General Motors Diversification
GM describes their brand politics as having “two brands” which “will drive our global growth. They are Chevrolet, which embodies the qualities of value, reliability, performance and expressive design; and Cadillac, which creates luxury vehicles that are provocative and powerful. At the same time, the Holden, Buick, GMC, Baojun, Opel and Vauxhall brands are being carefully cultivated to satisfy as many customers as possible in select regions.
As it emerged from bankruptcy and company reorganization in 2010, GM reorganized the content and structure of its brand portfolio. Some nameplates like Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saturn, Hummer, and service brands like Goodwrench were discontinued. Others, like SAAB, were sold.
A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
Today, General Motors is the world’s largest automotive company – with operations in more than 120 countries worldwide. In 2011 we sold 9.0 million vehicles. Our business is diversified across products and geographic markets. We meet the local sales and service needs of our retail and fleet customers with a global network of independent dealers. Of our total 2011 vehicle sales volume, 72.3% was generated outside the U.S., including 43.4% from emerging markets, such as Brazil, Russia, India and China (collectively BRIC), which have recently experienced the industry’s highest volume growth.
Across the globe, we are the leader in market share and vehicle sales, led by a diverse portfolio of brands sharing core platform efficiencies and connected by GM’s global reach. In North America, GM manufacturers and markets the following brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC. Outside North America, GM manufactures and markets the following brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Holden, Opel and Vauxhall. Presently, we have equity ownership stakes directly or indirectly in entities through various regional subsidiaries, including GM Korea Company (GM Korea), Shanghai General Motors Co., Ltd. (SGM), SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co., Ltd. (SGMW), FAW-GM Light Duty Commercial Vehicle Co., Ltd. (FAW-GM) and SAIC GM Investment Limited (HKJV). These companies design, manufacture and market vehicles under the following brands: Alpheon, Baojun, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Daewoo, Jiefang and Wuling.
HORIZONTAL BOUNDARIES (DIVERSIFICATION)
A second kind of direct linkage occurs through technology. A company experiences direct technology linkages when it uses the same operations technology to manufacture a variety of products or render a variety of services. For example, General Motors manufactures not only automobiles but also trucks and locomotives. Product Linkages
A product linkage occurs as a company extends its product line to new markets. This happens, for example, when the company provides the same products or services to buyers in new geographic locations, as do most franchises and many multinational corporations. Another product linkage occurs when a vertically integrated company experiences excess capacity at different points backward or forward along the product flow chain and can market these products or services externally. For example, General Motors can market its Delco radio products independently of its automobile dealerships. Here vertical integration, whether motivated by reasons of defense or to cut costs and improve efficiency, itself led to product diversification.
The electrical power machinery and automotive firms required a much larger variety of supplies and materials than did the manufacturers of metals or food products. As the lack of one part could delay if not actually stop production, these engine making firms felt a pressing need to have an assured source of such materials. Thus General Electric purchased or developed organizations to make fuses, switches, and small electrical units. 71
William C. Durant, the founder of General Motors, anticipating an enormous demand for a moderate-priced car, concentrated his efforts on obtaining companies manufacturing spark plugs, roller bearings, radiators, electric systems, horns, and other parts and accessories. In neither of these cases did the manufacturing departments expect to take all the output of the parts and accessories farms. Soon both companies by selling such supplies to outsiders had greatly enlarged their product line.
Supplements are by no means the same as extensions. When British Aerospace bought Rover, wondrous guff was babbled about the transfer of aerospace technology to car manufacture. If any such transfer took place, it was totally insignificant. Similar false claims were made by General Motors when it diversified into computer services and electronic defence systems by buying, respectively, Electronic Data Services and Hughes Aircraft. Both buys, however, proved to be enormous successes, earning GM large profits both from operations and from the billions eventually made by spinning off the buys.
This doesn’t disprove the argument against diversification. It proves something else: that GM is very good at this game (much better, in fact, than at making and selling cars). There are businesses which specialise in diversifying, including one – Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway – which is among the most spectacular investments of all time; $10,000 invested in the shares in 1965 was worth $51 million in 1999. Buffett has bought and kept businesses in furniture retailing, ice cream parlours, shoe manufacture, newspapers, insurance, executive jets, etc., etc. They now generate extraordinary returns on equity from $80 billion of assets, with 47,566 employees. Like GM’s board, only more so, Buffett fully understands the principles of astute diversification. First, the buy must sell at or preferably below its intrinsic business value.
Second, it must be a business you can understand. Third, it must have excellent returns on capital, terrific past results and predictably good future prospects. Equally important, it must have honest and competent managers who are happy to get on with running the business without interference. Diversifiers may object that such conditions are rarely met. That is all the more reason for diversifying rarely. Buffett waits until something that meets his criteria comes along. Otherwise, he has better uses for his shareholders’ money. Note that neither he nor GM proceeded by trial and error. They expected, and got, a near 100% record. Note also that GM realised its jackpot, pocketing hard cash.
The apparently unstoppable trend towards mega-mergers and massive acquisitions has been offset somewhat by de-diversifying, as large companies sell their past buys, good or bad. Sometimes the sales have been profitable (like BAe’s offloading of Rover), sometimes not. They have very seldom been planned, however. It’s simply that one strategy (or bunch of boardroom strategists) has been replaced by another, or that disposal is an obvious way of appeasing the investors baying for ‘shareholder value’. VERTICAL EXTENSION (INTEGRATION)
Why was it profitable for General Motors and Ford to integrate backward into component-parts manufacturing in the past, and why are both companies now trying to buy more of their parts from outside? Back in the 1920s, when Ford and GM originally began to vertically integrate backward, there were two main reasons for doing so. First, the component supply industry was not well developed, so automakers had to manufacture some parts themselves. Second, they wanted to achieve tight coordination between adjacent stages of production to lower their production costs.
By the 1980s, however, conditions had changed. A lack of competitive pressures led to internal suppliers becoming inefficient (the bureaucratic costs were high). Also, unionization made in house suppliers’ labor expenses too high. Furthermore, capacity reductions meant that both companies were experiencing excess capacity at in house suppliers. Also, Japanese auto companies had shown that entering into long term contractual relationships with component suppliers was a viable low cost alternative to formal vertical integration.