Uh oh: GM backlog looking a lot like 2008

“Is GM falling into old, bad habits?” asked one industry analyst when the backlog data for General Motors was made public yesterday.  The bailed-out automaker now has a growing inventory in its truck lines of 122 days worth of sales, nearly twice that of its non-bailout domestic competitor Ford Motors for similar lines.  With sales flattening in the auto market, GM has now returned to the high inventory of its pre-bailout condition:

The Detroit-based automaker, 33 percent owned by the U.S. after its 2009 bankruptcy, has 280,000 Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups on dealers’ lots around the country. If sales continue at June’s rate, that would be enough to last until November.

After GM’s truck inventory swelled to 122 days worth of average sales, the company said 100 to 110 will be normal going forward for such a large and complex line of vehicles, compared with 60 to 70 days for most models. Peter Nesvold, a Jefferies & Co. analyst, isn’t convinced.Ford Motor Co. (F), which makes similar trucks, is running at 79 days, and Nesvold says GM averaged 78 days on hand at year end from 2002 to 2010.

“It’s unbelievable that after this huge taxpayer bailout and the bankruptcy that we’re right back to where we were,” Nesvold, who has a “hold” rating on the stock, said in a telephone interview. “There’s no credibility.” In a research note he asked: “Is GM falling into old, bad habits?”

GM says that the answer to the question is “no,” but there are other similarities noted by Bloomberg in this analysis.  A former chief sales analyst calls GM’s line “dated,” and now predicts that GM will have to heavily discount in the fall to move the moribund inventory.  The pickup line hasn’t changed since 2006.  Ford, in contrast, began offering a V-6 engine on its trucks as an option and has been rewarded with significant movement in inventory.

The federal bailout of GM only made sense if the automaker’s difficulties entirely sprang from the financial collapse (caused mainly by government intervention in housing and financial markets through Fannie and Freddie junk bonds), and had been both competitive and profitable without it.  That was obviously not the case; GM had struggled for years against foreign and domestic competition.  The bailout forced GM to make some long-needed changes, such as consolidation of its product lines, as well as allowed the company to benefit from a politically-engineered bankruptcy that left the legacy benefit issues largely on the backs of taxpayers.

However, the basic management issues remained and apparently still do.  Even with the bailout, the company has trouble operating in a profitable and efficient manner.  That points to the bailout being a very bad investment for taxpayers, and with billions of dollars already lost on loans to GM and Chrysler, is a rather easy conclusion to reach.  As Doug Ross puts it, more succinctly:

You mean that abrogating bankruptcy law, screwing over secured creditors and rewarding Democrats’ union supporters with billions in equity, tax breaks and subsidies didn’t really fix GM?

Gee, that was hard to predict.