I recently finished reading Overhaul: An Insiders Account of the Obama Administration’s Emergency Rescue of the Auto Industry and really enjoyed it. This one has been sitting on my ‘to-read’ shelf for years and I finally got around to it thinking I was just going to ‘check the box’ but not really learn anything new since I’ve already read so many books about this crazy time in the market. Boy was I wrong.
Many of the books I’ve read about the bailouts really focused on things like bank bailouts, bankruptcies, near-collapses, and TARP. The months post-Lehman collapse tend to get less attention, but that’s when the auto companies were on the brink of bankruptcy. I remember very well the drama of these enormous companies petitioning Congress for bailouts, and the daily uncertainty of whether or not the Government would allow them to actually declare bankruptcy.
This book was a great insight into a lot of pieces I either didn’t remember or never knew about the auto bailouts. Did you know that in an attempt to save cash, GM actually turned off the escalators in their HQ? Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. I was also surprised to read that GM proposed selling their HQ in downtown Detroit and moving to a less expensive location. The government actually blocked the move saying that was one step too far and would cause irreparable damage to the city of Detroit and was only a drop in the bucket compared to the total problems GM was facing.
This account also confirmed my long-held belief that GM leadership had no clue what they were doing. I’ve never met any of the main characters in the story but have met people in the finance departments of the big 3 and was never as impressed with those at GM. During and after this bailout, I vowed to never own a GM product and I don’t see that changing.
Several years ago, I also read The Reckoning by David Halberstam which issued a warning to US automakers that they were at risk of getting caught asleep at the wheel while the Japanese auto companies took over. It took a while, but right at 20 years after this book was written, US automakers were facing this reckoning for many of the exact reasons he warned of.
Even if you’ve already read a lot about the 2008 financial crisis, Overhaul is worth checking out.