As a self-proclaimed car fanatic, which is nothing new to anybody who knows me, I took to heart the recent news that Toyota surpassed GM for the top global sales thus far in 2007. It's sad even though the health of a corporation is not necessarily defined by selling the most of a product. As any business expert will tell you, there are many other factors involved. What's saddening about this event are the causes of and the effects of it. I notice a sense of Anti-Americanism that is pervading the auto industry. This industry deserves special attention because it is the backbone of our country's industrial base, and when combined with its broader cultural, safety and environmental impacts, I would argue that it is the most important industry on the planet. Our world would stop without it, (figuratively of course), as so much commerce depends on cars and trucks.
As a former GM employee, I've noticed the media and people in general "riding" the Big 3 or Big 2.5 for all their faults and supposed conspiracies. Some of the criticism is deserved as they clearly have lobbied against environmental regulation changes when they should just have improved, but this is nothing new to corporations in other industries, ones that we don't blacklist. European and Asian companies all along have had to produce products for countries with more congested roads and more expensive fuel. If the foreign companies were in the same situation as the Big 3, they would have responded the same way.
Whenever there is a recall, the focus becomes more intense if it is GM or Ford having the recall. Sure, they had some poor products in the 70's and 80's but without getting into stats or surveys, the products really have improved from a functional quality standpoint, and now they are improving from a perceived quality standpoint as well. (Don't believe Consumer Reports as an unbiased test-house.) Many commercial fleet vehicles are from Chrysler, GM and Ford. If they were so unreliable, these fleets would probably not keep buying the vehicles. After the global sales leadership changed hands, I read one headline that said Toyota "toppled" GM as the number one global automotive producer. Toppled implies that GM went from first to last. In reality, Toyota passed GM over the course of decades. And the race is never over. Based on what people read, nobody is told that GM sells more mid-sized cars than Toyota or Honda; it's just that the sales are spread out over more brands.
Sure, GM, Ford, and DCX don't have as many hybrids in production, but few people know how many hybrid buses GM has produced and how much of a positive impact they have had on the environment. The impact is arguably higher than that for all the Priuses that have been sold. GM's mid-size cars and full size trucks, part of some of the highest selling segments, are among the most efficient in the industry. People don't know that DaimlerChrysler owns Freightliner and Detroit Diesel who jointly sell some of the most fuel efficient commercial vehicles. With the huge quantities of fuel that such vehicles have to use, even a 1% improvement in fuel economy can have a significant impact on our dependence on foreign oil and the environment.
Other country's citizens have pride in their nation's products and prefer them to support themselves and their people. How smart. We on the other hand jump all over our own companies as if they are evil. Our government does nothing to level the playing field when it comes to trade protectionism, currency manipulation, and the competitive advantage that other countries provide their companies with socialized medicine.
We can criticize unions for all that they ask for and provide their workers, but without their prior efforts, our nation's working conditions and living standards would be lower. World War II would not have been won without the support of Ford, Chrysler and GM. We should at some level be grateful for these things and for the economic machine that the U.S. auto industry has provided in support of so many other seemingly unrelated industries such as banking, and medicine.
It's hard to be a fan of our country right now based on all that is happening with respect to foreign policy. But all this unjustified anti-Americanism in the auto industry is twisted. It impacts all of us indirectly and it severely damages great cities like Detroit and Cleveland. I find it ironic that Anti-Americanism in other pursuits such as sports or war is generally not accepted by our culture. I'm not saying that you should only buy an "American car"; true competition improves all companies. But don't give foreign-based automakers a free pass while dismissing the Big 3. They are also manufacturers of great driving machines.