The No-Fail Business Model Fails

Richard Shelby and Bob Corker like to squawk about how the Big Two and a Half have a failed business model as compared to the wonderful Japanese automakers.

Funny. I thought successful business models were profitable.

Toyota Motor will lose money in its core automaking business for the first time in 70 years this fiscal year, the company said Monday, in a sign of how the global economic crisis is hurting even the mightiest carmakers.

I raise this not to gloat over Toyota’s misfortune, but to point to some of the issues behind Toyota’s setbacks this year. Of course, there’s the collapse in the US auto market, which, because it’s so large, devastates everyone’s global success.

They have also suffered from the recent steep declines in United States auto sales. In November, Toyota saw its sales drop 33.9 percent and Honda Motor 31.6 percent, faring just slightly better than G.M.’s 41 percent decline.

This is a particular problem for Toyota, because the US is usually its most profitable market (by comparison, I’m guessing that China remains GM’s most profitable market).

The carmaker’s sales in the U.S., traditionally its most profitable market, plunged 34 percent in November.


“Japan’s economy has never weaned itself off of the overbearing reliance on exports, and especially to the U.S.,” said Kirby Daley, senior strategist and head of capital introductions at Newedge Group. “Japan did nothing to prepare itself” for the collapse in demand from abroad. 

Go here for more details about everyone’s dismal November.

Then, there’s particularly strategic decisions that exposed Toyota to a greater degree than other Japanese manufacturers–notably, its attempt to expand its market share in one of America’s traditionally most profitable segments.

Toyota has been seen as the most vulnerable of Japan’s big automakers because it had been investing heavily in new products, including a full-sized pickup truck for the United States market, just when auto sales started to fall.

But I thought only those failed business model American companies built trucks?!?! Toyota idled its Tundra plant for three months this year, and backed off its attempts to cut into the F150 and Silverado market share.

Finally, though, with the weakness of the Euro and dollar compared to the yen, Toyota’s now on the wrong side of globalized currency exchange, Read more

Killing GM in the Guise of Saving It

Several articles out this morning make it look like the Bush Administration is planning on "helping" GM by dismantling it softly and breaking the union, all with no apparent focus to making it viable again.

First, there’s this story suggesting that Bush may ask for the same concessions as Corker demanded last week.

Over the weekend, analyst Brian Johnson of Barclays Capital issued a report suggesting that the White House may still demand some significant concessions from the United Auto Workers as a condition of any short-term financial aid.

"Based on comments on the CBS show Face the Nation this Sunday morning by Senators Corker (R-Tenn.) and Levin (D-Mich.), we believe it is highly likely that the White House bailout may impose many of the same conditions Senator Corker insisted upon on Thursday in his attempt to forge a compromise," Johnson said.

That amendment would have required General Motors, Chrysler, the UAW and bondholders to replace half of the companies VEBA contributions with stock, eliminate the jobs banks and buyouts and agree to competitive wages, benefits and work rules by March 31 or be forced into bankruptcy court. Johnson has advocated many of the same provisions in his roadmap for a GM turnaround.

Note, once again, the silence about concessions from dealers?

Yesterday, Carl Levin gave similar warnings that the Bush Administration–which refused to even place compensation limits in TARP that Wall Street bankers couldn’t drive an Escalade through–is going to place real demands on GM and Chrysler.

And meanwhile, just by coinkydink, Bank of America is calculating how much money GM would need to fund bankruptcy proceedings.

GM may need around $30 billion in debtor-in-possession loans, which are used to pay for a company’s operating expenses as it restructures under bankruptcy protection, Bank of America analysts said in a report issued late on Friday.

The $30 billion represents around two times GM’s working capital, with an additional $10 billion cushion for further earnings hits and to fund suppliers, the bank said.

GM had $36 billion in long-term debt as of September 30, according to a regulatory filing.

To support GM, and the industry, the government will need to lend funds to support the company in bankruptcy rather than out of bankruptcy, as that is the only way to ensure the government has the most senior claim on the automaker’s assets, the bank added. Read more

It’s Your Local Car Dealer’s Fault that a Congressional Auto Bill Failed

The NYT, never an institution to quit when it’s behind, continues its crappy reporting on the auto crisis. In today’s installment, Micheline Maynard uncritically regurgitates GOP spin on why the auto bill failed last night, buying the GOP claim that it’s the UAW’s fault that Congress couldn’t give the auto companies a loan.

Opponents of a Congressional bailout for Detroit auto companies laid blame for its defeat Friday on the United Automobile workers union, which refused to agree to grant wage concessions in 2009 as a condition of the deal.

The entire article continues by totally misrepresenting the reason the UAW refused the GOP "deal."

Representatives for the union, which had already accepted a series of cuts in its current contract, sought instead to push any more concessions back to 2011, when the U.A.W.’s contract with Detroit auto companies expires.

Um, no. As the quotes included in the article make clear, the problem wasn’t starting concessions now. The problem was completing them by an arbitrary date within the next year. 

In a statement Thursday night, the union said it was “prepared to agree that any restructuring plan should ensure that the wages and benefits of workers at the domestic automakers should be competitive with those paid by the foreign transplants. But we also recognized that this would take time to work out and implement” using programs like buyouts and early retirement offers to bring in new workers at lower rates.

“Unfortunately, Senate Republicans insisted that this had to be accomplished by an arbitrary deadline,” the statement said.


Mr. Corker said he proposed that wages and benefits of U.A.W. members be competitive with lower rates at American plants run by foreign rivals — Toyota, Honda, Nissan and B.M.W. — during 2009, and offered the union the opportunity to pick the date next year when the changes, which would be certified by the Labor Department, could be put in place.

See?!?! A deadline–and end point, not a beginning point. (And never mind that you could get mired in the question of what "competitive" means for that entire year.)

Maynard’s big problem, though, is in ignoring the underlying point: the UAW was the only stake-holder being asked to accept such a deadline.

Read more

Hysteria over a $15 Billion Loan, But Not $285 Billion in Takeovers?

Man, the NYT’s pathetically bad reporting on the auto bridge loan continues.

David Sanger writes a story purporting to be news that presents a loan to the auto industry–with conditions–as a crisis of capitalism of epic proportions.

But what Mr. Obama went on to describe was a long-term bailout that would be conditioned on federal oversight. It could mean that the government would mandate, or at least heavily influence, what kind of cars companies make, what mileage and environmental standards they must meet and what large investments they are permitted to make — to recreate an industry that Mr. Obama said “actually works, that actually functions.”

It all sounds perilously close to a word that no one in Mr. Obama’s camp wants to be caught uttering: nationalization.

Not since Harry Truman seized America’s steel mills in 1952 rather than allow a strike to imperil the conduct of the Korean War has Washington toyed with nationalization, or its functional equivalent, on this kind of scale. Mr. Obama may be thinking what Mr. Truman told his staff: “The president has the power to keep the country from going to hell.” (The Supreme Court thought differently and forced Mr. Truman to relinquish control.)

The fact that there is so little protest in the air now — certainly less than Mr. Truman heard — reflects the desperation of the moment. But it is a strategy fraught with risks.

The first, of course, is the one the president-elect himself highlighted. Government’s record as a corporate manager is miserable, which is why the world has been on a three-decade-long privatization kick, turning national railroads, national airlines and national defense industries into private companies.

The second risk is that if the effort fails, and the American car companies collapse or are auctioned off in pieces to foreign competitors, taxpayers may lose the billions about to be spent.

And the third risk — one barely discussed so far — is that in trying to save the nation’s carmakers, the United States is violating at least the spirit of what it has preached around the world for two decades. The United States has demanded that nations treat American companies on their soil the same way they treat their home-grown industries, a concept called “national treatment.” [my emphasis]

"Not since Truman," Sanger writes, "has Washington toyed with nationalization."

"Not since Truman," that is, so long as you ignore the very recent nationalizations of AIG, Fannie, and Freddie.

Read more

The (Draft) Auto Bridge Loan Plan

Here’s a copy of the draft plan. It closely resembles what we’ve been hearing: the designation of an "auto czar" (AC–though it is called a President’s Designee) who will dispense funds to those auto companies that need it, with the requirement that by March 31, the companies restructure with the oversight of the AC. The AC is empowered to assist in negotiations with retirees, unions, dealers, and creditors right now, but can come back to Congress and ask for more authority if need be (presumably, in case this person had to make bankruptcy court type decisions). The taxpayers get warrants and or a piece of Cerberus in exchange for their trouble.

Note, the AC must be picked by the first of the year. In other words, George Bush, not Barack Obama, will get to choose the AC.

Here are the other interesting details:

There’s one clause which I’ve dubbed the "Nancy Pelosi clause" requiring the car companies to drop their suits against increased emissions standards in CA and other states:

(g) WITHDRAWAL FROM CERTAIN ACTIONS.—The terms of any financial assistance under this Act shall prohibit the eligible automobile manufacturer from participating in, pursuing, funding, or supporting in any way, any legal challenge (existing or contemplated) to State laws concerning greenhouse gas emission standards.

And there’s a clause which I’ve dubbed the "Atrios clause" requiring car companies to consider moving some of their SUV capacity into producing transit vehicles:

(a) IN GENERAL.—Each eligible automobile manufacturer which receives financial assistance under this Act shall conduct an analysis of potential uses of any excess production capacity (especially those of former sport utility vehicle producers) to make vehicles for sale to public transit agencies, including—

(1) the current and projected demand for bus and rail cars by American public transit agencies;

(2) the potential growth for both sales and supplies to such agencies in the short, medium, and long term;

(3) a description of existing ”Buy America” provisions, and data provided by the Federal Transit Administration regarding the use or request of waivers from such provisions; and

And there’s a provision I’ll call the "Delta/Northwest clause" which requires the car makers to get rid of their corporate planes:

Read more

Dan Quayle and Cerberus Holding American Economy Hostage


(Graphic by twolf)

Chris Dodd has signaled that he will let Dan Quayle’s Cerberus hold GM–and the American economy– hostage to get out of its crappy gambling bets.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd said General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Richard Wagoner should be replaced as a condition of federal aid and Chrysler LLC may have to merge to survive.


“Chrysler, is, I think, basically gone, probably ought to be merged,” Dodd said. Ford Motor Co. is the healthiest domestic automaker, he said.

Chris Dodd is right: Chrysler undoubtedly has to merge to survive. That’s partly because it does not have the global reach of GM and Ford. Because GM and Ford have significant sales in China and India and other quickly growing markets (which have been netting much higher profits), they can offset lower profits or even losses here in the States. But Chrysler doesn’t have that, so it can’t become profitable–across all its operations–as quickly as GM or Ford can. 

Chrysler also doesn’t have the product development pipeline its domestic competitors do. Ford has had increasing success of late offering either new US models on Mazda or Volvo chassis (like the Fusion, which competes well in quality and safety with the Accord and Camry), or bringing successful European models to the US (Focus in the past, and Fiesta and Mondeo in the near future). GM has the new Malibu (which is also gaining market share in the sedan segment), with the Cruze and Volt in the works (as well as any Opel models it decides to bring to the US, though the threats to shut down Saturn don’t bode well on that front). Chrysler’s got nothing equivalent. 

But understand: GM acquiring Chrysler–which is the most discussed option–offers little benefit to GM. Sure, the merged company would get to sell either the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit or Chrysler’s fairly new digs up north; you could find efficiencies in headquarter structure (if you were a healthy company to begin with). But everyone agrees that two of GM’s most urgent problems are that it has too many brands and too many dealerships. And you want to fix that by making it take on 3,300 more dealers and three more brands? This is Congress’ idea of a really smart restructuring?

Making a Chrysler bailout contingent on GM’s acquisition of it is two things. First, a refusal to do the most logical thing with it, nationalization. Read more

Did Bob Corker Just Cause GM to Lose 10% of Its Value on Inaccurate Information?

picture-61.pngBob Corker is very busy trying to force the Big Two and a Half into bankruptcy so he can bust the UAW. He’s using all the regular methods–arguing about GM’s failed business model, arguing that they haven’t changed their business plan.

But he went over the line, earlier, when he stated that the Department of Energy had rejected all the Big Two and a Half’s applications for DOE funds to retool their factories to produce more efficient cars. Basically, he took the opportunity of the hearing to announce, publicly, that the companies weren’t going to get $3 to $7 billion they were counting on to turn around their business. He even suggested that the applications were rejected because they weren’t viable companies.

Only, he was wrong.

Funny thing is, though, the stock market didn’t wait until Sherrod Brown came in and corrected Corker–by noting that the DOE had not rejected the applications, but had simply asked for more information. And it didn’t wait until Corker himself–having been called by the guy awarding those loans–admitted that he was wrong. (Though, dead-ender that he is, Corker still tried to insinuate that they applications were rejected, rather than sent back for more clarification.)

Not long after Corker made those remarks, GM’s stock price dropped from $4.44 to $4.27. And then it dropped again, from $4.27 to $4.02. $.42 altogether, all shortly after Corker insinuated false things about government decisions in a widely and closely watched hearing.

I know that $.42 might not be much to you, Bob Corker. I know you’re working hard to bankrupt these companies.

But it really is rather bad form to take out 10% of a company’s stock price just so you can make an ideological point.