So, the media and political hand-wringing over whether the government should “bail out” or “loan” the US auto industry using tens of billions of dollars to keep the Big Three from possibly folding got me thinking. It got me thinking about a train ride.
Earlier this year, the Beloved and I were in Germany and decided to take the train from Berlin to Munich. Much of this ride traveled through what had formerly been the DDR (East Germany). Berlin is all new-construction and energy, but it doesn’t take long for the landscape to give way to some pretty grim realities – poverty, ghost towns, and abandoned factories were abundant throughout the former East. The derelict factories – literally dozens of them along our route left a lasting impression.
During the business part of the trip, I’d asked some German colleagues about the lingering differences between the “two Germanys”. They’d said that after reunification that the state-supported industries in East Germany simply could not compete in an open Western market. They made inferior products (the Trabant auto is almost a “classic” of shoddy design and manufacture), with high production costs using out-dated methods.
And it made me think about the auto-buying that I’ve done as an adult. I purchase based on: price/value, handling, forecasted reliability and visual appeal. I’ve bought four cars starting with my first in 1985 – and Detroit is 0 for 4. I’ve never wanted a truck or SUV and each time the Big-Three cars were too expensive-for-what-you-got, had reputations of being lemons, and/or drove like a shopping cart.
Score: Japan 2, Germany 2, US 0.
And so, while I don’t oppose the government promoting an environment that supports US businesses, there’s certainly no Iron Curtain to protect them – and infusing them with cash only to keep them afloat seems like it’s getting close to that. In the end, there has to be the potential for American automakers to produce products for which people are willing to spend their hard-earned dollars, euros, yuan and rupees.