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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Buy A Car"

I've been thinking a lot about the auto industry lately. Quite possibly you have too. One can hardly open a newspaper or read on-line news in America without seeing the story of the potential federal government bailout of the American auto makers. It's a big story. They're big companies. And they're asking Congress for a lot of money.

Part of the story you hear and read is that the auto makers got themselves into this mess. Some think it was the auto workers unions that did them in. Others think it was the U.S. government that was too lax in welcoming foreign auto makers to our market - creating unfair competition for the domestic auto makers. To be honest, I'm not sure I know the truth of the matter. It's evident that the U.S. auto makers (i.e., those headquartered in the U.S.) are in trouble. How they got there I'm not really sure.

As I think about where they're at though, I try to think about what I do know. There are some positives that I see in this mess, which I hope don't get overlooked. Let's take a look:

These companies are building good vehicles. GM, for example, has more cars that get over 30 MPG than any other car maker in the world. So despite the fact that they've sold a lot of big, gas-hungry SUV's, GM has a broad line of fuel-efficient, sensible cars to sell. So do Ford and Chrysler. (The problem has been that this is what's been selling these past few years.) So building more sensible fuel-efficient vehicles shouldn't be a problem. The car makers are ready and able.

Years ago, it was common understanding that if you wanted a well-built car, with precision engineering, you had to buy a foreign car. Mercedes and BMW, maybe even Volvo, got the top of the line and became the premium brands. Toyota, Nissan and Honda seemed to be the every-day brands (though they later competed in the premium brands with Lexus, Infiniti and Acura). I've had experience with both domestic and foreign cars. It is my strong belief that the differences in quality have disappeared over the years. Today I would submit that there is little difference in the quality of a foreign car over an American car. (I'll put my Chevy up against your Toyota or Honda any time!) This has been validated by independent experts as well. So building well-made, finely engineered cars that last shouldn't be a problem. The car makers are already doing that.

Finally, we have an incoming President that seems to have a relationship with the media and the American public beyond belief. It's fair to say that this President will start with approval ratings well above those early ratings of his predecessors. Some have even joked that there's not been anyone people believed in so much or had so much hope in since Jesus Christ Himself. I am pretty certain that Barack Obama is not the resurrected Messiah. But I do agree that he wields incredible influence over the vast majority of the American people right now. It is influence he could leverage right now --- to save the American auto industry.

Picture Barack Obama, maybe even with his wife, Michelle, with a public service announcement asking the American public to buy a new car from an American-based manufacturer. He wouldn't have to endorse any particular brand. "Hi, I'm Barack Obama, and I'm your new President. You know, our government has recently taken the unprecedented step of investing billions of dollars to re-tool our American-based auto manufacturers. Why did we do that? Because they are important to the fabric of our society. They are relevant to our economy. Perhaps more importantly, for you and for me --- they build great cars. And if you're in a position to do so right now, I'd like you to go out and buy a new car from one of these great American car companies. It'll help them. It'll help our national economy. It'll help me as your new President. It will ensure that your government gets a fair payback on our investment. And most importantly, you'll have the pride of owning one of the finest vehicles ever made in America. I'm your President, Barack Obama. I'll see you at the car lot!"

Can you just imagine? How many people do you suppose would be lined up at the Chevy, Ford and Dodge dealers the next morning? I figure we'd run the commercial a few times. The auto companies could play for it. They could have videos of it in their showrooms. We'd go back to Mom, apple pie and Chevrolet. Perhaps Michelle Obama could get a new mini-van to take her kids to school. We'd make sure the President is seen riding around in American limousines and his honchos are seen tooling around in American SUV's and sedans. It would be the biggest "buy American" campaign ever. Most importantly ... I'm pretty sure it would work!

So come on, Mr. Obama. Can you get America to buy a new car?

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