Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This pitch may sell: Be charitable, buy a Ford or GM vehicle

Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Mike Hudson: Car culture
This pitch may sell: Be charitable, buy a Ford or GM vehicle

GM and Ford are struggling every day to turn a profit. No matter how much they cut costs, buy out workers or slash prices at dealerships, those sales figures keep sinking and the bottom line keeps hurting.

Cue the marketing department. Would consumers buy cars from a charity?

It makes sense

Sick of buying cars from soulless corporations? Tired of your hard-earned dollars going to line the pockets of greedy shareholders? Isn't about time consumers had a not-for-profit option in cars?

From a consumer standpoint, it really would make sense. What makes you feel better than knowing a shiny quarter of your Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey potentially saved a leaf of rainforest? Well imagine the feeling you'd get knowing your car purchase is helping to pay for some old fogey's pills courtesy of GM's staggering legacy costs -- er, GM's "Greatest Generation" health care program.

While the guy who bought the Toyota helps enrich a bunch of boardroom sharks, your Ford purchase helps pay workers at idle plants -- er, helps pay for an extended sabbatical for workers in Ford's "Mandatory Vacation and Self-Fulfillment" program.

Problems become accolades in the charity world. At the church fair:

"These cookies are bit stale, Padre."

At the high school band car wash:

"You missed an entire half of my car and I think my wallet is missing."

"C'mon, you miser, it's for a good cause."

Well, consider Rick's of Michigan or Bill Ford's Own. These progressive firms -- based in southeast Michigan -- have turned the traditional auto business on its head. These people make cars simply to cover their costs. It's about community.

Writing it all off

Sure you might be able to find a better car elsewhere, but c'mon, we only make cars to help people. Did we mention your purchase is tax deductible?

The timing for this marketing couldn't be better. Warren Buffett recently cemented his place in American history by giving away $30 billion to charity. Instead of being a guy with more money than can be believed, the man is now a saint.

Bigger than his gift to humanity, he gave Detroit an even better present, being quoted as saying the American auto industry is little more than a health care system that happens to build cars.

Ford and GM have been giving away billions for decades. They support a regional economy. Hundreds of thousands of Americans depend on them for their livelihoods. For crying out loud, people, they helped create the middle class, the 40-hour workweek and employer provided benefits. The least you can do is buy a car.

Mike Hudson is a freelance writer and editor at the automotive Web site Edmunds.com. He can be reached at mhudson@edmunds.com.

© Copyright 2006 The Detroit News. All rights reserved.


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