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Monday, April 11, 2005

Death Spiral?

Some days, at work, the mood is so black you would think that we Americans were in the same shape as MG Rover or Mitsubishi. We really aren't, yet.

I can't help but think, at present, that GM and Ford are in a death spiral. Unless something fundamental changes, in 5 years there won't be both a GM and Ford as we know them. An all-out collapse is unlikely, when you considering the economic damage that would ensue. What I see happening is a decline in market share, and erosion of financials, until GM is forced to re-organize under Chapter 11, and Ford is merged with a cash-rich competitor, such as Honda.

The legacy costs of the Big 2 have to be addressed. Without GM and Ford growing market share, the pension plans and healthcare costs are, like Social Security, not sustainable. And what do you think the chances of market share increase really are, given the ascendancy of Toyota, Honda, and Nissan? With Hyundai growing, and Bricklin getting ready to lob Chinese econo-boxes across the Pacific ocean?

The effects on the economy of SE Michigan will devastating, like a nuclear weapon.

(What do you think? Am I being too gloomy?)


Anonymous said...

I am a huge American car fan, but I tend to agree. Unless the Big 2 can work out an agreement with the UAW and deal with the pending pension plan and healthcare costs distaster, they will implode.

The irony is that the Unions are determined not to give up long term benefits even though this will reduced in reduced market share for both GM and Ford...and eventually less union jobs. The UAW is being too short sighted.

Rick said...

I wrote about this too on my blog. I swear I didn't plagiarize, but I can see that we're not alone in thinking this way. There are a lot of parallels between GM and MG-Rover. After seeing a video of the new Ford Fusion, I think Ford is going to do well soon. The Fusion is amazing and is going to sell really well, along with the current Mustang and Ford Escape Hybrid.

The Angry Engineer said...

I've been in a doom-and-gloom mood for a while as well, due to my feelings on this topic. I look at the mainstream passenger-car offerings from Detroit, and I see nothing that'd draw me away from the "Asian" brands (which day-by-day are becoming more "American" than the Big 3). I see a bunch of SUV products that'll fare poorly as gas prices continue to increase. I see a lack of innovation in the full-size pickup-truck market - where's some clever lockable storage, or extensive use of high-tech materials so I can have a 3500 lb payload in a vehicle that weighs less than a schoolbus? And the mini-truck offerings, an area where Detroit took on the Japanese and did well for a while, just seem underwhelming - the Ranger seems to have been left for dead, and the Colorado is overweight, underpowered, overpriced, and generally feels like it might have been a contender ten years ago.

Seeing as how I work for a Tier 1, I'm totally disgusted with the way that Ford and GM treat their supply base. They're either moving things overseas or just making it impossible for a supplier to make money, which of course is driving everyone (and their best ideas) to the doorsteps of Honda, Toyota, and Nissan where it's still possible to make money and get treated with respect in the process.

The external factors, such as health-care and pension costs, can't really be fixed at this point. The time to deal with that stuff was 10 years ago. But they wouldn't be an issue if Ford and GM were making cars that are as desirable as those of the competition, because that would bring in more than enough money to cover the bills.

Oh well - all it'll take is a good quarterly report and everyone will forget about all these problems until the next downturn, because long-term thinking doesn't seem to be a strength of Detroit right now. But, yea, I think that at some point, a major shake-up has to occur - and I don't know if it's going to be at GM, Ford, or both (and I don't think Chrysler is immune, either - they've got more riding on the new compact and mid-size sedans than anyone seems to understand right now).