Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The apple of GM's eye

This statement from Joel Ewanick probably didn't make it into the mainstream press, but I found it interesting.

"...it's time to clearly differentiate our brand and align closer to a true global brand like an Apple. It's time for an automotive company to step out and address consumers and their needs in a way that's never been done before."

I know, every company wants to be Apple, and having a stretch goal is a good thing. But there are significant challenges ahead if that's their path.

First, GM is four brands – Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac and GMC – not one, and these brands need to be differentiated. They can't all be the Apple of automobiles.

Second, Apple controls the retail environment from pricing to staffing to training to design to POP to advertising. GM's dealers have a little more say in which products will be pushed, how they'll be displayed and serviced. That has an incredible impact on the brand, and the fact that the manufacturer has little to no control over most of the sale and after-sale experience will continue to pose problems for their brands.

Finally, Apple is only Apple because of Steve Jobs. He's the visionary who led the development of not just the products but the ecosystems that made those products indispensable. The iPod would be just another mp3 player without iTunes. The iPad would be just another tablet without the App Store, iChat and other utilities.

Who is GM's Steve Jobs? Who's the visionary who's going to lift the company from one that makes excellent products (and they still have some way to go to get there) to a company that becomes woven into the very fabric of our lives.

It's one thing to say you want to be Apple. Making it happen is a whole other matter. Given the realities of 10-day sales reports, quarterly analyst calls, and the constant pressure to offer financial incentives because that's all dealers know how to sell,  it's not going to be easy.

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