The past month has brought much confusion and concern for General Motors' shareholders regarding the most important and profitable segment of sales for the company. As the company prepares to report earnings for the third quarter this week, media reports are still unclear on just what is going on with GM's new truck lineup; specifically pertaining to the reasons behind the disappointing sales figures that were reported for the month of September when Ford's truck offerings left them in the dust.
It looks like General Motors is going through an identity crisis as its marketing strategy has flip-flopped by changing its targeted audience. The new General Motors' truck ad, "Strong," targets conservatives by honoring a heroic and manly GM truck buyer with lyrics that describe him as a "love one woman for all his life" type of guy who arrived at work on time for twenty straight years. The rugged, heterosexual identity of today's GM differs greatly from last year's politically correct version when the company won praise for running a "gay" Chevy Volt ad and for flying rainbow banners to celebrate America's sexual diversity.
A consumer survey taken last week on behalf of the National Legal and Policy Center confirms that public disapproval of the auto bailout continues to dog General Motors, and is likely hurting pickup truck sales, a highly profitable segment of its line.
When 500 consumers in Texas were asked, "Would your decision to buy a specific brand of truck be influenced by whether that company received financial assistance from the federal government?," 40.08% answered "absolutely." Another 11.75% responded "very likely," and 10.60% responded "likely." Thus, more than 60% said that the bailout would have some influence on their decision.
One of the most disappointing aspects of last week's sales results from General Motors was the underperformance of the much-hyped new truck offerings from the company. While the industry-leading Ford F-Series saw sales increase about 10 percent to around 60,500 vehicles for the month, GM's combined sales for its competing Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra fell approximately 8 percent to about 46,000 units.
All too often, maintaining an enterprise, especially a new one, depends on knowing the right people in government from whom to acquire favors. Such an arrangement has come to be known as "cronyism." And it justifiably has its critics. Among them are Randall Holcombe and Andrea Castillo, authors of a brief, but potent and timely new book, "Liberalism and Cronyism: Two Rival Political and Economic Systems," published by the Mercatus Center, a think tank affiliated with George Mason University. Holcombe, a Florida State University economics professor, and Castillo, a Mercatus associate, view cronyism as the antithesis of liberalism.
General Motors reported unimpressive sales results for the month of September as sales fell 11%. Core division, Chevrolet, performed the worst with sales down almost 15% year over year. Within that division, sales for the much-hyped Chevy Volt could not even be propped up with its recent $5,000 price cut as results declined to a measly 1,766 units (less than one per dealership) in September. That is a decline of over 38% year over year and just over half of what sold in the previous month.
We now have had some time to digest the groundbreaking news from General Motors that it is working on a "Tesla-Killer" electric car that will get 200 miles on a charge and cost about $30,000. The most obvious takeaway is that the news is more unfounded green hype from GM, something that they have been guilty of in the past when they over-promised on the Chevy Volt. The best indicator of how serious a challenge to Tesla the new report really is would be found in Tesla's share price, which has gone from about $165 a share at the time of the news to the current price at around $185. While that barometer would give the indication that GM is once again exaggerating the potential for its latest green miracle car, let's assume that the technology to develop a car that goes 200 miles on an electric charge at a price of $30,000 really is not too far off.
The internet has been abuzz with stories about General Motors competing with Tesla by offering a vehicle that will get 200 miles on an electric charge and cost only $30,000. One headline even declared that GM might be the winner of the competition with the title reading, "GM Takes on Tesla- and Just Might Win." The only problem is that the car being hyped does not even exist. Nor may it ever.
It looks like General Motors is attempting to make up for the money it loses on every Chevy Volt in volume as August sales, spurred by recent price cuts, reached an all-time high of 3,351. The fact that the car has been on the market for about three years and initial much-hyped proclamations from GM would have put sales at 20,000 per month by now goes unrecognized by those that think 3,351 vehicles is a lot of cars to sell in a month. To put the sales in perspective, it took Toyota about 2 ½ days to sell that many Camrys with August sales coming in at 44,731. Fortunately for taxpayers, Volt sales are nowhere near those figures. The 3,351 Volt sales came at the expense of over $25 million dollars of federal subsidies.
The auto industry, including Detroit manufacturers, reported strong sales numbers for the month of August. Sales for the industry rang in at pre-recession levels hitting over 16 million units on an annualized basis. While General Motors got its fair share of the wealth, one unusual tactic to drive sales stands out. That is the use of "stair-step" incentives which are paid to dealerships in the month following the reported sales.