issues) is not the point. The real point is the perception of the brand, not the production of the brand.

      GM used to have it, and they can get it again, with the right product.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t see how this is any different than any other multi-national corporation who has assembly plants across the world.

        GM appears to be centralizing operations, which bucks the trend both within the company and in the auto industry in general. For the mass producers, cars have historically tended to be regional products; world cars have been, with a few exceptions, niche products.

        In any case, this is a warning shot at Opel. For better or for worse, those guys should be nervous.

        GM is trying to break out of the 1920′s Sloan model of marketing and rationalize a wildly diverse world of engineers, designers and marketers.

        I’d say that it’s mostly the opposite. GM wants to go back to Sloan’s strong brand model. The difference with this is that Sloan believed that markets were regional, while the new GM wants to move to a global model.

        Many time during the BK proceedings people opined that GM should only be Chevrolet and Cadillac.

        Personally, I believed that GM should pursue a two-channel (not necessarily brand) strategy in North America. That did not require turning Chevrolet or Cadillac into global brands.

        I think what you’re missing here is that within the context of Europe, Chevy is the new Saturn. Roger Smith tried to use Saturn as a tool for changing GM’s culture. Given the various fiefdoms and organizational structure, he figured that it was pretty much hopeless to transform the company from within, so his goal was to build up Saturn from without, using its success to marginalize GM’s main US brands, and eventually turn GM into a company dominated by Saturn’s business philosophy while the existing structure crumbled and was forced to change. But that effort failed because GM’s culture was stronger than Smith or Saturn, and in any case, he retired before his plan had a chance to be tested.

        The difference here is that this is Detroit vs. Europe, and Detroit is bound to win the political fight. But the question will ultimately be decided by European consumers; if they continue to buy Opels instead of Chevys, then the strategy will have failed. We’ll have to see what happens; personally, I’m skeptical that Chevy will be able to accomplish that.

      • 0 avatar

        @Pch: (pacific coast highway?) “In any case, this is a warning shot at Opel. For better or for worse, those guys should be nervous.”

        Yes, that’s a mystery to me. Opel does so much of the engineering for the corporation’s popular cars. OTOH I think the actual engineering IP actually belongs to GM Europe, not Russelsheim. Maybe GMNA could transfer it to GM Daewoo (GMD)? I’m not familiar with IP law, I don’t know if that would be plausible…

        Sloan’s model had way too many steps in it, I’m sure due to the nature of how GM was originated. During the period of time when the companion makes were extant, it eventually grew so large that it collapsed on itself. But GM had no issues killing off the other brands back then, I don’t see why they couldn’t have applied it sooner (meaning the 1950’s).

        Saturn was doomed to be a failed experiment due to lack of consistent management. More of the same old bad idea about driving the imports back to the sea, just way more expensive.

        “But the question will ultimately be decided by European consumers; if they continue to buy Opels instead of Chevys, then the strategy will have failed. We’ll have to see what happens; personally, I’m skeptical that Chevy will be able to accomplish that.”

        Yes, there’s a lot to has to play out before we know if this tack will work out. I know that European buyers are far more nationalistic than USians. I guess that having the Chevy name on the largely GMD based designs is supposed to help with market acceptance, but I think it will be an uphill battle.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree. By looking around the world at the best products they have, made by the best people in their employ, they can surely come out ahead. Must be a hell of a job organizing that though.
        The best community effort I’ve seen from them so far is the Cruze.
        I really think they’ve got a winner there, and it looks like that platform will be used for other vehicles like the Orlando.

      • 0 avatar

        “The best community effort I’ve seen from them so far is the Cruze.”

        The more Chevy Cruzes I see – and I see lots and lots of them – have me believing the same thing.

        BTW, Have you noticed just how similar a Cruze is to a Saturn ION? I made that comparison to each as I was driving to work and they were next to each other on the highway. Just musing…

      • 0 avatar

        Opel does so much of the engineering for the corporation’s popular cars.

        I believe that you will find more of GM’s small car development coming out of Daewoo, not Opel. The more that I see, the more that I suspect that incorporating Daewoo into Chevrolet was as much an internal political move as it was a marketing decision.

        Sloan’s model had way too many steps in it

        Sloan’s model was good for the 1930’s, when there was one dominant competitor (Ford) and when a marque consisted of just one, two, or a few models. In those days, a GM brand was more or less the equivalent of what a badge is today.

        But since then, marques have greatly expanded their reach, so the multiple brand concept doesn’t work anymore. GM failed to understand that an idea that can be fantastically successful during one era can be a miserable failure during another. Timing matters.

        Saturn was doomed to be a failed experiment due to lack of consistent management.

        It failed for many reasons, of course, but the lack of support for it internally was a large part of the problem. Turning around GM’s culture is going to be about as easy as it would be to maneuver an aircraft carrier with a broken rudder. There are too many cronies who benefited from the Old GM way of doing business, and those constituents are not going to want to give up their power just because a Powerpoint told them that they had to.

    • 0 avatar

      @Zackman: I’ve never made a connection between a Saturn Ion and the Cruze. I see an Ion everyday as my neighbor across the street has one.

      I think the proportions on the Cruze are much better. From the back it looks a lot like a Honda Civic about 3 generations back (2001 era). The only thing I’m not too wild about is the rather blunt front end, but it seems that due to regulations worldwide, we’ll be seeing more of that.

      My youngest kid is (now finally!) learning to drive, she pointed out a 4th gen Camaro for sale at the side of the road. Looking at the plan view of that car, I doubt very much we will see a car with a nose like that again. It almost looks like it has a snout like an anteater, like it’s hoovering up the road. Pity.

  • avatar

    No car company can be like Apple… it’s the nature of the market. An announcement like, “We’re going to brand like Apple” is akin to one of those ‘we’re aiming for xx.x% market share by xxxx year’. it’s more of an internal rally cry than it is a statement of intent. And it usually doesn’t amount to much.

    Cars are more or less commodities at the consumer end. You could say that one brand is better than another, that one company has better service than another, but really, in the global economy, no company has what Warren Buffet calls a ‘durable competitive advantage’. For all of the crucifying that Honda is going through right now, if you dig through Autocar not too many years ago, you ran a pretty in depth article titled “Can Anybody Catch up to Honda?” This was maybe before the financial crisis, but it shows how much can change in a few years.

    In the end, even Apple won’t be able to be like Apple. They’re business model is heavily dependent on ‘the next big thing’, and if they can’t deliver or if consumer tastes change, then the public moves onto the next company. If there is one thing Apple is good at, it is targeting a… oh, how shall we say it… no so price conscious consumer… Well, there are car brands that try to speak to the same qualities that an Apple product speaks too. They’re called Porsche and Mercedes, and both are facing problems that Apple will eventually have to go through.

    Take the 911. Iconic, classic, and increasingly playing a small portion of Porsche’s lineup. One word…. “iPod”. Good thing for Apple that it had the iPhone waiting in the wings, but even that will eventually sink into commoditization.. you can see the writing on the wall with the rise of the iPad as the next big thing. Mercedes has seen the same fate with it’s iconic S-class sedans… in order to thrive, it has to diversify into an ever broader range of models that fill ever smaller niches.

  • avatar

    Who wouldn’t want to be like Apple? They make products that are easy to use (unlike, say, My Ford Touchy), the make money hand over fist, people WILLINGLY pay for the ‘extras’, and their customer base is growing and EXTREMELY loyal.

    Look at what one Apple product…the iPhone…has done to the entire cell phone market. Imagine if GM had one product that turned the automotive world on it’s head.

    • 0 avatar

      Baby steps. GM needs to aspire to be Atari.

      “Imagine if GM had one product that turned the automotive world on it’s head.”

      GM lacks what it takes to turn the automotive world on its head but the Volt & Corvette do have its attention even though they don’t exactly turn a prof… oh yeah, there once was a car named the EV1 but look what they did to that.

    • 0 avatar

      One word… “Walkman”. Us kids back then paid good money for those things and were very loyal, yet look at Sony now. For any company to ‘be like Apple’, they would have to invent a whole new product category, not just come up with a better car.

      • 0 avatar

        Sony now is suffering for a lot of the same reasons that GM suffered. Sony made hands down the best CRT TVs on the market, but when the market moved to DLP, plasma, and LCD, they fell behind. They’re still good, but not clearly the best on the market, and therefore can’t command the same price premium they once did.

        Sony had controlled the console gaming market with the Playstation and PS2, but allowed Microsoft to release first with the 360, and though the PS3 is arguably the more capable and better piece or hardware, allowing MS to come out with that generation first and then charging a major price premium left Sony in the dust early on in total sales numbers.

        Sony has also been plagued with bad press from everything from rootkits installed in audio CDs, colluding with the RIAA in extortionist lawsuit campaigns and file-sharers, having lax online security that allowed for personal date of customers to be stolen, and suing its own customers like George Hotz for tinkering with hardware that those customers fully owned.

        GM at one point made some of the finest automobiles on the road. They chose to rest on those laurels and release sub-par products on the assumption that the name would sell the car, and it worked for a while until people caught on. GM followed up with plenty of ‘screw you’ moves to loyal customers regarding defects and warranty issues, and in the end managed to destroy whatever brand equity they ever had.

        Apple has risen from near bankruptcy (and in fact it was the investment by Microsoft, at one point Apple’s main competitor, that likely saved them during the nadir of the company’s health) to become one of the biggest success stories in the modern day tech world. Apple hasn’t been big enough in decades though to piss off as many people as GM did. Hyundai has risen from obscurity into a darling of the modern automotive world. Hyundai’s rocket-like ascension isn’t because their current products are overall any better than GMs, or because they didn’t put out as much complete crap as GM did back in the day, but because they never rose high enough in the marketplace to betray as many people as GM did. It’s a lot easier to reach new customers who have never had any experience with you than it is to regain customers who you’ve had and lost because of bad experiences.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ll have to disagree with you on the PS3 vs. XBox360 comparison.
        As someone with 17 years in the video games industry and has programmed every console since the 3DO, I can tell you that the 360 is superior in every way to the PS3, except that the PS3 has more CPU horsepower. That CPU power is great, except that you have to burn it in order to make up for the rest of the hardware’s shortcomings. In the end you can make a better game on the 360 with significantly less effort.

      • 0 avatar


        Maybe it is just my bad luck, but after my third Xbox360 hardware failure, which required me to mail my console somewhere, I gave up new video games for good. The 360 was also loud and generated a ton of heat.

        If the PS3 is way worse than the 360, Sony must have built quite the giant pile of scrap.

      • 0 avatar

        240sx –

        I’ve heard the same thing regarding the difficulty of the PS3 to program for. Most of what I’ve read puts the PS3 and 360 on equal footing when it comes to graphics capability. Where the PS3 had the 360 beat was that it included Blu-Ray and the hard drive was standard.

        While the 360 has the option of an external HD-DVD drive for a bit I believe it couldn’t be used for games, just movies, and since it wasn’t a standard feature no one would release games for it anyway. While the PS3 didn’t initially need more than a DVD’s worth of storage for games, it still allowed for HD movie watching with the included blu-ray drive (and the PS3 is still a very good blu-ray player due to the upgradeable firmware). Now that games are taking up more and more space you have games like LA Noir which comes on three discs on the 360, but one Blu-Ray on the PS3, so no swapping needed.

        Also, since the hard drive wasn’t standard on the 360, games couldn’t count on it being there to install files to shorten load times.

        From what I recall the PS2 was also notoriously difficult to program for compared to the original Xbox or Nintendo Gamecube, but Sony had such a huge lead in units sold that the developers pretty much just sucked it up and dealt with it. This generation of consoles Sony seems to have fallen victim to hubris. Once the 360 had a larger installed user base Sony didn’t have as much sway with developers to keep hit titles from going multi-platform, and for a lot of gamers who didn’t necessarily care about having the blu-ray drive, the standard hard disk, or some of the other PS3 premium features, and who could play the AAA titles the day they came out on the more affordable 360, the choice was easy.

        Another tech example just popped into my head – Intel vs. AMD during the Pentium 4 years. Intel let the marketing guys run the show and push the NetBurst architecture as the company’s future. When the clockspeeds didn’t ramp up as fast as planned and the much smaller AMD released processors that weren’t only faster clock for clock but faster overall, AMD started to eat into Intel’s market share. If it weren’t for the contracts that Intel had with major OEMs like Dell that gave those OEMs incentives not to use the AMD chips Intel could have lost a lot more of the market. I see it in a lot of ways as being analogous to GM’s position when the import brands first started to gain popular appeal. People could see that the GM product wasn’t as good as the new Toyota or Honda product, but GM relied on marketing and the larger dealer network to maintain a stranglehold on new car sales. The difference is that Intel realized their folly before it was too late and came out with new products better than anything AMD was making, while GM buried their head in the sand until it was too late, and has just within the last several years been making passenger cars that are fully competitive with, and in many cases superior to, what the Japanese have to offer.

      • 0 avatar


        Can you email me? I’d like to pick your brains a bit about video games and sims.

        The filter here doesn’t like email addresses, apparently


        Remove (pants) and replace with @

      • 0 avatar

        The PS3 may have its issues, but games on the PS3 usually have the edge in detail and polish. And while both consoles have their bricking issues (YLOD on the PS3, RROD on the 360), the 360 failure rate seems much higher.

        And the Blu-Ray standard makes the PS3 much more future-proof… though the 360’s advantage in developer-friendliness and moddability is unquestionable.

        It’s a shame Sony dropped OtherOS functionality and hasn’t had as much success as some other companies in terms of courting third-party developers. As Google showed with Android and Apple with the iPad/iPod, build a good operating architecture and the developers will come…

        Still use Sony CRT… wonderful, problem-free televisions, those… but there’s no denying Sony has fallen behind the Koreans in terms of LCD/LED technology.

      • 0 avatar

        I can’t go into specifics too much due to NDAs on the internals but I can talk about details that were made public.

        The 360 sure did have problems for the first year or so. I do believe that the devkit failure rate was near 100% until the first die shrink. The only real issue with PS3 devkits were people breaking the USB ports. Although mine did actually go bang with smoke coming out once. Sony did a much better job with thermal management.

        I was the main PS3 graphics guy for over three years where I worked before getting out of the industry, I know all about the ‘difficulties’ of the PS3. The optical media size is an issue for the 360, however the DVD drive has lower latencies and higher peak throughput then the BD on the PS3.
        The GPU on the PS3 is closely related to a GeForce 7800GTX which was ancient for a GPU when the PS3 was released. There’s a whole lot of backstory there that I can’t talk about but Sony didn’t have too many options for anything better. As the public information says the 360 has 48 pipes that can be biased in software for vertex or fragment shading which allows for the programmers to maximize GPU usage for whatever game specific load they have. The PS3 has 8 vertex pipes and 6 fragment pipes (each pixel pipe operates on 4 pixels at a time so it’s like 24 pipes on the 360). You get 3x-10x the vertex throughput on the 360 so you can push more pipes to the fragment shading. All in on equal loads you get 15%-25% better performance on the 360. At that point you bring the SPUs into the picture to reduce the GPU load burning the CPU advantage. You pre-process the vertices to reduce load on the vertex pipes. You also do as much of your pixel post processing on the SPUs to reduce the load on the fragment pipes. It takes years of development effort on the PS3 to equal the ‘out of the box’ performance of the 360. There is also about 5% more memory available on the 360 which is a huge advantage when you count every byte.
        As for Sony’s business practices, I’ll never buy another product of theirs

        Future-proof doesn’t enter into the equation when the hardware was outdated on day one. Yeah, it can play blurays but for the last two years you can get a better bluray player for half the cost.
        As I said earlier, I find Sony’s behavior reprehensible. I was never a fan of theirs, but I did make a good living programming their hardware for quite a while.

        If you want the inside scoop on the creation of the CPUs in the PS3 and 360 I recommend the book ‘The race for a new game machine” by David Shippy and Mickie Phipps. It helped me understand the bad design decisions by both sides getting these consoles out.

      • 0 avatar

        On behavior… no doubt… Sony’s corporate personality is about as appealing as a lobotomized pit bull with rabies…

        Blu-Rays are getting cheaper, but Sony’s price slashing on the PS3 keeps it competitively priced (Here, anyway)… it’s a shame, though, how much potential Sony wasted in terms of design decisions…

        Sounds like an interesting book… I’ll check it out. ;)

    • 0 avatar

      > Imagine if GM had one product that turned the automotive world on it’s head.

      I’m trying, but I still can’t imagine it. Seems like they are always late to the party, or even if they do manage something new, they give up on it after one model cycle when it doesn’t set the world on fire.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the last time GM came close to turning the market on its head was with the X-bodies. The failure in execution is like a Greek tragedy.

      • 0 avatar


      • 0 avatar

        Cruze? Has it turned the automotive world on its head? I take that “turning on its head” to be something like the original Mustang in ’64, or the SBC in ’55, or when Chrysler came out with a minivan. The Cruze seems like a nice car, a GM finally competitive in its class, but not something even close to turning the automotive world on its head. At least the Volt version will get Toyota moving on a plug-in version of the Prius, and that’s something, I guess.

  • avatar

    Hey, I want to be like Apple too. This way everyone will love me and I can make lots of money. Is wanting it enough? Or do I actually have to go to the effort of actually producing products people really want, because that would be hard.

    Maybe Chevy wants to keep quiet, build a big stick, and then carry it. And no, a 6 speed Impala isn’t cutting it if the design is older than many buyers.

  • avatar

    Apple almost went out of business in the mid 1990’s.

    Anyone remember the Apple Newton or the Centris line of computers?

  • avatar

    Start with service, GM. Would I take a 5 1/2 year old, out of warranty, GM car to a dealership for a service related issue? Not unless its for a recall. Research shows that once a GM car is out of warranty, its owner will most likely look elsewhere for service. Saturn’s service model was a solid attempt to correct this issue, but it took years for the other brands to take note. Marked improvements are being made (by GM dangling quarterly cash payout carrots to dealers for scoring well on customer surveys), but mainly for warranty repair processes.

    Would I take a 5 1/2 year old, out of warranty, MacBook Pro to the Apple Store Genius Bar for a service related issue? I did so a few weeks back. I received bad news about my MBP, but at no expense to me, and in a pleasant, relaxed environment. Its an old computer, and I’ll be replacing it with another MacBook.

    • 0 avatar

      Service is really what it’s all about. Service creates sales, and promotes loyalty that will span generations of customers.
      Why don’t the bean counters know this, and why can’t they figure it out?

      I once worked at a dealership where the salesmen didn’t have to do anything. People just kept on buying the product because they were so happy with the way they were serviced after the sale. They wouldn’t go anywhere else. Sons, daughters, grandkids, everybody bought from them.
      The company was sold. Things changed.

  • avatar

    Ebonic has accomplished nothing since moving on up.

  • avatar
    George B

    Apple plays in a market where customers can afford their markup relative to the competition. They turn consumer electronics into fashion accessories. Consumers would love to be able to do the same with cars, but the cost difference is too high to stomach. Most people can afford Apple. Not so with BMW.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      George, Apple is very price competitive on the products that they sell a lot of. People get confused because Apple does not offer products that compete with the cheap stuff other manufacturers sell.

      Compare phones. When you take all phones that have the same features as an iPhone, every other manufacturer sells their similar phone for a similar price. iPad vs other tablets – same.

      Compare laptops. Most people seem to only compare CPU, HD, and RAM. It’s a laptop – you must compare battery, size, weight, build-quality, etc. Apple is usually cheaper than the equivalent Sony and about the same as the equivalent Lenovo or HP.

      I’ve read all the comments so far and nobody has mentioned the supply chain. Apple is a master. Forget about Steve Jobs. Tim Cook has given Apple the money they need to do all their R&D. He is the reason they have huge margins. He has made so many strategic investments and agreements with suppliers that nobody else can compete with Apple when they launch a new product. Apple buys out entire factory lines years in advance. They pay billions of dollars in advance to get the components they need and the rest of the industry is left scrambling for the leftovers.

      GM can do this too. But they don’t have the stomach for it.

      • 0 avatar

        Thank you. I’m sick of people saying Apple is expensive. Back in the 90s when they had one-off components this was true, but today they use the same chips (Intel) as everyone else. In fact others are having trouble selling a product that competes with iPad on price. As mentioned above the reason people assume Apple is expensive is because they don’t make “cheap” netbooks and other low-end computers or phones. Similar to luxury cars (BMW was a good example till the 1-series came out) there is no base or striped model laptop in Apple’s line. They aim high and don’t even attempt to compete in bottom feeder market where margins are too small to maintain a decent profit. As the saying goes if you have to compete on price alone you have only direction to go… and that’s down. The only companies to successfully grab that market: McDonalds and Wal-Mart.

        Now ask any Apple fan and they tell you the main reason they bought an Apple product: it just works. The engineering, hardware, software all work together seemlessly. As mentioned by others this comes from focusing on a few core products and getting those products PERFECT even if takes a few years. Take the iPod, it came out after the MP3 market was saturated with cheap, junk players. With a few short years Apple owned this space by making something that was not only “cool” to own, but actually worked flawlessly. It was so easy to use an iPod my mother got one.

        For a car company to do something similar would requires a ground up rethink of their entire product line and huge R&D investment. Plus they need a leader like Jobs and the ability to keep new designs under wraps until public demand reaches an uncontrollable fever. GM did the opposite with the Camaro, by the time it came out we had two years of watching Transformer toy versions. About the only automaker that has pulled this off is MINI – they compete in one space and at one price level, leveraging their “retro” look for fan appeal that builds a very strong brand. Resell price confirms Mini has the right formula. GM is too big for this, they will continue to be the Dell of automakers.

  • avatar

    Apple is less BMW and more pre-21st Century Honda.

    Both companies offer less than their competitors. Smaller engines, smaller cars… and yet, in both cases, they manage to do a lot more with a lot less.

    A lot of people look at Apple and see a company which charges a premium for less features. Anyone who’s ever used an Apple sees a computer that’s infinitely easier to use, more reliable and more aspirational.

    Honda still holds some of that cachet, but they’re on the decline, thanks to some missteps on their part (lack of focus on design and marketing direction)… but largely because the automotive market doesn’t care for clever functionality as much as it does for size and style. People may seem to be downsizing thanks to gas jitters… but the level of downsizing is upsizing. The same people who went for Honda Fits three years ago are now going back to Accord-class cars…

    In other words, it’s like a Smartphone war, where we spent a long time trying to get as much tech into as small a package as possible… and now consumers are demanding touchscreens that are bigger, and bigger, and bigger…

    Samsung et al may appear to have a leg up on Apple with their product mix… but while they’re producing Galaxy Tabs and other tablet-phone hybrids, Apple already has a product in that segment… one that debuted to much criticism many years ago…

    Now if only Honda were so lucky…

  • avatar

    A big part of Apple’s success comes from sweating the small stuff like nobody’s business, and they do that because anyone who doesn’t will find Steve Jobs in their office delivering their severance check. I understand GM’s culture is a bit different, I wish them luck in turning that around but there’s a lot of inertia to overcome.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    A lot of Apple’s success has come from running a very tight controlled system, especially as far as modifications and add-ons are concerned. No Apple clones allowed.

    In GM’s heyday the after-market options were immense. Very different philosophy, more akin to the open architecture of the generic PC running Windows.

    For GM to emulate Apple now would mean drastically pruning down platforms,engines, and even model designations, and then deliberately alienating all the after-market vendors. Now I’m not up to date, maybe nobody mods a GM car any more anyhow. But to take it one step further, modeling after Apple there would be a unique set of GM tires that could not be replaced by any of the numerous tires you buy in a tire shop. Same with batteries. Hey maybe the engine could use only GM oil.

    • 0 avatar

      “Now I’m not up to date, maybe nobody mods a GM car any more anyhow.”

      I’m pretty sure that’s true for all brands, except for the stick-on-chrome crowd.

  • avatar

    To start with, GM would have to get rid of the UAW.

  • avatar

    GM or any other car company cannot possibly be as successful as Apple because this is not the age of Automobile any more.
    This is the age of consumer electronics, internet cloud, social networks and other stuff that the consumers who can actually get religiously excited over a design of a singing white little box will get excited about. Teens, geeks, hipsters, socialites and most of art inclined people will never ever get religiously excited over a car any more. They ultimately create the consumer fashion.

    In my opinion in this century many things which used to excite religious devotion will lose the attraction. For example professional sports. In Europe football teams used to (and mostly still) have large numbers of devoted fans but I would say the peak is in the past.

  • avatar

    There are similarities, Apple also was a dead company, making no products desired by more than a few fanboys. They were all but bankrupt. Then they had the right product at the right moment in time, with the iPod. That brought them back to life. The evolution of the iPod lead to some touch screen tech…then they thought, hey, let’s make it a phone. Stratospheric success from that. Then….hey, let’s make a really big iPod touch and pretend it’s a PC. The iPad was a hit. Meanwhile, the desktop business is still a desert, they don’t sell many. The laptop business is just ok, they still sell them to the fanboys and academics who have some disdain for Microsoft.

    They key has been the passion of their fans. But I don’t think it will scale. I have an iPhone, and I’m no Apple fan. The core fanatics remain, but among users of these broad market products, there is a willingness to switch.

    • 0 avatar

      > The evolution of the iPod lead to some touch screen tech…then they thought, hey, let’s make it a phone.

      Actually, Creative was the first with an MP3 player. iPod’s real genius was iTunes, which helped legitimize MP3 as a means of music. One word “Napster”. Their success really came from the realization that hardware wasn’t going to sell them alone, they needed to break through the legal barrier with online music. iTunes then becomes the bedrock for locking in consumers on their digital priso… err.. i mean sandbox.

      This is the real reason why Apple is Apple. None of the car companies have a way of creating a truly captive audience. For anybody to be truly like Apple, they would need to come up with the automotive version of iTunes.

  • avatar

    @marjanmm: +1!

    Add to this the observation that many young Japanese, for a variety of reasons, are no longer interested in owning a car, even as a status symbol. The conditions that are making this true in Japan (chronically poor ‘new normal’ economy, high gas prices, over crowding of people and cars in urban areas, competition from consumer electronics for disposable income) are heading to the US.

    The car in the US is no longer associated with a the ‘joy ride’ and the freedom of the ‘open road’ but with the long commute and high gas/repair bills.

  • avatar

    What NulloModo said: “It’s a lot easier to reach new customers who have never had any experience with you than it is to regain customers who you’ve had and lost because of bad experiences.”

    And I’ll add another comment…Bertel, there may come a day when you are rich and don’t have to write, but I suspect that won’t mean that you’ll stop writing.

  • avatar

    If anything, Apple is like BMW and vice versa. Both are very good at marketing to the gullible.

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