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Photography by Dave Everest
SMACK! My right fist banged off the arm of my pumpkin-colored Natuzzi recliner as the swelling bloodthirsty tide of righteous f***ing indignation crested in my feverishly twisting heart. I almost spilled my coffee over the Natuzzi leather. What a disaster that would have been! In the space of a moment I?d redone all the tendon and ligament damage so patiently healed over the course of the past month, an injury suffered in a last-ditch but ultimately successful attempt to keep my completely sideways Neon race car off the man-killing concrete wall in Putnam Park?s final turn by dialing in steering corrections faster than my hands could accomplish without literally ripping the sinew from the bone. The pure adrenaline which had then twisted the wheel into a blur of spokes now bulged my eyes from their sockets. I was going to find this guy and beat him until he couldn?t stand. I would pull him up by his neck, flick out my titanium-gold-nitrided Kershaw assisted-opening knife, and cut his eyeballs out, one at a time, taking care to pop each optic nerve off with a delicate finishing flourish. And then I?d really get angry. Death would be too good for this guy.
It was a single typed sentence that gave spur to my murderous rage. A single sentence that neatly encapsulates the sullen stupidity at the heart of so many so-called ?automotive enthusiasts?. A single sentence that any thinking man would be ashamed to utter. It was, paraphrased a bit to protect the guilty:
lol american cars suck the last one im glad the last one i ever drove was a 1980 buick skylark that totally sucked
Putting aside the bloody infernal cheek of insulting the premium X-body compact, the friendly-looking, velour-lined small Buick known in contemporary advertising as ?The little limousine?, can you see why I was angry enough to contemplate booking a last-minute flight to California (of course that kind of idiocy finds its expression in California) for the sole purpose of committing a bit of the old ultra-violence? This drooling moron wants the ?Big Three? to sink into the abyss of history? because he didn?t like the 1980 Skylark? He?s deriving his perspective on perhaps the most dangerous moment in the entire history of the American middle class from a drive in a twenty-eight-year-old car? It?s too ridiculous to seriously contemplate ? except for the fact that, judging by what I?ve seen and read of the Detroit ?bailout? hearings, the elected officials of our government aren?t much smarter than Mr. Skylark.
It?s time to cut the crap, and that?s why this will be the shortest Avoidable Contact you?ll ever read. The ?bailout? must happen. Without it, we?re all going to suffer serious consequences, and by ?we? I mean you, me, the guy down the street, Mr. Skylark, and everybody who has ever spent more than five minutes of their life away from ?World of Warcraft?. I don?t care if you love American cars or despise them; without the bailout, you?re in trouble, pal. You can take my word for it, or you can keep reading to find out why even the most testosterone-challenged, America-hating, hemp-wearing, Prius-pedaling tree-hugger needs Detroit to keep cranking out the American Iron.
To begin with, this ?bailout? is hardly a bailout by modern standards. The recent round of banking-industry bailouts were simple propositions: Through greed, stupidity, and simple failure to understand the interconnected nature of some rather complex financial instruments, this country?s august financial institutions found themselves holding about a trillion dollars in ?stuff? that might not be worth anything to anybody. It?s kind of like that day back in 1994 when I spent my entire paycheck on a Colt ?King Cobra? revolver, not realizing that the King Cobra, as a general rule, sucked and didn?t shoot worth a damn. So the banks have a trillion dollars? worth of King Cobras, and the government?s agreed to buy ?em, just like the guy at the gun shop later agreed to buy my King Cobra back at a discounted rate. It?s a nifty way of shifting risk from billionaire traders to the American taxpayer, and the fact that it was pretty much totally necessary in order to prevent the return of the Depression-era bread line, not to mention the proverbial rioting in the proverbial streets, doesn?t help that pill go down any easier. Note, also, that at no point have the banks involved gone so far as to suggest that it perhaps might be vaguely acceptable to stop paying twenty-five-year-old brokers $200 million a year. Here?s what?s gonna happen: The folks in New York are going to get richer, and your taxes will pay to back their bad bets. Simple as that.
The auto-industry ?bailout? stands in stark contrast to this calliope of government-backed greed. They?re asking for loans, or in Ford?s case, the mere possibility of loans. Salaries will be cut. Thousands of people have been let go already, with more to come. The UAW?s at the table to hammer out compensation. The maximum amount under consideration is perhaps a fortieth of the funding being directed at the banks. Looked at another way, we?re talking about fifteen days? worth of Iraq-war money.
Why do the automakers need it? It?s simple: they can?t get the credit they need (see: banking douchebags above) and they can?t reconfigure their production quickly enough with current labor costs and economic conditions. In other words, GM can?t turn all the Silverado plants into Cobalt plants next week for free while still paying the health-care bills of the people who retired in 1980, back when that popular-opinion-influencing Skylark was rolling off the lines.
Why can?t they just go bankrupt? Well, they can? but in the modern supplier-centric era, going bankrupt is tough. Sixty years ago, Ford could have gone bankrupt and reorganized without any difficulty, as long as the raw steel kept rolling in. Today, Ford needs to pay hundreds of suppliers on a near-daily basis for the just-in-time delivery of complex, unique parts and assemblies. Bankruptcy law can?t cope with this stuff. It?s like trying to regulate the Internet using the Code of Hammurabi.
Now for the big question, the one dripping off the lips of complete morons everywhere: Who cares if one, or more of the Big Three go in the toilet? Do we really need more Sebrings LOLZ? I?m glad you asked. Here?s the real deal: The United States market sucks up more than sixteen million cars and trucks a year. Even in 2008, with the utter financial apocalypse facing every man, woman, and child in this country, chances are we?ll see way more than thirteen million cars sold. Of course, you?re way too sophisticated to ever buy some piece-of-crap Detroit car, right? You?d throw up in your mouth a little if you had to look at the interior of a Cadillac CTS; you own a Nissan Altima. You?d never put up with the sucky fuel economy of the Focus; you have a Toyota Tundra. You?re so knowledgeable about quality that you would never consider owning a Dodge Caravan; you?re a Hyundai Entourage driver.
Unfortunately, you?re also too fuggin? stupid to remember what happened the last time we had more buyers for Japanese cars than there were Japanese cars to go around. It was called the Era of the Voluntary Restraint Agreement, and it was famous for the ?ADP sticker?. Now listen up, dingbat: If we take a market that eats 14 million cars a year and destroy half the production capacity, people won?t stop wanting new cars, but there will only be half as many new cars to go around. Guess how much your awesome little Prius will cost when there are two buyers bidding for every car. Want to take a shot at estimating the ADP sticker on a 2010 Accord when there are no Malibus, Fusions, or (gasp) Avengers for sale?
Honda can?t double their production tomorrow, and neither can Toyota, and neither can Aston Martin. If we let the American automakers fail, we are looking at a shortage of quality new vehicles greater than anything seen since 1942? and it might be permanent, because nobody?s going to be the first one to expand capacity with an unprecedented Depression right around the corner.
Did I hear myself say ?Depression?? Hell yes. About one in every seven Americans works in the automotive industry in some capacity, from the fellow who puts the ?GM chiclet? on the side of Corvettes to the young lady who soaks her T-shirt with water and scrubs your Corvette at that super-cool downtown car wash about which your wife has not been completely informed. Let?s put half of them out of work. Poof! Instant 15% unemployment in this country. That is a Depression with a capital ?D?, and it?s cumulative, because other people depend on those people for their income. It could literally unhinge the country and send it to its knees for a decade or more. It would then take a ?New Deal? type of socialism to put those people back to work, and that will cost trillions and take years. Oh yeah. Don?t look for Honda to introduce another NSX during that time to stimulate your inveterate America-hating rice-boy fantasies, because in times of Depression expensive cars, and their makers, tend to hit the ground at max velocity. Ask the Dusenberg brothers, if you don?t believe me.
?Ah,? you say, ?surely new companies would be formed to make cars if there was a shortage of new cars in this country.? Really? Who?s gonna lend them the money? When the guy who founded PayPal has his hand out to Congress for his car company, what do you think the banks will say? Who would be stupid enough in this day and time to get into a business where the government is regulating you to death, the courts are suing you to death, and foreign governments are busy bankrolling your competition?
Oh, that?s right, you know. If you think for a moment that the Japanese and South Korean governments don?t work hand-in-glove with their manufacturers to prevent economic collapse in times of trouble, you?ve never looked at Isuzu?s sales numbers or Hyundai?s warranty costs for the first-generation Excel. This is war by other means, folks ? and there?s nothing wrong with that. It?s fine with me if the Japanese government wants to help Mitsubishi out a bit. Let?s imitate them and extend a helping hand to Chrysler.
Oh, but maybe Chrysler doesn?t deserve help. Why? It might come as a surprise for those of you who actually confine your automotive experiences to the 1980 Skylark, but Chrysler, Ford, and GM are turning out dynamite product nowadays. There are domestic cars fighting for the title of ?Best in Class? in pretty much every category out there. Is there a faster affordable sports car than the Corvette? Is there a better truck in the world than the F-150? Is there a better minivan in history than the current Town and Country? We?re no longer living in 1980. Japanese-branded cars no longer have an appreciable quality edge over the domestic competition, and the products from other countries? car makers lag behind companies like Buick and Lincoln when it comes to critical quality metrics. Believe me: I?ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on German cars in the past decade, and I?ve yet to own one that could stay out of the shop for more than a year at a time. Not all of the Big Three?s products are perfect, but the same?s true for other manufacturers from other countries. Does the name Ridgeline ring a bell? How about Maxima? Yeah, the American companies bet pretty heavily on SUVs and big trucks, but when I think of a company with an SUV-heavy lineup, I think of the company that sells the RAV4, the Highlander, the 4Runner, the Sequoia, the Land Cruiser, the RX350, the GX450, and the LX450. Can anybody name a Big Three entry with seven distinct and mostly unrelated SUV platforms? Does anybody think that selling the Prius makes those seven platforms and eight nameplates stop sucking fuel and using resources?
The facts are simple. Detroit is making good cars and trucks. They?ve made mistakes, but the almost unimaginable harm to the American economy from their potential collapse outweighs any other considerations. It?s time to help them out. Call your Congressman, write your Senator, send President-elect Obama a Facebook chat message. It?s time to help them out, for their good, and our own.