Automotive industry is in dire straits

It’s gotten to the point where we should let the giants fall. Yeah, I said it. Let them collapse. Let General Motors, Chrysler and Ford stand on their own, and if they cannot, let them go.

While some of my more cynical friends would easily classify me as a die-hard, card- carrying Democrat, they would be sadly mistaken. For the first time in probably eight to 10 years, I have to say I’m siding with the Republicans on this one. Bailing out another violently plagued industry that has proven its ineptitude time and time again is too much to chew.

While it may be difficult to imagine the world without American vehicles cruising the road, it might be something we have to swallow.

These companies have operated in a bubble, ignoring forecasts of the inevitable rise in oil prices, their environmental impact and their competition. Executives in Detroit sat in their plush leather seats, watching their smaller car sales dwindle, while Jettas and Civics found their way onto every American street. Instead of making better cars to compete against imports, Detroit threw all its eggs in the SUV basket.

This summer, with gas prices reaching four dollars per gallon in many parts of the country, driving a 12-miles-per-gallon Hummer H2 didn’t seem like the best idea. Dealerships were stocked with Escalades, Suburbans and Hummers. The SUV cash cow is dead, and it doesn’t seem like it is coming back.

If this was a speech rather than an article, some xenophobe would start heckling, yelling things like, “You are wrong. American-made cars are the best in the world.”

He would be right, if we were living between 1903 and 1961, not 2008.

The world is a much different place now and ignoring the fact that we do not make the best cars is what got us into this mess. In its annual 2008 auto issue, Consumer Reports tested more than 262 different models from automakers worldwide on their reliability, performance, fuel economy, comfort, interior fit and finish.

Honda was the best auto maker, with an overall score of 78, followed by Toyota at 75 and Subaru at 72. BMW, Mazda, Nissan and Volkswagen tied at 71, while Detroit automakers garnered some of the lowest scores. With scores like that, it’s no surprise Americans are switching from domestic to imported.

Years of collusion with high-ranking Washington officials, including the only president who could be adequately described as a lame duck for both of his terms, George W. Bush, is what got Detroit into this mess. For years, lobbyists for the automakers fought legislation that would require better fuel efficiency, environmental standards and safety.

In 2004, The New York Times ran an article on the front page titled “Out of Spotlight, Bush Overhauls U.S. Regulations.” In the article, Joel Brinkley wrote, “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a regulation that would forbid the public release of some data relating to unsafe motor vehicles, saying that publicizing the information would cause ‘substantial competitive harm’ to manufacturers.”

Unlike any other industry, the automotive industry was allowed to make a product that guzzled gas, polluted the environment and put lives in jeopardy.

We are left with a dilemna of epic proportions. We are currently in a grave economic situation and we cannot allow the industry to be saved as is. We need to gut the industry – cut off the executives who have mindlessly driven their companies into brick walls. There should be a written agreement by auto makers that they will change how they build cars before tax money goes toward the companies. It’s not going to be easy, but the industry has to adjust to the times or die.