By on October 3, 2010

Predicted by site founder Robert Farago when few people thought it could actually happen, GM’s bankruptcy is now history. So, time for the histories.

Paul Ingrassia certainly seems qualified to provide one. The Wall Street Journal’s man in Detroit for years, he won a Pulitzer (with Joseph White) for his coverage of the auto industry’s early 1990’s brush with disaster and subsequent recovery. That coverage provided the basis for 1994’s Comeback: the Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry, a definitive account of that period.

Does Crash Course: the American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster similarly deserve a place on your bookshelf?

Well, it depends. Did you know:

  • most Japanese cars circa 1970 were front-wheel-drive
  • the Japanese invested in direct fuel injection in the 1980s
  • Iacocca started the SUV boom with Jeep, and gave them the 4.0 engine
  • the Saturn SL2 was larger than the SL1
  • the Toyota Prius runs entirely on electric power below 30 mph

Of course you didn’t. When discussing cars, Ingrassia gets such facts wrong as often as he gets them right. So, should we wonder what else isn’t correct? Or should we grant that someone can know the car industry inside and out, without knowing cars?

The first 160 of the book’s 280 pages review the industry’s history from its roots through 2005, with an emphasis on labor relations. There’s nothing particularly insightful in them, and certainly nothing new.

The key point: the UAW, shaped through confrontation, and with a monopoly on the supply of labor, kept demanding more and more, and industry executives, lacking courage and in denial, accepted and appeased them. For example, GM executives might have been able to bankrupt the union in 1998, but ultimately “lost their nerve” because “the UAW was the devil GM knew.”

In 2005 the UAW successfully fought an attempt to ban smoking on the assembly lines. Ingrassia’s take: “the union often stood for the right to be irresponsible, and the company accepted the ridiculous.” The most damaging concessions: retirement after 30 years on the line and a “Jobs Bank” where displaced workers continued to receive nearly full pay. When a threat to the existing ways of doing things emerged in the form of Saturn, both management and labor successfully worked to kill it. Secondary points: industry executives were out of touch with the market, and product development funds were spread too thinly due to an excessive number of brands.

The book starts earning its purchase price once it reaches 2005. Though still not insightful, but it is at least mildly interesting. Rick Wagoner is criticized for making major blunders (the FIAT debacle, the failure to sell Saab and Hummer, GMAC home mortgages, huge financial and market share losses), yet refusing to make big changes, and continuing to believe that gradualism would work. Jerry York gets props for trying (without success) to make GM accept reality and take necessary steps to avoid bankruptcy. Cerberus and the executives it hired vastly underestimated the difficulty of fixing Chrysler, and were in way over their heads. Alan Mulally faced reality and did what needed to be done before it was too late.

The last two chapters are easily the best in the book. Heavily based on confidential interviews with the people involved, they start with the first Congressional hearings in late 2008 and end with the bankruptcies. We get positive portraits of the principal Presidential Task Force members, whose lack of industry experience, as with Mulally, proved to be an advantage. Lacking this experience, “they would ignore all Detroit’s conventional wisdom about what couldn’t be done and take their guidance from common sense instead of car sense.” They did know mismanagement when they saw it. The more Wagoner touted the Volt as the solution to the company’s immediate crisis, “the more Rattner and Bloom became convinced he was removed from reality.”

We get a somewhat detailed account of how the task force, with common sense and the courage to force major changes, squeezed all of the parties hard. It forced both management and labor to take steps that should have been taken years earlier. It forced debt holders to take major haircuts, because keeping the companies operating was the top priority. The “ridiculous” Jobs Bank? Finally gone. Non-essential brands? Gone. Mountains of debt? Gone. Wagoner? Gone. In short, “the task force had brought more common sense to GM than the company had seen in decades.” Government intervention was necessary because the UAW, company executives, and debt holders would never have worked out a solution on their own, even though (in the case of the first two) their livelihoods were at stake.

Crisis was always necessary to get the UAW and executives to make any changes at all, and even with a life-threatening crisis they weren’t willing or able to make sufficient changes on their own. So what, now, that the companies have been saved? In an afterward, Ingrassia doubts that the cultures of the UAW or the “lifer” executives who remained in control had undergone the needed revolutions.

The account throughout is very much that of a professional journalist. Unlike with Alex Taylor’s Sixty to Zero (reviewed here), the personality and opinions of the author are well hidden. There’s minimal wondering what might have happened, for better or worse, if various people had acted differently. The exceptions: GM could have avoided bankruptcy if it had followed Ford’s lead, and Chrysler was nearly permitted to go under. But, once the decision was made to save both companies, what might have been done differently? What opportunities for change were missed? These questions aren’t asked, much less answered. The focus is on what did happen, on the (hopefully correct) facts.

The largest failing of Crash Course: it doesn’t dig much beneath the surface. Ingrassia’s new, shorter book (280 vs. 474 pages) is in general considerably less interesting and insightful than Comeback, which continues to be a joy to read. One likely factor: while the old book thoroughly delved into the biographies, work, and personalities of many mid-level managers, the new book focuses more tightly on harder-to-access people at the very top of the companies. (Two exceptions: a guy on the line and a car dealer.) Despite numerous interviews—they were “confidential,” and so are not listed—the major players remain caricatures. “Complacency, arrogance, and hubris,” “isolation,” a lack of “common sense,” and “lack of courage,” though certainly present, are the same, overly simple characterizations Detroit’s critics have been making since  Brock Yates penned “Grosse Pointe Myopians” back in 1968. And probably before that.

These characterizations don’t go far enough. These people aren’t stupid; smart people somehow kept doing stupid things. Replace these smart people with other smart people, and more often than not the new people will do the same stupid things. Why does experience apparently suppress common sense? What were the UAW and corporate leaders actually thinking as events progressed? Why did they feel they had no choice but to act the way they did? Why are the “cultural revolutions” Ingrassia calls for still not happening?

The best answers Ingrassia offers: “courage” and the “common sense” of an outsider’s perspective. Both Mulally and the task force came from outside the industry, and so neither accepted that the way things had always been done was the way they had to be done. Beyond this, they had the courage to make big changes, and to face down those who opposed these changes—though both also appeased the union, if to a lesser extent.

Was “courage” truly the key difference between Wagoner and Mulally? And the courage to admit failure and step side the key difference between Wagoner and Bill Ford? Briefly mentioned: the Ford family and the priority it placed on retaining control through its stock ownership. Left implicit: while GM’s executives claimed until the last minute that bankruptcy was not an option, in Ford’s case bankruptcy was truly not an option. Perhaps this and not the courage of this or that individual explains why only Ford did whatever was necessary to avoid bankruptcy? Even though they held large amounts of stock and options themselves, perhaps GM’s executives did not feel the same amount of pressure to safeguard GM’s stockholders?

With his experience and contacts, Ingrassia should have been able to offer deeper, more thorough explanations for why the various players did what they did. Did he not try, or even in retirement does he remain bound by the culture of the mainstream auto media, and so unwilling to dig too deeply or say too much? Ingrassia criticizes the local Detroit media for “helping to create the very insularity that had made Detroit executives and UAW officials oblivious to the sentiment elsewhere in America.” The cultures of the UAW and executive suites are not the only ones still in need of revolution.

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44 Comments on “Book Review: Crash Course: the American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster...”

  • avatar

    I agree with your review — Ingrassia swung and missed bigtime with this one. The real inside story of the decline and fall of GM will make a hell of a book, assuming anyone actually writes it. Likewise the Ford turnaround. It’s a shame these haven’t happened yet.

  • avatar

    SO glad to hear my SL2 is bigger than an SL1. Always wondered about that.. And I swear my ’70 Toyota Corona Mark II was front drive…

  • avatar

    if you recall, it was your Friendly Buickman who coined the terms Red Ink Rick and The Board of Bystanders back in 2006. many of the corrections called for by the Task Force can be found in the minutes of the Annual Meetings pertaining to my speeches throughout the past ten years.

    biggest obstacles remaining, Deloitte and Touche absolutely HAS TO GO, need for a separate Chairman and CEO, complete overhaul of marketing including the entire incompetent staff (new and old), elimination of all rebates, increased dealer margin, dissolution of stair step dealer incentives, and the introduction of full size Buick cars.

    replacing dishonest executives who lie, cheat, and steal wouldn’t hurt either.


    • 0 avatar

      Buickman, why do you see GM’s outside auditors, Deloitte and Touche, as an obstacles that “has to go”? I think it’s generally a good idea for corporations to change auditors every few years, but is there a specific reason that D&T are part of GM’s challenges? To be sure, I was saying 2 or 3 years ago that GM’s auditors must be agonizing over accepting the “going concern” idea for a firm with negative equity and no profit. Do you think D&T should have pronounced this parrot dead?

    • 0 avatar

      see “Market Share on Market Street”. click ahead to slide 42

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Not surprised.  From J-school onward, mainstream reporters aren’t encouraged to think — their holy grail is the big scoop.  American journalism simply doesn’t do analytical depth.  That’s relegated to the business management scholarly journals.
    Peter Senge has argued that organizational structure and culture are vastly more important than most people realize (particularly in the popular business press, which tends to breathlessly glorify corporate leaders).  If you put good people in a bad structure you will likely get same old, same old.  To change the outcome you need to change the underlying structure and culture.  This is very difficult to do — particularly in older industries.
    Ford has thus far been able to change its structure and culture much more successfully than GM.  Over the last few years a number of TTAC commentators have criticized the Ford family’s continued control of the company, but I would argue that its unusual governance has been a key to Ford’s success.  Once the family decided that dramatic change was needed, it had the concentrated power to make sure that Mullally’s initiatives survived the inevitable backlashes from entrenched interests within the company.  Don’t for a minute think that he would have succeeded if the family had sought only incremental change.
    Once the government stepped aside at GM there simply hasn’t been a strong enough force for dramatic change.  That’s why I think GM would have had a better shot at long-term survival if the corporation had been broken into at least two pieces. Economies of scale aren’t quite so useful when they maintain toxic levels of dysfunction.

    • 0 avatar

      The federal government DID take action against GM, and it turned out to be the wrong one.

      The Truman Administration launched a suit to force the DuPonts to divest their ownership stake in GM. The government won, and this divestiture was complete by 1961, if I recall correctly.

      After the DuPonts sold their stake in GM, the corporation was ultimately deprived of a strong, outside voice that wasn’t thorougly marinated in the Detroit culture. GM became even more insular as a result.

      In retrospect, it would have been better if the government had simply split Chevrolet cars and trucks off from the rest of GM. In the early 1960s, Chevrolet alone had over 25 percent of the market, so it would have been viable as a standalone company.

    • 0 avatar

      certainly GM benefited from Donaldson Brown, Albert Bradly, and of course Pierre himself, and who could forget about Henry.

      also Sloan took a much less active role in the 60’s, dying before the decade ended.

    • 0 avatar

      Geeber, as I understand it, under Sloan, GM patterned its corporate structure and governance after that of DuPont, so I’m not sure how much of an outside voice the DuPonts ultimately were. Even after the divestment in 1961, the two companies have still had very close business ties. It took PPG a long time to get a piece of GM’s paint business and they only did that after they got their foot in the door with e-coat dip tanks. When all is said and done, when you combine DuPont’s tier 1 relationship with GM in terms of paint, and then when you consider all the polymers that DuPont sells to tier 2 and 3 vendors, DuPont may be GM’s biggest vendor. It’s not just the stuff that you can see like plastic interior parts, DuPont supplies fibers for carpet, nylon reinforcements in belts and hoses, elastomers for seals, films used in electronic components, and a lot of the plastic used for component housings etc.
      The DuPonts backed Billy Durant when he reacquired control of GM. They saw it as doubly profitable, making money from dividends on GM stock and from selling GM the new paints and new plastics that the DuPont company had started developing (well, the paint part – DuPont actually got into plastics via an acquisition).

  • avatar

    The most damaging concessions: retirement after 30 years on the line
    What else do you want to do with with the over 55? You can shift a bit and put the aged in less demanding jobs on the line or in the factory but you can’t do that if 20% is over 55.
    Retirement after 40 years is not a problem, not budgeting enough money for it is. GM budgeted with a yearly return of more than 8%. If GM could really get that return it should have stopped making cars and become and investment bank.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, come on, budgeting is the easy part, any fool can make overly optimistic budgets, the devil is in fulfilling those same budgets! As to retirement, a little common sense, please! It is not a question of whether the over 55 have “deserved” retirement, it is a question whether they have created enough value during their working years to support themselves during their retirement years. Today, even notoriously “lazy” nations like Greece and France have to re-do retirement plans. When people live until they’re 80 years old, there is no way workers can retire at 55, not even at 65, maybe at 75, so just prepare for working a lot in the future!

    • 0 avatar

      It is not a question of if the workers were productive enough to pay for the pension or that they deserve it but if GM or any other car company for that matter wants 65 year old line workers. I don’t think so.
      A motor company has 3 options with what to do with 55+ workers.

      Keep them but the plant will be much less productive
      fire them but than you need to pay workers more and the workers with other options will leave
      retire them early, cost also money

      Retirement is probably the most economic option.

  • avatar

    As a simple man with a simple mind I prefer simplistic explanations so prefer to blame BIG 3 problems upon 5-mph bumpers, air pumps pumping air into exhaust manifolds and gulp valves.

  • avatar

    I thought Crash Course was a better book than you do. My review of the book is on, and I won’t repeat it here. But I will say that I’ve read everything I could find on the GM-Chrysler bailout period (including Rattner’s book and everything on TTAC). This book is the best I’ve found.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s certainly a solid overview, but I expected more from Ingrassia based on Comeback. He didn’t have Joseph White as a co-author this time around. Maybe that would have made a difference?
      I’ve just started Rattner’s book. It will inevitably be different, since it’s written from the perspective of one person who was personally involved.

    • 0 avatar

      I also started the Rattner book but only had gotten through the first 20 pages or so when review copies of Mark Donohue: A Life In Photographs and Can Am Cars In Detail got dropped off by UPS. Inside baseball on the bailout is no doubt interesting but if the choice is between an insider’s self-serving account and books with some of the greatest drivers and race cars ever, well, sorry Steve.
      Let me ask you, what would you read first, another review of Rattner’s book (the most notable excerpts of which have already been published), or a review filled with talk of Chaparrals, McLarens, and the awe-inspiring (even for this confirmed Porsche non-fan) 917-30?

  • avatar

    This guy is just a know-nothing “journalist” (hence it’s shallowness) trying to sell books to massman…Where is Robert Farago’s book? I will buy that one!

    Note how Bob king is going around demanding everything for nothing like the mental eight year old brat that he is…Some things will never change.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      Excellent book on the trajectories of Ford & Nissan by David Halberstam..  I believe it’s out of print now though :p

  • avatar
    Decline and fall of the USA Auto Industry
    Brock Yates
    Read it a few years back after grabbing it off the thrift store shelf for a quarter or two.
    Don’t remember all the details but I recall it as being an interesting read.
    Wondering, pondering, contemplating as to how accurate it was back then and to the applicability of conclusions back then regardi8ng to what has occurred since this book was written.
    May have to keep the eye ball open for a replacement but hereabouts the thrift stores have a severe shortage of non-fiction books likely due to the local herd being more of a comic book oriented mob if they can even read at that level.
    Heck, even interpreting the art work may be difficult for those whose yard ornament is that car atop cement blocks and Hee Haw was the finest network TV ever offered. Or was it the Dukes of Hazard?
    Anyway…. possum stew from road-kill for the win, Jed.

  • avatar

    One of the saddest things so far about Ford is that the wrong man is getting ALL the credit. Bill Ford should be getting the lion’s share but he’s still willing to stay in the shadows while Mulally basks in the sun. It’s only because of the Ford family involvment that the comeback is even possible.

    It’s really unfortunate that Perot was run out of GM. Someone like that might have been able to get the changes needed like the Fords were able to do.

    • 0 avatar

      The Ford family is also to blame for many of the problems with the company.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s true, but all the top management is to blame for the ills of the auto cos. Even buying into the union problem argument, the mgmt has to enable it. It starts and stops at the top. And they didn’t stop it.

    • 0 avatar

      Michael, that’s true, but I think the Ford family knows some family and company history and know that this wasn’t the first time that Ford Motor Co. has been endangered. To begin with, Henry Ford lost control of the first car company he started (which later became Cadillac, btw). He vowed to never let that happen again, that’s why he bought out his partners in FoMoCo like James Couzens, once HF was fabulously wealthy. That history is probably why the family later sold stock in Ford but retained control with Class B stock shares. So they’re not going to just close up shop, to quote Henry Ford II, their name’s over the door.
      As far as bankruptcy is concerned, FoMoCo faced a crisis in mid to late 1920s as the Model T became obsolete, Henry wouldn’t let go of it, and Chevrolet was taking away big chunks of market share. Changing over to the Model A involved shutting down assembly plants for 6 months, with little revenue coming in. Then, after Edsel Ford died, a senile Henry Ford took over control of the company, then a major war material supplier in the midst of WWII. The “Whiz Kids” that HF II brought in with him to make it a modern company found a major 20th century industrial giant run like a 19th century machine shop. Henry Ford didn’t like accountants and ran the company like a feudal fiefdom. While the 1949 Ford was a hit and the first modern postwar car, the period between Edsel Ford’s death and the introduction of the ’49 was also rather risky for the company. Ten years later, though it didn’t threaten the company’s viability, the Edsel debacle cost FoMoCo $200 million back when that was serious coin.
      So I figure that Billy and his cousins know that their great wealth is still in play. I have a lot of respect for Billy Ford because he didn’t have to work a day in his life and has indeed been a FoMoCo employee for his entire adult life. He tried running the company, couldn’t turn things around, and was smart enough to realize that he wasn’t the man for the job and hired Mullaly. At that level of industry, I don’t think you’ll find many executives willing to put aside their own egos for the sake of the company. I think an argument can indeed be made that the Ford family’s stake in the company probably probably makes them both more accountable and more powerful stewards than the more diffuse ownership at GM.
      I don’t know if Bill Ford Jr. personally picked Alan Mullaly or if his hiring was the result of using consultants and headhunters, but Mullaly was the perfect fit, an outsider to Detroit but one who comes from an engineering and manufacturing background. A change agent that understands what he’s dealing with.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t believe that the Edsel debacle really hurt the company that much. Much of the production capacity that was supposed to be used for the Edsel ended up being used for the Falcon and Comet, so it hardly went to waste. Those cars were huge successes at an important time, and served as the basis for the wildly successful Mustang.  

      The real damage was more in image, as well as the knowledge that the name of Henry Ford’s only son – a gentleman in every sense of the word, and one who possessed impeccable taste in automotive design – would become a joke to the public.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with Geeber that Edsel was more hurtful to Ford’s PR than bottom line. I read in a business book that Ford lost three times as much money on its Philco acquisition as Edsel, and no one remembers that.
      Where I disagree with Geeber is suggesting that the secretive, monopoly-loving, right-wing DuPonts could have kept GM in line over the last 50 years. That’s like saying the Koch brothers should be running Hewlett-Packard.

    • 0 avatar

      The DuPonts provided a necessary counterweight to the Detroit-centered outlook of GM management. And having right-wing political beliefs doesn’t mean that a person or organization cannot determine where the market is going, and what change is needed to succeed in it.

      The UAW is staunchly left wing, and it has hardly been a beacon of change or an example of astute leadership in any sense of the word. Same with virtually all urban governments.

    • 0 avatar

      The DuPonts are a very old and very large family now, including the Smiths and the Browns. I’m sure that family members’ politics vary as they do in all families. As far as I know Pete and Pierre are the only family members involved in politics and if being Republicans makes them right wing, well so be it. As I seem to recall Pete is pretty moderate, while Pierre is a confirmed free marketer.

      At this point, I think that members of the DuPont families own less than 10% of the company’s stock. They don’t control DuPont the way the Ford family retains control of FoMoCo through a special class of stock. A few family members sit on the board but there hasn’t been a DuPont in charge of the company as CEO for a long time. The DuPonts are a much larger and more diffuse family than the Fords. I think that there are only about 60 Ford cousins that own Ford Class B stock. There are a lot more DuPonts, Browns and Smiths. Most DuPonts have nothing to do with the operation or management of the company. Most DuPonts probably don’t even own company stock.
      As for monopolies, I worked for the company for a long time and for most of the last half of the 20th century DuPont literally invented its monopolies (well, nylon was in the first half) and those brands became household names like Teflon and Kevlar. Unfortunately, during the 1990s DuPont cut back on basic R&D funding and it seemed as though management was less concerned with the next technological home run.
      ZOMG! Rich and powerful people try to hang on to their wealth and power. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you.

  • avatar

    “In 2005 the UAW successfully fought an attempt to ban smoking on the assembly lines.”
    That explains the Marlboro butt in the ashtray of my new 1993 Dodge Dakota !

    • 0 avatar

      So,the butt in your ashtray was for sure from a UAW member? So you took delivery of your Dakota at the end of the line eh? 

       FYI   As far back as the eighties smoking in a production car bought you a days suspension,first offence. In Ontario our plants have been non smoking for the last 8 years.

       I know Union bashing is so much fun,but lets get the facts straight.

    • 0 avatar

      mikey, If you want to be accurate, union bashing isn’t fun.  It’s more sad that anything.  It’s sad that what started as a noble cause for worker rights, safe working environments and basic worker protections has morphed into a complex organization more interested in self preservation and expansion above everything else.

  • avatar

    Ronnie –
    Thanks for that comment about the Ford family.  Great info.
    My take on Bill Ford, Jr. is much the same as yours.  I have great respect for any man who carries a legacy as he does, yet has the self awareness and humility to recognize he is not the man for the time and can turn over control.  I have to believe that part of the reason for Ford’s resurgence is that indeed the current family members recognize that their purpose is to ensure the right people run the company at the right time.
    Mulally is indeed a perfect fit for the times.

  • avatar

    Thank for for reviewing, Michael. I’d expect better from Ingrassia. I re-read Comeback two years ago. Its optimistic tone was way out of date. I was amazed at how GM, Ford and Chrysler failed to listen to lessons learned from previous mistakes. What a squandered opportunity the SUV and minivan boom was.
    I’m just about done reading Rattner’s book, Overhaul. It’s very much worth checking out.  Yes, Rattner’s a blatantly self-serving and score-settling weasel, but the inside knowledge is worth it. TTAC readers will see that the Feds and GM/Chrysler debt holders shared many of our misgivings. The outcomes to many of those behind-the-scenes arguments altered history.

    • 0 avatar

      Re-read the “Afterword.” It’s very clear that Detroit still faced major challenges, including the UAW and too many brands and models. For example, from page 473:
      “In 1995 the ironic truth remained that the biggest danger to Detroit’s success is its very success. If the 1980s taught anything, it is that arrogance and complacency, confusing comeback for victory, pave the road to ruin.”

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    I second the motion of the previous poster who asked where Farago’s book is on this?….since he’s the one who called the shot, I (having read TTAC obsessively during “GM Deathwatch” days) deem it only fitting and proper that RF should have the first and best shot at my book money when he writes the DEFINITIVE book on the topic…. 

  • avatar

    Geeber – I’m too stunned on your statement about the DuPonts to comment.
    Is your principle objection to the UAW is their unbridled, short-sighted greed? If so, how can they be left-wing? Considering what we know about how the top mgmt. of the big unions have lived/stolen, they hardly seem like parables of left-wing thinking.
    There’s all kinds of ways to get a living wage or decent health care besides government intervention. I’m just curious. Is anyone who wants those things automatically a left-winger?

    • 0 avatar

      I’m stunned that you believe that short-sighted greed is limited to right wingers. You can’t be serious.

      Left wingers are just as greedy as anyone else. They are human, too. Ignore their rhetoric and look at what they do, not what they say.

      (One important point – wanting to hold on to your own money does not make you greedy. A better case could be made that wanting to spend someone else’s money, obtained through higher taxes, is the true form of greed.)

      And please don’t say that being greedy automatically makes them right wing. Sorry, but that dog won’t hunt. The idea that all left wingers are altruistic and motivated only by the desire to help people is nonsense. Plenty of them are out to line their own pockets, too.  

      And there is a way to earn a living wage – improve your skills to make yourself more marketable to potential employers. Last time I checked, no one needs a government madate to do that.

      As for my original point – the DuPonts would have provided a good counterweight to the Detroit-centered outlook of GM’s top management and board. That worked well for over three decades. GM’s management, ironically enough, gave in to the UAW quite readily by the late 1960s, and this surrender was one factor that led to the company’s present condition.

    • 0 avatar

      No, we actually agree that left-wingers and right-wingers can be equally greedy. Thanks for clarifying your POV, Geeber.
      GM gave in to the UAW long before the DuPonts were barred. The ugly, crippling strikes in 1937 made GM very risk-averse to fighting its own workers.  When the postwar boom hit, GM didn’t want trouble. By 1950, even Walter Reuther himself told Charlie Wilson that GM was making too many concessions, particularly on health care. If GM had listened, maybe the health care situation would be different today. In fact, I’d bet GM would be doing very well in that business.
      When GM was booming in the mid-Fifties, its design and engineering was tops. Quality was taking a back seat to production and sales goals, though. Both these things were happening while both the DuPonts and Alfred Sloan (plus his Board) were still around. No one cared. That’s why I don’t buy this benovolent despot argument.
      If GM’s leaders were open-minded, anyone could have provided a decent counterweight without controlling GM stock or its Board — a consulting firm, an honest business press, Wall Street. Those managers (I assume you mean Donner, Roche, Murphy, Cole, Estes, Smith, Reuss, Stempel, up to Red Ink Rick?) weren’t milquetoast; they were arrogant and falsely believed their own genius/press.

  • avatar

    Author: Buickman

    certainly GM benefited from Donaldson Brown, Albert Bradly, and of course Pierre himself, and who could forget about Henry.

    also Sloan took a much less active role in the 60’s, dying before the decade ended.

    So really, what GM has really needed all these years is a succession of “benevolent despots.” Cool, now now we know!

    • 0 avatar

      A succession milquetoast MBAs who repeatedly gave in to the UAW and isolated themselves from outside influences and what customers wanted makes those benevolent despots look pretty good right now…

  • avatar

    this might now be read in a new light. Farago and Buickman from almost 5 years ago…

  • avatar

    Buickman – When Farago wrote that, he was essentially saying you made good points, but as with every conspiracy theorist, to take everything with you say with a grain of salt.

    Even a broken clock is right twice a day. The fact that you got a couple of things right about GM’s meltdown doesn’t make everything you say credible.

  • avatar

    Only ostriches, fanbois, or the legally blind did not know GM was eventually doomed in the mid-70s.
    It was only a matter of time. From (as obbop noted) the Yates book in 84, back to On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors in 79, to the tons of subtle digs in the enthusiast rags of the day – WE ALL KNEW GM BK WAS INEVITABLE.
    I slogged through some of Ingrassia’s tome, and between the inaccuracies, and  there being nothing in there a well-read enthusiast wouldn’t know, I quit after a hundred pages or so.

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  • Cactuar: Where else can you find misaligned trim pieces and panels? On a $50k 2018 Honda Odyssey. The Odyclub forum...
  • rudiger: A great article but there are a few minor corrections: -The 1968 Road Runner’s price was closer to...

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