Today, GM's relatively young executive team believes it's on the right path.
Opel has been restructured and is showing signs of life. Red ink in many overseas markets is being stanched through tough calls to scale back or pull out. A truck strategy that many questioned a few years ago -- bringing back midsize pickups and redesigning its full-size trucks with tried-and-true steel and new push-rod engines -- is propelling profits.
An FCA merger threatens to knock GM off that path. At least that's what Barra's team believes, based on the swift and certain rebuff of Marchionne's overtures. Any such tie-up would carry huge upfront risks, GM executives' thinking goes, with no guarantee that the future payoff would be big enough to justify the cost and disruption.
And GM executives have implied that FCA needs GM far more than the other way around on a number of key fronts:
- China: GM got an early start and is now a leader there, with established brands, while FCA is still struggling for a foothold.
- Vehicle platforms: An example of what Barra meant in June when she said GM is "merging with ourselves," the company is far along on a plan to build hundreds of models from just a few core platforms. GM is playing catch-up to global giants Volkswagen AG and Toyota Motor Corp. on such a modular approach. But melding that plan with FCA's hodgepodge platform mix would further delay the timeline.
- Alternative powertrains: GM's bet on the Chevrolet Volt has been paying dividends as it applies the guts of that plug-in hybrid system to potentially higher-volume entries, such as a hybrid Malibu, set to arrive next spring, and the Bolt all-electric vehicle, due by early 2017.
While FCA's diesel-engine portfolio could help GM, FCA is "basically nowhere" on building out an alternative-powertrain strategy to meet tightening global regulations, says former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, who lobbied hard for a GM-Chrysler marriage as an executive in 2007 and still believes the idea has merit.
"You can put lipstick on the pig for a while by doing things like the Hellcat," the thunderous, 707-hp engine used in the Dodge Charger and Challenger SRT models, Lutz said.
"That's great," he said. "It probably makes a lot of money. But that isn't the future."