Why GM’s CEO should be fired

Fact: folks living in “geeky” San Francisco Bay Area buy more electric and hybrid cars than elsewhere in the world.
Fact: the “geeky” economy in San Francisco Bay Area startups is booming, much higher than state or national averages. IE, geeks have more money to spend on cars than people elsewhere in USA (which is borne out by looking at the cars on the road — California’s roads have more “expensive” cars, like the Chevy Volt is).
Fact: General Motors has a research division located in “geeky” Palo Alto (right next to the original “geeky” Frys).
Fact: every other car company CEO knows that what differentiates cars today is GEEKY FEATURES +not+ engine, transmission, etc. (see the video of Nissan’s CEO below).
Fact: the Toyota Prius has life-saving features like radar-based crash preparation and better headlights than Chevy Volt (which doesn’t yet have those features, despite being more expensive than the Toyota Prius).

So, why should GM’s CEO, Daniel Akerson, be fired? Because he just denigrated his competition’s car by calling it “geeky.”

Now I know why the Chevy Volt has no driver assist features available. The CEO doesn’t care about technology and doesn’t care about the very customers who could help his company attain profitability. He should be fired.

By the way, my Toyota Prius is the best car I’ve owned. It gets more than 40mpg, even with my lead foot. Something most other American cars have yet to attain. All while having a better stereo, great blue-tooth audio integration so my iPhone plays music well without cords (stereo even), great display screens, and while having features like self-parking, a camera that both keeps me inside the lane and warns me if I’m getting out of one (say, if I’m falling asleep, which could save my life), and radar that makes my cruise control a LOT better than that in the Chevy Volt. Not to mention my Prius has LED headlights that are nicer on the dark road I drive home on every evening.

But the Chevy Volt has slightly more acceleration.

Now I know why the Chevy Volt has more acceleration but fewer features that could save my life. That alone tells me why GM’s CEO should be fired. But trying to call his potential Silicon Valley customers lame is the real reason he should be fired. Any CEO that tries to call customers lame should immediately be shown the door.

Compare this to Carlos Ghosn, Chairman & CEO, Renault S.A. & Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. who celebrated geeks last week in his speech at LeWeb. I interviewed him after his speech (in which he showed off a prototype “geeky” car that even had an iPad holder). Listen to how he talks, he’s a great CEO for the “geeky” age. Why? He knows who has the money to buy his high-end electric cars: geeks. Compare the Nissan and GM CEOs and you can tell instantly that one should be shown the door.

Carlos’ LeWeb speech is here:

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

23 thoughts on “Why GM’s CEO should be fired

  1. Really touchy, pointless & petulant whining, but then what else is a tech-blog for? Geeky features have a draw in a small niche, not in the mainstream, now if you can take the geeky and make it easy-to-use and just work, then might have something, but that’s a science few achieve, well Apple if you take the downsides with it, expensive and cultic, But a smallish-toaster-oven-looking odd-box, that doubles as a car, ain’t going to grab the American Car Culture core.

    PS – MySpace was in trouble day zero. It wasn’t even really social networking, it was bad GeoCities 1995-html-look spam-opt in, caught on with the hyperactive fickle youth culture for a bit, but not for long. Facebook at least allowed more daily-life-expression, but then again they are preying on the games-addict-psychological manipulation as their mainstay.

  2. Some days I think I could run GM better than him. In fact, where do I nominate myself?

    But seriously… I’d had American cars up until my current one. (Which I bought in 2006 when my Saturn was totaled in a really freak accident.) Why’d I run away? Simple. At the time, I looked and couldn’t find one that was 1) cheap enough for me to afford and 2) didn’t suck.

    Toyota had just released the Yaris, and while it’s the bare-bones Toyota, (I seriously have the base model) it’s still BETTER than any of the American cars I looked at.

  3. To make the car of tomorrow is different in the car biz, it generally takes about 5 years from start to showroom, throw in a few hundred million to over a billion in R&D along the way and you’ve got what it takes to bring anything to market in the Car business. The Volt isn’t GM’s only entrance into the hybrid market.

    They’ve had something in the market since the 1990′s, they have other Hybrid cars and even full size hybrid trucks. The Corvette has been around and evolving for close to 60 years and continues to inspire kids to want one when they grow up, the Ford F-150 has been around just as long or longer and it’s the best selling vehicle in the country and it’s not a hybrid, the Mustang , 46 years old and continues to appeal to people of all types.

    All of these cars and trucks of course evolve to take advantage of all the advancements in technology, but saying the Prius is the future is way off base, the Prius will contribute in some way to Toyota but eventually it will lose its appeal and Toyota will discontinue it and replace with a new model and name.

    The Prius and it’s ilk are niche products that genrally have limited shelf lives, the Volt will probably meet the same fate eventually.

  4. I think you got carlos ghosn’s message completely wrong. What makes his speech disruptive is not the concept of adding an ipad, or making a car more attractive to the geeks in palo alto.

    What makes his idea disruptive is the fact that they embrace the car as a platform. It’s openness could empower geeks and technicians build amazing stuff for end consumers. Facebook is not geeky because it has marketed itself as a development platform.

    I am still waiting for photo-camera makers to do the same thing.

    There are basic human needs: transportation, information consumption, capturing memories, communication, etc. to which “the platform concept” can change their respective industries!

  5. Great point Robert, personally I think other than the economic benefit GM should never have been saved – or that our it should have been sold to Foreign managers. GM managers never seem to learn.

    On the other hand I’d love to hear your opinion on this: http://hubpages.com/hub/Prius The total cost of environmental cars to MAKE on the environment?

  6. While I agree with much of what you say I do have one counter arguement. Making a car that primarly appeals to Silicon Valley is not the way to make a profitable company. As much as the twitter and the like makes it look like Silicon Valley is representative of America it isn’t. There are a lot of people in this country and this world that could care less about the geek cred of a car, and those are the people chevy needs to reach, not directly compete for the same customers the Prius has already captured.

    1. Absolutely wrong. Why? Because you never get profitable by aiming where people are today. You get profitable by aiming where they will be tomorrow. Don’t believe me? Ask the MySpace team. They are in real trouble because they took your advice.

      1. You cannot compare the auto industry with the social media industry. To make your argument you need to cite an equivalent example. How long have car makers tried to shove electric cars down our throats and what are their sales compared to other cars? The average car buyer doesn’t care about nerd features. They care about price, value, mpg, and safety. Nerd features are not going to be a deal breaker for these cars…MPG’s are.

  7. That’s absolutely false. At highway speeds I get 45 mpg in the Prius. The Boxer doesn’t get that much. In fact, my friends who have one say it gets around 25mpg and the government rates it at 29 mpg.

    As far as damage to environment, all car companies are trying to build electric battery-focused cars. Like Chevy is. The Chevy Volt has many times more batteries than my Prius has (which is how the Volt goes about 40 miles on just electricity — my Prius can’t even go two miles on just electricity and that’s if I drove it at 15mph or less).

  8. Interesting. The Prius has the most aerodynamic design of any mass-produced car on the road. I don’t find it ugly. I find it has innovative design no one else has.

  9. Still, you’re talking about career managers. They know a bit of their industriy, but they don’t build or develop anything the company sells. On the other hand comparing any automotive exec with Carlos Gosn couldn’t make any of them look good. He’s an odd exception in the current industry, leading two very different car brands (Renault and Nissan), while almost single handedly transforming the way a japanese corporation had worked for decades.

    But The Volt, no matter how innovative for a mass market, is still a Chevrolet. And excuse my european view on this: Chevrolet isn’t exactly a brand that comes to my mind when thinking about automotive innovation and high tech features. It’s about simple, cheap cars, that might also be reliable. So the lack of latest technology head lights or geeky features doesn’t surprise me from the brand side, but it does take away some of the marketing edge the car could have as a modern serial hybrid.

    1. Exactly. But the Volt has a chance of building a good world-wide image BECAUSE it is geeky. It’s well engineered and GM’s CEO should have played up that engineering instead of trying to denigrate a competitor who kicked his ass in the marketplace. Not to mention that geeky = good.

      Imagine if Rackspace’s CEO told the press that its competitor was geekier. He’d be shown the door before the pixels on that blog hit Google.

    2. Sorry but I don’t consider cars like the Volt as nice as it is to be cars to be excited about, I’m not a fan of Toyota but they do make some good cars, The Prius just isn’t exciting but it’s typically the kind of car a non car guy or geek might pick.

      GM does have exciting cars like the Corvette in all forms from base to the Z06/ZR1 and they have High Intensity Discharge Headlights all over their model lines the Cadillac V series with its 560 + horsepower, GM has plenty of passionate engineers and executives in it’s ranks and exciting cars that reflect this.

      GM was first to market with advanced yaw control and stability systems early to market before Toyota ever did.

      It just doesn’t happen to be on the Volt at this moment, as for car guys, I don’t consider Carlos Gosn to be the last word in a car guys, Renault doesn’t have any kind of sterling reputation here.

      GM no longer has the kind of costs and pension problems from the past thanks to it reorganization and the Unions have all given massive concessions to get costs into line.

      The Prius is a good car but it doesn’t pay the bills at Toyota.

  10. Um, the original “geeky” Frys was @ 541 Lakeside Drive in Sunnyvale, about a mile from current (3rd) store. Fyi, the present store is built on the old Singer-Link site, which before that was a K-Mart. Know thy Silicon Valley history! 10 points for knowing the 2nd Sunnyvale site (which was midway between the 1st & 3rd locations).

    1. Yikes. I always thought the Palo Alto store was the first one. Funny enough, John Fry gave me a tour around the new store on the first day it was open (and told me it was Fry’s first million-dollar day).

  11. Hi Robert, I think it’s possible here that GM CEO Akerson was commenting on his person opinion of the “look” of the Prius. Clearly, he wouldn’t be caught dead in one of them. Clearly, his company is competing directly with them (more likely about to loose that competition IMHO). But, I consider this comment:

    “We commonly refer to the geek-mobile as the Prius. And I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Prius,” he said. Speaking of the Volt, he added, “This actually looks good.”

    It does not appear as if he is intent on offending Geeks. That’s my two cents.

    Also, it seems I cannot find video or a transcript of this speech. Knowing how this quote came about in the context of his entire speech would be useful. It was delivered to the Economic Club of Washington, DC on December 10th.

    Kevin

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