With a push from Uncle Sam, automaker General Motors filed today for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. KPCC’s Brian Watt spoke with an Anaheim dealer who’s been selling one of GM’s most popular brands for decades.
Brian Watt: General Motors' bankruptcy was hardly a sudden slam on the breaks. The automaker's been on that road for years. Chuck Hance owns Coast Corvette in Anaheim. It's a specialty shop devoted to one of GM's jewels – the sleek, high-powered Corvette sports car, Chevrolet's most distinctive model for more than 50 years. He says that when gas prices skyrocketed, it took GM by surprise.
Chuck Hance: They should have been more politically awake and changed over to little cars like the government wanted them to do.
Watt: Not that Hance likes the idea of government telling a company what to do. He believes GM's bankruptcy is overdue, but he calls the Obama administration's new 60 percent stake in the automaker a bad idea. President Obama promised the government won't be involved in day-to-day management. Chuck Hance really hopes that whoever's running General Motors will take care of the Corvette brand.
Hance: The people that buy Corvettes are just fanatical enthusiasts about them. You know, they love their Corvettes, and GM makes money on them. They make 45,000 cars a year. It's not a loss leader, but it is a test bed for all of GM's technical ideas. So it performs a really good function for GM.
Watt: General Motors engineers have generated technical innovations for about a century. They've gotten close to the hearts of American motorists, and not just with Buicks, Chevys, Caddies, and muscular Corvettes – the company also developed the first mechanical heart-lung machine.
But in this economy, sales numbers trump nostalgia. On the L.A. Observed Web site, KPCC's business analyst Mark Lacter points out that L.A. County car buyers registered more new Porsches last month than Pontiacs, Buicks, Saabs, and Hummers combined. Chuck Hance stocks about 35 cars at Coast Corvette. He says the classic models still zoom off the lot, but the newer Corvettes – like the high end Z06 – are staying parked a while.
Hance: They used to take a week to sell and now they take, you know, a few months to sell, and you're gonna sell'em for $10,000 to $15,000 less than before.
Watt: Hance says GM's bankruptcy could create a supply problem for his dealership's parts and service business. So he'll try to stock up on replacement parts for customers who come looking for repairs.