Our Big three automakers: GM, Chrysler and Ford, are teetering. Does the government bail them out and save the US auto industry? Or, do we let them fail and move on past the idea that America makes American cars – and let the Honda’s and Toyota’s and BMW’s and Mercedes’ of the world do it.
GM’s stock is trading where it was 40 years ago although talk of a bailout has brought a speculative tiny bump. Chrysler – you couldn’t give it away when Daimler unwound it from the ill-fated merger a few years ago. Ford – well, the venerable epitome of the American car maker could not even keep Kirk Kerkorian, investor extraordinaire, interested in keeping his stock holdings. By the way, my Mustang GT Premium convertible is a wonderful car, but wonderful cars do not save a US auto maker. It gets better gas mileage than you might think, too.
Years ago, I was one of the last to buy stock in Pan Am when it was at $4 a share and I seriously believed the government would not let our first international US air carrier fail after the bailout of Chrylser back then. Kaput – Pan Am circled the bowl and disappeared. Bail AIG and let Lehman die? What standards are we following in selecting who in the corporate world shall live or who shall die? Is it like the Roman Gladiator shows where the Emperor gave thumbs up or down based on crowd reaction?
Our auto makers have been coddled and protected by their representatives in Washington for decades. They pull a train behind them of massive retirement and other benefits for workers who made $10 and $20 an hour decades ago. Our auto makers have to compete with other auto makers from other countries who are generously subsidized by their nations. Our US auto industry is the last to react to changes – a true curmudgeon of invention and adapting other’s inventions. But, do they deserve to fail?
Ford and GM are running out of cash. You can walk in to a dealer and make all kinds of 0% financing deals, thousands in cash back; just drive one off the lot – Please! Lenders are getting impatient with all those shiny new cars just sitting there.
Aside from the question of where on earth we are going to find all the money to fund all the bailouts and rescues, should we save Detroit at the expense of the American taxpayer? If the government rescues them, will the US government now add stock in the Big Three Auto Makers to its growing, diversified portfolio which now includes bank stocks, insurance companies and God knows what else? Should we condition any help with a dose of reality-inducing conditions to be imposed on Detroit – that they make cars that get 50-100 miles per gallon only? Bye, Mustang!
Green measures – should we require that too? How about taking that big monkey off their back- figuring a way to spread out the cost of all those retirees who live longer and longer and need more and more expensive medical care? I don’t want to get into the Socialism debates that have raged of late. If we are not moving in that direction anyway, then how do we rationalize all the bailouts and rescues of private companies who would not share a dime of their profit with non-shareholders if the tables were turned?
Do we make the Big Three officially the American-subsidized auto industry to compete on the same level with the big German and Japanese and now Korean car makers?
This may not wait in President-Elect Obama’s In Box until January 20. We need to put together a Brain Trust now for tackling staggering, unprecedented (at least not since FDR’s time) economic transition issues between the exiting lame duck administration and the incoming new one. There are some 70-odd days left and economies do not wait around for help. They drown quietly right beside you in the swimming pool while you are sharing drinks with neighbors out on the patio.
If we don’t do something and do something fast, we had better get used to the dreaded D-Word, as recession implies something less global, less devastating than what is shaping up. Oh yes, the warming trend means I can drive around for a few more days in my Mustang with the top down before the weather gets too cold. Some small consolation.