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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.

Erskine Bowles.

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.)

On the Executive Compensation Committee. As in helped give Rick Wagoner his $20M farewell gift.

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.

Update.

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.

Originally posted to kravitz on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 09:21 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Put up a tip jar (7+ / 0-)

    This is a gripping read.

    "Dream for just a second and then do it!" -- Kolmogorov

    by theran on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 09:46:19 PM PDT

  •  It's a sad story (7+ / 0-)

    I've done business with the car industry for 20+ years. As a vendor. As a consultant. Teaching their managers.

    There are some really good people in auto management. But there are a lot more bloody idiots - and mostly, the idiots are the ones with weak engineering skills and prestigious MBAs.

    How do I know? I know because I'm an engineer and I've taught a LOT of MBA courses and I have had more than a few students that work(ed?) in the Big Three.

    A few (more than two, less than 5) of my students are as good as you can possibly hope to get. They have pretty much the same opinion of the car companies that I do.

    -2.38 -4.87: JustAShotAway's friend Ryan: "Go big or go home"

    by grapes on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 09:55:41 PM PDT

  •  No idea why you picked 1996 (9+ / 0-)

    Mega-problems were evident (to me) long before then.  They've refused to take fuel efficiency seriously, and that was big back in the 70s.  They lost a lot of market share to Honda, Toyota, etc. back then.

    jest sayin'

    "The river always wins" - Mark Twain

    by Land of Enchantment on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 09:59:27 PM PDT

    •  Yup - it was after the energy crisis of the 1970s (7+ / 0-)

      when the Japanese autos started selling like hot cakes in the US. GM (and the others) were indifferent and did nothing to respond to the obvious demand for fuel efficient cars and well engineered smaller vehicles. They just sat by while their competitors gobbled up bigger and bigger shares of the US market.  And then they all just got crazier and crazier as time went on and focused things like SUVs and pick-up trucks that were designed for eventual failure . .

    •  1982 Buick Elektra (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kravitz

      Worst car I ever drove.

      I still have linens that are stained with the black tar-like substance that leaked through the carpet lining the trunk.

      Speaking of the trunk, I had to drive around with a four foot-long 1 x 2 to prop open the hood of the trunk, which had pistons that failed less than a year after we bought the car.

      Tikkun Olam...Obama '08

      by tethys on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 11:13:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  see update. (0+ / 0-)

      1996 was the year GM officially went from car manufacturer to money sponge.

  •  after 96? (5+ / 0-)

    try 76. Wasn't there a saying, "Don't buy a Friday car?" from Detroit? the morale was lousy and the workers were dispirited and some of them sabotaged the line and left things out and stole stuff. I'm trying to remember who the journalist was who wrote about it.  

    •  they've had several quality issues (0+ / 0-)

      however, around the 1990s, things started looking better.

      better performing engines, fewer rusting bodies and chassis. that fuel guzzling label was still on their ass, though.

      for example, the entire 'Like A Rock' campaign around their trucks was a truly earned monicker. after quality substantially improved in the series. unfortunately, instead of thinking 'we can build a great truck,' someone started noticing yuppies buying them and voila, the GMC Jimmy became the Chevrolet Blazer/TrailBlazer/Suburban and merged with the Hummer to lower their CAFE ratings even further.

  •  This is why GM's CEO got fired. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ksingh, kravitz

    And I hope they took the upper management with him. Give then a shot in the arm and hope they can pull themselves out of this. Bankruptcy won't be pretty.

    OF course, I predicted to my wife that GM would go bankrupt when they first asked for money last year.

    But damn, if someone opened an auto plant here I'd consider applying. I'm white collar and I wish I made 20 an hour.

    Insert witty slogan here.

    by SniperCT on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 10:23:03 PM PDT

    •  According to (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Creosote, WV Democrat, OHdog, kravitz

      Reuters

      A majority of GM's board will also be replaced.

      So yeah, all the arrogant asses from the GM leadership are gone.

      Good diary. This isn't the fault of the workers, management sucked for the last thirty to forty years.

      We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same." Carlos Castaneda

      by BP in NJ on Tue Mar 31, 2009 at 12:37:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I've had a negative opinion of GM corporate (8+ / 0-)

    culture since seeing Michael Moore's 'Roger and Me'.

    The arrogance and thoughtlessness of every executive he ran across attempting to ask Roger Smith about the decision to close plants in Flint made me wonder how in the world the company could ever have the proper rapport with its buying public.

  •  It is just such a shame. (7+ / 0-)

    But it is a self inflicted, probably fatal, wound that has been hemorrhaging for nearly three decades.

    I must say that we are all obsessed with the Auto industry but the fact of the matter is that the highly paid, credentialed, American mandarin class, the "leaders of a majority of our domestic industries" including banking, finance and all types of  manufacturing have driven them into the ground.

    Many were trained in our finest Universities, have impeccable resumes, feel especially entitled and are utterly clueless. MBA's are a special "irk" of mine, and our first MBA president, GWB, only solidified my opinion of that particular degree.

    Do our institutions of higher learning deserve some of the blame for our current corporate environment and the failure philosophy of these organizations?

    The goal: Shrink The Republican Party to a size where we can drown it in a bathtub.

    by Seattlite on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 10:34:32 PM PDT

    •  what a provacative (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WV Democrat, OHdog, kravitz

      thought! trace this back to:
      "where did they get this shit?"

      Many were trained in our finest Universities, have impeccable resumes, feel especially entitled and are utterly clueless. MBA's are a special "irk" of mine, and our first MBA president, GWB, only solidified my opinion of that particular degree.

      Do our institutions of higher learning deserve some of the blame for our current corporate environment and the failure philosophy of these organizations?

      genesis, economic anthropology

      fascinating possibility...
      do you have time/inclination?

      Love is the source, substance and future of all being. --St. Francis

      by ksingh on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 10:53:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This sentence says so much... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Creosote, defluxion10, OHdog, kravitz

      ... in so few words:

      GM has been telling us to buy Hyundais for several years.

      •  I had to buy a used '00 Hyundai and I feared (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        highacidity, kravitz

        I was going to hate having to do that but it was a damn good car that got around 32 MPG in town and 38-42 MPG when I drove it on the Interstate(and I got a mid-sized lead foot in town and also it would do 80 on the freeway(with no problems)to stay with the other traffic and sometimes 90 when the big rigs were making time).I really liked that Accent and it pissed me off when it got repossessed after my Unemployment ran out and I couldn't keep the payments up.

  •  love this (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    theran, Creosote, kravitz

    inside peek into auto industry. don't stop!

    Love is the source, substance and future of all being. --St. Francis

    by ksingh on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 10:45:55 PM PDT

  •  GM sucks - like America... (5+ / 0-)

    GM gave America what it wanted. In thirty colors. The split SECOND the gas scare ended Americans decided Hummers and SUV's were the only cars God wanted Americans to drive - GM was happy to supply their fetish for plastic. GM died supplying Americans what they wanted - neon dreams of Route 66.

    It took the Greeks, Romans and then the British a long time to fall into Imperial ruin - America - 60 years. With banners for "GOD" and "Government is the Enemy" in the fore America sought tomorrow's excesses today!

    No health care, no industry, no economy, no educated masses, no society, no brains and ELEVEN Nuclear Carrier Battle Groups - America - love it or leave it - will the last guy out turn off the lights? If there still are any working.

  •  Part of the problem is the auto industry's (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Creosote, defluxion10, OHdog, kravitz

    decision makers are geographically centered in one spot in the MidWest, they live in the same upscale Detroit suburbs, go to the same county clubs, and really don't mingle with the people who buy their products.  If something was wrong with their vehicle, it was taken to a company facility and fixed immediately, so why worry about reliability and engineering.  Their biggest mistake was to offer their vehicles at bargain prices to the car rental companies.  After a week of driving a piece of shit mid-sized GM car, people were extremely happy to get home and continue driving their Honda or Toyota knowing that they made the right choice in purchasing a foreign car.

    And it feels like I'm livin'in the wasteland of the free ~ Iris DeMent, 1996

    by MrJersey on Mon Mar 30, 2009 at 10:51:44 PM PDT

  •  Rambling, a bit odd (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Roadbed Guy, OHdog

    and about fifteen years out of its time.

    GM lost it after the Japanese invasion of the late 70's.  Instead of going after Ford they way it usually did, they went after the Japanese.  Massive fail.

  •  Cadillac Cimarron 1982 worst car ever produced (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kravitz

    under that badge. It really signaled that GM wanted to make money more than it wanted to make cars. Generally seen as the response to the Japanese invasion of smaller, more fuel efficient cars. The equivalent of an awful red velvet Italianette sofa in your Gramma's  living room but done in cheap gym suit velour.

    The darkest hour is just before the dawn. Persevere.

    by OHdog on Tue Mar 31, 2009 at 04:31:21 AM PDT

  •  I bought a 2008 Impala and am very (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kravitz

    happy with it so far. I am told the Malibu is an excellent auto,comparable to the Camry,Accord and Altima. But too many lemons in the 70's,80,s and 90,s have destroyed the brand name in the minds of too many car buyers.

  •  Ren Center was acharitable (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kravitz

    attempt by Ford to lead the way to reestablish a vibrant down town in Detroit.  Can't fault Ford's charitable efforts over the years.

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