Thursday, November 20, 2008

Should we save the American motor industry?

Mustang Sally. Pink Cadillac. Hot Rod Lincoln.

Famous American songs about famous American cars.

Bugger the BMWs. Stuff the Saabs. Take your Toyotas and stick 'em where the Land of the Rising Sun don't shine. As far as the automobile is concerned, it's an all-American ensemble with mere guest appearances from Germany and Japan.

Or, at least, it was...

But right now, the last three American motor giants are teetering on the edge of self-destruction and the American taxpayer is stuck wondering if they're going to have to foot the bill to keep these dinosaurs going - or even if those companies can last long enough for that decision to be made.

After all, Republicans hate bailouts, the Democrats hate the motor industry and American customers would apparently prefer to buy their cars and trucks from Toyota than Ford. Nobody's going to decide in a hurry.

Has the era of Detroit Steel finally come to a close?

Well, it would be a tragedy if it did.

Don't get me wrong. I'm the first to admit that the American motor industry has nobody but itself to blame for their current woes.

Back in the 1970's, Roger Moore (in the Man with the Golden Gun) was on a mission to track down a solar generator 'Because oil reserves are running low.' Yet forty years later - FORTY YEARS - the big motor companies are continuing to churn out big, gas-guzzling trucks that wouldn't have looked out of place in the era of disco and platform shoes.

Only Roger could make this 'look' look good.

There's a reason Toyota is the Number #1 motor manufacturer in America. They produce cars that customers want. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler/Dodge have been gleefully churning out the same old shit for years seemingly oblivious to the fact that nobody buys them any more.

But what kind of world would it be without American cars?

I remember learning about the decline and death of the British motor industry and it was alarmingly similar to what's happening in America.

Britain used to have a wonderful car industry, producing sexy sports cars (MG and Triumph) and luxurious saloons (Jaguar and Woolsey) while delivering affordable family cars (Morris and Austin) and world-class luxury tourers (Rolls Royce and Bentley.)

The British Motor Industry: Then

But one by one, they all died out.

Because socialism was all the rage back in the 1960's, the government stepped in, first with the British Motor Corporation, which scooped up marques like Morris, Austin and MG, and then the 1970's era British Leyland, which added the rest. But by the early eighties, the British 'motor industry' was flogging re badged Hondas as 'The Triumph Acclaim' or the 'Austin Metro' and within a decade, even that disappeared off.

Rolls Royce and Bentley, for the first time since the 1930's, were separated. Volkswagen now make Bentleys. BMW make Rolls Royce. Land Rover and Aston Martin are made by Ford [Not any more - Editorial Bear] and Rover is in semi-existence somewhere in China. The rest? Ghosts, of a time long passed.

The British Motor Industry: Now

It's a tragedy.

And I don't see how the American car industry can do anything except go in the same direction.

After all, it's not just a matter of money. GM, Ford and Chrysler are shedding billions of dollars of capital each month, so a government handout would postpone the inevitable, at the very best.

It's a matter of ideas.

In order to become viable, the three American giants need to come up with a viable product they can afford to produce and consumers will pay for.

And even if they manage that, they'll have to do it better than Honda and Kia and Toyota.

The American government can lend the 'big three' as much money and support as they want - but unless they can give them a future - an idea - than no bailout is going to work. The great legacy of the American Motor Industry will be utterly doomed.

So I say the government gives motor industry more than a bailout cheque. They give them an ultimatum.

Here is 'X' billion dollars. In return for this, within ten years, we want a lean, sexy, full-loaded electric car for under $20,000 retail and with a 200 mile range available in motor dealerships nationwide. We want the new Model T. The new VW Beetle. The new Mini. The new it.

And if you fail to deliver, every board member will find themselves in jail until they've paid the taxpayer back. Bam!

Is anybody up to that challenge?

This is America. Scratch the surface and it's still cowboy country out here. Surely somebody has the guts to attempt the impossible.

After all, it's set to enter the marketplace in 2011 (if we're brave enough to let it...)


Coffee Bean said...

A truly capitalist/free market would take care of it... change to what the market wants or go under. You are right in that a bailout is only going to delay the inevitable.

mre30seattle said...

The Big 3 don't need a bailout. They just need to realise that they are done.

I've had two American hate tanks in my life only because they were given to me.

I'll stick to my 22 year old BMW. It still gets great mileage for a 6 cylinder and has 230K on the odometer.

When was the last time an American vehicle kept going after that many miles put on it?

That and the last time any of the Detroit 3 made a great car was in the 1960's. The lost their creativity in design in the 1970's.

My paycheque just can't afford to keep Detroit bobbing on the surface. Please torpedo them now and let them go under.

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