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When it comes to GM, 'what you know that just ain’t so'

Critics have been whacking General Motors like a pinata for months leading up to its bankruptcy. Much of the criticism is well founded. GMís culture is stultifying.

But itís the deeply felt but deeply wrong offhand comments from pundits and politicians that actually hurt Fritz Hendersonís auto company.

A few weeks ago, President Obama, whose heart wants to save Americaís biggest automaker, was talking about fuel economy. He said he really wants Americaís automakers to learn how to make fuel-efficient vehicles -- you know, like the Japanese and Koreans.

Well, if he wants to go head-to-head in similar vehicles, thereís not a nickelís worth of difference between Detroit and Koreans, between Chevrolet and Hyundai models. (Go to for all kinds of interesting comparisons of miles per gallon.) In every segment, the vehicles are about the same in mpg.

Head-to-head comparisons with the Japanese are pretty similar. Compare Chevy to Toyota. (This means compare Malibu to Camry, not Suburban to Yaris.)

Obama didnít mean to gratuitously insult Detroit and send their buyers to Seoul, but he did. He didnít know any better.

Then this morning, David Leonhardt of The New York Times wrote a perfectly sensible thesis about GMís assumptions going forward. He pointed out that GM has been losing a point of U.S. market share per year, almost like clockwork, for the past three decades.

And he writes that Hendersonís restructuring plan assumes that GM holds onto its current shockingly low share this year of about 19 percent, with no allowance for a continuing falloff -- which would, after all, merely continue a long-term trend.

Fair enough.

Leonhardt writes that GM cars arenít reliable or appealing enough to win in the marketplace. How does he support that lack of appeal?

ďIf youíve ever experienced the joy of being told that your rental car is a Toyota Corolla rather than a Chevrolet Impala, you know this,Ē he writes.

Well, if you find joy in putting your five-member family, luggage and golf clubs in a Corolla, you donít deserve the family.

If youíve ever been told you got a Corolla instead of the full-sized car you ordered, you should sue the rental company. (Has this guy ever actually rented a car?) The cars are utterly not comparable.

Maybe an Impala could compete with a Toyota Camry as a rental car. In those first 30,000 miles of use, theyíre both just fine. Donít despair if you get the Impala.

GM has a lot of challenges. One of them, to quote the old saying, is ďwhat you know that just ainít so.Ē

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