Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Man with the Plan

This is very big news. The Detroit News is reporting what GM's future focus will be, specifically the plan to get them out of the spot they're in at the moment. It's a plan that sounds good and it's unfortunate that it didn't come sooner. So much of GM's problems stem from disorganization of models, something I and many other pundits have been complaining about for years.

Mark LaNeve, the VP of sales, is spot on when he says that the company doesn't have too many brands. What they have is too many overlaps. Here's what I got from the article on some of the basic moves they'll be making in the next few years:

1. Chevrolet and premium Cadillac will be the two bookend brands, with each offering a broad product lineup.

So long as Cadillac isn't TOO broad of a lineup, I think this is a good idea. It's true that both of these are the best selling and most well known brands of GM. However, this is pretty much status quo, since Cadillac and Chevrolet are already offering a broad lineup.

2. Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Saturn, Hummer and Saab will exist as "focus brands" with more limited portfolios.

The biggest change here is to Pontiac and Buick. Obviously Hummer and Saab are niche brands. Hummer will never offer a car. This might mean that Saab's SUV will only last one generation. It seems to me that when they came up with this plan, Saab wasn't really thought of. What does this mean? Perhaps Saab's future is a short one. For Buick and Pontiac, the article guesses this later on, it means the end of SUVs and minivans for those marques. That's a good idea, but I think GM should offer at least one upscale minivan to compete with Chrysler. Pontiac and Saturn should never sell minivans.

3. GM is repositioning Saturn as a more upscale brand below Buick, leaving behind its past as a purveyor of plastic-clad compact cars.

Saturn needs a repositioning, and a recognition that the people who buy its products are not normal GM buyers. They buy Japanese and Volkswagen. If Saturn can be seen as an alternative to Volkswagen, i.e. high quality small cars, then it will do well. VW has dominated that market sector for years without competition.

It can all fail if GM does not restyle their offerings aggresively. They've already proven they can make a high quality vehicle, as shown with their high ratings from JD Powers, but what they need to show is that they can make an aesthetically pleasing vehicle. Organization will help matters, but good looking cars will do even better. If LaNeve pulls this off, he might be the next in line to run the company.

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The Egotistical Autobiography

Now that I am searching for work, I might as well re-tell my autobiography for prospective employers. I am a recent law school graduate, 25 years old, and I love cars. My resume (CV) is available upon request. I am interested in working in Europe as well as the United States, and I am actively learning as much as I can about the former in order to be a competent employee there. If my writing or background interests you, let me know by dropping me an email. Thanks!

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Jennifer and the Fusion

Forbes has an interesting article concerning the upcoming Ford Fusion, and "Jennifer", a fictional being who is supposed to represent your generic car buyer. I'm always skeptical of marketing schemes. I know that it is very possible to sell something with a clever ad campaign, witness milk and "Got Milk?". But in the auto industry I just can't remember the last time an ad campaign brought a lackluster car to successful sales. It's always been integral to the car itself whether it would be a success or not.

There was something else in this article that caught my eye:

Ford doesn't want to make [the Ford 500] mistake again with the Fusion. Its original--and safe--design mimicked the leaders in the midsize car segment, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. But in focus groups during the summer and fall of 2002 the car drew ho-hums from consumers. Around the same time, Ford designers finished their work on a striking new concept car, the Ford 427, that was being prepared for the 2003 auto show circuit. Insiders loved it, so in December Ford officials did the unthinkable: At the last minute they ripped up the Fusion's design. Its bland front end was ditched and replaced with the 427's signature three-bar chrome grille.

Outside of pricing for materials, if a concept car is popular and looks good, why not just copy it? Why tone it down? Ford is realizing that its biggest competitors, Toyota and Honda, have cornered the market of people who are not into cars and are looking for merely a transport machine that is reliable. The people who are left are those drawn to design who will only reluctantly purchase an Accord or a Camry. Ford has made the correct decision with the Fusion by allowing the design to bold and similar to the original concept.

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