Day Eighteen: Bailing Out Buffoons
Today as I was making my approximately 47 minute commute home from work - most of which was spent crawling at 19 miles per hour behind a Cadillac Escalade - it occurred to me that I don't necessarily feel that it's fair to pay for the US auto industry's mistakes.
Of course, by now, anyone with access to a radio or television should be familiar with all of the arguments supporting an economic bailout for the "Big Three." According to economic experts, "Higher car prices, the end of incentives and vehicle shortages could occur if GM and other Big Three automakers don't get bailout.." I understand this and also realize the human toll - an estimated loss of 2.5 million jobs by those who are paid directly or indirectly by a robust auto industry. But, like many others, I also see a great deal of stupidity linked to the current situation in Detroit.
For years now, the Big Three have ignored calls to discontinue their love affair with the tacky, gluttonous, gas-guzzling SUVs and big dumb trucks that currently clog up American roadways. In the 1980s and 90s, US automakers were concerned primarily with manufacturing cars (remember them?) Since the late 90s, however, they've been more and more obsessed with hoisting inefficient behemoths upon the American public. In fact, in 2006, 70 to 75% of Ford's production was SUVs and trucks. Anyone with half a brain could have seen that this couldn't sustain itself. High gasoline prices are and will be the death knell of the SUV culture. But instead of gradually weaning us off of these monsters, the Big Three greedily squeezed as much blood from the stone as they could.
Further, American cars have had a justifiably bad reputation for decades now. I don't know about you but I certainly don't buy American-made automobiles, and when my faithful, gently-used Camry finally gives up on me, I intend to replace with with another Toyota Camry. Foreign, specifically Japanese, automakers have been running circles around American brands with regard to dependability and owner loyalty since the mid 80s. If one thinks of a lemon, one almost invariably thinks of an American car. Instead of choosing to address this head on, and making cars that matter, the Big Three, in their self-satisfied conceit, continued to churn out an inferior product. They figured that Americans wouldn't choose foreign products over their own. They were wrong.
Many critics are blaming unions for this mess. They feel that auto companies have been capitulating to unreasonable union demands over the years, leading to complacency and bloated contracts. While this may help explain why the Big Three can't dramatically cut production costs, it doesn't explain why such shitty ideas and products keep rolling down from the top. Unions aren't responsible for the creative and productive missteps that Ford, Chrysler and GM have taken for the last decade. This is more of an issue of poor management than it is of union bullying.
So here we sit. On the verge of a depression. Stuck between the almost equally terrible decisions to bail out the imbecilic US auto companies or to allow them to collapse under the weight of their own horrible judgment. My feeling is that no matter the decision, we're all going to end up getting the raw end of the deal. Given the current state of the economy, and my own precarious employment, I find it somewhat ironic that these thoughts came to mind during a commute that I might no longer have to take.
Blaxplanation Disclaimer: We - the American consumer - are to blame as well. I read recently that with gas prices on the decline, sales for SUVs and trucks are back on the rise. We've learned nothing, and part of me believes that we deserve what we're going to get.