Ten weeks before the Tet Offensive fatally undermined American support for the Vietnam War, General William Westmoreland embarked on a publicity tour to “sell” the ongoing military campaign. In a televised news conference, Westmoreland famously declared that he could see “the light at the end of the tunnel.” In the same sense, GM’s executives continue to express their faith in the automaker’s “turnaround.” This much is to be expected– especially when The General is lobbying for tens of billions of dollars in public funds. But the mainstream automotive media’s complicity is unconscionable.
For decades, the American automotive press has suckled on General Motors’ bounteous teats. Last year alone, before GM’s cash burn mandated some serious back-of the-sofa scrounging, the automaker spent over $2b on advertising. That kind of money buys you a lot of friends. In fact, The General’s formerly free-flowing ad bucks have supported a lifestyle to which automotive journalists became accustomed.
So it’s not surprising to see these jobbing journos share GM execs’ reluctance to face the grim fact that the artist formerly known as the world’s largest automaker is terminally ill. The scribes and suits adhere to the same delusional notion that all new cars are wonderful, but Detroit’s latest are the most wonderful of all. If not now, then soon. One day. Some day.
Of course, the 50 and 60-something white men who have watched The General’s descent from dominance to disaster share a cultural heritage with the men (and a few women) sailing this increasingly strange ship of fools onto the shoals of bankruptcy. This doesn’t excuse these journalists from their duty to serve the public trust. Clinging to the profound, unspoken belief that “what’s good for General Motors is good for America” is a disservice to the consumer and, ultimately, ironically, General Motors.
Mark my words: in these internet-savvy times, the mainstream automotive press’ failure to fully disclose the denial, hypocrisy and greed surrounding the planned GM et al. bailout– cravenly camouflaged as a green initiative– will be the final nail in both lovers’ coffins. To wit, this from Automotive News:
“General Motors’ employee pricing program helped the automaker sell more vehicles in August than in any month of 2008. But sales still were 20.3 percent below the level of August 2007. GM sold 307,285 cars and light trucks in August, up 31.3 percent from July. Trucks and SUVs delivered a big surprise for GM. Although still down from August 2007, GM’s pickups and big SUVs turned in their best sales performances of the year. In August, GM delivered more than 80,000 full-sized Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.”
Silverado sales? Off 24.8 percent from last August. Sierra? Down 17.1 percent. Incentives? Automotive News mentions the profit-killers, but Edmunds estimates them, at $3965 per GM vehicle. And guess which vehicles have the most cash on the hood (‘cause GM ain’t sayin’ nothin’)?
As one of those 50-something white guys (well, 49, but who’s counting), Automotive News’ article is a frightening reminder of the “body count” battle reports from Vietnam, which invariably painted any and all conflicts as a [relative] U.S. rout. As we all know, the military operation may have been a success, but the South Vietnamese government (and many of our supporters in the region) died. And what’s that bit about history repeating itself?
“‘We’re not indicating or pretending in any way that the truck market is snapping back’ [vice president of GM North America sales, service and marketing Mark] LaNeve said, but the numbers indicate that pickup sales have perhaps bottomed out. LaNeve also said that he thinks overall industry sales may have hit bottom in June or July.
‘I think we saw the bottom and are going to start scratching our way up to numbers that are improving.'”
“Up to numbers that are improving?” On what? When? By how much? Is GM really a publicly-traded company? The automaker’s stunning lack of accountability continues apace. For now. One way or another, there will be a David Halberstram-predicted reckoning.
At the very least, our elected representatives will demand an explanation for the situation that has led GM to call on federal tax money for its survival. Given the prospect of publicly acknowledging their epic mismanagement and personal greed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rick Wagoner and his mob drift away on the golden parachutes before the show starts. Nor would I be surprised if they don’t; their hubris seems to know no bounds.
Either way, like General Westmoreland, Wagoner, Lutz, Henderson and their obscenely compensated brethren will eventually claim that their stunning defeat was actually a victory in disguise: the unavoidable economic “catharsis” American industry needed. Even worse, many media members will affirm this absurd notion. Rest assured that I, and the new legions of uncorrupted commentators, will not be amongst them.