GM’s sad day

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The General Motors board of directors authorized the filing of a chapter 11 case with regret that this path proved necessary despite the best efforts of so many.” – Kent Kresa, GM’s chairman.

Today doesn’t mark the end of General Motors – the former bellwether of American economic might. Rather, it’s the end of the GM we once knew – and maybe, just maybe, that’s not a bad thing.

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Yet it’s sad nonetheless because I really thought – heck, really KNEW – GM had finally turned a corner on product quality and reliability; a corner it desperately needed to turn many, MANY years ago, but a critical achievement regardless.

Top-notch redesigns of its pickups (Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra), “car of the year” honors for the sleek new Chevy Malibu, the return of Cadillac and Buick to true luxury-brand status … all of these moments seemed for a while to serve notice that GM was on the way back after decades of dismal performance.

But alas … all of this came too late. The bottom dropped out of the automotive world last year with a fury, leaving GM strapped for cash and saddled with too many workers and too many plants. Beset by cost control issues for years, it could not make up the ground anywhere near fast enough, as cost cuts and government loans did little to staunch the heavy fiscal bleeding.

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And so we reach today’s nadir: bankruptcy. Kent Kresa, GM’s chairman (at left), said in a statement that bankruptcy court-supervised process and transfer of assets should enable a “New GM” to emerge as a stronger, healthier, more focused and nimbler company with a determination not to just survive but to excel – and confident that this “New GM” can operate successfully in the intensely competitive U.S. market and around the world.

That remains to be seen, of course – yet I for one am hoping for the best. Much of my car-driving life involved “American iron” and I want to keep it that way. Not that I didn’t have poor experiences here and there with U.S. made cars and light trucks (the Chevrolet Cavalier leading the list in that regard) but there’ve been many more hits than misses.

My Chevrolet S-10 pickup, for one, stood the test of time, while my dad’s Oldsmobile Bravada SUV did well, too. While I’m a Ford person now (Windstar minivan and Explorer SUV), I still admire the products GM’s been cranking out of late.

I hope this bankruptcy interlude helps GM get back on the right track – and maybe this is kick it needs to get rolling again. But with Oldsmobile gone, Pontiac about to fade away, and the once-unique Saturn slowly disappearing from view, it’s hard to remain optimistic. But I’m going to try anyways.

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