While it's beyond me why GM is using Ed Whiteacre in a new TV spot, their new board of directors chief, who said at his first press conference that he doesn't know much about cars, one of the new Cadillac commercials is right-on.
First, the Caddy commercial, one of four new TV spots which debuted last weekend.
It's for their SRX crossover, is dark and moody, uses a popular tune from the "alternative" category ... but what got me was the final line: "SRX --- The Cadillac of crossovers."
When I grew up, if some product was considered the best in its field, it was called the "Cadillac" of those products. And that saying had been around for many years before I ever heard it (I was born in 1954). In fact for decades, Cadillac's tagline in their advertising was, "The standard of the world." And in that time and place, Caddy was.
Maybe the line hit my nostalgia button just right, but I liked the fact that GM, having suffered from a terrible inferiority complex for the past 20 years (often based, in truth, on some pretty bad product) seems, at least for this commercial, to have gotten some guts back and is not afraid say Cadillac is something special.
Of course, the first battle is to get people into dealerships, folks who haven't visited a Detroit car-makers' store in, in some cases, three generations. Especially in the southwest, a probably not-too-apocryphal story says ask the average 30-year old if they ever heard of a car named "Buick," and the response will be something like: "Oh yeah, my uncle had one of those years ago and he always had problems with it." Then they get in their Honda and drive off.
These are not people planning to spend the weekend shopping the local GM outlets.
On that note, I must mention I just finished driving the 2010 Buick LaCrosse for over a week. The LaCrosse "target car" for GM was the Lexus ES, and they've bypassed that car in almost every respect. Any family looking for a new sedan should test-drive the LaCrosse before buying anything else. There, I said it. I am rooting for GM; in America, only a fool wouldn't.
2010 Buick LaCrosse
On using the board chairman to do the "And let the best car win" spot: Whiteacre needs a fast charisma transplant if people are going to respond. This is not Lee Iacocca. He looks interchangeable with every bland top car exec Detroit has produced in the last 100 years. I mean, this guy used to run AT&T.
And where's Bob Lutz?
Lutz, the GM exec who is overseeing advertising (as just one of his jobs) did Whiteacre (and GM) no favors by apparently not fighting the decision for Whiteacre to do the ads (and if he did fight, he lost). Maybe Whiteacre insisted on it, maybe Lutz was kissing the boss' ass and telling him how great he'd be on TV; maybe he's hoping Whiteacre's spot will fail and step into the TV ad himself.
If GM indeed has guts again, someone there should remember that "Guts" is the name of Lutz's book and without doubt he'd be best to represent the corporation to the TV audience. Lutz is today's Iacocca; he's a natural on-camera and compelling to watch.
Bob Lutz in his natural habitat; the center of attention
A lot of people I talk with, and I mean people who do not live and breathe cars, don't know Whiteacre's name or his history, but they do know he made that "I don't know much about cars" statement. Apparently, Letterman and Leno and the rest, who still mention this line on occasion, do have a lot of people watching. And it hasn't done GM any good.
Some late info on the company's "60 day guarantee:" Automotive News reports that instead of the guarantee, buyers can take an extra $500 rebate on their purchase. The trick is that the salespeople, apparently, are not allowed to mention this to shoppers, and buyers are made the offer only after they've decided to buy and are in the "Finance and Insurance" office in the dealership, signing documents and being sold undercoating and car alarms.
On the back of that, the financial website "24/7 Wall St," is reporting that some 3.5% of GM dealers, about 150 of them, are opting out of the guarantee program altogether, the site saying, "Although GM has stated it will foot the bill for returns, it appears there's enough concern (or confusion) that it's causing a car-fuffle."
2010 Cadillac SRX
GM offers a good 5 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, but instead of the money-back guarantee, why not increase the warranty to 10 years, as Hyundai offers? One reason is that the warranty will cost GM more money in the long run than the money-back guarantee, but matching many of the import warranties would say a lot about what GM thinks of their new product. Whether GM thinks they have the money (or can get permission from the White House to plan for those big expenditures) is another thing.
Now you know what I think. What about you? Is GM whistling through the graveyard or do the Whiteacre and other new TV spots, plus the 60-day guarantee and selling cars (in California) on Ebay make sense and have GM headed in the right direction? Would a 10-year warranty make you more comfortable shopping GM products?
Most important, will all of this get you into a GM store?
Many car-maker employees read this blog, so this is a chance to tell them what you think.
Follow Steve Parker on Twitter: www.twitter.com/autojourno