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.
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.
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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