Quote of the Day: "It's Just Really Good to Be Back in the Car Business"

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Daniel Howes’ column for the Detroit News is based on an interview with GM CEO Fritz Henderson, while the latter was embarked on a national dealer handholding tour [your name suggestions below]. And here’s the first money shot: “It’s just really good to be back in the car business.” Howes reads TTAC; I’ve taken him to task many times for his transformation from kick-ass European correspondent to Motown pom-pom waver and, at best, chronic fence sitter. “Now, before all the cynics glom on to that single sentence as proof — proof, I tell you — that GM’s leadership is back to the bad ol’ days of denial, I’d offer this: There is more that’s changing inside GM today than staying the same, starting with the fact that the CEO and key leaders of his management team spend a whole lot more time talking about cars and trucks than the nonautomotive headache du jour.” This is all kinds of wrong.

Why would Howes think that Henderson’s statement indicates traditional Detroit denial? It has nothing to do with denial, which is, as we know, Maximum Bob Lutz’s bailiwick. In fact, the jefe’s comment raises entirely different, equally important questions.

Given that Henderson is a GM lifer—former GM CEO Rick Wagoner’s clone and hand-picked successor—what the hell was Henderson doing until now? What business was he in, exactly?

Unless he’s talking about Henderson’s love life or golf game, Howes’ “nonautomotive headache du jour” remark assumes there’s a separation between the business of GM (securing a mega-suckle on the taxpayer teat, protecting executives from defenestration and salary cuts, fucking around with Opel, etc.) and cars and trucks (building cars and trucks, selling them). To paraphrase the B52’s, “WELL THERE ISN’T!”

I get that Howes thinks GM is more product-oriented these days. But the chaos that is GM’s branding strategy, on-again-off-again model development and mislaid marketing plans (now where did I put that truck month?) continues apace. As they say, talk is cheap. Unless it costs $100 billion dollars of my tax money. Anyway . . .

I reckon Howes got the Hendersonian subtext right. The word “just” indicates that the CEO is losing his stomach for politics. You can almost here the sigh in his voice. Which is not a good thing considering Henderson works for the United States government [see: above].

Ironically enough, Danny provides us proof of Henderson’s ongoing inability to face market reality elsewhere in his opus.

“A consistent theme is, ‘Let’s go on the offense,’ ” [Henderson] said. [The dealers] like that GM has worked its inventories down to historic levels; that the next products hitting showrooms are competitive (or better) than the best in their segments; that the beginnings of a marketing campaign (designed in some 30 days, unheard of for GM) is featuring the products and standing up for its attributes.

Quick: which GM products—current or forthcoming—are better than their competition? (Maybe that’s why Howes mixed-up his pronouns.) And is it me or does this sound like the same old punch-the-fist-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care GM?

I’m not suggesting the nationalized automaker should play defense, because that would make too much sense, obviously. When your market share is disappearing, you attack! Right? Screw defending what you already have. Faster, Pussycat! Sell! Sell! Sell!

Hey an all-attack all-the-time strategy worked for Winston Churchill. Oh wait, the wartime PM secured Britain’s defenses first. And he had a little help in the attacking department from the Russians and the Americans. Anyway, it seems that Howes loves Winnie, even if he hasn’t studied the Anglo-American’s military leadership.

Churchill: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Howes: “It’s a start that is far from the end. The next few months are all about GM solidifying its bottom in the United States and rebuilding relationships with employees, dealers, suppliers, customers, a skeptical financial community and even the government, whose take on GM’s chances for success is the short side of a slam dunk.”

Farago: “GM is a zombie. A dead automaker walking. Chapter 7 is only a bailout or two away. Deal with it.”

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

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  • FreedMike FreedMike on Sep 26, 2009
    wmba : September 25th, 2009 at 6:59 pm Not sure about the WW2 British mentality versus present day GM, FreedMike. The reason is simply that British war production peaked in 1940. Even my Dad, a college student in 1940, had to work at repairing damaged Spitfires and Hurricanes in the summer, as a production coordinator. Making sure the right parts were at the right place at the right time on a rebuild line outside Oxford. The nation was mobilized. It’s called fighting for your life. Well, yeah, that's what the British had to do because they a) failed to stop Hitler at Munich, b) sided with a weak ally who got its ass kicked in a matter of weeks, and as a result, c) had to evacuate their own army on the fly in anything that would float. I give them props for fighting so bravely, but it was their own failures that put their backs against the wall. The parallel is this: Britain in 1940 and GM in 2009 are two entities that needed bailouts to survive, and given the performance of each entity, it made perfect sense to say "no." But what would the consequences have been for the world if we'd abandoned Britain? Sometimes you have to look beyond what's logical and do the right thing.
  • FreedMike FreedMike on Sep 26, 2009
    jimmy2x : September 25th, 2009 at 11:23 pm “England helped enable the Germans to go on a continental conquest because they didn’t have the balls to go up against them militarily.” One of the things that I noticed during our travels in England and Scotland were the WW1 memorials in virtually every city and burg. The British suffered enormous losses in the First War, so it is not difficult to understand that their citizens were in no hurry to repeat. Hindsight gives clarity, that is not available in the present. Helps prove my point - the logical thing to do isn't always the right thing to do. Given the vast amount of suffering in WWI, Britain and France had every reason to be reluctant to stand up to Hitler. And in 1940, the logical thing for Churchill to do would have been to sue for a separate peace with Germany. Flash forward to 2009: given the GM's performance, there's every reason to tell themselves to sit and spin. And yet, doing so would have been an epic mistake. What do these three unrelated stories tell us? Sometimes, the logical move is the wrong move.
  • Lou_BC "respondents between 18 and 80 years old" Basically anyone deemed an adult who might be allowed to drive.
  • Lou_BC They will do fine if they come up with some cool sedans ;)
  • Mister They've got their work cut out for them. I live in a large metropolitan city of 1.2+ million people, the is a single Mitsubishi dealer. It's really more like a used-car dealer that sells Mitsubishi on the side. With the remarkably cheesy name of "Johnny Legends".
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh WHAT !?
  • Jeff Matt--I think this is a good move for Mitsubishi to expand their presence with satellite dealers. I had a 85 MItsubishi Mighty Max and my sister had a 83 MItsubishi Starion. MItsubishi needs to add a compact pickup to compete with the Maverick and the Santa Cruz but offer it for less. A smaller more affordable truck will sell. I believe MItsubishi should still offer an inexpensive subcompact like the Mirage it will sell in a slowing car market with high msrps. Yes I know the Mirage is probably going to be canceled but I believe in these times it is a mistake and they should reconsider cancelling the Mirage. Toyota is having problems selling the new redesigned Tacomas and Tundras with the turbo 4s and 6s. Most Tacomas have MSRPs of well over 40k. There is room for MItsubishi to grow their market share with more affordable vehicles. I am not saying Mitsubishi is going to overtake Toyota, Honda, or Nissan but they should take advantage of the more affordable market segment that these companies for the most part have abandoned. MItsubishi doesn't have to be the biggest just increase sales and become more profitable.
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