Monday Jun 01 2009
Once-mighty General Motors bankrupt
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
Auburn ‘Car Czar’ says ‘Industry has finally caught up with its mistakes’
By Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.” Chevy owner John Knierim recalled the General Motors TV jingle while in the shadow Monday of the corporation’s move into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And Knierim said he’s crossing his fingers that there one day will be a re-emergence of the once-dominant auto industry player. Knierim is a dyed-in-the-Naugahyde Chevy owner who can be seen driving around Auburn in a stock 1955 Chevy hardtop. “It’s not good the way it is right now – it’s a big part of America,” Knierim said. “But I think they’ll come back.” Hammered by the worst financial slump since the Great Depression, GM follows smaller rival Chrysler into Chapter 11 protection. Both Chrysler and Chevy dealerships in Auburn remain open. Doug Brauner, whose “Car Czar” program appears Saturdays on Auburn’s KAHI radio, said it’s a sad day for him because his father was a GM factory worker. “But it wasn’t unpredictable,” Brauner said. “Twenty years ago I had discussions with my dad on this. Essentially, the industry has finally caught up with its mistakes.” For GM-product owners in the foothills, Brauner said the impact of the move into bankruptcy protection should be negligible, with sales, service and parts still available. “Further out, less cars will be available from a company that calls itself GM and consumers will be looking differently at a corporation once the biggest of the big,” Brauner said. GM’s bankruptcy filing is the fourth largest in U.S. history and the largest ever for an industrial company, The Associated Press reported. The company said it has $173 billion in debt and $82 billion in assets. Alta’s Steve Dominguez knows a little about auto companies that have fallen on hard times. He’s recently restored a 1950 Studebaker Starlight coupe. Dominguez also has a soft spot for GM. “It’s just a family tradition,” Dominguez said. “GM has always been a lower-priced car for the masses. My dad never had a Ford and I love GM cars. Their styling is always better.” Will GM survive and flourish one day – not like the Studebaker corporation that eventually went out of business in the 1960s? “I think they will,” Dominguez said. Bob Butler, owner of Historic Highway 40 Auto Care on Auburn’s Lincoln Way, said he’s worked on plenty of GM cars. While some GM vehicles are very good – he has one customer with more than 400,000 miles on a 1999 Tahoe pickup – there are others that have lost the corporation customers by being unreliable and costly to maintain, he said. “I’m not surprised by the whole downturn,” Butler said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.