Having just celebrated their 110th anniversary, General Motors seems like they're currently doing pretty well. They’ve had their ups and downs over the decades, weathering the storm of the 1980s auto industry woes and some of the rough times that followed. Indeed, in 2009, the company was forced to file for Chapter 11 due to horrible sales. It took the bailout of the auto industry to keep the company from going under and even then, they had some rough years afterward.
Today, with Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac under their umbrella, GM is doing their best to stay strong in a very competitive market. They still have a recognized name and scores of successes that have led to strong earnings in 2018. However, almost immediately after those earnings were published, GM announced huge layoffs, plant closures, and the end of several car lines.
Some of that is due to the nature of the business itself. The auto industry is undergoing a shift due to everything from political issues to the car market changing thanks to a move away from sedans. However, GM isn’t helping themselves with slews of issues inside the company. Some are corporate moves with bad marketing or terrible misjudgments of the wants of buyers.
A few times, it’s because the cars themselves just aren’t built well and come off badly compared to the likes of Toyota or Honda. A few other times, it’s embarrassing public moments that put a black eye on the company. Overall, the swings showcase the brutal fact that GM just is failing overall as an actual carmaking company. Here are 20 recent ways that GM has shown they just aren't that good at making cars.
20 Their Bad Public Relations Image
GM just can’t seem to win when it comes to the general public. That’s been proven by the reactions to their layoffs while their executives still enjoy major perks. Of course, the fact that a few of these execs have also left indicates things aren’t so rosy for them. Then there was the very ugly mess of accusations of discrimination at an Ohio plant that caused not just a lawsuit but a full investigation. That's not mentioning the long history of absolutely terrible cars the company has pushed on buyers for decades. It’s created a big perception problem for GM that it just can’t seem to overcome. For every good thing this company does, they pull off a huge mistake that lowers their standing and makes it hard to believe they can produce good cars.
19 The “Reliability” Ads
Being seen as a reliable car company is important in the industry. So many companies love to use consumer reports to claim they’re the most trusted around. This set up Chevy’s ads of “real people” brought in to be told that Chevy had the most reliable cars as proven by a study. As soon as the ads aired, Toyota, Honda and Ford cried foul and many reviewers backed them up. It turned out the study was by a small firm whose definition of “reliability” included cars that hadn’t seen issues for a year excluding…well, most anything that would be the definition of “issues" with a car. The ads have been pulled as exaggeration is one thing but outright falsehood in advertising is a bit much, even for the auto industry.
18 They Still Can’t Play Well With Others
It’s notorious how the feuds of car companies in Detroit can be huge. GM has shown an amazing tendency to reach out for partnerships, only for it to blow up in their faces. Who can forget the misguided attempt to join with Suzuki in India in 2011? Right now, Ford and GM have made noise about joining in a partnership to work together on driverless tech and other innovations. Seeing these two long-time rivals working together would be a huge deal. However, the talks have dragged on for months with no real end in sight, despite how much it’s obvious that both companies could benefit from some shared tech instead of fighting for an edge. GM’s desire to be number one is costing them a beneficial partnership boost.
17 No Super Bowl Advertising
The Super Bowl isn’t just the biggest NFL game of the year, it’s also the biggest night for advertising. Companies know a single ad during this game can garner huge publicity and major benefits. Which was why it was surprising that this year, no GM brands had any Super Bowl ads. Granted, the asking price of $5.25 million for 30 seconds was rather steep. Yet, given the rough times of the company as of late, a big ad was expected. They weren’t alone, though—with Ford also bowing out—and yet it seemed to miss one of the biggest opportunities for product placement. True, the game turned out to be a snoozer yet still drew 90 million viewers.
16 They STILL Can’t Get the Escalade Right
For reasons that baffle people, GM just hasn’t been able to get the Escalade right. Other automakers are able to develop fantastic and top-notch luxury SUVs that look astounding and drive wonderfully. GM, on the other hand, just hasn’t been able to pull it off. The 2019 version just landed on Consumer Reports’ 10 Least Reliable Cars list. The issues include its huge size, cramped third seat, a rough transmission, and a climate system that goes from arctic chill to burning desert with little in between. One would think GM could figure out how to build this car right by now but they keep striking out.
15 The E-Bike Push
GM is making noise lately by moving into the electric car field. That’s a good thing, with most people agreeing that EV cars are the future of the industry. But it’s a bit baffling that GM is also attempting to make e-bikes a thing. This new fad is still in the early stages and it’s up in the air as to how popular it can be. After all, the entire point of a bicycle is to actually pump the pedals rather than let a motor do all the work. GM is working on developing some e-bikes and have them out by the end of 2019. Given how it’s still up in the air whether these will be accepted by consumers, GM devoting so much energy to them is a confusing move.
14 The Cruze
Among the many models being ended in 2019 is the Cruze. Its cancellation comes as no surprise given how car dealers and reviewers alike have seen its fall coming. Yes, it was very popular when it first came out as a nicely priced sedan and was among the company’s better sellers. It didn’t overload on the tech and it could provide some very good speeds. Yet in 2018, its sales began to plummet. Some of that was due to the overall backlash against sedans. However, a recent internal memo suggests that the line was ended because its profit margin was so much smaller than SUVs. Ending one line that was actually doing great shows GM still has some problems.
13 Stealing a Graffiti Artist’s Work
General Motors has a massive advertising department. They pay top dollar for designers to come up with major ad campaigns along TV, social media, various websites, and other avenues. These are people whose sole job is to create their own art. So just imagine how it went over that GM used the art of a graffiti artist without his permission. In 2016, the company had ads of cars on a rooftop under a glorious graffiti painting. The problem was that it wasn’t until they were published that artist Adrian Falkner (known as “Smash 137”) knew his work was being used. Now, he’s filed a huge suit against GM for stealing his work. One would think an ad department as big as GM’s could have avoided this mess.
12 Collecting Radio-Listening Data
The rise of social media and wireless technology has been a boon to drivers, including the various apps to warn of traffic or weather issues. However, it also leads to issues regarding privacy and how some companies are going too far with overreaching monitoring. GM openly addressed this at a conference in September of 2018 when they admitted they had been monitoring the radio station choices of 90,000 drivers. The company defended the move by saying they wanted to learn the tastes of drivers to better streamline their marketing. It didn’t get into truly private data and yet the fact that a company just collected the music tastes of so many drivers without their knowledge or permission made a few owners rather uncomfortable.
11 The Airbag Recall
Recalls are commonplace in the car industry and it doesn’t always mean something bad for the company. However, GM’s refusal to adhere to the Takata airbag recall is not helping their image. As many as 19 different automakers have gone ahead and recalled over 30 million vehicles whose airbags were declared defective by the manufacturer. GM, however, has refused—and even got a waiver to continue selling models with Takata bags. This comes despite complaints from drivers of airbags often bursting open without warning. GM finally did recall a few models in December of 2018 but that it took so long to go with such an obvious safety issue doesn’t scream out, “We care for our customers.”
10 Their Weird Rules
One thing about General Motors that has made it a bit offbeat are their rules. Most make sense and are common for auto companies (wear gloves, proper hairdos, etc) but some can be a bit…overbearing. For example, employees have to use specific hashtags (such as "#IworkforGM" or the like) when on social media and those comments are always monitored. You’re banned from investing in companies that are unconnected to GM, cannot use words that equal “disaster” in any way, and are often unable to use some of the company’s own cars. It shows the company is more interested in their public perception than, say, a fun work environment for making cars—which may be a reason they’ve had so many problems.
9 UAW’s Epic Lawsuit
It’s been a long game for car companies to play with semantics to avoid union issues. GM kept up with that recently when they said they were not “closing” some factories but “unallocating” them. After all, closures would violate their UAW deal. The UAW is not having it, though, as they’re now launching an epic lawsuit against GM to keep these factories open, at least, until the end of the current union agreements. This comes after GM just had a huge fight about unions in Canada having a Super Bowl ad trashing GM. It’s likely to drag out for quite a while and showcases how the war between companies and unions is likely to continue for a very long time.
8 Crashing a Pace Car
Being a good driver isn’t exactly necessary to be an auto executive. But it sure does help if you at least give the impression you know how to drive a car if you’re a GM executive. Instead, at the Detroit Grand Prix in June of 2018, product chief Mark Reuss was showing off the new 2019 Corvette ZR1 as the pace car. Reuss was just beginning the opening parade lap when the Corvette suddenly swung out of control and rammed into a nearby wall. Reuss was okay but the race was delayed over half an hour. The media had a field day mocking how a $123,000 new car was smashed more than any of the actual race cars. It was hardly the way the company wanted to show off a new model. Reuss, by the way, is now GM’s President.
7 The SUV Obsession
SUVs are popular; there’s no doubt about that. And yet GM’s sheer obsession with this market can show a major problem coming. The major talk of the industry is how EV cars are the future and the gas-guzzlers are on their way out. Instead, GM is still cracking down on more of these cars, doing away with sedans in favor of the SUV lines. They can provide profits, it's true, and much of GM’s earnings in 2018 came from them. However, there have been reports of issues with the SUVs in their design and lacking the same speed and comfort of other companies. SUVs aren’t going to last forever so the emphasis on them for profits can backfire on GM down the road.
6 Losing on Profits
One would think GM would be celebrating ending 2018 with some great profits. Making money should be a good thing; that’s just Business 101. Leave it to GM to find a way to make massive earnings a bad thing. The fact the profits come just as they’re doing massive layoffs is not a good PR image and it gives the appearance the profits are thanks to laying so many workers off. There’s also how the earnings still aren’t quite enough to offset the massive losses the company posted in 2017. The stock may have risen a bit and yet the various poor moves of the company covered in this list indicate that they’re not out of the woods. Thus, GM’s good success in 2018 actually showcases their woes.
5 Ending Sedan Brands
This year will see GM cutting down majorly on several sedan brands. Besides the Volt, GM also bids goodbye to the Impala, Cadillac CT6, Cadillac XTS, Buick Lacrosse, and as mentioned, the Cruze. The fact the Impala and Cruze have been having terrible sales numbers for years makes cutting them come with little surprise. On the other hand, the Cadillacs were seen as not too bad. The sedans are still popular overseas—especially in Japan—but tastes have changed regarding them in the USA. Yet, for GM to dump so many at once showcases how they went a bit too all-in on the sedan craze and it’s failed to pay off. It also shows the sedans themselves just weren’t winners.
4 Opel is Doing Great
GM just made some major cuts in jobs, ending several lines of cars and making it appear they are doing poorly. The official line is that this is just common for the business and they’re not the only ones hurting. This theory falls apart when one looks at Opel. For twenty years, the company had suffered massive losses as part of the GM umbrella and that trend didn’t look to change. But the PACE turnaround plan means that after losing $204 million in 2017, Opel ended 2018 with earnings of $979 million. That’s right, GM took a hit trying to get rid of this supposed “loser” brand only to watch it rake in profits once away from GM. This is a pretty obvious indication of how bad GM truly management is if getting away from the company boosts profits so significantly.
3 The Chevrolet Volt
The Chevy Volt was hailed by car reviewers as one of the best EV models out there. Despite a few complaints about battery issues, the Bolt still seemed like a major winner and paved the way for the future of electric cars. Which was why it made no sense when GM shut down the line totally. The Volt was going to be the company’s saving grace following their 2009 run-in and the hybrid had serious promise. While Tesla's models were superior, no doubt, the Volt still had backing and could easily have become something big. Instead, GM is cutting it loose as the company just couldn’t sell enough of them. To be ending what some thought would be the future of the company speaks volumes about GM’s current issues with car owners.
2 Rivian Got $700 Million
GM is defending their recent cuts and corporate moves with the mantra that it’s tough for car makers these days. They make it sound as if the business itself doesn’t offer anything new and is struggling. That defense falls apart considering that upstart manufacturer Rivian just got $700 million in investment money from Amazon. For the massive corporation to choose some small manufacturer that hasn’t even existed for a decade to get this windfall has sent shockwaves through the industry. The fact that Rivian is working on the very electric car models that GM seems to be ignoring showcases how much of a mistake GM made moving away from that field. That Amazon gave this much to a start-up rather than an established powerhouse shows GM isn’t as powerful as they once were.
1 The Battery Issue
GM is claiming they never had to replace a Bolt battery pack despite some reports. Yet it’s clear they have had issues with some of their batteries in various models. Complaints are common from classic batteries to the high-end models of constant breakdowns. That includes brand-new models that conk out of power in just a few months. That was a key problem in the Bolt that led to recalls and probably the canceling of the line. They're also suing Johnson Controls for $28 million over car battery reimbursement. Sure, other car models have such problems and yet GM seems to rate higher when it comes to newer cars suddenly needing battery upgrades. It showcases that even without the Bolt issues, GM just has issues with one of the most basic parts of any car.
Sources: Jalopnik, Motor Trend, and GM Authority.