GM robs products of needed buzz, Hear that flush? That’s the sound of GM’s lost opportunity at one of the most important auto shows outside Detroit.

December 3, 2009

GM robs products of needed buzz


Talk about crashing the family sedan.

General Motors Co.’s board of directors, ever anxious to show that they’re driving the company’s new Caddy, absolutely blew it on Tuesday when they forced out CEO Fritz Henderson. It doesn’t matter how it all went down — whether they asked Henderson to stay on for the rest of the year but he gave them the ziggy anyway, or if they asked him to immediately leave, or some other scenario — GM saw millions of dollars washed away in lost media coverage of key new products, or at least diminished exposure, thanks to Henderson’s resignation on the eve of media days at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

Instead of talking about the massive road show GM carefully orchestrated for the Chevrolet Volt that put actual drivable electric vehicles on the streets of Los Angeles, or the introduction of the U.S. version of the 40-miles-per-gallon Chevy Cruze, the buzz was — and still is — all about Henderson’s departure.

Hear that flush? That’s the sound of GM’s lost opportunity at one of the most important auto shows outside Detroit.

Questionable strategy

Hard to believe the board of directors gets any closer to accomplishing its mission of increasing GM’s market share by throwing Henderson under the bus, the second GM CEO ushered out in less than a year.

Perhaps the board of directors didn’t know, or didn’t care, that GM had invested millions to roll out new products in California, the biggest auto market in the United States, or that Henderson was scheduled to give the show’s keynote address to media Wednesday. Heck, even the news Tuesday that GM sales in November remained largely flat from a year earlier — good results these days — was pushed aside.

Really, this is bigger than Henderson or any speech. It’s about GM’s already fragile public image and the damage that has been done by sending the company into turmoil — again.

We’ll eventually find out how and why it happened, but it’s clear that GM’s biggest shareholder, the U.S. government, is still heavily involved, no matter what White House officials say.

Of course, the Obama administration didn’t call GM Chairman Ed Whitacre Jr. on Tuesday and tell him to fire Henderson. That foundation was laid months earlier when the U.S. government became the company’s largest shareholder and its auto task force insisted wholesale change was necessary."Fritz Henderson has done a good job in a period of transition," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday. "But the board of directors runs General Motors, not the president of the United States."

Plausible deniability.

Great products ignored

The board of directors rightly needs to operate differently than in the past and they need to direct aggressive change. But the board, either by way of ignorance or arrogance, hurt the company desperately this week.

And that’s too bad because GM has great products on the show floor in Los Angeles and in dealerships across the country and it had actually begun to win back a skeptical public.

Unfortunately for the Detroit automaker that progress has been shoved aside because the boardroom has taken the spotlight away from the showroom.

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