By on June 12, 2006

1971_chevy_vega21.jpgMy name is Robert, and I’m an obsessive. You may have noticed. You may have returned to an article on TTAC and clocked the fact that our writing evolves post-post. That’s down to me. If there’s a better way to say something, if there’s a single sentence with passive construction or a word that’s not pulling its weight, the text must die. If a reader spots a factual inaccuracy or logical inconsistency, it must be corrected. I’m not looking for credit; it’s just the way I’m wired. But if you want to know why GM deserves to die, why GM WILL die, there’s your answer. They lack obsession.

You’re car guys. You don’t need me to tell you this. You’ve encountered a GM product and seen, heard or felt cheap, lazy-ass design, engineering and manufacture. A rough-revving four, a removable seat that slices your skin, a button that feels nasty to the touch– some detail where you shake your head and think to yourself, if I was building a car, I wouldn't let that slide. I recently opened the trunk of an Impala SS and discovered an electrical cable hanging in air like a loose intestine from a hernia operation gone bad. The wire was wrapped in duct tape whose end was already starting to unfurl. As an owner, that would drive me nuts. As a builder, I’d spend my own money to put it right. It’s unforgivable. 

I’m serious. Don’t talk to me about building to a price. I’d rather not build the damn car than know that I’d participated in something so obviously crap. The next time you look at a modern GM product, take a mechanic and/or an engineer and have them show you the dozens of ways GM fails to go the distance. Even when they get it right, they get it wrong. The Chevrolet Corvette is an interior [and properly bonded roof] away from greatness. Why?

Suffice it to say, GM has too many brands, too many models, too many managers, too many dealers, too much union interference and a CEO who counts beans. GM apologists point to JD Power’s awards and tell the world that The General’s whips are good and getting better. Bullshit. Their cars, trucks and SUV’s are only “good” in isolation, or in comparison to the junk they produced ten years ago. Examine a comparable Toyota, and you’ll instantly understand that there's a reason GM has been losing market share for decades, and it ain't the media.

So now we hear that GM will live. That's the conclusion many pundits have reached since The General has finally fulfilled our prophesy and bailed out bankrupt parts supplier Delphi. Of course, Friday’s announcement that GM would pick-up the tab for extending the buyouts of Delphi's union workers, welcome 5k Delphinians back into its own operations and “top-up” the remaining workers' paychecks (so that Delphi can pay them less without paying them less) arrived without a price tag.

The Detroit News (DTN) reported the deal in full “historic agreement” mode (NB: the last time that happened, GM set up a $3b health care fund for the UAW and the DTN called it a “historic union health care giveback”). GM will supposedly pay 50% of the cost of the more extensive Delphi buyouts, which now include “up to $35,000 and full benefits to workers with at least 27 years on the job and cash buyouts, ranging from $70,000 to $140,000, to lower-seniority workers.” For some strange reason, GM, Delphi and The Detroit News all failed to a put a number on the new plan. Our best guess is about $1.2b, not including another $4b – $5b or so for pensions and health care benefits (for some but not all of Delphi's union refugees).

Delphi also revealed that it’s assuming (yes, assuming) that GM will provide a $50k payment per remaining worker, so Delphi can cut union pay from $27 to $22 to (eventually) $16.50 per hour. If 5k union workers remain, that arrangement would cost GM an additional $250m or so. If GM doesn’t stump-up the cash, Delphi still says it’ll play "how low can you go?" In that case, they're still talking $12.50 per hour– a number that has UAW strike written all over it. And even if GM stumps up 50 large per, will the UAW wear a $5 per hour reduction? Deep Throat says yes. I say no.

We both say it doesn't matter. Unless GM’s products sell for a profit sometime soon, the company can’t afford any of this. And they won’t sell at a profit, because, in the main, in detail and relative to the alternatives, they suck. To wit: a commentator on Autoblog named D recently said "I can throw a dart at a board covered in every new car offered by Honda, Mazda, Subaru, Toyota and I would be happy with whatever I get. Do the same with Ford and GM and the odds are I will be disappointed with some fleet car piece of junk." And there you have it.

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9 Comments on “General Motors Death Watch 80: No OCD = RIP...”

  • avatar

    Comments: In Robert Farago’s “General Motors Death Watch 80” I read the following: A commentator on Autoblog named D described the problem: “I can throw a dart at a board covered in every new car offered by Honda, Mazda, Subaru, Toyota and I would be happy with whatever I get. Do the same with Ford and GM and the odds are I will be disappointed with some fleet car piece of junk.”

    A former engineer for over 12 years at one of the “big 3” there was a time that I believed this kind of statement, but no more. Why? Because I purchased, drove, lovingly maintained, and lived with products from Subaru, Volkswagen, and Honda after departing the automotive business in 1995. I can honestly say that my experience with those products is absolutely no better than my experience with so called American made products.

    My Subaru Legacy begged for repairs and maintanence of all sorts about every three months just like my piece-of-crap 70s Pontiac. My Volkswagen Cabrio left me stranded, never started or ran properly and every Volkswagen dealer chirped that they couldn’t find anything wrong with it just like my piece-of-crap 70s Plymouth. My Honda Civic, well, let’s just say that I spent more money on repairs and maintanence than I spent on the purchase of the car brand new, and I finally sold it with only 50K on the odometer. Never again! Add in the fact that all three of these vehicles rusted, rattled, banged, vibrated, creaked, moaned, groaned, and failed in all kinds of tedious ways, I can say, yes, the American companies put out crap but the Japanese and Germans do too!??

    I now have a Ford Focus ZX5 and a Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible and saved myself money with their low purchase prices! I’m pretty pleased with these two vehicles so far and enjoy the reactions of the devoted Toyota, Honda and Volkswagen owners who get inside and give them compliments. Why? Because when I get inside of their Passats, Foresters, CRVs, and RAV4s I notice all of the rattling, banging, creaking, rough shifting, flashing idiot lights, and all of the other BS that is blamed on American brands but is kept hushed about Japanese and German brands. The one good thing about Japanese and German autos is that the American public will practically give away their first born child to purchase them as used cars. As I sold each one of those “prized” vehicles I had to chuckle inside and wonder why so much fuss. I was happy to unload them!

  • avatar

    Ok …

    You are up to #”80″ Death Watch for GM.

    So,when do you admit you were wrong?
    Or, for that matter,when do you proclaim you were right?

    At first,one could say you had some compelling arguments for the impending demise of GM.

    But, after a year of your “prescient” comments …the last I looked they are in business and selling cars.

    By the way …have you sold anything lately? Have you made a payroll lately? Have you had to deal with a union and legacy costs, lately?

    So, is there a point, a date, at which you will acknowledge that you were wrong and Rick Wagoner and his exec team were right?

    What is your benchmark?

    Just curious. You seem so righteous in your indicnation at GM …but, c’mon …you’re up to 80 articles on the death and demise of GM …

    Don’t you think you’re stretching your “cred,” here?

    From my POV, they have made some strategic mistakes, no doubt …but, out of business?

    As of June, ’06 not the case.

    JUst curious ….

  • avatar

    I wonder what episode I’d be on if I’d started back in the 70’s…

    If GM pulls out of this death spiral, I will eat my cybernetic hat. Better still, I will post a long and detailed editorial about how I was wrong and apologize for unfairly demeaning the company and its leaders.

    Meanwhile, if you can think of a way that GM can become profitable– for that is the key to dodging the bankruptcy bullet– with their current and future union obligations, management structure, product development process and dealer network, feel free to share with the group.

  • avatar

    I will be visiting the Studebaker Museum in South Bend Indiana this Sunday to view some interesting vintage Studebakers and Packards. My grandfather used to work for Packard, and I’ve frequently heard how amazing they were in their day. This visit will be a good reminder to me that companies DO go under no mater how we feel about them emotionally or rationalize their products or position in the market.

  • avatar

    GM is going down for the count. Just what is the deal with these so called new and improved and still butt-ugly SUV’s with piss poor gas mileage? Oooo!—12 percent better mileage–and that’s only if you drive like a Grandma at 5 mph below the speed limit and keep that baby at 55 mph on the interstate. Well, that certainly is GM’s speed, ain’t it?

    GM has got to go. It is far too slow.

  • avatar

    It’s way too facile to just blame this on the UAW, in any significant way. I’m not sure I’d feel better about driving a car put together by Wal-Mart style wage slaves either.

    The old saying you get what you pay for is true with workers too. It’s not so much the UAW as it is the fact that in other countries, the employers don’t have to deal with all the same overhead.

    Blame the UAW for its “legacy costs,” but it’s not those folks that are deciding that there’s some reason why we need to have Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Hummer and Saturn, why I feel like I’m inside a huge kids toy when I look at the instrument panel of a GM, and so forth.

    As for the poster above citing his problems with Hondas and Subarus, I can only say the plural of anecdote is not evidence. On the whole, people are stupid, I guess, but not that stupid.

    Oh, and just a thought. Wanna sell more cars? Convert every dealer to a fixed-price Saturn-like deal, get rid of the asshole in finance, and make buying a car feel something less like a body cavity search in a Somalian prison.

  • avatar

    “remainign” typo.
    (Latest Firefox browser beta has spellcheck in text fields, download it today.)

    Glad to see TTAC set up comments! And followup comment notification!

    You should have used Roman numerals for the death watch.

  • avatar

    oooh, the white collar gm workers have been waiting for the day they’d be allowed to comment on the death watch, haven’t they!

  • avatar

    To clarify my earlier posting about the first hand experiences that I had with my Civic, Cabrio, and Legacy: Honda, Volkswagen, and Subaru had a shot at convincing me to become a loyal customer, and each of them failed of their own accord in their own unique way. I won’t repeatedly buy a product based on other people’s experiences, I buy repeatedly based on my own experiences. I’m glad that other people are enjoying their Hondas, Volkswagens, and Subarus but I, unfortunately, did not over the long haul. I wish that I had because the selection out there is so mind numbing it would have been nice to narrow the field. Good day.

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