During the 1970s GM had something that excited people, cars. Really cool cars and trucks too, but more than anything they had fast great looking automobiles that the American public sought after. Those were the good old days. When GM was king and profits were solid, with steady growth year after year. When imports like Toyota, Nissan, and Honda came to town, profit margins began to slip and GM found itself scrambling to regain market share that they once owned. It seemed they were regaining some of that market share a couple of years ago when it recorded strong gains back to back with its Cadillac and Hummer sales. Once again though, they are losing ground with shrinking profit margins, and less than excited customers.
The biggest culprit is not poor sales, although that is one part of GMs financial problems, but it is GMs retiree health-care costs that are eating up profits. This year they are expected to spike $1 billion to a total of $5.3 billion. The problem seems to be that GM doesn’t know the reason they are in business. They are more of a huge medical and pension provider rather than a manufacturer of automobiles. So why are Japanese automakers stealing away market share? They have retired employees as well, but because Japan has a national pension system they are able to have much lower fixed costs in their home markets. For example, each car that GM sold last year made them only $213 compared to Toyota that made nearly $1,500 per vehicle sold. There is no question why GM cannot compete they just aren’t making as much money on their sales as they were before. This is due to the cost of their retiree, and pension plans that are putting a bigger dent in their bottom line than they ever have.
“Anyone who thinks bankruptcy is an answer is nuts.” (Welch, Byrnes) GM is still a good distance from this worst-case scenario. They would have to lose a lot of cash before they claim bankruptcy. Chief Executive for GM G. Richard Wagoner Jr. said, “GM is in the black, is cash-positive, and has $23.5 billion in its coffers.” (Welch, Byrnes) Despite the fact that GM does have a positive cash flow the important thing will be for it to keep up with its debt obligations [pensions and health care], and patch the hole in the bucket. By controlling the cost of their health, and pension plans GM can put itself in a position to compete again. Ultimately the success of GM will be determined by its ability to realize what their product is, cut their overall fixed costs, and make smart investments with the precious funds they have remaining to design and build sleek, attractive vehicles that outperform their foreign counterparts.