A backstage pass that isn’t?

I’m a member of the Chrysler Community Advisory Board — a group of consumers that I thought had a sort of backstage pass to what the folks at the car company are thinking about in terms of design, quality, production and other components of the corporation. It’s been interesting to see what folks in the boardroom have in mind, to chat with designers and to hear what other consumers of the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep brand think about the vehicles and company proposals. Until now, it’s been a fun exercise that doesn’t take much of my time even if I never thought it would make much of a difference.

It turns out that, supposedly, what we say on the feedback polls matters, but it also turns out that the company isn’t really as dedicated to the CAB as some of us may have thought.

jeep owners manualCase in point: Chrysler owner’s manuals. Back in February, we were asked to vote on an idea that involved moving the bulk of the owner’s manuals to DVD while providing a much smaller printed version that contained only highlights. As I recall, the majority voted for the new concept. According to a press release issued on Sept. 21 this future idea is now reality.

Here’s the kicker: the Customer Advisory Board was notified of this change with an announcement that “Your Opinion Counts!” on Sept. 28. So, our opinion counts, I suppose, because we had a hand in helping the company make a decision. But the CAB doesn’t seem to matter that much because we found out by being sent a week-old press release.

Am I over-reacting? It just strikes me as odd that an invitation-only group that was formed to create a connection via social media between a company and its consumers is left out of the loop on a big decision. I’m not even asking for any kind of pre-announcement, because realistically you can’t expect all of us to keep something quiet. But would it have been that hard to tell us the same day the announcement was made?

I’m going to post a comment and see what others think and will let you know if I hear anything back from Chrysler. Any discussions we start are moderated by the the company, so I’m not sure if my fellow members will ever see it or I’ll just get a note back from Chrysler.

In the meantime, what do you think — either about the announcement of the owner’s manuals moving to DVD or how Chrysler handled the announcement to its Customer Advisory Board?


Banking their way to collapse

Despite being frustrated over the Detroit 3’s lack of business acumen that has led to their near demise in recent months, I’ve also been a staunch supporter of government assistance to bail them out. You’ll note I call them the Detroit 3, because they’ve driven themselves out of the Big 3 rankings. And you’ll note I call it a bailout, because it’s saving their asses and that’s a pretty good definition of bail out. Still, I’ve supported the initiative because the impact on this country of losing GM, Ford and Chrysler is nearly unimaginable.

But after reading an Associated Press article this morning, I can’t help but think of the old saying, “We have met the enemy, and they are us.”

The Jobs Bank has long been a subject of disbelief for folks who found out about it. Imagine getting “laid off” from work, but still reporting and still receiving most of your pay and all of your benefits. Not too shabby, eh? Kudos to the UAW for strong-arming the car manufacturers into putting that sweetheart of a deal into the contracts. But then Congress — the bastion of pork-barrel contracts — easily recognized this scheme and demanded something be done about it before handing over billions of dollars to the Detroit 3.

So, according to the article, Chrysler is leading the way by eliminating the Jobs Bank. Well, sort of…

Workers will continue to be paid at least a portion of their wages while the company negotiates the program with the UAW.

And of course…

Workers will continue to get medical, dental and life insurance benefits, but should apply for unemployment, the union official said.

And, don’t forget…

…the jobs bank changes are temporary until negotiations with the company are finished.

So, essentially, a program designed to take care of you when your job is eliminated has now been eliminated but there’s a program to take care of the program so the government will take care of the companies so they aren’t eliminated.

It seems to me the only thing that’s been eliminated lately here is common sense.

I don’t profess to know the ins and outs of working in a car factory nor to fully understand all the nuances of labor contracts. I also am not writing this post to suggest that I could run a gargantuan international company. I’m just a guy viewing all of this from my location in a little place I like to call “reality.” And from what I am seeing, the Detroit 3 and their union brethren are banking their way to collapse.

Hey, Big 3, reality is 90 percent perception

There’s been a lot of discussion everywhere I’ve gone in the past couple of weeks about “the Big 3” automakers, which many in the media are now more correctly referring to as “the Detroit 3.” People are frustrated and angry at the mistakes of the past by these corporate behemoths but they are more scared and anxious about what happens if one or more of them fails.

There are many who have misconceptions about what’s going on inside the walls of the automakers’ headquarters, what happens inside the production plants and about the engineering and quality of American cars versus their foreign competitors.

Each of these areas is a victim of the concept that reality is 90 percent perception. What people believe about something, what they have heard from others and what they see in the media defines what they “know.”

In the long run, I think most people would agree the federal government should do something to help GM, Ford and Chrysler stay afloat and most people can live with some kind of bridge loan (even though $25 billion is an unfathomable amount to most of them).

That also is why, however, I’m amazed at the audacity of the auto companies’ CEOs, flying on private corporate jets to Washington, D.C. to plead to Congress for their bailout. Chalk that one up for the “What the hell were they thinking?” chapter in any new public relations textbook.

A quick Google search of “big 3 and corporate jets” lays out pretty well the news stories, the blog entries and the rants against the corporate leaders who each took, reportedly, $20,000 trips to D.C. to tell Congress their companies are broke and must be bailed out.

When asked to explain themselves, the companies claimed “security” as the primary reason their CEOs couldn’t fly commercial airlines. They also refused to disclose information about the types of private planes used or who was on them.

Another chapter in the next great PR textbook should use that example, too. The chapter can be called, “Hey, spokesperson, how stupid do you think your audience is?”

At the same time the CEOs were swooping down on Washington, the companies were ramping up their public relations machines. They’ve purchased massive ads in newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, commissioned public opinion polls and bought banner ads on Web sites. They also have put out a call for help to the public on their Web sites, claiming times are tough and taxpayer help is desperately needed.

OK, one more textbook chapter the automakers need to read: “The View from Down Here: How a Chevy driver feels about corporate jet travel.”