Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Independent Thinking and the Real Significance of the G8

Suffice to say that the Pontiac G8 has been receiving fairly stellar views for while now; click here to see thecarconnection.com’s “review of the reviews.”

Now there’s loose talk that the G8 will survive Pontiac’s demise as a Chevy or sorts, but GM (client) has not and will not confirm this. The enthusiast in me—as well the detached PR practioner—hopes they figure out a way to make this work.

The enthusiast loves this car because while everyone thinks “muscle car,” all accounts are that this is not the “beast-in-a-straight-line, but-I-wouldn’t-want-it-as-a-daily-driver/boy racer/aging-boomer-with-no-taste” car some might have guessed it would be. Where I live in Northville, Mich. (Ford country), I see a surprising number of these cars. I walk by one house every day that has a new-ish 5-series BMW in the driveway, and the G8 looks every bit to be its equal (the BMW I see, and the G8 I always see in the Cabbagetown area I live in are both white. . . nuanced menace. Dig it.) The PR guy likes it because making great product and creating "owner-advocates" is the best PR going for any consumer products company. I don't even own one and I find myself always talking about it.

Reports are that body integrity, structural rigidity, steering feel, brake feel/strength are all the equal of the benchmark 5 (people say Infiniti is coming up on BMW; having been in a recent G37, I don’t think BMW or Pontiac have much to fear . . . Carlos, check quality control bud . . . dash rattles? Come on, not in 2009). That the G8 has the beans under the hood to run with a 550i with the big mil is the least biggest surprise.

What I believe are the biggest markers of “quality” to most people in the showroom or on test drives. . . the whooomp with which the doors close; the body control and quick chassis recovery from railroad crossings or deep pocked Michigan roads; shutlines . . . the big Poncho/Holden can legitimately hang with the 5-series . . . that’s amazing. BMW can put a ton more money into pricey shocks, better/lighter/stronger structural materials, etc. because, well, it’s costs a lot more.

I think fans of GM should be elated, as should independent thinkers who believe that whoever makes the best cars should win; the doubters/cynics should wallow in some strong cognitive dissonance, because this isn’t about the G8 living on or not . . . it’s about having such kickass product development within the company that any GM product could and does compete with any BMW, let alone for at steep retail discount.
I owned two BMWs, a ’97 M3 and ’94 325iC. Both were great or good to drive, but horrifically expensive to own. If GM could make a G8-like car, this means they could make another car that equally baffled the cynics and delighted the open-minded drivers of America. Here’s to hoping they do (whoops, Camaro already is). Rock steady Tom Stephens, rock steady.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What Granholm Should Say, But Likely Won't

Daniel Howes lays out a very cogent, disarmingly fair and hard to dismiss outline for what Michigan’s Governor should really say tonight in her State of the State address.

Given that she can’t run again (ok, at least not for that office), and has done very little to right a sinking ship in the last seven years (movie tax incentives aside), she could do much to get religion on restructuring state government and taxes—albeit late—as her tenure comes to a close.

Read Dan’s recommendations here. I wonder what Chris Bzdok, Traverse City's Mayor Pro Tem, would add to his prescriptions.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Supplier PR at Auto Shows?

In the chaos and buzz that is social marketing in 2009, often lost is the idea that PR—especially in “old school” industries like automotive—is still fundamentally about helping clients tell their story to their most important audiences. For B2B in automotive, the wires (Dow Jones, AP, Reuters, Bloomberg, et al.) are still a big deal. Our Honeywell client was jazzed that we were able to pull this together:

Honeywell sees more demand for turbochargers Reuters

Of course, Honeywell had no real news hook. But they had a real story thanks to Ford's turbo news. I’m not normally a fan of trying to move supplier stories at auto shows: media are there for cars, not car parts. But high-value, highly-differentiated technologies like turbochargers or advanced lithium-based batteries can earn coverage if positioned as pieces of larger stories and trends.

By the way, where were the battery guys making news? Could have been like batting practice on Wii sports.

Friday, January 9, 2009

We can do it for movies . . . why not batteries? Or business in general?

Here in the D, there's been a serious uptick in movie making over the last year or so. Why? The State has been serious and aggressive about soliciting movie makers to come here, and moreover, adding serious tax incentives to make Detroit and Michigan a more attractive place to shoot films. The new Clint Eastwood movie that looks awesome (anyone who pulls an M1 Garand instead of a shotty out for home protection is not to be fussed with in my book, great gun) and was shot in and around Detroit because of it.

Is anyone else thinking that, "Hell, if we can get movies made here through tax incentives, how about doing the same--if not more--for advanced battery research and production." Or if full employment, and higher paying employment, is a goal of state gov't, how about incentivizing the whole state somehow? I'm told Michigan's business climate is one of the worst in the county. Let's change that.

I'd vote for L. Brooks Patterson. Would you?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

B2B and Social Media: Yes We Can and Yes You Should

Quick: should social media be of interest to the old school world of automotive B2B public relations?

For about a year, I’ve struggled with this question, but now I think the answer is yes. My earlier doubts were only one-layer deep: were the powertrain purchasing folks at OEMs, for instance, really hanging out on Facebook? No, I concluded. But I may have been wrong in two ways I’d not thought of before.

1. The powertrain purchasing exec, in this case, may very well not be on Facebook, but maybe his direct reports are. Maybe the engineers who are technology consumers are. Maybe his boss is because his kids urged her to get on Facebook to stay in touch, which leads to . . .

2. Maybe in the last year, or just the last three months, he did finally get on Facebook in order to keep up with family, his kids, or just because he has other friends that he actually can keep track of (I think of my retired dad who went to Rose Hulman . . . he asked how I could find these people, and my brother and I over Christmas said, “Find them through Facebook’s Rose Hulman alumni groups.”)

But others who’ve thought more about this have five interesting reasons why this works for B2B. Read them here. This is by far the final word on this topic, and I suspect I’ll spend a good deal of 2009 refining how we use social media to help companies talk to other companies—and consumers—through these channels. Should be interesting.

Monday, January 5, 2009

December 2008: GM Beats Toyota

And now for some more (marginally) good news: yes, the Big Three got hammered in December for reasons everyone knows, but the big Japanese players fared even worse. GM was down 31%, Ford was down 32%, but Toyota was down 37%.

In these parts, we’ll take any sign that could be contrued as positive and breathe deeply. Not sure on the exact timing, but Toyota and GM might have both had zero percent financing deals running concurrently. Normally, if GM does much better than others—in this case, Toyota, but not Ford—it’s because GM had a massive incentive/giveaway that others did not, so this is interesting as Toyota had to pony up to the zero percent financing bar still fewer were ordering their vehicles relative to Toyota.

What’s interesting to watch closely are the subtle, if anecdotal, signs that the pervailing coastal sentiment of “domestics = bad; foreign makes = good” may be beginning to change. Read the comments sections of Dave Kiley's post on the Ford Fusion smoking the Camry Hybrid. The contrarians are starting to root for Detroit, and this is a trend that I suspect may continue as Ford and GM especially continue to make extremely competitive product.

In Case You Missed It, Some Good News for GM

For those of you that missed the action over the holiday, GMAC--GM's formerly wholly owned lending arm--received a financial infusion from the Fed that led them to offer zero percent loans on new car sales. You can rea more at David Welch's write up from New Year's Eve: http://www.businessweek.com/autos/autobeat/archives/2008/12/gmac_gets_a_gov.html

As everyone expects industry sales figures today from December to show more more serious sales declines, the effect of this should be allow more consumers to loan money for cars. The lack of credit in recent months has been a very serious problems for dealers and automakers; this should help remove at least one roadblock on the auto recovery highway.