The Tom-Tom – Glenn Campbell

Autowriters.com editor Glenn Campbell invites any reader to submit his or her thoughts on this or any other topic pertaining to automotive journalism or the auto world in general.


I Told You So

Three outstanding candidates for the “I told you so” award are Dan Neil of the Los Angeles Times, Robert Farago of The Truth About Cars web site and Peter DeLorenzo, of The Auto Extremist web site. Each richly deserves consideration for predicting what General Motors is now admitting in supplications before Congress.

Autowriters.com Editor & Publisher Glenn Campbell

Glenn F. Campbell

Neil earned his shot at the award a few years back by stating in the midst of a new car review that the top executives of the company that made it should be fired. Farago easily qualifies with the steady drumbeat of the “GM Death Watch” dirge on his web site which had 222 verses at last look. And Delorenzo made the finals with his frequent rants making cogent pleas for rapid change at the car maker.

Neil got plenty of bang for his two-cents worth of opinion. GM withdrew its corporate advertising from the paper and strenuously sought similar action by all of its dealers in the market. When that brought nearly universal bad press, top executives took a jet to Los Angeles and reached a curious agreement with the Times: the advertising would return, Neil could continue to review cars as he saw them but, apparently, the Pulitzer prize-winning writer would not be able to draw any conclusions about the leadership of the company that made them. Later on in an Orwellian twist, GM’s PR vice president at the time was fired and renewed efforts to change the public’s perception of the company were undertaken.

Farago hammered on his obsession with GM’s fatal flaws to the extent that it became routine and its news and shock value diminished. He however, did not have the marketing clout of the Los Angeles Times and his reward was being ignored by GM and he and his writers deprived of press cars to drive. In fairness, Farago’s ability as one writer put it, “to never find a car he couldn’t diss” earned him similar treatment by other car makers.

Delorenzo comes to the awards podium from another tack. Armed with extensive insider contacts, a ton of experience in the marketing of cars and a serious understanding of how cars are made and perform, he has been the loyal opposition, making critiques intended to spur change in a company he obviously wanted to succeed. In return, he has been neither challenged nor shunned and certainly has been an outlet for GM workers thirsting for change. Possibly he was even used by GM to leak and thereby condition the public at a much slower pace to the inevitable blows that came rapidly once the company turned to Washington for help.

However, the “I Told You So” award would hardly be icing on Neil’s much frosted journalistic cake. For DeLorenzo, it would be a bitter reminder of what he did not want to happen, at least in this fashion. That leaves Farago as the recipient with full rights to say it as often as he chooses. Otherwise, as recounted, there seems little profit in being a prophet – one is proscribed, another denied and a third co-opted.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Does Jerry Flint’s 15 years of writing about General Motors put him above this award?

  2. Stuff and nonsense.

    I don’t think you can count soreheads about GM as being legit “I told you so” candidates. Most of the commentary about the industry in general and GM in particular is uninformed, biased and simply lacking in any insight. Many of the outspoken, in my view, are just getting their licks in for being told years ago that their probably ill-maintained and abused car was “out of warranty.”

    Auto CEOs carry tremendous burdens, responsible for the lives of thousands of persons with their everyday decisions, counseled by the smartest people money can buy, almost all the products of many years of climbing the ladder. It’s easy to criticize when you have no responsibility and no idea of what the choices were among alternative policies or products. For sure, people can and do make mistakes. But if CEOs are really any good, they also must somehow keep their egos out of the way, something the critics haven’t apparently learned. Detroit is in the midst of a Perfect Storm that NO ONE foresaw, with the possible exception of economist Peter Shiff, to whom no one listened.

    Funny, the newspaper biz is in the dumps now, not so clearly predicted, and indeed not so long ago the investors were fighting over them like so many starved dogs. Whom to blame???

    As for Flint, he’s one of the best, head and shoulders above the rest in knowledge and insight, but he also doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does–especially about the inner workings of car companies. No journalists do, unless they’ve been on both sides of the desk. And make that 50 years, not 15, for Flint writing about the industry.

  3. bookmike, your comment is one of those sad apologist screeds that dredges up several cliches, such as “a Perfect Storm that NO ONE foresaw,” which is not at all true. Shiff wasn’t the only person who saw this coming. The only question was how deep would the ditch run.

    CEOs are WELL PAID for the burdens they endure. They’re even given fat last paychecks when they fail. [Bob Nardelli at Home Depot.] What justification to stock holders can Rick Wagoner offer for not doing a better job three or six or nine years ago?

    And this just smacks of not really thinking this through:
    “Many of the outspoken, in my view, are just getting their licks in for being told years ago that their probably ill-maintained and abused car was “out of warranty.” ”

    I’ve owned only one GM car in my life and it wasn’t under warranty and didn’t fail in any way. Yet, I’m critical of the Detroiters on various points and laud them on others. However, the resistance, particularly at GM, to re-think the structure of the company regarding the number of brands and models is inexcusable. GM has yet to make a good small car. The Aveo is a Daiwoo, made in factory with serious quality issues.

    Jerry Flint’s advantage is having watched the Detroit portion of the industry up-close for many years. He knows the players and the culture. I would say he knows enough.

  4. “GM withdrew its corporate advertising from the paper and strenuously sought similar action by all of its dealers in the market.”

    Just to be clear, the GM ads that were withdrawn were brand/model specific, what’s called a “national” ad. To my knowledge, no GM dealer pulled their ads. There was a lot of misinformation at the time, including the laughable statement that GM was the Times’ largest advertiser. Not even close by linage or dollar amount.

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