By on January 4, 2009

Warren Brown is nothing if not ambitious in his defense of the indefensible (i.e. GM CEO Rick Wagoner). Rather than just raise a[nother] cheer for the man who’s spent the last decade-plus jamming the yoke forward on General Motors’ inexorable descent into bankruptcy, the Washington Post carmudgeon decided to rewrite the entire history of the Japanese “invasion” of the American automotive market. But before he does that, Warren upbraids those who’ve called for Toyota Prez Katsuaki Watanabe to resign, suggesting that Watanabe and Wagoner are birds of a feather, getting flocked together. “GM, as we all know, has lost substantially more than $1.7 billion. In fact, it has lost $72.3 billion since 2004 under Wagoner’s reign. By that measurement, applying Fire the Coach rules, Wagoner is 40 times more deserving of dismissal than Watanabe. But here’s arguing that all of that is sloppy logic and in many ways inherently unfair. Here’s also suggesting that Fire the Coach management will solve nothing — or remedy very little — in an arena where game policy is athwart common sense, as it is and has been in a United States absent effective industrial and energy policies.” Same old you-know-what, different wrapper. Brown is once again, blaming everyone BUT Wagoner for GM’s chronic, shameful self-destruction. 

“Historically, the playing field in the United States has been saturated with cheap gasoline. Domestic teams taking that field usually did so with big wheels, big horsepower and a seemingly insatiable thirst for fuel. Consumers went mad for those teams. The automotive media, including yours truly, egged everyone on, declaring the only good horsepower as more horsepower. A few nanny-nanny-boo-boo types objected. But politicians and regulators by and large went with the crowd — that is, the votes.”

Bottom line: we’re all guilty (except you-know-who). In fact, it’s a good thing no one dropped a cigarette butt on that gasoline-soaked field. But I digress. No wait; Warren’s got that covered. So let’s skip ahead to the current “difficulties,” brought to you by those evil money men.

“Finally, the game changed horribly. It turned out that its financing was phony, or, at least not as legitimate or as solid as it had been reputed to be. The finance and big insurance companies that controlled the cash were shaky. Credit tightened and squeezed the life out of the automobile consumer market, and not even mighty Toyota could escape that pain.”

Is there an emoticon for a sneer? Meanwhile, Warren dares to trot-out the “m” word for Red Ink Rick.

“Wagoner has done a marvelous job of returning a long-declining GM to global admiration in terms of product design, quality and reliability. It is extremely difficult to turn a profit in that kind of extremely expensive turnaround. It is next to impossible to do it in a globally collapsed credit market.

Neither executive should be dismissed. Both men should retain their positions and be allowed to fight it out until the final whistle blows — under industrial, energy and financial policies that make better sense for all of us.”

Oy vey.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

24 Comments on “The World According to Warren...”


  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    “Wagoner has done a marvelous job of returning a long-declining GM to global admiration in terms of product design, quality and reliability.

    Thank you Mr. Brown for relieving me of any misapprehensions I might have harbored about Wagoner and GM.

  • avatar
    gcmustanglx

    I wonder how much Rabid Rick is paying him to prop himself up? Or perhaps they are related.

  • avatar
    akear

    Why not have a Wagoner vs Roger Smith thread. People then can vote on the most disgraceful.

  • avatar

    Brown is pretty good. I’m surprised no politicians have tried to hire him away from the wapo to be their spokesperson.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Setting Wagoner aside for a moment, perhaps rumors of Watanabe’s imminent departure are true. Maybe there’s something interesting going on at Toyota… isn’t there a Toyoda family member waiting in the wings? Perhaps it’s simply his time and the situation allows Watanabe to be eased out?

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    Psychologists have a word for it: Victimhood.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Has anyone really called for Toyota’s president to resign?

    My god, only losing a couple billion in this market is fairly impressive.

  • avatar
    WEGIV

    OK. Yes, we all know that Warren Brown is a mental midget and we disagree with nearly 100% of his work on Washington Post. My point in sending you the link to this story was so that someone with a better handle on the facts would post a real, fact-based response to this nonsense instead of simply poking fun at it.

    I think most of us agree that Wagoner should be fired, but it’s helpful to have a succinct list of reasons beyond “the man who’s spent the last decade-plus jamming the yoke forward on General Motors’ inexorable descent into bankruptcy”

    Could we maybe get a factual writeup on “The Case for Firing [rabid] Rick Wagoner”? If you truly believe that he (and the board of directors who enabled him) are more or less singularly responsible for GM’s demise, it’s time to defend that assertion. There’s plenty of fodder I think, but it’s scattered across three or four hundred different [death|bailout|suicide] watch articles on this site. Would be helpful to have it all in one place.

  • avatar
    TheRealAutoGuy

    toxicroach :
    January 4th, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Has anyone really called for Toyota’s president to resign?

    My god, only losing a couple billion in this market is fairly impressive.

    Toxic, you’re not keeping up with the news!

    “Report: Toyota chief Watanabe expected to quit in 2009” Automotive News, Dec. 23, 2008

    http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081223/ANA02/812239973

    And what’s the moral of the story? READ THE NEWS — and as much of it as you can find! :-)

    I’m not picking on poor toxic, but suffice it to say that the blog entries here are “editorials,” and are often based on first-hand news sources, like “Automotive News,” based in Evil Old Detroit. I do not believe TTAC chose to cover or comment on this story. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) Like all editorials anywhere, they are selective with the facts they choose to cover. So get as many sources as you can find.

    Sometimes, it’s what’s NOT mentioned in blog sites that makes all the difference.

  • avatar
    TheRealAutoGuy

    Okay, Robert, let’s say Wagoner goes. I’ll even spot you a de-fanged UAW in the GM equation.

    For the record, I am NO Wagoner fan, but mostly not for the uninformed reasons bandied about in the MSM.

    Wagoner gone, UAW as good as eliminated, for the sake of argument. So, my question is, “Now what?” What should GM do?

  • avatar
    ra_pro

    TheRealAutoGuy,

    1) Get the Canadian lawyer from Fiat
    2) Let him do what needs to be done.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    I know I posted it yesterday, but I’d be keen to know what some of the Bigish3 supporters felt about the way Wagoner handled having to admit GM would be insolvent? Some of our guys were on the results conference call and could not believe their ears (that he would finally say it, not that GM were likely to be).

    GM had to report to the market, but where was the dee-fence (as in sporting – how do you write it with that characteristic sound)? It was almost like Porky Pig’s closing credits; That’s All Folks.

    They just had to know sales would tank and if they didn’t know (because there was no plan), they should all walk.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Anyone got a link to that story that I don’t have to pay for?

    Google News doesn’t have it.

  • avatar
    prattworks

    I have seen Rick Wagoner interviewed a couple of times on Charlie Rose, and he seems intelligent, thoughtful, and to have a nuanced understanding of his business and the global industry. I don’t know with certainty if Rick Wagoner is a genius or a moron – and it really doesn’t matter. He was the guy at the top when the wheels came off – and they have been coming off for quite some time now.

    I do know that he should have fired Bob Lutz when he arrogantly stated that ‘global warming is a crock of sh*t.’ That’s a brilliant way to alienate a good chunk of the car-buying market, and reinforces the negative stereotypes these guys claim to be trying to shrug. Lutz also gave us the Sostice – a real feather in GM’s cap. Let him go home an polish his jets.

    I normally don’t approve of a mindless ‘fire the coach’ mentality, but I think you have to place much blame at the top. Distinguishing between finger pointing and placing the blame squarely on deserving shoulders is a task for their shareholders.

    I have to imagine if you ask Rick Wagoner if he were going to start an auto manufacturing company from scratch, would it look exactly like GM? I have to imagine the answer is ‘no’. The company, as is, is built to fail.

  • avatar
    mikey

    The MSM is crowded with GM bashers and domestic bias from uninformed reporters and writers.With the possible exclusion of TTAC of course.

    Warren Brown as allways is a refreshing read.The
    Detriot free press and the Detroit news go a little overboard with the home town cheering.What else would you expect?

    IMHO Warren Brown is informed and unbias with HIS interpretation of the facts.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was a good read, too.

    Of course, in that case, we knew the author was on drugs.

  • avatar
    mikey

    No I’m not saying I 100% back Mr Browns position KixStart.A CEO that blows $73b I can’t get my head around him not getting canned either.Hell I got suspended for 3 days.My crime? Getting CAUGHT hitching a ride out 15 minutes early with a trucker.

    My point is that Warren Brown presents a different view.For that I don’t think we need to beat him up.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Here’s also suggesting that Fire the Coach management will solve nothing — or remedy very little — in an arena where game policy is athwart common sense

    He’s right about this, for a given value of “right”. To whit:

    Canning Rick Wagoner now does nothing. GM isn’t just circling the drain, they’re well down the pipe on the way to the treatment plant and have no plans to do otherwise. Five years ago, sure. Now? It’d probably make things worse

    GM’s corporate culture is incredibly sick. I don’t know what kind of leader they’d need to pull them through this, or if such a leader exists. Anyone new would be stepping into a minefield of toxic, C-Y-A, inaction-is-the-best-action do-nothingness.

    Even if you could get a decent leader, they’d be spending at least a year giving GM the equivalent of a managerial gallon of castor oil. Considering the number of lifers within GM who know nothing but the status quo, this would be long and painful; you’d be, effectively, micromanaging or outright firing almost everyone. The chaos would be untenable for a company on the brink already.

    Again, five years ago this would have been viable: GM would have had the cash to survive a managerial gutting. Now, we’re stuck with keeping the ship from sinking now that it’s already hit the iceberg; either we salvage what we can, or keep it seaworthy until we get it back to dry-dock, at which point we can worry about the competency of the captain and crew.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    mikey: “CEO that blows $73b I can’t get my head around him not getting canned either.”

    In other words, Brown is wrong? Amazingly and astonishingly wrong?

    There’s points of view and then there’s untenable points of view. Brown is promoting an untenable point of view and drawing a ridiculous comparison, to boot.

    Watanabe may yet preside over Toyota’s first operating loss in 71 years, coming at a time of deep recession and crashing sales industry-wide. He has only been CEO, in an organization where consensus is valued, for about 4 years. One could make an argument that Watanabe should be kept in place, if things he’s done seem to strengthen Toyota strategically.

    Wagoner has presided over losses totalling $73billion (so far!), income restatements, shrinking market share and a plethora of other, fundamental problems, the losses antedate the economic slowdown and he’s been at the wheel for almost a decade. GM relied on tax breaks, gaming CAFE and a tame in-house lender (which they sold) to prop up their business with bad lending practices. Their car of the future is vaporware, Lutz blustered and let Toyota take a commanding lead in hybrids, there’s been no obvious improvement in flex manufacturing, GM is was overcapacity in vehicles that people may want but do not need. There’s no clear indication, whatever, that any of Wagoner’s moves, prior to the crisis, had any strategic value. There’s no way anybody could be arguing to save this guy.

    Heck, the picture on the article is just perfect.

    Anyway, if Brown’s defending Wagoner in the face of all that, I can’t see how anything else he writes should be considered sensible by default.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    Attention Mr. Brown: just because the Detroit Lions have had umpteen head coaches during Wagoner’s reign is not a good analogy for keeping him in power.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    the losses antedate the economic slowdown and he’s been at the wheel for almost a decade.

    He’s actually been around, and in authority, for much longer than that. The Career of Rick Wagoner:

    77-81: Financial analyst, treasurer’s office
    81-91: Treasurer, GM Brazil
    92-94: CFO
    94-98: President, North American Operations
    98-PD: President and CEO
    03-PD: Chairman of the Board

    That makes the case for describing him as “the right guy who’s just been screwed by timing” that much harder.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I have seen Rick Wagoner interviewed a couple of times on Charlie Rose, and he seems intelligent, thoughtful, and to have a nuanced understanding of his business and the global industry

    I’m sure he’s a smart guy. He’s probably quite good as an operational accountant or controller. I’m sure he’s not too bad at manufacturing theory or supply-chain management, either.

    The problem is that he’s an exceptionally bad strategic leader, poor at effecting change in a company that desperately needs it, and not at all product- or brand-focused, which is really bad thing for an industry where product is king and brand is queen.

    If you compare GM to, say, Apple, Rick Wagoner is functionally equivalent to Gil Amelio.

  • avatar

    what people fail to realize is that Red Ink Rick was put in place by the bankster controlled Board of Bystanders. he was made CFO at 39, much younger than many more qualified and senior executives. heck, he doesn’t even have an accounting degree. the man lost gobs of market share as head of North American Operations and was part of the team that did the Fiat Fiasco. he has the continued support of the Board ( whose bankers he has enriched through asset sales) since he has eliminated over 100,000 union jobs with their associated benefits, which was in fact the original reason he was annointed Permanent Puppet.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    “GM, as we all know, has lost substantially more than $1.7 billion. In fact, it has lost $72.3 billion since 2004 under Wagoner’s reign. By that measurement, applying Fire the Coach rules, Wagoner is 40 times more deserving of dismissal than Watanabe.”

    At least 40 times more deserving, and probably about 40 times less likely. While Toyota is reporting a loss for the most recent year, they still grew market share, something GM hasn’t been able to claim in practically forever.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • mcs: @toolguy: No, it wasn’t his vehicle. In my world, I’ve never seen people buying cars to impress...
  • Arthur Dailey: @KC; I have not personally seen any masks that are just one layer, at the least two layers. if there...
  • Detroit-Iron: F1, like the IOC, supports slave labour, human rights abuses, and validating dictators and other...
  • mcs: One of the things they discovered about the effectiveness of conventional masks with kids is that it kept them...
  • kcflyer: I did find it interesting that the n95 filters particles smaller than the openings in the mask by magicly...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber