A friend and former colleague refers to me as "the most cynical man I know." In some respects, he's right—especially when it comes to the auto industry and its various players. I find it difficult to take seriously the hype that permeates most every announcement, and suggests that Company X is the best/most responsible/most fun/most dynamic car maker on the face of the planet. Which we all know is an exaggeration if not an outright lie.
The sad truth is most company executives believe this is what they must say in order to get the attention of the media, and reassure the buying public that Company X is a good corporate citizen that builds quality vehicles and is innovative to boot. It's the response of a corporate culture that places the need to be liked above the need to be competent. However, not every vehicle out there is a barn-burner. Many are just transportation devices, and their fans are happy to buy a new X-mobile every couple of years for the simple reason that they're reliable. Some vehicle makers—Honda and Toyota come to mind—have made a darn good living out of making quality cars and trucks, and managed to create an aura of near-invincibility. Plus, it didn't hurt that they were well-placed to profit from the dissatisfaction and disillusionment of American car buyers at exactly the right moment in history. Since the 1970s it's been tough to sell the American dream to car buyers, especially since the American car companies can't define that dream.
This opened the door for the hype machine to replace substance with style, a fact helped by the increasing lack of substance and relevance in American vehicles. Shouting how your car, to give but one example, is "every bit as good as the Accord or Camry" doesn't help erase the impression that you, Mr. Corporate Executive, are a neglected child trying to prove his worth. Especially when a peek at the grades from your teachers show a stunning lack of original thought, and more than a few instances of outright copying.
I know it's a tough world and that every roll of the dice could bring disaster given the money necessary to bring a new vehicle to market. But that's no excuse for playing it safe. Nor is it an excuse for failing to weed out the dead wood, collapse the structure, or—Dear God!—fix the corporate structure that keeps running the ship aground. Unfortunately, no one wants to rock the boat enough to admit the culture that put them in power is corrupt and a new one is necessary to refocus the enterprise and reward those who actually do the work, not just those who take credit for it.
And so the vertiginous feeling of all this spin accelerates as though powered by the hot air of the media machine. Just once I'd like to see a manufacturer step off this merry-go-round and present its product clearly, concisely, and with a minimum of hyperbole. Don't tell me what you want me to think, tell me what I need to know. And if we don't agree, understand that I'm not here to be your friend, but to report accurately what I see and, occasionally, what I believe. Then take the money that you save by excising the elaborate productions and invest it in your people, processes, and products. It will do more for your bottom line than any amount of media re-education.