1983 Fortune: Will Success Spoil General Motors?


There never was any success for GM in the eighties. I stumbled into this last night, and realized this very famous Fortune cover wasn’t exactly as I remembered it. I’d forgotten the words “Will Success…” in the headlines.  The eighties were disastrous for GM, with its biggest loss of market share ever, which really is what set it up for its eventual demise, as its fixed and legacy costs became an inverted pyramid as it had to par its current operations. But in 1983, that hadn’t yet  set in yet, as GM’s market share was still 44%. But the timing of the article was highly prescient, as GM’s crash started in the 1984 MY, and by 1987, GM’s market share shriveled to 37%.  That has to go down in history as one of the most momentous five years ever, in terms of market share loss.

The Fortune article rightfully put its finger on the key question: GM Chairman Roger Smith was convinced that robotic factories spitting out essentially identical cars–like these four burgundy A-Bodies–was the way forward. It was the biggest blunder in automotive history: forgetting that it’s all about the product. No wonder two of the four brands shown would have to depart. Meanwhile, Smith was busy putting preparing the launch of a new brand.

In retrospect, the question would have been better asked about Ford, which gained market share in the eighties.