I've never been one to wave the flag. Yes, maybe I take living in the United States for granted sometimes, but if you play the cards you're dealt, you don't whine when you get a couple aces. But reading Daniel Howes's article in the Detroit News today about Washington's attitude toward Detroit's number one industry has me thinking about some recent comments by Bob Lutz, GM's main product man and a longtime employee of the global auto industry. Lutz - born in Switzerland, I might add - gave a rousing speech defending the concept of "economic patriotism" and noting that we as Americans simply suck at it. Who more exemplifies how economically unpatriotic we are as Americans than big man George Bush himself, who, as Howes mentioned,
won't meet with the bosses of General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the Chrysler Group. But he'll sit astride a Harley, visit a Nissan truck plant, herald the Toyota engine that won the Indy 500, campaign for Republicans and then have his press secretary swear there's no snub of Detroit.Sure, he drives a big 'ol pickup at his ranch in Texas and Cadillac builds his limos, but those press opps mean nothing when he won't say carburetor to Rick Wagoner, Tom LaSorda and Bill Ford. Should GM, Ford and the Chrysler part of DaimlerChrysler receive some sort of relief package along the lines of the bailout Chrysler got in 1979? Considering the current government's track record with the airline bailouts, probably not a good idea. But that does raise a good question: Why were we quick to hand checks and concessions over to the airlines ("You wanna legally probe passengers? Well, okay!"), but any specter of doing the same for the automotive industry immediately meets boos and hisses? And yes, the domestics got in over their heads with pensions and with concessions to the unions. They've got to figure a way out of that hole. When GM appoints one of its top honchos specifically to deal with the issue, you know 1) it big problem, and 2) they takin it seriously. And yes, it has become difficult to discern domestic from foreign lately, with Nissan building cars in Tennessee, BMW building in South Carolina and GM and Chrysler building in Canada. I grew up in Central Ohio, where Honda's Marysville plant drew workers from an hour and a half away and suppliers employed thousands. The real factors underneath this problem, though, lie in Americans' perception of its own automotive industry. We now give it the short-shrift, look on it with the same despicable frowns as we gave the imports 25 years ago, and blame poor sales on poor quality, irrelevant products and that hangnail you got on the test drive. But keep in mind that Toyota's currently going through a million-car recall, the Ford F-series pickups have outsold even the VW Beetle over each respective lifespan and initial quality studies mean crap outside of the dealer's lot. Am I here to tell you which cars to buy? No. Am I here to tell you something more than your immediate satisfaction hangs on the line? Yes. Now you tell me why you bought your car.