Why the automakers are full of s***…


A different kind of car...from a different kind of company?

It’s a new day, GM is promising us.  We’re going to get smaller and leaner, and lure customers away from small foreign imports with our own line of competitive, fuel-efficient cars.  No more gas guzzlers.  No more bloated productions, big bureaucracies, bloated labor costs.  They’ve gotten the message and learned how to compete.  This is a different GM.

No, that isn’t the testimony from yesterday’s trip to Capitol Hill.  It’s what the troubled car company promised more than 25 years ago with the introduction of its Saturn line.  After an initial success GM quickly reverted to its old ways, absorbed the once-independent division into the company mainstream, stopped coming out with new models, and basically turned the Saturn into Just Another Econobox in the ailing General Motors lineup.  Its one success in a quarter of a century, and GM killed it off.  Everything that made Saturn different was wiped away.

Then there was all that research into the EV1.  Yeah, I know it had issues, but every new technology does.  Why spend billions if you’re not interested in change for the long-haul—you know, the kind of change they once again promise they’re advocating now?

Chrysler went to the government begging for money twice.  The first time, under the leadership of Lee Iacocca, they indeed paid their loan back early and came out with a highly successful line of “K” cars.  (I thought they were crap, but mainstream America seemed to dig them.)  But again they reverted to bland and boring and had to beg for more money to build a new technology center about 12 years later and come out with their LH line, which skeptics claimed stood for “Last Hope.”  Once again, after being initially successful the automaker reverted to its old, fat, lazy ways.

And Ford…let’s not even go there.  Let’s just say they haven’t had an exciting product  since the mid-80s, when the Taurus and its other aero-cousins hit the market and redefined what a mainstream sedan could look like.  After that their streak of “innovation” was over faster than Henry Ford could kick Edsel in the balls.

I’d like to know why when they say this time, they really really really really really really really get it, swear to God, cross my heart and hope to die, we should believe them.  Would you believe a child molester who was paroled the fourth or fifth time and says this time he can live across the street from a schoolyard because he’s really really really really really really cured?

If Congress gives them a nickel they’re even bigger fuckwits than I think they are.  Let the three (it seems laughable to even call them The Big Three anymore) go under.  They will take much of Detroit with them, it will decimate the economy, yes.  It’s time we stopped living in denial that this economy can escape decimation.  Otherwise we are just prolonging the agony.

Honest, guys, you have proven again and again that Americans cannot compete.  We can’t manufacture anymore, except in very small, specialized batches, or where we steal a European concept or design (and oftentimes not even then), so let’s stop kidding ourselves.  It’s a lost art, a lost skill.  Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, when the best and brightest among us all decided it was cooler to be “in high finance,” pushing around pieces of paper to make them magically more valuable instead of designing and building things and getting our hands a little dirty, instead of learning about math and science and art and all that other nerdy stuff, we sealed our fate for generations to come.  Those generations have now come. The Europeans and Japanese still build things.  They don’t find it demeaning to work on shop room floors.  They don’t believe all the desirable jobs are in upscale office suites where people throw around obscure words and concepts that even they don’t understand, but won’t admit to not understanding, while planning power lunches and golf-course retreats, feeling smug and superior in their “white-collar” education.

Remember that raah-raah economy that started in the 80s?  The greed-is-good, money-money-money fast-moving world extolled by Ronald Reagan and allegedly “fiscally-conservative” Republicans as proof America was the greatest economic powerhouse in the world, “the envy of all other nations,” as George W. Bush freuqently said early in his tenure and rarely say anymore?  Free markets were magic.  They floated in the ether above all criticism.  Anybody who wanted respect and power didn’t dirty his fingers futzing with machinery.  He never suffered more than perhaps an occasional paper cut as he turned bunches of  C+ securities into a basket of “Grade A” funds by “repackaging” them and “adding value” through…through…well, maybe you can explain it to me.  These were the people we respected and aspired to be like, who we wanted our kids to be as we encouraged them to pursue MBAs above all else.  Meanwhile we forgot how to make toasters and press LP records that didn’t pop and click, and later CDs that didn’t skip and stutter.  Did we worry?  No, because we still had those finance guys in power suits running around in glass towers doing things nobody understood, but apparently making lots of money doing it.  People in “other countries” with smaller economies than ours were doing all that manufacturing stuff under our logos and they did it so much better than us and for lower cost and that was not particularly alarming anybody.

This is what happens when you build castles on sand, when you bet a country’s future (and political and social philosophies) on smoke and mirrors.  As the saying goes, greed is good.  Now it’s just going the other way….That’s good, too.


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