People are most critical of the things they least understand. – Paul W. Spoor, Bits & Pieces, September 2008.
Why is it so important to some to cast GM as a villain? To believe that the only reason we don’t have affordable, practical pure-electric vehicles today is that GM doesn’t want us to?
Why is it so difficult to believe that General Motors is not the same sadly mismanaged company it was in the 1970s and ’80s? That it’s a completely different enterprise run by completely different leaders with completely different values and priorities?
Why so difficult to accept that if GM – or anyone else – could make a buck building and selling the EVs of your dreams, they would be thrilled to do so? And will the minute they can?
As GM (and others) have learned from past, very expensive failed attempts, volume road-worthy EVs require a huge financial investment, and risk. But whoever gets there first with practical, affordable ones will make a killing. Why would any automaker not want to?
And why accuse me of lying or spinning, as some will, for explaining and defending – based on my knowledge and experience – GM, Ford, Chrysler, anyone else who deserves it?
I worked for GM two different times, the first (1965-’73) when it led the global industry and was as proud and arrogant as the day was long. The second (1987-’02) when it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, learned humility and appointed different kinds of leaders to fix it. In between, as a widely published auto writer, I was as harsh a critic as anyone. I hammered GM’s leadership and its products relentlessly, because both were shamefully bad.
But that began to change when Bob Stempel replaced Roger Smith as CEO in 1989 and gained momentum in 1992 when new CEO Jack Smith (no relation to Roger) effectively started to right the still-sinking ship. It’s been rough and rocky sailing since, but – contrary to what many believe – GM leadership under current CEO Rick Wagoner has been outstanding.
Like other U.S. makers, they still can’t make a living in North America due to high costs, our business-unfriendly government and other conditions beyond their control. But there have been no bad new GM products this decade, and most are world-class competitive, or better. As an employee, I had no great love for GM. As a journalist (again), I’m professionally neutral and objective. But as a former insider, I gained perspective on GM and the industry as a whole that no one who hasn’t been there could understand. Also enormous appreciation for the smart, talented, dedicated, hard-working individuals who toil there 10-14 hours every day.
That said, I’ve responded to some of your questions about my previous columns after the jump.