'I don't know anything about cars:' New GM Chairman

How perfect a metaphor is this for the state of the American auto industry?

The first action taken by Government Motors was to hire a Chairman who by his own admission doesn't know anything about the car industry.

Amy Thomson and Katie Merx of Bloomberg have the story:

Edward E. Whitacre Jr. built AT&T Inc. into the biggest U.S. provider of telephone service over a 43-year-career. By his own admission, he becomes chairman of General Motors Corp. knowing nothing about the auto industry.

The 6-foot-4-inch Texan nicknamed "Big Ed" said steering the nation's largest automaker after bankruptcy is "a public service." People who know him say he can meet GM's need for the type of transformation he orchestrated at Dallas-based AT&T.

"I don't know anything about cars," Whitacre, 67, said yesterday in an interview after his appointment. "A business is a business, and I think I can learn about cars. I'm not that old, and I think the business principles are the same."

Does it matter that Whitacre hasn't a clue about the auto industry? The White House point to Alan Mulally's move from Boeing to Ford as proof that a top exec doesn't need knowledge of the auto industry.

But the action flies in the face of GM's history:

Whitacre's selection bucks more than a half-century of tradition at GM, where the only non-executives to lead the board since 1937 were interim Chairman Kent Kresa and John Smale, who held the job from 1992 through 1995. Whitacre will take the post when Detroit-based GM exits Chapter 11, perhaps by Aug. 31.

I don't know if Whitacre can do the impossible - bring GM back from the grave and get it off the government gravy train. But bringing in a non-auto industry exec to run the former car giant seems so perfectly in keeping with something clueless bureaucrats would do that I doubt anything can be done to salvage the company.