At Witz' End: What Auto CEOs Should Have Said
Did it occur to anyone else that those oh-so-painful auto CEO/government hearings should have been the other way around?
Instead of the heads of America's three remaining automakers groveling, begging and enduring live public floggings trying to sell their case for government loans to get them past the global economic crisis and credit freeze that government greed, corruption and incompetence has created, shouldn't they have been vein-popping outraged and angry? Shouldn't they have pointed accusatory fingers at that sorry collection of arrogant, auto-ignorant Senators and Congressmen who got them into this mess and demanded their assistance?
Shouldn't they have looked those pompous public-trough pinheads straight in the face and demanded to know why investment firms, banks and big insurance get hundreds of billions of taxpayer bailout dollars no questions asked while what's left of America's once-mighty manufacturing muscle begs for loans totaling 1/28 of that initial $700 billion Wall Street bailout? Where were the public humiliation hearings and newly viable business plans for those guys?
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Here is what I'll bet those long-suffering auto CEOs wanted to say, but couldn't:
"You ignorant morons! How dare you accuse us of building cars nobody wants? We sold 8.5 million vehicles in the US last year and millions more around the world. GM still handily outsells Toyota here, Ford outsells Honda and Nissan, and Chrysler sells more than Nissan and Hyundai combined. How many of our new cars have you driven lately? How many quality surveys and plant productivity reports have you reviewed? Have you bothered to check your own EPA's fuel economy ratings?
"Have you paid any attention in the last several years as we've turned our companies upside down, closed dozens of plants, shed hundreds of thousands of hard-working people who did nothing to deserve it, canceled slow-selling models and spent billions of hard-earned dollars redesigning the rest? Are you idiots even aware that we renegotiated our union contracts last year to make our US labor and health-care costs fully competitive by 2010?
"Would you recognize a good business plan if one smacked you upside the head? Have any of you ever run a business, made a business decision or even held a real job? Is there any more dysfunctional organization on the planet, any that more desperately needs a new business plan, than the US Congress? Let's compare our public approval ratings to yours.
"You scold us for using private aircraft? We run global companies flying people, parts and equipment all over the world every day. We use private planes for security and productivity and cost savings over commercial alternatives. If it were not cost effective, we would not do it, and we've been doing a lot less of it lately. Tell us, Ms. Pelosi, how much does that big private 757-200 of yours cost taxpayers to fly you home and back between your tough 3-day weeks?
"For decades, your national energy policy has been summed up by two words: 'cheap gas.' Now you want to punish us for building the big, capable, comfortable vehicles Americans wanted to take advantage of that policy...and for not building millions more smaller, more fuel-efficient cars that, until recently, almost no one wanted, and that we can't make a buck on if we build them here thanks to the high business costs you've imposed upon us through the years.
"You have blocked every avenue of domestic exploration and construction that could lead to eventual energy independence, preferring instead to pump hundreds of billions of dollars overseas to purchase the energy Americans need, much of it from countries that are not our friends. You have piled billions of dollars of unrecoverable costs on us with excessive taxation, overkill regulation and relentless litigation that our off-shore competitors do not have to bear. Then you have rolled out the red carpet to predatory, low-cost foreign competitors who come here to take our market and pump hundreds of millions more dollars out of this country.
"Is there any other country fortunate enough to have an automotive industry that does not support, protect and nourish it in every possible way? We are the only nation on earth too blind and stupid to recognize and treasure the enormous economic and national security advantages of having its own healthy, prosperous auto industry and manufacturing base.
"Now you have passed an enormously expensive new regulation requiring 40 percent higher corporate average fuel economy in hopes of someday reducing the less than 0.2 percent of global human-sourced CO2 attributable to US light vehicles. That will cost us an estimated $100 billion, and even if you believe that is really worth doing at such a cost, where are we going to get that kind of money? Talk about unfunded mandates!
"With recent resizings and restructurings and our new labor contracts, we were well on our ways to full financial competitiveness and profitability. We could have survived and the sudden $4 gas explosion - not our fault - that shifted buyer demand overnight from larger, more profitable vehicles to small unprofitable ones. We have millions of highly desirable, much more fuel-efficient small cars and engines in the pipeline for 2010 and beyond.
"Then came your mortgage meltdown and fast-frozen credit crisis, which no one in this credit-driven business can survive unaided for long: not us, not our suppliers, not our many thousands of independent dealers, not even our most cash-rich foreign competitors. They, too, are asking their governments for assistance. Will they get it? Of course! No other nation will stand idly by and watch its auto industry die.
"There was no end of election rhetoric about creating new jobs. How about saving several million of the ones we have? Can any of you begin to understand how this industry is a huge, fragile, interdependent house of cards? If GM should fail, or declare Chapter 11, so will most of its 3,690 suppliers, beginning with the 2,000 in the US that operate 4,550 facilities in 46 states. Since most also supply key components to everyone else, that will bring down all of us, including US transplant production. Don't believe us? Ask Toyota.
"Vehicle assembly, engine, transmission and parts plants nationwide will shut down. Have you seen a plant town whose plant has died? It's a jobless ghost town whose out-of-work residents, including owners and employees of the small businesses that depended on plant workers' incomes, can't afford to move because their homes – like their hopes and dreams – are worthless. How many of those communities will be in your states and districts? US dealers of all brands, with no new cars, credit or credit-worthy customers, will drop like flies. Without once lucrative auto advertising, many media will shrink and some will die? The predicted initial loss of 3 million jobs will be just the beginning. Can you spell depression?
"Yes, we have lost a lot of market share. Where did you think all those millions of cars and trucks our foreign competitors import and assemble here in taxpayer-subsidized plants in cheap-labor states would be sold, and out of whose hides did you think they would come?
"Yes, we have made mistakes, some bad products and bad business decisions in the past. And so has every one of our competitors. We are entirely different companies today with new leadership and new priorities. We have wide varieties of high quality, high fuel efficiency, highly desirable new products that Americans, as they get to know them, absolutely do want to buy. Why continue to punish us, and the millions of incredibly dedicated, hard-working people at all levels who still depend on us to feed their families, for the sins of our predecessors?
"Why punish the entire country and millions in other countries as well? If you can think of any good reason, we would like to hear it. And don't come back at us with your usual name-calling, finger-pointing, blame-shifting, uninformed opinions, decades-old perceptions and self-serving, grandstanding rhetoric. We have offered our business plans and all the facts behind how we got here and why we need and deserve to survive and prosper for the good of this country and every citizen in it.
"You know full well that this life-threatening position you have put us into is entirely your fault, not ours, and that our future viability depends completely on you. We're anxiously awaiting your business plan for guiding this country out of the economic morass you have created, beginning with the bridge loans we desperately need."
Award-winning automotive writer Gary Witzenburg has been writing about automobiles, auto people and the auto industry for 21 years. A former auto engineer, race driver and advanced technology vehicle development manager, his work has appeared in a wide variety of national magazines including The Robb Report, Playboy, Popular Mechanics, Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Autoweek and Automobile Quarterly and has authored eight automotive books. He is currently contributing regularly to Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com), AutoMedia.com, Ward's Auto World and Motor Trend's Truck Trend and is a North American Car and Truck of the Year juror.
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