Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Big Three to DC: Save Us From Our Mistakes

When Congress was looking to tighten fuel economy standards last fall, the Big Three automakers launched a massive push to fight the effort. We don't need more big government regulation! Let the free market decide!

But as Steven Pearlstein writes in the Washington Post, it's a different story when they need a bailout. The Big Three automakers aren't simply asking for government help -- they think they're
entitled to it:
Even before top industry executives arrive in Washington later this month to lobby for their program, General Motors' vice chairman, Robert Lutz, who never misses an opportunity to put his foot in his mouth, was telling reporters in Chicago last week that the industry "deserves" government loans because of all the challenges that have been inflicted upon it. In fact, it's hard to imagine an industry less deserving of government help.

Here are three companies that for decades failed to produce cars that were well designed, well produced and exciting to look at, that fought tooth and nail against efforts to require greater fuel efficiency and, until recently, did too little to bring wages, benefits and retiree costs in line with competitive realities. And while they whined for years that it was unfair trade that put them at a disadvantage, Toyota, Honda, BMW and other foreign transplants came along to prove that it is possible to produce quality cars at affordable prices in U.S. factories while offering decent wages and benefits.

Pearlstein goes on to say that even though the Big Three couldn't be less deserving of help, they should get it anyway because the jobs and pensions of hundreds of thousands of Americans are at stake.

I agree with Pearlstein that we need to do what we can to make sure workers and retirees aren't punished for the mistakes of auto industry executives. But the utter incompetence of those executives is just breathtaking, isn't it? They staked the industry's entire future on never-ending cheap gas. Did any reasonable person ever think $2 a gallon gas was a permanent fixture?

Expensive petroleum is here to stay. The only way alternative is to use less petroleum with more fuel efficient cars, plug-in hybrids, and eventually fully electric cars. Cheaper driving, cleaner air, less global warming pollution, and secure American jobs.

So what's taking us so long to get there?

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