Check out this email I received from the job site, The Ladders.com. As you can see, a “Global Fortune 500 Company” is hiring “Vice President/GM online web based business initiative” in seven different locales. I must have been groggy when I read it, as I was convinced that “GM” was “General Motors.” Believe it or not, that became fodder for a blog post.
I simply don’t understand why none of the struggling car companies has figured out how to truly integrate the web into their business yet. Sure, some allow you to design cars online and order them, like BMW. But mostly they’re still stuck in a world of large inventories and lots of dealer overhead. And now with Toyota (arguably the world’s most successful auto manufacturer) dealing with a major recall that will likely hurt sales for years, there is a large hissing sound coming from the hole in the market waiting to be filled.
GM can do it, which is why I fantasized that these jobs were at GM. You see, for years I’ve considered what I would do if I were in senior management of a failing auto manufacturer (ok, maybe not) and no secret, I believe the web is at the core of what I consider to be a much needed transformation.
I understand a wee bit about the business model, and if GM were to transform as radically as I’m about to suggest, sadly, many current dealerships may go under. Sad yes, but no different than what has already happened to the Big 3 (a phrase that used to really mean something.)
GM still has a helluva stable of brands with strong sub-brands. GMC, Chevy, Cadillac- there are consumers who know and love these brands and advocate for them on a regular basis. With awareness, strong brand, history, and some nostalgia for the brand on their side, plus a little needed loving care on the product side, there is no reason why GM can’t become an icon once again.
Well, not unless you believe that transformation means radically changing the model. And I do. So here goes.
In my fantasyland, there can be more dealers because they will not actually stock many cars. They will be garages (high margin businesses) that will now work on any make or model car within reason. (You can pretty much guarantee that Mr. Goodwrench will do a great job and is worth a little more than that guy in the greasy garage at the corner.)
Dealerships will be a bastion of heritage and brand, with museum-like displays that remind customers of the past. They will host classic car shows, and have classic GM cars like the 55 Vette on display at all times. The showroom will be a place where car buyers, car LOVERS would WANT to hang out – with comfortable environments, lots of car books and magazines, coffee, soda, ice cream and free popcorn for the kiddies. Lots of Matchbox cars (GM models only, of course) to play with (and buy) too. Car movies and cartoons constantly play on an array of the biggest, baddest HD-LCD monitors with surround sound systems, and if movies aren’t your pleasure, there’s always a race on, or an episode of Top Gear.
There will be no Chevy or Caddy dealers in this model. There will be GM dealers selling all brands. Blasphemous I know, but the business as it stands no longer scales, so why would you want to continue to support it as such?
So now that we’ve established the environment required to engage customers, the car buying experience has to change as well. With very few cars on the lot, the focus turns to the web – where the model really begins to sing. Of course, you’d never need to set foot into a dealership for the web-based piece of the model. But that’s ok, for on a per-customer basis, GM will spend less on you than on those in the showroom – so go ahead and buy from home!
The web presence will have a core offering of four key sales components . One, the completely custom, “build your own” vehicle which you can have delivered to your HOME and which will cost A LOT. Next are base models and a small number of pre-packaged options – not so different than what you’d find on the lot now. These can be purchased at “x” price, will have additional add-ons available, and get delivered to the dealer. The third piece are extra-special versions of each model and classic cars (like that 55 Vette) that are available for AUCTION. These can be delivered to the home (for an extra fee) OR to the dealer at no additional charge. The final piece are close-outs where leftover inventory, particularly at year-end, gets sold. This will likely have an auction component as well if a car is just not moving.
In the dealership, there are sharp guys and gals – car lovers every one – who have been taken through extra special training on the lore of GM and its brands. They will all own stock in the company and as such, will be anxious to see their investments grow and to actively participate in GM’s return to it’s fabled past.
These appealing, confident, yet seemingly laid back hot-shots are there to excite, entertain, and assist prospects as they sit at one of the many iMacs in the showroom. This where the buying experience comes to its apex.
The “GM Customer Advocate” is there to answer questions, help with the site, offer test drives, and of course, “assist” with add-ons and financing. (No more going into that dreaded back office where they try to sell you 23 other services before you sign.) Warranties should be the best in the business and customers will become part of the GM “family” via social networks, e-mail, and an array of digital and real life marketing tools (such as the wonderful events Saturn used to hold for owners.)
Truth be told, I know little about the car business and I probably know less about GM. What I do know is the power of brand, the power of the web, and the power of change and IMHO, these are the three elements GM should focus on if they want to not only survive – but thrive.
Hm, that was fun. I may tackle airlines next.