The Big 3 vs Big Government– ding ding ding
GM, Ford, and Chrysler (sigh)… I won’t go over so much of what you’ve already heard, but allow me as a car enthusiast (I’m not just a bike snob) and a proto-transportation-planner to offer a few thoughts:
1. All car/truck sales are down in the US for everyone not just the American manufacturers. I would say this has more to do with the recession, people’s insecurity about their jobs, and a shortage of credit.
2. To blame the Big 3 for being on the verge of failing seems unfair when compared to the treatment of Wall Street. Regarding the truck/SUV issue these vehicles were exempt from CAFÉ standards, if congress caved into the Big 3 lobbying efforts, seems disingenuous to turn around and criticize them as though congress had no hand in this.
3. Also, trucks/SUVs generally are more expensive so those vehicles and can absorb the legacy costs and afford to pay higher wages to build those vehicles, which is probably why a vehicle like the Pontiac Vibe is really a Toyota, that the PT Cruiser is more Mitsubishi than Chrysler, that Saturns are not from another planet, but from the Opel factories in Europe. We consumers have demanded trucks and SUVs and even the Japanese wanted in on the action and build full size versions, although some are assembled here in the South and Texas. When gas was cheap as it is now we didn’t demand fuel efficient vehicles and only whined about it when gas prices were high. Gas prices will go back up and above what we saw over the summer once the economy recovers globally.
4. But! But the Big 3 are guilty of not being innovative, of not being forward thinking of not developing a car we have to have, or as Friedman said, ‘didn’t know he wanted until he saw it’ referring the iPod. I fear the Big 3 will make the same old mistakes. I fear congress in it’s infinite lack of wisdom will seek to save us all. A car czar is a good idea. Unfortunately a realistic idea if we are not economic nationalists is to let them fail and be sold to the highest bidder. I’m sure many will say this is unpatriotic etc etc, and there would be a revolt against the buyers of our failed auto manufacturers, but they said that too when Honda put a motorcycle engine in a car and sold it like hotcakes here in the 70s (the first generation Civic), or when recently Nissan and Toyota began building full size trucks that the nay sayers said that full size trucks had a loyal following and would never work. Right or wrong, American’s like to spend money, but they like a good deal, I think more so than where it was made.
5. And “made” is a meaningless term in a global economy! Even your All American car might have tires from China, engine from Japan, battery from Mexico, wheels from Canada, rubber parts from Brazil, ECM (your cars brain) from Malaysia, etc. there is no “Made in America”. It might be assembled here, which means much of the tooling and machining is done elsewhere.
6. The argument for the need for manufacturing if we had not car plants to take over during a war assumes that: 1. Modern car plants are appropriate for the manufacturing of heavy vehicles like H1 armored Hummers, Tanks, etc. & 2. That we would have any qualms about taking over a plant on our soil, even if owned by a company owned of another country. I would suggest that the better plants for war time manufacturing would be in places where we build heavy equipment, tractors, 18wheelers, trains, etc. Not where we build the Chevy Cavalier, I mean Pontiac Cobalt.
7. A suggestion to the big 3, QUIT CLONING YOUR CARS!!! A ford Edge is a Mercury Mariner is a Mazda Tribute, can’t we just have one? The Dodge Caliber and the Jeep Patriot. The Pontiac Vibe and the Toyota Matrix or the Pontiac G5 and the Chevy Malibu, and so on and so on…
8. Government should create the demand they want to see, not by centralized control of policy by bureaucrats who know nothing about cars, but demand through government contracts the kind of cars you want. For example, the US Postal Service has 219,000 vehicles in their fleet, the government should offer contracts for vehicle types that achieve a certain fuel economy and emissions standard, if they create a great vehicle that people decide they want then it will be icing on the cake as the supply and demand were already covered by a government contract. Remember the Jeep CJ-5? It came from a defense contract and was built by several manufacturers and was viewed by the public as suck a thrifty utility vehicle it sold quite well, while the VW Beetle was the brain child of Hitler, it was still a good idea for a car and sold well here, non defense related hits would be the Mazda Miata, heck even the Yugo had its 15 minutes of fame. In short, it will be a disaster to let the Big 3 to do business as usual, but also equally disastrous if Congress thinks it can do better! Best to create the demand through government contracts for the types of vehicles the government says we should have, that should encourage some innovation without us being the first lab rats.
9. One final point, much of the improvements in fuel efficiency are lost to compensating for the increased weight that sound dampening materials for high speed driving, and all the weight from safety features. Maybe an economy car should be less safe, should trade off some weight for fuel economy, and if I an informed buyer would like to trade that off, why should the government intervene. The CRX HF got more than 50mpg stock on the highway! It also had a 1.3 liter engine and weighed under 2000 lbs. Any cars today get 50 mpg on gas that is not a hybrid that is offered here in the US? No I didn’t think so.
10. Okay I lied, one more last and final thought, for the billions of dollars to be spent to save the auto industry and the billions of dollars to be spent on infrastructure including repairs and improvements, is this what we really want? Maybe we should be manufacturing PRT systems and pods, maybe high speed trains, maybe light rail and rapid buses, and the entire infrastructure to support those forms of transportation not to mention good ole fashion walking and biking. Generally speaking BAU by the Big 3 and by Big Government is bad for America—m’kay.
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