Ban on lobbying should be a part of any Detroit bailout

If anyone is wondering how the Big Three automakers got themselves into their current predicament, it is illustrative to take a look back to 2004.  That year, the state of California was in the process of implementing a law that would permit alternative fuel vehicles that achieved a minimum of 45 miles per gallon to use the state’s carpool lanes regardless of occupants. 

However, only foreign cars could meet these objective standards.  As a result, William C. Ford, Jr., the chairman of Ford (both then and now), wrote to California Gov. Schwarzenegger complaining that the law was basically a “Buy Japanese” campaign.  At the time, Ford was about to release a hybrid SUV (the Escape) that would achieve only 31 miles per gallon.  Unintentionally highlighting the fundamental core of Detroit’s problems, Ford, Jr., complained that this law would create a “competitive disadvantage precisely when Ford is entering the hybrid market with a family-oriented, no compromise S.U.V.” (emphasis added).

This “no compromise” philosophy is exactly what got Detroit into their current mess.  When Japan was figuring out how to deliver well-built, economical, and efficient vehicles, Detroit was putting lipstick on a pig.  Yes, SUVs are utilitarian and comfortable, but Detroit focused on them to the detriment of all other ideas.  Instead of creating their own line of truly efficient cars, Ford (and now GM) tried to fudge it by throwing some hybrid technology into their cash cow, the SUV, in the hopes of keeping the party going.  It was the last days of disco and Detroit was still wearing bellbottoms. 

The fact that Detroit did not have a single car in 2004 that could meet the basic requirements of California’s carpool lane law was pathetic, but their lobbying to veto the law because of that fact was shameful.  (Fortunately, their efforts in this instance were unsuccessful.)

If there is a bailout of the automakers, in addition to there being efficiency requirements imposed, there should also be at least a five-year agreement by them to stop lobbying the government on policy matters.  They forfeited that right when they asked for a bailout that was needed, in large part, due to their past lobbying efforts. 

We may have to bail them out, but at least we won’t have to hear them whine about how efficiency laws are unfair because they favor more efficient manufacturers.  After all, isn’t that the point?

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