Colossus of Roads, Pt. 2
It’s almost hard to fathom now, but back in the bitter
winter of 2008-2009 we were all hunkered down and wondering when the next
titanic economic shoe would drop and what it would break.
The largest banks in the country were gathered in an
intensive care ward at the U.S. Treasury, tethered to a lifeline from the
Federal Reserve, which was funneling an infusion of cash directly from
Treasury’s mammoth printing presses. The housing market disappeared into a black hole of
foreclosures and collapsing prices. Two years later, it still shows no signs of
The question looming over the U.S. automotive industry was
not whether one (or two) of Detroit’s Big Three was about to sink forever into
the tar pits of history, but which one would get liquidated first.
In fact, we were so convinced that General Motors was toast,
we wrote an obituary for the nation’s auto behemoth (http://businessfacilities.com/blog/colossus-of-roads.php)
in this very space.
When Congress and President Obama bailed out General Motors
and Chrysler later that year, the conventional wisdom said that this was
nothing more than a soon-to-be permanent federal welfare program for the United
Auto Workers. General Motors would continue to wither and die, most of us said,
while we subsidized assembly lines building cars that no one would buy.
But a lot of us forgot something important. While America
was shivering in its worst economic chill since the Great Depression, it was
still filled with Americans. And Americans don’t give up.
So we’re ordering a hefty helping of crow for lunch today,
with a side of feathers and crow pudding for dessert.
General Motors has emerged from its federally assisted
bankruptcy restructuring not only firing on all cylinders, but revving up its
engines and aiming for the top of the global automotive mountain it used to
rule like an emperor.
As reported in our Breaking News section this week, the U.S.
auto goliath has put its house in order with a new UAW contract that
dramatically cuts its production costs. It has shed dozens of redundant plants
and dealerships. Now it is preparing to transform its U.S. production network
into a lean, mean automotive machine with a $2-billion upgrade of 17 plants in
The plant upgrade alone will secure 4,000 jobs, a third of
which will bring workers off the unemployment lines and back onto the assembly
lines. Profits are surging at GM ($3.2 billion in just the first quarter of
this year) and domestic market share is being recovered (up to 19.6 for the
first four months of this year, compared to 18.7 percent for the same period
An armada of snazzy and smart vehicles is rolling out of GM’s plants and taking command of the asphalt from Boston to Beijing. A
billion people in China are yearning to park a Buick next to their pagodas. Teenage
jaws are dropping at hamburger stands throughout America every time that hot
new Camaro with the Corvette engine pulls in. And Chevrolet’s Volt, which
promises 300 miles of silent green-driving pleasure every time you plug it in,
heralds the dawning of the long-awaited e-vehicle age.
A lot of people have been counting out America as well as GM in recent months. But as that creep who was hiding in his gated villa in Pakistan
recently discovered, we’re still here. In this country, it doesn’t matter how
many times you get knocked down. It’s whether you get back up that counts.
The heavyweight champion of the U.S. auto industry has risen
from the canvas, bloody but unbowed, and it aims to defend the title. Better
put some white towels in your corner, Mr. Toyota, you’re going to need them.
This is one meal of crow we’re happy to eat.