I do not like corporate bailouts. I realize that some may be necessary, but for government to clean up after the private sector, when for years the private sector has been trying to convince us that they can run things so much better than the government, is tremendously infuriating. That being said, right now, with the economy in the state that it is, we cannot afford to lose the U.S. auto-industry. There are too many jobs that would be lost or seriously affected by the destruction of the Big 3; it could turn a deep recession into a depression. With all the bailing out that is being done for the financial sector, to not help the working families that are employed by the American auto companies is simply unacceptable. Does this mean we should hand Detroit a $25 billion dollar bailout? Hell no. Detroit automakers don't need a bailout, what they really need right now is a government funded restructuring, one with strict guidelines and accountability, and only congress can make that happen.
We all make a lot of jokes about how lazy, ineffective, and lobby driven congress is, and as sad as the truths behind those jokes are, when times are relatively good we can, in a way, afford to have government operate like that. But times are not good, times have not been good in quite a while, in fact times are devastatingly bad. In times like these the country needs congress to step up to the plate. I was encouraged when Pelosi sent the heads of the Big 3 home, telling them to come back with a plan before they ask for any cash, but that is not nearly enough. The problem is that if they come back with a plan, and the first step is anything but "fire us," then chances are the rest of it won't address the real problems these automakers are having. The time of giving in to corporations needs to come to an end. Congress has to do what is best for America and Americans, and it is not letting these incompetent executives keep their jobs. Doing that would turn the money into another corporate bailout instead of something productive and positive.
What congress needs to do is make certain that the plan for the Big 3 is a comprehensive one that addresses the main issues that have been plaguing Detroit. To do this, I believe, congress needs to reject any plan that does not deal with the following issues.
Current Leadership: It's clear that most of the current leadership in these companies needs to be replaced; these people have proven themselves to be extremely inept. If they were assembly line factory workers and did their jobs as badly, they would have been fired on their first day. New people need to be brought in, along with government oversight, to make sure that the necessary steps are being taken to resurrect these giants.
Executive Pay: What the people who hold these jobs have done is nothing short of thievery. They have taken millions upon millions of dollars for themselves while they set fire to the companies they were heading. Government oversight is needed to put an end to the golden parachutes and exorbitant pay that these despicable executives have used to pillage their respective companies. Their pay should be dictated by the growth of the company, not how much money is in the coffers to steal.
Market Trends: Detroit has been ignoring market trends for years, but now they need a plan that recognizes where the markets are going; towards cleaner, greener cars. For Detroit to be able to regain its former glory it will not only need to catch up to other companies in this respect, but become leaders in next generation technologies: hybrid sports cars, smooth running clean diesels, and ultra-high mpg plug-in hybrids. By being on the cutting edge of these technologies the Big 3 will be able to gain back some of the market share it has been so generously giving the Japanese.
Fleet Reduction: Detroit has been spending an incredible amount of resources developing money pits, this need to end and the residual fat needs to be cut. This means no further projects like the billion dollar development of the Hummer H3, a car that was destined to fail. Any plan the Big 3 comes up with needs to involve a reduction in their SUV and truck fleets in favor of small, efficient vehicles that will meet today's needs. I am not advocating a removal of the Big 3 from the segment, but there is no reason Ford needs to have 11 SUV and truck models but not a single vehicle that gets over 35 mpg.
Product Quality: This may be the single most important thing for Detroit to change if they want to continue doing business in the long term. American cars have become synonymous with unreliability; they have been the poster child for planned obsolescence. This created a tarnished brand image for each of the Big 3, and has led to diminished sales numbers. It just doesn't make sense for the consumer to buy a product from Ford, GM, or Chrysler when they could spend the same money for a much better product made by Honda or Toyota. Detroit needs to look at how much better the Japanese make their cars and begin to emulate it. This means more reliable engines, better interior materials, tighter body panels, sturdier construction, more intuitive interior design, smoother rides, quieter interiors, and an overall attention to every little detail that leads to a product which possesses a much higher level quality.
Congress needs to make sure any money that goes to Detroit is spent wisely, and that means moving forward with a plan that addresses these issues and more. There will be resistance, especially from the automakers themselves who have proven over and over again that they would rather cut corners and squander cash instead of fixing their long-term problems, but Congress must realize that the ball is in their court and they have the power to make this money something truly beneficial to our country instead of just corporate welfare. It will take more will and determination from Congress than we have seen in quite a while, but if there is a time that they must come through, it is now.