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TechCrunch Wants Steve Jobs To Run A United GM/Chrysler; We Respond Huffily

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Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

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Yesterday, TechCrunch posted a letter to President Obama from Spark Capital's Todd Dagres, who offers the president some suggestions for dealing with the Big Three. In a nutshell, Dagres argues that the biggest problem with the auto industry is that Detroit doesn't design cars Americans want to buy. His big idea: put Steve Jobs in charge of a combined Chrysler and GM.

As Dagres' reasoning goes, Steve Jobs has put Apple at the forefront of the industrial design world and helped create at least two industry-changing devices: the iPod and the iPhone. People are crazy about those two gadgets, so obviously Jobs is perfectly suited to give Detroit its groove back.

...Oh, where to begin?

On the one hand, we agree that Steve Jobs is kind of awesome. Yeah, he stumbled hard in the early 90s when he let Bill Gates leapfrog to the top of the computing heap, but Jobs clawed his way back with sleek, simple, tech toys. So as far as computing and the digital lifestyle are concerned, Jobs has been on a winning streak.

On the other hand, there are some real problems with Dagres' arguments:

  1. American auto design is not the problem. Well, okay, it's part of the problem, but there's far more to it than that. Sure, Jobs could crank out a sweet looking ride, but no one's going to buy it until someone addresses the other issues--including America's poor perception of homegrown brands.
  2. Cars are not iPods. People are willing to spend money on a nifty looking iPod so they can listen to Judas Priest on the Stairmaster. If the iPod breaks, no biggie: by the time that happens, the buyer has probably gotten $100 of value from the thing. That same "disposable" mindset doesn't apply to cars, which owners expect to be both cool and reliable.
  3. Jobs isn't always known for being cheap. Some Apple products--especially Apple computers--are priced well above comparable PC models. That's the same problem affecting a lot of U.S. car models: buyers think they can score similarly built foreign autos for less.
  4. Jobs also isn't known for being innovative on the maintenance front. On the whole, Apple is pretty proprietary with its technology. Unlike, say, Google, the company doesn't have a tendency to share (e.g. the until-recent playback restrictions on iTunes purchases and the way that iPhone apps are vetted). Heck, you can't even change the iPhone's battery on your own. Can you imagine a car like that?
  5. Like all cults, the cult of personality is dangerous. Many people think of Steve Jobs as a messiah--a leader who can do no wrong. Frankly, that's a little scary. Leaders are fallible, and can lead others into dead ends if their choices aren't questioned. (There are several recent examples we could mention, but won't.) Furthermore, when charismatic leaders like Jobs take control, finding a replacement means almost certain doom for the company--or at least it makes for a very awkward transition.

Just to be clear, we're not saying that the auto industry doesn't need leaders. It does--especially dynamic, engaged, engaging leaders. But just as many singers fail at acting (e.g. 50 Cent, Britney Spears), and many actors fail at singing (e.g. Tyra Banks, Gillian Anderson), and Paris Hilton fails at nearly every job she's had (save one), we probably shouldn't assume that Jobs' skill sets are so easily transferable.

[source: TechCrunch]

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Comments (6)
  1. "NO messiah's need apply"

    Oh god no. I love what Jobs has done at Apple but he is not the guy to run the domestic auto industry. It wouldn't be bad to get a CEO up there with his stage presence but the strategy Apple operates under and his purported outbursts would do more harm than good.
     
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  2. "Perceived quality"

    Yeah I love that stuff about how Americans have a poor perception of homegrown autos. It's all just perception? So I just PERCEIVE that my Ford pings on high octane fuel, and that the power window mechanism is breaking or has broken on THREE OUT OF FOUR WINDOWS?! Maybe Ford just needs a better advertising campaign to educate me about how my perceptions about their quality are all wrong!
     
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  3. "industry-changing devices"

    You forgot the Mac.
     
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  4. "Hmmm"

    @Nameless: Technically, from a marketing perspective, the perception is more important than the reality. So it would be more important that Jobs change the public's *perception* of your Ford's quality than to change the actual *quality* of the Ford. However, in point of fact, I was mostly just being nice, because believe me: I've had more than my share of troubles with American cars.
    .
    @Dantron: The Mac was an innovation, but IMHO, it didn't really stick. I mean, all-in-one desktops are still around, but laptops are pretty clearly where things are going. (Ironically, Apple's Powerbook has had more of a lasting impact on computer design, but it wasn't developed by Jobs.)
    .
    The Mac OS was important, too, but it was plagiarized so heavily by Microsoft that no one thinks of Windows as a byproduct of Mac anymore. (NB: Gates stole from the Mac OS again with Vista--with less fruitful results)
     
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  5. "Change the way the indutry sells a car."

    As a person, whom spent the best years of his life in the industry; I must say that Steveo is the wrong guy for the job the car indusrty would eat him alive; whereas someone like my self would be a good fit to revamp the industry.
    At the end of the day, the problem is the way cars have been sold for decades now and I won't go into it; I'm sure we all know how the big three do business the bottom line is the big three build a good product much better than it's competitors; however the big dealer egos and unethical business practices kill the industies abillity to create goodwill when dealing with it's customer base.
     
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  6. "Pontiac Vibe vs Toyota Matrix"

    Both come off the same line in the same plant. But the Vide loses value as soon as it hits the lot due to it being an "American" car. How does Detroit fix that?
     
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