Commentary: Life at $5.25 Million Per 30 Seconds

Every year on this date, I try to make sense of life. Life, in context to this work.

To do so, I have to look back a couple of days. For example, this past Sunday.

During Super Bowl LIII, a few things happened. Julian Edelman shows us again that heroes do not come from a single construct of a dominant culture. Kia tugged at our emotions the same way Chrysler did in 2011, but focusing on a small town called West Point, Georgia. And, Unifor added more salt to a gaping wound at General Motors.

Unifor is the Canadian union for autoworkers. Their Super Bowl commercial was blunt and to the point. For 30 seconds, they made it clear that GM had screwed them over with the closure of the Oshawa facility and offset those losses towards expansion of production in Mexico.

The union’s argument was a textbook study on how to set blame based on betrayal – or, that seems to be the message of the Unifor ad. True, the Canadian government did set up bailouts of GM’s Canadian operations – the second costing Ottawa C$11 billion. However, there was no specifics given as to which expansion of production in Mexico and to what products are affected. It seems that it was a visualization of a sunny Mexico – replete with the green-white-and-red of the country's flag – against a bleak set of footage from in and around Oshawa.

One argument made in the commercial was the decision to close Oshawa was done while GM was "making record profits." It has been chronicled that the market and the behavior of the USA government towards tariffs was seen as a threat against not only the closure of Oshawa, but of five other facilities on the USA side of the border.

GM has yet to respond to the advertisement. There had been murmurs of a lawsuit against Unifor regarding the commercial’s message. This, of course while 4,000 white collar workers were being laid off by GM.

It is worth noting that a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl LIII telecast costs $5.25 million. I wonder if Unifor's commercial was worth the money at GM's ire.

Perhaps this is a continuous row that the world has with GM. Yes, they are closing plants – in the USA, Canada, and the Republic of Korea. Yes, they are laying off workers in both production and in white collar positions. Yes, they have been making product decisions that brought a lot of mixed feedback from every corner of the industry – the media, consumers, analysts, and so forth.

I understand how frustrating it is to cover GM. They have raised concerns about strategy and perception to many stakeholders. Yet, can GM be counted out of the game? If you look at the last few years of corporate moves worldwide as decided upon by the brass at RenCen, one wonders if they are losing credibility among those of us who follow them.

If I can get personal for a moment, GM has been a part of my family’s life going back to at least 1940. I may have been the last owner of a GM car in our family. If my mother was alive today, she would loudly question her loyalty to the company. Every vehicle she has owned/driven has been either a Chevrolet or an Oldsmobile. I know my brother has not purchased a vehicle from Detroit's automakers since 1982.

It would be easy for me to say to GM to find a way to be a better automotive manufacturer. It is not that easy. How can you tell someone to "stop" if they have made similar mistakes multiple times over for several decades? You can't. You simply can't.

On the flip side, Kia made a bold step to state their intentions in this market. After twenty-five years of sales in the USA, the Korean automaker gave us a glimpse at their future. It is not about vehicles assembled at the West Point, Georgia plant, but how it saved that community from oblivion. It also helped raise the profile of the brand in this highly competitive market.

Over that same period, I saw Kia’s progression from the first Sephia sedans to witnessing the enthusiast community’s response to the Stinger. As time went on, each Kia vehicle has emerged better than the last one. That is the way this industry should be – forward progression over retrograde.

The Telluride featured in Kia’s new campaign – called "Give It Everything" – is a testament toward the commitment to production at West Point and to its customers in the USA and beyond. There is gold in opportunity. Kia is seizing that opportunity by talking about what it is doing for this market and how important it is to invest in it.

That investment is through another program, a scholarship for the “great unknowns.” This provides another outlet towards providing opportunity to the future of this country. This is why Kia is a company we should be watching wherever they sell their vehicles – and produces them.

There is one additional point to glean from Super Bowl LIII. That Hyundai commercial featuring Jason Bateman as an elevator operator and the Shopper Assurance program…well, I witnessed someone at the Super Bowl watch party loving the new 2020 Palisade SUV. He just happened to be a friend who is an enthusiast and a motorsports fan. That’s a win in my book.

In the 55 years of this life, I had the honor and privilege of pursuing a dream and making it real. The stories I tell here are a byproduct of that pursuit. One thing I learned from this: I may never have the power to provide an answer to these issues, unless I have the position to do so. So, I’ll leave them for those who think they have all the answers.

We may not be CEOs, Vice Presidents, and thought leaders. But, we recognize success and concerns as they happen. Maybe that is life's satisfaction. At what cost? Hopefully not $5.25 million per 30 seconds.

Photo by Randy Stern

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