Junkyard Find: 2005 Pontiac Vibe, Gambler 500 Edition
Several hooptie-centric road rallies take place every warm season in Front Range Colorado, including the 24 Hours of Lemons Rally, the Rocky Mountain Rambler 500 Rally, and the Colorado Gambler 500 Rally. Teams will build crazy stuff— say, a Lincoln Continental Mark IV filled with three tons of engine-heated water or a gutted Volkswagen R32 converted to a doorless post-apocalyptic Astroturf nightmare— or just acquire some random cheap car, decorate it, and beat it half to death on Rocky Mountain fire roads. As you’d expect, many of these cars go right to the nearest boneyard when the rally is over, and I find quite a few of them during my junkyard travels in northeastern Colorado. Here’s the “Good Vibes” Pontiac Vibe, found in Denver over the summer.
Was The Government's Divestment of GM Stock Insider Trading?
Back in 2004, perfectionist homemaker and well known TV personality Martha Stewart was charged with insider trading. As presented, the facts in the case were simple. Martha owned stock in a medical research company called ImClone and, like a lot of people who invest in tech firms, she was hoping for a big payout when their product, a promising new cancer treatment, went on the market. Unfortunately, the FDA chose not to approve the drug and the value of the stock looked set to take a beating once the decision was announced. According to the charges initially brought against her, Martha and many of the company’s top executives learned of the FDA’s decision though their inside connections the day before it was publicly announced and were able to sell their shares before they crashed. That’s against the law and many of the people caught up in the scandal, including Martha who was convicted on the charge of making false claims to a federal investigator, ended up going to jail.
Great Moments in GM Marketing: The XP-75
Facing tough German competition, the people at General Motors come up with a large-displacement supercharged contender that outpowers but also out-weighs the BMW-and-Benz-powered entries. The look of their new model is controversial, but we’re told that it has to be that way due to existing platform constraints. And, of course, they’ll need a massive cash injection from the United States Government to make the whole thing happen, and they’ll get it, even though the aforementioned government wants them to build something completely different.
Wait a minute. Did you think I was talking about the CTS-V? Pas du tout! Set the wayback machine for the big band era, and let’s hear a story about how General Motors (allegedly) sabotaged the strategic plans of the United States in order to further their own economic interests.
GM's AmeriCredit Deal: Awaiting Approval
Now that GM’s acquisition of the subprime lender AmeriCredit has had 24 hours to sink in, howls of protest are starting to surface. The charge is being led by Senator Chuck Grassley, who has requested a review of the deal from the SIGTARP, saying
If GM has $3.5 billion in cash to buy a financial institution, it seems like it should have paid back taxpayers first. After GM’s experience with GMAC, which left GM seeking a taxpayer bailout, you have to think the company and, in turn, the taxpayers would be better off if GM focused on making cars that people want to buy and stayed clear of repeating its effort to make high-risk car loans.
And though Grassley’s criticism could be read as mere partisan gamesmanship from a leader of “the party of no,” there are a number of very good reasons for opposing the deal.
GM's IPO: For King, Country, or Cadillac?
After ending the first quarter of this year with $35.7b in cash and equivalents, GM was in the best position it’s enjoyed in decades. And yet, with an IPO prospectus looming, The General is seeking a $5b line of credit and trotting out EBITDAPRO as its in-house measure of financial success. Both of these tactics are hallmarks of companies that are doing poorly, and GM has already learned how problematic loading up on debt and sliced-and-diced financials can be. So why is The General inviting criticism from outlets like Edmunds Autoobserver, which characterizes GM’s push towards an IPO as the rebirth of old bad habits? The simple answer: “business execution.” In other words, GM may have a lot of cash, but it’s got nearly as many demands on its resources as well… and these cash drains hardly add up to a coherent strategy.
GM's IPO: Faster, Harder And Less Satisfying
Despite having more cash than debt for the first time in decades, GM is going back to Wall Street in search of fresh debt. Over the weekend, The General has been in talks with several banks to secure a $5b revolving line of credit to shore up its liquidity position ahead of an IPO that’s rumored to take place in August. At $5b, GM’s desired line of credit would essentially replace the $5.8b the automaker has repaid to the Treasury, and will help it deal with a number of pressing cash needs to maintain its shaky global empire. But with so many pressing uses for the cash, and political pressure mounting for a rapid IPO, can GM deal with its issues and take on more debt and be worth what the government wants it to be worth? Troublingly, the answers to these questions are not to be found on GM’s balance sheet.
It's Buick Again!
As yesterday’s sales graph proves, this is not the greatest time to be re-launching an entry-luxury brand. With Kias and Fords offering the kind of tech gadgets once found only in the upper echelons of true luxury brands, and with well-regarded import luxury marques moving into the front-drive, mass-market, the so-called “premium” brands are finding themselves caught in the middle and losing sales. But in spite of these damning dynamics, GM is moving to overhaul its entry-luxe Buick brand at top speed. Why? Because it can…
Editorial: Mr Whitacre Goes To Washington
GM’s government-installed Chairman/CEO Ed Whitacre hasn’t been wildly popular with Detroit insiders, earning dismissive raspberries from more than a few corners of the industry’s peanut gallery. But now that his reign of executive terror is over, Detroit seems to be learning how to stop worrying and love the former AT&T man. As Whitacre prepares for his first visit to Washington DC as head of GM, the local media and other members of “Team Detroit” are making their peace with Whitacre. So what lies beneath the new united front?
GM Zombie Watch 22: International House Of Panic
News that GM is selling a control-shifting single share in GM Shanghai to its Chinese partner SAIC was the toads-from-heaven flourish at the end of an epic week for the RenCen. The day after the last of GM’s lifer CEOs left the building, Opel’s CFO followed suit. One management re-organization and a rough LA Auto Show later, came this symbolic surrender of GM’s largest market for a measly $85m. Accompanied by news that The General would buy out Suzuki’s stake in CAMI for an estimated $46.5m, no less. Oh yeah, and something about India. Freshly-minted CEO and notorious rattlesnake killer Ed Whitacre isn’t about be accused of not trying to shake things up. The only question is where will everything land?
GM Zombie Watch 21: Headshot!
Recently, it’s become popular to believe that when a zombie loses its head, it dies. With today’s resignation of Fritz Henderson, the reanimated corpse of General Motors is testing that theory. Henderson was the latest in a line of GM lifers to hold the company’s reigns, hand-picked by ousted CEO Rick Wagoner and put in place by a presidential task force that couldn’t say no to another insider. In theory, Henderson’s resignation shouldn’t come as a surprise, let alone a disappointment. In practice though, the move leaves the zombie GM in a precarious position at a challenging moment. For the first time since (your guess here), GM is in the hands of an outsider.
GM Zombie Watch 20: IPO Or Bust
GM’s first post-bankruptcy financial data has arrived, underscoring in red ink the folly of the government “investment” in the shambling zombie once known as General Motors. Bankruptcy-driven improvements in cost structure have not prevented GM from turning a non-GAAP-certified loss since emerging from Chapter 11, and GM is already warning that 4th quarter results will be even less attractive. More importantly, beneath all of the interpretation of this latest batch of weak results, rests the biggest lie of all: GM will be paying back the taxpayers. GM has simply defined the terms of its debt as $6.7b, or about half the amount remaining in its $16b bankruptcy-present escrow account. The plan is to have the taxpayers pay off GM’s debt to the taxpayers, and collect the remaining $6b or so for operating cash. When called on the ruse, GM CEO Fritz Henderson has only one defense: Taxpayers will receive their just reward only when GM’s IPO relieves them of their 60 percent equity stake. But even with the goalposts moving up in hopes of a PR win, there’s little evidence that GM will come close to paying off their full bailout bill.
General Motors Zombie Watch 19: You Get What You Don't Pay For
OK, so, GM is a nationalized automaker. I know, I know: nationalization is for third world dictators. But there it is. Thanks to outgoing president George Bush, the feds used $50 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Fund to bail out General Motors, in exchange for majority ownership. So no matter what W’s political successor says about his administration’s “hands off” non-management of Government Motors, he who owns the gold makes the rules. And when it comes to running a federal-funded organization, Uncle Sam plays by different rules than, say, any private enterprise extent. The bottom line is that there is no bottom line. Amtrak, the U.S. Postal Service, Medicaid—they’re all run at a tremendous, ongoing loss. Which means there’s zero sense of accountability. Which means they will never, ever be able to fully and fairly compete with privately held corporations. Why should GM by any different? Answer: it isn’t.
General Motors Zombie Watch 18: Hire Buickman
Back in the day, GM really pissed me off. As the American automaker continued its inexorable slide into bankruptcy, executives, analysts, journalists, loyalists and camp followers scoffed at the prospect of disaster. Their scorn fueled my anger or, as Angus Mackenzie would have it, pompous indignation. When the feds bailed-out and then nationalized GM, the company’s refusal to overhaul (keelhaul?) its executive “talent” kept my ire alive. A few months and $50b-plus dollars later and I’m rapidly approaching the point where I couldn’t give a NSFW. How many times can you sing the chorus of “Where have all the flowers gone?” without saying FTS and cranking-up the MC5? Before I abandon this pursuit entirely, here’s a quick rant about GM’s inability to realize American’s favorite mantra: hope and change.
General Motors Zombie Watch 17: May the Best Automaker Win
General Motors Zombie Watch 16: The Russians Are Coming!
General Motors Zombie Watch 15: Volt Jolt for Dolts
Editorial: General Motors Zombie Watch 14: 2012 Lineup
Editorial: General Motors Zombie Watch 13: Manic Street Preachers
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?
General Motors Zombie Watch 12: Fear of Music
General Motors Zombie Watch 11: Cadillac Must Die
General Motors Zombie Watch 10: Fritz Henderson Must, Uh, Go
Editorial: GM Zombie Watch 9: GM Announces "Buy and Say Goodbye" Sale
Editorial: General Motors Zombie Watch 8: "7 Reasons Why The New GM Might File for Bankruptcy"
General Motors Zombie Watch 7: One Way Out
General Motors Zombie Watch 6: CEO Henderson: "I Hate Myself"
Editorial: General Motors Zombie Watch 5: Cross-Eyed and Painless
Editorial: General Motors Zombie Watch 4: A House Divided
Editorial: General Motors Zombie Watch 3: Dealer or No Dealer?
Editorial: General Motors Zombie Watch 2: Still On the Fritz
Sorry to bang on about Fritz Henderson. But, well, there he is. Again. Still. With every passing post-C11 day, the GM CEO is sealing his position as the “Uncle Walt” of the federal automotive bailout. With every news conference, media suck-up and, now, congressional inquiry, it’s increasingly clear that Government Motors’ masters aren’t going to give GM’s mustachioed public face the old heave-ho anytime soon. Or, more accurately, soon enough. Let’s face it: the Presidential Task Force on Autos should have sent Fritz his walking papers on the same day they defenestrated his mentor: GM’s last CEO. In and of itself, this failure to excommunicate is enough to abandon all hope of the zombie carmaker’s resurrection (which is an inherently ridiculous idea anyway). Drilling down deeper, we hit nothing but sewage.
Since assuming the position (so to speak), Fritz has abandoned his faster, deeper, oh baby! mantra. He now has one message about “new” GM for its new owners (that’s you!): leaner, greener, stronger, smarter. Astute readers will notice that this is actually four messages, only the first of which makes any sense.
Leaner? That’s what happens when your market share collapses like a dwarf star. Spinning GM’s formerly bloated now emaciated soon to be lifeless corpse as some kind of egg-white eating athlete fools no one save GM’s own corporate flunkies (nothing new there). Americans equate large with successful. Why shouldn’t they?
Greener? Who gives a shit? I know that American industry, the MSM and public school teachers have been selling “green” this, that and the other thing for nearly a decade. But I reckon anyone who wants a “green” automobile is driving a Prius. And that’s pretty much that. Placing “greener” as new GM’s number two priority smacks of financially fatal, congress-pleasing political correctness.
Stronger? Does Fritz seriously expect US consumers to consider buying one of its products—or, more to the point, not not consider buying one its products—because $50 billion worth of taxpayer subsidies has bolstered Government Motors’ bottom line? As a homeowner with a big ass mortgage, I’m here to say that The Mother of All Re-fis is not an indication of Government Motors’ financial strength. Deficit financing, indeed.
Smarter? Anyone with a horse in this race (that’s you!) wants to know if GM’s “new” management (i.e., the old management) is going to make the same dumb-ass decisions that led it to complete collapse. Parsing the propaganda, do GM’s federally-funded spinmeisters mean smarter as in “intellectually superior” or “politically astute”? Either way, no.
The Henderson administration’s breathtaking lack of intellectual firepower was on display at yesterday’s Senate hearing re: GM dealer closures. The CEO singularly, spectacularly failed to make his case.
A smaller, more healthy dealer network reduces GM’s costs, primarily related to support we provide for information technology systems, dealer and sales person incentives, field sales, service and training, service parts, and advertising. This support costs GM roughly $1,000 per vehicle, or a multi-billion dollar expense.
Note Henderson wants a “healthy” dealer network, instead of a “profitable” one (“profit” replaces “bankruptcy” as new GM’s new “Voldemort”). Also notice that the Fritz seems be asserting that the less cars GM sells, the more money they make. When pressed on his pretzel logic, Fritz said the dealer closures would lower the aforementioned dealer costs by . . . $100 per car.
Henderson isn’t an idiot. He just plays one on TV. We can debate the wisdom of GM’s dealer cull, but showing up at The United States Senate without a compelling explanation of how his team ran the numbers leading to the politically-charged confrontation that led to the public hearing is either the height of hubris or just plain dumb. Anyway you look at this we lose.
Henderson’s squirming would be funny if someone else was paying for it. Particularly galling: Fritz began his statement with a promise of transparency and fealty to the United States taxpayer—and then resisted Senator Rockefeller’s request to turn over a list of dealers slated for closure. His rationale was almost as well engineered as a Chevy Aveo; “We’re giving them a 12-to-15-month window to decide what to do with their business.”
Crap. Now where’s the goddam list? Meanwhile, we’re forced to listen to a refrain which makes an alcoholic’s promises of sobriety seem credible. “This is our last chance to get it right,” Henderson said, and not for the first time. “To fix permanently those parts of the business that have diverted us from consistently building winning cars and trucks and the consumer experience to match.”
Crap. If only this was GM’s last chance to fix their business (you know; since the last last chance). They’ll be back, if only because their top man somehow got the idea into his head that GM was diverted from its success. In other words, we were doing everything right except what we were doing wrong. Hey, what do you expect from a dead CEO walking?