Can these people really be so dumb?
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the automotive crisis is not so much the specter of impending financial doom, overcrowded bread lines, or the end of Automotive Life As We Know It. No, it’s the up-close and too-personal look at the men and women who run our country, and, by extension, at some members of the mainstream media who report stories now and ask questions later, if at all.
Public-spirited citizens that we are, let us detail for you 10 lies that pinhead legislators—and, by extension, the mainstream media—believe about the car industry.
Lie 1: American companies don’t sell fuel-efficient cars.
Truth: Really? Really? Of course they do. The Detroit Three currently offer, among others, the Ford Focus, the Chevrolet Aveo and Cobalt, and the Dodge Caliber, and for decades before that, consumers were offered everything from the Ford Falcon to the Plymouth Valiant. The U.S. automakers have always made fuel-efficient cars, and they still make them. For years, that’s all Saturn made. But the American manufacturers have always used the shotgun approach; if you throw enough pellets at the target, a few are bound to hit the bulls-eye. Early imports used the rifle method: just one bullet. But companies like Toyota have adopted the U.S. model. There are 15 Toyota models, eight of which are trucks or SUVs. And Toyota’s overall sales in November were down 33.9 percent, while Ford’s dropped 31.6 percent. Explain that, Mr. Congressman and Mrs. Congresswoman.
Lie 2: American consumers will only buy fuel-efficient vehicles.
Truth: Then why is the only Toyota to show a major gain in November the Sequoia SUV? And why do some Toyota dealers currently have to discount the Prius as much as $1500 to move them?
Lie 3: Detroit is dragging its feet in making trucks, SUVs, and large cars more fuel-efficient.
Truth: Domestic-brand trucks and SUVs get the same lousy mileage as trucks and SUVs built everywhere else. Why? Because they are trucks and SUVs! As for large cars, many European brands are able to achieve excellent overall mileage for them, in large part thanks to diesel power. With seven states, notably California and New York, subscribing to pollution standards that are stricter than federal standards, though, it did not make much sense for U.S. manufacturers to develop diesel cars when they can’t sell them in two of the largest states.
Lie 4: Detroit forced people to buy gas guzzlers.
Truth: We’ve heard some interesting dealer stories over the years, but none involved putting guns to customers’ heads to require them to buy a Ford Excursion or Chevrolet Suburban, when what they really wanted was a Ford Escort or a Chevy Cavalier. Plenty of people (such as, for instance, President-elect Obama, who used to own a Chrysler 300C) like big, powerful, safe vehicles.
Lie 5: Auto executives flying on private jets is a slap in the face to the American consumer.
Truth: Apparently the no-private-jet rule applies only to automotive executives. If you are an executive of, say, AIG or Citigroup, it’s fine. Of course, the financial companies didn’t have to travel to Washington, D.C. to grovel for their bailouts—they were simply handed out like party favors—so the opportunity to publicly flog their executives for their method of long-distance transportation never presented itself.
Lie 6: People aren’t buying domestic-brand vehicles because they are of inferior quality.
Truth: That perception lingers, but it’s no longer the case. They aren’t buying domestic-brand vehicles because people aren’t buying anything. According to major independent research, GM and Ford cars are virtually identical in quality to Japanese cars. GM has won numerous awards for its current crop of cars, including two straight North American Car of the Year awards and top accolades from Motor Trend, Consumer Reports, and, most important, Car and Driver.
Lie 7: It’s easy and cost-effective to close brands.
Truth: It costs billions to close the dealers, and you lose customers. Is that the best use for the bailout money, to pay dealers not to sell cars? How well has that worked with farm subsidies?
Lie 8: Only the American companies were so stupid to not see this coming and prepare.
Truth: Everyone is losing sales and money, but only the U.S. companies don’t have a cash cushion. One big reason: Foreign-based companies don’t have U.S.-size legacy costs, which include things like retirees’ pensions and health care, because of things such as nationalized health care.
Lie 9: The average consumer is too savvy for the market.
Truth: The day gas prices dropped, people went back to buying trucks and SUVs, and Priuses started piling up on dealers’ lots. Because gas prices won’t go back up, right? Are our memories really that short?
Lie 10: Thomas Friedman can fix everything.
Truth: The New York Times columnist is certainly entertaining, in the same way that Ross Perot as a presidential candidate was entertaining. But do you really want to take him seriously? Friedman wants the U.S. manufacturers to build nothing but hybrids, and he gives them just 36 months to make that happen. Three years to completely overhaul the vehicle lineups of three major manufacturers? Do foreign automakers have to stop building their gas-swillers, too? Thomas Friedman, Real World. Real World, Thomas Friedman. First time you’ve ever met, right?