THE announcement last week that the American car manufacturer General Motors was filing for bankruptcy was sad news that marked the end of a boisterous phase of American capitalism.
Under the terms of the bankruptcy, the US government will become the majority shareholder in GM, holding anywhere from 60 to 70 percent of the company's shares. Financial analysts in the US, according to the Brazilian newsweekly Epoca, now jokingly refer to it as 'Government Motors'. To remain afloat, GM is firing thousands of its workers, closing factories across the country and slashing its dealer network in half. It is also closing down its Pontiac and Saturn divisions, and selling off Opel in Germany, sold Hummer to Chinese investors and is looking for buyers for Saab in Sweden and Vauxhall in the UK.
My father always liked American cars. His first car he ever bought, when he was a university student in the US, was a Ford Mustang. I was nearly born in it, when my mother's water broke as my dad drove her to Washington Hospital Center to have me delivered in 1964.
Later when we moved to Geneva, Switzerland, my dad's official car at the Saudi Mission was a black Oldsmobile, which was a cool car to have then as there were very few American cars in Europe at the time.
The first car we had when we moved to Brazil in 1975 was a Chevette, a car that my dad drove us in all around Brazil. One summer we went on a long road trip to Sao Paulo, Curitiba and Santos. I still remember that trip, and how we accidentally ran over a cat on the road, which I think actually survived!
The first car I ever bought was a used Pontiac Bonneville in Jeddah when I was just starting my journalistic career. It was huge and guzzled a lot of gasoline, but with gas so cheap in Saudi Arabia, that really wasn't a concern. It broke down a lot and I even had to push it down Madinah Road once to a filling station when I ran out of gas (the gas indicator was broken).
My dad was a true car enthusiast. He bought a brand new Mercedes once in Brazil, but he didn't drive it much. I think he liked its German reliability and quality, but felt like he was showing off by owning it. And since my father was not one for ostentation, he soon sold it.
Reading the yearly car edition of Consumer Reports with my father soon became a family tradition. Year after year, the magazine warned direly of the poor build quality and sad reliability of American cars. Despite this, my father never lost his enthusiasm for whatever Detroit churned out. Japanese cars were mere aberrations in my dad's world view, a man who had grown up loving American culture and its iconic cars.
The second car I ever bought was a brand new Chevrolet Trailblazer in 2007. I only drove it for six months before having to sell it back to my bank as I was leaving the kingdom for a new job in the UAE. I bought it despite whispered warnings from a friend that American cars sucked and were not good quality. (I just looked at the Chevrolet website and see that they don't even make the Trailblazer any more. Instead they have SUVs called 'Equinox' and 'Traverse'.)
I went Japanese for my third car purchase, buying a Honda CRV in Abu Dhabi last year. True to its reputation it was excellent quality and gave me great gas mileage. But I had to sell that car too with my move to Brazil at the end of last year.
My mother swears by her Brazilian-made Chevrolet. She's had it for 10 years and it's never given her any major problem. She's thinking of buying a new car and told me the other day that she may just buy herself another Chevy!
As for me, I need to buy a car here in Brasilia. I've been thinking of getting a Citroen C4. I've never had a European car. I'm sure my dad wouldn't mind if he were still with us. I'm just glad he's not around to see what's happening to his beloved GM.