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For years General Motors (GM) ran a blog called Fastlane.GMBlogs.com. The GM blog became quite influential -- to the extent that it won a Webby Award in 2006. One reviewer wrote: "The GM Fastlane Blog is a great example of corporate blogging because GM has clearly realized that regurgitating press releases is not what blogs are made for.”
However, the Fastlane blog no longer exists. To celebrate its memory, we took the time to explore its history, and we selected five articles from its back catalog that we believe had the most influence on the automotive industry.
In 2005, Bob Lutz was the chairman of GM and had a habit of responding to posts published about GM in different media. He didn't know where to store the responses after they had been released. Gary Grates, then vice president for communication, provided the answer: a blog specifically belonging to GM. (Source).
Following its introduction in January 2005, the Fastlane blog mainly featured the thoughts of GM executives. Its main aim was to increase communication between GM and its customers. It also promoted GMs cars and trucks.
With millions of visitors, the blog attracted thousands of comments. Soon the Fastlane blog became the case study for business blogging. At its height, it was described by the PR Council, an association dedicated to agencies that provide public relations services, as having "earned phenomenal attention from bloggers, PR practitioners, and the press” (Source).
In 2015, with little ceremony, GM pulled the plug on Fastlane.
Below are our choices for the five most important articles published on the Fastlane blog. Even a casual glance through these articles shows that GM recognized the importance of staking out a position. We particularly enjoyed the way the blog used the article Clearing The Air to take the fight to the Los Angeles Times regarding the way the newspaper was depicting the carmaker.
To identify the most influential articles, we employ a formula that determines the number of other websites and items that link to the particular piece. We believe that when more webmasters, editors, and bloggers link to an article, they attest to the usefulness of that piece.
Notwithstanding its title, this article has nothing to do with GM attempting to create a car capable of driving on the moon. Instead, Lutz uses it to introduce the Sequel, an electric car that could run on hydrogen fuel cells. This is what the article's writer equated to a "moon shot" because at that point it "all sounded like science fiction.”
In the article, Lutz also announces that GM was launching a fleet of over 100 vehicles for demonstration purposes. This demonstration would show the capabilities of fuel cell vehicles. This was also meant to raise awareness of the potential of the hydrogen economy.
Lutz used the same article to announce that a further 1000 vehicle fleet was expected to be produced in the 2010-2012 time frame assuming the same progress was maintained. More significant numbers were supposed to be reached later in the decade, he announced. This would happen as cost and infrastructure barriers were removed.
GM aimed to produce vehicles that matched or improved upon the performance of their internal combustion-powered cousins. Their goal was to be the first company to produce 1 million fuel cell vehicles. In addition to hydrogen, other technologies such as E85 and the plug in-hybrids were also being considered (Source).
While there are only a few thousand hydrogen fuel cell cars on the road in 2019 -- and they aren’t manufactured by GM -- the technology is still promising.
In 2009, GM decided to suspect production of its Pontiac brand. The company announced that they were going to rebrand the Pontiac G8 as a Chevy Caprice. Why? “Because a car like the G8 was just too good to waste” (Source).
In this Fastland blog post Lutz announced that GM had changed its mind, couldn’t justify the re-branding, and was going to retire the G8 after all. Comments on the post exploded as readers agreed, disagreed, and mocked the decision.
One reader, who goes by the name Blue Flame Six, agreed with the decision: “That’s OK. Did you ever have a chance to look up the dictionary definition of “caprice?” It was a bad name for a car anyway.” The reader answers their own question, “‘Caprice' and ‘capricious' come from the same root, and both mean unpredictable or impulsive”.
In this article, the Chevrolet General Manager, Ed Peper, announces the launch of chevyapprentice.com; a competition where contestants could display their own advertising copy for GM products.
In the article, Peper reveals that GM soon discovered that a competition like this one would come with the risk of a backlash over some of GM’s products. However, he reports that none was censored as "people who are opposed to SUVs for a variety of reasons quickly discovered that they were also welcome to participate” (Source).
In the article, Peper reports that GM had earlier on decided that attempting to censor any of the advertisements, based on the viewpoints of the competitors, would have defeated the whole point of openness and transparency. He reports that almost 22,000 submissions were received for this competition. Even though the competition created controversy, it achieved one thing that the designers of the campaign wanted: people to talk about the Chevy Tahoe.
In April 2005, GM announced that it would stop advertising in The Los Angeles Times. This followed a long-running clash between GM and the newspaper over the way the paper was portraying the car maker. At that time, Ryndee Carney, a GM spokesperson, was quoted by the New York Times saying the dispute "involves news reporting; it involves opinion. It's pretty broad-based, and we've made our objections well known to The Times" (Source).
The piece provided a chance for Grates, GM’s VP for Communication, to tell the story from GM’s point of view. He starts by explaining that the company had been receiving criticism from many in the media (not just the LA Times), and occasionally some praise. He focused on a question that he claimed many were asking: “Why doesn’t GM publicly detail the Times’ errors and misrepresentations?” (Source).
His answer to that question? That GM believed in the internal processes at The Los Angeles Times, where an ombudsman was looking at the issues they had raised. Indeed these details of the Times’ misrepresentations were never aired in public: GM and The Los Angeles Times later resolved their issues. In August 2005, GM announced that it would start advertising in the newspaper again (Source).
This article is characteristic of the type of content found on Fastlane: short and to the point. Bob Lutz announced a significant consumer initiative: the GM powertrain warranty would be extended to 100,000 miles or five years, whichever came first.
Furthermore, the warranty was to be “completely transferable to later owners of the car. Both of these aspects were an important shift in the industry, and GM claimed (with some merit) that this meant that they offered the “best warranty of any full-line automaker”. This was, in fact, merely the latest salvo by GM in the long running “warranty wars”.
Explaining why the company had come up with these initiatives, GM Chairman/CEO Rick Wagoner is quoted as saying: "We believe in the quality and value of our cars and trucks, and we're putting our money where our mouth is. Because we can” (Source).