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Big Three Can't Play Defense Anymore


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Daniel Howes

Big Three can't play defense anymore

Sen. Barack Obama's finger-wagging lecture this week to Detroit's automakers shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's paying attention.

It's the future if maligned Motown doesn't start playing aggressive offense. Doesn't matter that an Illinois Democrat from the industrial Midwest, a man who would be president, shows scant understanding of the technology, market realities and human limitations of his remedies -- and then jumps on the campaign plane.

It's the formula: Whack Detroit, ignore details and draw praise from most any corner outside of, say, three Great Lakes cities, meaning Obama understands very well the times in which he's running for the nomination.

Judging by the climatic grandstanding so common now in Washington, he's not alone. Be it Republican or Democrat, be it a vote in Congress or a position on the campaign trail, the times are ripe for policies purported to slow climate change and improve national energy security.

Play offense, not defense

And if they undermine companies struggling to survive? That's our problem.

The path of least resistance runs right through Detroit's weakened automakers and over the United Auto Workers, presumed to back Democrats no matter how inimical their proposed policies may be to the union's future.

Doesn't matter that the union and its members are stalwarts of the Democrats. Doesn't matter that Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, remains the industry's protector on Capitol Hill. Doesn't matter how communities could be impacted, most of them Midwest backwaters to party elites.

None of it much matters because big, bad Detroit isn't so big or bad anymore. General Motors Co., Ford Motor Corp., Chrysler Group and even Toyota Motor Corp. cannot play defense in Washington on fuel economy, climate change and energy security. It won't work.

Viewed from the crumbling ruins of industrial America, Washington has reached an inflection point: There will be political movement on climate change and fuel economy, as the Senate Commerce Committee votes Tuesday on tougher federal fuel economy rules showed.

Step on the gas

Change will come quickly, too, even if some of it makes little sense. Take Obama's suggestion to pick up 10 percent of Detroit's crushing retiree health care costs, provided that fully half of the annual federal spending goes into improving fuel efficiency.

For DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, which spends $1.56 billion on retiree health care, the federal help would amount to $78 million a year or $29 per vehicle, according to company calculations. Yippee.

Put aside the political risk of using taxpayer money to bail out GM, Ford and Chrysler, never a popular play in the "Detroit-is-for-losers" zeitgeist. The dough is piddling, proving how poorly politicians understand the enormity of the burden Detroit is shouldering.

It's past time for Detroit to step on the gas in Washington. Tired of Toyota getting all the props for being so fuel-efficient when its V-8 trucks are anything but? Then help drive the debate on fuel-efficiency, or it will drive you.

Worried that Democrats in Congress will stall a comprehensive environmental package to wait for a Democrat in the White House? Push for a broad deal now, as some of Detroit's automakers are doing, while Dingell is active, Detroit's balance sheets are iffy and you've got a decent technology story to tell.

Convinced that a 4 percent annual improvement in fuel economy starting in 2011 cannot be achieved? Start lining up your bankruptcy counsel; write the surrender-and-blame speeches; and remind the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (and their friends in Congress) just how massive your pension obligations are -- and how heavily they'd weigh on American taxpayers.

Doesn't need to end that way, or Obama's way. But doing nothing and hoping is not an option.

Daniel Howes' column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at (313) 222-2106, dchowes@detnews.com or http://info.detnews.com/danielhowesblog.


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Detroit should've been playing OFFENSE for 10 years now on all fronts.

GM, Ford and DCX are no where near aggressive enough to survive. They need to fight Toyota, fight and contradict media/pop culture (That it isn't cool to buy american) and fight the spineless politicians. If america wants to destroy Detroit, then Detroit needs to give america a nice swift kick in the nuts on it's way out. Remind america that this industry is still one of the biggest R&D resource in this country and remind america how bad it will hurt if 7 out of 10 cars sold in america are no longer manufactured in america and finally, make it known that our taxpayers will be paying BIG $$$ in pension money for MANY years to come.

The time has come for Detroit to stop being so nice and embrace the new american way of screwing over others to get what you need. Toyota adopted it a long time ago, and in that sense they a PURELY american and more so than the big 3. The politicians don't care and haven't for years and the majority of the public is either beyond apathetic about the situation or cheering every death blow dealt to Detroit.

It's sad that we were on the verge of such a great revival for ALL of the Detroit automakers, yet our own government sees fit to pull the trigger on the gun that will end it all. Traitors.

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I wonder what the oil industry thinks of this. Are they in fact NOT lobbying Congress to drop the fuel economy BS as GM, F, DCX and TM are?

Seems like XOM alone would have enough money to buy off a few Congressmen with those records profits they just reported.

Edited by FUTURE_OF_GM
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Yeah Detriot should have been doing this for years now I agree... But Obama is just taking a low-blow to get more votes from him. It is always easy to point out what is wrong, then give a suggestion on how to make it right. I personally have never liked the man, just like the media he is jumping on the I hate Detriot band-wagon. But if it helps win him some points that is great too. Toyota hasn't had that much foresite they just brought the stuff they have been giving Japan for years and brought it over to the US. I never cared for Obama but this was the nail in his coffin. He prolly drives a Toyota anyways. I almost would rather see Hillary get the nomination! :puke:

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I wonder what the oil industry thinks of this. Are they in fact NOT lobbying Congress to drop the fuel economy BS as GM, F, DCX and TM are?

Seems like XOM alone would have enough money to buy off a few Congressmen with those records profits they just reported.

Oil companies don't want them to drop it. They like these plans because it puts all the burden on the automakers to build efficient vehicles and none of it on them to develop more efficient fuels, cleaner burning fuels, or run cleaner processing facilities.

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It will be very intresting, I am more of conservative and anti-union (in this day and age) kind of person. I also like a balanced budget... (Haven't had one lately I know!) There was a time when a Union was something that was needed when working conditions, pay and even treatment of workers were poor. Anymore all of those problems have been adressed and when Unions ask for too much a great example of what is happening to GM, they can cripple a strong company. There needs to be a balance sadly with a Union that is hard to come by. The employeer just needs to treat others as they would like to be treated. Obama is very young also, that bothers me aside of that he is hating on Detriot and that doesn't win alot of points with mid-western folks like me. I was taught econ-101 with my father when I was very young. The same basic principals apply. Somethings never change. :Toyota::gm_logo::yes:

Edited by gm4life
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Osama is an idiot...

If anything, I'd like to see Edwards get the nod (As he did acknowledge Detroit needing help when Toyota passed GM in sales... And he's from my home state of NC here, a state that has taken HUGE losses from manufacturing outsourcing)

I consider myself more conservative, but I'm a registered Independent and I sure as hell have had enough of Bush.. I'm not so sure which way I'll go with this election... A politician is a politician, and they're all out to screw the working man and screw Detroit IMO.

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