America’s Two Auto Industries

Fantastic article in the WSJ today about the pending bailout plan to GM, Ford and Chrysler.

America has two auto industries. The one represented by GM, Ford and Chrysler is Midwestern, unionized, burdened with massive obligations to retirees, and shackled to marketing and product strategies that have roots reaching back to the early 1900s.

The other American auto industry is largely Southern and non-union, owes relatively little to the few retirees it has, and enjoys a variety of advantages because its Japanese, European and Korean owners launched operations in this country relatively recently. Their factories are newer, their brand images and marketing strategies are more coherent — Toyota uses three brands in the U.S. to GM’s eight — and they have cars designed for the competitive global market that exists today.

What are the differences between the two? Read on:

Honda Motor Co. sells one basic Civic world-wide. Ford sells two different versions of its rival Focus compact car. Ford is engineering one Focus to take advantage of global economies of scale, but the new car won’t hit the U.S. market until 2010.

The New American auto industry employs about 113,000 people, according to a recent study by the Center for Automotive Research. The economic slump is hammering sales and profits for these manufacturers, too. But they aren’t looking for subsidies, and probably wouldn’t get any since the rules governing the auto industry aid proposals to date effectively exclude them.

So this debate is strictly about the Old American auto industry, represented by the “Big Three” of Detroit. The Detroit Three employ more than 200,000 people directly, and sustain nearly 3 million more indirectly, according to the CAR study. Diminished as they are, the Detroit Three still account for about 4% of U.S. gross domestic product. They also represent a way of doing business that has run its course. GM’s plea for a federal bailout makes that official.

Whatever bailout we give to the “old” auto industry is unlikely to do much beyond delaying the inevitable. Unless Detroit somehow manages to shed its obligations.

The only way to do that? Offer the Unions a piece of the company in exchange for giving uo  some fo the health care and pension benefits.

Otherwise, a bankruptcy reorg would make a whole lot more sense than merely pumping another $50 billion into them . . .


UPDATE:  November 11, 2008 6:07am

Be sure to read the comment from Automobile Insider


America’s Two Auto Industries
Government Aid to GM, Ford, Chrysler Could Preserve Old Way of Building and Selling Cars
WSJ, NOVEMBER 10, 2008

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