I keep promising myself to stop writing about, but they keep doing these things. This company will make one great Harvard Case Study some day. Right now, Saturn, Cadillac, and Yellowstone all deserve some critical comments.
First, Yellowstone (the U.S. version of GM's Brazilian Blue Macaw venture):
n The prototype plant, Blue Macaw in Brazil, isn't even in production, yet here is GM promising to build U.S. versions when it doesn't know if, or how well, the system works. I understand that the experimental VW truck plant in Brazil hasn't worked. The GM Brazil experiment might work; it's just that GM says it will build such plants here without knowing.
n Will GM really save on labor costs? Modules may come from suppliers, but any "saved" workers will be paid by GM for the remainder of their working lives (and then go on GM pension). So how do you save on labor costs?
n The GM modular plant is said to be a replacement for the Lordstown, OH, plant. But is the problem high-cost production, or that Lordstown's Cavaliers don't sell for top dollar? Why not design and build a car that's worth $3,000 more?
In fact, the whole point of the Lordstown plant was to build a cheap small car. They hired 19-year-olds who had been pumping gas for minimum wage, figuring they would really put out, and run the line at 100 cars an hour.
That's right. I was there. Lordstown was the birthplace of "the Blue Collar blues." Four days of GM wages were enough to pay for a terrific weekend drunk for a teenager, so why work five days? And those youngsters didn't like to be told what to do, either. Worse, the car they built was the Chevy Vega, a dog.
I wonder if anyone on the GM board will ask these questions.
Now about Saturn:
The old Saturn is dead, gone, ended. GM killed the magic. Now please, Don Hudler (Saturn President), don't write one of those long letters saying it ain't so. I love you, you are the best. Maybe a new and better Saturn can be built from the rubble, but the old one is gone.
They are taking the product engineers away and sending them back to GM. Take the engineers away from a car company, and it isn't a car company anymore.
I figure the new head of Saturn, after Mr. Hudler, will come in with a new motto:
"The same kind of car, the same kind of company."
And that guy will know how to salute:
Yes SUH! We don't need no plastic bodies, SUH!
No SUH! We don't need no separate engine, SUH!
If they had built the convertible and small SUV off the Saturn platform, Spring Hill would be running full now. And if they had approved that second car years ago, as they should have . . . but then for all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: "It might have been."
So just don't write the letter, Don. Maybe you can build a new and better Saturn. I know you will give it your best shot.
And then there's Cadillac:
When I hear of Cadillac's plans, I think of my fantasy life. I throw the winning touchdown pass for the Lions in the Super Bowl. I catch Osama bin Laden singlehandedly and win the Congressional Medal of Honor. Pamela Anderson Lee wants me.
Let's look at the record of this outfit. Not all of the errors of the past, just the past few years.
Global: How much effort has there been to sell Cadillacs in Europe? How many exclusive showrooms are in the best locations, as Lexus did here? And who distributes Cadillac in Europe? Is it Cadillac, or some international GM entity that would rather sell a German Opel than a Detroit Cadillac?
Marketing: When Cadillac didn't fire the Catera agency - you remember the ducks - they showed they weren't serious people. Serious people don't reward mistakes.
Product: Let's not even get into that.
You say I criticize them when they don't do anything, and now I'm criticizing them for planning lots of things. Maybe you are right. but I would really like to see Cadillac do just one thing right: A great new rear-drive Catera with great marketing. Then I would believe.
Until then, all this sounds like my fantasy life.