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How could Times Op Ed piece be so wrong about Detroit carmaker rescues?


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How could Times Op Ed piece be so wrong about Detroit carmaker rescues?



As the automotive editor of the Detroit Free Press, I’ve grown accustomed to watching great volumes of misinformation circulated about the Detroit auto industry.

But kudos today go to our pals over at Jalopnik.com for calling out a New York Times Op Ed piece over its seriously misinformed piece condemning the rescues of GM and Chrysler for not driving the benefits that President Barack Obama promised.

The piece by Edward Niedermeyer is a fountain of wrongheadedness.

As we usually do here, we’ll start with the facts.

First off, General Motors began shipping Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric cars to the East Coast this week – right to the metro New York City.

So maybe some folks over there ought to go take one for a spin and see how wrong the piece is about Detroit’s gas-guzzling ways.

If anyone is still hooked on gasoline, it’s consumers, not Detroit’s automakers — who desperately need the public to shift to the greener alternatives in which they’ve been investing heavily.

Detroit automakers will be the ones who lose mightily if all the new technology they are rushing to market doesn’t pan out.

Consumers shift to more fuel-efficient crossovers

But Mr. Niedermeyer laments, “Sales of fuel-sipping compact and subcompact cars have actually dropped this year, while pickup and sport utility vehicle sales grew by double-digit percentages.”

And then he does several outrageous things: he blames American consumers, even though they are moving toward more fuel-efficient models; he blames Detroit automakers for meeting the demands of consumers, which they are in business to do; and then he accuses the automakers of being stuck in the past, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

He also skims over that whole crossover-SUV thing, which is just downright unfair.

Industry sales are up 11% this year, and at first blush, it looks as if sales of light trucks — a category that includes vans, pickups, SUVs and crossovers — are up an astonishing 17.5%! Oh, my!!!

But actually, many of those “truck” sales these days are of more fuel-efficient crossovers that the industry ought to rightly be classifying as cars, since they are built on car platforms but have more space that families need for kids and dogs and soccer balls.

Those more fuel-efficient crossover sales now make up 41% of all sales of light trucks, a category that includes vans, pickups, SUVs and crossovers.

So, indeed, there has been a great shift toward more fuel-efficient models. You just have to understand what the numbers say — and what they mean — to see it.

You also need to understand that not all sales of pickups and SUVs are bad.

There really is no substitute for workers who need a pickup to haul around carpet and tools and what-not to rebuild America. And as the snowstorms across the Midwest showed last week, a Jeep is really helpful to have around if you want to get to work some days.

It’s just plain stupid to paint an increase in pickup sales as a negative. They are a sign that workers are getting back to business and the economy is on the mend. So-called appearance drivers of pickups disappeared years ago, mostly by 2006, and nobody thinks they are coming back.

Interpretation: Most people buying pickups today legitimately need them, for building or farming or hauling — not for looking big and brawny and aimlessly wasting gasoline.

Bush and Obama delivered a new Detroit

While Niedermeyer slams Obama for not delivering on his promises, the fact is that Obama — and really President George W. Bush, who authorized the first raft of funds to Detroit — delivered in a time of crisis.

“This restructuring, as painful as it will be in the short term, will mark not an end, but a new beginning for a great American industry,” Obama said, “an auto industry that is once more outcompeting the world; a 21st Century auto industry that is creating new jobs, unleashing new prosperity and manufacturing the fuel-efficient cars and trucks that will carry us toward an energy-independent future.”

Today, Detroit’s automakers are reclaiming the U.S. market. They are profitable (or, in Chrysler’s case, are quickly getting there)

GM, Ford and Chrysler have each created thousands of new jobs since last year. Nearly every day, I am comforted by a story of another person in Detroit who has found a new job after losing one.

And aside from the potentially revolutionary Volt, Detroit automakers are also bringing more hybrid and electric cars to market than ever before.

As somebody who’s written about the auto industry for the past decade, I’ve never been so comforted by the rapid, progressive change underfoot.

Hopefully, Americans will leave behind their gas-guzzling ways and buy these new cars.

If only we could get that gas tax …



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