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November 13, 2008

Yes We Can

In a comment on yesterday's post recommending that the US government as buyer of last resort order up a new fleet of non-gasoline cars for itself and partly prepay to finance the retooling, martin writes "If all manufacturers were allowed bid for this tender, then the US auto industry is unlikely to win."

Steve says "…the US lacks enough seasoned engineers who can build cars."

Dave comments "Why saddle the US government with inferior American cars? They should be buying Japanese or European. I don't think it's a good idea to keep the US auto industry alive."

Given all the whining from Detroit, it's easy to understand the pessimism. But the US car industry is much more than just the rusted giants of Michigan. Cars made by American workers in America and sold under Japanese and German nameplates are as good as any in the world. These plants are efficient; sometimes their product are even exported from the US. These mostly non-union workers are productive. These are American car makers regardless of brand.

Even the US-branded manufacturers have improved quality and efficiency. Ford and GM trucks are as good as any made anywhere and are in use around the world. Sure, it was dumb to make just trucks – especially toy trucks for urban cowboys; but, despite an outraged editorial in the NY Times criticizing Ford for selling enough of its new F-150 to recall a thousand furloughed workers, trucks are needed and Ford ought to make what it excels at. Maybe its next specialty should be hybrid trucks with torque. Of course if it wants to be more than a niche player, it'll have to learn how to make sellable cars again as well.

Point is that we can rise to a challenge to do something. That's why I recommended that the government order itself a new fleet of plug in hybrids, hybrids, and natural gas vehicles to be delivered over the next four years rather than just pouring cash into companies whose products don't currently have buyers.

Some commenters point out that it takes more than three years just to plan a new car and retool the factories. They're certainly right that's how long it USUALLY takes. But these aren't usual times. Once the US entered World War II, we retooled our civilian manufacturing to war material in just over a year (the first rifle I had in the National Guard was made by IBM). Idle factories can be retooled much more quickly than productive ones. Many machine tools and robots can simply be reprogrammed for a new task.

If we have bailout after bailout, we'll all sit on the curb with our begging cups; the ambitious'll hire lobbyists to beg for them. IFF we have a huge challenge, we will succeed.

Yes we can.

The original post is here.

A related post suggesting the government put money in the bottom of the car market by buying and junking cars over 10 years is here.

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