Benz Use of Che Guevara Image Sparks Outrage

Mercedes backdrop with Che Guevara

Daimler-Benz Chairman Dieter Zetsche, if you haven’t heard, just last week blew off countless potential Mercedes fans during his presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show.

He was talking about the importance of new telecommunications technology, in particular the idea of car-sharing. “Some colleagues still think that car-sharing borders on communism, but if this is a revolution, then ‘viva la revolucion!’.” And behind him was the picture you see above, with Che wearing a three-pointed-star beret.

Not even close to amusing for the million or so Cuban-Americans who fled Castro or who now live in the U.S. and have the strongest feelings about the regime. Benz apologized on Thursday, but the media storm had already broken.

Right-wing bloggers in particular went crazy, and it would be hard to defend the company’s use of Che on any grounds, much less the totally far-fetched concept of car-sharing: “I’ll be driving a dark green S-Class; just hop in.”

I think Mercedes’ PR people went off the rails by thinking of Che not as some “sadistic racist butcher of humanity” but as a true revolutionary. Which indeed he was. But that is not how most people in the U.S. think of him.

Rebel lefties still wear Che T-shirts (at least in Latin America), but you would get shot if you did that in Miami; the Miami Herald’s story expressed some of its community’s outrage. Communism is still one of the most loaded words in its lexicon, and in that of most Americans. And the image of Che as butcher, not humanitarian turned revolutionary, is still the current one.

You simply cannot forgive the Benz PR people for the arrogance with which they assumed this image would fly. And as boss, Dr. Dieter is ultimately the man who should take the heat. Let us not forget he’s also the guy who helped put Daimler/Chrysler into the toilet.

We get a sense among some German manufacturers that their arrogance has become a form of noblesse oblige. They seem to think they can get away with saying anything. Now that the VW BlueSport concept that some of us hoped could become a true entry-level Porsche is dead, Porsche boss Matthias Müller remarked,

Between a 911 GT2 for €250.000 and a €750.000 918 Spyder is a gap of half a million euro. Why shouldn’t we come up with a car for €300.000 to €400.000? That would be immediately accepted as a Porsche.

Just what the world needs, Matt. Maybe we could use another Che, at least in the car world.

Does anyone have another explanation of why Mercedes-Benz would be dumb enough to use the Che picture?

—jgoods

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1 Comment

  1. Well, the German people were very impressed with Hitler because he made the trains run on time. Of course, many of them ended up in boxcars on said trains on their way to concentration camps. Main problem here folks, is that the ad people have only one goal in mind– to sell their campaign, and many of these companies are being flooded with ignorant young people who can tell you how many times Biggie Small was shot but would glaze over if you asked them “What was the shot heard ’round the world?”

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