CAROFTHECENTURY.COM Shook Things Up
In 2003, when the internet was still young and gaining traction, the popular magazine, "Automobile" reported on, "an enormous stock" (see pic of the page below) or archival trove of U.S. auto scene documents and historical photos uncovered and being posted, for the first time, online.
Our carofthecentury.com website started doing something new and different and instantly became groundbreaking, controversial and successful at attracting a solid new online fan base of car lovers.
2002 until 2005 were extremely good years for I was displaying a traveling museum quality HJE photo exhibit, had a popular new car website and had just penned a contract (representing the Earl Family) with the Buick Motor Div. of General Motors to use Harley Earl's "name, likeness and image" in a major TV and print advertising blitz entitled, "The Harley Earl Ad Campaign" staring Tiger Woods (Mr. Woods was marketing gold back then). Click 6-min clip, at left, to see first ads and mini-documentary we created about the campaign. But by far, my biggest personal achievement in life, up to this point, was knowing an Earl was back and working at GM again! It's hard to describe the importance I felt continuing my family's 110-plus year auto legacy into the 21st Century! At the time, I believed I'd never leave Detroit.
But back to why I created the website and why this area of my auto career trajectory wound up getting me in some hot water with certain top leaders of GM. Anyway, notice the following screenshots of carofthecentury.com, and how the website aimed at car lovers rallying around a trove of historic tangible evidence on the modern A-team players of GM. For this team of business players (from the the mid-twentieth century) created a winning business dynasty using "Design Leadership" like no other and it rocketed the entire company to the very top of the business world.
And my new audience was pretty big for the website had over 500, 000 unique visitors during the first three years since Harley Earl's name and look-a-like actor were popping up all over on TV. It wasn't my fault the general "car" audience began figuring things out and/or started making invidious comparisons recognizing that Harley's designs were sexy, gorgeous and graceful but GM and Buick's current styles were plain and mainly designed for much older audiences.
Plus, the website had mushroomed and displayed over a thousand historical photos (long before Facebook), many in living color. Modern audiences got to see GM's champion players and start to dream back to the good old days. They'd familiarize themselves with winning GM players, of mid-twentieth century era, who used to hit home run after home run year-in-and year-out for decades of time! Then naturally, all this accurate history-telling rubbed certain ultra-sensitive top execs and GM middle managers the wrong way. Plus, the media and the public started seeing the playing field clearly for the first time in a long time, it went something like this, "why the heck can't GM's modern players (execs) even get on base every once in a while!?"
As General Patton said, "Americans love winners and won't tolerate losers." Going into 2005 everything started to change for me and working with GM's leaders became increasingly perplexing. I'm not saying "I was perfect" I was far from it, but to make a long story short, I found out, through the grapevine (GM and Detroit's auto world has a reputation for being insular..and word traveled quick via word-of-mouth), that I'd been invited to leave Detroit. That's because the good guys I knew inside GM paraphrased it like this, "Richard Earl would never work in this town again!" Lots of GM insiders understood what I was trying to do and how it had long-term implications, especially when it came to inspiration. I naturally knew a general audience wanted to see these good role model GM executives I'd uncovered in my research, people didn't care they were long-deceased.
Well, to say the least I was extremely disappointed when this shot got lobbed across my bow from this company's most powerful man in GM Design; talk about irony. So, not wanting to go down without a parring shot, I started speaking out to the auto journalistic community how I was being railroaded out of GM over how a few ultra-sensitive execs had "pride issues" with Harley Earl's legacy of success. The GM car designers I spoke with told me that Ed Welburn loathed the Harley Earl ad campaign and Ed felt if GM was doing any kind of major ad campaign on a car designer, it should have been on him!
I even spoke with one of Toyota's top leaders (at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show) about what was happening inside GM. Don't take my word for it, just read the title and my featured quote, below, that appeared in a local newspaper after I'd pitched the story idea to the writer. When it was published the article's main quote hit GM's top car designer like a ton of bricks. I was super pissed off because I though Ed W. had pulled a real cheap shot getting me pushed out of working with GM. Can you imagine that! These execs at GM come and go, but the Earl General Motors design legacy is forever.
Well, with the benefit of hindsight, the stupid bitch-off I had with Ed Welburn led me to leave Detroit and go into exile in Florida and regroup. So, in October, 2006 I moved away knowing General Motors and America's auto industry was in for some rough seas ahead. What happened to GM? Bankruptcy in 2009, talk about some GM execs getting their mea culpa.
This article below helped expose GM's, Emperor's New Cloths status. At this stage of the game, I just hope GM's execs, moving forward, learned something about "Design Leadership."