Four Chances for Redemption
1. The time to fix the roof is before it starts raining.
About a year ago I went to Detroit at the invitation of General Motors, a visit that culminated with an hour-long talk with CEO Rick Wagoner. He told me how frustrated he was: He wanted to build more energy-efficient cars, but felt that the Congress wouldn't increase the gas tax or take action to boost the price of gasoline, which meant that consumers had no incentive to change their purchasing behavior. I told him not to waste time talking to the Congress -- rather, to take his case to the American people via the web.
How much different would GM's situation today be if, for the last year, it had been engaged in an authentic dialog with the American people about the auto industry's real situation? The fundamental political problem the automakers face is that nobody trusts them, a reality that you can trace back to "Unsafe at Any Speed" and, more recently, "Roger and Me." Rather than look the problem in the eye and engage the American people in an open conversation, Detroit has let the situation deteriorate to the point where some people are willing to see them fail "because it's what they deserve."
2. Re-frame the problem. Not long ago it was conventional wisdom that the auto industry was a "salient" industry. In other words, it was at the center of an extended web of industries that together represented a vital national asset: steel, rubber, glass, electronics, just to name a few. That sensibility of the economic relevance of the auto industry has atrophied. The automakers need to re-state their case so it isn't about a bail-out for three auto companies--it's about an investment in America's core industrial economy.
3. Find allies. Where are other manufacturing executives on this issue? Three CEOs from Detroit could never make the case alone -- they shouldn't have even tried. Where are their allies, beyond the UAW, to speak on their behalf and to make the case that there are larger issues at stake here? They need an alliance for manufacturing to be able to make the case that their interests are more than self-interests.
4. Throw in with the Obama agenda. Ultimately, for the U.S. to have an auto industry, we need a new energy policy, one that prices gasoline at a much more realistic price and keeps it there, not to mention a new health care system that takes the cost of health care off the books of individual companies and makes it a national responsibility. As it happens, President-elect Obama ran on those very issues; now the automakers should point out how their future and the Obama agenda are one and the same.
Posted by: donna k woodward | December 12, 2008 12:32 PM
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Posted by: firstname.lastname@example.org | December 10, 2008 2:43 AM
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