Could We Please Shut Up About Who Gets A Medal for Saving Detroit?
I hope we won’t have to listen to much more about which candidate deserves more credit for the idea about how to restructure General Motors and Chrysler.
The argument doesn’t go anywhere. Instead, the two presidential nominees, following Romney’s nomination, ought to be debating the proper role of government so Detroit can avoid another humiliating tin-cup moment like the one in November 2008.
The facts are simple: Mitt Romney wrote on November 18, 2008 in the New York Times that managed bankruptcy was the right way to restructure GM, supported by government-sponsored financing if necessary. Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama’s advisers explored, then rejected, the idea of giving GM a bridge loan. On June 8, 2009 GM did indeed file for bankruptcy, managed and financed by the U.S. Treasury.
If you like what President Obama did, then you have to like what Mitt Romney said. If you didn’t like the president’s plan, then you probably wouldn’t agree with the challenger.
The U.S. still owns 25 percent of GM. GM management chafes under this arrangement, because the company isn’t really free to make major moves without consulting Washington. Besides, more than a few consumers have vowed to avoid GM models as long as that relationship exists.
I have no formal tie to the Romney campaign, though I support him. I gather that Romney, like most free-market business people, has little use for government support of projects like GM’s very impressive Chevy Volt. The subsidies provided to battery producers as well as to buyers of Volt and other alternative-fuel models amount to government putting its thumb on the scale, deciding which will be winning technologies and which will lose. That’s a dicey proposition, as we’ve seen with solar energy ventures like Solyndra.
(I know, I know: The Internet was developed in part with U.S. government research funding.)
But another new automotive technology beckons: Driver-less (autonomous) and semi-autonomous vehicle technology. The research labs at GM and other global automakers are experimenting with cars that drive themselves wherever they’re told and – most importantly – could be more or less accident-proof.
If you think this is fantasy or the ravings of a journalist high on exhaust fumes, read about Google’s driver-less car, which traveled 1,000 or so miles on California roads and highways without incident. (Except for the car that rear-ended Google’s car in downtown San Francisco.) Or go to YouTube and watch the video of the blind driver going out for a taco in Google’s car.
Within the next two to three years Audi is expected to introduce an A8 luxury sedan equipped with a semi-autonomous system that will permit the hands-free and foot-free driving in heavy, slow freeway traffic. The state of Nevada, to facilitate testing of such features, just amended its traffic laws to permit such systems.
What seemed like fantasy just a while ago could be very close to reality. The carmakers that get it right can make a fortune. They’ll employ tens of thousands of engineers and technicians. This opportunity is so important that Washington should decide which automated systems will be permitted on the Interstate system, right? Maybe the Congress, in its wisdom, ought to appropriate research funds so automakers don’t have to risk their own.
I wonder what the presidential candidates would say. The subject is much richer than who yelled “managed bankruptcy” first.