SYNERGY
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SYNERGY

How Could GM Sell Only 26 Electric Cars in Three Months?

The blame was on the battery, but my money is on the people

Photo by Sean Stratton on Unsplash

It’s hard to miss when Girls Scout Cookie season rolls around. We may easily forget or not notice when Fall turns into Winter, or Spring turns into Summer. But when it’s Cookie season, we all know. (FYI, it’s typically January through April)

When the costumed girls show up at your front door peddling Thin Mints, you’re hard-pressed to turn them away. As you tear into the packaging, you watch them go to your neighbors. The happy waves and skipping jaunts down the driveway let you know more sales were made.

I bet those girls sold more than 26 boxes just going down my street.

Lilly Bumpus, 8, sold a record 32,484 boxes in one season.

When GM, with a market cap in excess of $92B in January 2022, reveals it only sold 25 Bolts and 1 Hummer in its last quarter, you choke on a Thin Mint and raise an eyebrow or two.

Something tells me their sales team wasn’t skipping down the marble hallways at GM headquarters.

Digging deeper, the really, really low sales numbers were attributed to defects in the batteries used.

That’s excusable. Almost.

Crashing Clouds

On October 4, 2021, Facebook and its brood of other social media outlets (Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc), were down and inaccessible for about 6 hours.

That’s a few more hours than 99.999% SLA uptime allows. “Five-Nines” of availability is supposed to promise only 5 minutes and 16 seconds of downtime, to be roughly exact.

Microsoft Teams was down for 2 hours in April of 2021.

Are these excusable failures? Millions of people depend on these services daily. These cloud companies exist to serve their customer base.

But they are not infallible. Technology fails. All the time. Hardware can be fragile. The software can be finicky. At the center of it all, humans running the hardware and software will make mistakes. Humans running other humans will let emotions, egos, and stress produce even more mishaps. People facing deadlines, juggling multiple projects, while balancing work life and home life will make mistakes. In the middle of a pandemic, no less.

The Battery Defect — Many Questions

Is that what happened at GM?

It goes back to my statement, that technological “things” will fail, especially emerging technologies. Batteries are hardly emerging, however.

But…

Did someone who noticed that the battery, the heart of the electric vehicle, was faulty, not sound an alarm? Did someone notice the defect, but fail to report it correctly? Were the defects discovered by someone who reported it to someone else and that person dropped the ball? Was the defect noted, but then it got “lost in the system?” Was it correctly reported, but misunderstood? Was it identified correctly, but a wrong fix applied?

Was the defect initially downplayed as insignificant, until later discovered otherwise?

Was the defect kept under wraps by their South Korean vendor out of shame, malice, or just plain bad business practices? Or did they discover the fault, diligently let GM know, and then someone at GM dropped the ball?

Was the defect timely found, but the fix was challenging, expensive, and sideswiped by supply chain issues?

Did the pandemic and its detrimental effects on the workforce play a part?

The process of discovering defects and implementing fixes, maybe more so for hardware than software, takes time. Did the clock simply run out in that quarter?

Facebook and other cloud-based companies exist for their user base; their product is their software used by the millions. GM exists to manufacture automobiles. That is their product.

Selling 26 cars in one quarter is like Instagram only allowing a few thousand users to upload a handful of pictures in the space of three months. (I didn’t do actual math to see if this is an equivalent number).

Given that GM sold 6700 electric cars in the same quarter the previous year, dropping down to two-digit sales is a significant drop. That would be like Facebook being only accessible 11 hours out of a whole 3-month period (actual math).

Where to go From Here?

Will GM fix the issues with the battery? Likely. Will GM return to selling “normal” numbers in upcoming quarters? Likely. Will GM be able to make a dent in Tesla’s dominance? Unlikely.

In between Elon Musk’s tweets, Tesla likely sold more than 26 Model 3’s.

In response to the revealed sales numbers, Musk, sitting atop the electric car hill, and very likely more than a little smug, tweeted “Room to improve.”

Elon Musk’s tweet

Well, yeah! When you’re at 26, there’s nowhere to go but up. Unless GM determines that recovery is impossible and concedes the little market share they had to Tesla.

But where would the improvements be made? Somewhere in the chain of discovering the defect, reporting, prioritizing, addressing, and fixing the battery, there is a human element. Perhaps more training is needed. Maybe the wrong people are in command. Maybe there simply aren’t enough people at work thanks to COVID.

Defect and root cause analysis is as necessary a process in manufacturing as it is in software development. The steps of identification through solution are similar, if not exact.

At the heart of it all, humans are likely to blame. Humans are fallible. Luckily, humans learn and improve. Those that don’t, get replaced. Just like the batteries.

Once the batteries are fixed, the sales numbers will depend on another set of humans — the sales and marketing teams.

If they can’t add at least another digit to the sales numbers in the next quarter with fully functioning batteries, GM should give Lilly Bumpus a call.

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Jesse Bramani

Jesse Bramani

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I write about software, technology, satire, personal experiences and a mixed bag of randomness.