I love cars. I don’t know all that much about how they work and I certainly have no prayer in diagnosing or fixing problems with them. I’m just fascinated by all the shapes, colors and flavors out there. Even though I’m not really looking for a new car, I still stop at dealerships now and then, get out, and just have a look around. I love a nicely designed exterior. And I know I’ve said this before, but I really love interiors. Give me thousands of little lights and buttons inside. I don’t even care if the buttons serve no function whatsoever – just put buttons and lights inside so at night when it’s all lit up it looks like a friggin’ airplane cockpit. Sweet.
Sitting here, I can’t think of another product out there with such a wide swath of car choices than the ones that are available to the auto-buyer these days. This brings an entirely new set of problems to the car-buying process, which in my opinion remains one of the most ass-backwards processes in the history of capitalist nations. I mean, can you imagine walking into Best Buy and buying a couple of DVD’s – you bring them up to the register and the cashier asks for $24.98 and you say “now, I know that your costs for these DVD’s are $15.00. I understand you need to make a profit, so I’ll give you $16.14 for these DVD’s.” OK, it’s not a fair comparison, but you get the point.
Anyway, I still love cars, despite the fact that I hate traffic, slow drivers and I especially hate trying to find parking in a crowded lot. Come to think of it, if I’m driving, I pretty much hate all other drivers that are on the road concurrently with me. No offense. Perhaps I should seek help.
Regardless, I’m always burying myself in articles about the auto business, too, so I keep very up-to-date with the plight of GM and the various successes of companies like Toyota and Honda. My point today: another installment of “Why Blogs Can Change the World.” Even the average person who stays in tune to the news knows the struggles of General Motors these days. Due to past history (say, 1975-2000), their products have been perceived as technologically inferior, prone to repair and second-rate when it comes to overall performance. The Japanese market, on the other hand, wins much praise for its forward-thinking, its flashy designs, its attention to fuel-conservation and its low pricing.
The truth, as always, falls somewhere in the middle and requires someone to actually make the effort to find it. As I write this, I’m thinking that the search business isn’t all that different – the perception of my employer, Ask.com, is a lot like the perception of GM vs. international auto makers. Strange. Anyway, when GM started thier blog, I worried that it would be another useless corporate PR hack tool, a cut-and-paste for company press releases (newsflash: that’s not a blog, folks). But you know what? It’s not.
Take, for example, GM’s response on its blog to a recent New York Times article where Steven Harris, GM’s VP of Global Communications, takes the Times behind the woodshed for printing what GM claims was an erroneous and misleading article about GM’s intentions in the marketplace, going so far as to call GM a “crack dealer” in regards to the amount of SUV’s they’re selling to Americans. Of course, NO auto company (GM, Toyota, etc) will ever pull back a car because it uses too much fuel. Come on. Last time I checked, responsibility will always be with the person who gets the keys and turns the ignition, not the person who sells the car. Now, it’s no secret at all that automakers could be more responsible and energy conscious. But to say GM is the culprit is as single-minded and ignorant as it comes. Just go to any car dealership. So good for GM for standing up for itself. And yes, I know having the VP of Global Communications write a blog post feels a little like a PR move, but the blog post doesn’t read that way and the NYT article deserved a response from such a source. The GM blog is written mostly by general employees, with the occasional senior executive chiming in, including Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who basically runs the show. His posts are always an interesting read and there can be no argument that Lutz is passioniate about automobiles.
As for the product itself, I don’t know. I drive a Toyota. I’ve rented a few GM cars on work trips and I’ve really liked them, but the true test of a car is if you still like it 3-5 years later and how often its been in the shop. I know from experience at Ask.com that it takes a lot of hard work and sweat to get people to understand and acknowledge that companies can (and do) change. The Ask Jeeves of six years ago is not even close to the Ask.com of today (in fact, see this piece on CNNMoney.com). It’s much easier to make the Ask.com point to people, though – Ask.com doesn’t cost $25,000 to use and you can show someone the progress we’ve made with a few simple mouse clicks on a monitor. Even then, it’s extremely difficult to get the masses to understand how much we’ve changed and how much we’ve innovated in the search space.
Now imagine the mountains GM has to move to try and get people into their cars again! Would you take a $25,000 risk yet? Geezus. I don’t envy them one bit. But something tells me they’re not going away (ever) and some of the cars they’re putting out there lately are indisputably compelling.
The list of cars I’ve owned, in order of acquisition:
1971 Chevrolet Chevelle
1985 Oldmobile Cutlass
1987 Subaru GL
1991 Dodge Colt
1965 Ford Galaxie
1994 Ford Taurus
2002 Toyota Camry
Care to divulge yours?