Car Guy

Don’t Know Much About Car Story

GM's new honchos pride themselves on being clueless about their own products.

By 6.17.09

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Why does the "I don't know anything about cars" guy who is now running GM (along with a 31-year-old "car czar" who also knows nothing about cars) think GM can accelerate out of bankruptcy while still trying to market itself through four different brands?

Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer may be gone -- but Buick, Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet linger, like leaves in late fall that don't want to acknowledge the imminent winter.

For the next few months, anyhow.

Four brands. But together, they have less total market share than Chevrolet alone had in 1970.

Really.

Honda has two brands -- the mainline Honda stuff and the Acura luxury stuff. Toyota has three -- the bread and butter Toyotas, the luxury Lexus stuff and the "youth brand" Scion stuff (just three cars in the latter). There is just one Subaru, just one VW, just one Audi, just one Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo and Jaguar and Land Rover.

No one has four brands.

But GM still thinks it needs to sell the same car three or even four different ways. For example, several trucks and SUVs and "crossovers" sold by Chevy are also sold by GMC (with different trim and higher price tags) and then again (for certain models) through Cadillac. A Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade are all the same truck, just rouged up a bit the higher you move down the price aisle. The Buick Enclave is the GMC Acadia -- and both of those are basically the Chevy Traverse.

Mind you, this is after the "reorganization."

GM will still maintain -- or try to maintain -- the existence of all these makes and models even though none of the surviving divisions or even all of them combined can approach what one healthy GM division was selling back in 1970. Instead, GMC will cannibalize sales (and resources) from Chevy while Buick sucks the marrow out of Cadillac -- before any of them, amid their internecine squabbling, take note of Toyota or Honda laughing all the way to the bank.

This is what comes of having an "I don't know much about cars" guy like Fritz Henderson and his post-adolescent "car czar" buddy handling things. If President Obama believes these clowns have a clue, he is in for a rude awakening about a year from now when the whole rickety, half-assed structure falls in on itself and the public demands answers and accountability.

GM does not need four brands because it hasn't got the market share to justify three brands. Getting rid of Pontiac and Saturn and Hummer was a start, but a partial amputation of the necrotic flesh is only a halfway measure. It's time to cut down to the stump and cauterize the wound. GM needs one line of "bread and butter cars" -- and a line of luxury cars. That's it. No more slotted under or just above nonsense. Your market share does not justify it. Face that. Move on. Do it now.

Someone said that a change of names might be the ticket -- a way to divorce GM from its attachment to a brand/maketing structure that is as dead and irrelevant in 2009 as the corpse of Alfred P. Sloan himself. Yes. That might be it. How about simply, "GM" -- and keep Cadillac for the high-end stuff? It's simple, it makes sense - it could work.

But it would take a car guy to see it.

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About the Author

Eric Peters is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: The Cars You Love to Hate (Motor Books International) and a new book, Road Hogs.