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Thursday, November 7, 2013

BK + Five Years

Automotive News has a retrospective with brief quotes from various participants. Let me briefly mention three that I found thoughtful despite the brevity imposed by the 2-page layout.

First, Mike Jackson of AutoNation notes the severity of the situation, with the possibility of a precipitous bankruptcy cascading across the economy: "We were at times within 24 hours of everything we knew being swept away." It is easy to forget exactly how dire things were, because of the interconnected nature of the supplier chain, and feed-on effects to the financial sector.

Second, John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai American Motor, notes that car companies are wholesalers, so that when dealers stop buying cars, even at a comparatively healthy company "our cash flow began to get precipitously low" despite negotiating expensive one-off deals with banks to butress their position. But his snippet focuses on the interconnected nature of dealerships, as many of their 800 stores also had GM and Chrysler franchises. That parallel with the supply chain is easy to overlook.

Years back I read Krafcik's 1988 MIT master's thesis. He was a GM employee seconded to the now-shuttered NUMMI joint venture with Toyota, and coined the phrase "lean production" in a paper that later formed one piece of the 1990 IMVP book Machine That Chained the World.

Third, and not least is a short note by Shelly Lombard, an automotive analyst.

It wasn't really a surprise. It didn't mean the company wasn't viable, but it was just clear that this thing needed to be restructure. ... Companies don't go into bankruptcy because the earnings are bad. They go into bankruptcy when they run out of cash.

And of course "GM was blowing through cash" and [unlike Ford] had not mortgaged the company in advance of the crisis to create a cushion. "...so you knew the wheels were about to come off the car."

Mike Smitka