My Take On GM's Use Of Online Marketing
Gary Vaynerchuk's Bad Pitch Letter

Does Saving The Auto Industry = Saving America’s Spirit?

I was reading a comment by Wendy Kenney, on David Meerman Scott's blog post about his 5 problems with GM for a turnaround.

"I am so disappointed in your company that it's going to take a lot to get me to come back. It's not about fancy websites, advertisements or stimulus packages, it's about people.  And Frankly GM, I don't think you give a damn.

As a major US company, you have a responsibility to millions of people! The way back to my heart is to put America back to work, make affordable, quality products that people want to buy, and act like you really care about the little guy.

PS. I drive a Chevy Trailblazer, but unless you make it up to America, my next car is going to be a Toyota."

Wendy's comment struck me as being very earnest, she was disappointed in GM, hurt that the company might not care about as a GM car owner, and she thought the car company has a civic duty to support the United States. Her comments and others caused me to wonder about something; why are Americans so upset with General Motors?

Perhaps it’s because GM was seen as representing American success, American values and American spirit.

If Americans see GM failing, I wonder if that failure touches too close to home, does that failure for some Americans represent American failure.

I'm British, but my Father is American, and I grew up in the UK until moving to the old country after college.  Part of my perception of the United States from Europe was that the country is very nationalistic compared to the UK.  Yet upon moving here, I began to understand the reasons for that nationalism.  In a big country, both in population and size, you need big ideas to pull people together.  American nationalism is something that binds this country of 300 million people together, while Britain with 65 million people often muddles along on the BBC, a nationalized religion in the schools, and pride in the royal family. Britain for me had nationalism but it was much more subtle than the states.  How Americans approach nationalism is just different and it took moving and living here to realize that.

There was no talk of the British dream in the UK.  Brits suspect there's something odd about someone who can remember all the words to the national anthem.  And the spirit of the British growing up in the '70s was one of hand wringing about the country's state of terminal decline.

The '70s were a tough time for the UK: the country lost a third of its industry and national manufacturing champions in the UK economy disappeared.  Britain’s place in the world had been changing for 20-30 years since after the Second World War, but the chickens were really coming home to roost at the end of the '70s.  The UK lost every British car manufacturer, and people were angry and depressed about the decline.

I wonder if this is what's happening with the reaction to American car manufacturers.  Is it not just consumer anger with a car manufacturer making poor products, but the fear that American car manufacturer decline somehow represents American decline?  If so, is it fair for the American people to lump all of their hopes and fears onto one industry?  The decision to buy from a foreign manufacturer is obviously a rational one for many Americans, according to Consumer Reports and other reports, foreign-based manufacturers are often at the top of the charts with quality and reliability.  Most Americans buy based on price, features and a strong brand.  Yet among many Americans, including Wendy Kenney who commented on David's post, they just want the American car manufacturers to shape up so they can feel as if they are making the right decision about buying American cars again.

I think for many Americans, the United States national champions have switched from car companies to high-technology companies: Google, Apple, Genentech and Microsoft. Rather than a declining economy, the United State economy is a changing economy. This happened with the United Kingdom. Industries disappeared but were replaced with new ones. Manufacturing was replaced with services. This does not mean that American car manufacturers have to disappear, unlike British car manufacturers, American car manufacturers are in a much better position, with a bigger percentage of the World market, and a bigger home market from which to compete. The changing economy does represent opportunity as well as threat. I recall one person involved in the early years of the car industry who managed to transition from a dying industry to a new industry, Billy Durant.

From Wikipedia, “By 1890 the Durant-Dort Carriage Company, based in Flint, Michigan, had become a leading manufacturer of horse-drawn vehicles. When approached to become General Manager of Buick in 1904, he made a similar success and was soon president of this horseless-vehicle company. In 1908 he arranged the incorporation by proxies of General Motors.”

I don’t have much to say on the future of car technology, that not being my area of expertise. But I do think that social media will be important for the future success of American car manufacturers, social media is after all about human connection, and if there are such emotions, and ideas as expressed by Wendy Kenny amongst other potential American car owners, then if the big three American car manufacturers can embrace the use of social media to listen, meet needs and wants, those companies will become the success story for social media of the second decade of the 21st century.