Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Saving Detroit

I'm going to make a confession right now that's a little, perhaps, risqué for a liberal blogger: I love cars. That's right, I love driving them, I love looking at them, I love reading about them. At the height of the media's pro-war boosterism in the run-up to the Iraq invasion, I was so disgusted with CNN and MSNBC (no need to mention Fox) that I often instead turned my attention to the Speed Channel and watched outrageous monster trucks crushing lesser prey under the weight of their massive tires. It was a mental sanity break from news about a nation gone insane.

So now, with the heads of Detroit's big three automakers on their knees in Washington begging for a handout in order to assure their continued survival, I thought I'd play armchair legislator and offer my prescription for what it's going to take to save the U.S. auto industry. Because I simply cannot imagine the nation without a domestic automotive industry which accounts for a significant portion of our industrial production. It would be disastrous if we lost it. So it must be saved, though not in its current incarnation. The auto industry needs massive restructuring if it is to survive well into the 21st century.

One of Detroit's biggest problems, it seems to me, is the proliferation of brands. Most of the Japanese automakers have only two or three. They generally have a luxury division: Acura, Lexus, Infinity and a non-luxury brand Honda, Toyota, Nissan. Toyota ads a youth brand named Scion. Why in the world General Motors needs Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, GMC, Saturn, Hummer, Saab and Cadillac brands is beyond me. Why Dodge and Chrysler are different brands ia also a mystery (Jeep as a separate brand makes a little more sense). And just what the point of Ford's Mercury division is, I've never quite understood. It's basically little more than a trim level for Ford products, like their Eddie Bauer edition explorers.

My modest proposal, then is twofold. The first is to consolidate all the automakers into one, the United States Automotive Group. Saving the auto industry is going to take piles of cash, and with the massive federal debt we've got (thanks Reagan and Bush!) we simply can't afford to bail out and nurse along (possibly for decades) three separate companies that haven't yet figured out how to make cars suitable for the current market.

The next step is deciding which products and product lines survive from the three companies. I propose the following:

1) Luxury Division

Like the Asian automakers, the US auto industry should be divided into a Luxury division and a non-luxury division. Once that's done, deciding what cars fall into the luxury division is very simple: Cadillacs. Cadillac makes the only American Luxury car worthy of the name. Lincoln should be put out to pasture. Of all the Cadillac lineup two models deserve to survive:

a) The CTS and variants - this model group will compete with Lexus, Infinity and the BMW 3 series for customers.

b) The Cadillac DTS and variants - this model group competes with Mercedes and the BMW 5 and 7 series cars.

c) Separately, The Corvette survives as a luxury sports car.

2) Non-luxury division

This is a little more difficult picking, so let's start with the simplest decision first.

a) All truck divisions/brands die except for the Ford F-Series trucks.

b) The Ford Fusion and the Chevy Malibu survive as worthy family sedans.

c) The Ford Escape survives as a small SUV in both regular and Hybrid trim. USA auto develops a version with third-row seating.

d) The Chrysler 300 surives (temporarily) as a large family sedan and a police varint is developed to replace the aging Ford Crown Victoria.

e) The Dodge Grand Caravan survives as America's minivan

f) The Jeep Wrangler survives as a niche vehicle/brand.

g) All large SUVs die. If a large SUV is needed as a niche vehicle (towing, etc.) it is developed as a variant of the Ford F series truck platform.

3) Economy/Youth division

a) The Ford Focus survives as America's small, cheap, realiable economy car.

b) The Ford Mustang survives to feed the appetites of the Fast&Furious/Tuner crowd. However, it is retooled to be a bit smaller and lighter. A 4 cylinder version is developed that gets 20/28 MPG (perhaps with a turbo option) and the 6 cylinder version is retained. The 8 cylinder Mustang is dropped alltogether. A Mustang that is geared (and priced) to the Honda Civic Si/Scion TC/Mazdaspeed3 crowd would have one huge advanatge over its rivals: rear wheel drive.

In concert with this reorganization, Detroit needs to march full speed ahead with Hybrid development, especially the promising Chevy Volt. As soon as it becomes feasible the consolidated U.S. auto industry needs to introduce Hybrid variants of as many of its models as feasible, first as conventionl hybrids, and then, as model evolution progresses, as extended range electrics like the Volt.

Finally, the government needs to nurture the growth and development of Tesla Motors, the all-electric vehicle concern, with an eye toward eventually turning it into a second U.S. automotive company/Domestic competitor to the United Staes Automotive coporation.

Those are my thoughts, at any rate. They may be hairbrained. They are almost certainly overly simplistic. But I suspect something close to what I've drawn out must come to pass, or the country will a) lose its domestic auto industry all together or b) bankrupt itself trying to save it.


Anonymous said...

No shame liking cars.

Detroit used to make really good stuff, but I'm no fan of management.

BTW, many of the survivors of the great Anon Lobbyist exodus are at if you are interested.

Patriot's Quill said...

Thanks for the tip, Manchu. It was sad to lose so many great Wonketters. I think I miss Homofascist the most... perhaps just for his awesome screen name.