Editorial: General Motors Death Watch 218: Disconnect and Die

editorial general motors death watch 218 disconnect and die

When I moved to the UK, I was shocked by the price of petrol. “Britain’s an oil PRODUCING nation,” I kvetched to my accountant. “How could the populace allow their government to tax their petrol to the point where it’s the most expensive gas in Europe?” “Do you have any idea how much income tax you’re paying?” my personal pencil pusher asked. “If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about it.” In the same sense, I wouldn’t worry about GM CEO Rick Wagoner’s Gulfstream. It’s as nothing compared to the amount of money he’s pissed away on, well, everything else. Of course, it’s not the money, it’s the principle.

Now if you think I’m about to launch into a boilerplate tirade about Wagoner’s spendthrift ways in relation to the sacrifices made by the hard-working men and women who’ve either lost or are about to lose their Generous Motors entitlements, think again.

Firstly, I’m not convinced that any member of the United Auto Workers (UAW) has made what I’d call a genuine sacrifice in the last, oh, thirty years or so. Whenever the MSM announces “job cuts” at GM, they singularly fail to mention the fact that the UAW members are not looking at a final paycheck and a faretheewell. They’re paid some 90 percent of their working salary not to work. If they agree to go, they get a big kiss-off. Benefits cessation? As if. There are professional parachutists who can’t manage that kind of soft landing on a clear, windless day.

Symbolically speaking, Rick’s jet is no more “gold-plated” than the UAW’s compensation.

The real affront here is the same one identified by Car and Driver writer Brock Yates back in the day, and Michael Karesh in his recent editorial: GM’s disconnect with its customers.

Yates described a corporate culture in which no perk was beyond reproach. From an endless succession of immaculate automobiles to personal riches beyond imagination, GM’s suits were the big swinging dicks of Detroit. Despite— and also because of— their rewards, they lost any sense of accountability to the people who kept them in the style to which they became accustomed.

Rightly or wrongly– and I’m thinking rightly– Wagoner’s jet travel signaled the taxpayer (and thus the taxpayer’s duly elected representatives) that Detroit’s sense of entitlement has not changed. The Gulfstream as revealed Wagoner as a Big Wig who literally flies above the concerns of the common man. Sure, lots of CEOs have jets. But they’re not asking for a publicly-funded bailout by threatening the entire country with economic collapse.

Americans aren’t stupid— especially when it comes to their money. They “get” the connection between a CEO swanning around in a big ass jet and his company’s inability to build a product that Joe the Consumer wants to buy. They can also connect the dots between that failure as the CEOs appearance in the nation’s capitol with The Mother of All Begging Bowls.

“I had several business meetings this morning,” Wagoner told ABC, when confronted by his jet-oriented corporate profligacy. GM’s CEO instinctive reply shows that he believes his importance is more important that appeasing misinformed public sentiment (from people who clearly can’t identify with the demands placed on the CEO of the world’s largest automaker). In this Wagoner’s woefully mistaken.

Wagoner’s mach .88 Grosse Pointe myopia failed not one but TWO constituencies. First, GM’s “base,” the millions of people who drive a GM product or depend on same for their living. Hey Rick, come see what it’s like to drive one of your cars! Second, taxpayers. Voters who love America, but don’t love wealthy people who think they know better than they do, when, clearly, they don’t. Once again, still, GM has shown that it’s forgotten who puts food on their table.

So now what?

Chances are Wagoner will return to DC via a commercial flight. He might even, hold your nose, fly economy. Wrong answer. That would make the CEO the butt of humor and embolden the press to dig even deeper into the real disgrace: his salary. It will be seen, rightly, as cynical posturing, rather than genuine contrition.

Alternatively, commentators have suggested that the CEO should drive to Washington in a plug-in hybrid electric – gas Chevy Volt prototype. It would demonstrate that GM has something called “a future.” Wrong again. This kind of grandstanding will invite examination of GM’s product plans, which are now frozen, delayed and or disarrayed. Call it The Emperor’s New Automobile.

The only possible PR angle that will work here: Wagoner arriving via an American-made compact car: the Chevrolet Cobalt. To successfully suckle, Rick needs to do commute in GM’s penalty box, to display a politician’s knack for the “common touch.” Of course, Wagoner doesn’t have the slightest idea what that really means. Which is why he had to go to Washington in the first place.

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2 of 35 comments
  • Nudave Nudave on Nov 25, 2008

    If I was forced to drive from Detroit to Washington DC in a Cobalt, I'd consider calling Amnesty Internalional.

  • CRConrad CRConrad on Nov 26, 2008

    Mr Editor talks about

    Car and Driver writer Brock YatesCar and Driver? I thought he was a TTAC writer... Oh, I see he's not on the " About Us" page either. Came to your senses and realised I was right about him not being all that relevant any more, didja? (Not as relevant as he wanted to get paid for, anyways, I'd bet.) Here's hoping that'll learn ya not to go deleting my comments when I'm right. Triumphantly yours, C.R.C.

  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Cory. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.