Other Editorials

Does GM Need a Superhero?

Ed Lapham
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Automotive News / May 10, 2005

Edward Lapham is the executive editor of Automotive News. He writes commentaries for Automotive News online every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Kirk Kerkorian and Jerry York may or may not have a secret agenda for General Motors. But Kerkorian does have a copy of "The Plan for a Return to Greatness," sent to him by its author as soon as Kerkorian let the world know he wants to own about 9 percent of GM's stock.

OK, we don't know what Kerkorian has done with his very own copy of "The Plan for a Return to Greatness," but maybe he should take a look.

That author is 47-year-old Jim Dollinger, a second-generation car salesman and general manager of Suski Chevrolet/Buick in Birch Run, Mich., near Flint. Dollinger calls himself Buickman because he says he's been the best-selling Buick salesman in America for six consecutive years. He's also something of a shareholder gadfly who has attended every GM annual meeting since 1982.

Buickman isn't shy & or modest & or afraid to speak his mind.

He's an outspoken critic of GM's leadership and has a Web site to carry his message far and wide, GeneralWatch.com. For the record, he also was a critic of Ron Zarrella and initially a big fan of Bob Lutz, though that has faded.

Through the magic of e-mail, Buickman has blanketed much of the civilized world with portions of The Plan, which he has been developing since 1997. All he wants to do is get GM off the fire-sale, deal-of-the-month rollercoaster. And he'll probably tout his ideas at GM's annual meeting June 7 in Wilmington, Del.

He has sent what he says are the first 20 points of The Plan to GM execs, GM retirees, GM shareholders, GM dealers, suppliers, Wall Street analysts and any journalist who has written about GM in the last couple of years.

Buickman sends it with the stipulation that specific points of The Plan must not be revealed because The Plan is so potent he doesn't want it to fall into the hands of the competition.

That may sound goofy, but it ain't a bad plan. Some of it ought to work.

Several of his 20 points are no-brainers that wouldn't cost a dime to implement. Some would even save GM a couple of bucks here and there.

His ideas tend to be marketing, merchandising, selling or training techniques that have worked for him at the dealership level and which he believes can be extrapolated to work nationally for GM's brands.

There is nothing radical or magical about his recipe, although another dollop of new product wouldn't hurt.

So if The Plan is so hot, why won't GM's brass listen?

Well, some have, even though the Buickman's unflinching, testy attitude toward GM management hasn't made it easy to deal with him or even meet him halfway. But at least a few are prepared to hear him out.

There's another bump in the road. Buickman wants to save GM and restore the automaker's greatness, but he also wants to get paid for it, like a consultant. That includes an upfront fee.

That's probably reasonable. If The Plan rebuilds GM's market share, which nobody else has been able to do, why shouldn't he be rewarded?

Even if The Plan doesn't restore five points of market share, at least he has a plan, as the Buickman likes to point out.