Press ignores plus signs at GM
By WARREN BROWN
WASHINGTON -- What is it about the human condition that so delights in the negative?
I ask the question because of the obvious change of mood in Detroit, especially as it relates to General Motors, still the world's biggest car company.
At the North American International Auto Show in 2006, one could hardly pay attention to the exhibits because of all the distracting media speculation about the possibility of a GM bankruptcy filing. The company was in the painful throes of downsizing -- closing plants and cutting jobs to stem a fiscal hemorrhaging that amounted to a 10.6 billion loss in 2005.
With GM still losing money by the opening of that show last year, journalists were in no mood for turnaround stories. The company's efforts to turn media attention to its concept and production vehicles then went nowhere.
But things were considerably different this year. A resurgent GM this month preempted the show's media week with a celebrity-packed introduction of its latest cars and trucks, a crowded event hosted by Jimmy Kimmel of ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" The joint was jumping, not only for the unusual-for-Detroit large gathering of Hollywood stars and entertainers, but also for GM's new cars and trucks.
After appearances by recording artists such as Jay-Z and actresses such as Carmen Electra and Vivica Fox, the concept Chevrolet Camaro convertible got the standing ovation.
At Cobo Hall, GM used the stage to restate what it said in December at the Los Angeles Auto Show: that it was pouring billions of dollars into the development of plug-in and other electric vehicles, that it was staking much of its future on producing profitable electric models with wide customer appeal. GM offered as tangible proof of its intentions a prototype Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car.
Then, the media murmuring started: Is GM serious? How can they afford it? Is this just a ploy to get money from the federal government? Toyota will probably beat them to the punch first, don't you think? It's a good idea but so what? It'll take them 10 years to bring it to market. By then, no one would care. Toyota surely will be the biggest car company in the world, then, don't you think?
Perhaps such chatter is inevitable. It is easier to believe in failure than it is to achieve, or sustain success.
But I will say again what I have said many times before: This new GM is not the old GM many of us loved to hate. The entire corporate attitude is different. Somewhere along the road from original success to malaise to self-destruction, the company has rediscovered its fighting and innovative spirits.
There is proof in the Volt, which employs a variety of breakthrough technologies such as tough, lightweight, formable glass-coated plastic, and an ink technology that could help make all future cars rattle free by replacing many electric dials and their various plastic enclosures. It's the best thinking from GM's engineers and designers as well as from its leading suppliers, such as General Electric.
There is proof in the new Saturn Aura sedan and the new Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, which together swept the North American car and truck of the year honors at the show -- ironically, awards given by some of the journalists who later were questioning GM's ability to survive.
As for speculation that GM could be using its Volt car to get a financial charge out of Congress, well, I certainly hope so. The governments of Japan, China and India are all working hard to help their automotive industries attain technical superiority.