It doesn't seem possible. Even though it's staring me in the face, I find it hard to believe.
I'm talking about the meltdown of the domestic auto industry, especially the fall from grace of the mighty General Motors. The once-proud General became a supplicant at the feet of Congress and the Treasury Department, begging for enough cash to keep the doors open. Now it's headed for Chapter 11.
How could that have happened in such a short time? Aha! At last a question I can answer. And the answer is, it didn't happen in a short time. The Detroit 3 worked long and hard to get where they are today.
The rise of GM began in 1908 when entrepreneur Billy Durant started putting the pieces together. It didn't live as long as the Roman Empire. Its decline and fall began in the late 1950s, when "those funny little foreign cars" -- as some in the industry scornfully referred to them -- began arriving in the United States.
GM didn't take them seriously. Neither did Ford Motor Co. or Chrysler Corp., for that matter.
In 1959, the imports racked up about 580,000 sales for 9.7 percent of the car-truck market, and the Big 3 said, "So what?" And they were right, for a while. In 1965, import sales of about 550,000 took 5.6 percent of the car-truck total.
The 1960s began. Ralph Nader appeared on the scene; Washington safety hearings consumed more and more time, and the domestic automakers were too busy to worry about foreign competition.