Friday, November 14, 2008

Sentimental about General Motors

When I heard that General Motors was going bankrupt, I immediately thought of my father's Buick. It suited him so well, a light-green four-door Roadmaster, bought new in 1956. He drove the whole family, five kids, from Chicago to Yellowstone Park, then on to San Francisco, Yosemite, Disneyland, The Grand Canyon, and back home, all the way across Oklahoma and Missouri on old Route 66. We saw America in that Buick.

When I heard General Motors was going bankrupt, I realized it wasn't just about money and jobs. I could hear Dinah Shore singing, "See the USA, in your Chevrolet..."

I remembered my bright red 1986 Chevy S-10 pickup, it was the sweetest truck I have ever owned. I spent money on repairs for this vehicle, but it was this situation where I lived near a mechanic's garage, that was owned and operated by a luscious Italian widow. Just for the chance to talk with her for a little while, I would order up a radiator repair that I didn't really need. The result? My vehicle received first-class maintenance, but the lady never went out with me.

Still, I loved that truck. I wish I hadn't sold it.

When I heard that Lehman Brothers was going bankrupt, I didn't care. Nobody loves a bank, it's just money. The bigshots took a bath -- they deserved it. And the tigers of Wall Street -- they live by the market and they die by the market, I do not pity them.

Or look at Microsoft -- a very strong company, still doing all right now. The world could not live without Windows. And the company provides many high-paying jobs in the Seattle area. But love it? Does anybody love their computer?

So I realized, passionately, that we cannot let General Motors die. It will be a cultural calamity. GM is at the root of our psyche.

There is a sound economic argument to allow GM to go into bankruptcy. I understand that. And if it was only a matter of money, I would say, go do it.

But if I listen to my heart -- maybe that's why I'm not good at business -- I'm not a good bottom line thinker.

And yet, American brand names are a powerful and profitable global presence -- Coca-Cola, Mickey Mouse, McDonalds, Nike, Starbucks, Ralph Lauren, Oreos, etc. Image, identity and sentiment can be marketed and sold. It's a large part of our economy.

You can say, Oh I hate advertising and all that hype, but I don't say that. Back to my father -- he sold advertising for a living, that's how he bought the Buick, and that's how he put all five kids through college.

So there is a valid economic argument to support both the substance and the image of General Motors -- Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Pontiac, and so on. If GM goes bankrupt, it will be hard to get over, especially if you have one of their cars sitting in your driveway.

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