Last month, General Motors discovered how to sell more cars and light trucks: Give the darned things away.
Well, not quite. But GM came closer to freebies than any other company has ever come.
You've heard the results -- a 46.7 percent sales increase over June 2004, not including Saab, and 42.1 more than the anemic May total this year, which sparked the GM Employee Discount for Everyone program.
GM has extended its discounts until Aug. 1, and, as might be expected, Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler group have been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the arena.
The last thing in the world Ford and Chrysler wanted to do was to match GM's program. Make that the second-last thing. The last thing was to let GM continue to snatch their business.
Today's GM has a list of problems as long as your arm. But let there be no mistake: GM is still the bellwether of the auto industry in this country.
Remember the terrible days after 9/11. The industry faced a crisis. Who wants to buy a car when airplanes are crashing into our buildings? Along came GM with Keep America Rolling, highlighted by loans at 0 percent interest.
Rivals scoffed. Nobody can sell cars at 0 percent interest, they said. But GM did. And before long Ford and Chrysler and most of the imports were doing so, too.
Granted, the 0 percent loans were available only to folks with impeccable credit, but the idea was just what Americans wanted and needed.
And now employee discounts are for everybody. There's a danger, of course. What happens when the offers end? Wall Street is already pouting about that. Here's the answer: The marvelous entity that is the automobile industry will just have to think of something else.
After all, you don't stay in business long if you refrain from making a sale today because it may cost you a sale in the future.