Time to see auto world as it is

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I've always been partial to the printed page. Magazines, to me, have a real impact, offering a shelf life like no other medium. For marketers, magazine advertising delivers a precisely tailored and well-developed message to the audience in ways that TV can't.

That doesn't mean we at General Motors are going to turn our backs on TV-it keeps our brands in front of the consumer. But magazines offer us the style, layout and time necessary to deliver both an emotional and an informative message. It's not, as some have argued, a medium whose time has passed. On the contrary, I'd argue that, in many ways, it's more powerful than TV. With that power, however, comes responsibility.

In recent decades, the media have created a two-class society for automobiles, perpetuating an "import vs. domestic" mentality among the public. It's time to debunk that notion. There is a new world order in the automotive industry, and everything can't be explained in terms of the "Big Three vs. The Imports" anymore.

That's a holdover from an image formed many years ago, when so-called "underdog" foreign manufacturers grabbed market share from the three major U.S. companies-GM, Ford and Chrysler. Much has been written about the failure of our companies to successfully respond in the North American market to that then-new threat. But to perpetuate that image today is both inaccurate and irrelevant. Frankly, it's time to see the world as it is, not as it was.

Last time I looked at the business pages there was no company listed on the New York Stock Exchange called "Big Three." And the "imports" now have more than a dozen assembly plants in North America.

We're all independent corporations and we all deserve to be considered on our own merits. It's fair to classify automakers as capable vs. incapable or competitive vs. something-other-than-competitive, making reliable or less-than-reliable vehicles. But it makes no sense to compare "domestic" to "import."

Lumping GM together with the other domestics or seeing the imports lumped together as one formidable enormous competitor does a disservice to everyone-not the least of which is the reading public. They should have the ability to see each company compete against whomever as an individual entity on a level playing field.

GM produces in and competes all over the world. One could argue that today we have our strongest product portfolio ever. As such, we're changing people's perceptions of what once was so that we can be considered against the best in the world.

And look what happens when we are. The cover story of the November Car and Driver is a comparison test that to my absolute astonishment (because of past practice) and delight (because of my confidence in our products) actually included one of our great new products against three imports. In a battle of V8-powered luxury utilities, they tested the Cadillac SRX against the Volkswagen Touareg V8, Infiniti FX45 and the Porsche Cayenne S.

Guess who won? Here's the magazine's conclusion: "That the Cadillac SRX won this contest against such premium competition says worlds about the progress at GM's luxury division."

The moral: When we are given a chance to compete objectively, this is what happens. Our quality numbers and our Consumer Reports "recommended buys" are both up compared to many of the imports, but we don't want to dwell on the competition. We just want people to realize how good our products really are.

getting the story heard

We know we have to look for new ways to get our story heard. Earlier this year, C.J. Fraleigh, our top advertising and marketing executive, challenged media companies and agencies to be more innovative in helping us get our message out there. And certainly his message was clear: We will reach out to magazines that do this, ones that come up with ideas that connect GM more meaningfully to their readers. We're not looking for a free ride, just a fair shake.

We've done a lot of research and learned a lot about magazines, and we will continue to do so. And we will continue to be active in the medium, because we feel that's where we get-to use a technical marketing term-a "really good bang for the buck."

No matter what conventional wisdom says, the facts speak for themselves. GM is a company on the move and able to compete with the best the world has to offer. This is a company that has set standards and trends and contributed mightily to the American economy for close to 100 years. We've created jobs and provided financially and otherwise to millions of Americans who support a wide breadth of business institutions.

We want to continue to do this and all we ask in return is to be judged on our own merits in a fair, open-minded and unbiased manner. We're not crying out for censorship. All we want is an even chance from the press, and a good look from the public. We can take it from there.

To paraphrase a well-known saying for the media, "The past is a lonely place for your readers to be living in."

Robert A. Lutz is vice chairman of product development, General Motors Corp., and chairman of General Motors North America.

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