How I killed GM

2006-2009 Pontiac Montana SV6 photographed in ...

Last Word: How I killed GM

Lexpert, July/August 2009

By Marzena Czarnecka

First, the good news: the psychic next door says an economic turn-around is imminent. Indeed, by the time you read this, in the summer of 2009, you’ll see that she was right―the stars will have aligned, and money will be flowing again. Believe her―she’s got a great track record. She called the American election the second she saw Barack Obama (“Have you looked at that man, darling? Va-va-voom!”), she predicted that the last quarter of 2008 would suck on all fronts (being heart rather than economics focused, she saw a spike in divorces and separations rather than lay-offs and mutual fund melt downs, but still, we can extrapolate), and she’s correctly sexed four out of five children in the neighbourhood (on the ones she missed, she says, there was a misbalance of yin-yang energy, so she was kind of right anyway).

But that’s not why you should believe her―although, really, considering the track record the world’s great economists, financial advisors, investment bankers, politicians and the like have had in predicting the future over 2008, why not listen to a psychic for a change? She’s an Alberta psychic, you see, and that means that beneath the New Age, Tarot-card reading veneer, there lies the steel core of an entrepreneur. The entrepreneur―like so many of us―had a frighteningly depressing January and February. She won’t share precise numbers (like so many of you), but let’s just say that she wasn’t buying any new Tarot card decks, although she had plenty of time for window shopping. March was somewhat less depressing, but not much, but April―compared to January downright cheery. She smelled a turn-around. By the first week of May, she knew it was there, with clients once again cheerfully plopping down $80-$250 a reading.

Sounds a bit dear, even to a profession that excels at charging high hourly rates, but then, she’s a high-end psychic. You can get them for cheaper―but as she’ll tell you if you gasp at the price, “You get what you pay for.” Which brings me to the less good news; the demise of the American automakers, who have at press started filing for bankruptcy (protection. Bankruptcy protection. Whatever. We the panicked public stop listening when we hear the “b” word).

Many parties have been blamed been blamed for the financial and other troubles of the formerly unassailable auto giants, from CEOs (short-sighted and greedy) to unions (greedy and short-sighted), from the Japanese and Germans (who made better cars) to the Chinese and Mexicans (who offer cheaper labour), to the creditors (who kept on lending them money) and the hedge funds (who kept on wanting to make money off their pain), etc., etc. But let’s be honest, the ultimate responsibility for the apparently inevitable death of the American auto industry lies with… me.

I did it. After a childhood spent riding in disintegrating and gas-guzzling Fords and Chevrolets, I entered an adulthood from which “domestic” cars were conspicuously absent. There were Hondas and Toyotas―predominantly Toyotas―the occasional Volvo, and some lust for a certain grade of Mercedes and BMW. When I went new―or slightly used―car shopping, I’d consider Mazda and Kia before Ford and Chevy.

Now, in all fairness, I think many of you helped. What do you drive? I’ve seen a fair sampling of your over-sized Lexuses (Lexi?) and under-sized Porsches, and more modest Rav-4s and Miatas, and most of them aren’t made by GM. Why?

Simple. Because we want to drive good cars. Preferably good, cool cars. And we generally won’t buy icky cars, even for the good of the North American economy and the well-being of the families of members of the Canadian Auto Workers union. We’re selfish consumers, and we don’t care if we’re killing Detroit.

Parked in front of the row of 14 townhouses in which I live―next door to the psychic―there are three Nissans, five Toyotas, one Mazda, two Subarus, and two Volvos, outnumbering the one Chrysler and two Fords. The psychic, by the way, drives a newish Nissan and an oldish Volvo. She also shares responsibility for the decline of the American auto empire. And, she called it a few years ago, when she replaced her really old Volvo with a new Nissan (“Drive an American car? Ha! That era is so over!”).

Now, I still don’t really care if I’m killing Detroit―or the auto manufacturing industry in Ontario. I’d apologize, but you’d know I didn’t really mean it. However, there is now a 2009 Pontiac Montana in my driveway. It’s a depressing symbol all around. I resent having a mini-van―and an American mini-van at that!―in my life, even if it does fit three car seats, a dog, a stroller and two mothers-in-law comfortably. GM doesn’t appreciate it―it’s too little, too late. Given the price we paid for the vehicle, I’m fairly sure the automaker lost money on the transaction. As my psychic excludes American automakers from sharing in the economic upswing she predicts for the second half of 2009, it’s a daily reminder of the end of an era.

A moment of silence, please.

Marzena Czarnecka really lives next door to a psychic.

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2012 PS: Buying the cheap crappy GM minivan? Worst car purchasing mistake of my life. It’s gone. I’m driving a Toyota again. Because I like to drive good cars.