New Corvette, Same Old GM. Or: How The General Fails At The Fourth Wall

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
new corvette same old gm or how the general fails at the fourth wall

In 2007, our founder Robert Farago wrote this piece. It is still bouncing around on Facebook. It never stopped being true, and it became extra pertinent with the launch of the new Corvette. People often accuse us of being “biased” against GM. My answer in private, today for the first time uttered in public, always was: “Not true. GM is biased against TTAC.”

In May 2011, with Ed still at the helm, I dragged him to Detroit, and up the escalators of RenCen to make an end to the useless war, and to make peace with GM. Sitting in Selim Bingol’s office, I explained that their old antagonist Farago is gone, replaced by young Niedermeyer and old warhorse Schmitt. New people at GM, new people at TTAC, let’s go forward. As an answer I had to hear from Bingol that at GM “we don’t negotiate with terrorists.” The meeting froze. I could unfreeze it. Former advertising people know how to talk their way out of a bad meeting, current PR flacks should have similar capabilities of instant insincerity. Smiles, handshakes, contradicted by body language. GM promised that all is good, it wasn’t. TTAC remained toxic at GM. The cold war continued. I did not know that Farago had tried before. Read this story from 2007. He sure did. – Bertel

Our man Mehta recently ran into a GM PR flack at an industry event. When Sajeev revealed TTAC as his spiritual home, the GM underling shook with rage. Still, it being the South and all, pleasantries were exchanged. After sweet talking the spinmeister, Sajeev promised I’d call and oil the troubled waters. During the ensuing conversation, I [once again] offered GM the right to reply– unedited– and promised to correct any factual errors. And then, quite out of the blue, she lost it. “Why do you hate domestic cars so much?” she demanded.

I asked my antagonist if she’d read our reviews of GM products. She admitted that she hadn’t visited the site “in about a year.” I pointed out that we’ve praised many a domestic product, and eviscerated plenty of imports and transplants. I also reminded her that several “foreign” cars have a higher domestic content than GM’s wares (e.g. the Honda Odyssey) and mentioned GM’s Canadian Buicks, Korean Aveos and European Astras.

I also told her I’m a patriotic American who’d love to see General Motors build a vehicle– any vehicle– that stands head and shoulders above all comers. “What about the Corvette?” she interjected. Yup, the ‘Vette offers unparalleled bang-for-the-buck. But clock that plastic craptastic interior. Could she honestly say a Corvette’s cabin was even half as welcoming as a Porsche Boxster’s? The silence was deafening. Not because she’d been trumped; she simply didn’t know.

“Have you ever been in a Porsche?” I asked, succumbing to the knife twisting urge. Faltering slightly, she admitted she hadn’t been in “one of the new ones.” An Audi? “My neighbor has one, and she’s had problems with engine sludge.” Volvo? Viper? Mustang GT? Clearly, the GM factotum had never spent seat time in much of anything that wasn’t sold by GM.

Although I find ignorance, arrogance, defensiveness, paranoia and aggression an unappealing combination, I blame nurture, not nature for the spinmeister’s ‘tude. Any automaker that doesn’t expose its front line workers to their competitors’ cars gets the representation they deserve. Is it any wonder that GM makes a huge range of “nearly there” cars when even the people charged with their public promotion do so with their eyes wide shut?

When Toyota developed the new Tundra, they based it on information provided by a research team that traveled America to see how “real” pickup truck buyers use and abuse, love and loathe their vehicles. Once the Tundra was finished, ToMoCo then made sure all their dealers’ staff– right down to receptionists– spent seat time in the new vehicle. And now they’re organizing the Mother of All Ride and Drive Events, inviting anyone who so much as glances at the big rig for an extended test drive.

Meanwhile, GM’s importing yet another Australian RWD sedan, re-badging it a Pontiac and sticking it on the showroom floor. The fact that they’ve done this before without success (GTO), the fact that the G8 has no visual connection to Pontiac’s hit Solstice, demonstrates the company’s profound inability to learn from mistakes AND capitalize on success.

Car Czar or no, GM lacks Fingerspitzengefuhl: an intuitive sense of what’s happening on the battlefield. Put another way, they don’t understand the automotive landscape in which they work. They are, quite literally, lost.

Of course, GM’s uninformed and misguided executives could simply read The Truth About Cars. I’m serious. If GM wants a road map back to reality, they could do a lot worse than ask TTAC for directions. Our writers are deeply immersed in American car culture. They call it like they see it, without fear or favor. And our commentators add invaluable perspective.

Better yet, GM could actively engage TTAC and its audience. They could provide us with press cars and then publicly address our criticisms. Hell, what’s to stop The General from participating in ALL car enthusiast sites? Why not assign a team of literate, experienced and open-minded experts to demo the metal, confront critics, answer problems, correct mis-impressions, quash unsubstantiated rumors and, yes, toot their own horn?

Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot: all statements must be approved by GM PR. And GM PR’s too busy whining and dining beating up the buff books for “unauthorized” new product leaks to monitor a fast, frank and open exchange of ideas.

Anyway, for some reason, Sajeev’s PR contact called me back. She told me Flack Central had declined my invitation to post on this website. “They prefer to use their own blog,” she announced, with no small amount of smug self-satisfaction.

And there you have it. GM will not “break the fourth wall” (as theater folk call it). The General’s majordomos will continue to hold tight to the reins of power, sheltering inside The Kremlin The Renaissance Center, relying on their toadies, spies and consultants to tell them what’s going on in the real world, and then communicating pre-approved responses through “official channels.” Thus empires do fall.

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3 of 169 comments
  • Russty1 Russty1 on Jan 17, 2013

    The kind of contempuous anti-customer attitude exhibited by mega car companies like GM drives me batty. Especially these days as a taxpayer I am also a bail-out investor/government incentives investor who has no say when they keep repeating the same mismanagement errors. Are they just too big and bureaucratic to do something bold like completely embrace modern media and seek out active feedback from car-loving customers? What the heck are they afraid of? If thousands of car fans felt that their input was directly affecting finished GM products rolling off the assembly lines wouldn't we buy *more* of said products? And then proudly attend new model launch events in our local communities? The Powers That Be have a "we know best what's good for you" corporate climate that is dinosaurish, isolated, self-important and self-fulfilling. It's continued for decades and has enough history they should have learned by now. What's to lose for them to try something different? I suggest for the heck of it that they get with it and embrace TTAC and many other modern grass-roots car appreciating sources and use them as a way to build rapport and benefit from tires-on-the-tarmac input. They should embrace ALL feedback good and bad and work with folks. I've seen the nice new Enclave among other domestic products, I like the Volt, and I see glimmers of hope that good things can be done. But it could be so much better. Maybe they're just too big? Was it product quality or lack of corporate vision that killed Saturn? Maybe over time folks will trust the reliability of Cruzes and GM can win their trust back if they make continously reliable cars from now on. I know they *can* do it, I just wish they'd do it sooner and let us as potential customers be a part of the solution instead of some necessary bottom-line annoyance they have to deal with in order for the corporate types to have a peachy annual shareholders meeting.

    • TCBRacing TCBRacing on Jan 17, 2013

      Just because GM doesn't particularly care for TTAC doesn't mean they don't embrace customer or potential customer feedback. I work at GM and have visited the Customer Support Center in Saginaw where there are literally hundreds of people scouring discussion boards, running Twitter and Facebook accounts, monitoring Google Alerts and responding REAL TIME to customer complaints and suggestions. What other automaker does that? I can tell you because we did the research - NONE. So don't let a spat with one obviously Ford favoring site represent the attitude of the entire company. You are being heard. Guess what? Even on this site...

  • Daveainchina Daveainchina on Jan 18, 2013

    GM is definitely missing something. What it is? I can't really say. The products are almost always "almost" very rarely do I see a GM car as a must have. something in the process of GM prevents GM from making cars that people aspire to. Capturing the heart of America (ie Red States) isn't that difficult for an American manufacturer. But let's face it, in the increasingly greater income disparity this has, those states are falling further and further behind in buying power. Somehow GM needs to create cars that Suburban and Urbanites want. Currently they don't. However that being said, the Spark, Sonic, Cadillac ATS are all good moves in the right direction. Only time will tell for sure though if GM can sustain this. Time will tell, but I do think somewhere in GM's management there is a disconnect, too often many people in the car industry are not car guys from accountants to pr people. This doesn't bode well for the understanding of what people want. Cars are made from commodities but cars in the end are not commodities and cannot be treated as such by management. I think in the end that is too often the case at GM.

  • MaintenanceCosts This class of car competes hard with Chargers/Challengers and modded diesel pickups for the douchey-driving crown.
  • 28-Cars-Later Corey - I think I am going to issue a fatwa demanding a cool kids car meetup in July somewhere in the Ohio region.
  • Master Baiter Might as well light 50 $100 bills on fire.
  • Mike1041 At $300K per copy they may secure as much as 2 or 3 deposits of $1,000
  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!