General Motors Death Watch 49: Paranoia Rules

general motors death watch 49 paranoia rules

If you're visiting the Detroit auto show, do me a favor. Go to the GM stand, find the new Chevrolet Tahoe Dual-Mode Hybrid SUV and ask the moto-bouncer to pop the hood. See if the thing's got a hybrid engine. (Ignore the engine cover; a few months ago, GM put a fake plastic cover over a pushrod powereplant to convince AutoWeek they were driving a hybrid prototype.) If The Man refuses to accommodate your request, try to decide if he's hiding something. Either way, let me know. 'Cause I'm beginning to think that Buickman is on to something…

If you don't know Buickman (a.k.a. Jim Dollinger), it's not for lack of trying. Since '94, the Michigan car salesman has dedicated his life to promoting his "Return to Greatness" recovery plan. He's brought his campaign to salesmen, customers, stockholders, board members, union members, dealers, the press, the web (www.generalwatch.com); anyone and everyone who'll give him the time of day. Now that GM faces the final curtain, Buickman has pretty much given-up on his quixotic quest and transformed himself into a whistle blower, or, if you prefer, a professional thorn in the side of GM's masters. Less charitably, Buickman is now a full-blown GM conspiracy theorist.

Buickman believes a cabal of international financiers is driving GM into bankruptcy so they can buy it up for "cents on the dollar". If I tell you that Buickman identifies the main culprits as the Rothschilds, a favorite villain for folks suspecting the secret implementation of a non-democratic "New World Order", your mind may turn away from the details of his allegations. As would mine– if it weren't for that damn engine cover. Even though I don't buy into that whole "World Bank as KAOS" shtick, I keep wondering what kind of company would create a hybrid head fake. Whose idea was it? Who knew about it? More to the point, if GM's willing to lie about the availability of hybrid engines, what else are they up to?

On the face of it, Buickman's allegation of corporate suicide don't square with counterfeit hybridism; if Rabid Rick Wagoner wants to jam GM's yoke forwards, why pretend The General's got the magic engine elixir? Of course, whenever you enter Conspiracy World, every objection has an equal and opposite explanation. In this case, Buickman maintains that Wagoner wants the world to think he's trying to save GM, even though he isn't. Plausible deniability. And then Buickman brain dumps a mountain of innuendo, from Wagoner's bankruptcy-proof pension to the company's $4b FIATsco.

And that's where it starts to get weird, because Buickman ain't just whistling Dixie. Why would GM's Board of Bystanders let Wagoner create a bankruptcy-proof pension if, as he claims, "we don't have a plan for bankruptcy"? Why did Merrill Lynch immediately buy GM's abandoned FIAT stock, given that Merrill's CEO also serves on GM's Board? Furtive Jewish bargain hunting bankers or no, Buickman's right: there are a lot of dubious goings-on over at RenCen involving the disposal of GM's assets.

And then there's the union health care 'giveback.' When we first heard of the deal, we were surprised to learn it established a $3b health care fund for the United Auto Workers (UAW). Aside from the obvious duplicity involved (when is a giveback not a giveback?) and the devious timing (Wagoner made the announcement on the day GM revealed its third quarter losses), why did GM fork over a lump sum to the UAW? Why not just pay out for increased health care coverage from The General's corporate coffers? Buickman points out that the UAW receives a 20% "administration fee". If true (neither GM nor the UAW will confirm the report), that's a $600m 'tip'. That's… scary.

And then Buickman says that the UAW and GM have agreed to stage a union strike later this year to destroy the company, so that the nefarious forces responsible can live happily ever after. As Buickman can't provide any evidence for his GM-killing, nest-feathering conspiracies, sorting fact from fantasy is nearasdammit impossible. Applying Occam's razor (the simplest explanation is most likely to be correct) doesn't help when you're forced to explain GM's endless F-ups by choosing between gross incompetence and Enron-style shenanigans.

The best I can do is reference Martha Mitchell. Mrs. Mitchell's husband John was the US Attorney General under Richard Nixon. Mrs. M would call Washington reporters in the middle of the night with bizarre tales of illegal activities: a secret enemies list, South American assassinations, break-ins, wiretaps, the FBI Director wearing a dress and more. By the time these reporters realized Mitchell wasn't a crazy drunk, her husband was in jail for conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury. In other words, while it's easy to dismiss Buickman's rants as the sour fruit of a man scorned by GM's Boy's Club, being bitter doesn't make a man a fool. Or, come to think of it, wrong.

UPDATE: The Chevy Tahoe hybrid has been removed from the floor of the Detroit Auto Show for 60 Minutes spinnery. We await confirmation of its powerplant…

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