During my brief eight-month stay in the public affairs department of Ford Motor Credit Company in 2005, the first lesson that I, as a PR ingénue, was taught was: "Alignment of message." This meant that everything we PR people said to anyone within or outside the company had to be "aligned" with pre-determined corporate goals. So if the top dogs in the company had decided that the goal for the year was turning, say, a $50 billion profit -- just to pick a random number! -- then, come hail or storm, it was our job to find a way to spin every development - nose-diving vehicle sales, sky-rocking commodity prices, Toyota kicking our ass into oblivion - as, at best, a minor glitch that the corporate brainiacs had already anticipated and figured out a way to overcome.
So no sooner had General Motors made its bankruptcy filing this morning, than it announced a "viability" plan that - what do you know! - is perfectly aligned with the goals of its new corporate owner: President Barack Obama. (OK, to be fair, Obama is not the sole owner. UAW and the Canadian government will also get their pound of flesh). A statement that the company issued laying out a three-part comeback strategy miraculously turned nearly every business-busting government demand that it had to date fought into a must-do for the New GM:
· On vehicles, the statement said that the company intends to now redouble its "commitment to reducing the environmental impact of our vehicles by increasing fuel economy and employing advanced technologies." That means forcing consumers out of trucks and SUVs they do want and will pay for into hybrids and sub-compacts they don't want and won't pay for.
· On Systems, the company will supposedly focus not only on "reinventing ourselves, but transportation systems around the world." The "essential starting point" of doing this, it declared, is "vehicle electrification." Also, it will "continue to work with partners to develop the infrastructure necessary to support advanced technologies, from flexible-fuel vehicles to urban electric vehicles." The infrastructure it is referring to involves, among other things, installing new ethanol pumps. This will require gas station owners to spend tens of thousands of additional dollars, something they are unlikely to do unless government forces them through mandates or bribes them through subsidies or both. The first will screw drivers; the second taxpayers; and the third both.
· On Operations, it will expand its "longstanding commitment to sustainable manufacturing" that will involve "achieving zero landfill waste at 50% of our manufacturing facilities by the end of 2010." More generally, it will also "reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, and other forms of waste across our operations." This has more to do with the greening of the planet than selling cars.
In other words, the company's viability plan involves not so much reinventing itself but reinventing everything else: buyer taste; distribution infrastructure; and the industry's manufacturing practices - everything, that is, that stands in the way of the administration's eco-agenda.
Wasn't it Karl Marx who said: "The point is not merely to understand the world, but to change it"?
Whatever else you may or may not say about our comrades at Government Motors, they are certainly catching on fast as to what it will take to survive in a world acording to Obama.
The full statement, issued by GM VP Elizabeth Lowery, is well worth reading for the full flavor of the company's abject pusillanimity:
"Today, GM announced its plan to form a leaner, more customer-focused and more cost-competitive company - the "New GM." The new organization will be built on the strongest parts of our business and is being designed to generate sustained profitability and winning performance. Initially, the New GM will be owned primarily by the U.S. Treasury (UST), the Canadian and Ontario governments, and the United Auto Workers (UAW). To implement these agreements and formally create and launch the New GM, we filed a voluntary petition under Chapter 11 to begin operations as a new organization.
While we preferred other paths to our ultimate goal, the court process will help us accelerate and complete the job of reinventing GM. General Motors and the UST, the UAW, and the Canadian and Ontario governments share the goal of making GM's transformation as swift and efficient as possible.
We view this as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves for the 21st century while continuing to invest in energy saving technologies and drive a greener future.
Vehicles: The New GM will have a renewed commitment to reducing the environmental impact of our vehicles by increasing fuel economy and employing advanced technologies. This commitment will be integrated in everything we do. It will be critical to our success and to our ability to provide consumers with the types of vehicles they desire.
Systems: The New GM will focus on reinventing not just ourselves, but transportation systems around the world. An essential starting point is vehicle electrification, including our new advanced battery lab in Warren, Michigan, where we will continue to develop battery technology to support electric vehicle programs such as the Chevrolet Volt. Also, we will continue to work with partners to develop the infrastructure necessary to support advanced technologies, from flexible-fuel vehicles to urban electric vehicles.
Operations: While we focus on producing exciting and greener vehicles for our customers, we will continue to expand our longstanding commitment to sustainable manufacturing. We will continue our pursuit of achieving zero landfill waste at 50% of our manufacturing facilities by the end of 2010, and continue to reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, and other forms of waste across our operations.
With all of these plans and more on the horizon, we believe the future for the New GM is very bright. We are confident and optimistic about this chance to emerge as a much stronger, leaner and greener organization. We recognize, however, that the proof will be in what we do, not just what we say. We hope that you will continue to watch GM over the coming months and years as we make good on our commitments.
Finally, we are dedicated to maintaining a dialogue with our customers and stakeholders as we make progress. I encourage you to stay abreast of developments as they occur at www.gmreinvention.com. In the meantime, if you have questions please feel free to contact me either by phone or email. As always, I welcome your feedback."