Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The man who saved General Motors

There's a delightful take-down of Steven Rattner's self-congratulatory account of the Overhaul of GM -- in The New Yorker, of all places! I would have expected TNY to revel in the surgical swiftness of Team Obama's remake of the company that was once America's premier builder of automobiles. (Today, of course, America's premier autobuilders speak with Japanese accents.)

Malcolm Gladwell's review is sub-titled "Who really rescued General Motors?" The answer (get ready for it!) is not Steven Rattner, and certainly not the man he installed as GM's new chairman (and who stuck to the job for just over a year before he quit). No, the man who saved General Motors was none other than Rick Wagoner, whom Mr. Rattner fired. It was Mr. Wagoner who got rid of GM's pension burden, persuaded the UAW to accept roughly half the prevailing wage for the company's new hires, and put in motion the new generation of automobiles that are now winning praise from critics (if not yet from buyers).

As for Mr. Rattner, he comes off sounding a bit like a college sophomore. In a devastating last paragraph, Mr. Gladwell lets the auto czar wind his own shroud, as he concludes the story of his second (only his second!) whirlwind tour of Detroit:

Then it was on to G.M. and finally to Chrysler. But not for long, because time was short and the real work of saving Detroit, of course, has nothing to do with Detroit. “We walked among the vehicles—sedans and trucks and even a Fiat 500—as the Chrysler people talked about advanced hybrid power trains and new, environmentally friendly diesels,” Rattner continues. “But by this point our goal was not to miss our flight back to the mountain of work that awaited us back in Washington.”
Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

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