What’s Good For General Motors

Are the results of the elections unclear?

Are the results of the elections unclear?

When I first started writing about cars, it was for someone else’s brand. I didn’t have final cut over my work, I didn’t get to pick my own topics, and the result was that a lot of my work read a lot like it was written by my editor. At the time this was exactly what I needed: my first six months or so of blogging were basically an intensive self-education, guided by a firm mentor with a clear vision. But as I began writing more about the burgeoning auto bailout, I found myself being given more freedom to write the worlds of the car business and politics collided. Having studied Political Science in school, this created the perfect opportunity for me to study the sudden collision of politics and cars, which in turn opened my eyes to the countless ways in which cars shape our world.

My piece in today’s Bloomberg View goes back to my original take on the topic that first pulled me into the world of cars, the basis from which all my bailout-critical writing has stemmed: bailing out automakers prevents creative destruction, and robs consumers of the right to reject businesses that are unresponsive to them. One need not be a free-market fundamentalist to defend this basic function of the market system, just as one does not need to be a political hack to oppose the bailout of GM and Chrysler. Government with pretensions to democratic representation should think hard before ignoring decades of votes its constituents have cast with their wallets… after all, turnout is much higher in the marketplace than the ballot box. If they do not, they risk complicity in such tragedies as we now face with GM: young, promising lives cut down due to defects that executives appear have ignored or covered up. This would be bad enough, were GM alone responsible for this mess…  but because of our fear of the basic tradeoff of the system that affords us such wealth, that failing companies must fail, we are all in some small way party to it.

There is no going back in time…. but by noting the consequences of our political actions, as a nation we can perhaps still avoid the fate that almost certainly awaits GM.

Government Motors 2.0: The Re-Politicization Of GM (From The Left)


Once more... with progress!

Once more… with progress!

To hear any General Motors exec since bankruptcy explain it, the post-bailout politicization of “Government  Motors” was the worst thing to happen to the firm since the Pontiac Aztek. After all, the post-rescue  partisan point-scoring was more than just bad PR: it threatened to undercut support with the conservative-leaning truck buyers who are the source of a huge percentage of GM’s global profits. And with the US Treasury selling the last of its GM stock in December, officially bringing the auto bailout to a final close,  GM finally had the opportunity to leave the “Government Motors” era behind and become just another automaker.  2014 was shaping up to be the year GM became just another car company.

Instead, GM opened 2014 with its freshly-appointed first female CEO enjoying a shout-out from the President at the State of the Union… followed by a wave of stories questioning whether said female CEO’s pay was on par with her predecessor Dan Akerson’s. GM has since “corrected misperceptions” about Barra’s total compensation ($14.4m, more than Akerson), but the wave of feminist blowback had already turned GM’s PR slam-dunk into an extended faceplant. Long used to playing the victim of partisan attacks, GM and the auto media establishment clucked at the “irresponsible” and “premature” “speculation” about Barra’s pay, blowing off left-wing concerns just as brusquely as they’d blown off perceived right-wing complaints about bailout policy for years. Just when it had a chance to truly start fresh, GM’s PR ineptitude and ingrained victim mentality seem bent on keeping  “Government Motors” on the political football field… this time, being tackled by the left.

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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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As the world spins: The mystery of the missing sales

Inside the truck wars black ops...

Inside the truck wars black ops…

Spend enough time looking at anything, and patterns eventually emerge; stare hard enough at auto industry news, and you can discern the movings of the PR teams who craft the messages that drive 95% of all auto media content. Spend enough time reading and a sweeping drama emerges: one side probes a competitor at a point of perceived weakness, the defender digs in or counter-attacks, a problem appears from nowhere while another problem fades away, yesterday’s non sequitor becomes today’s news.

In the polite world of the auto media, the journalist’s role on this battlefield is to be the straight man: to merely repeat each feint and parry in this informational melee as if they were the weather, or stock prices. Even the combatants themselves will back away from any direct confrontation when pressed, caught between the pull to ruthlessly compete and the inherently conservative culture of all large corporate communications departments.

But the battle for reality is constantly being waged in the auto industry… and the action is always most exciting when the stakes are highest. Which is what makes GM’s new truck launch the perfect case study.

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