Learning from GM

imageThe bankruptcy of General Motors is a profound event—economic as well as cultural—worth recognition and reflection regardless of our feelings for cars. The company’s failure is a collective one—labor, consumer, and executive (both internal to the company and in government policy)—of not taking responsibility.

As an affluent, non-industrial bubble, the residents of San Francisco seem unable to sympathize, and I agree in the sense that GM’s myopia has been obvious for decades.  However, bankruptcy is much more than an overdue embarrassment to relish as we drive Japanese cars.  It’s a genuine opportunity for the company to do right, and given its overwhelming influence in our country’s economic and environmental future, it’s crucial we all learn from GM’s mistakes.

Here are a few resources I recommend:

1.) Video: The Decline of GM from The New York Times

2.) GM’s Reinvention Corporate Website

3.) The World of Business: The Road Ahead from The New Yorker

4.) Interactive: GM Timeline from The New York Times

5.) Interactive: Automotive Bailout Timeline from The New York Times

I remain amazed and impressed by how much Obama has taken on in his first months as president, and I understand his endorsement of GM products.  But I remain strongly opposed to buying a new GM vehicle, just as I am to buying the new Prius.  It is essential that we only support the automakers when they produce plug-in vehicles.  All of GM’s materials, including the website linked above, put enormous emphasis on the Volt; we must put equal emphasis on that car as the one worth waiting for and ultimately buying.

One of the problems already apparent with the Volt (and the same problem with the EV1) is the goal of perfection, which is unrealistic.  Evidence the Prius, which took three years in Japan and then three more globally to mature into the model we now see all over San Francisco, which is one of the best cars ever made (and yet only half functional as a gasoline-dependent vehicle).

Don’t misunderstand me: the Volt is a valid indicator of why GM is worth saving and supporting. GM can be restructured and ultimately sustainable, just like our means of transportation.  But there is no Chapter 11 for the environment, at least not without a Chapter 7 for us human beings.