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Why GM Matters: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon Hardcover – February 3, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; First Edition edition (February 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802717187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802717184
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,780,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

General Motors once dominated the auto industry, garnering more than 50 percent of the U.S. market share, but complacency, health-care costs, and competition from more efficient Japanese companies have all contributed to a dramatic decline. When GM CEO Rick Wagoner asked for a federal “bridge loan” of $25 billion for the big three automakers, the reception was anything but warm. Holstein, author of Manage the Media (2008), takes a look beyond the sound bites to reveal a car company struggling to meet high-tech standards while fighting for its very existence. Holstein argues that GM is worth saving because for every manufacturing job, there are 10 jobs throughout the whole chain of suppliers that also serve Ford and Chrysler; thus, a GM failure could mean the collapse of the entire auto industry. Holstein’s defense of GM makes sense at a time when the company is about to begin production of a fuel-efficient, plug-in hybrid, a critical bridge to U.S. energy independence. --David Siegfried

Review

“General Motors once dominated the auto industry, garnering more than 50 percent of the U.S. market share, but complacency, health-care costs, and competition from more efficient Japanese companies have all contributed to a dramatic decline. When GM CEO Rick Wagoner asked for a federal “bridge loan” of $25 billion for the big three automakers, the reception was anything but warm. Holstein, author of Manage the Media (2008), takes a look beyond the sound bites to reveal a car company struggling to meet high-tech standards while fighting for its very existence. Holstein argues that GM is worth saving because for every manufacturing job, there are 10 jobs throughout the whole chain of suppliers that also serve Ford and Chrysler; thus a GM failure could mean the collapse of the entire auto industry. Holstein’s defense of GM makes sense at a time when the company is about to begin production of a fuel-efficient, plug-in hybrid, a critical bridge to U.S. energy independence.”

— Booklist

 

“At a time when GM and the domestic auto industry are in acute crisis, this book makes sense of what has happened--and what should happen next. Bill Holstein is an extremely knowledgeable and perceptive journalist, and his book is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of the American auto industry.”

— Alex Taylor, Fortune

 

“Holstein makes a compelling argument that the business model has changed dramatically - that Wagoner and other GM executives do get it - but by his own account the changes came far too late, and took far too long to implement.”

— Dan Calabrese, New York Post

Customer Reviews

After reading this book I am sure you will agree with its title "Why GM Matters."
Kiley R. Reid
This book would have been much more relevant if it was published in Q1 of 08; in Q1 of 09, events have overtaken the details he presents.
Ursa Major
He walks us through General Motor's rich history and how it became an iconic U.S. corporation.
Peter A. Galuszka

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Ursa Major on February 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The transformation of GM (and Ford under Alan Mullaly) in the last few years has been extraordinary, as Wagoner and team have changed a resistant corporate culture, reduced costs, vastly improved quality, and fought entrenched customer perceptions formed by two decades of poor domestic product. The author gives a good narrative of a number of these aspects. Unfortunately, the overall book is flawed enough that I came away disappointed.

The first problem is one outside the author's control - the world has changed for most people and companies in the last several months, including the domestic auto manufacturers - GM's Herculean efforts may end up being too little, too late. This book would have been much more relevant if it was published in Q1 of 08; in Q1 of 09, events have overtaken the details he presents. GM's survival is now contingent on macro issues outside its own control. The author tries to be timely and includes details from as late as December '08, but it's clear that the rapid unfolding of events over a matter of months have impacted a story that was likely researched over a matter of years.

Second, the book is a bit too much of a Wagoner-worshiping puff piece. Everyone at GM is smart, Wagoner's a great guy with impeccable wisdom and people skills, the selection of inside players he presents are all committed to change, quality, globalization, diversity, etc. The only opposing view is an interview with cranky Jerry Flint from Forbes magazine. Holstein accurately presents Flint's views, but obviously doesn't agree. A corollary issue is the repeated "Rick Wagoner told me.." and "in a 2005 conversation with Wagoner, he expressed..", etc., etc.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John Mccarrier on December 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The price of ongoing access to high level GM corporate officials and mid-level managers for this author is treating them and their company gently in your book. Holstein spends most of the book arguing that GM is made up of bright, competent, hard working people who deserve a chance to succeed. He points out that they are finally listening to their critics, implementing neat ideas like OnStar, building neat cars like the new Cadillacs, and finally building higher quality cars.

In addition to being too easy on Rick Wagoner, the author chooses to minimize decades of gross mismanagement. He glosses over the expensive strategic errors made by GM executives like their aborted alliance with Fiat and the purchases and sales of shares of various Japanese manufacturers. Instead he characterizes management errors by highlighting tactics like using cheaper upholstery material.

This book needs a lot more data and a fewer conversations with executives and department managers in manufacturing plants.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on February 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I would like to see G.M. succeed, but Holstein fails to make the case that it should. Too much ink is taken up with little personal stories of long-time employees, and very little devoted to any sort of business case. Nonetheless, the book does provide some interesting background.

When G.M.'s leadership was appealing for government support in November, 2008, its share of the U.S. market was down from almost 51% in 1962 to 22.4%, and it was headed for bankruptcy. After receiving $13.4 billion in federal aid, it posted a $30.9 billion loss for 2008, reduced cash reserves by $6.2 billion during the last quarter, and requested $16.6 billion more for 2009, as well as additional support from Canada, Germany, Britain, Sweden, and Thailand.

G.M.'s retiree health ($7 billion/year) and pension expenses have given its vehicles a $1,500 cost disadvantage, and to reduce this it negotiated a $1 billion reduction in health costs in October, 2008, and later shifted health care costs off its books through funding a $55 billion amount to be administered by the UAW. Other cost reductions include a two-tiered hourly pay scale, with new employees hired at $15/hour to replace those retiring at $28/hour, closing factories, and laying off salaried workers. It also sold off its GMAC financing arm and Delphi parts-maker, though the latter still has expensive obligations linked back to G.M. Holstein reports that costs will decrease by $5,000/car in 2010.

Prior improvements include reducing 77 hourly job classifications to 2, consolidating its prior 20 purchasing operations and 7 manufacturing units, improving quality, cutting assembling hours/vehicle from about 2X Japanese plants in the U.S. to about 5% higher in 2002.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Peter A. Galuszka on February 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Bill Holstein has written an excellent assessment of America's biggest car maker. This neat, tight little book is stuffed with penetrating reporting and useful insight. Moreover, it is a brave book since it charges into a tumultuous, uncertain situation without the comforts that historians normally enjoy. In a spare 267 pages, Holstein puts his neck on the line knowing full well that this isn't a blog post that he can go back to later and update.

Holstein's years as a business journalist covering the auto industry in the U.S. and in Asia are clearly evident. He walks us through General Motor's rich history and how it became an iconic U.S. corporation. GM evolved into the corporation model for the 20th Century with hundreds of thousands of workers, complex management systems and extensive benefits that remain tremendous financial burdens. Holstein takes us all around from design laboratories to the assembly line floors. He quickly lets us know in detail how GM stumbled and was overtaken by Japanese competitors and how GM sought a comeback by chucking sideline electronics companies and turning its manufacturing processes upside down.

It is easy to trash GM these days and to Holstein's credit, he doesn't fall into any such trap. He notes how GM management came to realize in the 1990s just how far behind they had fallen and how they had to reinvent themselves. Was it entirely successful? Obviously not, since GM is close to bankruptcy. But consider the facts. GM really did improve the quality of its products. For example, I had shunned American cars when I got out of college in the 1970s. When I came back from an overseas assignment in 1996 and bought a Chevrolet Blazer, I was stunned at how much better made it was than GM cars had been years before.
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