Friday, December 13, 2013

1265 An Open Letter to Mary Barra

1265 An Open Letter to Mary Barra

Dear Ms. Barra,

First, heartiest congratulations on becoming the CEO-Designate of General Motors.

But you’re already facing mischaracterizations in both the general and the automotive press.

Everyone seems to be saying it’s “great to have another woman”as the head of a fortune 500 company.  They compare you to Meg Whitman at HP, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo, and Ursula Burns at Xerox. A computer maker, one of many. A soft drink maker, one of many.  A photocopier maker, one of many.

They fail to grasp that you are about to lead the single most important American company in the single most important American industry.

Or are you?

Generally, the title “CEO” is preceded by a phrase, usually “Chairman and…” or “President and…”

You are neither.

The new chairman will be Big Ed “I’m phone guy from Texas, what do I know about the auto Industry?” Whitaker. The new president will be Dan “bolt counter” Ammann, the financial guy.

So, CEO, without one of those pesky traditional titles.

You probably can handle these men, largely because your hands are going to be all over the real stuff: design studios, the engineering labs, the dealer franchise network, the production line.  Probably.

But allow one suggestion?  You have made a point of saying a goal is to not produce “crap cars,” of which you have plenty.  Thirty years ago, Lee Iacocca in taking the reins at Chrysler said “you can’t revive a car company by shipping crap.”

Everyone knows how that worked out.  Or, ask anyone with a Plymouth.

Today, you and Chrysler are in a race to the bottom of the reliability ratings and you won’t get there only because Ford’s touch screens and EcoBoost engines are worse than yours, Smartfortwo cars are still sold here, Fiat… great ads, not so great cars. Mini Coopers. Volkswagens.

Your appearance on Fortune Magazine’s CNN Channel said much more than all of the Blah blah about women on top.

You’re as Midwestern as wheat.  You’re an engineer in a job that should be held by an engineer.  But even more than that, it looks like you know what to do to get this monstrosity of a company back on track, a place it hasn’t been since before you were born.

Some specifics:  

1. Chevy.  When you drive down the Eight Mile and there’s a brand new Malibu coming in the opposite direction with only one headlight on, that has to be unacceptable.  Someone discontinued the Aveo, the worst bucket of welds you made since the Nova.  A welcome mercy killing.   The Volt: Bob Lutz is a great car guy and the technology he promoted will serve you well… some day.  Just not today. The Silverado: half your customers would rather have a Ford F150 but bought your version instead because they don’t like Bill Ford’s support of gay rights.  Others would rather have a Ram, but don’t trust Chrysler/Fiat.  These are not good reasons.

2. Buick: inconsistent. Some are pretty good, or even good. Others, not so much.  Harley Earl’s “doctor’s car” once was nice for people who wanted something like a Cadillac, but not a Cadillac.  These are grandpa cars.  But modern grandpas want simple. And touch screens are not ready for prime time.  Even worse, they’re a terrible distraction.

3. Cadillac. Gorgeous.  But too complicated. Mechanically unsound.  You can’t compete with Benz and Infiniti, Lexus, Audi, Porsche and BMW without being better than they are and you’re not.  Please fix.

4. GMC:  they’re just re-branded Chevys.  Why bother?

5. Dealers: do you really want this bunch of glad handing, plaid jacketed phonies as your link to your customers?

You don’t need focus groups, marketing bull sessions, the endless committees until you have mastered the basics of what we need in transportation:

Every car, every time, should:

1. Start when you tell it to.
2. Go when you tell it to
a. as fast as you tell it to
b. but no faster or more suddenly.
3. Stop when you tell it to.
4. Perform 1-4 thousands of times and for more than a decade per unit.

Ms. Barra, we know you know all this.  Please just remember we do too.

I’m Wes Richards.  My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to

© WJR 2013

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