The layoff notices came right after Thanksgiving. GM, a symbol of American industry, was going to close four US plants and can over 14,000 workers. Despite the relatively low numbers of people involved, the symbolic value is tremendous. The company was once the symbol of American manufacturing might. Besides, after a bankruptcy and government bailout the company surely has had what it needs to bounce back, right?
Yet there is much more to the story than this. Automobile manufacturing is in a period of massive, completely disruptive change. GM has been in trouble for a very long time simply because it cannot possibly change, and there are reasons to believe that everything is only going to be worse.
Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, has been trying to explain the situation to members of Congress this week. It’s unlikely that she can, especially since the very fact that she is obliged to do so points to the real problem. The national industrial model is dead, and it is being replaced with a global market model. GM’s problem is that it simply has not adapted to this reality in any important way.