Rick Wagoner has been laid off. The newly-former CEO of General Motors was forced out by the Obama administration after failing to present a workable strategy in exchange for a request of $16.6 billion in additional taxpayer dollars on top of the $14.4 billion the company already received.
The unemployed CEO was tasked with reducing the debt over the past three months and creating a plan that would further that resolve over the coming months. Instead, the debt load increased. Gov. Jennifer Granholm, of Michigan, appearing on NBC's "Today Show," after the news of his leaving the company, referred to him as a "sacrificial lamb," apparently viewing him as a fallen leader who was forced to take one for the team.
The team, in case the governor has forgotten, would be the hundreds of thousands of hardworking Americans who are one step closer to losing their jobs, pensions and medical coverage as a result of Wagoner's management style. Let's review a little recent history.
Nothing about the car business happens quickly. That holds true whether the cars are made in America or Japan or Germany. Designs have to be created, discussed, refined and broken down into potential costs that cover a wide range of issues. If even a tail light changes it affects what has to be discontinued to make a space on the assembly line, and causes a momentary and expensive disruption as a plant is retooled, even if ever so slightly.
Now couple that with the mountain of research surrounding global warming and its affects on the environment and a growing consciousness by the American public. Every car company in the world got the memos.
Toyota and Honda started addressing the ramifications to the bottom line 20 years ago, so that when the new century started they had something to offer.
GM's response was to introduce a new model of the gas-guzzling Hummer, the H2 and in 2003, stage a publicity stunt by driving a rainbow caravan of H2's to South Florida to promote the Inner-City Games Foundation chaired by California Gov. Schwarzenegger. GM's Hummer marketing analyst, Randy Foutch described the Hummer buyer at the time as, "daring, self-assured, entrepreneurial people who see Hummer as being a reflection of themselves; unique."
Apparently, after the gas hikes and the downturn in the economy, the buyers got over it and this year, the Hummer is slated to be discontinued due to poor sales.
That same year Honda introduced the first Honda Civic Hybrid and this year the company is coming out with a model priced under $20,000 for a mass audience. Their bottom line is a much different picture and it all has to do with paying attention to the public.
Wagoner was asked about hybrids over the years and largely dismissed them, smiling for the camera while incessantly repeating the phrase, "as goes GM ,so goes the country." Let's all hope that one's not true.
Wagoner's more recent comments on the environment were to say that California and 16 other states should not be allowed to impose strict tailpipe emissions standards. The standards mandate that passenger cars average 43.7 mpg by 2016, which will slow global warming and lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Wagoner felt it was bad for business.
Somebody really ought to have gotten the guy a meeting with Tadashi Arashima, CEO of Toyota Motor Europe who recently said in response to a decline in revenue, "We have decided we will not give any bonus or salary increase for the current fiscal year to anyone to share the effort to return to profitability."
Instead, we're faced with the very real potential of an unraveling of GM. That will not only leave generations who have spent entire careers working in the plants without a job but will shutter thousands of car dealerships across America and close GM suppliers, auto repair shops and other ancillary businesses as well.
American car dealers in particular have long been the lifeblood of small town America generously providing good jobs, hefty donations to local charities and spearheading civic leadership.
All of that is the real sacrificial American lamb that is the result of GM's executive suite. Wagoner can contemplate that from a million dollar perch during his retirement while all across America everyone else tries to figure out how to pay the mortgage and put food on the table.
Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.