By Robinson Nash
It doesn’t take long to get a deep sense of Dennis Gazarek’s bitterness with General Motors and the financial saga that started in 2008 and resulted in a massive culling of its Canadian and American dealer bodies.
Before even starting his new book Whacked: How GM Careened Into Bankruptcy And Took The Innocent With Them, the former Ontario GM dealer divulges in his preface that, at times, he might appear “cynical” and “full of resentment.”
Readers certainly can’t say they are not forewarned.
Whacked is a detailed assessment of how General Motors went from the world’s biggest automaker to the depths of bankruptcy protection during the start of the Great Recession.
Though his work displayed the entire North American picture, for the purposes of this review, Canadian AutoWorld will deal with the second part of the book where he outlines the situation at General Motors of Canada Ltd. (GMCL) in roughly 112 pages.
His section on GMCL delved quickly and continuously into the role former GMCL V-P of sales, service and marketing, Marc Comeau. (Comeau was recently transferred to GM Korea to assume the same role he held in Canada.)
Gazarek wasted little time in demonizing Comeau calling him a “company man” and sharing excerpts from media interviews that Comeau gave complete with the author’s comments injected into the text.
Comeau, Gazarek argued, was ultimately responsible for the culling of Canadian dealerships adding that there is no evidence to suggest Comeau ever objected if the order for dealer network shrinking came from Detroit.
The author also implied that the method for fingering which dealers (an initial group of about 240 were chosen in Canada) lost their franchises was not rooted in any form of business logic noting that many award-winning stores, those that had recently invested millions in image programs and those with strong ties to the community were all “whacked” against what should have been the automaker’s better judgment.
Gazarek even implied GM had a bias toward its French-speaking stores, noting that 50 per cent of Quebec’s stores were culled as opposed to 40 per cent in the rest of English Canada.
“This apparent appearance of bias also occurred in the City of Toronto, where all three of the Jewish-owned dealers were whacked,” he wrote. “Toronto has the largest Jewish population in Canada, and Jewish people make up about seven per cent of the city’s population.”
Opinions aside, the author stops short of proving these actions were anything other the result of GM’s business ineptitude and not, as he contended, evidence of a deeper bias.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Whacked’s Canadian content is the chapter dealing with the infamous wind-down agreement.
Gazarek contended the agreement was a “highly effective bullying tactic” used by GMCL to extract acceptance from non-retained dealers for the least possible cost and effort on the part of GMCL.
The book includes verbatim excerpts of the agreement revealing the startling legal jargon GM used to confound selected dealers. Readers can’t help but feel anxious wading through the dense diction knowing that its victims had just days to make sense of it all and make a decision.
Add to that, he wrote, the fact that Comeau had told dealers the deal would be withdrawn if all of the affected dealers did not sign, and the tension is palpable.
The book continues revealing details about subsequent legal battles that didn’t get as much attention in the mainstream media.
One chapter entitled The Duplicity of CADA reviewed the role of the Canadian Automobile Dealers’ Association. While not leveling a complete condemnation of the CADA’s handling of the entire situation, he was most critical over the association’s “steering committee” set up with law firm Cassels Brock. The committee had both continuing and non-continuing GMCL dealers as members.
“It became instantly apparent after May 20 that the goals and aims of the two groups of GMCL dealers were diametrically opposite,” he wrote.
“The dealers selected by GMCL to continue had no interest in the welfare of the dealers being terminated… it became obvious by their actions that CADA’s interest lay with the continuing dealers and maintaining a good relationship with GMCL… CADA logic appeared to be: If the dealer is terminated, he cannot be a member of CADA: whey should we be concerned with non members?”
Whacked continues into exhaustive detail about subsequent legal battles that included naming many of the parties, exploring GMCL’s relationship with the Canadian government and even offering a roadmap for what the automaker should have done.
Though the entire book carries a clear and acknowledged air of bias given the writer’s connection to the GM dealer world, it does shine a light into many areas of a topic that hadn’t seen the full light of day.
Given the author’s connection to the case – his brother Jerry ran a deleted franchise – it would be surprising if he had not written with the occasional pointed barb.
It’s a story we all know; but at least he succeeded in adding more paint to create a vivid picture.
Whacked: How GM Careened Into Bankruptcy And Took The Innocent With Them is published General Store Publishing House Inc. and is available in Canada at Chapters Indigo stores in stock or by order. It has also been nominated for the best Canadian Business Book of 2013.