- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

It took an economic calamity to finally send General Motors into the financial tailspin from which it will emerge as a much smaller and less consequential player in the automotive business.

But who cares as GM sinks into bankruptcy? There will still be cars and trucks built by other firms to purchase and drive. Life could go on without GM.

This kind of thinking could lead to disastrous economic consequences, which might worsen the current financial crisis we are in and forever condemn this country to playing second fiddle in an important segment of worldwide manufacturing.

In a recently published book, “Why GM Matters: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon,” veteran business writer William J. Holstein details how Detroit’s auto giant lost its way. More importantly, he explains how crucial mistakes were made by a parade of flawed managers. Despite these blunders, Mr. Holstein suggests that GM really has the products that can bring the company back to profitability again.

Mr. Holstein doesn’t sugarcoat the huge blunders made by a succession of CEOs who presided over the erosion of GM’s market share - once more than 50 percent of the U.S. market. GM CEOs moved too slowly to counter the threat of Asian and European competitors, whose products excelled in performance and quality, providing U.S. car buyers with an alternative to Detroit’s vehicles.

The 254-page book, published by Walker & Co., introduces us to GM engineers, designers and workers who make up the heart and soul of the corporation. The author tells how these people have the passion to make GM rise from the ashes.

He introduces us to executives such as Ed Welburn,GM’s top designer, presiding over a worldwide chain of studios that turned out the splendid Chevrolet Malibu, Cadillac CTS and the new 2010 Chevrolet Camaro.

Mr. Holstein also tells of Chet Huber, a locomotive salesman who created OnStar, GM’s innovative and unrivaled communications service. Millions of GM vehicles now come with OnStar, providing everything from potentially lifesaving emergency communications and navigation directions to dinner reservations at four-star restaurants for motorists.

Mr. Holstein also previews the Chevrolet Volt, the electric car that could transform GM into a worldwide leader in the new breed of vehicles that will reduce dependence on imported petroleum. That’s because the Volt will have the ability to propel drivers for 40 miles solely on electricity.

Most drivers don’t travel more than 40 miles per day, so they wouldn’t have to fill their gas tanks for weeks, or months, at a time. Instead, they would plug in to household current to recharge the Volt’s lithium-ion battery pack overnight. GM is racing against Toyota for supremacy in this new segment and has a good chance of finishing first.

Events are moving rapidly since Mr. Holstein’s book was published some weeks back. Saturn and Hummer are in the process of being sold. Pontiac will join Oldsmobile on the scrap heap. Rick Wagoner, who is extensively profiled in the book, was ousted as GM’s chairman by the Obama administration. Because it has loaned GM about $50 billion, the government now owns 60 percent of the auto firm.

Before President Obama’s government oversight committee forces GM to make additional moves, they should read this book and avoid the same mistake made by Mr. Wagoner and other executives who ran GM into the ground in the first place.

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