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General Motors Rips NYTimes Moron Friedman

June 01, 2006

Hyperbole and Defamation in The New York Times

By Steven J. Harris

Vice President, Global Communications

Imagine our shock when we read yesterday that GM is “more dangerous to America’s future” than any other company, is “like a crack dealer” addicting helpless Americans to SUVs, and is in a cabal with Ford and DaimlerChrysler to buy votes in Congress.

These weren’t the rantings of some obscure, clueless blogger. These were the thoughts of Thomas L. Friedman, (subscription required) author and influential columnist, on the op/ed page of The New York Times.

Mr. Friedman is not normally known for such shrill hyperbole. In fact, he’s generally well-respected and known for presenting rational, fact-supported opinions.

That wasn’t the case with yesterday’s column. That a journalist of his caliber and reputation could write such a defamatory, uninformed opinion was shocking to those of us dedicated to this company and proud of what GM builds and contributes to the nation’s economy.

The GM he describes is not the GM we know. Either Mr. Friedman is being a propagandist, or he’s woefully misinformed. We prefer to believe the latter. In fact, we’d like to invite Mr. Friedman out to Detroit to learn about the work GM is doing on alternative fuels, on hydrogen fuel cells and on technology to make all of our vehicles more fuel efficient.

GM understands the issue of our nation’s dependency on foreign oil as well as anyone, and we're doing as much or more than anyone to address the issue, from making our gasoline engines more fuel-efficient to investing heavily in hybrid and fuel cell powertrains.

We also understand the impact of higher fuel prices on consumers. We offer Americans a full line of fuel-efficient options, including last year’s top-selling subcompact, the Chevy Aveo, and the well-regarded Chevy Cobalt compact. In fact, GM offers more vehicles that get 30 mpg or better EPA highway mileage than any other automaker. More than Toyota. More than Honda. More than Nissan.

We've suggested immediate ways that the United States can reduce its oil dependency, including getting more E85 ethanol fuel made from U.S. corn into our nation's gas stations. Many of the GM cars and trucks that Mr. Friedman mentioned in his column can run on E85 fuel, which is one way we can significantly reduce the amount of oil we use – right now. We already have more than 1.9 million of these so-called “Flex Fuel” cars and trucks on the road.

Mr. Friedman takes exception to a limited incentive that offers a partial credit toward fuel purchases on certain midsize cars and full-size SUVs in two markets where we are working hard to increase our market share. This is nothing more than a creative way to get consumers' consideration for our products in two very competitive segments.

Mr. Friedman sees it as something sinister, an effort to turn hapless Americans into fuel “addicts.” But let's be intellectually honest here: A gas card is not going to get someone considering a $15,000 economy car to buy a $35,000 Chevy Tahoe.

The people who buy full-size SUVs, by and large, do so because they have a need for them – be it a large family to haul around or a boat to tow. And exactly how is offering a gas card that may be worth $1,000 any different or more sinister than the $2,000 cash rebate that Toyota's offering right now nationwide on its full-size SUV, the Sequoia? The Sequoia, by the way, gets worse mileage than any of GM’s industry-leading full-size SUVs.

In fact, Mr. Friedman’s suggestion that Toyota’s approach toward fuel economy is vastly different than GM’s belies the facts. Give Toyota credit for the Prius hybrid. But if you look at the growth in Toyota’s business in the United States over the last decade, it has come primarily from expanding into the truck segments – including full size pickups and SUVs. GM entries in those segments, by the way, have better EPA mileage ratings than Toyota’s.

And which automaker is building a large new assembly plant in Texas to build its biggest full-size pickup yet? Toyota.

Don’t get me wrong. Toyota's a fine company. But like GM, Toyota offers a full range of cars and trucks to satisfy all their customers across this nation, not just what New York and Washington journalists who ride in yellow cabs think the rest of America should drive.

Mr. Friedman also misstates our position on fuel economy standards. The fact is, GM is not opposed to reasonable standards. But there is no proof that the Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations have done anything to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. In fact, oil consumption has increased dramatically over the years, even as vehicle fuel efficiency ratings have improved significantly.

That's because consumers make their own decisions on what to buy and how to drive. The sales-weighted “average fuel economy” numbers have not gone up more over the years because consumers have wanted larger, more powerful vehicles – even as our cars and trucks have become remarkably more fuel-efficient. Our new full-size SUVs that Mr. Friedman so despises, for example, now get more than 20 mpg on the highway.

GM has faced its share of criticism over the years, some of which was well-deserved. No company does everything right all the time. We appreciate constructive criticism that’s based on facts, and we try to listen and learn from it.

Today we’re in the midst of perhaps the largest turnaround in corporate history. We’re building the best, highest-quality cars and trucks in our history. We’re working closely and respectfully with our unions to lower our costs and fix the structural parts of our business that make us less competitive. And we continue to invest heavily in our future, a future that includes cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

We’re working hard to build a stronger GM and a stronger America that’s less dependent on foreign oil. Hyperbole and shrill editorializing on the pages of The New York Times shouldn’t mislead anyone.

Submitted by Gary T.

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