Cargirl: GM Goes a Generation Ahead



Trust is probably the single most important factor in any relationship.

I thought about trust as Gary White, GM Vice President and vehicle line executive for full-size trucks, told a group of journalists that it was time to transform GM’s image.

 Transforming their image isn’t exactly a new thought for GM people. They have been saying this for a decade. For GM, building a new car or new truck is relatively easy compared to restoring trust.

I asked White how General Motors was going to get back the faith they have lost through years of wrong product, recalls, dealer transgressions, bad press. How do you transform a situation that has gone on for decades?


White, who is one of the best at GM, father of the T800 and T900 platforms — the great pickups and SUVs that still sustain the company — was there to show off GM’s 2008 vehicles, which will include those great GM trucks in hybrid form this year (they’re on show this week in Los Angeles).


“I’m not sure what you can do about people who will never come back, says White. “People who have left you are gone.”


They won’t come back


Girldriver USAIt’s that simple. While GM spent years in the woods, getting its business hacked into better shape, competitors were putting out excellent product. And they lost a generation.


“But Gens X, Y, Z don’t even know who General Motors is. There’s a new opportunity with the upcoming generations who don’t carry all the baggage about the company,” he explains. “I work on college recruiting for the company. And we talk to the students about the new challenges all companies face with fuel economy, emissions, and safety. These kids are focused on fuel cells and hybrids and alternative fuels. They don’t have preconceived notions of who we are.”


White makes a fair point. Younger people will be buying cars for fifty years. And students are a great place to build image because students today are passionate about alternatives like the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt.


Any psychologist will tell you, perception lags reality. It may not even matter that GM’s winning awards and consumers are giving them high marks in J.D. Power surveys — higher than Toyota and Honda in many cases.


But Gen X, Y, and Z start fresh. They don’t even remember the Aztek.


No looking back


GM has made enormous strides in product and product is the business. Who would have thought three years ago that Buick would be leading the comeback? The Enclave has caught on. There’s a waiting list of 3000 — for a Buick! Each one stays on the showroom floor for about five days. That’s far shorter than a Corvette — or a Toyota Highlander.


The new Malibu is going head to head with the gorilla of all mid-size sedans, the Camry, and looks like a winner. The revamped Cadillac CTS scores rave reviews from most everywhere, including here at Saturn dealers finally have some good cars to sell, with the Vue, Aura, and Sky.


Most important of all in changing image is the promise of the Chevy Volt, that 100-miles-to-the-gallon hybrid electric car that GM talks about. If it comes on in three years, as the executives say, the image will be reborn. If they don’t build it, their credibility will sink. But for now, it’s a brilliant PR exercise.


No one else is sitting back. Chrysler has new management. Ford has new management. Toyota is always coming out with new product — a new Corolla, Matrix, and Sequoia are on display this week in L.A. I’m driving the head-turning four-door Honda Accord this week and loving it.


White is right to focus on younger people as the customers to win. And the way you win is with products like those coming out of GM today. Forget rebuilding trust — just build great vehicles.




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