GM Korea: The Twilight Empire

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away ~Shelley, “Ozymandias”

Ed note: Jordan Terry of Stone Street Advisors recently asked me on Twitter what I thought of the “bad” situation at GM Korea, noting that it seemed “underreported.” Having written about the subject in the past at TTAC, that was hardly a surprise: not much hard reporting comes out of GM’s “International Operations” black box. That said, there is a broader context here that is underreported, and which I will try to lay out here…

General Motors Korea, formerly GM-Daewoo, has been a key design, engineering and export hub for GM’s global empire since the early 2000s. Specializing in smaller cars, developed and produced at lower price points than GM’s European Opel division, GM Korea was the main conduit for many of GM’s developing-market efforts, as well as the “home room” for many global products. For the perennially small-car- and cost-challenged GM, Korea was the key to offering affordable small cars for export to developed markets like the US and Europe in complete form, as well as in the form of CKD kits for developing market operations like GM Uzbekistan and GM Egypt.

But GM Korea’s long-term problems with union unrest, currency volatility and domestic market sales declines are catching up to it, creating a financial crisis just as it becomes increasingly expendable to the GM Mothership. GM’s deep alliance with China’s SAIC Motors has made GM Korea all but irrelevant to its strategy, and as The General plots its increasingly China-centric future it’s clear that Korea is losing out. With the loss of key export markets and future development work, GM’s once-crucial Korean empire is fading into obscurity and financial woes.

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Phony Car War With China Gets Real In Canada

Picture courtesy UNIFOR

The United State’s phony “car war” with China may be more political rhetoric than business reality, but Canadian labor union Unifor (successor to the Canadian Auto Workers) seems prepared to switch to live ammunition. Reuters reports that Unifor is threatening a strike on Johnson Controls Inc’s plant in Whitby, Ontario in hopes shutting down the GM Oshawa plant it supplies. Unifor thinks that by hurting GM at Oshawa it will leverage pressure on JCI to change its plans to shut down the Whitby interior plant. Unfortunately a peaceful resolution is unlikely. As Reuters reported last month, JCI is transferring its entire interior supply business to a joint venture with a subsidy of GM’s main Chinese partner SAIC. GM will not fight an SAIC-related merger on behalf of Unifor, and as a result Canada can look to Australia for hints at the future of its auto industry. [Continue Reading]

Does Beijing-Shanghai Tension Spell Trouble For GM and VW?

Jiang Zemin and the Communist Youth League, in happier times.

Jiang Zemin and the Communist Youth League, in happier times.

 

Ever since the dramatic 2012 downfall of the colorful Chongqing party leader Bo Xilai, the Western press has been fascinated with China’s “princeling” plutocrats and the Central Government’s efforts to restrain them. No wonder: the battle is China’s basic political division, pitting the bureaucratic and ideological power of the Beijing Central government against the economic power of Southern Chinese entrepreneurs centered around Shanghai. Under former Shanghai mayor Jiang Zemin, China opened rapidly to the foreign investment that spurred decades of florid economic expansion… and sowed the seeds of China’s major political problems, corruption, inequality and environmental ruin. The downfall of Bo Xilai, a protege of Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai clique and member of its successor “Princeling” clique, was taken as a sign that Xi Jinping is serious about continuing Hu Jintao’s campaign against the ill-gotten gains of the Shanghai boom… a signal that is growing louder as the investigations widen.

Why the ten-cent lecture on Chinese politics? Shanghai’s automotive star rose alongside Jiang Zemin’s, and the city with which the he is synonymous has become one of China’s biggest automotive players and partner to the two biggest foreign presences in China, Volkswagen and GM. If Xi Jinping’s reform movement continues to target Shanghai and  its Princelings, and especially if the investigations draw closer to Zemin himself, automakers could find themselves on awkward ground. Caught between the guanxi (connections) culture of the world’s new largest market for cars and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of what is still the most profitable market for cars, automakers with Shanghai exposure have reason for concern.

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General Motors Ushers Australia Into The Post-Industrial Age

You just keep me Holden on...

You just keep me Holden on…

Amidst the copious news General Motors has made over the last week, one fully-formed and profoundly important story is doggedly evading the notice of the press. Overshadowed by the end of US Treasury ownership and the promotion of GM’s first female CEO, the demise of The General’s Australian unit Holden should not be overlooked. Not because the phenomenon it demonstrates is new… in fact it’s nothing more than the latest example of the GM standard operating procedure that has helped devastate local governments across America. Rather, the tragic turn of events in Australia sends a sharp warning, every bit as poignant as the recent bankruptcy of Detroit, to the American taxpayers about the company they rescued.

The Government Motors endgame is only just beginning…

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