GM’s Chairman Speaks

“When the chance to lead GM surfaced, I thought about it, long and hard.

“When the chance to lead GM surfaced, I thought about it, long and hard. In the end, I said yes because I believe deeply that America needs a strong, vibrant auto industry. I believe this iconic company needs to lead it. And I want to do my part to make that a reality.

“There is just too much at stake for the country. The auto industry is critical to our economy, providing or supporting more than 4.7 million jobs.

“More than anyone else, domestic manufacturers are committed to a healthy U.S. supply base, and we invest billions in American companies.

“U.S. automakers have developed and perfected many of the nation’s advanced manufacturing concepts.

“And, we are a great source of philanthropic support for untold numbers of organizations and initiatives across the country.

“So, this industry is a powerful force for economic growth, technological innovation and, quite frankly, American pride.

“My goal in taking this job was pretty simple. I wanted to help return GM to its position as a global leader in the automobile industry.”

--GM chairman Ed Whitacre, November 10, 2009, Texas Lutheran University

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You may have seen Mr. Whitacre on those “May the Best Car Win” ads running on TV. No, he’s not the guy with the brushcut and wire-rimmed specs. That’s Howie Long.

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After Whitacre retired from AT&T he taught for a while at Texas Lutheran University before answering the call to become chairman of GM.

Many of the points in that excerpt from his speech are laudable. Like the acknowledgement of the auto industry to the overall health of the U.S. economy. But what about that claim about the commitment to the healthy U.S. supply base, when the Planning Perspectives studies of OEM-supplier relations over the past several years have shown that the domestic OEMs have the lousiest relationships, borne, in large part, by their historic beating suppliers down on prices (a.k.a., “cost-downs”). This is not to say that the likes of Toyota and Honda don’t do that, but apparently their way of working with the suppliers to reduce costs is more two-way, less of a “my way or the highway.”

And arguably the “advanced manufacturing concepts” he’s referring to are, simply, the Toyota Production System, which Toyota has openly shared with everyone in the world. In fact, one could make the case that if there is actually a U.S. automaker that has done in the manufacturing process arena, it would be Ford, as Henry Ford most certainly changed manufacturing as it had been known.

Here’s hoping that Whitacre and his team get the job done. But here’s also hoping that he realizes that his competitors are simply operating as global competitors, which he says he wants GM to be.

Game on.