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Regular readers here know I am no fan of General Motors. Today I got even more reason for the hating season.

A guy at work bought a Volt. I tried to talk him out of it, but it's his money. This was Friday. Today I hear through a mutual friend that he won't be getting the $7,500 Federal tax credit for his Volt. Why? The dealer that sold him the car got it from another dealer . . . who took the credit.

At no point, as far as I know, did the selling Chevy dealer actually inform my friend that he was buying a used car for top dollar.

Look, GM, if you ever want to buff the tarnish out of that crappy image you like to think you don't have, start by not cheating your customers.

I'll update everyone as the details come in. Meanwhile, a new tag is called for.
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Co-worker VeloBusDriver turned me on to yet another boner popped by our nation's nemesis General Motors: GM ads that mock bicyclists and pedestrians.

Embiggenate the shame of cycling.

It gets worse. As if this ad (which ran in UCLA's student paper) weren't enough, GM tried to apologize in a very, very ham-fisted and obviously untruthful way. Mark Degnan, Director of Local Advertising and Marketing, actually wrote, "It was not our intent to make light of a healthy lifestyle and cycling." I ask you, people, if that ad doesn't "make light of a healthy lifestyle and cycling," what exactly does it do?

A little digging in the comments revealed that, at least a day after Mark published his official "apology," GM was still running banner ads which I think are even worse. This little number to the left was, according to a commenter, an intro to a feature that allowed people to toggle between different GM pedestrian-splashers currently on the market . . . at the GM College Discount web site. Showing cyclists to be shamefully un-date-able is one tactic; showing pedestrians to be worthy targets of driver derision borders on goading hate speech.

I got the title for this entry after I described it to The Wife. She has admittedly far more experience dealing with corporate culture. She notes that this kind of "taking the lead" in "making a difference" talk is pretty common in meetings everywhere. I countered that all of us differ on what steps can be considered forward leading and which just carry the walker backward. Why? Each of us has in our heads different definitions of utopia and hell. Your utopia might very well be my idea of hell.

People who gather together every day and interact with each other every day form a society of their own. They can reinforce each other in ways that might very well seem alien to those outside the culture, even contrary to devices designed to catch errors and correct them. General Motors, formed of people, is no exception. Are we in agreeance?

When someone in a board meeting suggests an ad campaign mocking cyclists because focus groups show that cycle riders (especially in LA, where the paper ad ran) would rather drive, someone else in that group (probably in Detroit, one of the least pedestrian and cyclist-friendly cities in our nation) thought that was a fine idea and green-lighted the campaign. After all, whatever sells more cars the better, no matter how despicable the idea might seem to non-auto industry people.

Why, I bet these ads were run by some of the same people who thought those kooks over at the electric car division were tilting at windmills with their wacky wiz-bang battery cars. Those EV-1s, some of the most advanced modern electric cars every produced commercially, got exactly what GM corporate culture thought should come to them.

Crushed, just like the naive hope of every pedestrian and cyclist that General Motors will ever, ever change.
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In a couple of entries under the "transportation" tag, I've kvetched about GM in the past. This tasty number comes to mind. Well, PRI's This American Life has answered a lot of my nagging questions about how GM came to become such a sprawling crap factory in their recent episode, NUMMI.

It turns out that GM had the opportunity to learn from Toyota's success way back in 1984, but only a fraction of their workers embraced the lessons learned from that venture. If you've ever wonder why the quality of American-built cars suffers to this day, you really must hear this story.
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General Motors will soon be bankrupt. I'm not saying this out of spite, out of schadenfreude, out of a need to lash out at the auto behemoth. Rather, my judgment stems from a realization that the monster has become not only too big to turn its business practices around, but is further infected with a corporate culture that lacks the initiative to even attempt such a reversal of practices and fortunes. Anyone can see this to be the case. All you need to understand are the concepts of corporate culture and how they differ from business to business, from culture to culture. Right now, the biggest three auto making countries are the US, Japan and Germany. (Other car making countries like Korea, China and India are growing in importance, but their products and histories are not really available for me to judge, so I'll stick with the big three as I tick off the elements of each that give my argument some weight.)

Let's start briefly with Germany. Years ago, I worked with a deckhand/diesel mechanic named Jack. )
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PBS's Frontline recently tackled global warming and the corporate forces against change in its most recent episode, Heat. (You can watch the full two hour episode at the site.) Among the interviews, they examined GM's new concept plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt. If you happen to follow the link to the Volt's official site, you'll notice a dearth of actual information on the damned thing, let alone any tech-specs that make such sites in any way interesting. There's a reason. The Frontline crew was invited to shoot some road footage of the Volt as a part of "Heat." The prototype slowed to under 10mph on a gentle grade, finally stalling at the top of the hill. It had to be pushed into the truck that brought it to the shoot.

Martin Smith also interviewed a GM PR hack, asking the one question that everyone in the entire world needs to be constantly asking anyone associated with the Evil Behemoth: Why build the Volt when you had a perfectly good electric in the EV1, a car you recalled and crushed. . . ten years ago? The hack tried to correct the record, noting the cars were near the end of their life cycles had been "recycled," and that several had been donated to museums and universities.

The first part about the cars being "too old to drive" was bogus through and through. Most of the lessees protested the end-of-lease recalls. Many of them offered to buy the cars outright for far more than the market would warrent. Really, see Who Killed the Electric Car. The PR hack's last bit about the museum and university donation program proves only partially true; the donated vehicles came disabled and enjoined with strict warnings for the receivers to never, never, never try to restore the cars to working condition and (gasp!) actually drive the cars. Most of the cars were delivered with key components of the drive system removed. In fact, only the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (NMAH) got a complete car:

Only 40 EV1s were preserved, according to Jill Banaszynski, manager of the EV1 donation program, to be given to museums and institutions or kept for research by GM. Of these, the only fully intact EV1, complete with its (now inert) lead acid battery, is today part of the NMAH collection. “Our requirement is that all the vehicles in the museum have to be complete models,” says Withuhn. “We may remove parts, but we have to know that if we wanted to drive a car, or a steam engine, we could -— not that we would. It’s a question of authenticity.”

This stipulation initially posed a problem for GM, which had decided to take the cars off the road because only a relative handful of technicians knew how to work safely on the powerful batteries. But a series of negotiations proved fruitful, and the museum, in March of 2005, received its own complete example of an exemplary machine. (Emphasis mine.)

That line suggesting that "only a relative handful of technicians" proves reason enough to disable the cars? Bull. Complete and utter bull. Sure, the EV1s do have a pretty high voltage pack, over 400 volts, IIRC, but there are lots of folks out there who work on similar voltages daily. . . and many of them can be found at universities. Duh. No, the EV1 was disabled to prevent anyone from seeing those cars on the road ever again.

You see, it turns out that folks sitting high in GM's corporate office towers, the people who make the core decisions regarding what products it will produce and why, have funny feelings compared to the majority of, say, the majority of scientists in this world. Stephen Colbert reinforced that lesson when he had GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz on his show. Take a peek:

Here Lutz is promoting the car that has at least a chance of pulling GM out of the toxic sea of red ink in which it currently gasps and bobs, and Lutz openly shares the fact that he doesn't believe carbon dioxide build-up causes global warming. "32,000 scientist" believe GW is caused by sunspots? Really, Bob? Really?!? Way to sell the whole Volt concept. I'm sure your target market would agree.

The Bottom Line? General Motors is run by a bunch of old fogies that are not only running their company into the ground, taking all of their employees with them, they furthermore haven't the slightest idea what they are doing wrong, and are therefore highly unlikely to change their corporate course in any positive way anytime soon.

I'm sorry, but when any group runs pell mell through a crowd with a revving chain saw, it's time to act. The sooner GM closes its doors and cedes its market share to companies that don't suck so very, very much, the better everyone both in front of and behind the tailpipes will be.

It's just sad.

*The "Die, Die, Die," of course, refers to a corporate death, not literal death. I may not share, er, any opinions with GM corporate, but that certainly doesn't mean I wish them ill.


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