Final Inspection

Running the Right Race

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A sense of urgency is a good thing, but General Motors’ move last week to retool its sales and marketing operations for the second time in less than four months and continued departure of high-ranking executives suggests a nervous hand at the helm with a still-unsure sense of direction.

CEO Ed Whitacre is bent on repaying some $8 billion in government loans by June, and it appears he’s also on a mission to launch an IPO of the new GM as quickly as possible to lessen – if not eliminate altogether – government ownership in the auto maker.

Rightly so, Whitacre believes casting off the stigma of government ownership and closing the book on the controversial bailout and all the negative publicity that went with it could prove the quickest cure to what ails GM in the marketplace.

Further stepping up the pressure on the auto maker to make some hay right now is the continued unintended-acceleration controversy that could put a chunk of Toyota’s U.S. market share up for grabs.

If buyers are going to defect from the Japanese car maker, GM wants a piece of the action. But so far there’s little indication Toyota customers are headed for Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac showrooms, and that’s legitimate cause for concern for GM management.

Still, with the constant public turmoil over less-than-stellar monthly sales results, there’s a danger the jockey riding GM is applying too much whip way too early in the race, and the pace won’t be sustainable in the long run.

Losing market share is easy. Regaining it is hard. As much as Whitacre and the rest of GM brass may wish for quicker results, it’s doubtful the auto maker will be able to meaningfully change consumer perception overnight.

The success of some of GM’s newer products indicates the auto maker may have found the right formula, given enough time and the leadership needed to stick with it. Magazine cover stories such as Motor Trend’s latest declaring “Buick is Back” could help convince consumers that’s the case.

Now what’s needed is a vote of confidence from top management and the board in the game plan and the people running it – and maybe a little more patience.

There’s no quick way out of this. The race to restore GM’s standing with consumers is a marathon, not a sprint. While the auto maker should be careful not to get boxed in by too slow a pace, it also needs to avoid running out of breath too far from the finish line.

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What's Final Inspection?

WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.

Contributors

Dave Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into WardsAuto.com, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

James M. Amend

James Amend is an associate editor at WardsAuto.com, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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