GM’s Dubious Super Bowl Ad Claims

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Some very humorous (if not cost-effective) ads were exhibited by General Motors during this year's Super Bowl game. GM continues to freely spend its stockpile of taxpayer supplied cash reserve as it even aired a spot touting the Chevy Volt. At a cost of $3.5 million for a 30 second spot the expense equals about 15% of the total revenues GM brought in during the entire month of January for the Volt when sales fell to a dismal level of 603. What is the reasoning behind spending so much to advertise a vehicle that sells in such small numbers and is not profitable if not political? But the ad that may lead to more controversy than the Volt folly was the one in which GM claims their trucks are more dependable than Ford's; a claim that is highly debatable and not backed by studies at Consumers Reports (CR).

The ad in question features survivors who gather together in their GM trucks after a 2012 apocalypse. One friend is missing because he drove a Ford and didn't have the "longest lasting, most dependable" GM truck. The disclaimer on the bottom of the ad pointed to registrations of GM trucks on the road since 1981 as evidence for the unsubstantiated claim. Since GM has pointed to CR to tout Chevy Volt reliability, I thought they could give a much more accurate depiction of GM truck dependability. And GM does not stack up well.

According to CR's December 2011 issue which rates auto manufacturer's reliability, GM has the bottom two ratings in the category of full sized trucks. The Chevy Silverado 2500 and GMC Sierra 2500 each had such poor ratings of 123% worse than average that the graph bar was off the chart! Of the bottom 10 trucks on the list, GM had six entries compared to Ford's two and three of the bottom five compared to one for Ford. GM seems to be continuing with its habit of spinning the facts to suit their needs.

What makes this situation interesting is the fact that Ford pulled its ads that criticized GM for receiving a bailout while Ford was able to succeed without massive taxpayer assistance. GM is not returning the favor as they arrogantly take on both competitors and critics with a strategy that appears political in nature. From twisting facts on the Super Bowl truck ad to condemning "right wing" media outlets for daring to criticize the Chevy Volt, GM is living up to the nickname of Government Motors. The problem with this strategy is that, while it might work in politics where only 51% of the public needs to be convinced (or fooled), in the very competitive auto field it is a dangerous strategy to alienate any group of individuals including those that are still sensitive to the fact that GM has costs taxpayers billions of dollars. And I don't think GM should instigate a battle with Ford that may see Ford reviving the bailout theme.

It is a very dubious claim for GM to make in touting their trucks as more "dependable" than Ford's. Attention is also drawn to the fact that the Ford F-series has been the top selling vehicle in America for 30 years and remains the class of the field. If GM wants to better compete, it should focus on building quality vehicles that offer better value for consumers, not on a costly and deceptive ad campaign that does not have the facts to back it.

The last twist I found amusing was the offering of a Twinkie by one GM truck driver to another. It is ironic that GM exhibits a Hostess product in its ad after Hostess had to file for a second chapter 11 bankruptcy due to unsustainable union legacy costs. Perhaps that can be viewed as a foreshadowing of a different type of apocalyptic event for GM if UAW costs are not kept in check while the company continues with a free-spending strategy (side note: Ford did not splurge on costly Super Bowl ads) that is better suited to politics than to free market capitalism.

 Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.