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Car Balk


Joke:   General Motors issued a caustic press release in response to Bill Gates' comparison of advances in computing to the automotive industry.

FALSE

Examples:   [Collected on the Internet, 1999]

At a computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated: "If GM had kept up with the technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon."

In response to Bill's comments, General Motors issued a press release (by Mr. Welch himself) stating:
 

If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:

1. For no reason at all, your car would crash twice a day.

2. Every time they repainted the lines on the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3. Occasionally, executing a manoeuver such as a left-turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, and you would have to reinstall the engine.

4. When your car died on the freeway for no reason, you would just accept this, restart and drive on.

5. Only one person at a time could use the car, unless you bought 'Car95' or 'CarNT', and then added more seats.

6. Apple would make a car powered by the sun, reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive, but would run on only five per cent of the roads.

7. Oil, water temperature and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single 'general car default' warning light.

8. New seats would force every-one to have the same size butt.

9. The airbag would say 'Are you sure?' before going off.

10. Occasionally, for no reason, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed the radio antenna.

11. GM would require all car buyers to also purchase a deluxe set of road maps from Rand-McNally (a subsidiary of GM), even though they neither need them nor want them. Trying to delete this option would immediately cause the car's performance to diminish by 50 per cent or more. Moreover, GM would become a target for investigation by the Justice Department.

12. Every time GM introduced a new model, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

13. You would press the 'start' button to shut off the engine.
 

Origins:   Jokes sometimes take the long way around on their journeys from mere humor to "this really happened" tales.

The basic premise of this gag — the computer industry's touting advances in computing technology by comparing them to the automotive industry is met by a stinging rejoinder from car manufacturers — began life as a mere three-line joke at least as far back as early 1997:
There's word in business circles that the computer industry likes to measure itself against the Big Three auto-makers. The comparison goes this way: If automotive technology had kept pace with Silicon Valley, motorists could buy a V-32 engine that goes 10,000 m.p.h. or a 30-pound car that gets 1,000 miles to the gallon — either one at a sticker price of less than $50. Detroit's response: "OK. But who would want a car that crashes twice a day?"
Microsoft CEO Bill Gates made a brief reference to the existing PC vs. automobiles price comparison concept during his remarks at the COMDEX computer exposition in November 1997:
The PC industry is different than any other industry. The volume, the openness, the innovation, it's really unequaled. In fact, comparisons are often done between this industry and others, and it's just stunning when you look at it. The price of a mid-sized auto, it's about double what it used to be. Cereal, I admit I don't buy that much cereal, but research shows that, too, has doubled in price. And if you take that and say, what would those prices be if it were like the PC industry, the car would cost about $27, and the cereal would cost about one cent. So, I think there's a lot to be learned by watching how this industry has done what it's done.
As typically happens in the urban legend cycle, a generic tale that invoked types of businesses was quickly transformed into a version that specifically attributed it to the biggest and most well-known corporate representatives of those businesses: "the computer industry" became Bill Gates of Microsoft, and "Detroit" was replaced with "General Motors":
At a computer expo (COMDEX) Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated "If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving twenty-five dollar cars that got 1000 miles/gallon." Recently General Motors addressed this comment by releasing the statement: "Yeah, but would you want your car to crash twice a day?"
By 1998, someone had taken the evolving joke and tacked on a list of humorous comparisons between Microsoft software and the auto industry, one which played on consumer perceptions of Microsoft as a greedy, rapacious producer of flawed software incompatible with other vendors' products:
At a recent COMDEX, Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated: "If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving twenty-five dollar cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon."

Recently General Motors addressed this comment by releasing the statement: "Yes, but would you want your car to crash twice a day?"

What's scarier is that if Microsoft had gone into automobile manufacturing and dominated the industry as they normally do, then we'd have to deal with the following:

Every time they repainted the lines on the road you would have to buy a new car.

Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason, and you would just accept this, restart and drive on.

Occasionally, executing a maneuver would cause your
car to stop and fail and you would have to re-install the engine. For some strange reason, you would accept this too.

You could only have one person in the car at a time, unless you bought Car95 or CarNT. But, then you would have to buy more seats.

Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast, twice as easy to drive - but would only run on 5 percent of the roads.

The Macintosh car owners would get expensive Microsoft upgrades to their cars, which would make their cars run much slower.

The oil, gas and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single "general car default" warning light.

New seats would force everyone to have the same size butt.

The airbag system would say "Are you sure?" before going off.

If you were involved in a crash, you would have no idea what happened.
These "even scarier" thoughts were formalized into a numbered list of points General Motors should have made in their imaginary press release issued in response to an apocryphal Bill Gates comment:
In response to Bill's comments, General Motors should have issued a press release stating: "If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:
And from there it was a short step to: "Here's what the CEO of General Motors himself actually said in press release":
In response to Bill's comments, General Motors issued a press release (by Mr. Welch himself) stating: If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:
(Actually, Jack Welch was the chairman of General Electric, not General Motors. The chairman of General Motors was Jack Smith.)

Although this piece now circulates as a "true" story complete with specific details of person and place, it's still nothing more than an evolving joke that someone decided would be funnier if it were put in the mouth of a real, well-known person.

Last updated:   14 October 2010

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Sources:

    Gullon, Al.   "Engineers and Humour? Oil and Water?"
    The Toronto Sun.   16 September 2001   (p. D9).

    Heberlein, Greg.   "Well, If Microsoft Built Cars ..."
    The Seattle Times.   14 June 1998   (p.F1).

    Hutchinson, John.   "Stop the Technology Madness."
    The Daily Telegraph.   14 April 1998   (p.11).

    Kilborn, Robert, et al.   "The News in Brief."
    The Christian Science Monitor.   11 February 1997   (p. 2).

    Reuteman, Rob.   "If Microsoft Built Cars — Fables from E-Mail."
    Denver Rocky Mountain News.   28 February 1999   (p. G2).

    Steiner, Rupert.   "Carmakers Throw Bricks Back at Gates's Windows."
    The [London] Times.   8 August 1999.

    Wapshott, Tim.   "Computer Games and Pastimes."
    The [London] Times.   21 August 1999.

    The Guardian.   "Micro Lites."
    30 July 1998   (p. 3).

    The [London] Times.   "Global Village."
    15 July 2000.