By on August 11, 2009

While General Motors has downsized physically and financially, the nationalized American automaker still suffers from a monumental mental disorder. Today’s F5 PR tornado made that point pellucid. In fact, it’s hard to know where to begin the diagnosis. We might as well start with the “big news” on the vehicle destined to become GM’s Edsel. The General would have you believe that the Chevrolet Volt will achieve 230 miles per gallon in city driving. Yes, well, the Volt is supposed to surmount the first forty-miles on battery power alone. So I make that . . . zero miles per gallon; you know; as it’s not using any liquid fuel. Hey! Anyone remember [former] Car Czar Bob Lutz’s hand-wringing re: the Volt’s gas supply fouling because owners would never use the internal combustion engine? Like that. Quick question: what drugs are these guys on? More accurately, why aren’t they taking their meds?

News flash: General Motors is bi-polar. The company’s currently in the midst of a prolonged manic episode. To wit: on this very day, GM trumpeted the Volt’s [literally] incredible mileage claims AND unveiled a two-year product plan involving twenty-five models AND promised a new Cadillac to best BMW’s 3-Series AND revealed plans for a new internet microsite for its Advanced Design studio (“The Lab”) AND told taxpayers it would increase its $1.81 billion ad spend AND unveiled two new concept cars. That’s after yesterday’s announcement that GM is launching four websites to sell new cars via eBay, albeit in California and not Cadillac. It’s a wonder GM CEO Fritz Henderson didn’t promise to change GM’s constipated corporate culture while he was at it. Oh, wait. He did.

Extreme manic episodes can lead to psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations. As it has in this case. The necktie-challenged CEO—Good God, man! I don’t have time to tie a Windsor knot!—clearly believes that he’s going to “do” the cultural transformation thing. And he’s going to do it via . . . committee! Yes, Fritz has appointed an executive committee to wean GM from its reliance on executive committees. A committee that includes the aforementioned aspiring octogenarian, GM lifer and CFO Ray Young, and former Caddy killer and current dealer eliminator Mark LaNeve. Expecting this carefully selected cast of recently elevated (at least in GM time) careerists to reform the automaker is like asking an orthodox Jew to run a Louisiana rib shack.

A person in a manic state has a short attention span. GM may be new (as if), but this symptom is not. How many nameplates is it now, Fritz? Anyone want to dig out Rick Wagoner’s protege’s promise on that score? And while you’re rooting around in GM’s fevered imagination, how about sourcing the press release for the “new” Cadillac STS? HUMMER H3 SUT? Saab anything? How far back do you want to go? Chevy Vega? X-Cars? Always with the promises. Never with the results. Do we really need to analyze the inherent inanity of today’s roll call of make-believe hits to prove the point? OK, then . . .

GM says it’s going to position the new Chevrolet Spark below the Chevrolet Aveo. Is that even possible? What are the chances that Buick will find sales with a car based on the same platform as the Chevrolet Cruze, only more beautiful and slightly longer? Who in their right mind thinks Buick has a future as a full-line automaker, sporting six models (à la Lexus)? Cadillac’s “flagship” XTS is going to be the same size as a Mercedes E-Class? I see fish. They’re swimming in a barrel. My finger grows weary.

I used to believe that GM would end with a whimper. They’d downsize, and downsize some more, and then a bit more, and then, eventually, after a few more mega-suckles on the taxpayer teat, after their market share faded into gray, they’d disappear into some other automaker’s portfolio and die. Now, I’m not so sure. While today’s product announcements are either complete bullshit or the same old bullshit in a new wrapper, and we can discount reports of an increased advertising spend as JALCOS (Just Another Lutzian Crock of Shit), GM seems to be heading for a massive crash.

As always, cash burn is the key. Come September’s financials, we’ll have a rough idea how long GM’s $50 billion federal infusion will last. Obviously, as long GM takes in less money than it spends, the only way is down. Expanding the number of models within the remaining four GM brands will do nothing to delay the company’s next face plant, and much to hasten it. But don’t tell New GM’s executives that. They’re in the midst of a hypomanic episode, joyfully creating plans for reinvention, oblivious to the fact that they’re recycling previous patterns. On the other hand, GM is already living within the confines of institutional care. How great is that?

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26 Comments on “Editorial: General Motors Zombie Watch 13: Manic Street Preachers...”


  • avatar
    Ken Elias

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    The good news? TTAC will have plenty to write about GM.

  • avatar
    Sola77

    Perhaps this is an epic tragedy in progress. However much I would like to see GM survive and succeed there is absolutely NO WAY I would materially contribute to their continued existence by purchasing one of their products. The General has wistfully earned my sincere loathing and disrespect for their ‘Brand’ through blatantly inferior products and contemptible customer relations through their dealer network. Though I optimistically believe GM does have some of the best engineering and design talent in the business it seems pretty obvious to a layman like myself that their corporate culture is so corrosive that those resources are neutered. If only they canned the clowns who continue to control this behemoth I would be far more hopeful and optimistic, as it stands I feel misled and cheated.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Remember the old adage, “GM cars run like shit longer than most cars run.”

    Obviously that’s true of the company that made them too. A few years ago I looked at 50s and 60s flashback car coffee table books and prayed for GMs rebirth. Now I wish I could be the one to sign the “do not resuscitate” order.

  • avatar
    billy madison

    The quote is from Billy Madison:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0112508/quotes

    Granted, the quote is “adjusted” to fit the delivery and deliverer of the original post. However, the point is that if I was a new reader, I would have learned nothing from this post. For example, please tell us why 25 new products sucks, especially when it was asked last week (with very little discussion) whether 17 from Ford was enough.

    I read this blog because I like reading things I generally disagree with. But I’m not sure that anybody learns anything from posts like this.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    “On the other hand, GM is already living within the confines of institutional care. How great is that?”

    I don’t know, but when you ask their HR system for your forgotten password, it just mails you back your username.

    Please don’t ask why I am using GM’s HR system. I’m back in Michigan and jobless – fun times.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    The big question is how much of any of this is substance? It looks like this is a response to Ford’s plan and if they *didn’t* have x amount of models then they would not only look lame but a postive failure a la Chryco. Can’t happen.

    It’s a “make up crap if you have to” sort of response.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    So I make that . . . zero miles per gallon; you know; as it’s not using any liquid fuel.

    Stuff like that gets me into engineering nitpicking mode really fast:

    Zero miles per gallon would mean that you use an infinite amount of liquid fuel to not move.

  • avatar
    findude

    With all the confusion about plug-in hybrids and other Volt-like vehicles, we need a new way to measure “miles per gallon.” Something more akin to “the hour” known in bicycling circles is in order. That “race” pits a single rider on a velodrome against a clock. It’s how far you can go with a limited resource–in that case one hour of time.

    For new vehicles, let’s just use “the gallon” instead. Put the car on an oval race track and give them one gallon of gas. Let the test driver choose the speed and all other controllable variables except the amount of gasoline. Put one (1) gallon of gas in the car. Go until the car will not go anymore. Do not stop for gas or to plug in the battery charger. Report total distance (miles per gallon) and total time and let the manufacturer press pull out their calculators to report the average speed.

    Voila! Hard numbers we can use to cut through the bullshit. I’m guessing the Volt will not go farther than 70 miles on that gallon.

    Years ago someone gave us the 0-100-0 metric. It had absolutely nothing to do with real-world conditions, but it said volumes about what a car could really do when pushed to the performance limit. “The gallon” would also reveal little about real-world use, but it would sure tell us a lot about the performance limit in terms of fuel efficiency.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Suppose for a second that a big magical pixie flew over the world and sprinkled magic pixie dust everywhere with no harmful environmental effects.

    Suppose that pixie dust made every car ELECTRIC! and Battery powered! There’s by great rejoicing in the streets! NRA hunters and PETA members would openly embrace since the environment would be saved!

    And let’s suppose, for a second, that the magical pixie dust provided EXACTLY enough energy to run all those cars. Not more. Not less.

    That would mean that electricity would be finite, and then, rather than boasting about cars being ELECTRIC, then manufacturers would have to then boast about Power losses, recharge times and efficiency.

    That will be the game changer. Once you get two or more electric cars on the road, which will be the most efficient?

  • avatar
    rnc

    In terms of cash burn and sustainability, the article a few days (weeks) ago about GM being able to carry over 19m deferred tax asset from the old company to current and how that was against the applicable BK laws, I think thats how much money GM lost while in BK (what was it two months?), thats why they were allowed to carry it forward.

  • avatar
    Jaywalker

    Sorry, it’s not “zero miles per gallon,” it’s “undefined,” or in this case “infinite,” as it always is when you divide a number by zero. It would only be zero miles per gallon if you burned a gallon of gas to go zero distance.

  • avatar
    TexN

    “My finger grows weary.”
    Great writing!

  • avatar
    shaker

    I think that the “MPG” figure that GM is attempting to foist is incredibly optimistic.

    I can’t do the math right here, but I think the kWh/gasoline equivalent energy thing has already been done.

    Which leaves us with the relative efficiency of the Volt’s regenerative braking system.

    If you could recover 100% of the electrical energy expended during acceleration with regen braking, you’d have “infinite MPG”.

    We know that the actual efficiency is far less than that.

    If I were to give a WAG, I’d say that the Volt would need a bank of ultracapacitors in addition to its battery pack to achieve triple-digit “city” mileage.

    Oddly enough, this should also extend the “40-Mile” claimed EV range, which GM is not claiming.

    As much as I’s like to see GM pay back the taxpayers, I call BS on this one until I see more.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    It’s another CYA loveletter to the car czar and congress. Congressmen can now take this as proof that all you need to do is give Corporate America a swift kick and a ton of cash and they’ll make your campaign promises a reality. Their job is done.

    “Yes we can” says BHO, and GM says “here you go.”

    The rest of us look on and all we can see is one herd of suits BS’ing another group of suits and vice versa. The only thing that is accomplished is keeping the sclerotic system in Detroit and DC firmly in place.

    Preston Tucker is looking like an automotive Solomon now.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    Is the Cadillac XTS really going to be on the Buick LaCrosse platform? That’s a joke, right?

  • avatar
    mach1

    If I understand the math of this claimed 230 MPG Volt, it works out like this:

    – The first 40 miles use Zero gallons of fuel.
    – To achieve 230 mpg overall, the required fuel economy with the engine running depends on how many total miles are used for the calculation.
    >If the total cycle is 50 miles then the car only goes 10 miles on gasoline and can burn 0.2174 gallons for a FE of 46 mpg.
    > If the total cycle is 60 miles then the car only goes 20 miles on gasoline and can burn 0.2609 gallons for a FE of 77 mpg.
    > If the total cycle is 100 miles then the car has to go 60 miles on gasoline and can burn 0.4348 gallons for a FE of 138 mpg.

    IF GM COULD PRODUCE A CAR THAT GOT 138 MPG ON GASOLINE, WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT A VOLT?

  • avatar
    FleetofWheel

    I can see the Dem controlled Congress voting to give new GM a lot more money until at least thru the next congressional election.
    Otherwise, new GM’s slow dive is an excellent example of how industrial planning does not work and begs the question of why should govt try meddling in so many other areas of private enterprise.

  • avatar
    Wolven

    Great article and writing RF.

  • avatar
    USAFMech

    @panzerfaust: +1. Insert my anti-Obama rant here.

    And that’s why I named my son Preston. (Really.)

  • avatar
    kamiller42

    We have fantasy football, fantasy stock trading, and other reality based “what-if” games. I would like to see articles by TTAC expressing what they would do to turn GM around. (Or should GM be put to sleep?) The plan would have short, medium, and long term actions. It would be an interesting “what-if.”

  • avatar
    Stingray

    The Spark in fact goes below the Aveo.

    It’s smaller and less powerful. And cheaper.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Otherwise, new GM’s slow dive is an excellent example of how industrial planning does not work and begs the question of why should govt try meddling in so many other areas of private enterprise.

    GM (and so many others) were doing a fantastic job of augering in at speed before the government so much as bought them a breath mint.

    On the other hand, Japans industry and government work very closely and very well. So does Korea’s. So do many other countries.

    The problem with government involvement in industry in the US isn’t that there’s too much, it’s that when it happens it’s so pathetically limp-wristed, compromised by local interests and reluctant that it’s actually worse than no involvement at all. Planning and regulation can work and have been proven to work, just not in the US where, between local and lobbyist porkbarrelling, and the successful marketing of anti-socialism by the rich, it’s more or less designed to fail.

  • avatar
    Stunned_BB

    @Stingray:

    Please watch your terminology (lol)! It’s smaller and more gutless would be better.

  • avatar
    dzwax

    Here’s what I saw.

    The smirks, like frat boys pulling a prank.

    Reading, and rather poorly, from their notes.
    Did anyone involved in this even read their lines before going on? Were they involved at all in writing the script.

  • avatar
    kowsnofskia

    Please watch your terminology (lol)! It’s smaller and more gutless would be better.

    What are you, the grammar police? “Less powerful” is a phrase regularly used when comparing cars. “More gutless” doesn’t really have the same meaning.

  • avatar
    amca

    Does every corporation out there have a website somewhere dedicated to proving that every single move it makes is dead wrong?

    Where’s the one for Toyota?

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