DETROIT — What's good for America hasn't been so good for General Motors.
With gasoline prices falling and new electric vehicles beckoning, consumers are abandoning the conventional sedans that have defined the U.S. auto industry since the days of Henry Ford. Scarred by a financial crisis a decade ago, GM is moving unusually fast this time to reckon with the new reality.
News Monday that GM would cut more than 14,000 jobs and, like Ford Motor Co., pull back from conventional sedans sent the company's shares up 4.8 percent and lifted other automaker stocks. The largest U.S. automaker may cut up to seven plants — five in North America and two unidentified plants elsewhere — and is eliminating unpopular sedan models during a time when auto sales remain brisk, a sign that CEO Mary Barra is making changes now before an economic downturn forces her hand.
"In the past, GM management didn't react as quickly — they went through a sort of slow-speed crash that culminated in 2009 bankruptcy, and that's a lesson that was hard-learned," said Maryann Keller, an independent auto analyst in Stamford, Conn., who has written several books about the company. "This is a cyclical, highly competitive, slow-growing business. You can't continue producing unprofitable vehicles, especially when you're making crazy investments in mobility service business with no potential for profit in the foreseeable future."
Barra, a GM lifer, is dealing with two challenges. The first is of the present: American consumers are snubbing sedans like never before. The second concerns the future: Doubts abound that GM and other century-old industrial giants will be able to cope with the rise of electric vehicles and self-driving technology, especially with the likes of Tesla and tech giants such as Waymo perceived to be on the forefront.
While the U.S. auto market is past its peak reached in 2016, automakers are still on track to sell more than 17 million vehicles for a fourth consecutive year. The longest such run in the past was a two-year stretch that ended in 2001. In the six years that followed, sales stayed steady above 16 million.