A New (car) Deal

auto3OK we gave $13 billion to the big three (they don’t deserve capitals). Will it help? I don’t think so – I see bankruptcy as the only way to go in the long run. The amount of money the British government put into all of the Brit cars through the 60s and 70s did not save them. The production lines were never updated and most never sold outside the UK because of tariffs on imports meant they did not have to compete.

Some want to blame the UAW for making the workers too expensive. Some want to blame management for lack of actually managing. But I am of mixed feelings of heaping this solely on the workers or the management, both are at fault because both lost the idea that what they are producing is a car – not a job or a lifestyle – those are byproducts of producing a product somebody wants.

My dad was a Ford guy. Mr Kimball next door was a Chevy guy. Back the there was a brand identity and a vision. Today there is no clear vision from anyone about what the company they head (or the one they work for) is all about. I hate “vision statements” and all that crap, but they have a place if well done and this idea from Management 101 is needed in Detroit. What is the vision of GM? of Chrysler? of Ford?

When I think of other makers I have an idea of what they are about:
Subaru=all wheel drive
Toyota= quality
Honda= guality and maybe sportier than Toyota
Hyundai= Good bang for the buck
BMW = custom and sporty

American cars used to be “the Cadillac,”  but that’s now Mercedes or BMW or Lexus. The US once led in technological innovation and now that is replaced with “me too” marketing. A badly written law that says they must reduce gas consumption (CAFE standards) has these companies building vehicles that skirt the law’s intent by basing their products on trucks giving us the very needed 7 or 8 passenger SUV.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. We must learn to compete not only by reducing labor and management costs, but by actually innovating again. With rare exception I haven’t lusted for an American car in years. I think the last was the Ford GT, completely unattainable by me just like Angelina Jolie. It did make me look at the rest of what Ford made though. American car makers must make some statement defining what they are all about and develop a means of production that makes us competitive.

The world market could force autoworkers to lower their wage expectations, however the possibility of the Pinkertons returning to keep workers in line is frightening. Management must also become lean, but not mean. The question is should the government replace (or has it already?) the need for unions by protecting workers from cost cutting aimed only at them. Protecting wages if management takes a bonus, maintaining safety on the job and to watch-dog labor practices that compromise gains made by women, children and other groups that have been exploited in the past would be a role for government if the call for bankruptcy means breaking the unions.

It is a tricky question, but I am more hopeful that something may get done in the next 4 years to get us on the right road than I have been these last 8.


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