While GM finishes its 40-year rush to judgement, heading for its June 1 date with a bankruptcy judge, there are still such things as GM customers. You know; millions of people who own GM products. And these people are—shock!—still buying cars and getting their cars serviced. And there, on the sharp end, dealers, salesmen, service managers and technicians are all attempting to come to grips with the competitive, financial and psychological dangers implicit in a GM C11. To calm these troubled souls, GM’s North America Vice President of Vehicle Sales and Service has been Bob Marleying these forward troops, telling them that every little thing’s gonna be alright. To that end, last month, Mark LaNeve announced the launch of a “weekly conversation” with GM dealers: “reinventing GM.” There was one e-mail communication on April 3.
Category: Inside The Big Three
Although it’s not exactly the riddle of the Sphinx (answer: man), many of our Best and Brightest have wondered why GM can’t make a decent car interior. Even before GM Car Czar Bob Lutz assumed the throne (since abdicated), the American automaker has admitted that they need to step up their game within its vehicles. And yet, in the main, the fit and finish of GM interiors still doesn’t make the grade. Obviously, there’s a whole host of contributing factors—from supplier contracts to union work rules. A GM insider recently contacted TTAC to provide an important piece of that particular puzzle. Agent X reveals one of the main reasons GM’s interiors failed to match the competition: the executives didn’t know there was a problem. Still don’t. Here’s why . . .
GM’s Steve Harris is dancing all over the bankruptcy issue at GM’s Fastlane blog. Yesterday Haris was sounding resigned if still-delusional. “So, by now you’ve seen the news reports,” he wrote. “You know that auditors have said that there is substantial doubt about GM’s ability to survive as a ‘going concern’ through the end of the year. It’s certainly led to some scary headlines – some more accurate than others, of course.” But all scary. Yeah, believe it or not, we kind of saw it coming.
What is fascinating about GM, and offers some hope, is that it really has two cultures. The one described above is an accurate depiction of the culture in North America and Western Europe but there is another in the rest of the world that is very different. The culture of GM’s operations in Asia, Latin America, Africa and Middle East, Russia and Eastern Europe, is much more progressive and it is in these areas that GM is doing very well. On almost all of the measures listed above, they would come out on the progressive side. Working for GM in Asia Pacific, Latin America or the Middle East, you would think you were in a completely different company. People are very forward looking, they are capable of making the tough decisions, they are business focused, debate is tolerated but discipline is enforced, relations with their labor force and dealers are usually positive, and authority is genuinely dispersed to the smaller business units within each of the regions.
[Editor's Note: This is the second of a four-part series by Dr. Rob Kleinbaum. Read the first part here.]
The scholars Lawrence Harrison, Samuel Huntington and their colleagues have addressed the fundamental question of whether culture “matters” in how societies develop and make a compelling case that it matters a great deal. They have also outlined the specific traits that lead a society to progress or prevent it from doing so and their work provides a rigorous way to think about culture that is based on substantial evidence. These traits seem applicable to a private enterprise, especially one that is larger and older than many countries.
Another email from a GM insider: “Meet Rick, unassuming book worm with a penchant of fixing all things mechanical. Rick was a 12 year veteran of GM, spending 7 years as a journeyman Machine repairman. Due to a constantly shrinking work force, Rick soon had to relocate. Luckily, Rick’s first transfer kept him in his skilled trade and fortunately keep another well rounded expert in mechanical issues with the Corporation. Rick was content with the move but according to him ‘I wouldn’t wish that shit on anyone.’ Little did Rick know that the plant he just re-located to was soon announced that within 8 months it would cease production. Left with the option of hoping like hell another plant needed manpower or immerse himself in the job market, OL’ Rick again rented a U-Haul. It was in October 2003 that I had meet Rick. It still leaves me missing his daily ‘Hey dude, if its done this way, shit would be better’ remarks.
“Yes, a long time. I’ve seen GM do a lot of things. Water pumps – massive failure in the late 60′s and early 70′s. Broken motor mounts – when they failed the throttle would go wide open… a fun ride. Implementation of emission controls – the plugging of the vacuum lines to the EGR valves. IMHO this is where everything started going bad. GM cars began to have more driveability problems than ever before. Worse, problems became harder to diagnosis. We sold a lot of cars during the 70′s; some good, some not so good. The Chevy Vega was the worst. Then came the X cars and we lost all direction.
Please keep this email anonymous. I currently work for GM Holden in Australia. This is my second stint at Holden. As you may know Holden is an Iconic Australian brand that unfortunately has GM Cancer. Holden has always been successful in delivering pretty good rear wheel drive cars at good prices. Until, however we got caught up in the GM world with the GTO program. My first time at Holden was in 2000. It was a place were everybody was proud of what we did, knew what had to be done. Now it is a shell of its former self, with people totally beaten into submission. The last 18 months doing Camaro has really smashed Holden and its talented workforce. It replaced just about all of the Australian management with Americans with no experience in the Australian market, and could not be told they were wrong.
For years, I’ve been trying to convince one of our GM moles to provide some anonymous insight into the boiler room of the Titanic. This is my most recent reply, reprinted with permission. “Its not that I am no longer interested in at least giving it a whirl– Robert I gotta be honest with you, the position I hold within the Corporation as well as the UAW would almost spell doom for me personally if I would ever post under my actual name… Given all that’s going on right now, its not uncommon for me to take work home and plug away a 18 hr. day. Some on the site that I believe work for GM are refering to high stress/bunker like mentality and I can attest to this. Watching grown men cry that have always behaved somewhat professinally is discomforting at best. I personally hope this is not the end as my march toward insolvency would only be preceded by GM itself. I’m not wealthy nor sheltered by past savings or 401k. And I sure as hell would have a hard time explaining that I’ve spent the last 5 years as a XXXX for the UAW. Gotta think that my choice in this matter would sink my resume quicker than a manhole cover in water… My personal daily feelings are as follows when at work: one part fucked-up chapter of McBeth read in pig-latin; one part daily interaction with people that look and act the part of droogs in Clockwork Orange. And all the while the Doors “The End” playing in the background.”
I’ve started to get emails from more ex-GM employees. Here’s one, with details omitted to protect the correspondent’s identity… “I’ve worked for GM nearly 9 years. No barfing in the toilets that I saw (at least when they weren’t closed for cleaning during the day–you know, after they did away with nightly maintenance to cut costs). But I did break down in tears in the parking deck. This was after fighting for 3 years to get a lateral move that was necessary for career development, getting resisted by management who told me I had to find own my replacement, only to have my director (a long-timer, my-way-or-the-highway type) move me to a completely different group during the 2006 layoff/reorg without bothering to ask me first. Fortunately I did pick up skills to qualify me for my current job. But too little, too late — that’s essentially been GM’s problem for the last 30 years, in fact.