GM puts focus back on cars
September 25, 2009
GM puts focus back on cars
They’re breathing a little easier inside General Motors Co.
Not because the post-bankruptcy automaker is out of the proverbial woods, because it isn’t. And not because the security of federal ownership frees GM’s survivors to go back to bad habits, half measures, overwrought decision-making and continuing battles with suppliers, because it doesn’t.
But because of this: For the first time in a very long time, the people who intend to bring America better Chevrolets, Cadillacs, Buicks and GMC trucks and SUVs can focus on what they actually build and market instead of health care, labor costs, debt-laden balance sheets, the politics of the recession and myriad other issues that pushed GM into bankruptcy.
I heard it Thursday in CEO Fritz Henderson’s voice:
"It’s just really good to be back in the car business," he told me in an interview from the Orlando airport, where he was waiting for his Northwest flight back to Detroit.
Time to go ‘on the offense’
Now, before all the cynics glom on to that single sentence as proof — proof, I tell you — that GM’s leadership is back to the bad ol’ days of denial, I’d offer this: There is more that’s changing inside GM today than staying the same, starting with the fact that the CEO and key leaders of his management team spend a whole lot more time talking about cars and trucks than the nonautomotive headache du jour.
The reason for Henderson’s visit to Florida? He’d just finished the last of his four stops in GM’s nine-city tour of dealer meetings around the country — a tour that enabled Henderson and other execs to meet with those who account for up to 85 percent of the GM vehicles sold across the United States.
What did they tell you?
"A consistent theme is, ‘Let’s go on the offense,’ " he said. They like that GM has worked its inventories down to historic levels; that the next products hitting showrooms are competitive (or better) than the best in their segments; that the beginnings of a marketing campaign (designed in some 30 days, unheard of for GM) is featuring the products and standing up for its attributes.
GM rebuilding bridges
It’s a start that is far from the end. The next few months are all about GM solidifying its bottom in the United States and rebuilding relationships with employees, dealers, suppliers, customers, a skeptical financial community and even the government, whose take on GM’s chances for success is the short side of a slam dunk.
Just Thursday, as Henderson wrapped up his Orlando meeting and waited to make the trip back to Detroit, the company said it would accelerate payments to suppliers to ease their cash-flow problem and improve relations. It also reaffirmed plans to offer stock to investors in 2010; and GMAC, partly owned by GM, said it would offer more financial incentives to its top dealers.
It’s early for the New GM, so early that the slug of expected retirements and waves of layoffs still aren’t over. But this company is in a hurry — because it has to be.