General Motors' plans to cut its product line, work force and factory capacity roused the usual grandstanders in Washington, from congressional offices right up to the White House. They were quick to summon Mary Barra for lectures and scoldings, reminders about the 2009 bailout and threats to cut off electric vehicle tax credits. Some of this drama surely will be re-enacted for audiences in Iowa and New Hampshire between now and 2020.
GM has many stakeholders that it must answer to, and do right by, as it undertakes this restructuring. But as of five years ago this week — when the U.S. Treasury sold its last share of GM stock — the federal government isn't one of them.
And what duty does GM owe an administration that has so capriciously toyed with the industry's operations over the last two years through tweets, tariffs and trade wars, or a Congress that has done nothing to stop it?
GM's moves will cause pain in communities that already have borne a disproportionate cost for the industry's economic cycles and GM's own blunders. To prove that this is indeed a "new GM," Barra and her team will have to do a better job than their predecessors to ensure that those communities aren't left to decay and retailers aren't disenfranchised.
The UAW and Unifor in Canada will play an important role in securing that commitment.
But for now, having chronicled the industry's unprecedented pace of change in these pages, we're inclined to accept GM's word that the moves are a necessary pre-emptive response to coming investment demands and economic pressures that could otherwise land the automaker back in trouble.
The bailout happened nearly 10 years ago. The circumstances and leadership failures that led to it shouldn't be forgotten, as GM would readily attest. At the same time, the fact that it occurred (and quite possibly saved the economy, by the way) shouldn't hang over the company forever.
If the feds want to tell GM what to build and where, maybe they should buy back those shares.