Not Quite the Marketing You Want

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.

9 thoughts on “Not Quite the Marketing You Want

  1. Gods and Kings mustn’t be made to stand in lines. The whole idea is outrageous.

    Poor Bob. Next he’ll be expected to put on his own pants in the morning … and it’s all downhill from there.

  2. James,

    You only spend 10 minutes in line at the airport???

    What airline do you fly!???!

    Thanks for the continued good work on this site.

  3. If you are flying Northwest out of DTW with a first class boarding ticket (Maximum Bob maybe going commercial, but I doubt he is going coach) you can easily get through security (where I assume the line-standing is taking place) in ten minutes or less. I have done it several times myself. The way I look at it, the ten minutes Bob spends in line is ten minutes GM’s board doesn’t have to worry about Lutz the Putz making an ass out of himself on national radio.

  4. I happened to hear the Lutz interview and was astounded not only at his lack of public relations sense, but also his apparent total lack of management expertise. When asked about why they under-produced a recent (popular!) model of the Chevy Malibu, he responded that it was better to under-produce than to over-produce because then they had to offer rebates and it hurt their image. Wouldn’t any reasonable manager say something like, “We missed on that one because of X, and we are doing Y to insure that our production levels come closer to actual demand.” ? I guess I could forgive him not knowing that it’s better to admit a mistake than to try to explain it away, but it seems that he doesn’t understand how important it is for a manufacturer to match output with demand.

  5. I’ve been a long-time (30+ years) follower of Bob Lutz. Management expertise? Few in the industry have more. He is the reason GM is now making better vehicles. He was one of the reasons Chrysler made more money (in absolute dollars) than GM and Ford before Daimler bought the company! Think about that for a minute. They did that making cars nobody said could be made profitably – Prowler and Viper.

    Before that, he was one of the reasons for Ford of Europe’s success (but now I’m talking more than 20 years ago). Oh, and before that he was with BMW. (Remember the first 3 seriers?)

    In a market driven by product, he is a product guy. Remember the Viper and Prowler? Lutz cars, both. The new Pontiac Solstice? Right again.

    He is also unique in that he has a great sense of humor. There was one time, during his Chrysler years, that he sent Autoweek magazing a clipping with one of their typos, with a dare to publish it – this after they beat on Chrysler for less than stellar product quality. One of his great lines after joining GM: It costs no less to make ugly cars, so why are we doing it?

    His airline shtick was a straight-face comedy routine that obviously bombed. He takes himself less seriously in public than, it seems, most commentators. If you’re interested in GM, get to know Lutz, he’s the key guy.

    Disclaimer: He probably wouldn’t even take my phone call – I’m in no way affiliated with him or GM.

  6. Bob maybe a wonderful product guy, but someone in his position must know that he needs to be careful what is said to the media (or someone needs to explain it to him quick.) His comments sounded like the typical “exec” I run into on a regular basis. When people at your own company (and other companies) are losing their jobs…you probably shouldn’t be complaining about having to fly commercial and not being able to stay at 5-star hotels…joke or not.

  7. What I wish, is that the auto execs wouldn’t fly at all — at least part of the time. I’d like to see them drive one of their cars on some road trips. I’d like them to understand where to put a drink or a snack or a pair of sunglasses. How does that seat feel after four hours? I really believe it would help them develop excellence in customer comfort design.

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