Bizweek, LaNeve Dust it Up on Imus

April 18, 2006
There's an entertaining war of words up on morning drive-time radio between Business Week senior correspondent David Kiley and GM head of sales and marketing Mark LaNeve.

A few weeks ago, Kiley was interviewed on syndicated morning radio show Imus In The Morning by host Don Imus about GM's recent woes. In the exchange, Kiley rattled off GM's tanking stock price, declining market share, junk bond rating and miserable market capitalization. He also said GM has a few brands that are unfashionable, such as Buick, Pontiac, Saab and, to a lesser degree, Chevy cars.

Imus chimed in, "Yeah, who's buying a Buick?" Kiley responded a bit hyperbolically, "No one. No one is buying a Buick." This exchange apparently sent LaNeve and product boss Bob Lutz over the edge. LaNeve had previously given Imus a few HUMMER H2s for his ranch for kids with cancer, which Imus recently said he would have to replace because of poor gas mileage and the fact that New Mexico drivers were flipping him and the kids in the SUV "the bone" as they drove by him on the highway.

LaNeve seized the opportunity, called Imus, and offered to give him four Suburbans that will run on ethanol to replace the HUMMERs. That got him a guest spot on Imus, which is simulcast on MSNBC, to defend GM's honor and to add Kiley to the list of media whom Lutz and other GM execs feel are biased against Detroit in favor of the Japanese.

Last week, LaNeve was back on Imus, filling a slot Kiley had to turn down because he was emceeing the keynote speech at the auto show given by Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn. LaNeve and Imus needled Kiley for being pro-Japanese and anti-Detroit. Kiley was on the next day, though, and joked that he was surprised that LaNeve was able to make it on the Imus show by 8:30 a.m. since he had seen the GM exec stumble out of (gentleman's club) Scores at 5 that morning (obviously kidding). And taking on Lutz, whom Kiley says had sent him a letter of protest about his previous Imus appearance, Kiley suggested that Lutz may be too old to make brands like Buick appeal to younger buyers. It was Lutz, Kiley jabbed, who designed the Buick Lucerne to take any driver straight to Boca Raton without having to steer, and that the right blinker would automatically stay on the whole time.

It's unusual for a reporter and industry executive joust, even in fun, back and forth in a national forum. "When you are on Imus, you have to be truthful, which I was, but you also have to be amusing if you want to be asked back," says Kiley. "LaNeve gave a good account of himself, and he is a very solid, ethical guy with a good sense of humor...otherwise I wouldn't have gone for a laugh at his expense."—TCC Team

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