The Economic Lessons of Fisher Body - General Motors
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Department of Economics; Compass Lexecon
October 13, 2006
The costs of using rigid, inherently imperfect, long-term contracts to solve potential holdup problems, and the corresponding flexibility advantages of vertical integration, are illustrated by the Fisher Body-General Motors case. The holdup of General Motors by Fisher Body is shown to have involved Fisher renegotiating its body supply contract with G.M. so that, contrary to the original understanding, G.M. made half of the required investments in new body plants. Under the unchanged cost-plus contract terms designed to provide Fisher with a return on its equity capital investments, the decline in Fisher Body's capital to sales ratio led to a substantial wealth transfer from G.M. to Fisher. G.M. was forced to accept this unfavorable contract adjustment because it desired co located body plants and was operating under a long-term exclusive dealing arrangement designed to protect Fisher Body's original G.M.-specific capacity investments. The contract adjustment demonstrates the importance of distinguishing between inefficient threatened holdup behavior and the efficient way it is in both transactors' interests to actually accomplish a holdup. Contrary to Ronald Coase's recent criticism, this analysis reconciles all the available evidence.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 73
Keywords: holdups, vertical integration, exclusive dealing
JEL Classification: L22
Date posted: October 14, 2006