New York Times to Detroit: See Below

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

Yesterday’s New York Times published an article dissing Detroit in the bit of their Business Section. In a stunning if perhaps singular piece of journalism, the Gray Lady affirms TTAC’s nine-year rant record of castigating Chrysler, Ford and GM for refusing to remove their rose-colored glasses. In fact, Anthony Currie calls Motown’s mavens a bunch of deluded, delusional and/or deluding dunces—albeit in that gently chiding, hugely condescending, entirely arch way that typifies the Times. To wit: “It did not take long for Detroit’s carmakers to return to one of their favorite pastimes. As General Motors approaches 100 days since emerging from bankruptcy, each of the Big Three’s bosses has been indulging in painting rosy scenarios for their firms. But like pronouncements past, they’re a tad premature.” I used to play tennis with Tad Premature. Smashing fellow. A bit too cocky. Anywho, Currie starts his diatribe by taking Ford’s semi-canonized CEO to task for predicting a phantom sales revival for the end of 2009 (who saw that one not coming?). Followed by the usual FoMoCo fellating. Still, point taken. As for Chrysler and GM . . .

Currie begins his broadside against the nationalized automaker with a kiss for Fritz: he lets CEO Henderson’s team off the hook for running GM into the ground (even though it was they what did it). Even when it comes to General Messup, the girl can’t help it. A box of glazed donuts has less sugar coating.

But G.M. is still dealing with some of the mess that clogged its engine before bankruptcy. It still has some 10,000 more workers than it needs. And while it has finally managed to sell Hummer to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery [really?], the failed sale of Saturn means G.M. could face costs of more than $100 million to compensate dealers.

And G.M.’s sales figures look horrendous, falling 47 percent in September. The good news is that last year’s showing was a result of huge incentives — slashed by $1,300 per vehicle this year — that increased market share to an unsustainable 29 percent.

Nicely played! Still, by Currie’s own admission, his piece presents GM through tinted eyewear.

Even putting a positive spin on it, though, cannot mask the fact that overall industry sales are still below where G.M. estimates it can break even — about 10.5 million a year — let alone make a profit. More sales and a few good quarters will probably be needed before talk of a public share sale is warranted.

Something tells me Currie’s a big fan of English understatement. In any case, Chrysler gets the worst treatment, as it’s now run by an Italian and it doesn’t have a hope in hell of surviving.

But it’s at Chrysler where expectations and reality diverge most. The chief executive, Sergio Marchionne, who also runs Fiat, expects Chrysler to be profitable within two years and possibly to seek a stock market listing. That seems a tall order . . .

Mr. Marchionne insists that Chrysler is not “bleeding” terribly. And the carmaker’s cash-for-clunkers showing was probably stymied by a lengthy furlough of its factories. But with few new products and no information on either finances or a business plan, which is expected in November, his claim of profitability rings hollow.

Currie’s conclusion: Detroit suits should STFU.

As car sales improve for the industry next year — as virtually all analysts expect them to — so should the Big Three’s fortunes. But if there’s one thing car company bosses should have learned from the last few years, it’s that Motown’s upbeat predictions invariably disappoint. They’d do better to keep quiet for the moment.

Robert Farago
Robert Farago

More by Robert Farago

Join the conversation
2 of 19 comments
  • Bd2 If they let me and the boyz roll around naked in their dealership I'll buy a Chinese car.
  • THX1136 I would not 'knowingly' purchase a Chinese built or brand. I am somewhat skeptical of actual build quality. What I've seen in other Chinese made products show them to be of low quality/poor longevity. They are quite good at 'copying' a design/product, but often they appear to take shortcuts by using less reliable materials and/or parts. And , yes, I know that is not exclusive to Chinese products. When I was younger 'made in Japan' was synonymous with poor quality (check John Entwistle's tune 'Made in Japan' out for a smile). This is not true today as much of Japan's output is considered very favorably and, in some product types, to be of superior quality. I tend to equate the same notion today for things 'made in China'.
  • Mike Beranek No, but I'm for a world where everyone, everywhere buys cars (and everything else) that are sourced and assembled regionally. Shipping big heavy things all over the planet is not a solution.
  • Jeffrey No not for me at this time
  • El scotto Hmm, my VPN and security options have 12-month subscriptions. Car dealers are not accountable to anyone except the owner. Of course, the dealer principles are running around going "state of the art security!", "We need dedicated IT people!" For the next 12 months. The hackers can wait.