GM: wanted dead or alive?

It is a time of crisis for the automotive industry. All related companies and employees are in emergency waiting rooms. GM and Chrysler are in ICU’s hooked up to IV bags filled with money. For the moment governments are holding the line clamps open. Thousands of ‘knowledgeable’ tax payers who believe they are not connected to the business are urging governments to let the “dinosaurs” die. Those tax payers who give the “dinosaurs” their life are pleading with governments to let the money flow. In an attempt to save their companies managers are planning extensive reorganizations. While they are still in the planning stage I would like to suggest an improvement that would gain my support. It is based on the few experiences that have had with GM dealers over the years.

I gained the first experience about 30 years ago during my two day career as a car salesman, neither my first nor obviously my last career choice. I went to university with vague thoughts of teaching but graduated confused so I thought I should clear up the confusion before I began teaching. I tried for four years, working at odd jobs, before deciding trying to figure out life was a dumb idea. I got a job at GM instead but after only 2 years I decided I would rather continue wondering than live a life that was decided. Still I needed to work so I tried what I discovered was a really odd job.

During my first day as a car salesman I Iearned that to stay in business a dealer has to sell a car for a given percentage above what it is charged for that car. If I sold a car for any amount up to $500 more than that base amount I would be given for example 10% of the difference. If I sold the car for any amount between $500 and $10000 dollars above the base amount I would be given 15% of the difference; and if I sold the car for any amount over $1000 above the base amount I would be given 20%. Until that day it never occurred to me two people even on the same day of the week do not pay the same amount for the same vehicle. This lesson was contrary to what I had been thinking so I didn’t sleep well that night. On my second day while I was learning more lessons of life from the sales manager another salesman asked the manager if a particular extended warranty was valid in a given jurisdiction. His reply was, “No, but sell it anyway”. I slept better that night.

My next job was sorting pop bottles at a soft drink plant but I can skip what I learned there and fast forward to 2001. I had invited my parents to live with me in British Columbia. To deal with the car my father left in Ontario, we decided to trade it for an Astro van to replace the 15 year old one I used to transport my carpentry tools and the furniture I built. My father had worked for GM for 35 years and because they offered employees discounts he had been getting a new car every year. Dad had been buying his cars from the same dealer for so long that in the latter years he had been dealing with the son of the original owner. Given the longstanding relationship I phoned with hope and told the dealer I needed the complete details of our transaction so I would know how much I owed Dad. All he would give me is the difference. I hung up in despair. The methods hadn’t changed. I had been treated like a mushroom, kept in the dark and fed bullshit.

In order to get some light I phoned an acquaintance I had first met when I was 14. Bill had just started working for GM under my father’s supervision. Dad being Dad, probably bragged about my ability to play hockey so Bill came to watch a game with him. I next encountered Bill when he became my manager during my brief stay at GM 14 years later. The only other time I had talked to Bill was in 1991 when I happened to see him in a hotel lobby in my home town. He didn’t even recognize me. He had retired from GM Canada as vice president and bought a dealership. He was on a ski holiday and I treated him to a ski day he said he will never forget.

Bill answered the phone as if I were his long lost younger brother. He asked about Mom and Dad because they had socialized, and said he had been thinking of him because the month I called was the 40th anniversary of the year he began working with GM. He and Dad chatted and he reminded Dad that someone else thought he had been useful. When I got back on the phone and told Bill why I had called he insisted on selling us our van. Bill’s sales manager phoned once to see what we wanted, a second time to give me the details of the transaction and about three weeks later the van was delivered to my door.

A couple years ago I considered buying a smaller vehicle. I looked for a second experience from heaven; I found two more experiences from hell. That was enough for me. I told the last salesman I had reconsidered. I apologized for it wasn’t entirely his fault. Like us all he was born into an economy we have created from which we inherit the self-destructive need to make as much money as we can anyway we can, an economy which puts us all in conflict with each other to various degrees including conflict that ends in death. I hope I will never have to experience the part of this conflict with dealers again. With luck and good maintenance, in 30 years or so perhaps I’ll be able to drive my van to the crematorium and we’ll become “ashes” and “dust” together.

Under the present system even if the decision that determined whether GM continues to survive depended on my buying a vehicle, I would not buy one. If the demise of GM then precipitated the total collapse and death of our current economy I would eagerly attend the wake that sends this economy which demands human sacrifices, off to hell where belongs. I will buy what I have to, but sorry Mr. President, though I would spend every precious second I have growing humanity, I will not spend one worthless penny trying to grow this sucking economy. My parting words would be, “Economy is dead. Long live Humanity.”

However, if GM changed their method of providing them so that when buying one everyone had the same heavenly experience, I would buy a vehicle. Such a change would mark the beginning of a new economy that serves our need to make as much life as we can every way we can, an economy which puts us all in unconditional cooperation with each other. Consequently, I would enthusiastically participate in GM’s transformation and their effort to grow this new economy. My greeting would be, “Long live GM. What is good for GM is good for Humanity.”