Chevrolet wants to be more like Apple
Ewanick's exact words -- noted on a slide -- were: "Our direct competitors are Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Ford; however in the eyes of consumers, it’s time for Chevrolet to clearly differentiate our brand and align closer to the world’s true global brands like Apple." In his verbal explanation of that slide, Ewanick pointed to Apple's focus on consumers and said, "We’re going to become one of the most consumer-centric brands in the world."
And that's fine. Focusing on the consumer is a great idea, since that's generally what for-profit businesses do: design products to meet consumer needs.
Citing Apple as the brand to emulate, however, is a little off-the-mark. True, it's the most valuable company on the planet right now, but Apple and Chevrolet are miles apart in several very important ways. As we pointed out during the financial crisis, using Apple as a benchmark for car companies -- particularly Chevy -- would be weird at best, misguided at worst:
1. For starters, Apple is elite; Chevy is anything but. Apple is great at whipping its fans into a frenzy. Its products are hip, and possessing them gives owners entree into a kind of special club. That brand cachet is enviable, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with Chevrolet.
Chevy creates cars for Everyday Joes and Janes. That doesn't mean that they're not awesome rides -- the revamped Camaro is one of the baddest cars on the block -- it's just to say that Chevrolets are built for a range of drivers, from the ultra-hip to the hopelessly square. Chevy is egalitarian, a product of grassroots America, while Apple is more like, well, a private condo building in a gated community in the Sultanate of Brunei: a little remote.
2. Apple is technologically shut off from the rest of the world. The great thing about Chevy vehicles is that they're so accessible. Sure, like other cars, they're becoming more complex over time, but you can still tinker with them, tune them, and take them to your favorite garage when they need an overhaul. Try that with a proprietary Apple product (i.e. any of them), and you're liable to break it and void your warranty, all in one fell swoop.
3. Apple is marketing-driven; Chevy is (or should be) market-driven. There are basically two kinds of products in the world: those that are marketing-driven and others that are market-driven. Marketing-driven products depend heavily on marketing to educate consumers. Think of the iPad: when it launched, Apple had to do a lot of marketing to explain how the iPad works and why consumers needed another device in their life.
Market-driven products, on the other hand, are developed in response to proven demand from the market -- from consumers. Chevrolet's gas-sipping Cruze Eco is a good example of a market-driven product, created to address consumers' well-documented worries about high prices at the pump.
None of this is to quarrel with Ewanick's assumption that Chevy should be listening to consumers. If the company did more of that, we might've been spared some seriously disappointing rides (e.g. the Cobalt), and GM might not have found itself so far up Crap Creek in 2008.
Nor is that to say that Chevy shouldn't be pushing the envelope. The Volt is an amazing car, and even though it's clearly meant for early adopters, it's being produced in correspondingly small volume (and being gobbled up, might we add).
This is only to say that as brands go, Chevy and Apple are miles apart, and they should probably stay that way. It might be nice to link them in investors' minds, but from where we sit, it would be mistake of William Tell (or William Burroughs) magnitude for Chevy to aim directly for Apple.