Copyright 1995 ABC-CLIO. This review was taken from the ABC-CLIO Video Rating Guide for Libraries on CD-ROM, a 5-year compilation of over 8900 video titles and reviews, 1990-1994. For information regarding order VRGL CD-ROM, contact: ABC-CLIO, P.O. Box 1911, Santa Barbara, CA 93116-1911; 805-968-1911

This following text has been included in the UCB Media Resources Center Web site with the kind permission of the publishers.


  • The Heartbeat of America
  • Rating: ****
  • Audience: High School to Adult
  • Price: Public performance: $69.95
  • Date: Copyright 1993. Released 1993.
  • Descriptors: General Motors Corporation - History.
  • Automobile industry - History. Business.
  • Production Information: Live action. Color, b&w. Closed captioned. 90 min.
  • Production Company: Frontline Center for Investigative Reporting
  • Available from: PBS Video 1320 Braddock Pl. Alexandria, VA 22314-1698 (703)739-5380
  • ISBN: ISBN 0-7936-1058-3.
  • Cataloging: 629.2 General Motors - Corporation|| Automobile industry and trade||Documentary films
  • Print Entry #: 5:904
  • Reviewer: Joseph L. Carlson

    Even though this video really has no ending, it is highly recommended as a work that succinctly points out what is wrong with a major aspect of American manufacturing and management - the automobile industry. The program ends on somewhat of a positive note, but the jury is still out on whether the once-mighty General Motors Corporation can regain the preeminence it once enjoyed.

    General Motors was just so darn big and powerful that it felt nothing could ever dent its invulnerability. Back in the days when Billy Durant gobbled up some small car manufacturers and formed GM, the world was his oyster. The competition simply could not keep up with the control that GM had over suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors. GM cars pandered to the tastes of the American public; if Joe Public wanted a big gas-guzzler, GM gave it to him complete with chrome trim and wire wheels. In 1920, Alfred Sloan took over from Durant and began a reign of corporate terror that is still felt throughout the corridors of power today. He initiated the annual model makeover to ensure that buyers would always want the latest geegaws. He planned a car for every purse, setting into motion a system of duplication among the divisions of GM that soon spread to the other car makers. Sloan and his designer, Harley Earle, firmly believed that style was much more important than innovation. When other companies began to experiment with smaller, safer, more economical cars, GM laughed off the competition as indulging in a passing fad.

    The oil embargo of the early 1970s and the public demand for value over flash caught GM by surprise, and as this video shows, the company went through a wrenching series of largely futile efforts to try and jump on the bandwagon. Even when they tried to come out with small cars, company leaders, including president Roger Smith, equated "small and economical" with "cheap," resulting in such disasters as the Chevrolet Corvair and Sprint.

    Can General Motors pull out of its present morass? The success of the Saturn line is one positive sign, but the graying of the highly pampered GM work force is costing the company billions of dollars in benefits at a time when it can ill afford them. With the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, GM is closing plants in the United States while expanding into Mexico in a big way. What is the future for this monolithic company? Whether it makes it or not remains to be seen, but the Frontline story of how GM got to its present situation is a documentary that belongs on the shelves of every public and corporate library to serve as a lesson in just how far the mighty can fall.

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