• Dec 12, 2008
In all this debate about whether we should provide the Big Three with a bridge loan, not enough attention has been devoted to their impact on our national defense. I'd hate to see this country ever get involved in a total global war again, but I especially shudder to think it might happen without the manufacturing capability that General Motors, Ford and Chrysler provide to the United States.
Some people say the Detroit 3 no longer play much of a role in making armaments for the American military. And that's true. But then again, except in time of war, they never have.

Prior to World War I, American automakers were way more interested in making cars for a booming market than they were in diverting resources to military matters. But after the United States entered the war they became intricately involved in the effort.

John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.

The U.S. Army relied heavily on tens of thousands of Ford trucks for troop movement and logistics. The Ford Rouge plant built anti-submarine chasers, called E.-boats, a decade before it ever built its first Model-A. The Packard Motor Company of Detroit designed and built the famous Liberty engine, which was used in planes, ships, and tanks.

"[Detroit] even reverse engineered a captured German V-1 rocket"
After the war was over, Detroit pretty much stopped making military armaments and returned to civilian production. And it had no interest in pursuing this line of business until World War II broke out.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Detroit began its amazingly quick conversion to wartime production. Not only did it produce jeeps and trucks, it went on to make tanks, planes, missiles, machine guns and all different kinds of ammunition. Late in the war it even reverse engineered a captured German V-1 rocket, including the ram-jet engine, and began running them down the assembly lines. Detroit's manufacturing geniuses taught the military establishment how to modify all these armaments to make them in high volume production.

After the war, they abruptly converted their plants back to civilian production. And while they dabbled some in military procurement, it was always a minor sideline to their main automotive business.

Those who say we don't need a domestic auto industry for national defense don't seem to realize we need this just-in-case kind of capability.

And it goes deeper than that. The United States needs a strong manufacturing base at all times. We need to have a market that supports the purchase and use of all different kinds of manufacturing equipment, including CNC machines, stamping presses, laser welders, molding machines, and robots.

We need to use enough of this kind of equipment so that companies stock and sell it here at all times. We need to buy and use enough of it so that we pay competitive market prices.

"The United States needs a strong manufacturing base at all times."
We need to have people who know how to make, use and maintain this kind of equipment. We need to have enough of them so our colleges and universities offer the courses to train thousands of people in manufacturing every year.

The foreign-owned transplants have factories here, but virtually all of the manufacturing engineering that went into designing these facilities was not done in this country. In many cases it is still foreign nationals that are heavily involved in running these plants. And while we should always welcome them into the American economy, could this country really count on them in case of all-out global war?

And so, while I fully understand why many people are opposed to extending a bridge loan to the Big Three on purely ideological grounds, is it worth risking the national defense of this country just to claim you're ideologically pure?

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  • 63 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      i agree with the other poster.. .this article is a really weak attempt at trying to get supporters for the Big3.

      first and foremost, the US gov cant afford another war... thats perhaps the biggest reason why this article doesnt really speak to me.

      2nd: land invasions dont work... so whats the point of having a surplus of tanks/planes/ships... we have enough as is.. just look at vietnam, afghanistan, iraq, and if you want... somolia... it just doesnt work in this day and age.

      3rd: our biggest enemy is not a country, or a few countries... its terrorists... with no face, no country, no fear. you cant fight them with tanks and planes when you dont even know what they look like.

      4th: if we want to screw over a country, we'd use hackers and lots of bombs to ruin their infrastructure... we dont need tanks and planes.

      5th: We use economic sanctions to make countries think twice before becoming aggressors...


      so no, i dont really relate the big3 to national defense. am i wrong to think this way?

      • 6 Years Ago
      I've often wondered why no one has ever mentioned this before. I was saying this exact thing to my wife in a discussion about detroit. THEY were the ones who built the tanks, planes and ships during the wars. That's why there are no automobiles from 1941 to 1946, all production was converted to war production.
      They do need an overhaul though.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I can't wait to see the Navy's new Caravan class submarines. Sure the fit and finish quality is poor, but who can complain about 3 cup holders per officer and that clever storage area in the periscope.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I continue to be amazed at how stupid some of the commenters are here on AutoBlog. Everybody is an expert I guess. Most of the people on this site that post their comments are clueless and too dumb to realize it.
        • 6 Years Ago
        happy_penguin,

        I commented on the possibility of those with vested interests (environmentalists, anti-organized labor types, Southerners, and possible Detroit's competitors) astroturfing the online debate about assisting the domestic car industry.

        http://www.motorobilia.com/2008/12/is-detroit-being-astroturfed.html
        • 6 Years Ago
        I like to classify the commenters into three categories:

        1) Ordinary people who right or wrong believe in what they say. This is the biggest category.

        2) Trolls who are here to do nothing but stir up trouble. Although anyone could be trollish at one time or another, the real trolls make a career out of it for no productive reason.

        and the third, and perhaps most damaging category:

        3) Professionals who are here to pretend as though they are ordinary "concerned citizens". These people have some stake and may even be paid, yes paid, perhaps by competing companies they seek to discredit, or by political supporters of opposing companies to post comments in an attempt to sway public opinion.

        I don't think there are many of the third category here but some comments are just too politically motivated as well as professionally written to be from ordinary people and that's a bunch of bullsh*t.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yes, ronnie. There is one around here in particular I am speaking of. He's obviously a professional writer and never comments on anything unless it has to do with the bailout and the death of Detroit. He posts the exact same sound bites over and over again. He set his profile to private to make it difficult to review his history but I've looked around a lot here and I know his history for a some time. It's disgusting.
      • 6 Years Ago
      You guys seriously need to can McElroy. I know inanimate objects that can provide better automotive industry analysis.
      • 6 Years Ago
      This is a perspective I wasn't expecting. It's also notable to point out that many of the suppliers for the Big 3 are also suppliers for military vehicles and the like.

      It is safe to say that the Big 3 going bankrupt would also mean that alot of these suppliers would go bankrupt. I don't think these idiots in congress truly realize the economic disaster we would be in if these companies fall. I would not be surprised if we entered a full out depression, given the fact that Ford, Gm, and Chrysler are so extremely embeded in our economy.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Wars will never be the same as they were in WWII, sorry John McElroy. Dollar Diplomacy, globalization, and a world economy pretty much insure that we'll only be seeing wars like the one the United States is in now.


      John's really one off the deep end on this one. How badly does he want these dinosaur companies around?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Stephane, so we're to take the ramblings of random idiots on a forum as a solid hypothetical situation?
        Give me a break, if we ever have to fight a WWIII it's not going to be with millions of people in tanks. WHY would we ever do that when we don't have to send millions of people to die?!? Between unmanned vehicles, advanced missile technology, the latest warships, and the fact that ALL the other countries who could ever even fight a land war with us have nukes. And not just a few crappy nukes dropped by bomber planes-every one of those countries has ICBMs that can hit the United States. Meaning if you tried to send a million tanks to China they'd just nuke your warships in the sea (they have satellites too), or nukes your cities. Same goes for Russia, the UK, France, and supposedly India-they all have nukes that can reach the US well before any land force even gets close to them.
        Even if you managed to build a huge missile defense shield, do you REALLY want to test whether it's 100% foolproof against the thousands and thousands of warheads these countries have?!?
        Seriously, if you think we're ever going to fight a WWII land war ever again you're basically suggesting that we're going to go and commit suicide as a species, because we're going to end up nuking the whole planet beyond recognition.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Well, the "banking industry",errrr I mean bank sector, is more older then the auto industry, so anyone dare to nickname the bank sector a dinosaur?

        And check the AlternateHistory.com forums about a hypothetical WWIII like this one http://www.alternatehistory.com/discussion/showthread.php?t=110189 we don't know with the current trends how the global economy will turn
      • 6 Years Ago
      FEAR MONGER!

      This reminds me that smart people can can be really stupid too.
      Driza
      • 6 Years Ago
      If I gotta hear this weak @ss "SPIN" .. "Oh we got to keep the Big 3 afloat to defend us just in case of the next great war" I'm gonna go crazy! As a former Vet this drive many of us up a wall. To use FEAR to make any point, blows away your point. The Big 3 during WW2 fought against building the weapons we needed it took FDR to impose Fed law to force them to obey so c'mon. They (Big 3) decided not to see how the US consumer became a little wiser on spending a good chunk of cash on a item they expect to last for more the 5 years! The imports got it but the US thought (and still thinks) "We know it all !" well looks where its gotten them to. I've owned a 'Stang,Caddy SUV, BMW, & Toyota and the fit & finish of the imports are much better. I love this country I want the Big 3 to become the real Big 3 again, but they must wake up & become what they use to be. Companies that would be on the leading edge of design, tech & yes quality ! Go back to the turn of the last century, the 10s 20s 30s&40s Caddy,Duesenberg,Chevy(before they were taken over by GM) were on par & better cars from Europe, be it Bugatti, Merc Benz,Rolls Royce. US coach builder were on top! We lost it due to the all mighty $ all they care about is profit & not the people. I know plan on buying Fisker Karma, I did plan on getting the Chevy Volt but no shock the car looks nothing like it's concept. Also the EV range has dropped. While the Karma looks almost like the concept & it gets 10 more miles of ev range than the Volt! This example explains my view on the Big 3 broken promises. How can a small company put out a product as advertised & GM that spent 750 million on the Volt can't ? hmmmmm
      • 6 Years Ago
      It's a flawed argument in this day in age. First of all if we needed the capacity to build massive amounts of tanks and so on the government would simply nationalize the Toyota, Honda, and VW plants. Does anyone really think the Ford plants in Europe built cars in WWII? No, they built Panzer tanks and FW-190's for the German army, especially the ones in Germany and later the factories in occupied Europe.

      Secondly, if a war of that scale came the only thing we would need is a big hole in the ground because it would probably be nuclear. There wouldn't even be a chance to ramp up production because every major city would be vaporized before you knew it.

      Wars on the scale of WWII are long gone. Today it will be guerilla or nuclear and neither requires massive production.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Mr. McElroy is exactly right but you have to consider that you're preaching to the MTV generation where people think history is what happened in 1987. That we could learn from history and look to it to guide us today is as foreign to most people as evolution is to Sarah Palin.
        • 6 Years Ago
        John makes a very weak argument and fails to cite specific examples of the military and defense programs that are dependent on the US auto industry.

        by his logic we should be writing more checks for the defense industry not the autos
      • 6 Years Ago

      I think that that during WW2 the big three were called the arsenal of democracy by Eisenhower.
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