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Sticker Shock - Martha Carr

GM has emerged from the pain of bankruptcy after only 40 days with the new CEO, Fritz Henderson, a second generation GM man, touting the miraculous rebirth.

The new General Motors will not play ball like the old, sluggish giant, said the federally anointed CEO. The 2.0 version will do its best to listen, and be more responsive to the general public.

That would seem appropriate considering the American public owns 60.8 percent of the common stock, purchased with a $50 billion bailout. That's a price so high that the stock would have to rise to unprecedented levels in order for taxpayers to break even on their investment. That's unlikely in the foreseeable future.

So far, the new corporate communication tool box has amounted to a new button on the web site called, Tell Fritz, that lets the public tell their new pal, Fritz, what's up in their world. Apparently, all of these years, all that was needed was a little tweak. GM's 50 percent share of the American auto-buying market that eroded down to 20 percent, and their reputation for quality workmanship that slipped even further, got there from the lack of an e-mail.

Countless focus groups, editorials, sales figures and letters just weren't making it all the way to the executive suite. But we can relax now, because there's a button that fixed all that.

Forbes recently came out with a list of cars that aren't worth the sticker price before they're purchased, and one of the leading criteria used was consumer satisfaction. Care was taken to make sure that the results would be a fair reflection. The data came from sources such as J.D. Power's 2008 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) survey results, from Vincentric, an auto industry group that looks at monthly marketplace inventory, demand, rebates and incentives, and from Consumer Report's Owner Satisfaction results.

Every car or truck on the overpriced list came from Detroit's Big Three. Surveys showed that a big part of the reason consumers in large numbers won't open their wallets at a GM lot were because they don't feel anyone's listening, even now. Tactics like a passive button on a web site probably won't do much to change their opinions.

Here's a different kind of idea that might make it possible for the GM suits to change all of that.

The newly slimmed down executive committee, which is made up of the same, remaining executives who drove GM into the ground, should hit the road and actually meet the potential consumers who made it possible for them to still have a job.

Go out there and have a few town meetings, but without screened questions and carefully vetted audiences that make sure everyone voices the right opinions.

Let all of the guarded walls that buried an American institution fall down, and invite the criticism on a much grander scale. Don't answer back with tired clichés or vague promises.

Let everyone kick the tires and get the details about the inner workings. Give back accountability and actually practice transparency. Set an example of leadership rather than just make references to it. Empty showrooms from the dealers who got the pink slip can be used for the meetings.

If GM stays on the current track, it will most likely survive all of its past grievances, but a price will still be paid. A short list includes the taxpayers, who paid for all of this, but can't get universal health care, the bond holders who were left with a diminished return, the 35 percent of the management level that was laid off, the creditors who will have to fight over scraps to get legitimate bills to GM paid, and the dealers who believed in brands like the discontinued Saturn and bet their life's savings on it.

However, if GM executives were to invite a series of open discussions that we can all watch, then we'd know it's not just business as usual.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at Martha@caglecartoons.com.