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GM didn’t follow its own market research and now declares bankruptcy

June 24, 2009
WARREN, MI - JULY 18:  General Motors vice cha...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

GM declared bankruptcy on June 1, 2009, and if all of you think that we in Michigan didn’t see this coming, I am here to set the record straight.  See, here in MI, we have lived with the auto industry, we know it like a partner.  Our friends and family have worked for GM, bought cars for GM, made pieces on the lines, had parents and spouses work in management, and our other friends and family worked for GM suppliers.  We lived in GM neighborhoods, where everyone went to work in the same building, and this is how we knew it was failing 5 years ago.

But wait, GM is saying that they had no idea this was coming?  That’s like your spouse saying that they had no idea they blew all the money in all the accounts on a vacation trip to the Bahamas and nights of drinking and debauchery.  The GM execs were on a wild ride, and it seems destined to failure even now, even after they have come home hung over.  HOw can you get over that kind of betrayal of trust?

Trouble really started brewing about 5 years ago, when the gas prices went up, car quality went down, and people started to get angry about how many imports others were buying.  It used to be that anyone who bought a foreign car was frowned on, shunned in the autospeak of Michigan.  But, then people like us bought new GM vehicles, and our Blazer just missed the test for the Lemon Law because the dealership wouldn’t diagnose the transmission issues.  The transmission went out 6 months later, barely two years old, and we spent thousands putting in a new transmission.  Others had their vehicles fall apart little by little, with the seals breaking so the car leaked through the car wash, with the electrical components shorting out (no air conditioner working, the fans broke, the windows wouldn’t roll down).  Even the cigarette lighter, the biggest proof of America’s encounters with big business (tobacco industry) necessitating an ineffective component for a car, stopped working.  (We can all contemplate how scary it is that we even have cigarette lighters in a vehicle that doesn’t need them to function at a different time.)

So those of us close to GM, who knew its habits, who knew that everyone was staying out too late, breaking things, and having problems, knew that things were growing horribly wrong.  Delphi executives started to get snotty, mandated frequent travel from their managers, 5-0-60 hour work weeks for salaried employees with the constant threat of firing, and more time spent on training as the company tried to limp along their numerous ineffective factories that were rapidly moving to Mexico, being cut off from GM and generally going downhill.

I can remember that I knew it was all over when one of the more senior management staff was proven to be sexually harassing female co-workers and HR simply transferred him to another department to harass more women.   I knew then that if they transferred management like that, with no penalties, under the threats of lawsuits from the other women, with proof galore of this man’s piggery, then the management at GM was too old school, too irrelevant, too cocky, and doomed to failure.  It looked a lot like the old guy with a bad comb over who still wants to be the sexy guy he thinks he is and doesn’t realize his bald spot is burned, his gut hangs over his belly, and he’s going to be fired.  Rick Wagoner anyone?

Well, anyway, those of us Michigan, other women in particular said to some of the engineers at the plants:  we want reliability, not fearing that we will be stranded on the road in the dark with a broken car and at the mercy of whomever stops.  We want to have vehicles that fit us, not monster trucks that cost $60,000 and require a step ladder to get into.  We want to have vehicles that aren’t all blue, red, and silver that get 20 mpg and look like bad 20’s Batman minivans.  But by then, GM wasn’t even looking at its own market research (check out the Grand Rapids Press for that article), and everyone at GM was in top denial, even as they were being rejected one by one.

I consider part of GM’s failure to be a gender war, a war in which the men, the good Old White Man’s Club, surrounds itself with the same type of guys, the same type of attitute, the same type of vehicle, because it makes them feel manly, validated, and bigger than everyone else.  You can bet I wasn’t the only woman who cheered when GM execs scrambled in front of their government investigators.  I cheered when GM declared bankruptcy, and even though cutting off GM is like ending a bad relationship, it was time to go.  GM just wasn’t working for us anymore.  GM just didn’t have the respect, and America lost the love.  GM, if you are looking to rebound, check out foreign markets, because we in MI have already cut our hair, gotten new lipstick and bought a Toyota.

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