General Motors (GM) CEO Rick Wagoner says the criticism that GM, Ford, and Chrysler have once again gotten caught building gas-guzzling land yachts that no one wants is not fair–because Toyota builds them, too.
“Is it the US manufacturers who are stupid? I don’t think so,” Mr Wagoner said in an interview with the Financial Times.
He then goes on to note that Toyota began making its honking Tundra pickups five minutes before the oil price spiked.
There’s some interesting logic at work here. Wagoner appears to believe that, because Toyota makes land yachts, too, GM is not responsible for its current plight. “The consumer makes the call here,” he says. “We are reacting.”
Good companies don’t react. They lead. The American car industry went through a re-run of today’s crisis in the 1970s and 1980s and got burned then, too. After that experience, GM, Ford, and Chrysler should have built the volatility of oil prices into their DNA and taken the lead on developing electric and hybrid cars. Instead, once again, it was Toyota and other international car makers who innovated and were thus ready when the latest oil crisis hit.
The job of good managers is not just to give consumers what they want today. It is to be ready to give them what they want tomorrow, without just “reacting.” The fact that Toyota wanted to sell more trucks when Americans wanted them doesn’t make GM any less stupid for putting so many of its eggs in the gas-hog basket.