Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Springtime in Detroit?

So, GM CEO Rick Wagoner was ousted by Obama as a first step towards possibly saving the US's largest auto maker. To start, get the captain away from the bridge of the Exxon Valdez...(hey, it's a hackneyed metaphor that didn't mention the Titanic!)

Is Detroit salvageable? There is a problem endemic to the industry. I think of a story that Ralph Nader tells about his battles with them in the 60s. While fighting the war to include seatbelts (which the auto industry did everything in its power to avoid), he set his aim lower. A simple problem. The latches on car doors were designed badly so that in accidents the doors would fly open and passengers would get thrown from the car causing much greater harm. The solution was a redesign that would be a reworking of the same material, it would not cost a penny more to do it better. It would not cause any supplier to have to raise a price. It was a simple little change that would have no effect on the industry, but would save many lives. And the industry fought tooth and nail to stop it just because they didn't want to be told anything.

This attitude is still there. They destroy electric cars. They scoffed at building anything but Escalades, Explorers, Corvettes, and other prostetic gentilia with wheels. High school never ends. The people who populate these big corporations are the towel snapping jerks we all remember only the locker room is now the board room. Will removing one really change anything? Is the entire structure contaminated? Can the auto industry really change in the ways it would save it?

Aldo Leopold writes of farmers plowing under windbreaks to plant a few more rows just five years after they watched most of their nieghbors driven from their family farms by the winds of the dust bowl. Is this goingto be the same thing?