General Motors Death Watch 107: Volte Face?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

It’s no secret that The Detroit News (DTN) likes to cheer for the home team. It’s also no surprise that the financially challenged paper imports low-cost out-of-town talent to satisfy their product needs– just like the domestic automakers they support. So when I read Washington Post writer Warren Brown’s analysis of GM’s fortunes on the DTN website, I was hardly stunned to discover a happy clappy Pollyanna puff piece. Like his prickly personality, Brown’s nose for news is distinctly stuffy; his piece embodies and elevates mindless pro-GM optimism to new heights.

“What is it about the human condition that so delights in the negative?” Brown’s opening sentence demands. (I’m feeling you Warren.) Clearly, GM naysayers have put Brown’s nose out of joint. To avoid any accusations of dancing on GM's grave– sorry, jinxing The General’s rehab, let’s skip to the bit of Brown’s bombast that has captured the attention of the GM faithful, and do a little factual intervention.

Never one to miss an opportunity to lord it over the boorish riff-raff commonly known as his colleagues (I’m feeling you Warren), Brown chastises auto scribes for continuing to question (publicly!) GM’s viability. In fact, these know-nothing car hacks are so blinkered by their negative nature they fail to recognize that The General has “rediscovered its fighting and innovative spirits.”

“There is proof in the new Saturn Aura sedan and the new Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, which together swept the North American car and truck of the year honors at the show — ironically, awards given by some of the journalists who later were questioning GM's ability to survive.”

While TTAC’s reviewer wouldn’t have given the gong to the Silverado, I’ll spot Brown that one (you feeling me Warren?). But pinning GM’s future on Aura sales is like depending on an infantry assault to defeat an entrenched machine gun position. The truth is the Aura is getting slaughtered.

In its first three months, Saturn sold 19,746 Auras. If the model sustains those numbers– and that’s a big “if”– the Aura will generate roughly 80k sales per year. While the projected annual tally would dwarf ’05 sales of the similarly platformed Saab 9-3 (24,133), it would fail to surmount the, gulp, Buick Lucerne (96,515). To put that into perspective, last year GM sold 323,981 Chevrolet Impalas, 312,747 Cobalt/HHR’s, 157,644 G6’s and 163,853 Chevrolet Malibus.

To put THAT into perspective, between 34 and 60 percent of those models went to rental fleets. In other words, in the battle for the mass market, the award-winning pride of Detroit Saturn Aura is another, even smaller, damp squib.

Anyway, Brown’s nose may not be growing like Pinocchio’s, but he certainly doesn’t know a scam when he sees one. Our Capital correspondent views the press' skepticism about the Chevrolet Volt concept car as yet more evidence that GM critical TTAC-types are simply cynical bastards. Brown considers the Volt “tangible proof” of GM’s right-minded “intentions.”

Yes, well, the road to bankruptcy is paved with good intentions. While GM has hoodwinked Brown and his ilk by claiming that the lithium-ion battery-powered Volt will hit showrooms in three to five years, experts are snorting coffee out their noses.

“Lithium-ion chemistry still has issues for automotive applications,” Don Runkle told Bloomberg News. The former GM engineer and chairman of battery maker EaglePicher Holdings Inc. isn't buying GM's development timeline. “Everyone tries to pooh-pooh thermal runaway (overheating), but this is nasty stuff. If it screws up, you have a dead serious fire on your hands.”

Never mind analyzing the facts; Brown is too busy mocking the “media murmuring”: “Is GM serious? How can they afford it? Is this just a ploy to get money from the federal government? Toyota will probably beat them to the punch first, don't you think? It's a good idea but so what? It'll take them 10 years to bring it to market.”

As the Brits would say, you gotta laugh, mate. The same man who raises a condescending arched eyebrow at the “irony” of automotive journalists handing out awards to the company whose survival they question smirks at implications that the Volt is a ploy for federal subsidies. Yet he recognizes, welcomes even, The Big Two Point Five’s post-Volt request for a $500m federal hand-out to develop automotive battery technology.

Hang on; doesn’t the fact that GM [alone] can’t afford such mission critical, company-saving research trigger any alarm bells for the Capitol curmudgeon? Nope, he’s off politicizing the debate, defending the government handout as a way to avoid foreign troop engagements.

Oh wait, that’s just me being negative again. Luckily, Brown's gonna cut us death watchers a bit of slack. “Perhaps such chatter is inevitable. It is easier to believe in failure than it is to achieve, or sustain success.” Hey Warren; do me a favor. Tell it to GM.

As read by Robert Farago below.

[Read the original DTN article here.]

Robert Farago
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  • ZoomZoom ZoomZoom on Jan 25, 2007
    KixStart started by observing, "The Aura, regardless of car color, has an black rubber-coated antenna stuck top center over the windshield...this is like a zit on a supermodel..." IAMVince wrote, “Thats the OnStar antenna. And I’m pretty sure you can’t get that on any Honda.” KixStart responded, "You miss the point. You can get satellite services in a Honda. You just don’t have to put up with a zit on your Honda’s forehead when you get satellite." Hahahaha, that was the funniest interchange I've witnessed all week! And I'm with KixStart on this. Small things DO matter!
  • Nick Nick on Jan 26, 2007

    I haven't seen much written about the GM10 program and the disastrous effect that had on GM. Remember, this was GMs plan to replace the rear drive Cutlass, the Grand Prix, and some other models with front wheel drive cars? I can't remember the exact figures, but after they were launched, weren't the sales of the new vehicles something like 20% of the old models? To me, that always seemed like GMs all time worst blunder.

  • Corey Lewis The short truck is terrible. The tire blocks all rear visibility while making the tiny bed very tricky to access. And the wheels on it look like they're from 2002. Other than that, I really like the idea of the Grenadier and it seems like a good effort. I wouldn't buy one because of the tractor recirculating ball steering, which makes it terrible in everyday use.
  • Bjohnson10 Coast to Coast by the Jesus and Mary Chain. It's only about someone on a cross-country motorcycle trip while high on heroin.
  • Funky D A few from my road trip playlist: Eddie Rabbitt - Drivin' My Life AwayAmerica - Ventura Highway---Herb Alpert - Route 101Jerry Reed - East Bown and DownEddie Money - Shakin'Lindey Buckingham - Holiday RoadWar - Low RiderTears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Not a driving song per se, but if you've seen the video, you'll get it)Wang Chung - Wait (Gotta see the end credits of "To Live and Die in LA", for this one)
  • Ronin Or can sedans be saved from themselves? Modern sedans have very low entry and seating, and unnecessarily downward sloping rear roofs. This may have been a sleek design center 25 years ago, but it's nice to have an alternative to SUVs for the olds (ie, anyone over 30).
  • Bd2 The Hyundai Sonota is the best sedan on the market right now.
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