General Motors announced that it is launching a major restructring of the 110 year old company, in order to better compete in today's rapidly evolving global automotive markets.
 - Photo: Chevrolet

General Motors announced that it is launching a major restructring of the 110 year old company, in order to better compete in today's rapidly evolving global automotive markets.

Photo: Chevrolet

It always seems like there’s no news heading into a long holiday – and tons of news to sort through and report on once a long holiday is over.

That’s the case this post-Thanksgiving Monday morning, with two major news stories – both of which have major, long-term ramifications for the trucking industry – hitting the national news feeds.

The bigger news story is, of course, that General Motors is launching a major restructuring of its global business model. Unhappily, this means shutting 5 manufacturing plants in the United States and laying off 15% of its salaried workforce.

This report was followed a bit later in the morning with rumors surfacing that Ford and Volkswagen may be eyeing a partnership of some sort, in order to capitalize on each other’s strengths and remain competitive in today’s rapidly changing global car, truck and bus markets.

Taken apiece, both stories highlight broad trends that are reshaping the automotive industry right before our eyes and discredit anyone who insists that these changes are somehow temporary or superficial in nature.

The GM announcement is a bit of a surprise to me since it comes at a time that the company has been doing particularly well here at home. However, news reports indicate, the company’s sales are slipping in the increasingly important Chinese market. And the company continues to struggle in the highly competitive European market. Making a major restructuring move now, while the company is doing well, GM officials argue, is the logical thing to do in preparation for the massive changes it predicts are coming to transportation markets in the next few years.

Just how big those changes will be can be seen by GM’s new corporate motto: “Zero Crashes, Zero Emissions, Zero Congestion.” This is about as radical a departure from the company’s 100 year old business model as it’s possible to get without venturing into the Flying Car business. But it acknowledges the stark realities facing all vehicle manufacturers today: New, automated, safety-focused low-emissions vehicles are the wave of the future. This is true for both passenger cars and trucks (although it’s likely trucks will continue to burn petro-based fuels in greater numbers, for far longer than most passenger cars).

The Ford-Volkswagen news isn’t as dire – but it follows along much the same logic path as the news from GM.

Broadly speaking, both Ford and Volkswagen today hold firm, respectable shares in both their respective core markets, -- the U.S. and Europe. But neither company has made significant inroads in China. And each struggles to gain ground in the other’s home court.

But crucially, analysts say, both companies are having a hard time getting ahead of the coming technology curves, particularly when it comes to electric vehicles.

Ford has already gotten a jump on GM in signaling it too would be changing how it operates, with the quiet announcement earlier this year that it would cut back on the production of sedans (a move GM is now emulating) and focus on both smaller vehicles, electric vehicles as well as vans and trucks.

And Volkswagen has long been intent on knocking Toyota out of the No. 1 spot as the largest vehicle manufacturer on the planet – only to shoot itself in the foot with a financially crippling diesel emissions scandal.

But now, VW appears to have rallied in the wake of the scandal. And, as the brand boldy proclaimed at the 2018 IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Hannover, Germany, this past fall, it is actively seeking global partnerships to both compliment and expand its current vehicle portfolio and move confidently into new markets.

The news concerning these three global manufacturers signals clearly that all of them understand that simply producing the same old cars and trucks in the same old way isn’t going to cut it moving forward. There are simply too many new players – both here at home and abroad – doing things in too many new ways to take that risk.

How and when these moves will eventually affect the trucking industry is impossible to say at the moment – although the evidence does seem to clearly indicate major disruption and changes coming to the medium-duty market fairly soon. Heavy-duty trucks are a tougher nut to crack. But in a future focused on logistics, it seems logical to assume that whatever moves GM, Ford and VW make in the future will eventually have an impact in that market segment as well.

Author

Jack Roberts
Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

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As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

View Bio
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