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GM can't promise the moon after bankruptcy

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GM can't promise the moon after bankruptcy



This would be a good time for General Motors to at least appear humble. A year out of bankruptcy, GM has accomplishments it's tempted to boast about. Bad idea.

A lot of people at GM feel very good about the company these days. With good reason. They've introduced a string of excellent new vehicles. Shutting down Hummer, Pontiac and Saturn has boosted sales and prices for many Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC models. The Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan and Volt electric car look like breakthroughs.

Despite the good news, GM probably has less credibility and more enemies today than at any time in its history. If GM said rain is wet, half the country would probably step outside to see for themselves.

Cocky talk and inflated claims will only exacerbate the problem. The people GM burned in the past have heard it all before. The politicians determined to use the company as a tool to damage the Obama administration will seize on any misstep.

GM must under-promise and over-deliver.

That's always a good policy, but a couple of recent reports by my colleague Chrissie Thompson suggest GM may have forgotten.

The automaker is considering boosting its claim for the Volt's pure-electric range from 40 to 50 miles.

Bad idea. GM spent the last three years promising that 40 miles covers the daily driving needs of about 60% of Americans. Those owners will recharge the Volt at home in the evenings. They'll virtually never need the car's onboard generator, which only kicks in for longer trips. That's the magic of the Volt: Zero gasoline used most days, and the ability to make longer trips when you need it.

Claiming 50 miles won't earn the Volt one more headline or sell one more car.

Making the promise and falling short, however -- even by just one or two miles -- risks transforming the Volt from a high-tech environmental image bonanza into an over-hyped flop.

If the Volt can cover 50 miles, GM should keep its mouth shut and wait for the amazed and delighted response by owners and independent testers when the car goes 25% farther than they expected. Promising 50 miles is foolhardy unless GM knows the Volt's batteries will actually carry it 60 miles.

In another positive statement that probably should have been left unsaid, new GM chairman and CEO Dan Akerson recently declared that GM's vehicles "are second to none today. I'm convinced of that."

With all due respect, what do you expect the CEO to say? Statements like that are white noise. Nobody pays attention, so why bother making them?

GM has introduced a slew of terrific vehicles over the last few years, but there were also a few that stunk up the joint. Need I mention the Pontiac G5 or G3? Sure, GM stopped making them when it closed Pontiac, but a 2009 G3 ain't exactly ancient history.

Some vehicles GM still has in production are second to several, not because they're bad, but simply because they're three or four years old and the competition is newer. Akerson's statement was well-intentioned hyperbole, but it didn't advance GM's cause.

It will take data, not platitudes, to convince skeptical buyers. Hit them with fuel economy, room, features, reliability and resale value that are second to none.

That leads to my last piece of unsolicited advice. GM's new bosses should spend more time behind the wheel. Not just driving GM models, but also the best competition from around the world.

How encouraging would it be to hear the chairman of GM say he noticed the Chevrolet Malibu has a bigger trunk than a Camry when he put his briefcase in? Or that he learned how to use the Cadillac CTS' controls in half the time it took him to master BMW's iDrive?

If anybody at GM is going to make promises these days, they'd darned well better be credible, concrete and verifiable.



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