In the early 1980s I was at a flea market in Arizona and for 50 cents, bought a copy of “On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors,” the autobiography of the late John De Lorean, and his rise from engineer wunderkind, to the maverick head of GM’s Pontiac Division.
DeLorean, who, on a personal note, created one of my favorite muscle cars of all time, the GTO, and later, the famed DeLorean gull-winged coupe, candidly blasted the staid corporate philosophy of the-then world’s largest car manufacturer, and its refusal to change with the times.
He pointed out how it could have averted the crippling strike in 1970 that nearly collapsed the company, as well as forging ahead with launching poor-selling models such as the Chevy Vega, despite advice to the contrary.
Flash forward to far more recent history, when one of the 100 or so emails delivered to me on a daily basis warned that the U.S. was not done with its bailouts and that Detroit would be next with its hand out for Uncle Sam’s largesse.
While I had mixed emotions about the earlier stimulus package and later, the $700 billion bailout, this is where I become quite unsympathetic.
Tough love? How about no love?
Not to keep singling out GM, but tragically, they’re emblematic of what has gone wrong with American car companies over the past 25 years or so —unimaginative business cultures, obscenely bloated labor contracts and impotent upper management who were allowed to remain (think Roger Smith) despite regularly posting billions in quarterly losses.
Again, on a personal note, I once owned a Chevy Monte Carlo, whose front headlights one day inexplicably fell out of their sockets and whose floorboards acted more like a screen door during heavy rains. I don’t think I was being at all selfish by expecting to receive a watertight vehicle, especially considering the workers on those assembly lines were compensated at far higher hourly rates than nurses or teachers.
GM, for example, thumbed its nose at innovation when it came to designing fuel efficient cars and instead, kept plopping massive gas-guzzling titans into the nation’s showrooms — a strategy that was aided and abetted by Congress, which allowed manufacturers to overestimate the mileage of SUVs and half-ton trucks.
It bemoaned its gargantuan health care costs, but, as has been reported, opposed a national health care plan when it was proposed, which would have lowered the costs of its vehicles by an average of $1,500.
And in return for shattering the companies that Alfred Sloan, Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler built, Detroit wants the government to give them more or less a blank check. One can almost hear the labor unions drooling over that prospect.
No, they had their chance. Actually they had hundreds of chances over the years to innovate and keep pace with global competition, and now the bill is due – literally.
Ironically, I joined Triple A as a result of the problems with my GM car. I suggest they do the same — it has to work better than what they’ve done before.
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