Whimsical is a word not often applied to the auto industry, but every now and then …
Consider, if you will, the many names of General Motors.
When Billy Durant founded his automotive enterprise in 1908, he named it General Motors. By 1927, it was the biggest automaker in the United States, and in 1936, it became the first such company to recognize the UAW.
After that, employee benefits were heaped upon employee benefits -- health care, pensions, insurance, COLA. And white-collar benefits kept pace with blue-collar benefits.
Employees smiled all the way to the bank, and they called their company Generous Motors.
The good times rolled for decades, but when they stopped, they stopped quickly and firmly. In the first decade of the 21st century, the wheels fell off the wagon. Employment was slashed; so were benefits. In a word, GM went broke. It couldn't pay its bills; it couldn't pay the interest on its borrowings; its 600 million shares of common stock became worthless.
Oblivion was on the horizon until the feds stepped in and loaned GM $50 billion to keep the doors open. No more smiling employees. GM became Government Motors, and the U.S. Treasury owned 61 percent of it.
GM began to creep back. It installed a revolving door in the CEO's office (four of them in less than two years), and it dumped four brands.
Global and Gorgonzola
The most recent of the CEOs, a chap named Akerson, told reporters in September that he wants to be more global. “Someday, maybe it'll stand for Global Motors.”
And if so, it probably will have to move its headquarters from bedraggled old Detroit, maybe to Greenland or Iceland. The top of the world for the top auto company. It's cold up there; hence, Glacier Motors.
Along the way, GM will diversify, although that's kind of a dirty word around its headquarters. Remember the 1980s and Roger Smith? Roger bought a large data processing company, a huge defense contractor and some lesser entities. All well and good, but he ignored the car and truck business, and GM paid a terrible price.
So around GM, they sang:
A great idea, but it just won't fly.
And why won't it fly? Because an auto company is an auto company is an auto company.
But this time, diversification will take a different tack -- food, happy food. Snacks and chips and cheese. Maybe Gorgonzola Motors?
Hey, Aunt Jane
Along the way, history is sure to enter the naming process. This time, it will be spearheaded by Philomena, the niece of a future GM CEO. She will study books, magazines, newspapers. Certainly, she will look at GM 100 Years, which Automotive News published Sept. 15, 2008, the company's 100th birthday.
One day, Philomena will stride into the CEO's office and say, “Aunt Jane, I think we should go back to the General Motors name. That was our name during our glory days, and I think we should adopt it again.”
But Philomena will have more: “And Aunt Jane, I think we should expand our product offerings. In my research, I came across some peachy brand names -- Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer. Well, I guess we can skip Hummer.”
Don't bet against anything in the auto industry.