NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

GM needs to focus on building better cars

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GM needs to focus on building better cars

BY MARK PHELAN

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

This is the wrong time for General Motors to make itself a laughingstock. Not that there's a good time, but it's one thing to be the butt of jokes if you're Microsoft with a 90% market share and $220-billion market capitalization.

It's another thing entirely if:

• You're crawling out of bankruptcy

• The U.S. government owns 61% of you

• You hope to have a big-bucks stock sale in the next couple of years

• You alienated millions of buyers with lousy vehicles in the '80s and '90s.

A whole political party seems dedicated to making you look like the incompetent, union-run tool of a wannabe socialist.

With all that going on, why pin a "kick me" sign to your own back?

There's never been any shortage of brilliant people working at GM. They ran the company into the ground by wasting time over stuff that didn't lead to better cars.

Former GM sales boss Mark LaNeve used to dismiss that as "North of Toledo thinking." Here's a simple way to recognize it: if nobody who lives outside Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties cares about an issue, it qualifies. Blow it off.

This week's "Chevrolet vs. Chevy" snafu is the perfect example. A synopsis, in case you were lucky enough not to waste a precious breath on this bit of idiocy: 1. GM brass decreed that no one who works for the company can refer to the company's biggest brand by its affectionate nickname, Chevy. 2. Dimwits outside the company thought GM was prohibiting them from calling it Chevy. 3. Some slightly brighter bulb pointed out that Chevrolet advertising frequently uses the name Chevy to sell vehicles, and isn't that the object of the game? 4. GM issued a statement telling civilians we're free to call Chevy whatever we like.

Time to avoid distractions

GM should learn a couple of lessons from this farce.

The company is under greater scrutiny than ever before. Every taxpayer owns a piece of GM. An unprecedented number of people want to believe the worst about the company, either for political reasons or because GM sold them a clunker years ago.

GM should really, really look like it's concentrating on building great cars.

A couple of other recent announcements set off warning bells.

Planning shuffle could pay off

GM's latest management shuffle moved the product-planning team from under vice chairman and global product boss Tom Stephens and made it a direct-report to Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre.

Initially mistaken as Whitacre shoving aside the engineers and designers, this could make it easier for the experts to do their jobs. Product planners study markets, customers, technologies and trends to figure out what kind of vehicles a successful company must offer in the future. When they report to another discipline -- say, engineering -- there's a chance that group will stack the deck in favor of its needs at the expense of other parts of the company.

The new structure eliminates that possibility.

The jury's still out on the other move: the creation of GM Ventures to invest in companies developing new technologies. The idea is to guarantee GM access to the best, first.

Weighing in GMV's favor is the fact that Jon Lauckner, one of GM's sharpest engineers and executives, is running the shop. In the past, though, GM sometimes suffered from tying itself too closely to a single technology. It lagged badly on navigation and hands-free phone systems because it considered those systems competitors to its in-house OnStar service. It forgot that the competitors who really matter are Ford, Honda and Toyota.

Google's motto is "Don't be evil."

Until it has a track record of good decisions, the new GM might consider: "Try not to look like a nincompoop."

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100613/COL14/6130488/1331/business01/GM-needs-to-focus-on-building-better-cars&template=fullarticle

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balthazar    2,004

>>"This week's "Chevrolet vs. Chevy" snafu is the perfect example.

An unprecedented number of people want to believe the worst about the company..."<<

First off, if GM actively issued a press release on the 'Chevy vs. Chevrolet' memo, that is what is a snafu. These sorts of minutae should never be the subjects of PRs because they're inconsequential / petty.

But from my observations, it was the 'unprecedented number of people want to believe the worst', of course in this instance primarily in the media... that blew this out of all proportion; waxing hyperbolic on the issue. Self-fufilling scenario there... but understandable- it makes the 'journalists' feel so superior & intelligent, so they run with it.

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hyperv6    774

The average American can not name who their congressman is let alone know who is making product decisions at GM.

All the public knows is what press print and cyber says when they log on or pick up the paper. For example today they are touting on Yahoo about the hard to get cars. They mention mostly Audi and did mention the Charger at a 23 day supply. But they failed to mention a Nox or Terrain that I have seen at a 21-23 day supply for a good while.

With GM the press has a chance to make news when they want to since there is a Goverment connection with the bail out. The Bail out helped GM it also placed a target on them for ememies of GM and the Democrates and anyone else that could find gain from a troubled GM.

GM just has to make sure to cross the T's and dot the I's as if they fail to some will jump on it. Things like the Chevy memo years ago would have never been reported and nothing would have been made of it. Today it was web news for a large group of people who have no clue what it really ment.

GM is already working to make better cars. I think the new product has already proven this. The fact it there are still cars to replace yet and it takes time. Until they get to the Impala there is still more work to do and more old models for the press to take pot shots at.

I do feel GM releasing the cars in China and Europe first is going to pay off with a better quality image here in the states. Get the bugs worked out in China on cars like the Cruze where no one can hear about it and then build better Cruze in Lordstown from the start.

GM only needs to take car on things and not give any ammo to the press if they can help it. Also continue to make the best cars they can as they already are. A little thick skin also will help. The marketing people just need to be on their toes to stop or deal with any falsehoods give. Call their bluff with solid facts when needed and ignore the stuff no one hears anyway.

GM is headed in the right direction today as they no longer compete internally. Pay the goverment loan off ASAP and they will remove a large Obama target from their back. After the Nov elections the sooner they pay things off the better. Goverment spending on all levels will be under fire by the elected officals and the public who put them in to stop the heavy spending. The Dems and Repubs are both on notice so both are going to look for an edge anyway they can get it with the public.

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loki    287

"Every taxpayer owns a piece of GM"

not true. i do own a piece of "the old GM" though

he forgot about how much Canada owns and the unions own of GM too.

note to GM. you're on a roll with product from the last few years, keep it up, make the brands unique and cohesive as possible, push design, push technology, but not so much as to put an untested design out before you at least "seat of the pants" test it.

:)

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FAPTurbo    1,093

Yeah seriously, where's Canada's cut in all this?! The dogsled division we were promised in return for our government support has been developing slower than it takes for my maple sap buckets to fill!

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