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Op-Ed: Assessing Detroit’s Brand Addiction

Why the good cop/bad cop game isn’t working anymore.

by on Jun.30, 2014

A 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt, one of the GM vehicles covered by the maker's ignition switch recall.

Does the game of good cop/bad cop still work in Detroit?  What happens when the bad cop (General Motors) keeps making bad decisions, and the good cop (Chevrolet) has no authority and no voice of its own?

In mid-March, the bad cop tried to dig out of its hole as new GM CEO Mary Barra met with reporters to discuss recent product recalls.  “I want to start by saying how sorry personally and how sorry General Motors is for what has happened,” she said in reference to the accidents linked to faulty ignition switches.

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I think we can all agree with Barra’s framing: this is a GM problem.  Specifically, the inability of the company’s bureaucracy to deal with the ignition switch issue that was uncovered as early as 2001.  One can study many things in this case, from GM’s internal crisis response to product quality to governance issues.  What leapt to mind for me was GM’s devotion to being a “house of brands” that tries to isolate crises to a specific marque, or to the corporate level when the problem is found in multiple brands.

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