For three-quarters of a century, it was king-of-the-hill, not only the world’s largest automaker, but arguably the most powerful and influential. But the steady decline of General Motors was capped, last year, when the automaker not only was dethroned by Japanese rival Toyota Motor Co., but as it was forced to go to Washington, begging for the cash it needed to survive.
In the weeks to come, GM will need to complete a far-reaching plan to ensure the company’s viability, a strategy that must then be approved by overseers still to be appointed by the Obama Administration. A go-ahead will generate the additional loans the automaker claims it still needs. Getting the thumbs-down, however…well, GM officials insist that won’t happen.
Yet there are plenty of folks, in Washington and elsewhere, who believe the game is already over, and that GM and its cross-town rival, Chrysler, should simply be allowed to fail. Veteran business journalist William Holstein is not one of them. And in his new book, WHY GM MATTERS: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon, Holstein paints a very different picture of GM than has been portrayed on Capitol Hill and in most of the media. Here’s an excerpt from his new book, published by Bloomsbury USA…
In 1953, General Motors President Charles E. Wilson testified before Congress and spoke the words that for decades defined his company’s place at the center of American commerce and, indeed, defined its national identity. It was a time of unparalleled optimism in America. World War II was over, thanks in part to GM’s contribution to America’s superior war manufacturing effort (and to Wilson’s leadership of the War Production Board, which put him in charge of procuring all matériel for the military). Cadillacs sported tail fins like those of rocket ships. The American love affair with cars was exploding in movies and music, but was also being woven into the very fabric of society. With the new mobility afforded by autos, suburbs started sprouting up and an interstate highway system was born. Americans were literally building their lives around the automobile.