Big Three Bailout is Doomed

After many false starts, the White House and Democrats have come to a deal on the Bailout of the Big Three.  Among the provisions is the creation of a “Car Czar” to monitor how and where the automakers spend their bailout bucks and requirements for the companies and the UAW to come up with a plan for profitability by March.

On the surface, it sounds good, but this plan is doomed from the start, and will be a huge waste of fifteen billion taxpayer dollars.  The reason is simple:  The plan does not address any of the issues that got the automakers in trouble in the first place.

Making cars is not a very profitable business.  Toyota makes about $2,000 for each car they sell.  GM loses a couple hundred dollars, and Ford loses close to $2,000.  Those numbers are from a few years ago, but as you can see, even the most profitable company only makes a $2,000 per car.  When you multiply the profit over millions of cars sold, you get a huge number, but if you add costs anywhere along the line, it could wipe out a huge chunk of the company’s profits.

One cost that hurts the automakers is their cost of labor.  Total labor compensation for GM is around $78 per hour, while Toyota’s is around $48.  A big reason for this is funding the pensions and healthcare costs of retired UAW workers.  Also, negotiated programs like the “jobs bank” hurt the automakers.  The jobs bank requires that when a plant is not producing vehicles due to lack of demand, the workers still get paid up to 90% of their salaries.  GM spend about $1,500 per vehicle on these costs.  That’s almost the gap between them and Toyota.

While this bailout may call for talks between the Big Three and the UAW, it doesn’t look at the big picture, one that does not include a union at all.  Maybe that has to be part of the equation.  Do they really need to be unionized?  Toyota’s workforce is not unionized, and while there are some complaints, most workers seem to be content.  Of course, this option will never come up, but if we were really serious about fixing the automakers, this would have to at least be discussed.

The “Car Czar” is supposed to oversee how the companies will operate and approve almost all spending of the bailout dollars to make sure it is being spent domestically.  If you really wanted the Big Three to emerge as a profitable company, you should allow them to explore all options.  If they can find a cheaper way to produce vehicles or parts in Mexico, they should be able to.  There is an advantage to assembling cars with the skilled workers of the United States, why else would Toyota, Honda, Nissan and BMW do this?  So allowing them to explore all options will not kill U.S. jobs.  This is another reason why this bailout will not solve anything.

Also, part of the bailout is that the automakers have to show they will put the money towards more fuel efficient compact cars.  The Big Three makes their money selling trucks and SUVs.  They lose money building compact cars that can’t compete with the market niche the Japanes cars have.  Why can’t they develop more efficient trucks?  They might not be 50 mile a gallon Smart Cars, but they would do just as much to end our dependence on oil.  Again, if this really was about reforming the business of the automakers, we wouldn’t place ridiculous requirements on them.

Finally, the government needs to look at itself as part of the problem.  You would think that fuel efficiency would be easy to regulate, right?  Read this article on the Corporate Average Fuel Economy from Wikipedia.  Could this more convulted?  What the heck is a “harmonic mean?”  Can anyone in Congress actually figure this out?  This is an antiquated piece of legislation from the days of the oil embargos of the 1970’s that is still in place.  Before Congress puts any requirements on automakers, they need to repeal this stupid law.

The fact that the entire fleet of cars sold has to meet some requirement is absolutely ludicrous.  If Ford sells a million trucks, they then must sell millions of crappy, poorly designed, cheap compact cars to reach their fuel efficiency requirements?  The goal should be to increase the efficiency of that one model of truck.  Instead, they could make the truck less efficient and make the crappy car more efficient.  Overall, the “harmonic mean” stays the same.  The CAFE standards are completely ineffective, do not do what they were intended to do, and force the Big Three to sell cars that aren’t profitable.

Overall, the Big Three Bailout will only lead to more of the same and even more taxpayer dollars wasted.  They need to think outside the box and look at the bigger picture.  Instead, there will be small reforms that will be billed as big ones and in a few months, they’ll be back for more money.  If we really want Ford, GM and Chrysler to survive, we need to allow them to operate as free enterprises and not companies with their hands tied behind their backs.  Until we really look at the problems, any help for the Big Three is doomed before it even starts.

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One Response to “Big Three Bailout is Doomed”

  1. Obama’s Misguided Fuel Efficiency Policy « A Look Inside Says:

    […] I wrote before, the problem with the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards is that they […]

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