Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Going Extinct

Woke up this morning to an inch or so of snow on the ground I didn't know was in the offing. What happens when you turn the news off before the weather report.

I did watch le tube long enough to see an interview on PBS, pro and con, about the new legislation coming out of the Obama Administration -- don't you just love not-hearing "the Bush Administration? -- regarding the auto industry.

Basically, the new and improved fed is going to hold the automakers' s feet to the fire if they want any kind of bailout.

The pro admin guy gave the change-or-die position. The anti-guy, who ran an online car 'zine, pissed and moaned, parroting the auto industry position: Aw, gee, all this gotta-get-good-mileage and pollution stuff is gonna cost money! We can't afford it! Cars are going to shrink, turn into plastic cans on wheels, death-machines! This is not what Americans want!

Detroit, in its heart, is still sure that Americans want eight-cylinder, three-hundred-horsepower, six passenger sedans, and all these other itty bitty cars are a passing fad.

I got your dinosaurs right here. These are the guys who went hats-in-hand to D.C. to beg for money -- wearing five-thousand-dollar suits and delivered by limo from their private jets.

When the taxman comes to your door, it's not a good idea to answer his knock in your best Armani.

I feel for the workers who have lost, and are going to lose their jobs everywhere, and I know the automobile manufacturers in the U.S., are particularly hard-hit. It's a bad situation.

I feel no sympathy whatsoever for the Big Three. Yeah, there is a recession, but they brought it upon themselves.

There has never been a safety innovation that the public needed in its rolling iron that Detroit offered freely. The government had to put a gun to their heads to make seat belts standard. Ditto air bags. Crash tests? Whatever for? We don't want the public to know that if they hit a squirrel in the road that will total the vehicle and probably kill them -- and not the squirrel.

The Big Three blew a gasket when they had to report mpg for their vehicles. They had seizures when made to add anti-pollution equipment. The idea of building smaller cars that get better gas mileage is still looked upon as heresy of the highest order. Detroit offered things as options, but they were so sure they had their finger on the pulse of the public -- people want these big and powerful cars, they do, they do! that they laughed at those funny little German bugs and Japanese roller skates pretending to be real cars right up to the time that the VWs and Toyotas zipped by and blew the doors off Detroit's dinosaurs.

There's a reason Tundra trucks are selling better than Dodges or Fords or Chevys, and it's not because they are cheap.

First car I ever owned with a seat belt was a 1967 VW Beetle. Lap-only, and many times it kept my head from putting a concave dent in the roof when I rolled over a curb chasing guys as a private eye. I learned to wear my seat belt when I got that car, used, late in 1969, and I don't leave my driveway without buckling up.

How could Ford, Chrysler, and GM not see it was coming? Why didn't they have the vision to notice the meteors were falling and it was time to get their collective ass into a cave?

They made Mr. Magoo look like Nostradamus.

Yes, the government has to bail them out, because of the impact their failure would have as it ripples through an already crippled economy. But dragging them kicking and screaming into the 21st Century? Fine by me. If ever companies deserved to be nationalized, they are them.

Stupid fuckers.


Menduir said...


Tell us how you REALLY feel.

~ Jas.

Viro said...

*Shrug* If you're surrounded by people that agree with you, you're not going to change your mind any time soon.

The management of those companies have been in cahoots with Big Oil since the get-go and now they're paying the price.

We (the people) just have to figure out how to keep labor from paying the price, too.

Dan Gambiera said...

What amazes me is how "The Bailout" has been rebranded - mostly by the Republicans - to be a reason for busting the UAW, lowering wages and getting rid of the auto industry. The counter model? The auto industry in the South which pays no more than twice minimum wage and is moving to China. Oh, yes and which got at least a hundred billion in direct subsidies and special tax breaks.

The not-so-big three wanted one fortieth of what we've given the insurance, banking and brokerage crooks. And we haven't done the square root of dick to hold them accountable for any of it. We sat still while they took the money and sat on it instead of opening the business credit markets. We kept our mouths shut while they used the money to buy each other up and stash the cash in offshore tax havens. We got nothing in equity from them. We can't even find out who got how much because that would hurt confidence in the companies.

But that's all forgotten. The Greedy Old Plutocrats have (as usual) reframed the debate into rat-fucking industries in States that vote for Democrats.

Nataraj Hauser said...

I'm on my 3rd VW. My previous US-made cars (Jeep CJ5, Mustang II, and AMC Hornet, Chevy BelAire) taught me EVERYthing I needed to know about Big-3 cars. Friends are driving Toyotas and Hondas with 250,000+ miles and no trouble while a coworker with a Ford Explorer considered it "used up" with just under 80k. My next car may not be a V-Dub, but unless things change (Chevy Volt?) I'll be burning rice or kraut. One of our 5 motorcycles is a Harley. It's thee only one that routinely lets us down on the road, and because it's the *wrong* Harley (883 Sportster) the HD dealerships don't want to service it. Really.

Jon said...

Speaking of dinosaurs...

One of the guys in my company slipped a line about people being soylent green into an otherwise deadpan report. It was clever. Good enough for a chuckle I thought.

A few days later, after a few requests, he sent out an email linking wikipedia and explaining that it was from a 1973 movie, etc etc.

It didn't even occur to me that it needed explaining. Can I borrow your "all my friends are extinct" pin?

Clint Johnson said...

Where your assessment of relative merit would have been accurate a decade or more ago, I'd say that there is little difference between the domestic and foreign automobiles today.

If you want an anaemic vehicle that is only suitable to hauling one or two passengers and a few bags of groceries- you can get that from a range of vanilla cars from GM or Toyota. The current reliability statistics are pretty much a draw.

The greatest difference right now is the labour costs. The wages aren't greatly different but the accumulated deficit of doing business with the UAW has lead to a cost difference in the thousands of dollars per vehicle.

Toyota can put a couple thousand dollars more into a pickup than Dodge can and still hit the same price point. Whether or not the UAW workers "deserve" these additional benefits are irrelevant to the equation unless that is your philosophical horse in the race... then you are morally obligated to pay more for less to support that personal opinion.

I don't think it gives anyone an imperative to force others to go along with their opinion by throwing bailout money at it or instituting tariffs and other trade barriers.

There is a lot that the middling three have done wrong and as a capitalist I believe that if their business model is no longer workable then they should go bankrupt. The blame for this can be shared between executive decisions and excessive greed on the part of the UAW... and the company's financial failure should be a lesson to both parties.

It would be a shame since my favourite vehicles all come from the American auto makers. The current model year Jeep Wrangler, Dodge 1 ton Cummins, Dodge Challenger, Chevy Comaro... these are all exemplary vehicles. Economy cars are basically interchangeable vehicles that are created to be as bland as possible so as to offend the aesthetics of as few people as possible.

Steve Perry said...

I think Detroit did much to shoot itself in the feet over the years. The last new American car I bought was a Ford Pinto station wagon, and it was an abomination unto the Lord. From then on, I have owned three cars -- a Volvo sedan, a Miata, and a Mini. The Volvo ran fine for seventeen years, the Miata for twelve, and the Mini is only two years old.

My wife has had a couple of American company cars, but her personal ones have been Hondas, Toyotas, and for a short while, an MG Midget I bought her. Of course, it was twenty years old.

The Miata is what the MG might have been had it run well.

Different folks have different experiences, but to a car, every foreign one I had, save the MG, outran every American I owned, in terms of dependability, cost of operation and repair, and just plain fun.

Detroit has never built anything that compares favorably to a 1962 Volvo when it comes to staying alive.

The only reason to bail out the Big Three is because letting them fail would make the current recession much worse if that ripples through the country. If that wasn't the case, I'd say, Let 'em stew in their own juices.

We might not be able to save them anyway, but we haven't had a capitalistic society since the Robber Barons had ten-year-olds working sixteen-hour days and were willing to shoot striking miners dead and get away with it. Unions might have gotten too fat and lazy, but they have their place.

My days of bowing before Ayn Rand's dollar sign are long past. The world is too complicated for cowboys and pirates.

Clint Johnson said...

Yes, your mileage will vary... but a Ford Pinto? What were you thinking man?

I did own a Ford Explorer that snapped a control arm during its first cold winter and then dropped the transmission in the eighth year. There was also the Toyota Corolla that I had to rebuild when it stripped the distributor gears during a cold start at -40 degrees. Those were both pre-1995 vehicles.

The newer vehicles; Jeep Wrangler, Dodge 1 ton Cummins and the Jeep Commander have been without fault - save for the transmission on the Wrangler that was driver abuse to get through waist deep water and then unstuck.

Individual experiences colour how we see vehicles and the various ratings organizations are about the least subjective source of data- and they show that the domestics have pretty much reached parity with the foreign brands. Contrary to my experience, JD Power actually ranks Jeep near the back of the pack so that would suggest that the spread is pretty slim.

As for the sins of unfettered capitalism, they do not approach the sins of the unfettered state.

I feel that the role of the state is to intervene when business take actions such as the slavery and dangerous work conditions you mentioned. When the state uses its power to pick winners and bestow largess then the balance is destroyed.

They will pick incorrectly. Even if their criterion was not based on currying "contributions" and votes, the chances of them making better business decisions than the dollar-democracy of the market is indistinguishable from zero. What does happen is that it becomes a market of political favours where the business must buy their success from the state.

There certainly is a place for unions but there has to be some check on their predations just like those of business. There should be prohibitions against the initiation of violence and the state should not be allowed to give them a legislated monopoly on workers.

The state needs to be strong enough to curb the more rapacious of its subjects or citizens- but by the Flying Spaghetti Monster no stronger. Since the the ruling body's power is entirely based on a monopolized right to do great violence to the individual, the controls on it need to be far more stringent than those on business.

I am no anarchist. If the state were to fall, the power vacuum would be filled in a matter of days- and almost certainly with a far worse option.

The state may be a necessity, that doesn't mean that it isn't a grotesque and horrible necessity.

Nor am I an Objectivist. While much of what Ayn Rand had to say has merit, she was woefully out of touch with reality and the philosophy she created works only on her pages.

I am a libertarian who understands that some business people will abuse power and that the state is needed to keep those abuses in check. I also understand that the state is made up of people with the same foibles and ability to abuse power. The power of these people has to be tightly restricted since the harm they do will outstrip what is even possible for any private business or individual.