Forget No. 1; go for profit GM must focus on quality, not corporate ego
Who's No. 1? Who cares.
The sigh of relief around Detroit when sales figures this week showed
General Motors is once again the world's largest automaker wasn't just
premature. It was dangerous.
Keep the champagne on ice. GM's 10,000-vehicle lead over Toyota is paper
thin, and focusing on sales leadership could distract it from what
really matters: getting back to making the best vehicles, not the most.
Either company could be No. 1 at the end of the year, and who's on top
is immaterial compared with who's best, and who's getting better.
Talking way off the record, GM executives have told me the shock of
slipping to second could do the company some good.
"There's still a few people here who don't realize just how serious our
situation is," one said. "They buy the idea of our being too big to
fail. If losing leadership after more than 70 years doesn't slap some
sense into them, nothing will."
GM has spent a generation in the United States chasing short-term sales
goals at the expense of long-term excellence. The result: a long, steady
decline in its share of the U.S. market and millions of alienated customers.
Toyota took the opposite tack, with long-term planning that lifted it
from a lightly regarded, little family owned company to No. 1 or No. 1a.
Who leads depends on what day you ask. Literally. GM's 10,000-vehicle
advantage through nine months amounts to less than one shift's
production for either company.
Unless GM or Toyota screws up, we're in for a long seesaw ride. They
could easily trade leadership back and forth for years.