Yesterday, it started to look like what we of the meedjah refer to as the no-real-news-is-happening ‘silly season’ was, finally, over – or maybe not. The latest hype surrounding the intercom ranting, beer can-grabbing, emergency-slide activating JetBlue flight attendant in the US suggested not, as did this ingenious, ‘non-story’-generating internet hoax; then came GM, lots of GM, all at once.

First was a US story – broken by the Wall Street Journal citing numerous anonymous sources – that ‘Government Motors’ had lined up a US$5bn credit facility, returning to the capital markets a year after emerging from bankruptcy, and was all set to file an IPO registration today. Come noon and a half, UK time, and we sat down to digest the best quarterly result since 2004 for lunch. We’d barely got our heads round all that before ‘bing’ went the Inbox again and out (soon) goes a certain Mr Whitacre, job done.

Our own analyst, Rob Golding, was none too impressed. Whitacre has long said, essentially, that, once GM’s ducks were all in a row to his satisfaction, it’d be job done to government requirements and back home to San Antonio. Yesterday’s sudden, though not unexpected, announcement (as Rob notes, of GM’s fourth CEO in a year), suggests that the credit facility, the apparent readiness for an imminent IPO and enough restructuring to produce some decent Q2 numbers were enough for Ed to write the ‘I quit’ note and he’ll surely be wished all the very best as he says “bye-bye” after his short stewardship. The question now arises: is another telecomms man with no autos experience right for GM? A few more sets of quarterly numbers will soon answer that, and the results being achieved ‘cross town by a certain Mr Mulally, previously of the aircraft industry, do suggest that sometimes a Fresh Look is the way to go. We’ll see…

Amongst all that, this story almost got lost, but it’s looking pretty clear Japan is no longer the place to make small cars, particularly if you want to sell ’em in America where buyers hold that small = cheap. Coincidentally, UK magazine Autocar today has a story about the next generation Toyota Yaris/Vitz which says that Toyota US wanted their own, bigger version than the rest of the world gets but was denied. Using spare capacity in the US (Mississippi could surely squeeze in some Yarises alongside the Corollas it will soon start building) might be one option, or Toyota could follow Honda and Nissan into exporting from Thailand (one of four countries building Nissan’s new Micra/March in place of Japan and the UK) or, as Honda did with the Jazz/Fit, cobble up a JV in China that has to export everything, in that case as far afield as Europe. Maybe we’ll know what they decide by Silly Season 2011?

Speaking of China, it now looks like, as long heralded, a less Ford-controlled Mazda is going to go its own way there (it had some regulatory ‘fun’ with its sales company there for a while and even had to stop selling the 3).

And, finally, back to GM – guess who’s just bought a whole French automatic transmission plant for just EUR1?

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Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts
Deputy/News Editor