It was the day before Presidents’ Day last week when GM announced it was retiring its Australian marque Holden, almost three years to the day after it said it was planning to dump out of Europe. That leaves the General almost completely reliant on just three markets: North and South America and East Asia.
GM also said it would be dropping Chevy out of the Thailand market, a hub for its pickup trucks that aren’t full-sizers, while it sells away an entire plant there. Its offerings in Japan mirror what it offers now in Europe: Camaro, Corvette, and some Cadillacs, making it a niche competitor at most. This is all very deliberate, as GM seeks to rely less on volume and more on the cars and markets where it actually makes money. Still, it’s hard not to see it in terms of a broader retrenchment.
This is the “a car for every purse and purpose” company. It’s not Niche Motors. It’s General Motors.
It was just over a decade ago that GM was the biggest carmaker in the world, as it had been for 80 years before Toyota took its crown in 2008, later also being surpassed Volkswagen. That changing of the guard was inevitable given the recession back then and GM’s subsequent near-death experience, but in more recent times almost everything the General has done suggests that it doesn’t even aspire to be the world’s biggest carmaker anymore.
Instead, it has focused more on electrification and self-driving technology. The problem is that it doesn’t do either of those things particularly well. The Bolt and Volt have been mediocre, while the electric Hummer looks like it mightend up being too little too late, even if GM says it’s just the start of its electric truck program. More promising has been GM’s autonomous efforts, with Cadillac’s Super Cruise being decent enough and, finally, also being deployed in cars you might actually buy. Meanwhile, GM’s actual self-driving unit, called Cruise (not so super, I guess) isn’t short on bluster but appears months if not years away from reaching the finish line.
You could also say that none of these are problems really, with the company taking in $6.5 billion last year even after a damaging strike. But at some point GM will have to make a single car that both sells and can be considered desirable, especially with autonomous efforts being so far away. The Cadillac V Series can’t do it all on its own.