A month and a day after General Motors Company was launched its new executive corps were out in force in a product preview and update session led by CEO Fritz Henderson. The difference from the old GM was noted by Henderson, who said the product portion of the program was run for customers yesterday in an attempt to demonstrate that the company really takes seriously it newly vowed pledge to put customers first, perhaps the most over-used cliché in the automobile business.
“As I’ve said many times, we’re putting the customer first at GM, and this event is a literal demonstration of that, said Henderson, whose job is thought to hinge on turning around GM’s decades’ long slump in sales and marketshare. “Today, we’re hosting media and analysts; yesterday, we hosted customers.”
Henderson said he planned to prove the customer focus to “our current and potential customers every day. We need to live this philosophy.”
About 100 customers were in attendance at GM’s Milford, Michigan, proving grounds yesterday with GM potentates. They were selected from bloggers who contacted Henderson. “We picked thoughtful, severe critics, “Henderson said, while excluding the ones who told him “to go jump out of a window,” since he wasn’t inclined to follow that particular piece of advice. He said a good cross section of young and old were selected, and the “vast majority haven’t owned GM vehicles for some time now.”
What customers and then media were shown revolved around GM’s four core brands, Chevrolet, GMC, Buick, and Cadillac. It was an attempt to demonstrate what the brands “stand for today, and a peek at what they’ll look like tomorrow,” said Henderson.
The events were obvious publicity stunts, of the type often used by struggling automakers to shift the focus from current problems to a promised golden future. GM is banking on 25 new vehicle launches in the U.S. between now and 2011 to revive its sagging fortunes. But it’s not clear that the hidebound company understands just how damaged its brands are, let alone have any idea what to do about them.
There is no question that the need to turn things around is dire: In the North American market, GM sales were down 32% to 307,000 vehicles in the second quarter. This trend, which will likely continue based on past performance, underscores both the ongoing weakness of the U.S. economy and GM’s continued slide in what was once its largest market, one it dominated for decades.