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Argument: US carmakers have been making the transition to efficient cars

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"Editorial: Big 3's critics have got the facts wrong". DetNews.com. 18 Nov. 2008 - Ignorance and misinformation are the greatest obstacles facing automakers this week as they try to convince Congress that financial assistance from the government is essential to saving the industry.

Few in Washington have their facts right when it comes to these companies.

Sunday, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, claimed on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the automakers "don't innovate" and called them "dinosaurs." Where did he come up with that? The domestic automakers continue to lead the industry in product innovations and will very likely be the first to market an all-electric car with the Chevrolet Volt. Together, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler spend $12 billion annually on research and development, most of that spent in the United States to develop the fuel-efficient vehicles of the future.

No other industry matches auto manufacturers in product development spending.

A day earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the automakers need to restructure their businesses in exchange for federal aid. The speaker must have slept through the perpetual overhauls of these three companies throughout this decade.

All three have slashed expenses, changed management teams, adopted new operating plans and committed to new products. They saw these hard times coming and tried to bank enough cash to get them through, but have been overwhelmed by the global credit crunch.

It's not only politicians who are perpetuating the myth that Detroit just discovered the world has changed. The New York Times' Thomas Friedman, one of the industry's most constant critics, contends Detroit has picked the wrong products for the markets and waited too long to go green.

The facts suggest something different. While the industry initially lagged Honda and Toyota in fuel efficiency, General Motors has 18 models in its portfolio today that get 30 miles per gallon or more, and 11 of the last 13 new products and 18 of the next 19 will be cars or crossovers, and not pickup trucks or SUVs. Its new offerings, including the Chevrolet Malibu and Saturn Aura, have swept the automotive awards the past two years.

Newsweek commentator Robert Samuelson writes that back-breaking contracts with the United Auto Workers make the Big Three uncompetitive. But the historic contracts signed with the UAW last year will drastically reduce labor costs in 2010 and will offload most of the pension and health care costs to the union. Entry-level workers in Big Three plants will make considerably less than their counterparts in foreign-owned facilities.

[...]There has been mismanagement, poor decision-making and inexcusable quality problems in the domestic industry in the past. But that's yesterday's story.

American automakers are leaner, greener and are offering exciting product line-ups. They need some help to get through one of the worst downturns in their history. If they can make it across this rough patch, they are well-positioned to succeed.

Congress and commentators ought to take a fresh look at Detroit before passing judgment on an industry they clearly don't understand.


Kate McLeod. "Help Detroit!". Wow O Wow. 2 Dec. 2008 - You like technology? Detroit is spending billions to create new types of cars. The electric Volt from GM, the twin turbo sedans from Ford. But there are no miracles. It takes time. Who will do it if they don’t? Citibank?


Bob Chaffin. Failure to help Detroit 3 would affect 50 states. 30 Nov. 2008 - Critics and pundits ignore the substantial changes U.S automakers have made already[...]Quality and productivity gaps have been closed and new products have included a number of fuel-efficient crossovers and the Chevy Malibu is a customer hit, leading its segment with a 33 mpg EPA rating. They have committed to the versatile, all-electric Volt by 2010 and continue to work toward hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

In 2007, more than 9.3 million people bought GM cars and trucks, keeping the brand in a dead heat with Toyota as the world's largest automaker. It was the second-best sales year in GM's 100-year history.

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