General Motors Death Watch 178: Failure is Possible
“Rich people don’t care [about high gas prices].” Bob Lutz’ statement– made during the launch of GM’s new SUV’s in August 2005– encapsulates the automaker’s history of arrogance, ignorance and self-delusion. Then again, what else could GM’s Car Czar have said? Whether or not GM should have seen the gas crunch coming, the die was cast. Now, as gas prices crest $4 a gallon, as Delphi and GMAC teeter on the abyss, as GM’s stock price hits a historic low, GM’s slide into Chapter 11 is beginning to assume the mantle of inevitability. And why not? There is no Plan B.
Clearly, GM’s Plan A– make better SUVs and pickups– was a non-starter. Not to belabor the obvious, but soaring gas prices gored GM’s cash cow. Year-to-date, the General’s high-profit SUV and truck sales tumbled 22 percent. In April, GM’s truck sales fell by 27 percent. Sales of the once all-conquering Chevy TrailBlazer fell 73 percent. Despite the Chevy Silverado’s perch on America’s top ten list, despite their new CUVs, the company that made billions on high-profit light trucks is making billions no more.
A new charge of the light truck brigade is not a possibility. Even if U.S. gas prices suddenly descended to $3 a gallon, American consumers will continue to approach gas guzzlers with a ten-foot pole. It would take a good year of relatively low– or at least stable– gas prices to lure buyers back to… no. Actually not. Once backwards, twice shy. And if that doesn’t send the pickup and SUVs genres back to their original, pre-90’s market share, federal regulations and fashion will.
What GM needs right now– and for the foreseeable future– is six brands' worth of class-leading, fuel-efficient automobiles that will, at the very least, stop SUV refugees from jumping ship. That it ain’t got. Not now, and not a year from now.
Meanwhile, American new car sales in general, and The General’s share in specific, continue to crater. Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, Hummer, Pontiac, Saab and Saturn are ALL losing market share in an American new car market that shows no signs of recovery. Inventories are piling-up; every single GM light truck has more than 100 days supply. Despite the obvious light truck glut, GM’s outdated business model is forcing the company to restart truck and SUV production. As it does so, GM’s prospect for its unspecified “turnaround” move from bleak to non-existent.
Contrary to popular belief, foreign profits can’t staunch the arterial spray of red ink; the carmaker’s losses in the North American market are too deep and too broad. GM has assured the markets that it has adequate liquidity to weather the storm. On March 31, GM reported a $24b cash pile. That's $6b less than six months ago. No one knows how much that cash pile lives stateside. And given that GM’s accounts are [officially] unreliable, there’s no exact way of knowing what additional calls will be made on that cash. There will be many…
Delphi’s restructuring plan is, once again, in tatters. Given GM’s ongoing reliance on Delphi for parts, the chances are high that this sinkhole will claim even more of GM’s money. By the same token, an unknown number of GM suppliers have hit/are about to hit/will hit the wall. As the American Axle strike and Plastech bankruptcy prove, GM’s only as strong as its weakest supplier. When Chrysler goes down… It’s only a matter of time before other parts makers suck-up GM’s cash.
At the same time, GM’s part-owned ResCap mortgage unit needs $600m to stay afloat; co-owner Cerberus won’t be ponying-up the funds. If ResCap files, it could well take all of GMAC down with it. If GMAC files, GM won’t be far behind… The General will open its wallet to stave-off that eventuality.
In the midst of all this, the central question bedeviling RenCen has now become: what can we do to hold out until the U.S. market recovers? The obvious answer: nothing. There is nothing GM can do in the short to medium term to bank enough profits to save itself from Chapter 11. U.S. franchise laws and GM’s depleted financial reserves make it impossible for GM to do what needs doing: jettison excess dealers and dead brands (everything save Chevrolet and Cadillac) to trim itself down to a sustainable, indeed, profitable level.
Surely GM CEO Rick Wagoner knows this. Logic suggests that if Wagoner knew for certain that GM was condemned to file for Chapter 11, he would unfurl his golden parachute and float off to some exotic tax haven, leaving someone else to suffer the final ignominy. And surely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton knows that only a stroke of fate (so to speak) could propel her to the White House.
The truth is that GM’s refusal to admit the possibility of defeat doomed it from the start.
Join the conversation
Latest Car ReviewsRead more
Latest Product ReviewsRead more
- Arthur Dailey So they cut the roof off the hatch area of a Dodge Journey?
- Desertwanderer Across Australia, from Sydney to Perth, via the Nullarbor Highway. Desolate, very impressed to pass a bicycle tourist somewhere in the middle, I think he'd have a story to tell. Oh, and the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, NS, in my S4.
- Cprescott Please stop production of all Camry's - they are hideous and vomit inducing ugly.
- Cprescott Excellent! Complete garbage.
- Kos65701744 A lot of people back then didn't like the downsizing idea, which is why some didn't sell better than before. Which is why in final gen sales were record high in sales. My own father wouldn't buy a downsized GM car, he switched to a Ford LTD, a nice car but he hated it but wanted a big car
Businesses fail all the time....Whats the BIG deal! oh...I'm sorry about all those $40.00 an hour jobs for watching a machine do your work...thats really awful. The USA is THE country of change!!!! I hate that the auto business has lost its way but,if it was my business,who would give a sh_t? Let them fail or find a way to survive..those are the only options left. I wont let my tax dollars bail them out If I can help it ,and neither should you. Butcher the long time "cash cows" and move on...