They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack.
  -James Earl Jones "Field of Dreams"
and don't go mistaking paradise for that home across the road
  -Bob Dylan "Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Motown Mess

The Detroit automakers need help. As anyone who reads, watches or hears the news is aware, they are on the verge of bankrupcy and asking for help. A poll released today alleges that 55% of Americans support the idea, but to hear some of the media you would get the opposite impression. Not helping them has some appeal. They don't seem to learn, these guys. They lost a ton of customers to Japanese automakers in the 1970s when gas got scarce. They continued to lose customers due to the perception that quality was subpar. They made progress on quality but they never quite got religion about fuel efficiency. In the 90s When Americans went nuts over SUVs and gas was cheap they did everything they could to build bigger and bigger bloated behemoths. Why should we give them more money when they can't seem to figure out what Toyota and Honda did when they concentrated on hybrids?

I look at it a little differently. I grew up in Detroit, my brother worked for Ford all of his life and my cousin Bob did the same trick at Cadillac. Half of the people I knew there either worked for one of the Big Three or worked in a company that was dependent on them. A couple of my friends from high school met me in Fort Lauderdale a couple of years ago for a road trip to Key West. Chris was retired from a GM plant and Itura worked for a company that did drafting for Chrysler. Itura lost his job in May. They say if one of the Big Three goes under the job loss would be between 2 and 3 million.

People are going to buy and drive cars. If they stop making them in the US, we will just buy them from other countries. Automobile manufacturing is one of the few manufacturing industries that remains in this country. We have to produce something, we can't all make a living selling services to each other. We have to figure out how to keep the industry alive.

Are they guilty of making gas guzzlers while they should have been planning for a day when gas stopped being cheap? Absolutely. But who helped them get there? Take a look on the road at your fellow citizens with their big ass pickups, their Hummers, Navigators and Suburbans. Think about the government that stopped increasing CAFE standards in 1990 and kept the standards for light trucks (which includes SUVs) much lower. Detroit might have screwed up be we helped them royally.

Give them money to stay alive but make sure that they retool to make more fuel efficient vehicles and invest in the techology for electric, natural gas and fuel cell. Use the economic mess as an occasion to shake things up and improve the industry. Things will get better, even the Depression ended eventually, and when they do, do we want to be buying our cars made by people in Japan and Korea, or people in Michigan and Ohio? Most Americans would buy the better car and not care so much. Let's insure that the better cars are made here.

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