Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Big Three

Does a company that bought the rights to this monstrosity vehicle have the right to ask for a bailout? For the past several decades the Big Three auto makers have been promising to make more fuel efficient cars, all the while making cars that are increasingly more gas guzzlers. Instead of listening to what people want, the Big Three having been making what they want, and foisting them onto people, and telling folks they have to have them.

The CEO of Ford actually said, “We have made big mistakes, but we’re really focused now.”

If the Big Three auto makers don’t get their bailout, and that includes in Canada, thousands of jobs will be lost, not only directly but indirectly. So, unfortunately, there is no other choice but to bail them out.

Someone once asked me who, in my opinion, was the most dangerous man who ever lived, and without even thinking about it very much, I said, “Henry Ford”. He revolutionized the world, but not necessarily in a good way. He changed the way cars were mass-produced and mass-marketed, but I wonder if he ever realized that he would also affect city planning, urban planning and even architecture. Drive through any suburban neighborhood in Canada, and most homes are just huge garages with houses attached.

Ford created a massive publicity machine in Detroit to ensure every newspaper carried stories and ads about the new product. Ford's network of local dealers made the car ubiquitous in virtually every city in North America. As independent dealers, the franchises grew rich and publicized not just the Ford but the very concept of automobiling; local motor clubs sprang up to help new drivers and to explore the countryside. Ford was always eager to sell to farmers, who looked on the vehicle as a commercial device to help their business. Sales skyrocketed—several years posted 100% gains on the previous year. Always on the hunt for more efficiency and lower costs, in 1913 Ford introduced the moving assembly belts into his plants, which enabled an enormous increase in production.

In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, society is organized on 'Fordist' lines and the years are dated A.F. (After Ford). In the book, the expression 'My Ford' is used instead of 'My Lord'. Even human beings are produced via an assembly line, grown in large glass jars and provided in five models: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon. As homage to the assembly line philosophy that so defined the mass-culture society of Brave New World, native individuals make the "sign of the T" instead of the "sign of the cross."


In the early 1950s the wonderful, charming streetcar systems in cities throughout North America were ripped out and replaced by buses and cars. Streetcars were efficient, quiet and clean, and I think there must have been something romantic about them, don’t you? And because of automobiles’ popularity, construction of urban freeways for the new Interstate Highway System, which began in the late 1950s, led to the demolition of thousands of city blocks, and the dislocation of many more thousands of people. This led to the death of the inner-city, more urban sprawl, and people living in more and more remote areas, separate and apart from other members of their communities. Ironically, the first long-distance intercity freeway was the Queen Elizabeth Way in Ontario, linking the cities of Toronto and Hamilton, and this was built in 1939. Freeways were built without any consideration to noise or environmental factors. They were built for one purpose, the car.

Unfortunately, cars are necessary. I really cannot imagine a world without them. But, if the Big Three need bailing out now, perhaps it’s time for them to re-think automobiles, their use, their purpose and their impact on the world from a slightly different perspective than their current design and marketing. Get rid of the gas guzzling SUVs, and start making fuel efficient, evironmentally friendly cars.

Zoom, zoom...


Firefly said...

I agree that car manufacturers must start designing and producing more fuel effiecent cars and even cars running on something else than fuel. Unfortunately the oil business is a rich business and fuel effecient and power cars aren't in their best interest. Some conspiracy theory perhaps?

I do have a car, and not a big one at that, but I enjoy most wizzing around on my scooter which is fuel effiecent, cheap and much faster than cars in heavy traffic.

fathorse said...

Wasn't he also a screaming anti-semite who genuinely believed in the Protocols of Zion? What a nob.

Are streetcars the same as trams? I like trams, we have some in Manchester. I wish they looked like proper old trams, like the one on Thomas the Tank Engine. They emit sonorous choofs when you're in their way but apart from that make no noise whatsoever. I think they're putting in new lines now which is good. But I also like roads, I like the way they look from the sky and in the dark with all the car lights on them.

Russell said...

A very excellent post. Very excellent. It's refreshingly nice to read a thought provoking post like this and I hope you do more!

I really connect with your observation that often you see garages with houses attached. I work in a town that has a lot of new construction. Nearly every house has a three-car garage attached to a medium size house. The garage makes the house look huge.

And you know what? Often times the people who live in those houses have boxes and boxes of stuff in their garage since there is no closet space in the house! Heh!

So you see two $30,000 plus cars sitting in the driveway while the big garage is nothing more than an attic or storage space for the artifical Christmas tree and boxes of, well, whatever.

Talk about a societal statement!

And, yes, if the government is going to hand the automakers billions of dollars, I do hope they are at least required to start making some cars that are seriously energy efficient.

Take care and, again, a really excellent post!

Leslie: said...

Great observations, Josie, but I have to say I don't know what I'd do without my car. It seems that our lives don't revolve around small villages anymore where one can work, shop, and make friends like in the days of yore. Instead, our cars are essential elements of our lives to get to work and to shop, go to church, socialize, etc. But I do agree that it's important that the auto manufacturers need to start looking at better and more efficient ways to build cars and ways to make them run on other types of fuel. Bail them out? Like you say, what other choice is there?

Catherine said...

A fabulous post. I couldn't agree with your thoughts more! We see the subdivisions of garages too and they always strike me as very odd. Emphasis on where a car or three are stored rather than where people actually live?
Even if the big three get a form of a bailout I have real doubts that they'll do the right thing and start developing and marketing alternate energy vehicles and stop making those ridiculous SUV's and other gas guzzlers!

Charles Gramlich said...

I see almost all SUVs and pickups on my commute in. And it's a long commute. I don't understand it.

Jo said...

● Firefly, you know, I don't own a car, but I would love to have a scooter. I think they are wonderful!

● Fathorse, yes, streetcars are the same as trams, and I love them. Some cities (Toronto, San Francisco) kept them, and they are extremely fast and efficient. (And yes, that was the same guy...)

● Russell, that is the same as in Canada. Huge garages with teeny, tiny houses attached, and they are architecturally ugly, and totally useless as houses. Mile after mile after mile, out there in the urban sprawl that cars have created. *sigh*

● Leslie, yes, the reason our lives don't revolve around our villages or communities where we can work, shop or go to church is because the car changed all that. I grew up in a small town where everything was within reach, and I have never owned a car because I prefer to live in the city, where everything is ... within reach. :-)

● Catherine, I think the Big Three will continue on as always, as well. It's all about money, money, money. You know, last night on Larry King Live, the CEO of Ford (the great grandson of Henry Ford...) actually admitted that Ford doesn't need a bailout yet... but they might in the future! He was asking for money he did not need!

● Charles, who needs SUVs in the city? No one!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Hear! Hear! I totally agree with everything you say in this post. Freeways and Highways divide communities too by cutting access and add to social problems too. In fact, many city planners are trying to turn back the tide of highways and freeways. Good Luck. Also, it only makes sense to develop fuel efficient cars. I can't understand why the American big three are so resistant. Surely, this bailout must come with conditions to ensure there is no more repeat.

the walking man said...


Henry Ford in his time was not much different than any of the other titans of industry. Not the robber barons who came before or his contemporaries of the time. The Dodge Brothers, The Fisher Family, Ransom Olds, Benz, Daimler and all the other engineers of the modern industrial revolution.

To say that Ford was at the head of the pack is absolutely correct. He was the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet of his day gathering enough wealth for himself to be declared the richest man in the world. The Ford family to this day is STILL the wealthiest in Detroit.

But Ford near singlehandedly made the middle class in this country by setting wages high enough for his workers to not only afford the product they produced but to also maintain a higher standard of living. A standard of living that also improved among them who supplied and supported, not only the auto industry (Harvey Firestone and tires for example) but also the community where these workers lived, the markets and restaurants, the tailors and shoe repairers.

Whether all of that is a good thing I don't know. I have my opinion and it is much like yours for the same reason. Because of the auto industry as a whole we have no mass transit (a shadow of one) that is viable here, urban sprawl has concreted in most of South East Michigan for as far as 75 linear miles in every direction from the core inner city, the city of Detroit was home to such diverse immigrant populations that way back in the 19teens they segregated themselves into unbreakable enclaves that actually destroyed any hope of a homogeneous society.

But those things are a byproduct of the industry as a whole not just Ford Motor. And generally they have caused local problems. What the industry has done always from 1914 forward is give the customers what they want in real time, not what society needs, nor what society may want tomorrow. With new models always being based on current trends the cars in the pipeline are geared towards yesterdays wants, not tomorrows.

Look at Hybrid technology (gas engine +electric motor) I had been reading about it ever since it was introduced in Japan circa 1994/5. But while I am certain that the labs in the car companies had done some exploratory research into the technology, they did not pursue it because the public was demanding and buying SUV's. There was no demand for the technology in the public arena because the public in America for the most part had not been given a real look at it until 2002.

Now Ford Motor has more Hybrids on the market than Toyota and Honda combined. But it seems to be too little to late.

The misnomer. I think, in your post is that the "bail out" is not a bail out but a LOAN. Like all loans it has a risk of default associated with it but the governments making the loans have guarantee's in place if there is a default. Not like the gifts governments gave the airline industry post 9/11 or the banking industry this past few months.

The original loans were meant to be used to revamp and speed the tooling to produce fuel efficient cars but then the Financial industry had a paroxysm in their credit sphincter and the whole game changed.

The auto industry has some fault yes, but it was that they had been following a business model that had produced income for the workers and profits for the shareholders that was 100 years old.

It is the banks that are the root cause of them having to spend capital to survive over production, not Henry Ford etal.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...


All this green technology propagada.
While in Germany, in the Rhineland as a child (and bombed every day...Damn that war was noisy!) I noticed that all cars and trucks had this big boiler attached to the back with smoke pouring out.
Gott in Himmel! They were burning wood in the "boiler" and the fumes were fed to the carburetor and the fershlugginer machine would go.
Gad. How many miles to the cord?
Dr. Suzuki wouldn't like the smoke pollution, but the cars were certainly "green".
Things can work on no oil or gas.
Seems innovation must be a dirty word in Detroit.
Not that you need to carry firewood in your trunk.
You can use camphor, cooking oil, whatever.
Fact is the cars are indeed ugly,have been for decades. Too high tech looking. They all resemble your PC mouse. What can match the lines of a '63 white Dodge convertible? Cetainly not that Hummer.

I am broken down here. Computer in shop.
Really kind of an eye-opener.
Makes me realize we obsessive bloggers are a litle (a little?) crazy.
Read my first book in weeks.
Feels kind of good.
All work and not play makes Jack a dull boy?
Or does all work and no play make Jack?

...I am tempted at alliteration.
Jack be nimble!

ml johnstone said...

Cars are necessary?
That is another MYTH you have ingested.

Jo said...

● LGS, sadly, I think the Big Three will continue on their ignorant way. Do you ever see any other car companies advertising, but the Big Three? Never! It's all about selling people a product they do not need.

● Mark, I wish I could agree with you, but I think all the automobile ill begin on Madison Avenue. People demand SUVs because they blindly believed they needed them, after seeing all the slick advertising for them. Who the hell in the city needs an off-road four wheel drive car? No one! A loan is a bailout, a rose by any other name. Now Chrysler is stamping its feet and saying, "Okay, we're closing our doors." They don't give a sh*t about their employees. The powerful United Auto Workers Union in the States and the CAW - TCA in Canada are what got the workers' good wages. And now those unions have refused to give any concessions. The Big Three and the unions are playing chicken with each other. Meanwhile, everyone will be buying their cars from overseas. It's too sad.

● Ivan! Get your computer fixed. Fast! And yes, cars are horribly ugly, as ugly as the roads they drive on. Where did all the beautiful cars go?

● ML Johnstone, I have never owned a car. Ever. So, no, I have not ingested the myth that a car is necessary. I am proud of my "small footprint" on this earth. However, society has unfortunately evolved around cars. As a good friend of mine says, "You cannot unring a bell."

I see you are from Ganges, one of the most beautiful places on earth!!! It's wonderful there. You are so lucky. There are no freeways there. *heh*

On a limb with Claudia said...

WAIT! I just saw the Russell photo - sheez, I've been in a hole in the ground! New guy - he's cute too! :)

Erm... car manufacturers. You've probably seen those graphics that say, 'we couldn't make you buy our cars be we get your money anyway'. It's a crazy crazy world.

Jo said...

Claudia, yes, he is cute, isn't he? And no, I haven't seen those ads, but I have seen waaaaaaaay too many car ads. Omigosh! Do you have as many car ads in the States as we do in Canada? Lord-luv-a-duck!!

ml johnstone said...

Actually, we have TRAFFIC jams in Ganges. In the summer it is bumper to bumper.People drive around for half an hour looking for a place to park.Ferry lineups are disgraceful.
Same with Canada's 7 wonders. Can't hear the falls for the traffic at Niagra. Banff,total congestion too.We were hoodwinked by GM,Ford and company. Hoodwinked a nation into believing 1,2 or more of their products were a household necessity.
Recently they came begging for a few billion $$ bailout. They spend $25 Billion on advertising.
In the film, the End of Suburbia, there is good documentation on how these 3 lobbied against the trains in favor of a 2 car family. They succeeded.
They have become our legitimate weapons of mass destruction.They stink, they fart, they're NOISEY. They kill, injur and they cost us far too much money. US taxpayers pay $387 Billion to support the use of them
I say Health Canada should pull them off the roads, like they did with baby bottles and Maple leaf products.
Then there is the accompanying moral malaise that comes with them.
The light at the end of the tunnel: Iraq is building a carfree city.San Francisco voted for a light rail system and Vancouver is initiating some carfree Sundays in a few areas.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I agree that the Big Three don't have the right to demand a bail-out after producing increasingly huge, gas-guzzling vehicles and creating the kind of sales hype necessary to make them must-have fashion accessories.

It is like the man who murders his parents and begs the court for leniency on the ground that he is an orphan.

the walking man said...

It would seem that no one else will take up the contrary position, ergo I will attempt to rise to the bait, then break the line.

For good or for ill the culture that has evolved around the automobile for the past hundred years has created wealth at nearly all levels of this society of the west. {Not to mention it has allowed whales to survive in greater numbers than if they had been continued to be hunted in the way they had been. Marine mammals I am sure are not neglectful of the damage done to the environment by carbon burners but at the same time, they are assured some form of survival 'til the cows come home because alternatives to blubber oil has replaced whale blubber. We could reduce the overall carbon footprint if men of the sea would once again set sail under wind power and harvest marine mammals, although Green Peace [etal] would certainly do all it could to disrupt this source of energy.}

OK now that I have my fecund argument out I will attempt to zero in. Oh that my wandering mind learns to focus...

Chrysler, GM and Ford are extending plant closures through January because it is illegal in America to not pay workers who have shown up to work. Two weeks of the shut down is an annual event for which their vacation banks are charged. The rest of the time they are unemployed and receive the benefits of the state and the still in existence "jobs bank." A benefit which was and is on the table but is still contractually in force. So shutting down is not done to use workers as pawns.

In fact the UAW had re-opened negotiations well before this debacle from Wall Street hit, attempting to concede as much as possible. A second wage tier was put in place and retiree costs (250,000 people)were drastically cut when the auto companies dumped legacy health care. This function was taken over by the UAW at a savings of billions for the company and a cost of thousands to the retiree's.

The North American auto industry is not playing chicken with the unions; together they sat and negotiated and renegotiated trying to find bottom, but at some point the bottom is not going to be found on the backs of the workforce which adds roughly ten percent to the cost of a car.

This asking for a loan for a manufacturing industry which provides three million jobs is just that and nothing more; a loan, not a game of any sort the stakes are too high to play beat the union, beat the boss, bet the house on the winner.

Do you belong to a union Jo? You do? You may not care for the way it operates but it does in any case provide some job security, rightly or wrongly, a union makes it much more difficult to remove employee's because they are not "at will." The UAW and the UMW are to be thanked for that security for the middle class worker.

When did the level of education become the deciding factor in what a job is worth? Them that I see howling the loudest for the head of the workers who make middle class wages are them who have done no arduous, unremitting, repetitive physical labor. Do you think that a worker lifts one sheet metal plate a shift into a press that WHACKS!!! it loudly, then lifts it out once shift? No that worker does it two hundred times an hour. What is the human toll worth? $8.00? How much do you make for sitting in a much quieter office doing your job?

In fact GM workers make .38 cents LESS than their non-union counterparts at Toyota. GM's costs are escalated because of the number of retiree's it carries. Toyota does not have that burden yet. So is the solution to kill the retiree's or starve them...that would reduce American made cars substantially (25%). But before you blame the car companies remember this was the system our grandparents negotiated in America and elsewhere. Employer paid social benefits.

Change the system and see how many howl at the new tax rates needed to supply national health care and retirement, two things I for one want for America.

All of those MBA's of Wall Street don't seem to be worth the hundreds of billions they have received over the past decade right now do they? Yet you say nothing of the trillions world wide that has been dedicated to their survival. That is a BAIL OUT, not a LOAN.

The economics of the bank bail out came about because in the west we have changed the generation of economic well being from manufacture of real goods and services, replacing it with service sector economic voodoo which in turn spurred the rise of people who used to pay in cash using ever expanding lines of credit, credit which Wall Street and all Western Governments used to spur growth. Growth which was just another bubble and now that it has burst financial markets need a bail out, not a loan.

The difference between a BAIL OUT and a LOAN are not comparable roses and roses but thorns and apples.

If the ill's of the automobile industry began on Madison Avenue then you readily concede that people do not think for themselves and in a sheep over the cliff way we all are zombies buying what we do not need, succumbing to our baser instincts.

I can not agree. Why do (did) folks want SUV's? They respond better in ill weather, I don't know how things are anywhere else but in Detroit for thirty years they have not plowed snow from residential streets and a heavier vehicle makes it easier to get to the job that produces income that allows families to afford house, food, clothing, and yes the SUV.

I have long held that most people do not need such heavy vehicles for most of the year here but I would not suppose to ridicule them for their personal choices.

Most of them rightly or wrongly factored safety in crashes into their choice as well. Lets not forget that pick up trucks are also leavers of a big foot print but they too have a practical use in this society.

I do not blame Car companies for spending on advertising, not anymore than I blame Labatts (etal) for advertising their product that leads to death by drunkenness or GE which leads to clean clothes in over priced front load steam washers. It is advertising which aids the bottom line. Shame on the marketing department that doesn't position product in the public view...it is one way to go out of business for all producers of product.

In BC (Vancouver anyway) cars may not be necessary but the majority of Canadians and Americans do not live in Vancouver,TO, LA, SF, NYC, Phila or any of the other places that have light rail and usable mass transit. I suggest we all migrate to those places, no complaining now from them already in place when the cost of everything goes up to supply the increased services needed to get us all on the TransLink to look for work.

Remember a few months ago when gas hit the stratosphere? Mass Transit was overwhelmed with the increase in rider ship all over the continent. Costs both in service and use went up. I don't know about Canada but I do know that when Wall Street failed the mass transit companies began to fail as well because of their lease back agreements with their financiers. Where did they go? The federal government, not for loans but a bail out and a rules change on the 3way they service their debt.

Concluding this portion of the debate i would like to re-iterate that no North American car company is demanding a bail out, but rather requesting a loan for which the government will receive stock and full payment plus interest. The banks demanded and received, the auto companies are asking. If they fail, then the supply chain fails and a few million more people go out of work for an extended period of time.

These possibly unemployed for the most part do not have advanced degree's to fall back on and most likely will become a part of the long term unemployed. Michigan now in real time has a 9.3% unemployment rate.

The car co's are not looking for a hand out but a loan, and in applying for the loan they have laid all of the ramifications of what may happen when the elephant in the room dies. It is not a threat or a game of chicken, it is simple reality extrapolated.

I (and the whales) thank you for your time.

Deb said...

hehehe...I loved your Walmart wine story. truth be known, I am not a snob as I like some box wine, but I think I would be prone to try the NASCARbernet !!! :)

Jo said...

ML Johnstone, I completely and totally agree with you. I think there should be better alternatives to the car. Vancouver had a wonderful streetcar system at one time. They're discovering now that it was even better and more efficient than the expensive Skytrain, which by the way is also really ugly. People have thought cars, cars, cars for so long, that they have closed their minds to any other form of transportation.

Mark, oh, goodness, where to start? Yes, I belong to a union. The BC Government Employees Union was once the strongest union in Canada, and shut down the whole province of BC at one time. But a few years ago they renegotiated our contract, and we ended up with 4.06% less hourly wage than we had before. So, I don't have much faith in unions. As far as the car is concerned, I think we need to re-think different (entirely different!) forms of transportation to replace it. Acidification from burning fossil fuels is killing our oceans, so I'm sure the whales are not too happy, in any case. We can't go back to the horse and buggy, of course, but this is the 21st Century. Why are we still relying on gasoline burning automobiles? Where is the research and development of other forms of transportation? I still think cars are a scourge on the earth.

Deb, aren't those Wal-Mart wines a hoot?

Jo said...

Hearts, "must-have fashion accessories". Oh, Gawd, yes! The Big Three have been telling everyone what people need, rather than giving people what they ask for. It's just business, and they're starting to fail.

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