It’s All About GM
Posted on December 4, 2008
Interesting story on the front page of the New York Times today about the fate of Saturn, the General Motors car division. Saturn started as new kind of car company, a company that would use new techniques, a more collaborative approach between labor and management, to build new, smaller, hipper cars that could compete with GM’s Japanese rivals.
Saturn started strong and sales were good. There was genuine excitement about the new approach, and Saturn has a real buzz.
But as the story details it, GM’s bureaucracy slowly strangled the new upstart. Saturn was starved of resources, as other divisions demanded money to keep their unprofitable operations going. The UAW was uncomfortable with the new collaborative effort, so they backed away.
Saturn’s employees and dealers kept fighting for the ideal, but because it never really had GM’s full support, it never reached critical mass. Saturn may have been GM’s last best chance to change how the American consumers look at the biggest American carmaker.
And now, GM’s executives are coming to the Congress asking for help. This bailout is really about GM. Ford can weather this storm as long GM doesn’t go bankrupt. They share so many suppliers that should GM go down, it would cause all of those suppliers to go down, which would hurt Ford badly.
Chrysler is a basket case and has been for decades. It is no surprise that they are struggling, because they always struggle.
But GM is the real problem. GM has always been a symbol of America. The old saw is that what is good for GM is good for America. But GM is now a symbol of bureaucratic incompetence.
If GM does get a bailout, (and I think it should, with certain conditions) it should be forced to explain why it didn’t let Saturn succeed. Saturn was a sign of the future, and now it is a sign of a bureaucracy gone amok.