The New GM Is No Longer the "Leaner" GM?


I've complained about this before, it hardly fazes me any more when the media say that GM is going to be “leaner” in the future. Of course, Lean Thinkers realize they mean “smaller” not “more lean” in the sense of the Toyota Production System approach.

USA Today was the latest, in discussing GM coming out of bankruptcy:

New beginning: A smaller, leaner GM

Right in the headline. Argh.

So will GM become more customer focused? Have more flexible factories? Have better quality? Better employee relations?

Well, we'll see… but they may be considering a superficial, pandering change — their logo:

It will have the same headquarters and many of the same top executives. GM's logo remains a blue square with silver letters — although a change to green is on the table, to reflect a new environmental focus.
A green logo? Barf.

Image from the Auto Observer blog.

The “green” crowd has a term similar to “LAME” (which can mean “Lean as Misguidedly Explained”) – they call this sort of thing “greenwashing.” Does GM think, “Hey, American public, why don't you love us? Don't you know we're green? We changed our logo!!!!” This newer article has denials from GM about the logo change.

More from the article:

The company will hold the best assets of Old GM.

Well, except for NUMMI.

“Today marks the beginning of what will be a new company, a New GM, dedicated to building the very best cars and trucks, highly fuel-efficient, world-class quality, green technology development, and with truly outstanding design,”

As opposed to what ever they were dedicated to before.

I will, however, give GM some credit. In an email sent to customers, they avoided the use of the L word:

The New GM is positioned for a profitable, self-sustaining and competitive future.

They can claim that all they want, as long as they quit using “leaner” in their TV ads, like this one. I am, though, suspicious when somebody (even in conversation) says “let's be completely honest here” — you weren't already being honest?

Can GM market their way out of this? Can they get truly “Lean” or can they at least quit throwing “leaner” around?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I'm also skeptical of their desire to be more customer focused, when their new Chairman, Ed Whitacre comes from AT&T. Is that a customer focused and customer friendly company?

    This op-ed from a former AT&T person says it all:


  2. With your focus on healthcare, I didn't think I'd see you posting on GM anymore but I guess announcements like this are too good to pass up. Here's my take, trying hard not to default to the "gm=bad" natural reaction.

    Fritz's message is "customers, cars, and culture." I don't know if that's in order or just 3 things. However, if culture is important, then you must do some SYMBOLIC things to signal the change to the employees. You don't have time to go around and give people new experiences and new conversations one at a time, so you must select some things that are an experience for everyone. Changing something considered sacred is perhaps the best way to get people's attention.

    Changing the logo certainly fits in that category. It's dramatic, more expensive that we like to think it is, and reversed decades of tradition. I like the choice of trying to be dramatic, and it does send a signal.

    HOWEVER…What is the message? That is less clear. Obviously, the message is to be green (I assume the environmental way and not the nauseous way). But Fritz's message is "customers, cars, and culture." It's hard to say that green is about customers, because quite frankly customers are still not buying with a predominately green bent. Fuel efficiency still only matters when it costs money. Yes, the Prius has sold well but only to the lead-users and status-seekers, not to the masses. So green can't be about customers. Is it about cars? I guess so. But the message isn't very clear, and certainly isn't well connected to the theme of "customers, cars, and culture."

    So for boldness and decisiveness, I give Fritz an A. Bold and visible. For leveraging the chance to send a clear message, however, I give him a D. Not a total failure, but certainly a miss. Let's hope the next steps really start building that "culture" around "customers and cars."

  3. GM has no choice (if it is to survive) but to do two things. Get the in line with cultural requirements (go green, give to the community very publicly, etc.) and bring the unions in line with the company mission. Auto unions have positioned themselves in a manner that is discustingly costly and inefficient. I do believe they will pull out of this and successfully survive however, they will never be the giant they once were.

  4. UK newspaper commentary I saw today:


    It starts with:

    "There was an omission from the press conference called to announce the birth of "New GM", the restructured General Motors that emerged, blinking from bankruptcy protection, at dawn yesterday. There was no mention of GM's cars."

    He was very negative about GM's future.

  5. I read a similar article in the Wall Street Journal. Like in USA Today, the bankruptcy and restructuring is all finance — no mention of what they actually do for a living – designing, building and selling cars, I understand. This seems so much the modern American way. It's as if these people believe that only Asians manufacture. Here in America we merge, acquire, down-size, refinance and declare bankruptcy.

    In the WSJ article there were pictures of the four senior leaders. Three of the four are actual car guys — but none are involved in design or manufacture. It's as if the senior team believes that manufacturing is still just something only middle managers and knuckle-draggers do. I also note that no one on the senior team seems to be in charge of quality or continuous improvement. Small wonder the NUMMI joint venture had no effect on them.

    I wish them well in the new GM, but I'm not holding my breath.
    /Dr. Pete

  6. Sorry folks, I won't be buying a GM car any time soon.

    I just read an article where GM passed on building a new assembly plant in Tennessee and instead picked Michigan for political purposes. All of the government controlled auto companies in Europe failed to be successful in the US and GM is sure to follow.

  7. Man you've got some quick thinking folk over there with the spoof versions really rubbing GM nose in to it.

    I'm still trying to get over how the "New, more leaner GM" left out their most Lean alliance. Interested to also see the employee numbers vs cars produced in the USA Today General Motors milestones graphic, is there something that can be read into that too?

    Let's be honest! They're just trying to get themselves sorted out, where would we be without them ;-)


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