"What's going to happen to my GM?"
As I talked with a friend who has worked at General Motors for nearly as long as I've reported on the industry, the conversation eventually got around to Kirk Kerkorian's plan to hook up GM with Nissan and Renault.
I tossed out my theory about how an equity entanglement probably isn't the answer but that there may well be some areas where smaller, easier-to-arrange partnerships and joint ventures make sense.
"I'm afraid it might interfere with the recovery," my friend said.
My friend said the turnaround at GM already is making progress, but grumbled that some parts of the company still aren't as efficient as they could be. And they aren't likely to ever be efficient because some people just don't get it.
"Why aren't all gasoline fillers on the same side of the vehicle?"
Aw, come on. You can do better than that.
"OK. Why do we need so many engine-transmission combinations?"
To give customers a choice, I said.
"Toyota doesn't give choices. Toyota says, 'This engine comes in this car,' and that's that."
But different vehicles have different power requirements, I insisted.
"We can do that with software."
"Because we still have people building empires."
You've got to be kidding, I said. Even in this day and age, with everything that GM is going through?
Of course, it really didn't surprise me. Empire building goes on in every bureaucracy.
But it did give me a chance to deliver my "The Underlying Problem at GM Is The Culture of Arrogance" spiel. That's the one where I lay out the things I've seen and heard that prove too many GMers -- including some big shots -- still don't realize that the world has changed. Or that they could possibly learn anything from somebody outside GM.
Surprisingly, my friend didn't punch me. Or even disagree.
"Vehicle people are the worst.
"It used to be the guys from Chevrolet who swaggered. That's when Chevy was the biggest and making money, so they thought they deserved special treatment.
"Then it was the truck guys who swaggered. They demanded this and that because they were making the most money for General Motors."
I appreciate the pleasure of a good swagger as much as the next guy. But I got the message.
Still, I had to ask: Who's swaggering now? And if nobody is swaggering, is that a good thing? Or a bad thing?
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]