In Tampa, GM plays underdog role well amid cutthroat competition
Wake up and good morning. General Motors landed in force in Tampa this week by showing off its 2010 line of Camaros as part of the "new" reincarnation of GM and to celebrate the debut of the Camaro-laden Transformers sequel movie opening today. Here's the column I wrote in the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday's splashy moves in Tampa by GM. And here's the St. Pete Times movie critic's review -- but don't click here if you want to see the movie. It's not a pretty review.
Full disclosure. I have very mixed emotions about writing about the debut of the Camaro and GM's new underdog persona as a Chapter 11 bankrupt company desperately seeking a strategy to survive and prosper. As a columnist, I wrote a piece way back in 2001 defending GM's decision at the time to stop making the Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird as sports cars that had seen their day in the sun. That column generated well in excess of 1,000 protest (that's a polite way to describe it) e-mails. Funny how the response was all about me and my foolishness and not about GM's actual decision to stop making the vehicles after 2002. (Ieven got a "Dear Moron" e-mail last month about the '01 column. I guess someone out there was late to the Internet.) It was a great lesson for me in the depth of muscle car loyalty out there in the country, even as Camaro sales back then were plummeting. Go figure.
And obviously GM, too, got the message by opting to bring back the Camaro, even as the company decided to call it quits on the entire Pontiac brand.
I've added these two photos from Tuesday's Camaro-palooza in Tampa (both photos shot by Kathleen Flynn of the St. Petersburg Times) because they personalize GM's plight. The top shot shows two GM designers who helped bring back the Camaro. Jeff Perkins (leaning on the yellow Camaro fender, and in second photo in blue shirt) re-energized the Camaro interior with a simplified dashboard and touches like "Inferno Orange" (see second photo) colors on the seats. Jeff's Dad also was a GM designer.
The other designer (top picture, yellow Camaro, in background) is Humberto Ortiz, a whiz kid GM found in its Mexico business and brought to Michigan to spearhead the Camaro restyling. Humberto spoke Monday evening to the Latin Chamber of Commerce in Tampa where a surprising number attendees brought their children (apparently all Transformer movie fans). Humberto is a design-sketching maniac, so a long line of kids with parents formed after he spoke to have Humberto quick-draw some cars on any available scrap of paper. Pretty cool.
So what's the point of all this hoopla? Chrysler is becoming an arm of Italy's Fiat. GM's selling its Saturn line to auto baron Roger Penske who plans a revival big on electric vehicles. The feds are lending billions to Ford, Nissan (a Japan auto maker, go figure) and Tesla Motorsto goose fuel efficient car manufacturing in America. Exxon Mobil just teamed up with a Canadian battery maker to produce battery-driven cars called Maya 300s. GM, now 24 days into bankruptcy, absolutely must keep waving its Hey Look At Me flag to consumers just to get their attention. After that, it's up to the company to (1) make attractive, fuel-sipping vehicles people actually want, (2) produce quality vehicles priced with a sense of real value and (3) stop resting on yesteryear models. I'm cheering for GM's Great Rebound but it's gonna get bloody out there in the auto wars of the coming years.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist