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Archive for Thursday, November 27, 2008

Woods-Buick parting makes sense

November 27, 2008

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No more carrying clubs for hackers at Torrey Pines. No more pretending that Buicks really are his favorite cars.

That alone had to be worth the $7 million or so Tiger Woods gave up when the world’s greatest golfer and what used to be the world’s greatest automobile company decided it would be best if they drove off in different directions with a year still left on their contract.

But, as bailouts go, this one had a little something in it for both sides.

Woods never could sell cars for Buick, no matter how hard he tried. And try he did, showing up at golf tournaments around the country driving a Buick Enclave, and going so far as to caddie last month for the winner of a contest sponsored by General Motors.

But taking the Buick name off his bag could in some small part help sell a skeptical Congress that Detroit’s automakers are really trying to do something about the mess they’ve gotten themselves in.

It may seem a stretch because $7 million isn’t all that significant when compared to the billions the auto companies want the federal government to invest in their failing operations. Making sure the lights are turned off early at GM headquarters in Detroit might save more than terminating Buick’s contract with Woods.

But as we saw in the uproar over auto executives flying private jets to beg for money in Washington, D.C., perception is everything. Even if Woods weren’t the highest paid worker at Buick — which he undoubtedly is — he’d certainly still be the most well known.

The official line coming out of the Woods camp about the breakup was that, with a growing family, he wanted more time to himself. The official line coming out of Detroit was that GM was happy Woods was such a good family man — and did everyone notice how serious we’ve suddenly become about cutting costs?

It was an odd pairing to begin with, this marriage of a stodgy car company and the hottest young athlete in the world. About the only thing Buick and Woods seemed to have in common was that Buick wanted to give him millions of dollars and Woods wanted to accept it.

I mean, did anyone really believe that the richest athlete in the world would choose to drive a car favored mostly by people old enough to be his grandparents if he wasn’t getting paid millions to do so?

Apparently not, because no one was buying them.

Lost in the mutual tributes that Buick and Woods paid to each other upon their breakup was that the $60-70 million Woods reportedly received over the last nine years didn’t seem to do a thing to help the company sell cars. Neither, apparently, did the multiple tournaments Buick sponsored on the PGA Tour or its deal that gave players courtesy cars at tournaments around the country.

There were 445,611 Buicks sold in 1999, the year Woods signed on to become the company’s pitchman. Last year, Buick sold just 185,791 vehicles, and this year is going to be much worse.

Of course, Woods can’t be blamed for bad design, poor gas mileage or any of a hundred reasons people give these days for not buying American cars. All he tried to do was sell them, though he failed miserably — proving perhaps that celebrity endorsements aren’t all they’re made out to be.

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