Every so often a General Motors' truck owner forwards me their story regarding problems with brake line rust, a problem that executives at GM refuse to acknowledge. One recent such correspondence tells of one of the highest repair bills that I have heard of relating to corrosion and failed brake lines. Repairs were made to the vehicle after the owner narrowly avoided an accident as a result of failed brakes due to the corroded brake lines.
It must be difficult for the Mom and Pop investor to make sense of General Motors' recent earnings announcement and subsequent drop in share price. On Thursday morning, GM reported earnings that were trumpeted as being "impressive" by one major financial TV network. In fact, early in the day, headlines at the network stated that the entire market was being driven higher by strong earnings at GM and Caterpillar. That hyperbole came into question when GM share price dropped about 3% on a day that the broader markets were strong.
Environmentally conscientious, wealthy car enthusiasts are in luck! The much-hyped "D" unveiling came last week as Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, presented what appears to be a very impressive version of its plug-in Model S electric car called the P85D. Boasting 691 horsepower, 687 ft/lb of torque, AWD and a blazing 3.2 second zero to sixty time, the new rich peoples' toy is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $120,000. In fact, the car is so darn impressive that the only obvious question is why in the world do we need to give the affluent purchasers of cars like this a federal tax credit of $7,500 each?
Cadillac sales continue to sputter at General Motors. In fact, the brand is the only make at GM that has seen a year over year sales decline for the period ending in September at a time when the auto industry was booming. Specifically, Cadillac has logged in 127,837 sales for the first nine months of 2014 compared to 133,414 in 2013 for a sales decline of 4.2 percent. GM will now offer frequent flyer miles to help spur sales at the division.
A special inspector general report on compensation for executives at General Motors and Ally Financial blasts the Treasury Department for allowing excessive pay at the companies as taxpayers lost billions of dollars on the auto bailouts. The watchdog group issuing the report monitors the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which was set up to save financial corporations deemed "too big to fail" due to systemic risk to America's financial system. The program was expanded to allow for the bailing out of the auto industry, despite the questionable use of funds specifically designated for financial institutions.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) faced some of its heaviest criticism to date last week on Capitol Hill. Hearings addressing the failings of the agency were headed by Senator Claire McCaskill and centered around NHTSA's part in General Motors' deadly ignition switch recall delay. The death toll (currently at 20) continues to rise as a result of GM and NHTSA allowing the dangerously defective vehicles to remain on the roads for about 10 years from when the problem was first recognized. While the criticism of NHTSA is well-deserved, it is past time for harsh words to be accompanied by an overhaul of the agency.
It's official. Chrysler has now completely merged with Italian auto maker, Fiat. It had taken a bit over five years for Fiat to gain total control of the bailed out, once-American Chrysler Corporation. Back in June of 2009, President Obama gifted (payment was made in the form of "technology") an initial 20% stake in Chrysler to Fiat as part of his orchestrated auto bailout process. Fiat parlayed that into full ownership and is now showing its gratitude to the American taxpayers who helped fund the deal by relocating Chrysler's headquarters to London; a move which will lessen the company's corporate tax rate.
It has now been over six months since General Motors finally recalled vehicles with a known deadly ignition switch defect. The defect was attributed with being the cause of accidents that resulted in at least 13 deaths. The Wall Street Journal now reports that only 34% of the recalled vehicles have been fixed.
GM has taken $3.4 billion in charges and losses on the past two earnings' reports for all of their recalls, despite the fact that most of the recalled vehicles have yet to be repaired. The most questionable part of GM's charges come from the first quarter's earnings' report.
General Motors continues to deny that it has a safety problem with brake lines that are prone to corrosion in as few as five or six years. Thousands of owners of GM trucks and SUVs have complained of failing brakes due to brake lines bursting from the rust problem. One of these owners, Joe Palumbo from Pennsylvania, has made it a quest (see his website here) to expose the safety defect, thus far to little avail. GM's latest response to Mr. Palumbo includes an implied admission that the company has been using inferior quality brake lines in its vehicles.
Two years ago, in August 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department issued its so-called "sweep" rule forcing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to surrender all future profits. Shareholders were angered. Some sued the government. Their displeasure now has a measure of vindication. Near the end of July, an unnamed source leaked a confidential Treasury document (see pdf) to the public, dated June 13, 2011, showing that the department was willing to go to bat on behalf of outside investors, particularly The Blackstone Group, to facilitate purchases of equity stakes in the companies. At the time, Fannie and Freddie were rebounding from a deep slump, yet their management, under tight federal conservatorship since September 2008, had their hands tied. The latest revelations may strengthen the claims of existing shareholders, and more broadly, the cause of property rights.