We can have it all and I wanna Tesla, but I'll settle for

Pat Ryan


The bailout talk is front and center this week but I haven't seen much of anything about attaching useful taxpayer demands beyond the old and simplistic CAFE argument that is being recycled once again by hopeful Paleo-Libs who are apparently ready to get rolled once again for the umpteenth time by Dr. Detroit. Every time we try to impose anything on 'em, they pitch a fit and in the process offer up gems like the Vega, Pinto, or the repurposed V-8 gas to diesel conversion that GM offered in the 80s-- An engine so bad that few cars or trucks ever got beyond 60,000 miles before the heads blew right off the engines. Another regular stratagem employed is to offer a car so ugly, poorly built and underpowered that it would allow them to go back to gummint and piously protest "See? People just don't want these vehicles, Yada Yada." Meanwhile the Asians and Europeans were eating their collective Detroit lunches on tech, tolerance, fit and finish, and overall dependability.

There are all kinds of consumers in the auto world. Contractors that actually need pickups to haul stuff for their work join The Fearful and insecure who opt for the Giant SUV for the perception of safety and the Command Position seating. The Aging Hippies that used to drive VWs go with the Subaru wagon and the younger Hipsters might favor the Box-on-Wheels statement of the Element. The Arrested Adolescents (My Tribe) go for the acceleration. Und so Weiter........

Anyhow, Toyota already has the prototype of what GM should become, with a few mods. Ifn they want my money they should be required to offer a Plug in Hybrid for every single platform that they market. This tech is mature and is already being offered on class six and class seven delivery trucks by Kenworth using diesel engines over Lithium Ion batteries. We should also demand a minimum acceleration for passenger vehicles of 0-60 in not more than 11 seconds, which I think is the slowest safe speed for merging from off ramps, and passing Bert and Irma as they travel up the hill in their monster RV with the Cadillac Cimmaron in tow on Hwy 26 at 25  m.p.h.

Eventually, every single vehicle that sports an internal combustion engine and a set of brakes should be equipped with this tech, and as storage systems continue to evolve, we should be looking toward practical all electric vehicles that have the requisite range, speed, and acceleration to run on the existing road system.                                                       

Note #1: Nickle Metal Hydride batteries come standard in most current Hybrids, but disposal is a bitch. Lithium Ion batteries are more efficient and mostly harmless at the End if Life, but are currently pretty expensive to manufacture, so maybe a couple of billion toward development for these guys too.

Note #2: A really smart friend in the energy biz points out that batteries are replaced in Hybrids when they drop to 70% to 80% efficiency but are still potentially useful. All of these recycled batteries could be repurposed to store wind and solar energy; currently a major drawback to alternative energy production anywhere that hydro is not readily available as a storage device.   

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Well put, sir. So, we've said for years that German and Japanese competition has an advantage in that the universities, government and manufacturers work together to achieve these ends, instead of the more, well, adversarial approach taken here. Perhaps something akin to Peacecorps would be possible with the new administration, to put young students into programs to develop our basic technologies while Detroit is getting a heads up and a real helping hand, instead of a hand-out?

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    Let me agree with Paul Ingrassia in the Wall Street Journal and Tom Friedman in the NY times. In the exchange for direct government aid the minimum requirements are: (1) The board and management of GM all go. (2) The GM shareholders lose all their equity. (3) A government receiver is appointed with broad powers to reshape GM by redoing existing contracts with dealers, unions and suppliers. And (4) every vehicle in GM’s fleet soon has a hybrid-electric engine with flex-fuel capabilities.

    I also, and most importantly, agree with Tom Friedman: "somebody ought to call Steve Jobs, who doesn’t need to be bribed to do innovation, and ask him if he’d like to do national service and run a car company for a year. I’d bet it wouldn’t take him much longer than that to come up with the G.M. iCar."

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    All valid points. Maybe they also need to listen to the folks at the auto shows when they display new concepts, and build the cars that are both forward thinking and likely good sellers. In 2004, Chevy presented a concept for a new Nomad based on the same platform as the Pontiac Solstice ($23-29K) and Saturn Sky ($25-30K) two-seat roadsters, this would have been very competitive with the MINI and the PT Cruiser that did so well at the time, but instead of a cool retro $20-24K 2+2 hatchback, they produced the aforementioned spendy cloth-top roadsters that sell rather poorly. Imagine if this car had been introduced in 05 or 06, and then made as a hybrid or electric (looks like it is shaped right for that) they would have sold tons of 'em. Alas the Nomad is only available as a toy. So I bought a $20K Japanese-built Mazda instead, which by the way shares a common platform with the Focus and Volvo S40. Last thought- why isn't Daimler-Freightliner converting it's truck manufacturing line to produce Smart cars or some other small urban vehicles? Seems like a natural for the region in every way? End nerdy auto wish-bitch message.

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    You make good points and can add in that blue collar employees averaging $75 per hour when you add in bennies does offer Non-union US auto manufacturers a distinct advantage vis a vis GM, Ford and Chrysler, but I wanted to focus on the Tech and design side on this one.



    Amen. That Nomad's a cutie, the Pontiac's fairly eye pleasing too as is the Volt prototype. The Saturn's flat beautiful from a distance, (which is the only way I've ever seen it), but the fact is, as you point out, that they could easily bulid more attractive cars, but until very recently they had no incentive to switch focus from $60,000 SUVs with their huge profit margins. The consumer likewise gets that huge tax break for buying vehicles over 8000#.

    Talk about perverse incentives........

  • Rita Moore (unverified)

    Here's my two cents: do all of the above, including the suggestions of WSJ and Friedman and add two things: 1) use this as an opportunity to establish a reasonable ratio of worker:executive salaries to something like 1:75,bringing it in line with the rest of the world, and I'd impose it on all corporations/industries that we bail out. 2) extract a promise from the new Detroit (corporate and labor) -- and all the other corporations/industries -- to throw their full weight behind single-payer universal health care. Good for us, good for them since it would relieve Detroit of the legacy costs and allow us to join the civilized world.

  • Bill Holmer (unverified)

    From today's hearing:

    During the House hearing Wednesday, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., asked the three auto chiefs seated at the witness table before him to raise their hands if they had come to Washington on commercial airliners. No hands went up. Then he asked if any planned to sell their corporate jets. Again, no hands went up.

    Sherman and Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., told the auto executives they were having a hard time justifying to their constituents bailing out companies whose chiefs fly around in expensive private jets.

    Ackerman said there was "a delicious irony in seeing private jets flying into Washington D.C. and people coming off them with tin cups in their hands."

    I bet UAW chief Gettelfinger didn't fly commercial either.

  • Auto classifieds (unverified)

    It is actually more expencive to repurpose Nickle Metal Hydride batteries than to produce a new one, so it will remain a big issue for quite a while.. The better choice is to develope hydrogen engines to the point that the production cost was low! BTW, its a nice hybrid on the photo.

  • Peter Noordijk (unverified)

    Much of what you are asking is already being done. The volt is not just a single plug-in hybrid car. it is a platform that will carry a number of different vehicles. GM has been moving this direction for years. GM and Ford both got major set-backs in the hybrid area, one because of lack of management interest, but also because their systems got hit with lawsuits by toyota before they could roll-them out. Ford's solution was to license their own technology back from toyota in exchange for giving toyota access to their high-output V-8 tech. GM went back to the drawing board, and to the series hybrid tech in volt.

    Finally, Toyota, Honda, Hyundi, Daimler, BMW and VW have all been on their governments' teats at one point or another recently. I'm not sure why we are all so ready to bail on detroit now.

    If we could just please have universal health care, the big-3 would become some of the most efficient producers again.

  • Peter Noordijk (unverified)

    Is it really responsible management for a company to pay an executive and their team $1000's an hour to stand in line at TSA. They can fly their own aircraft for a fraction of what it would cost them in lost productivity.

  • Detroiter (unverified)

    This article is so dumb. Countries all over the world are subsidizing their industries through this financial crisis. Only here, we crap on ours. I hope you have fun gloating when millions of (formerly)working families are on the bread line. Gleefully picking on crappy cars from the eighties is totally irrelevant, and is a classic logic error- Straw Man.

  • Ole Barn (unverified)

    The proposed automaker bailout is a conundrum that faces the US public at this point. A better business plan and engineering can improve what is produced by our domestic automakers. There are certain hidden costs per car that our foreign competitors do not have to deal with. One of which is health care. Current Senate testimony indicates that this is up to $4000 per unit in Detroit manufactured vehicles. The US spends more per-capita on health care and yet ranks at least 37th from the top in mortality. Surely something needs to be done in this area to make our companies more competitive in the world marketplace. the comment that we have the best healthcare that money can buy in the United States just does not hold water with such a dismal mortality rate.

    The automakers and the UAW are lobbying for the bailout. I have a third alternative for solving the economic problem without bankruptcy or the taxpayer being involved. Why don't the automakers borrow from the UAW pension fund? This would force a partnership at the workplace.

    The average CEO compensation was 50 times that of workers just a few years back. It continues to be such in Europe today; however, in the the good ole US of A the average CEO compensation is 500 times that of workers. Hmm!

    Single-payer healthcare combined with out-of-the-box financial help may be a viable solution. There is a need to show corporate restraint by reigning in executive compensation and perks (three round trip private jet flights from Detroit to DC @ $20,000.00 each).

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