On GM

Ever since my first car, a basic 1965 Chevrolet Nova, I’ve always owned a GM car. Before buying my 2008 Chevrolet Malibu (reviewed here), for the first time in my life I considered foreign cars. My wife was born in Detroit as her dad worked at GM as his did his father. Actually her current car was our only venture outside of GM, a 2003 Honda Accord.

Last year my in-laws experienced a change in their retirement health care insurance. With the recent bankruptcy, we wonder what (if anything) will happen to his retirement.

I don’t feel sorry for GM as a corporation because it has ignored economic signals for a long time; however, I do feel compassion for all the affected families. Whether retired from or directly employed by GM, or as a member of the supply chain, or associated with a local dealership about to be closed, the impact on individuals and communities is huge.

During the initial auto-bailout talks in late 2008, a friend complained about the bailout in terms that the US automakers have brought the problems onto themselves, thus should be let to die. Knowing that he’s also a city councilman, I simply asked, “As a councilman, what if the major auto facility was located in your town?” Of course his tune changed, thus showing the complexity and profound effect.

Also late last year my father-in-law told us about a Christmas card he received from a fellow GM retiree who wrote, “Who would have thought we would live longer than GM.”

I just watched an interesting interview with GM Chief Financial Officer Ray Young. Of course he’s bullish and talks about learning from mistakes, cost efficiency, leaner, a customer-product focus, moving quickly, and taking risks. At the same time, besides prolonging employment for many (thus phasing in unemployment), I wonder how this government investment can produce a profit.

Time will determine what happens to GM. David Brooks see no exit strategy. In the meantime, I’ll close with Paul Ingrassia’s words from his recent Wall Street Journal column.

Heaven only knows what will be enough. But a company with a cautious, slow-moving management and a union committed to defending ridiculous work rules won’t have a chance of succeeding. Perhaps everyone remaining at the new GM will realize that. The rest of us can only hope for the best.

Past Angles about the Automakers