Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Time on Wheels

Not too long ago, GM decided to stop production of the Oldsmobile line. Now, they are discontinuing Pontiac as well. This is sad to me. Classic Americana fading into history like an old photograph. I never thought I'd live so long.

It's not like I was unaware of such things. When I was most into cars, during my teens (16yo in 1976), I knew about brands that were real high flyers at one time that no longer existed, like DeSoto, Studebaker, Packard, and Willys, to name a few. But in those days, American autmomakers appeared strong, if knocked for loop by the energy crisis of the time. But the writing was on the wall. Anyone who is about my age would probably agree that new cars in the 70's were cheap, ugly crap. That's why we car buffs looked to the past for quality. It's probably also the first step in the sharp decline of the American market. Small efficient foreign cars took over, and American manufacturers struggled to produce poor imitations of those. Later, during the mass-consumption-consumerist-culture-me-me-me-gimme-gimme-gimme-more-more-more culture ushered in by Reagan & the Yuppies, big American junk became popular again, and the US automakers returned to producing the wrong product for the wrong reasons. In the meantime, I became a VW enthusiast in the mid- to late-eighties.

Now they pay the piper in so many ways. Oldsmobile and Pontiac, producers of such memorable machines as the Olds Rocket 88 & 442, and the historic Pontiac GTO, have gone to join the Studebaker Hawk and its brethren in automotive Valhalla. In the wake of peak oil, we look to hybrids and alternative fueled vehicles to carry us into the future. I just wish I wasn't so damn sentimental.

Update: I should add this: I had a great aunt who died in 1998 or so. As far as I know, she never lost her mental faculties. She was born around 1900 and was a nurse during WWI. Imagine witnessing almost the entire 20th century pass, and being aware the whole time! Incidentally - she chain smoked right up to the end. Go figure. Also: I inherited her favorite rocking chair, which she inherited from her father.


Grandpa Eddie said...

Hang onto that rocker Shea, it'll last forever.

The Future Was Yesterday said...

I share your sense of loss. The first car I ever owned was a 1968 Pontiac Executive, a 6,000lb+ tank that rode like a magic carpet, despite the 80,000 miles on it when I became owner.

I was employed by GM for 32+ years. Perhaps I can shed a little light. GM, from the sixties until the early 2000's, was the 800 gorilla in the room.
What GM did, other carmakers mimicked. After all those years of domination, GM's Management had became smug and arrogant. If you were hired to be among GM's management team, you were automatically the best. Among the workers, a term was whispered, but never said out loud in the light of day: "Not Invented Here", which simply meant an idea could be the one that gave trucks 200MPH, but if it wasn't thought of "here" (By GM), it was never going to find it's way on a truck. Never.

At one time, GM's U.S. market share approached 70%. Ford and Chrysler were left to fight over the leftovers. GM did whatever they wanted to, which included making mind stunning record profits. But when competition hit America's shores, Ford, who formerly had to think on their feet and fast, just to survive all those years put all that innovative think power to work. Meanwhile, GM was doing all they knew to do best - throw humongous piles of money at any problem until it went away.

We see the results. GM is far, far, from bankruptcy, They have more money stashed in more places overseas than we know to look. GM at it's zenith could bully governments into doing what they wanted, and even intimidate (or buy) representatives of our own. GM is far from the weakling being portrayed in the press.

GM is just bankrupt in it's North American operations (read US), because of systematically moving money from the NA operations to overseas operations, in a slow, deliberae attempt to get out of promises they made to retires, and their active workers. GM owes the retire heath fund alone, 20 BILLION dollars in past due payments. They have been, and still are, so big they can bully our own government.

You see the results.