The automakers problems

A nice editorial article by Mitt Romney at the New York Times:

Let Detroit Go Bankrupt
If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won't go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course - the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.

I love cars, American cars. I was born in Detroit, the son of an auto chief executive. In 1954, my dad, George Romney, was tapped to run American Motors when its president suddenly died. The company itself was on life support - banks were threatening to deal it a death blow. The stock collapsed. I watched Dad work to turn the company around - and years later at business school, they were still talking about it. From the lessons of that turnaround, and from my own experiences, I have several prescriptions for Detroit's automakers.

First, their huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands must be eliminated. That means new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors like BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers.

That extra burden is estimated to be more than $2,000 per car. Think what that means: Ford, for example, needs to cut $2,000 worth of features and quality out of its Taurus to compete with Toyota's Avalon. Of course the Avalon feels like a better product - it has $2,000 more put into it. Considering this disadvantage, Detroit has done a remarkable job of designing and engineering its cars. But if this cost penalty persists, any bailout will only delay the inevitable.

Second, management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries - from companies widely respected for excellence in marketing, innovation, creativity and labor relations.

The new management must work with labor leaders to see that the enmity between labor and management comes to an end. This division is a holdover from the early years of the last century, when unions brought workers job security and better wages and benefits. But as Walter Reuther, the former head of the United Automobile Workers, said to my father, "Getting more and more pay for less and less work is a dead-end street."

Some really good points -- as he said, his Dad was able to turn American Motors around back in 1954. There are competent executives out there and they need to be hired. That last line about "Getting more and more pay" needs to be looked at as well -- I don't have the exact numbers but I read that a union autoworker gets around $70/hour while their counterparts working at a Japanese plant in the USA get around $40/hour. No wonder they have lost 500,000 jobs in the last couple years.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on November 19, 2008 12:02 PM.

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