U.S. auto industry bailout: cars are worse than the cost
by Jane Burns (iTulip)
Unhappy about the taxpayer money devoted to bailing out auto companies? A close look at the actual cars will not improve your mood.
Editor's note: Intrepid iTulip reporter Jane Burns tries out a few new Made in USA cars that our taxpayer money is aimed at preserving. We can only wonder if there are not dozens of skilled, entrepreneurial managers within the Big 2.5 who if not buried three layers deep in Detroit legacy bureaucracy and dysfunctional culture might produce cars that lead the world again. Car companies that are too big to fail are too big to be creative, and busting them up into a few, smaller and more focused businesses may be their only road salvation. - Eric Janszen
President Barack Obama says that if General Motors and Chrysler want another bowl of taxpayer dollar bail-out soup, they must improve their financial plans. But there’s nothing from the White House about Detroit building vehicles that anyone would actually want to buy and drive.
Earlier this year, when I was visiting my parents, my 83-year-old father announced that his next car would be American. (He’s only going to need another if he wrecks his very low-mileage Camry--which he just might if he continues to try enforcing the posted speed limit in Florida’s fast lanes.
“Yeah, me too,” I replied, thinking both of American workers and the ruinous cost of parts for my elderly foreign job.
I used to work at a place where you couldn’t park your car in the garage if it was foreign. (Not my problem, as I wasn’t entitled to a space. But it was for some new managers who unwittingly arrived owning non-American cars.)
One evening, I saw a top guy, the one who personally policed the garage (a guy I liked, by the way), roaring off into rush-hour traffic at the wheel of a late model Lincoln or Cadillac, something like that. “Easy for you to say American-only,” I thought. “You’ve got the salary to buy top-of-the-line.”
However, after sitting in the driver’s seat of a brand-new, top-of-the-line Cadillac—the black convertible with the peanut butter leather interior, the sedan GM would undoubtedly pay to watch Angelina Jolie maneuver in her next picture—I now realize that cost is not my main barrier to buying one. It’s a desire to survive a car crash as something other than a crispy critter.
I got into the driver’s seat of that Caddie, as well as that of many other American cars now in production, when the Auto Show came to D.C. in February.
I’m such a car guy (gal?) that I’d been thinking of spending a day in new car showrooms, to see what’s going on. Of course, then I’d be leading on the desperate salespersons—“You’ve GOT to buy a new Ford,” one had recently informed me on the telephone. So I jumped when the Auto Show arrived.
Arriving at what had been billed as a media reception, I found many men in suits. They appeared to know each other (lobbyists, congressional staff members?) and to have assembled to pay homage to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.)—the longest-serving member of Congress, Chairman Emeritus of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Detroit’s greatest defender in Washington. I sat with them to hear him speak.
From the back, I could barely make out the congressman, although his words did have the cadence of a speech prepared by a not particularly interested intern. However, I did clearly hear Rep. Dingell confide that over the course of his long career, he had had many opportunities to better himself elsewhere, but chosen to stay in Congress to serve the American people.
Thank you, Rep. Dingell!
Then on it was on to the cars, after first filling up at delightful table of appetizers. Entranced by the food, as well as live music, I almost forgot what I’d come for. But then, German beer (yes!) in hand, I proceeded to sit in as American production cars as I could in 45 minutes.
Curiously, I seemed to be virtually the only person actually opening any car doors. Ford, GM, Chrysler, from car to car I went, setting down my beer at each one. First I tried the Ford Mustang, my fantasy car. No good. In and out. In and out. Slam, slam, slam. I couldn’t wait to escape each one.
To summarize, these cars were designed for very big, very tall persons, and everyone else could rot in hell. My sight-lines for the mirrors, even after adjustment, were awful. And the cars’ raised butts made me despair when I looked over my shoulder and, even then, the rear view was obstructed.
In many vehicles, it felt like my butt was dragging on the ground, with my feet slightly higher—a faux sports-car feel. That’s nice, maybe, when you’re the only one on the road on a sunshiny day. But in an emergency, when you need immediate control of the car, you need to grab the wheel at 10 and 2—and trying to sit up straight to do that left me feeling queasily off-kilter.
The only vehicle that came close to being acceptable—although it’s larger than I prefer—was GM’s Chevy Impala. (No wonder it’s the best, I thought cynically, it’s a police car.)
Finally, time running out, I arrived at the Cadillacs. There it was—the gorgeous black convertible, top down. Visions of Pacific Coast Highway came to me.
There was a problem, however. I couldn’t figure out how to open the driver’s-side door. I literally could not find the handle until I finally snagged the attention of a young man from Cadillac who seemed to think that the only reporter at the entire reception who was interested in sitting in the cars—a pewter-haired female in jeans and boots—was a bit odd.
Okay, I was in. Pretty, sexy, but seat too low, etc. Let me out. But I couldn’t get out. Just as I hadn’t been able to find my way in, I couldn’t find my way out. I ran my hand along the side panel. Where was the handle? Let me out!
Although I supposed I could have jumped out, I do try to behave in public, so again I waited for the young man from Cadillac, deep in avid conversation with someone. Told the problem, he leaned in and showed me the handle’s outline. But to make the handle pop out so that I could grip it, first he had to push a little plastic button set inside it.
“By any chance, is that button connected to a computer?” I asked. Why, yes, the fellow from Cadillac replied with a smile. And that’s when I finally understood this vehicle’s particular virtue—it’s a car and a coffin.
Riding Metro home, I fantasized chieftains from the Big Three automakers sitting around a table and agreeing to put the same similarly dangerous vehicles on their assembly lines. And, in this fantasy, these same folks were all on the take—from an array of “industries” including ambulance, hospital, surgical, nursing, insurance, pharmaceutical, medical supply and mortuary.
Otherwise, I couldn’t understand why these vehicles were being made.
Please, President Obama. As long as you’re sending Detroit back to the drawing board, don’t let it sink another taxpayer penny into these death traps now in production. Not if you want me to buy American.
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