In a country where a Chicago “community organizer” can fire the CEO of General Motors, the Obama administration has pulled yet another “weekend surprise”. Sunday, March 29, 2009 General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner was forced to step down from his job after a 31 year career. I’m not defending Wagoner, under whose leadership GM has been reluctant to reduce costs and re-invent itself, but the GM board of directors (not Obama) should have fired him years ago. If GM was to receive any more government money, Wagoner had to be the sacrificial lamb. Also over the weekend, Chrysler was told that it has 30 days to hammer out a deal with FIAT or it won’t receive any more bailout money.
Reading between the lines, the government has given up on Chrysler, which is privately held and is the smallest of the “big three”. Even if Chrysler can come to an agreement with FIAT in the next 30 days, FIAT isn’t giving Chrysler any cash. Unfortunately, Walter P. Chrysler, the brilliant young man who worked in the Union Pacific shops in Ellis, Kansas, may see his name vanish from America’s corporate marketplace, except for the gorgeous art-deco skyscraper he built on the corner of 42nd street and Lexington Avenue.
General Motors is being “eased” into bankruptcy. Obama officials announced this weekend that it will guarantee the warranty on all GM vehicles. Large firms that supply parts to automakers have also received government guarantees, removing the last obstacle to GM’s bankruptcy. Bankruptcy will be good for GM, allowing it to reduce its legacy costs and drive a hard bargain with its unions. Even though it has as shaky track record of picking winners and losers, the Obama administration has decided to pick GM (Government Motors) as its “winner” and Chrysler as its “loser”. This probably bodes well for Chrysler!
The irony is that for the past few years all of the “big three” have made cars of equal quality to those manufactured by Honda and Toyota. Last week JD Powers and Associates announced that Buick just dethroned Lexus in its highly-watched vehicle dependability study. It is a shame that the quality perceptions of US consumers have lagged behind the quality of American cars. From a quality viewpoint, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to buy any Ford, GM or Chrysler product.
The only American automobile company that hasn’t taken the “Government Bailout Bait” is the venerable Ford Motor Company of Dearborn, Michigan. Under the leadership of CEO Alan Mulally, Ford has restructured its debt, sold off unprofitable lines, and is years ahead of GM in the survival game. Toyota’s attempt to dethrone Ford’s F-150 pickup with its large Tundra pickup and has failed miserably. The Focus and Fusion have been highly successful in the high-mpg small car market. In spite of terrible recession-driven sales numbers for both foreign and domestic auto makers, Henry Ford must be smirking just a little bit as he plays canasta with Walter Chrysler, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone.
I was talking to a Ford dealer the other day and he told me about a hard-working dairy farmer who came into his dealership a few days ago. The fellow had driven GMC and Chevy trucks for years. He said to the dealer, “Give me one of those Ford pickups. I’m not buying a vehicle from any company that takes money from the government.” Ford Motor Company will profit from that sentiment.
If I was running Ford Motor Company, I’d have an ad campaign that said something like this:
“If you want an automobile made by an American company that doesn’t take government money, doesn’t have its strings pulled by politicians, produces great cars and trucks, and since 1901 has stood behind a warranty that doesn’t depend on shaky government promises that could change next weekend, get yourself into your local Ford dealer!”