How many readers think that partnering with eBay to sell cars online will lead General Motors to a bright new future? Me neither. After all, though most people shop online, only 10,000 a year actually buy a car without visiting a showroom. It’s not even a sure thing, since an eBay operative said before the ink was dry that “no plans have been finalized.” GM CEO Fritz Henderson might have checked in with the online auction house before announcing his plans to the world.
GM may be emerging from bankruptcy
, but it has a steep road ahead to get back to being the world’s largest industrial corporation. They used to say “what’s good for America is what’s good for General Motors,” and nobody laughed. But now GM has taken $50 billion in U.S. government bailout money (and has lost $88 billion since 2005). We the taxpayers now own more than 60 percent of GM.
The company is shuttering 14 plants and almost 2,000 of its dealerships. Some 20,000 people are losing their jobs. Against all that darkness, there’s the hopeful fact that some people like the new Camaro
— 9,300 of them were sold in June (more than the whole Buick division sold).
I chose to illustrate this piece with some graphics from a 1947 report to GM employees that I found at a flea market. It’s a remarkably optimistic document. The U.S. was just emerging from World War II, and ’47 was the first full year of production.
“Nineteen forty seven was a better year than we have known for some time,” the report says. "More men and women were at work in GM plants and offices than ever before in peacetime. Wage rates were at a new high …We can be proud of what we produced in 1947 for two reasons: We made more things — and we made them better.” The company made $288 million that year, much of which it poured back into the business to open new plants and build new assembly lines.
"Profits are good for the company," GM told its employees 52 years ago. "When business makes a profit, everybody profits." And when that business loses money ... well, we now know that part.