Reader Question: When Did GM Jump the Shark?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Zane asks: Just curious, you’d know the answer to this, but when did GM go from General Motors to Government Motors? One could argue it was due to Obama-ism and the bailout, they had OnStar since the 90s. Figure this somewhat ties in with “Why is there so little competition”? Thanks for taking a look and have a great day now!

My reply: There wasn’t an exact moment; like cancer, it took time to spread. Back in the ’90s, GM was still mostly a car company, run by car guys. I knew most of the higher-ups; good guys who genuinely liked cars and disliked the nannyism that was even then beginning to accrue. But they retired or were replaced by corporate drone types – at first – and then by “Woke” people such as the current ensemble, who seem more interested in signaling their virtues – which are at odds with the virtues a car company ought to be concerned with. Or any company, for that matter.

Instead, GM bean counts races and “genders.” It leg humps the government. It pursues policies which are suicidal by any fiduciary standard. It will not last long, though. Because it can’t.

Bear in mind that GM – all four remaining divisions – currently has less market share collectively than Chevrolet by itself had in 1970. GMC is nothing more than a badge-engineered marketing department for re-sold Chevys that are not quite Cadillacs. It’s as idiotic as Toyota selling Corollas and Camrys called something other than Toyotas but not quite Lexuses. But then, Toyota isn’t idiotic.

Buick? They sell in China. Here, it’s as moribund as Mercury before Ford finally pulled the plug.

Cadillac is dying. Chevy can’t sell cars – and cancelled almost all of them. Even trucks are becoming a hard sell for Chevy – and that is ominous (if you work for Chevy).

The bailout accelerated much of this process by putting someone like Mary Barra – with her background in “human resources” – in charge. But it goes deeper than that. The bailout made GM into the government’s poodle, if not legally then culturally. It was once a great company and I say that as a car guy as well as a car journalist. The list of iconic GM vehicles is lengthy.

But can anyone cite one GM model made during the past 15 years that makes that cut? Even the new Corvette falls short. Yes, it’s very fast and handles really well. But it looks like and basically is just another insectoid supercar, as generic as the others and just as forgettable.

Unlike, say, a ’67 Stingray.

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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28 COMMENTS

  1. To be fair, I’d much rather have a 1967 Ferrari Daytona than any of today’s supercars (although I wouldn’t turn down a 2020 California, despite the horrible name). But GM wants to play in that world, so they have to run everything through the same wind that everyone else does, the same Newtonian physics models everyone else does. There’s a reason why race cars all look alike and it’s not just because of the rulebook.

    One big problem is that companies think that they have to constantly grow or die. And God forbid you think about anything beyond the next 3 months. Any long game better not mess with the cashflow or it will be shut down. Meanwhile your upstart competition gets VC money, all the hot talent and has no baggage like a dividend that started when the company was on top of the world. Wall St has set them up for this suckers’ game by making stock ownership too easy: Piss off the shareholders, or just hint that you might, and they’ll dump your ass faster than the hot chick at the party when the coke dealer shows up. “Hey,” you think, “we were having a real connection.” While she was just killing time until the next interesting guy showed up. Building relationships at cocktail parties (or frat parties when the fed starts rolling out free beer) never ends well, even when you’re the best loser in the room.

  2. Most American-based corporations are horribly managed because they’ve done away with meritocracy in order to please SJWs.

    For example, I called FedEx Freight yesterday to get a delivery time and the stupid bitch had difficulty determining the time of the driver’s departure. She basically told me to wait around all day. After several more calls, I finally spoke to a man and got the time!

    • Hi Handler,

      Yup. America used to be run by men – not just biological males but by men. Who put getting things done first and their “feelings” third. Get it done. Today, work is secondary to feelings and several other things, including who does the work. Their sex, skin color and so on.

      It is accelerating. I’d flee if I were younger but I’m not interested in starting over in middle age and besides, there’s nowhere on this Earth that isn’t Antarctica (or the Sahara) one can flee to in order to start over without dealing with essentially the same idiocy and tyranny all over again.

      It seems to me we’re in the position of the 300 at Thermopylae. We’ll lose, of course. But we can make the bastards pay.

            • Jeremy,

              Please don’t believe every “study” you read on internet. Millennials are a fucked generation. Most of us started our adulthood with crippling debt, most of us have struggled to find work, and most of us come from broken homes. Disastrous. A lot of our men fought a war that we still don’t know why, and didn’t come back right. We’re sorry. Also, most of us wish for sweet sweet death. And it will find us, we like drugs and alcohol.

              • Hi Anon,

                The Babylon Bee is a satirical website, it’s a fake study. I have sympathy for millennials. With the emasculation of culture, the characterization of normal childhood as a “disease”, which leads to the massive over prescribing of psychotropic medication (known to be strongly correlated to both suicidal and homicidal ideation), the crippling college debt, exacerbated by government policies that artificially drive up the cost of tuition, the rise of SJW culture, the permanent wars and the unconscionable manipulation of young men and women to participate in them, etc…, you guys are fucked!

                Cheers,
                Jeremy

                • Oh. I didn’t understand. I don’t understand most things. There a lot of opinions on this site. Especially regarding women and the young folk. I might be a bit sensitive.

                  I like you, btw.

                  • Hi Anon,

                    Thanks! I’m pretty sure I like you too. I’ll have to pay more attention and see if I can discern your posts from the other Anon’s.

                    Cheers,
                    Jeremy

                    • You know me.. well, not in person, but we’ve been back and forth for a while now. It’d be cool if this site had an IM feature. I’d like to talk with you directly.

                  • Hi Anon,

                    Oh, you’re that Anon. Yeah, I like you too. I’d like to talk directly as well. Eric is authorized to give you my email and phone number if you want.

                    Cheers,
                    Jeremy

                    • Jeremy,

                      I shot him a text. He hasn’t hit me back yet, and I’m impatient today.

                      2768064702

                      I’m fairly familiar with your writing style. I think I can tell if it’s you.

      • The only thing we can do is try our best to adapt and remain hopeful. I know it’s not easy in this environment, but we must not let our dark thoughts take over.

      • eric, I live life as molon labe. There are things that have to be done and I do them. Many of them I don’t enjoy only because they had to be done and I didn’t shirk doing them. My wife’s big on “let it go right now, it’ll be there tomorrow”. Fine, but it’s the same thing or worse tomorrow and when I’m done today, I can take on something else tomorrow.

        I have to build a new porch and steps and her part is telling me what she wants and demands. It would have been done decades ago but she “put her foot down” because I was going to make it out of pipe and cut timbers to go around the pipe making it look like it was made of timbers. As time goes by, she changes her mind about how things did/didn’t get done and absolves herself of any responsibility unless it’s something she really likes and is then ready to take credit for it.

        We have a country of this type of bs. I just blow her off in my old age. She can live with it or rebuild it herself. Every single time, she just lives with it. And that’s where we are as a society. Women demand it done, the way they want. They have no input, financially or physically or even aesthetically. Then they take credit……as soon as someone else appreciates it. Otherwise, it’s just some crap her incompetent husband has done. She doesn’t show what she’s done since there’s nothing to show. And there you have our country wrapped up in “this is what I thought of” when the “thinker” thought it was shit till the thinker had to live with it and others thought it was fine.

        • That’s female nature for you, 8. They destroy just about everything they gain control of. They’re only good at rearing children and that’s about it. It’s just a fact of nature, not mean-spirited misogyny.

          Think of all the fields men created and continue to (hopefully) dominate. Finance. Science. Engineering. Architecture. Construction. Automotive. Energy. Agriculture. Manufacturing. Retail. Philosophy. Comedy. Film production. Fashion.

          I could go on and on….

          • Hi Handler,

            Yep – and the cruel thing is (based on conversations I have had) many women would prefer to be the anchor of a family, to be mothers and wives – but this vitally important, this meaningful work, has been smeared into a kind of subservient shamefulness by feminists. There is enormous social pressure brought to bear on women – especially young women – to regard a “career” as ennobling and marriage/children as serfdom and failure. But what is this “career”? For most people – men and women – it is work; what one does to earn one’s keep. It’s honorable to earn one’s keep but is there “meaning” in it? Of course this varies from person to person but – at the end of the day – and at the end of our lives – will most of us look back on how we earned our daily bread as a transcendent experience?

            Maybe if you built something spectacular; wrote a great novel. Did surgery and saved lives. But most of us just work.

            HL Mencken, whom I admire greatly, wrote something to the effect that a woman who denies herself children has missed out on the singular experience of her sex.

            • eric,
              A woman who denies herself children, especially in these times, is saving trouble for everyone. It costs so much money to live, for one. You, yourself, go on and on about having to pay taxes to educate and support other people’s kids.

              Next, men don’t need to be loyal to women now. If one gets on your nerves, dial up the internet and get a different one. Women are starting to understand this as a way of life. And what woman would want to raise a child without a loyal and loving provider?

              We could blame each side all day, but this isn’t a men versus women issue. I think we know it’s something deeper and more sinister. Men and women have been torn apart. I don’t know the reasons, I just know it’s against nature. Everybody suffers, but especially women.

          • Handler, I got an idea.. why don’t we round up all the females and have them all murdered?! That’ll solve the world’s problems. All the remaining men can touch weenies until that half of the species dies out. That world will be a much better place.

            Not all women are good at rearing children. Just ask most people’s therapists. What you’ve said is the fucking dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Read a book.

            • There’s no need to be melodramatic, toots.

              Women, on average, are nurturing. I never said all. Yes, there’s defective individuals from both sexes that have no business reproducing.

        • Morning, Eight!

          After my divorce, I was very lonely. Then I got used to it. Now I like being The Decider of my life. If I want to roll one of my motorcycles into the house because it’s cold in the garage (or just because I want to) I can and without giving the slightest consideration to what anyone else thinks about it. The furniture is where I like it. The walls are painted colors I like. I put a three story cat tree in the TV room. I can nuke a burrito and crawl in the mummy bag on the sofa and snore away a Sunday afternoon.

          These are perks!

    • FedEx is pretty awful for sure. But it’s a combination of their computer system being built in the 1980s and never really updated, and their acquisition of Roadway in 2000. In Pennsylvania, Roadway is remembered mostly for their horrible rude drivers, with their seriously underpowered trucks trying to get over the mountains. And just judging from their web site, the computer system looks a whole lot like there’s a lot of terminal emulation and screen-scraping going on behind the scenes.

      FedEx was the darling of Wall St in the 1980s because they were something of a rebel, and somehow convinced a bunch of people that sending a letter was a “premium” service and worth a 50X markup. As long as all you’re trying to do is send a letter from point A to point B in the summertime they’re just fine. But any hint of weather and forget about “absolutely, positively” getting it tomorrow.

      • FedWrecks was a joke in our neighborhood. The drivers were always getting stuck and lost. It wasn’t always the drivers’ fault; they kept changing them around so they didn’t know the area, and sent them up here with horrible excuses for trucks to be driving on snow and ice and mud. Most everyone in our neighborhood has helped a FedWrecks truck get unstuck one or more times.

        But I heard somewhere that FedWrecks has “fired” Amazon because they were only using them to ship to non-profitable rural areas. Makes sense because I haven’t seen (or pulled out – LOL) a FedWrecks truck in a while now.

  3. Late 1960s: Corporate drone takeover begins. Management starts running the company to “the numbers” exclusively, even at the risk of missing opportunities and making their own system easy to game from within. Downward slide of quality begins around this time.

    1970s: Two manufactured fuel crises and an urban air quality crisis usher in the rise of regulation. GM must very quickly downsize everything and introduce all sorts of thing (such as transverse FWD) that they’ve never done before in order to keep up. Unfortunately, they let many of their oldest engineers/wizards retire early after the first fuel crisis, so many of their new and refreshed designs were by people who didn’t really know what they were doing. Meanwhile, the corporate drone takeover reaches phase two – complete domination of the company, and ouster of anyone important who showed signs of a design/quality focus. Quality & reliability problems ascend to their uber-peak at this point, and stay there for a long while.

    Early 1980s: Due to the rise of regulation, it becomes uneconomical to engineer and then “certify” different powertrain combinations for each brand, forcing a radical (and heavily Chevrolet-centric) standardization of engine lineups. Thus begins terror of badge engineering and the neverending struggle of each individual brand to justify its existence.

    1990s: Corporate drone takeover metastasizes into its third phase with the importation of “brand management” from the consumer products industries. Incompetent marketing and bland design abound. Quality is still bad, reliability is still iffy.

    2000s: More of the same; GM’s light trucks during this time were about as good as they could be given the strictures of the GM corporate environment, and along with GMAC, low fuel prices, and the flashy, glamorous bubble economy, helped to mask the disastrous state of the passenger-car business (which by then was attracting mainly fleet buyers and payment shoppers, with the reputation to match).

    2008: Bubble bursts, gas prices go crazy, GM goes bankrupt and gets taken over by the government. The few advantages GM cars once had, of toughness and tuneability, start to get crowded out by displacement-downsized, luxury-bloated Europeanness; a situation which gets worse over time. Thanks to the efforts of Bob Lutz, at least the build quality has improved.

    2010s: GM’s engineering slowly begins to improve once more, and their cars are widely credited by those who care with high speed and excellent driving dynamics (one YouTube canyon racer – man, watching the amount of space they have to leave on the inside of every right-hander is almost as painful as watching them cut the center! – has said that the Buick crossovers are currently some of his favorites to drive), but are now permanently saddled with a bad reputation. The fourth phase of the corporate drone takeover – Woke Warriors in the driver’s seat – means that true recovery is unlikely to ever happen.

  4. It used to be that the GM divisions operated virtually as autonomous companies, in competition with each other, and each with their own engineering departments. They used their own engines and even (for the most part) transmissions. A Buick engine was different than a Pontiac engine, which was different from a Chevy engine, etc. – and if you bought a Cadillac you got a true premium-designed engine intended for a luxury car. If you bought a GMC it was equipped with an honest-to-goodness heavy-duty truck engine. (GMC even had a 12-cylinder mill!) The company was run by car guys.

    This changed during the 1970s when the products became mostly badge-engineered and corporate (read: Chevy) engines were used across the board. (There was a lawsuit over that one when Oldsmobile buyers found out their cars were equipped with Chevrolet engines.) At least part of the reason for this was the demands made by Uncle. Cars from the different divisions lost their uniqueness to the point where even Cadillacs were little more than gussied-up Chevies. Debacles like the Vega and the Cimarron did not help matters either.

    It’s hard to believe today but in the late 1950s and early 1960s GM was an engineering powerhouse, introducing cars with rear engines, aluminum V8s, transaxles, independent rear suspension, and even turbocharging. (Unfortunately not all of the ideas were fully-baked before being sold to the public.) Today GM is a second-rate outfit run by social justice warriors. With few exceptions their products are mediocre-to-terrible crap. How the mighty have fallen.

  5. I would say the first real cracks appeared in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s. That’s when they began to fail wholesale to fight off the government regulation that really began to pile up then. Up until that point in history, the car industry had largely managed to make the government back off or at least scale back new regulation.

    The early 1970’s gas “crisis” (which was totally the failure of government energy policy and not the car business) really had them over the barrel. It gave the Ralph Nader types the openings it needed to stick it to the big three.

    Had there been no “crisis” the big three’s large vehicles wouldn’t have been a problem, as most American drivers only buy small cars when they are forced too. They probably would have had a great sales decade had it not been for the gas crisis. Granted they still had to deal with the quality issues that were a major problem then, but one problem is better than several.

    People like to make fun of the slippery slope theory but in the case of the auto industry, it’s pretty much a fact. It’s taken decades, but the fruits of the Naderittes is in full bloom now. I think it’s quite doomed.

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