Demise of “The Big Three”?

Well, it finally happened! It’s been all over the papers, magazines, radio, TV, and the Internet. Toyota has moved into the sacred role of the World’s Largest Automaker. General Motors is no longer #1—a title they proudly held for over three quarters of a century (76 years to be exact).

First quarter global sales were a shocking revelation of Toyota’s consistent rise and Detroit’s continuing skid in so many different categories. Production projections support the fact that Toyota just may hold that #1 position for the entire year.

I so enjoy listening and watching people react to whatever the current headline may be at any given time. Our country seems to be filled with those who thrive on bad news, jump to conclusions, and react without thought. On the airplane today, three of us were apparently reading the same USA Today article at the same time. The two gentlemen sitting next to me were discussing this startling news and I, as always, was eavesdropping while pretending to read. They both agreed that this was a definite sign that GM was certainly in the tank and would soon be followed by Chrysler and Ford. The “American Automobile Company” would soon become legend … a lost chapter in future history books!

I’ve had the opportunity of working, as a consultant and trainer, with all three of Detroit’s automakers over the last 20 years, and I’ve been very fortunate to have been in the midst of the their greatest achievements and their many, inexcusable blunders. We’re talking about decades of tradition, experience, and pride here, and my predictions differ just a bit from my fellow travelers.

I’m quite certain the leaders of all of the “Big Three” are dismayed, discouraged, and maybe even a little embarrassed. That’s not a bad thing. I’ve always been a firm believer in the old adage that “It’s not what happens to you in life—It’s how you react to it.” The negative reactions I mentioned earlier will serve a purpose. Then they will fade to be replaced with pride, focus, and determination. There is little shame in losing to a phenomenal competitor such as Toyota. Everyone has seen it coming for quite some time. In fact, sliding into 2nd or 3rd place can also be very motivating and liberating after the dust settles and reality sets in.

For instance, I just read that GM Vice President Bob Lutz, a true tested veteran of the car wars, is encouraging an immediate conversion to ethanol and warning that our country cannot be satisfied with incremental change in this area. He strongly suggests that we make it a leading priority to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy in what he calls “huge chunks.” Where do you think this sudden sense of urgency came from?

GM has been preparing a comeback strategy for some time now. They trimmed their workforce, closed plants, reduced incentives, and decreased fleet sales (high volume sales to rental car companies, corporate customers, and government agencies that so often cut into the profit picture).

The “Big Three” have had a set-back. That can’t be argued. However, a swift kick in the shin, a bloodied nose, or public humiliation could be just the right stimulus to ignite that “competitive edge,” that “fire-in-the belly,” that “come-back determination” that inspires leaders to rally their troops around a common cause that’s dear to the hearts of everyone involved. Come on, they’ve all seen the “ROCKY” movies! I wouldn’t count Detroit out just yet!  In fact, I think they’ll be back with a vengeance.

Recently, I read that Toyota enjoyed the role as the underdog challenging the “Big Three.” That same article shared the fact that Toyota is now just a little bit nervous with their role as #1. They’re smart enough to know that their people could possibly become complacent with this new found success.

Here’s still another interesting scenario which, regardless of the outcome, can teach us all so much while revealing options that everyone should consider. Some of us have to “SEE it to believe it!” … SEE being the operable word here:


Those more seasoned observers will learn from the “Significant Emotional Event” of others. Let’s watch and learn as this story unfolds. I think it’s only just begun.

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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