New GM vs. Old GM

New GM Culture, as stated by CEO Fritz Henderson yesterday, in a press conference after GM comes out of bankruptcy in a blistering 40 days:

“We recognize that we’ve been given a rare second chance at GM, and we are very grateful for that. And we appreciate the fact that we now have the tools to get the job done.”

The new company will focus on three top priorities, customers, cars and culture, Henderson said.

“If we don’t get this right, nothing else is going to work,” he said during a morning news conference at GM’s Downtown Detroit headquarters. “Business as usual is over at General Motors.”

Old GM Culture, as stated later that same day, by veteran car exec Bob Lutz, who has been “un-retired” and given responsibility for GM’s new #1 priority, customer focus:

The problem we have right now is getting the breadth of the American public to realize the transformation that has taken place in GM’s quality, design, fuel efficiency and so forth, and to expunge some of these hoary old conventional wisdoms that GM builds gas guzzlers, has sloppy interiors, and so on.

[This is a slight paraphrase, listen to the actual quote here.]

Hmm, as a partial GM owner, I have to say that Bob Lutz is going in the wrong direction. Customer focus doesn’t mean telling potential customers why they are idiots for not seeing the value in your products. It means understanding their needs, and building products to suit, and doing it so well that they will have no choice to sit up and pay attention. 1-way push advertising to cram a message down people’s throats is so 20th century.

To be fair, GM has indeed been significantly improving the quality of its products in the last few years, such as the Chevy Malibu. Cadillac is a success story (though not one suited to the current economic/environmental circumstances), the Camaro has been well received but again suffering poor luck of timing, and Buick has been doing well, especially in Asia. But things are still too spotty. In the same interview, Lutz states that GM took its eye off the ball (i.e. customer needs, design, product quality) for, oh, almost thirty years (though hastens to add that none of the current management were there during that period…). That’s a big hole to dig out of, and a lot of squandered good will.

Unfortunately, the cars that GM has to make its case in the next 2-3 years are already baked. It’s not like they can whip up a new product line at the drop of a hat. Let’s hope Bob Lutz figures out that “customer relations” is a 2-way conversation before that, so that he can actually start gathering customer inputs in time to inform the vehicles yet to be designed.