Exhaust Notes #29: GM Celebrates 100 Years And…Hey, Where’s the Party?0
Last week, General Motors wrapped up its centennial celebration. If one thinks about GM’s prominence on the world landscape, it’s easy to see just how significant of an event this is. Even if you’ve never owned a GM vehicle yourself, think about the company’s impact on the American and global economies and its products’ impact on popular culture. Can you imagine an America where Chevrolet didn’t exist? What if there had never been songs about GTO’s or Cadillacs? How about a world where the word Camaro was simply French slang for “friend” or a Corvette was just a small gunboat used to escort convoys?
The more and more one thinks about it, the harder it is to imagine a world without GM. This is precisely why, as GM’s age passes the 100 year mark, the company’s financial problems are so troubling. If GM were to implode, what would be the far-reaching effects? Profound, no doubt, but that’s not what we’re going to talk about today.
GM’s centennial celebration was surprisingly low key – surprisingly so given the company’s significance. We only need to think back to 2003 when Ford had its own centennial celebration. Remember all the bold TV, print, and online media proclaiming Ford’s first 100 years? Ford left no stone unturned in reminding the global public about the Blue Oval’s impact on the world. GM, on the other hand, took a very different and understated approach.
Really, GM’s only fanfare (admittedly, it was an important one) was for the unveiling of the production Chevrolet Volt, the revolutionary plug-in series hybrid car. This little car is carrying a lot of weight on its shoulders, bearing many of GM’s hopes for the future. No doubt, it’s a technological tour de force that keeps its squinty headlights firmly affixed on the future.
Still, one would have expected GM to make a lot of noise about its often-glorious past. In the 1950s and 60s, GM was at the absolute forefront of automotive design; so many of history’s most beloved and admired automobile designs came from the within the halls of GM’s studios. And remember that GM has built some of the most iconic technology through the years, many of which have truly stood the test of time. GM invented the automatic transmission as we know it, and the small-block Chevy V8 has been a staple on the automotive scene since the 1950s.
Perhaps GM felt that trumpeting past glories was inappropriate – or irrelevant – during a time when GM’s future is frighteningly shaky. To that end, focusing on GM’s great electric hope – the Volt – served to keep pundits and ultimately the public focused on a potentially bright future for GM rather than a grim present…or on good memories of the past that might only serve to divert attention from a future GM needs to focus on.