Such A Thrill When Your Radials Squeal

I’ve always had great interest in the auto business and many years back I thought I may want to make a career of it (not selling them, I mean at the corporate level). I think it’s probably because here in the modern day, cars say a LOT about who we are. They are a decent indicator of someone’s personality and in most cases, one’s financial status. I say “in most cases” because there are the frivolous folks out there who go beyond their means. But whatever, I’m not judging, just stating fact. My point is that I believe you can get a good read on someone if you just look at their car.

If you were to look at my ’02 Camry for instance, you’d think, “safe, right down the middle, takes little risks financially, loves stability and doesn’t need flash to keep him happy.” And you’d be about 90% right – I admit to needing a little flash (hello, 42-inch TV and Apple TV)! My long-winded point: it saddens me greatly to see what’s happening to the American auto companies. I’ve said before in this space that I would like nothing more than to see them succeed and I really, truly believe they will. I also believe that GM’s stock is a STEAL right now, though I haven’t put my money where my mouth is…..yet.

The issue with the U.S. car companies is purely one of trust. American cars were bad for a whole generation (mine) and now that they’re starting to be seen as mostly solid and dependable again, they may be turning the corner. But have you ever tried to turn a corner while driving a cruise ship? Takes some time. That’s why I hope that they get some funding from the government. In addition to the horrible trickle-down effect on our economy if one of these companies shuts down – and I don’t mean Chrysler – I think it would just take more wind out of our sails. Given everything that’s gone on the last 8 years, we simply don’t need that.

But the money should come with conditions. HUGE conditions. If the Obama administration is smart, they will have the foresight to look well into the future and see a world where electric/hybrid/whatever vehicles will be the norm. Where cars that get not 30, not 40, not 50, but 60+ miles per gallon are the way to people’s pocketbooks and pride. Again, this can’t be done overnight – mandating car companies to short-term, unattainable goals will only cripple them more – they need to equip factories to make such vehicles, they need to work out the technologies and they need to adjust the workforce to accomodate it all. It will take time, so some some sort of tiered plan must be the way. 

I’m 76,500 miles into my Camry now. I suspect I have a few years left. As tempting as it is right now to go out and upgrade, I think my options will be tenfold better in five years than they are today. I also truly believe that by the time I’m ready, American cars very well may be positioned far better. Like they said on the X-Files, I WANT to believe.

Ford Shows Life!

A couple of months ago, I became aware of a group of fathers here in Maynard who get together on occasion just to take some……time off. As I understand it, most of the gatherings occur during Monday Night Football telecasts, which is slightly unfortunate for me, as I play in a very competitive ice hockey pickup game on Mondays year ’round.  So it was great to finally meet everyone at a summer gathering back in June. About 15 of us showed up to a friend’s house for some BBQ and some card playing. As a quick sidenote – when it’s guys who are in charge of the food and beer, it becomes very obvious right away that the planning women bring to parties is crucial. Just saying.

Anyway, the purpose for the gathering was to send off a fellow named Scott Monty, who, like myself, worked largely at home and was immersed in internet business. I wish I had known about this guy a year or two ago, because we probably could have had some good lunches, given our professional similarities. He was wrapping up his stint as a Social Media Director for a company called Crayon and was moving onto Michigan to head up Social Media at the Ford Motor Company. I didn’t get to talk to Scott all that much that night, but it wasn’t too difficult to find him online. He blogs, he twitters, he basically does everything I do.

So my point? A couple of things. One – it’s really terrific to see a (perceived) old-school company like Ford seriously thinking about the internet like this. The impact that social media has had on the internet and our daily lives, arguably, remains to be seen, but large companies connecting with the public directly via the internet is undoubtedly the wave of the future for PR. It will take a LOT of companies a LOT of time to realize this and those companies will suffer for it. Ford will not suffer.  Comcast, who impressively now directly messages unsatisfied customers via Twitter,  will not suffer. This is the way companies need to think. Too many won’t. They’ll be stuck doing formal press releases via the normal, antiquated, stuffy, boring channels – and will be sitting there scratching their butts and wondering why their PR is so weak.

So, all that said, one of Scott’s first actions at Ford was to invite a whole list of important bloggers to its 2009 Model Year Media Day. So while most of the other car companies have the usual grayhaired, bitter, cigarette-frayed writers at their media functions, Scott brought in folks who, for better or worse for Ford, will write their honest feelings about what they experienced on their well-read blogs. Risky maybe, but when you have that kind of confidence in your product (as I hope Scott did!), then it’s not much of a risk. But you never know! THAT is social media.

So…..the results? A series of previously skeptical bloggers who are now singing Ford’s praises, not because Ford fed them well or comped them something cool, but because of the PRODUCT. Novel! But hopefully not for long. Consider that reason #43,234 why I love the internet.

And by the way, that new Ford Flex looks super cool.