News & Analysis

Make American Cars Great Again: General Motors flies the flag with strong stocks

Andrew Saks, Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Credit where credit is due.

It is not easy to operate a large motor manufacturer, especially one which has most of its operations in Western countries, and more specifically the heartlands of automotive folklore such as Detroit.

General Motors is one of those timeless conglomerates, which as a corporate giant has weathered industrial and financial storms yet owns brands which manufacture the stuff of childhood dreams across over six generations of enthusiast.

The same company that was the largest corporation in the world in the 1980s took the government bailout at the end of 2008 as part of the US government's handing General Motors and Chrysler $13.4 billion in financing from TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) funds, as well as $4 billion to be "withdrawn later".

At the time, the public made mirth out of misfortune, calling it 'Obama Motors', and arch-rival Ford Motor Company even conducted patriotic advertising campaigns across North America saying that Ford is a genuine American hero for not taking government money.

The irony is that the same people pointing the finger at General Motors were the same demographic that likely had a poster of various versions of the iconic Corvette on their childhood bedroom walls, and of very much the middle-class demographic that would tool around the highways of the developed world in a Cadillac XTS or collect their teenagers from high school in a Suburban or Escalade.

Back in the 1970s, when cars had circular, polished chrome air filter covers, it was common to see "Chevrolet. The Heartbeat of America" emblazoned on said polished chrome when lifting the engine cover of any of the contemporary sedans, station wagons or muscle cars, and today, this slogan has been toned down somewhat but it most certainly rings true.

General Motors put that bailout money to good use and has been back on track for at least ten years now, producing some extremely high-quality products. Cadillac, for example, was ranked third in the 2020 JD Power US Tech Experience Study, just behind winner Volvo and runner up BMW.

That is a fine accomplishment indeed.

The SUVs are still selling in huge numbers, and the Corvette is still the stuff of aspiration, therefore General Motors' US division is doing very well indeed, aided by its long overdue decision three years ago to jettison its troublesome European Opel and Vauxhall divisions which made bland, lacklustre products and produced 20 years of losses for General Motors to write into their books.

The difference in product quality and image has always been vast. North American General Motors fans got a 7.6 liter Cadillac Sedan De Ville with power everything, air conditioning and levels of equipment that appear modern even today, whereas the same company's customers on the European side of the Atlantic got a hearing-aid-beige Vauxhall Viva with a 54 horsepower 1.2 liter engine, vinyl seats and an equipment list that was so sparse that it stopped short of having to pedal.

Fancy a sportscar? In North America, you could get a Corvette, built on a racing chassis with one of the best engines in the world, or if budget didn't allow, a supercharged Buick Grand National, or 5.7 liter Camaro or Firebird, whereas for the same price in Europe, the same company would sell you a plastic-clad hatchback with manual windows and a calendar to measure the acceleration.

Things remained that way until General Motors did the sensible thing and concentrated on what it is good at; making affordable, mass-market yet desirable trucks, cars and SUVs which resound with the loyal followers in North America.

Nowadays, you can buy built-under-license versions of the same vehicles in China, Russia, and parts of the Middle East, which represents a substantial market increase for General Motors.

Who'd have thought during the end of the Cold War in the 1980s that one day, Europeans would be driving tiny, ungainly hatchbacks with no equipment and engines with power outputs that wouldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding, when in Russia people would be driving the pinnacle of American free market status, the Cadillac Escalade and Chevrolet Silverado. Well, here we are.

General Motors has worn its years well, and in its current core business-focused state, it is a solid enterprise.

Its shares are up substantially this week, having risen sharply at the end of July, and again this morning in anticipation of the company's earnings announcement.

Stock was up to $57.88 on close yesterday and the airwaves are alive this morning with talk of very interesting earnings and when looked at over 5 days, General Motors stock is up 4.44%.

Not bad for a company with huge operating expenses which faces the green onslaught.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said back in her day as leader "If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done ask a woman."

Perhaps in the case of General Motors these words are very appropriate given that it is one of the only motor industry giants in the world run by a female CEO, Mary Barra who has been in charge since 2014; exactly the time when the firm began to pull its act together once again and 'make American cars great again'.



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