No. 1018
October 16, 2019

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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The Autoextremist - Rants



By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. Now that GM’s long national nightmare is over, with the company finally naming a real live Chief Marketing Officer for the first time in seven years, the stack of tasks facing Deborah Wahl is high. Eminently qualified in her expanded role after serving in the same capacity at Cadillac for the past eighteen months, and with many high-caliber stints in marketing before arriving at GM, Ms. Wahl brings years of ultra-quality experience to GM’s marketing function. In fact, she is the most qualified to serve in that role of any of the auto manufacturers, particularly here in Detroit.

But before we get into those tasks facing Ms. Wahl, it might help to go back and see how one of the largest corporations in the world did without a Chief Marketing Officer for seven years. In order to do that, we have to revisit the ugly Reign of Terror of GM’s previous CEO, Dan “Captain Queeg” Akerson, a card-carrying graduate of Unctuous Prick University who was appointed GM Chairman for simply raising his hand at a pivotal board meeting. 

Thus, began one of the most tumultuous periods in GM history, with Akerson becoming an instant expert on the car business after a few meetings, while wreaking havoc and promulgating chaos everywhere he went. Akerson’s specialty was insulting and belittling executives in front of their peers (and behind their backs), which endeared him to exactly no one. He also openly held contempt for the industry and everyone in it, often bragging to his Washington, D.C., cohorts about his trying stint in the backwater of corporate America while having to work with lesser levels of intelligence. In short, he was the most loathsome individual ever to be given the reins of GM, and that’s saying something considering some of the truly bad CEOs over the previous decades.

With our memories refreshed, this was the time when Joel Ewanick served as CMO. Joel made the mistake of having one too many articles written about him in the Wall Street Journal, and if there was one thing that Akerson despised more than anything else, it was when any of his executives were interviewed or written about in the press. Maybe despised isn’t a strong enough word here, it made Akerson red-faced, spitting enraged. How dare anyone upstage The King?

It was around this time that Ewanick was tasked with establishing Chevrolet as a global brand. And what did Ewanick come up with as a way of doing that? Having Chevrolet sponsor the Manchester United soccer club, one of the most recognized sports teams in the world. Seems logical, no? So Ewanick made the deal, but along the way the idea of making Chevrolet a global brand fell by the wayside when GM reduced its footprint in Europe, which often happens with the vagaries of corporate decision making, especially at GM, and all of a sudden the big money ($560 million for five years) sponsorship of Manchester United made zero sense. Except that the deal had been signed, sealed and delivered.

It was then that Akerson, ably abetted by then chief counsel of GM legal (who shall remain nameless although who is equally loathsome), orchestrated Ewanick’s removal by accumulating a list of invented transgressions, including one that accused Ewanick of getting a “cut” of the Man U. deal. Except none of it was true. Akerson got his way of course, because no one had the balls to question The King, and Ewanick was sent packing. Immediately after the dismissal, Akerson ranted and raved to his subordinates that there would be “No more rock star CMOs at GM!” Translation? There would be no more appearances by a CMO – or any other executive at GM for that matter – in the media, because that was reserved for Captain Queeg himself. And then, shortly afterward, “No more rock star CMOs at GM” quickly transitioned to “No more CMOs, period” and GM flailed about without a Chief Marketing Officer for seven interminable years.

So, here we are. With the vestiges of Akerson’s Reign of Terror finally purged from the GM system, the newly enlightened management of GM has finally seen fit to address the Black Hole of GM marketing that has plagued the company for years with the promotion of Deborah Wahl to Chief Marketing Officer. As I wrote at the beginning of this column and in last week’s “On the Table,” Wahl is exceedingly smart and one of the industry’s best and the brightest, and she’s a brilliant choice for the role. But she has a tall order to gain control of GM’s marketing function, because that function has been rudderless and devalued for so long that it’s downright criminal. In fact, there are some players within the GM marketing troops who have been operating within their self-created fiefdoms for so long that it has been like the Wild West, with little accountability thrown in for good measure.

Nowhere is that more apparent than at Chevrolet. Still one of this industry’s top brands, and in the throes of a renewed product offensive, no one has done less with more than the so-called marketers at Chevrolet. What was once a beacon for captivating and iconic advertising campaigns like “See the USA in Your Chevrolet,” “Baseball Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet,” “The Heartbeat of a America,” and "Like A Rock” for Chevy truck, Chevrolet advertising has been reduced to an excruciating celebration of the mundane. 

Chevrolet’s current advertising - the soulless and empty call to action “Find New Roads” campaign – is punctuated by some of the most grating and annoying advertising this business has ever seen. The campaign’s “real people” spots, which have been regularly skewed on YouTube and other social media outlets, are nothing more than glorified dealer spots that are taken to an egregiously offensive level. 

I would recommend that Ms. Wahl start with Chevrolet first, because righting that brand’s marketing is by far GM’s most pressing need. The marketers there seem to be the most insular and the most convinced that they got it goin’ on, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. So, she will have her work cut out for her, that’s for sure.

That doesn’t mean that the other divisions don’t need attention too. The new Cadillac campaign for the XT6 shows real life for the brand, but they have to keep the marketing momentum going, because the upcoming products are too good and deserve the proper strategy and presentation. Buick? Not so much. The music in the Buick spots is relentlessly annoying, and unfortunately, that insipid jingle is the only thing memorable about them. And GMC is present and accounted for, but after the tailgate that does tricks, then what?

Deborah Wahl is the right person to lead GM Marketing, I just hope she is given the proper resources and the unwavering support by upper management to do the job.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.