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GM: Should It Send "Dear John" Letter to Big Oil?

Wednesday, 18 Jun 2008 | 9:40 AM ET
GM logo, General Motors logo
GM logo, General Motors logo

Over the last two days General Motors has found itself dancing around the potentially delicate question of whether to run an ad this summer that might tick off oil companies.

GM execs outlined an ad in Washington that has been described as a "Dear John" letter to big oil. The basic theme being that GM is looking for more fuel efficient, and presumably more cost effective, ways to power cars, trucks, and SUVs. Sounds simple right?

Well over the last couple of days, as blogs and newspapers have picked up the story, there's been some follow-ups suggesting GM execs might be re-thinking whether to run this ad, or at least soften the message. Why? I've yet to see an official explanation, but there has been the suggestion GM may not want to tick off the oil companies because of long-standing relationships.

Whether or not that is true, the mixed messages coming out about this ad which may or may not run, simply reinforces the perception Detroit's in bed with the oil companies and really doesn't care about fuel efficiency. I know that perception exists because I hear from readers and viewers all the time who accuse the Big 3 of cranking out trucks and not trying to develop alternative powered vehicles.

Spending as much time as I do in Detroit, let me tell you, that perception is NOT reality. I know, and have reported that the Big 3 are working on fuel efficiency. Yes, they miscalculated the potential popularity of hybrids like Toyota's Prius. But remember, when the Prius came out a few years back, gas was still relatively cheap.

Sticking to the high profit margin trucks and SUVs made sense. Since that miss-step, Detroit has started to get religion. The Chevy Volt being a perfect example showing that GM is working on the next generation of cars and trucks that won't be as dependant on big oil.

Which gets me back to this ad. I will be curious if GM shifts the ad to say, "Dear John to the gas pump" or "Dear John to high gas bills." It would let them avoid looking like they are taking a cheap shot at the oil companies.

But for my money, if GM wants to truly show the public that it understands how frustrated people are by big oil companies profiting while the average joe pays more at the pump, it should speak in blunt terms.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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