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New GM still looking a lot like old GM

The plan for the new General Motors -- the plan that became a taxpayer-funded bankruptcy that left you owning 60 percent of GM -- was that the automaker would shed several brands and become a smaller, more nimble automaker going forward, able to focus on only its best and best-selling brands.

Well, that hasn't worked out so well thus far. You, the taxpayer, are still dragging around a bunch of auto brands that GM can't seem to unload.

The plan was for GM to keep only four of its several brands -- Chevy, Cadillac, GMC and Buick. Chevy is popular, Cadillac is quality, GM makes a profit on every GMC truck sold and Buick is huge in China.

GM would say goodbye to the villified Hummer, the odd-fit Opel, the beloved-but-unselling Saturn and the quirky Saab, raising cash and throwing dead weight overboard.

That was the plan, anyway.

Today, news comes that Saab will not be sold to Swedish super-car maker Koenigsegg, a deal that was announced earlier this year. I was always skeptical of this deal and here's why: Koenigsegg hand-makes million-dollar bespoke sports cars. It does not mass-produce anything, except for profits from California and European millionaires who buy the sports cars. I couldn't see Koenigsegg cranking out even the 10,000 or so Saabs sold every year in the U.S.

So now GM has to do something with Saab and its 4,500 employees.

Earlier this year, GM announced to great fanfare that racing legend Roger Penske would buy Saturn. Penske needed some help from Renault to do the deal, and that fell through. So GM still has a dying Saturn. (In a decaying orbit, you might say.)

Finally, GM's board backed out of its plans to sell Opel, which it has owned for decades, to a Canadian parts-maker.

What will happen to Saturn and Saab? Probably they will be allowed to simply die away, which is Pontiac's fate. Opel may still end up getting sold, but maybe not. Maybe GM ends up as Chevy, Cadillac, GMC, Buick -- and Opel, oddly enough.

The only brand GM has managed to unload so far is Hummer, which it sold to a Chinese company, which has said it will build a new headquarters near Detroit and make the big trucks more fuel-efficient, which somehow seems not quite right. I mean, if you're going to have a Hummer, have a Hummer, right? A fuel-efficient Hummer is like a diet Twinkie: What's the point?

So as of today, your taxpayer-owned, post-bankruptcy GM looks an awful lot like the privately owned pre-bankruptcy GM. That's what your money has gotten you.

-- Frank Ahrens
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By Frank Ahrens  |  November 24, 2009; 3:06 PM ET
Categories:  The Ticker  | Tags: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GM, GMC, Hummer, Opel, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn  
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