Auto-ameri-dammerung

Ford has been reported as running their factories on single shift and laying off their workers for three-four weeks a shift. General Motors has laid off people all over and is trying to buy out the rest of the workers with a decent amount of seniority. And now Chrysler’s trying to draw people into their showrooms with a promise that the won’t have to pay more than $2.99 per gallon for three years.

Don’t know about you, but it looks like the American Automobile Industry is finally entering its final, fatal collapse.

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In a way, I’ve been watching the American Auto Industry since the late sixties, when my mother spent time teaching me the right way to say “Buick,” where my father worked. I watched as the cars became plainer and plainer through the seventies and into the early eighties, then get better over the years until Buicks were able to rank up in the top five for initial quality on a steady basis (along with Mercury and Cadillac, other American brands).

Problem is, everyone remembers the mid-seventies through the late-eighties, and remembers that American Cars (for the most part) sucked. And for all they care, American cars still suck.

So they’re not buying American cars.

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Here’s the truth about automobile quality: The worst car today was built better than those imports the Japanese Automobile Companies cherry-picked for export to the United States in the late seventies.

However, people tend to be stuck with the memories of what was around during their youth. And what people have remembered for the longest time is “American Cars aren’t to be trusted.”

The American car companies weren’t able to overcome that. After a while, however, it seemed they didn’t try or care to. For ten years (1995-2005; THANK YOU BILL CLINTON) they were able to build oversized vehicles on truck chassis and obscenely aggressive designs. SUVs had made it on the market, and they seemed to be here to stay.

But now nobody’s buying them. Small cars are coming back, and the US car companies have little or nothing to offer them.

Even if I weren’t to look at the sales numbers or listen to the people talking about dropping SUV sales or notice the lack of Hummer advertising, I can certainly tell you what I see on the streets:

  • Three years ago: SUVs own the road. I almost feel suffocated driving around.
  • Two years ago: More cars on the road, fewer SUVs. I feel much more lightness on the roads.
  • Last year: Bikes, and mopeds make their appearance on the road. I even see a motorized bicycle on the road once.
  • This year (so far): Every Day I see a moped.

That’s the challenge: make smaller cars worth buying. And I don’t yet see the American Car Companies making that effort. 

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So what’s next?

I can see General Motors shifting away from America. Already there are more Buicks sold in China than in the United States.

Ford may just take a dive. While seemingly more insulated than General Motors (due to their ownership situation), their sales have actually dropped lower percentage-wise than General Motors’ sales. Their cars are also uglier.

Chrysler? it may end up being sold to China. It’s presently privately owned, and its owners are trying to make it profitable. In the end, the only way they may be able to extract wealth from it may be to sell to China and export the factories to them. I remember reading Lee Iacocca’s latest book, he was pissed off over what had happened at his old company (the one he had saved, and left seemingly in good hands).

Forty, thirty, twenty years ago nobody could have seen this coming. Ten years ago everyone was singing the praises of a newly-responsive American Automobile Industry, ignoring that they were mainly repackaging trucks for mass consumption.

Today………I’m worried.

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