The Detroit News headline: “Obama Auto Bailout Draws Fire.” Suddenly, without warning, Motown’s hometown newspaper has changed sides. What was “their” bailout has become “Obama’s.” The altered allegiance comes hot on the heels Chrysler and GM’s decision to terminate around a thousand dealers apiece. This is not music to the domestic supporters’ ears; the dealer cull represents the complete, final and unavoidable end of Motor City’s domination of the American car industry. The fact that the domestics’ supporters are suddenly behind the franchisee push back—which could scupper both automakers’ future—shows the depth of Detroit’s denial. While the bailout boosters gave The Presidential Task Force on Automobiles (PTFOA) props for shit-canning GM CEO Rick Wagoner, you can file this one under no good deed goes unpunished.
Like any political battle, the latest front in Motown’s wider war against reality is a race against time. Can the axed dealers’ political allies wrest control of GM’s post C-11 future from president Obama’s “smartest guys in the room” before (as?) the company sinks into complete chaos? We’ll see. The DetN reports that Congress critters are firing multiple salvos against US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Reps Kucinich, LaTourette, Conyers, McCotter and others sent Timbo a missive calling for the Obama administration to hand the whole bailout thing “back” to Congress.
To do what, exactly? Other than saving the dealers cast adrift by Chrysler and GM, they got nothing. Which puts the offended politicians at level pegging with the PTFOA. Remember: the PTFOA decided to arrange a shotgun marriage between Chrysler and Fiat, swap the “old” Chrysler’s liabilities for a worthless promissory note (i.e., shares in “new” Chrysler), give the born-again (and again and again) car maker a multi-billion dollar dowry and . . . call it good.
The plan sounded crazy—and it still does. Strangely, despite the dealers’ howls of protest, no one [who votes] seems to care that the feds sold Chrysler down the river. On Friday, Fiat named the three Board of Directors members who will control the new, taxpayer-supported Chrysler LLC. Ignoring the Wagoner problem (Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne will be both ChryCo’s CEO and a Board member), the announcement was a tacit admission that Chrysler will now be an Italian company. Protectionist outrage? Nowhere to be seen.
This is no small point. As we count down the final hours until GM’s C11, as Congress bellyaches to no practical effect, we can expect history to repeat itself. Former Chrysler exec Jerry York is active again, desperately seeking a chunk of post-C11 GM to call his own. OK, Renault/Nissan’s AND his own. In other words, GM’s C11 could be Chrysler II.
And why not? In Chrysler’s final analysis, all the xenophobic rhetoric about federal tax dollars “saving America’s industrial base” counted for nothing. Not only have the zombies been “allowed” to shutter plants and jettison American production jobs, they’ve been “encouraged” to terminate tens of thousands of dealership-related jobs.
I’m not saying it was the wrong thing to do. I’m simply pointing out that the original logic underpinning the entire $100 billion (and counting) bailout process has disappeared. Which brings two maxims to mind: nature abhors a vacuum and a week is along time in politics.
Will Renault/Nissan fill the hole where the world’s largest automaker used to be? Given that Uncle Sam didn’t get dime one from Fiat for Chrysler, there’s literally nothing to stop them. And if not them, someone. While the feds’ restructuring plan assumes public ownership of the “new” GM, Obama’s army isn’t stupid enough to cling to the ship as it’s sucked beneath the waves. Congress is—which is a scary thought.
Either way, the clock is ticking, and it’s a time bomb. Voters will not put up with this Motown mishegos forever. And the longer this process continues, the worse GM’s chances of even pretending to be in a position to recover. Immediately after The General files, May’s sales figures will emerge. And after that, June. And so on. Anyone who thinks that the GM sales chart’s arrow won’t point straight to hell is seriously deluded.
Delusion is, of course, GM’s strong suit. It suffuses the company’s management. It blights its unions. It envelops its dealers. It infects its pet media. It even afflicts its customers. That’s how General Motors got into this pickle. And that’s how they’re not going to get out.
Unless, that is, Renault/Nissan or some other outside “investor” repeats Fiat’s “pay no attention to this faux Chapter 7” strategy, scarfs up GM’s good bits for bupkis and cleans house. In that case, General Motors might survive. If so, it will be a vastly smaller enterprise.
In fact, any GM that emerges from C11 won’t be GM in any recognizable way. That would be a good thing for some of the automaker’s current stakeholders. But by no means all. Whether it’s warfare or bankruptcy, “surgical” doesn’t mean bloodless.