General Motors Death Watch 140: Good News, Bad News

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
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.

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  • Analoggrotto By the time any of Hyundai's Japanese competitors were this size and age, they produced iconic vehicles which are now highly desirable and going for good money used. But Hyundai/Kia have nothing to this point that anyone will care about in the future. Those 20k over MSRP Tellurides? Worn out junk sitting at the used car lot, worn beyond their actual age. Hyundai/Kia has not had anything comparable to the significance of CVCC, 240Z, Supra, Celica, AE86, RX-(7), 2000GT, Skyline, GT-R, WRX, Evo, Preludio, CRX, Si, Land Cruiser, NSX etc. All of this in those years where Detroiters and Teutonic prejudiced elitists were openly bashing the Japanese with racist derogatory language. Tiger Woods running off the road in a Genesis didn't open up a moment, and the Genesis Sedan featuring in Inception didn't matter any more than the Lincoln MKS showing up for a moment in Dark Knight. Hyundai/Kia are too busy attempting to re-invent others' history for themselves. But hey, they have to start somewhere and the N74 is very cool looking. Hyundai/Kia's biggest fans are auto Journalists who for almost 2 decades have been hyping them up to deafening volumes contributing further distrust in any media.
  • Bd2 Other way around.Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the Pony Coupe during the early 1970s and later used its wedge shape as the basis for the M1 and then the DMC-12.The 3G Supra was just one of many Japanese coupes to adopt the wedge shape (actually was one of the later ones).The Mitsubishi Starion, Nissan 300ZX, etc.
  • Tassos I also want one of the idiots who support the ban to explain to me how it will work.Suppose sometime (2035 or later) you cannot buy a new ICE vehicle in the UK.Q1: Will this lead to a ICE fleet resembling that of CUBA, with 100 year old '56 Chevys eventually? (in that case, just calculate the horrible extra pollution due to keeping 100 year old cars on the road)Q2: Will people be able to buy PARTS for their old cars FOREVER?Q3: Will people be allowed to jump across the Channel and buy a nice ICE in France, Germany (who makes the best cars anyway), or any place else that still sells them, and then use it in the UK?
  • Tassos Bans are ridiculous and undemocratic and smell of Middle Ages and the Inquisition. Even 2035 is hardly any better than 2030.The ALMIGHTY CONSUMER should decide, not... CARB, preferably WITHOUT the Government messing with the playing field.And if the usual clueless idiots read this and offer the tired "But Government subsidizes the oil industry too", will they EVER learn that those MINISCULE (compared to the TRILLIONS of $ size of this industry) subsidies were designed to help the SMALL Oil producers defend themselves against the "Big Oil" multinationals. Ask ANY major Oil co CEO and he will gladly tell you that you can take those tiny subsidies and shove them.
  • Dusterdude The suppliers can ask for concessions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath . With the UAW they are ultimately bound to negotiate with them. However, with suppliers , they could always find another supplier ( which in some cases would be difficult, but not impossible)