This morning, General Motors (NYSE: GM ) announced that it would cut white-collar jobs, speed up some plant closings, suspend its dividend, and stop providing health-care benefits to salaried retirees over age 65.
What did you do this morning?
"We are responding aggressively to the challenges of today's U.S. auto market," said GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner.
That's entirely true. And while we applaud an aggressive strategy to right the company's ship, it's not inconceivable to think that many of these problems could have been averted long before now.
Joe Magyer: In January, I pegged GM as the Worst Stock for 2008. The shares have since slid, oh, about 57% or so. That's not to say "I told you so," but, well, I told you so.
Look, I'm not Nostradamus. The problems that have hounded GM this year were scrawled on the wall when I first tarred the stock: high fixed costs in a decreasing sales environment, huge sensitivity to commodity prices, and inept management.
And while management isn't likely to blame itself for the liquidity crunch it's facing, hey, I will. Management's stubborn refusal to fully suspend its dividend earlier this year was an obvious mistake, and it flubbed in not taking the strike at American Axle (NYSE: AXL ) more seriously in its early stages. And I won't even get into management's being so incredibly behind the curve on producing higher-gas-mileage autos. Well, I sort of just did, but I'll leave the bulk of that rant to Brian.
Tim Hanson: You know, I sort of feel for GM. This is a once-great company undone by bad management, some bad products, and an unfortunate labor/benefits situation. Even worse, in an effort to get back to respectability, the company plowed a lot of time, effort, and resources into making and marketing its gas-guzzling Hummer brand a few years ago -- ignoring prediction after prediction that gas prices would start to skyrocket. It would have been better off nurturing some brand like Saab or Saturn, which could have diversified its portfolio and given it an option to cope in the current environment.
That's pretty much a clean sweep of what a company can do wrong.
So ... maybe I don't feel for GM. Its troubles are largely of its own doing. The good news is that it has competed well internationally and has generated some serious buzz for its Chevy Volt project. The reality of the Volt still seems like it's four or five years off, but if the company can stay solvent long enough to get there, it might have a fighting chance.
Of course, with GM's luck, either gas prices will drop, or Toyota (NYSE: TM ) will secretly manage to scoop its technology. Stay far away from this stock.
Brian Richards: As I see it, GM's biggest problem is a simple one: There's less consumer demand for its products.
What's wrong with that picture?
Detroit has not only been caught by its foreign rivals -- it's been lapped. Over the past decade, that's nowhere more evident than in the hybrid car space.
With its acquisition of Hummer in the late 90s, GM became what The Atlantic termed a "poster child of environmental irresponsibility," producing Hummers, trucks, minivans, and, of course, SUVs.
The story is obvious ... now. But because GM didn't focus on more fuel-efficient vehicles, Toyota became king of the hybrid. When GM finally caught on, it was too late. The Chevy Volt could be a lifeline, but the effect it can have on GM's bottom line is both uncertain and years away.
"We have to build cars and trucks that people want to buy," CEO Wagoner said recently. According to The Atlantic, GM's "public image got so bad that focus groups liked the company's cars better when the logo was removed."
That's not a problem that one vehicle (the Volt), one restructuring, or even one great quarter can erase. Of GM's many problems, its biggest may well be that there aren't many of its cars and trucks that people want to buy right now.
What are your thoughts on GM? Is it an utter disaster? A value at current prices? Chime in below with a comment.