Steve Jobs Is Not Dead; Apples Are Not Oranges

August 29th, 2011

Hyundai Equus iPad owner's manual

With Steve Jobs’s news that he’s stepping down as Apple CEO, we have seen a flood of articles that read very much like obituaries: praise to the skies, lists of Apple Corp.’s grandiose accomplishments, comparing Jobs to Edison and Henry Ford.

It’s as if they came to bury Caesar and ended up praising him. This began even before Jobs’s announcement. GM’s marketing chief Joel Ewanick pronounced at the company’s Global Busness Conference:

Our direct competitors are Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Ford; however in the eyes of consumers, it’s time for Chevrolet to clearly differentiate our brand and align closer to the world’s true global brands like Apple.

By which Ewanick presumed to explain, “We’re going to become one of the most consumer-centric brands in the world.”

Joel got rightly chewed out by some for these dumb remarks, and it would have been smart for GM to issue some kind of retraction or follow-on explanation.

Joel Ewanick with VoltHere are some of the very obvious differences between the two companies.

1. Apple started as a computer business; it’s now a media business. It differentiated itself from the competition by developing products created through Steve Jobs’s intense personal vision that made people salivate. Joel Ewanick (right) may want to develop this kind of consumer response, but General Motors still makes and will continue to make commodity products. Few people salivate over the Malibu.

2. Apple is about control—from Jobs’s vision through manufacturing on down through licensing and distribution. An Apple store is about as different from a Chevy store as you can imagine. Car dealers are independent people, and they are selling a range of products that has to appeal to widely diverse buyers.

3. Jobs is and has been a bully and a despot in his business, always pushing for super-high markups and accumulating enormous piles of cash. He is also a fabulous marketer (iPod, etc.), business-buyer (Pixar) and media revolutionary (transforming the music business with iTunes). Apple’s success is owing to his uncanny ability to capitalize on these things.

The car biz and GM could no more reproduce Apple’s success than Hewlett-Packard could. When Ewanick was at Hyundai, they put the Equus owner’s manual on an iPad (photo at top of story). This was touted as a genius idea but has since been replaced by a paper version.

The guy must still have Apple fantasies.

Detroit is not Silicon Valley, and the road ahead for GM and Chevrolet will not depend on how well it emulates Apple. It will depend on fresh thinking about new products in a transforming global marketplace.

Was Joel Ewanick’s Apple comment justified? Should GM’s culture become like Apple’s?

—jgoods

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  1. jgoods
    August 30th, 2011 at 12:57 | #1

    @ Randy
    You are not addressing the points I made about comparing Apple to GM. So your comparison is faulty on several counts, not least of which is marketing. As I suggested in point 2, GM produces commodities that people need; Apple produces finely engineered baubles that people want.

    Further, Apple limits its product lines to four or five at most and sticks rigidly at developing them, doing that with great success, by the way. Of course GM has to differentiate its brand(s) from its competition, but to “align” in any way with what Apple does is ridiculous. Ewanick means he would like the patina of Apple’s success. And being “consumer-centric” is one of the oldest clichés in marketing.

    You have said before that “almost everything Chevy produces is a different-sized Malibu copy.” I don’t think so, and their marketing and sales have shown some real product differentiation. Akerson wants and needs to reduce the number of platforms and production variables but create “innovative, interesting vehicles,” as you say, while doing that, which ain’t easy.

    Brand management has to do with maintaining and improving the brand; it’s really marketing the brand. You are talking about brand equity re the Malibu and how it can be lost by dispersing focus on the product throughout the line. The real question is whether GM is stupid enough even to think about the kind of brand management Apple does, or get smart enough to invent and prove out its own.

  2. Randy
    August 30th, 2011 at 07:29 | #2

    It’s nice to see one of the under-endowed (in a business sense) managers at Chevy state what I’ve said here already several times:
    “Our direct competitors are Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and Ford; however in the eyes of consumers, it’s time for Chevrolet to clearly differentiate our brand and align closer to the world’s true global brands like Apple.

    By which Ewanick presumed to explain, “We’re going to become one of the most consumer-centric brands in the world.”

    Brand management is why almost everything Chevy produces is a different-sized Malibu copy. That’s OK until the public gets tired of the design and then Chevy will have nothing that sells. In a tragic sense, it’s a dodge (pun intended) that lazy car execs use to NOT have to make decisions about picking new styling packages and taking some risk. With each new model, Chevy could be adding to a fleet of innovative, interesting vehicles with fresh styling, and instead they’ve gone back to GM’s cookie cutter days under the lazy flag of brand management. And as you can see, GM still attracts some very arrogant and egotistical managers.

  3. panayoti
    August 29th, 2011 at 15:11 | #3

    Only a dreamer like you Senor could draw this parallel. And its a good one! The short answer is an apple is not an orange and any parallel that GM would try to sell cars to an already increasingly wise public is sure to fail. He would do better by emulating John Krafcik of Hyundai who is eating everyones lunch and putting the fear of God into every automaker, Asian, European and American.

  1. September 1st, 2011 at 13:51 | #1
  2. October 11th, 2011 at 05:01 | #2