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GM Rant Part 1

Posted 11-03-2008 at 02:11 PM by guionM
As a group, all of us (myself included) has made GM a punching bag of sorts recently. Not without good reason.

GM has pretty much fiddled away a whole decade of opportunity. Instead of using the past 10 years to move back to the forefront of a broadbased automotive portfolio and truely integrate it's global lineup and streamline it's operations to protect itself when (not if) times ever got bad again, GM instead shoveled most all of it's resources into large trucks and SUVs that were venerable to fuel spikes and crisis. GM created perhaps the most advanced and quickest car development system of the entire global automotive industry, but apparently forgot to revamp it's approval process to take full advantage of it. They hire a "Product Czar", but his ability to get new vehicles on the market has long been hamstrung by a system that seems to discourage new thinking and creativity.

However, Scott made some very direct points that made me take pause.

He (rightfully) pointed out that GM is by no means the same company it was 6 years ago. It isn't. GM has trimmed an army of white collar workers. GM has people doing double... and triple... duty. What he didn't mention so I will, is that GM has placed it's focus back on cars. GM also over the years through Bob Lutz has done a 180 degree turn on interiors. GM interiors were once no better than comparable Chryslers. But today, if you sit in a Malibu after sitting in a Sebring, the Sebring (though nicely styled inside) has materials and feel that seem a throwback to the 90s. Even the 300C (which was tops in interior quality and feel when it first came out) has been caught by Impala.

Scott's post also reminded me of the frequent mindless anti-government rants that occasionally crop up here.

As a person inside GM, he is proud of his company and what it does, while acknowledging that it's by no means perfect. As a retiree of Government service, and as a former military member who happens to live in San Francisco, I often hear BS from not just those anti-government people here on occasion, but also the anti-military people here in the Bay area.

In both instances it's from utter ignorance as much as it being from parroting what someone told them without taking time to learn the facts or even think through what they are saying.

The anti-government/anti-tax group tends to think everything's free. That it's better to run up deficits than to raise the money to pay for them. Warren Buffet once pointed out that while on the billions he earned, he figured he paid 19% on taxes, most all the people who were on his payroll (who weren't making anywhere near 1 million or even 500K) were paying about 33%. Large oil companies are producing the largest profits ever known by mankind. Yet those same people seem to not only want the status quo, but also want and are buying into those entities paying billions less in taxes just so these individuals can get that extra $80 per year.

Then there's someone from anti-military group I encounter at least once a month who think that the military is some shadowy, amoral organization. They know nothing about the military outside what someone else who has never been in has said, and exaggerated on. They miss that members of the military have families. Or that it's a way to get education or escape poverty. Many are surprized (or in denial) that many places hire people who learned a specific trade in the military over those who went to college because of the quality of training, the proven work ethic, and the fact that we have a record of work stability instead of suddenly taking time off to "go find ourselves".

I see and understand Scott's frustrations. GM is a huge employer. There's legions of not just familes, but businesses, communities, even a state or two that's depended on GM doing well... or at least being around.

As was pointed out, alot of our (and my) perceptions date back a few years. The General Motors Corperation of the late 1980s and first half of the 1990s described in the book "All Corvettes Are Red" (should be required reading for everyone making any post on "Future Vehicles") has long been gone. Even the Union, a favorite target for bashers who, again, know nothing about what's been going on the past decade, is nothing like the union of 10 years ago.

Facts are:

The US government does need additional income.
The military isn't a mindless orgaization of droids.
The UAW is not the reason for Detroits failings.
And GM has done plenty of changing the past decade to improve.

But:

Every polititian does look for things to benefit his or her district, even at the cost of the nation's finances. Regardless as to party affiliation.
The military does encourage uniformity.
The UAW still has plenty of members pushing the leadership in directions that undermind everybody.
And GM does tend to wait till it's almost too late before they change anything.

It was only earlier this year (over 4 years after pickups and SUVs first experienced their first meltdown) that Mr Wagoner acknowledged that GM needed to focus more on cars. GM's approval process for new models seems to be every bit as inconsistent and easily thwarted by mid-managers as ever before. GM seems to be continuing it's habit of spending money on something, and then willingly letting it go for something else (ie: Zeta Impala and Buick, Oshawa's refurbisment) while taking out money on areas where it perhaps shouldn't (one person running the Auto Show program for roughly 80% of GM's divisions AND being the public contact for Camaro?!


I'm not saying that GM doesn't deserve alot of the hits we've been giving them. They do. But at the same time, we can't buy into the idea that GM should simply go belly up either. Alot of the anger at GM mentioned here is probably along the lines of what I feel. A combination of frustration & embarassment at a automotive company many of us grew up with, and love seeming not able to get their collective act together.

Seeing the world's larger car manufacturer not just simply being rolled by a car maker that 35 years ago was being grossly outstripped here in the US by GM's smallest division is bad enough. Seeing that same large global manufacturer being outdone by a company that also 35 years ago was more popular for making motercycles and the 70s equvilent to today's Smart than real automobiles hurts.

But what really has alot of people riled up including me is that the world's largest automobile maker got itself into a position where it not only has less cash and is in a more precarious position than it's smaller American rival, but that it's key plan for survival currently rests on a government loan so that it can buy up the smallest US automaker to shout it down and get it's cash and sell it's assets in order to get roughly a year or so more cash to burn through without any additional changes to ensure it's survival.

I am a GM fan. But what's more, I am a fan of the Ameriacn automotive industry. I believe we do make the best products in the world. Sure, the interior seams may match up better in a Honda, or the engine may seem to be nonexistent when you step on it in a Toyota. But Try driving either one with no maintence outside of scheduled oil and sparkplug changes for 120,000 or 150,000 miles. Look on the streets and see which you see the most of: 20 year old US cars or 20 year old Toyotas... or Hondas... or Mitsubishis... or Nissans.
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