For entertainment purposes only, I recently was invited to sit on a panel with three other journalists and pretend I was CEO of an auto maker for a day. Here’s my plan for saving my theoretical company – and the auto industry:
First, I will erase all reminders of our past glory. My company, and Detroit, has a long, proud history of creating a true middle class in the U.S. with good-paying jobs for all Americans, not just some of them.
We also played a crucial role as the arsenal of democracy during the world’s worst war in history. And we have made some incredible products over the years.
Problem is, no one outside Michigan – and I mean no one – cares.
Wallowing in the past isolates us from reality and holds us back. If I see anyone standing next to one of our classic products from the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s and getting teary-eyed, it had better be from the irritants in the exhaust, or he’s fired.
Second, I will not apologize to Congress. My auto maker is not in trouble because it does not build enough hybrids or because the wages I pay are too high. If every single one of my products was a hybrid, my sales would be falling even more.
Wages are not the problem. An annualized U.S. sales rate down 50% from last year is the problem.
And I will not apologize for building big pickup trucks. They are the most popular vehicles in America, and my highest-volume, most profitable products. It would not be a smart business decision to back away.
Third, I will not try to sell products to people who hate cars. Environmentalists that see motor vehicles as evil are not a demographic worth my marketing dollars.
Now,Prius buyers love their cars as much as any sports-car fanatic. And they pay over sticker. Those are potential customers I will pursue.
Fourth, I will hit any corporate average fuel economy target the Obama Admin. asks of me. The only thing I ask in return is the president to recognize that, in the absence of high gas prices, demand for fuel-efficient vehicles has to be artificially created.
That means a minimum $4,000 income-tax incentive, with no sales-volume limit, for hybrid-electric and diesel-powered vehicles and a $10,000 incentive for electric vehicles.
We need to lower taxes on diesel fuel to bring it to parity with gasoline, just like Europe did long ago. Higher gas taxes must be phased in over the next two years to ensure regular gasoline stays at $4 per gallon or above. These moves will create real demand and pay for all the incentives.
Lastly, I will work with the United Auto Workers union. This crazy business of behaving like two drowning men trying to hold each other’s head under water must stop. Ron Gettlefinger and the UAW get a seat on my board of directors. But Mr. Gettlefinger, when one of your members decides to get a divorce or wants to sue his landlord, I’m not paying for the lawyer anymore.
There it is. It’s all easy when you are pretending.