General Motors Death Watch 140: Good News, Bad News

general motors death watch 140 good news bad news

I've been wary of GM's alt propulsion press vehicles since ’04, when The General faked a hybrid test drive with Autoweek, slapping a cod cover on a pushrod powerplant. So I approached USA Today scribe James Healey’s review of the hybrid Tahoe with no small amount of skepticism. "GM says the electric-only mode could take you to 32 mph under ideal conditions. But the test showed that accelerating in traffic means electric-only lasts only up to about 10 mph." Oops. "Tahoe's gasoline engine shuddered as it fired up and began contributing power. Expect the shakes to be gone in regular production models, says Mark Cieslak, chief engineer for GM's full-size trucks." Doh! But wait! There's more!

"The transmission got hung up on full-throttle shifts, holding the engine at 5,500 rpm too long, followed by a falloff in power, before up-shifting. Also gone by production, Cieslak promises." And yet USA Today's headline proclaims "Tahoe Hybrid is a Real Treat" and "Chevy SUV is nicer than gas model." Yes, once again, GM's spinmeisters have convinced a too-credulous journo to devour a tray of puffed-up, half-baked goods.

It’s been a while since GM trotted-out this “look at the shiny object” PR strategy. In every case I can remember– from the new Tahoe’s debut to the United Auto Workers (UAW) “historic health care giveback”– distraction preceded disaster. As GM is set to reveal its second quarter financial results on Tuesday, and the automaker has just experienced a horrific June, and July ain’t gonna be much better, I can only conclude that no one at RenCen will be singing “Happy Days are Here Again” anytime soon. If ever.

Note the desperation that’s infecting GM. It’s not a sense of urgency, as Mary Ann Keller famously requested when eliminative products hit the fan back in ’05. It’s a sense of bewilderment and befuddlement, leading to irrational behavior. The on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again plan to launch a range large rear wheel-drive cars illustrates GM’s growing propensity for contradictory chaos.

As does the decision to add hundreds of engineers to the Volt electric car project; a car whose very existence depends on battery technology that doesn’t yet exist, whose arrival has been promised for 2010 (at the last annual stockholders meeting, of course). Import a German compact for Saturn, even though it can’t make a dime? Sure! Stick a diesel into a Cadillac? Why not! Hybridize poorly packaged, gas-guzzling SUVs? Duh! Who’s gonna resurrect the electric car? We are!

Clearly, the vast commercial enterprise that is GM is doing everything it can to find a way out of its North American cash crisis. Clearly, that’s the problem. There is no master plan. There never has been. Instead creating and implementing an overarching vision of a new GM and working towards it, CEO Rick Wagoner has launched a relentless cost-cutting fatwa. Which is a bit like the captain of rudderless, sinking ship concentrating on jettisoning as much ballast as possible.

While Boeing’s ex-exec is busy reducing, refining and redefining Ford, Wagoner’s mob can’t get past the first part of that process– presuming they even want to. They seem to think that General Motors can get small at home, get big abroad, and act big everywhere, all at the same time. Hence GM’s semi-decision to concentrate on “world cars;” it appeals to the notion that they can solve their problems by continuing to rely on the sheer scope of their operations.

Once again, it must be said that Rick Wagoner has never set benchmarks for GM’s turnaround. There have been promises and plans aplenty, but no hard and fast publicly declared targets and deadlines. No map by which GM employees, suppliers, shareholders and stakeholders of every stripe could chart the company’s progress towards recovery– or lack thereof.

In other words, GM’s current management team has never been held accountable for its actions. This is, perhaps, the single largest failing of what was once the single largest automobile manufacturer in the world. That GM’s Board of Bystanders could keep Rick Wagoner in power through such an enormous slide in market share and profitability, that they let the company’s stock price determine Wagoner’s longevity, is a tragedy of epic proportions– that will ultimately be revealed.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, more bad news. General Motors Executive Director of Market and Industry Analysis Paul Ballew will take journos for a spin around the dance floor. He’ll talk about foreign expansion and tell the press not to pay any attention to the men behind the curtain. Men who will continue to run GM with self-deceiving incompetence, safe in the knowledge that that they can do so without personal consequence.

The press will treat GM’s failing management with no more disdain than Mr. Healey heaped upon the under-developed, incomplete Chevrolet Tahoe hybrid press vehicle. They’ll note Wagoner’s faults and once again describe his turnaround plan “a work in progress.” Only it isn’t.

Join the conversation
2 of 64 comments
  • Inside Looking Out Why EBFlex dominates this EV discussion? Just because he is a Ford expert?
  • Marky S. Very nice article and photos. I am a HUGE Edsel fan. I have always been fascinated with the "Charlie Brown of Cars." Allow me to make a minor correction to add here: the Pacer line was the second-from-bottom rung Edsel, not the entry-level trim. That would be the Edsel Ranger for 1958. It had the widest array of body styles. The Ranger 2-door sedan (with a "B-pillar", not a pillarless hardtop), was priced at $2,484. So, the Ranger and Pacer both used the smaller Ford body. The next two upscale Edsel's were based on the Mercury body, are were: Corsair, and, top-line Citation. Although the 1959 style is my fav. I would love a '58 Edsel Pacer 4-door hardtop sedan!
  • Lou_BC Stupid to kill the 6ft box in the crewcab. That's the most common Canyon/Colorado trim I see. That kills the utility of a small truck. The extended cab was a poor seller so that makes sense. GM should have kept the diesel. It's a decent engine that mates well with the 6 speed. Fuel economy is impressive.
  • Lou_BC High end EV's are selling well. Car companies are taking advantage of that fact. I see quite a few $100k pickups in my travels so why is that ok but $100k EV's are bad? The cynical side of me sees car companies tack on 8k premiums to EV's around the time we see governments up EV credits. Coincidence? No fooking way.
  • EBFlex "I'd add to that right now, demand is higher than supply, so basic business rules say to raise the price."Demand is very low. Supply is even lower. Saying that demand is outstripping supply without providing context is dishonest at best.