Robert Siegel gave GM a priceless gift today: a feature segment on All Things Considered, with a bunch of softball questions and a paean to the Chevy Malibu (which was, to give credit where credit is due, the 2008 North American Car of the Year, which includes foreign imports). Then Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman, fumbled the gift and dropped it on the floor, where it smashed into a thousand pieces. When asked what it was like to operate using money borrowed from the federal government, he said:
I’ve never quite been in this situation before of getting a massive pay cut, no bonus, no longer allowed to stay in decent hotels, no corporate airplane. I have to stand in line at the Northwest counter. I’ve never quite experienced this before. I’ll let you know a year from now what it’s like.
At my old company, it was a point of pride to search on price-comparison sites for the cheapest hotels you could find. (I know the argument that it saves money for expensive execs to fly corporate jets rather than flying commercial, because at their hourly rates it’s not worth the time spent waiting in line. I think those arguments are bunk, because they assume that the ten minutes you spend waiting in line are ten minutes of work you will not do that day, while my experience is that in high-level positions the amount of work you do is a function of the amount of work you have to do, not the amount of time you have.)
It may be true, as Bob Lutz claims, that GM makes good cars again. (I happen to own and drive a GM car that I am very satisfied with, but it’s a Chevy Prizm, which may not count.) But GM’s brand reputation today is that it is out of touch, and stories like this don’t help.