On the day the Senate has thrown out the $14 billion rescue package for the US Big Three, I’ve been sent one of those spoof car ads by a chum in the industry.
It comes in the form of a joint ad by Ford, GM and Chrysler and comes with the banner headline: ‘You wouldn’t buy our sh*tty cars. So we’ll be taking your money anyway’ and signs off with the tag-line, ‘We’re the Big Three. We don’t need to compete.’
Leaving aside the sums involved – given some of the numbers I’ve seen of late, $14 billion looks like an offer of a sticking plaster to someone who’s just trod on a mine – I’m afraid the cruel author of the fake ad has a point.
I know that the putative rescue package comes with dozens of strings attached, but what is needed is a total reappraisal of their entire car design, engineering and production process. They need to start again.
The unavoidable truth is that the indigenous American car industry has worked on a stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap approach for years, blind to the fact that declining market share and the rise of the US-built Japanese brands showed beyond a doubt that what the Americans would rather do is pay decent money for a decent car.
Fact is that, like Woolworths which has followed a similarly flawed business plan, the Big Three were in big trouble long before credit started to crunch.
Should one, two or all of them be saved, their long term survival depends not on low prices, metal for your money or artificial incentives, but rather more simply the provision of some decent cars.
We know there is a way – Ford and GM divisions in Europe make world-class cars and even their American operations were once the envy of the world, albeit before World War Two – all we have yet to discover is whether there remains the will.