Between the Lines: Lutz in the Blogosphere

God knows why GM introduced their car blog. I suppose somebody s teenage son thought they should have one, so have one they do. The electronic dialogue s net effect on GM is precisely nothing — save the chance it affords kvetchers and kiss-asses to parade their prejudices. And yet Maximum Bob Lutz persists in posting. Once again, his unedited comments offer a fascinating (if unintentional) insight into the strategy and mindset of GM s top car guy.

Most of you participants in the FastLane know by now that I get pretty fired up about conventional wisdom, particularly when it is wrong!
Maxi Bob begins his post with an odd assumption: that the majority of his readers are one with GM's Car Czar inner blogger. You don t have to be a psychologist to see that MB s assumption of emotional intimacy with total strangers betrays more than a touch of megalomania, which indicates some pretty deep personal insecurities. (The use of Most of you instead of Some of you highlights this tension.) The exclamation mark at the end of his first sentence is a classic example of overcompensation: a subconscious attempt to prove what most of his readers supposedly already know: that he s a passionate guy.
Well, it seems that ever since we announced we were bringing out our next generation full-size trucks and utilities, people seem to think it s unwise. And, perhaps worse, even though those that have seen the vehicles have generally come away impressed, they often leave you with the impression that s all we sell.

Maxi Bob s setting up the argument against GM s new leviathans thusly: 1) GM shouldn t have replaced their current SUV lineup and 2) People aren t seeing GM's box fresh gas-guzzlers in their proper perspective. Mis-characterizing the arguments arranged against your position is a classic and highly effective rhetorical technique, but I think this is how MB actually thinks.

In fact, GM s critics are not saying GM shouldn't have brought out SUV's; they're saying that the new products are unwise because they get such lousy mileage. And I challenge you to find one automobilist who doesn't know GM makes other products. Bob's logic is bad enough, but his tone is worse. Clearly, Maxi Bob feels beleaguered, misunderstood and unappreciated.

MB then admits that the introduction of GM s new SUV s may seem incongruous given today s fuel prices. Even so, there will be no white flag upon his trucks. I have to tell you he says, These products still make a lot of sense . In reality, GM s new trucks get one mpg more than the previous trucks. In Bob s unconventional world, the number represents substantial improvements in fuel economy . You can t blame Bob for towing the company line, but The Car Czar wants to go much, much further: straight into fantasy land.

If you re using our Displacement on Demand technology and you carefully manage when and how often you go on four cylinders, you can do better than the EPA ratings!
I m not even going to ask if Bob s statement is based on personal experience. Or how such an outrageous, patently false assertion made it past GM s legal department. But what s with the second exclamation mark? If this comment isn t a sign of MB s desire to convince his opponents through the sheer force of will, and an indication of the onerous alimony Maximum Bob s paying for his reality divorce, nothing is!

Having dispatched (at least in his own mind) the gas-sucking argument, Bob turns his attention to the Is that the best you ve got? objection. MB announces that GM is ready— almost— for the next big thing: crossovers.

Four years from now, we ll have 14 crossovers, accounting for about 800,000 units annually, give or take, representing about 1 of every 5 GM vehicles sold.

If ever an executive was good with GM s more is better operating philosophy, it s Maximum Bob Lutz. (Ipso facto) MB singularly fails to recognize that the general s public has grown bored with the automaker s constant claim that the best is yet to come — with or without exclamation mark. Nor does he recognize that his combination of condescension, bravado and false modesty — I think you ll agree — strikes exactly the wrong note. MB s sign-off exemplifies the mix: I look forward to hearing your thoughts. He may think he does, but believe us, he doesn t.

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

Related:
Blogging the Bob Lutz Podcast [internal]