“What’s a Peugeot?”
A staffer in his mid-twenties was looking at me inquisitively.
“Exactly,” I said. “That’s my point.”
I had been retelling the story of J.D. Power, owner of the global marketing information firm, and the French carmaker Peugeot to a couple of young staffers in my office. In the 1980s when Peugeot was trying to break into the U.S. market, they went to J.D. Power for a satisfaction survey. The results of the satisfaction survey were not what they had expected. The executives at Peugeot were upset to learn that the primary complaint American customers had about the Peugeot had been that the cars were hard to start.
Peugeot’s engineers were offended. After all, they believed they had the highest performing cars in Europe with state-of-the art engineering and designs using fuel-injection technology; however, the ignition in fuel-injection cars was different than in other American cars. Most cars here had conventional carburetors and the driver had to pump the accelerator a few times before starting the car, especially in the winter time. Americans had grown accustomed to pumping the accelerator, so when they got in a Peugeot they naturally pumped the accelerator before starting the car. But pumping the accelerator with Peugeot’s fuel-injection design flooded the engine. The result was that the cars wouldn’t start.
So, how did Peugeot respond?
Frustrated at the survey response, a top French Peugeot engineer pounded his fist on the desk and said, “What we have to do is train the Americans on how to start cars!” Peugeot believed they needed to put money and effort into an education and marketing campaign to teach Americans the proper way to start a car, rather than adapting their design to meet the needs of Americans.
The education and marketing campaign did not work, and, as a result, if you tell most Americans today about a Peugeot, the most common response you will get is, “What’s a Peugeot?”
What Peugeot failed to do was build the ignition and fuel system to operate the way American drivers wanted it to. Peugeot engineers were so caught up in what they believed to be the brilliance of their own designs and ideas that they forgot the most important person in their company – the driver. American consumers stopped buying Peugeot cars and eventually the company left the U.S. market. Peugeot failed to hear the voice of the customer.
Government can be a little like Peugeot. Government officials have arrogantly told the American people that they know what plans will best boost our economy – stimulus packages, bank bailouts, and auto bailouts, to name a few. They believe if they can just educate Americans on these initiatives that Americans will buy in to the notion that government knows best. When the response from Americans has been negative, the retort from government has been to arrogantly pound the desk and say, “We know what’s best. We just need to teach the American people what will create jobs.”
But it is not really government’s job to teach Americans how to create jobs. Americans do not need an education campaign. They need a government that will commit to getting spending under control. They need a government that will balance the federal budget. They need a government that will seek to lift the weight of regulations from our businesses. They need a government that makes tough choices to transform entitlement programs. They need a government that will stop bailing out European nations and make efforts to bring jobs back to America.
But most importantly, Americans need a government that will step aside and let entrepreneurs build, let businesses grow, and let innovators create. Americans need to be able to ignite the economic engine the way that they know is best. Americans need a government that will remember that the most important voice is the voice of its citizens.