General Motors Death Watch 195: The Oncoming Train

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
general motors death watch 195 the oncoming train

Ten weeks before the Tet Offensive fatally undermined American support for the Vietnam War, General William Westmoreland embarked on a publicity tour to “sell” the ongoing military campaign. In a televised news conference, Westmoreland famously declared that he could see “the light at the end of the tunnel.” In the same sense, GM’s executives continue to express their faith in the automaker’s “turnaround.” This much is to be expected– especially when The General is lobbying for tens of billions of dollars in public funds. But the mainstream automotive media’s complicity is unconscionable.

For decades, the American automotive press has suckled on General Motors’ bounteous teats. Last year alone, before GM’s cash burn mandated some serious back-of the-sofa scrounging, the automaker spent over $2b on advertising. That kind of money buys you a lot of friends. In fact, The General’s formerly free-flowing ad bucks have supported a lifestyle to which automotive journalists became accustomed.

So it’s not surprising to see these jobbing journos share GM execs’ reluctance to face the grim fact that the artist formerly known as the world’s largest automaker is terminally ill. The scribes and suits adhere to the same delusional notion that all new cars are wonderful, but Detroit’s latest are the most wonderful of all. If not now, then soon. One day. Some day.

Of course, the 50 and 60-something white men who have watched The General’s descent from dominance to disaster share a cultural heritage with the men (and a few women) sailing this increasingly strange ship of fools onto the shoals of bankruptcy. This doesn’t excuse these journalists from their duty to serve the public trust. Clinging to the profound, unspoken belief that “what’s good for General Motors is good for America” is a disservice to the consumer and, ultimately, ironically, General Motors.

Mark my words: in these internet-savvy times, the mainstream automotive press’ failure to fully disclose the denial, hypocrisy and greed surrounding the planned GM et al. bailout– cravenly camouflaged as a green initiative– will be the final nail in both lovers’ coffins. To wit, this from Automotive News:

“General Motors’ employee pricing program helped the automaker sell more vehicles in August than in any month of 2008. But sales still were 20.3 percent below the level of August 2007. GM sold 307,285 cars and light trucks in August, up 31.3 percent from July. Trucks and SUVs delivered a big surprise for GM. Although still down from August 2007, GM’s pickups and big SUVs turned in their best sales performances of the year. In August, GM delivered more than 80,000 full-sized Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.”

Silverado sales? Off 24.8 percent from last August. Sierra? Down 17.1 percent. Incentives? Automotive News mentions the profit-killers, but Edmunds estimates them, at $3965 per GM vehicle. And guess which vehicles have the most cash on the hood (‘cause GM ain’t sayin’ nothin’)?

As one of those 50-something white guys (well, 49, but who’s counting), Automotive News’ article is a frightening reminder of the “body count” battle reports from Vietnam, which invariably painted any and all conflicts as a [relative] U.S. rout. As we all know, the military operation may have been a success, but the South Vietnamese government (and many of our supporters in the region) died. And what’s that bit about history repeating itself?

“‘We’re not indicating or pretending in any way that the truck market is snapping back’ [vice president of GM North America sales, service and marketing Mark] LaNeve said, but the numbers indicate that pickup sales have perhaps bottomed out. LaNeve also said that he thinks overall industry sales may have hit bottom in June or July.

‘I think we saw the bottom and are going to start scratching our way up to numbers that are improving.'”

“Up to numbers that are improving?” On what? When? By how much? Is GM really a publicly-traded company? The automaker’s stunning lack of accountability continues apace. For now. One way or another, there will be a David Halberstram-predicted reckoning.

At the very least, our elected representatives will demand an explanation for the situation that has led GM to call on federal tax money for its survival. Given the prospect of publicly acknowledging their epic mismanagement and personal greed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rick Wagoner and his mob drift away on the golden parachutes before the show starts. Nor would I be surprised if they don’t; their hubris seems to know no bounds.

Either way, like General Westmoreland, Wagoner, Lutz, Henderson and their obscenely compensated brethren will eventually claim that their stunning defeat was actually a victory in disguise: the unavoidable economic “catharsis” American industry needed. Even worse, many media members will affirm this absurd notion. Rest assured that I, and the new legions of uncorrupted commentators, will not be amongst them.

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  • Barberoux Barberoux on Sep 08, 2008

    I'm with tonycd. I like cars and car blogs and I like comments that stay on topic. I can read political crap on hundreds of other blogs but I come hear to read about cars.

  • Jl1280 Jl1280 on Sep 08, 2008

    It's great to learn that we actually won the Vietnam war! Good going boys! And for all these years I thought we had lost. Just where have I been? Oh yeah I now remember. I helped us win that other war, where we tried to catch Osama, bombed the hell out of some rocks, and helped them create the largest narco state in the history of the world. I guess what I saw there was victory too. Pardon me while I put on my rose colored shades. Or is it so assbackwards that I should take them off?

  • EngineerfromBaja_1990 These cars hit rock bottom in value by the mid 2010s when the DCT related lawsuits came in droves. Too bad because other than that poor transmission and limited legroom, these are very good handling and well equipped vehicles with decent build quality and materials.We can all be very positive it was the DCT fiasco what ruined this nameplate for North America rather than the shift from sedans and HB to CUVs.The only upside is manual transmission vehicles were also affected by the low resale value, which make them an excellent buy.
  • MaintenanceCosts And this is why I just bought myself a good 2011 manual car that I plan to keep for a good long time.
  • Lou_BC The Camaro always had to contend with the Corvette. Up until the mid-engine Corvette, bother were just muscle cars occupying the same niche. The demise of the Challenger and Camaro will be great news for Ford and the Mustang. Once again they are the last domestic Muscle car standing.
  • MaintenanceCosts I love these. They are really too loud for the street--you'd have to tiptoe around subdivisions and parking lots if you don't want people to get mad--but the noise is SO beautiful.But if I got this one the first thing I'd do would take a heat gun to the white stripes. The car is plenty shouty enough without them.
  • Ajla This was discussed a little in the Camaro thread yesterday but IMO these GT350s along with the 5g Camaro Z28 are going to be the most valuable post 2000 muscle/pony cars around the time I'm going in the ground. The experience those two cars give isn't going to exist in the future while they are also just fussy enough about maintenance/repair to make themselves rare as time goes on.