I don’t remember anything he said about the major topics of the day, such as Vietnam. I do remember that he thought General Motors ought to be broken up into five separate corporations. GM was too big, too rich and had too much market share. It had become so dominant that it choked off both competition and innovation.
He felt that the consumers would get a better deal and better cars would be built if there were more and smaller companies.
Well, General Motors was never broken up by the government. But other nations took care of providing the competition. Except GM was too big, too unwieldy and too bureaucratic to swiftly compete.
When I finally moved out of Michigan for awhile and bought a Honda in 1989, it was so far superior to the Oldsmobile and Buick I had owned that I never again wanted to buy an American car.
Multiply that experience several million times, and you will have a fair idea of what happened to GM, and the rest of Detroit, for that matter. Still, I have to confess that I am still a little stunned at General Motors’ bankruptcy, and more than a little sad.
This was more than just a company.
General Motors was the prototype for the modern American corporation, and for a long time, the biggest one in the world. Though founded by the rambunctious buccaneer Billy Durant, it was Alfred Sloan who shaped it into the all-encompassing universal vehicle manufacturer it became. His slogan was “a car for every purse and purpose,“ and that’s exactly what GM was.
During World War II, General Motors played a major role in defeating our enemies, as its many factories were swiftly converted to produce tanks and trucks and fighter planes.
Later, for a variety of reasons, General Motors began to lose its way. Even when it was clear what was wrong, somehow it too often proved impossible for GM to fix itself. Now, it will get one last chance. Today, General Motors begins the process of bankruptcy reorganization. The good news is that this is going to be perhaps the most cushioned bankruptcy in history.
The federal government, which already has invested something like $20 billion in GM in recent months, is throwing in another $30 billion in an effort to try to reconstitute a smaller, “new GM.”
Still, this is major surgery without anesthesia. The Oakland Press’s Joe Szczesny says this “will mark the death of a blue-collar dynasty which bestowed upon generations of North Americans the security of a job for life and a ticket to the middle class.”
Think about that. I don’t think any of GM’s best-known critics, including Ralph Nader and Michael Moore, ever thought they’d see this. What’s happening now may be necessary. Better things may emerge out of all this. Yet I think you still have to be profoundly sad.