When everything you could come up with has been tried and failed, it's time to think outside the box. From all appearances we've been outside that box for a couple of years now.
But, not everything outside the box is clever and effective. Using bankruptcy to write off debts and confiscate the life's savings of random dealers was insufficient to catapult domestic manufacturers to a sustainable profitability. These are desperate times and many of our industry leaders lack credible ideas.
That's why some of their most recent efforts have been focused on the difference a name can make. General Motors seems sure the dissimilarity between a Chevy and a Chevrolet is worth talking about.
If that seems much ado about nothing, consider the investment Chrysler is making in differentiating a Dodge from a Ram pickup, while Ford busies itself reclaiming all the badge-branded Mercurys to rename as Fords and Lincolns.
I guess there's something in the Detroit mindset suggesting that a rose by any other name may sell better. The days of Vettes, Chevys and Caddys apparently are numbered as GM shuns those famous car nicknames.
Threatened by the same axe are a lot of what used to make retailing fun, like incentive trips, and “wow” product launches (not to mention all those trinkets I would re-gift to kids and co-workers on returning from meetings). I'm sure going to miss all those logo-bearing Carabiners and mini Maglights. The best thing you might bring home from a convention nowadays is a new idea. Hmm?
But it's not all nose-to-the-grindstone efficiency. Today's seriousness in the Motor City borders on anger. There's a short fuse on the gang who used to happily dispatch their heavy lifting to a thick layer of middle managers and downstream retailers.
It seems that the more higher-ups are forced to work, the more those beneath them are being punished. Fun and creativity have been kicked to the curb along side of ‘nonessential’ dealers, redundant brands, and popular nicknames. Expect bright colors to be replaced with mud tones.
Here's something topping my list of how to get off the road to ruin. Push the press. Much of what goes to print these days is no more insightful on what's important than a debate on the implications of calling a Cadillac a Caddy or a Chevrolet a Saturn, I mean a Chevy.
By the way, if the press were doing its job a few years ago, perhaps we wouldn't have burned billions of dollars on all the hoopla over branding Chevys as Saturns. But that's old news.
Soft journalism serves to lessen the consequence of irresponsibility and breathe life into strategies that are simply dodges and distractions masquerading as big ideas.
For example: Notwithstanding a lengthy New York Times article last month headlined “At Toyota, A Cultural Shift,” Akio Toyoda's seriousness about changing his company's culture is a yawn.
Toyoda's “sincere desire” to fix recall problems and Toyota's tarnished reputation are not newsworthy. They're not even new. It's to be expected that a company in Toyota's position will ‘adjust’ culture.
Nobody assumes that stewarding Toyota these days is a cake walk. That said, publishing puff ball stories about “sincerity” takes the pressure off results.
The president of a major auto company should not get notice for seriousness any more than the president of BP should get a hall pass for his honest desire to stop his leaking oil well. The public deserves more.
Dealers and workers are interested in stories about their fair share of the profits, and the technologies that make products less expensive and safer.
Journalists should expose big wigs who are conspicuously indifferent to those responsibilities. Let's better information. If we refuse to support the rags that pander rather than report, in short order the power of the Press will, once again, return our industry to the people who made it fun, profitable and the envy of the world.
Peter Brandow is a veteran dealer in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
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