Since the early 1970's, most of the cars my family members have driven were made by General Motors.
And now, a sad and sorry century comes to this week in March 2009.
Sept. 16, 1908 - General Motors Company founded by William C. Durant.
1909 - GM sells 25,000 cars and trucks.
At one point, I could tell the car by the taillights. Some will recall the Impala versus the Biscayne, and a distinctive bit of jewelry as they like to say in Detroit. The two were basically the same car.
That 'same car' thing was a song GM was too willing to play for far too long.
Including putting Chevrolet and Oldsmobile Rocket 88 engines into far more expensive Cadillacs and pocketing the difference as if no one would ever notice.
Putting the Cadillac Cimarron out at all. It was a Chevrolet Cavalier with more adornment. And leather seats. And heftier price tag. Who wanted a small Cadillac at that time? Who wanted a Chevrolet from Cadillac for that matter. Then they tried it again with the Catera, famously sold using Cindi Crawford and an animated duck.
General Motors was growing away from the core of the American customer base, and it just didn't care one fucking bit. The contempt it was showing to all of us, the disdain for the American car buying public it had, was just starting to consume what was left of its innovative soul. Most of corporate America has this inbred distaste for its customers. There is what people want. What they say they want. What a company will give...as a statement of itself.
GM chose to give less, listen less, and coast on the notion it had become too big to fail.
GM's failure is entirely one of white collar management. I have had relatives employed there in upper and lower levels. I have no issue with the assembly lines. They didn't design the procedures to build. They didn't decide which cars to build, or how many, or how large, or what grade of material to tell the suppliers to make.
They were following orders of conductors who could not lead a vast orchestra.
At one point, GM gave up for good on the basic, entry level and collegiate market that used to buy two-door sedans and hatchbacks to Toyota and Datsun (now Nissan.) I could pin it to the eighties, but some would argue earlier. It tossed the Nova out of Detroit and tried making it at Nummi in California...at a plant jointly owned by Toyota. If they couldn't make a good American car, perhaps they could steal some ideas from the Japanese. Toyota didn't give too much away. Though the plant also made...and still makes...Toyota Corollas, GM eventually decided the Nova would 'not go' any longer. And it evidently found out why Spanish language buyers weren't buying Novas.
Many of my favorite GM vehicles share some basic traits. Trim. Very little body roll. Versatile. Very little 'ego.' And not Fat As A Pig.
They weren't perfect, like the Beretta and Eurosport, but they could kick ass on the highway. All my most expensive speeding tickets were behind the wheels of those actually. And even the officers were impressed.
An aluminum engine meant to make the Vega lighter and more fuel efficient was an honest effort, but perhaps a little more research on how the thickness of material help up would have been nice.
So no, I don't think GM gets most things wrong.
However, 1996 was the year GM committed the key act plunging them toward suicide.
The Renaissance Center move, suggested by the bean counters, severed the ties between General Motors and blue collar America. The customers who truly stood by them. General Motors spit in their face and went upscale.
Jack Smith was CEO at that time. Rick Wagoner didn't get the post until 2000.
Moving to Renaissance was seen as a cost saving move, designed to keep GM from having to update older properties, and getting a shiny new phallic symbol that also resembled chrome exhaust pipes sticking up into the sky. They also hoped to have Ford move there and be a tenant to GM. Possibly someone found that a funny idea.
The Renaissance Center, which includes the 1,392-room Westin Hotel, was bought in April of last year by G.M. for $73 million. With its back to the Detroit River, the complex fronts busy Jefferson Avenue at the foot of the central business district. The center was built in 1976 for $337 million by a consortium of 51 corporate investors led by the Ford Motor Company. It included a G.M. subsidiary. The $73 million purchase price was far below what it would have cost G.M. to build a new global headquarters or renovate its regal old headquarters a few miles north in the city's New Center area.
The fact that the company purchased the complex for little more that a fifth of the price it cost to build two decades ago reflects the market's wariness in investing in a deteriorated downtown.
And in a delicious twist, not only is G.M. taking over a complex that was first championed by Henry Ford 2d, but it also now becomes the landlord of the No. 2 auto maker, the Ford Motor Company, which occupies an entire tower at the center.
The Renaissance Center cost $350 million to build nearly two decades ago. By last summer, the asking price was $125 million, and there were no takers.
The Renaissance Center was actually built by Ford’s real estate division in 1977 for $350 million, but became GM’s HQ in 1996, according to Yahoo.com. In 2005, GM spent $500 million improving the Detroit facility.
A comment from that page at Left Lane...
GM may be hurting, but they’re not very likely to be going away anytime soon. Buying out properties you’re already leasing and/or buying up properties you’ll eventually need at some point, when they’re available for a song just makes good business sense. Their assets that can be mortgaged to the bank for far less interest than just borrowing the money.
GM gets some nice buildings and a nice asset that can be leveraged for cheap loans.
Makes you put this TPM find in a new light, don't it...
I was meeting a friend in the GM building in downtown Detroit about 18 months ago and was astounded to learn how few people there were actually involved in making cars and how many were involved with other GM business interests.
GM bought the complex for $626 Million last May of 2008.
In The Renaissance Center is a mall. To give you an idea of what kind of stores it had, this might help you out.
Bang & Olufsen had a store there. It had a black employee that the mostly rich white clientele shunned, even though a Bang & Olufsen training director admitted the employee was among the most knowledgeable and friendliest among the stores open at the time. After some comments and testing, the trainer could only conclude it was racism that kept Renaissance Center clients from 'inviting him into their home,' a method of selling used by the company. That included staff from the executive offices of General Motors.
So the mindset at Renaissance was very different than GM's previous digs. It began to get more paranoid, snobby, selfish.
It began producing fatter and fatter vehicles. Contempt for the customer moving to non-American brands? Who knows. It couched the excuse as 'they're buying more SUVs than sedans and hatchbacks.' Even for the first time buyers and 'I just need a car for college crowd,' in the eyes of GM.
It began producing flabbier vehicles, like the 2000 TrailBlazer with extra fat over its wheel wells. Some of the flab had nothing behind it but air, increasing the repair cost when it got smacked.
Then it gave the world the Pontiac Aztec.
And recycled the Pontiac Aztec as the Chevrolet Traverse. Got you to buy the same car in a more beautiful, and equally fat body. The trick still works for them. (Check the dimensions, and pay attention to the front hood height, and the slight slope upward at the back window of the Traverse versus what happens on an Aztec. Not too different at all.)
Let's not even get into how they tried cheapening Saturn (yes, the employees had a daily 'Saturn Cheer' session before opening for the day.) Let's not get into how stupid it was to ditch the Firebird, wanna be macho boy car of the century.
But let's spend a little time on the advertising they're doing lately.
Who dreamed up that GMC Acadia selfish rich woman ad?
Who decided to play down the smaller and less expensive American designed and built Chevrolet and Pontiacs in favor of all the Hummer and Cadillac advertising. GM has been telling us to buy Hyundais for several years. The Wagoner years. It simply gave up trying to deliver an American designed and built car of quality. A car I could have my niece or nephew pull up to their dorm and have their friends say "I like your car."
What's a Cobalt anyway? GM doesn't care if you know.
One last note before I move on.
Ring a bell?
Bill Clinton's ex-chief of staff?
What's that name doing here, I can hear some wondering.
He's on GM's board of directors (per their site, just this evening.)
Also president of the University Of North Carolina.
Small, incestuous world, isn't it.
In the 70's, there was American Motors. (Gremlin, Pacer.) They also owned Jeep.
There was Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge/Jeep.
There was Ford/Lincoln/Mercury.
And there was GM/GMC/Chevrolet/Oldsmobile/Pontiac/Buick/Cadillac/Opel.
Then, eventually, there was Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge/Jeep. Ford, etc. GM, etc, and Saturn.
Then GM dumped Oldsmobile. After a few steals from Saturn's design department that didn't sell as Oldsmobiles.
Then GM added for some bizarre reason, Saab, and killed that with a stupid ad slogan..."born from jets." (Saab was the yuppie 'turbo' company...for those who would have bought a Volvo 240, but had no kids and were a bit more self-obsessed.)
Then Ford thought it could handle Volvo. And not listen to the safety ideas Volvo knew would make all Ford's vehicles better. Actually, Ford was claimed to have actively squelched them, but that's for another day.
Then, there was Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep. (Talk about Fat and Flabby car bodies....they became known in some circles as the Costco Customer Car Company. Yup. Fat people.)
And on it went, to the mess it is today.
Ford, the only brand my family ever bought until 1973, stands as the healthiest American car brand of what was known as 'The Big Four."
So UNC is in the Final Four.
GM won't be.
Thanks for the recs and comments. Yes I am a bit of an auto buff, even after all this time of Detroit Disasters and Michigan Magnificents.
People take pride in their appearance, their home, their car. Investments that are not small or insignificant to the rest of one's life.
GM needs to understand the part it plays in the mood of America. Just like a recent article on what Volvo means to Sweden. And ask around Paris what they feel about Citroen. Which is not a wine, for the newbies.
Why 1996? After all the mistakes, recalls and ignorance, the Renaissance Center move was the final straw, proving the GM was never going to get better. It was a cocksure move that signaled it did not care how it did business. It would rather make money off real estate than be a car manufacturer. If China had been ready to do that instead of Daewoo in South Korea, and Subaru in Japan, GM would never have to weld another piece of steel to anything except to make a money printer.
Several models mentioned came from previous years. But at least GM was trying to look like it could make a car in the United States. Now they farm out their designs to Germany and Australia. I'm not sure even they can explain that.