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I did not attend the GM press conference as my colleague David Welch did. But I was sruck by two soundbites I heard from CEO G. Richard Wagoner Jr.
In one, he said, the cost cutting and borrowing moves were about “winning, not surviving.” In another soundbite, I heard him say the company was undertaking these moves—white collar cuts, suspension of medical benefits for white-collar retirees beyond age 65, suspension of dividend, asset sales—“to insure our survival.”
He sounds like a Presidential candidate today trying to comment on an event; like when Barack Obama said he supported the Washington DC handgun restriction, as well as the Supreme Court ruling that deemed it illegal. Or when John McCain said he was against the Bush tax cuts, until the GOP political base (re: Grover Norquist) told him he might want to rethink that position if he wanted their money and support. Now, he’s in favor of the cuts.
GM is walking a tricky line. Words like “insure our survival” can put customers off, not to mention investors. Just when GM needs consumers to notice its better-than-ever designs and quality, it has to follow the sales message with…”if we are still around.” I wonder if a PR person got into Wagoner’s ear to tell him to rephrase.