4:11 positrac outback, 750 double pumper, edelbrock intake


I’m lying on a bed in a hotel room in Frankfort, KY – my brother Sean and I have ventured to the Bourbon Trail to help my buddy Jon fix his kitchen so he can rent his duplex at exorbitant rates. But having just driven 11 hours, I have to ask:

Why the fuck are we even considering bailing out the Big Three automakers in this country? I mean, I get it: 10% of America’s workforce is somehow related to cars, and if these companies go under, the suffering will be immense. But us writing a blank check to Ford, GM and Chrysler is like driving an abused wife back to her husband. These are the BAD GUYS, plain and simple. They fought seat belts, they fought safe gas tanks, they fought airbags, and they fought decent gas mileage FOR FORTY YEARS. If it were up to them, they’d have your kids ride shotgun in piles of shattered vodka bottles.

There may have been a day when someone loved the clean stylin’ of their Buick, the fins of their Fairlane, or even the no-nonsense subtlety of their K-car, but those days are gone, baby, gone. Americans have made two kinds of cars for years:

1. boring, shitty, uninspiring, unsafe, mid-level sedans with shitty gas mileage, or

2. hideous, ostentatious, rollover-prone, SUV Fuck-You-Mobiles with mind-bendingly shitty gas mileage.

By 1999 or so, the writing was on the wall: global warming was real, gas prices were going to go stratospheric, and soon enough, the SUV craze would be exposed for what it really was. All three automakers had YEARS to get an electric drive train going, but didn’t fucking bother. In the meantime, Toyota was staying up late perfecting their game. I’m no Nostradamus, but I did the math in 2002 and the next year, Tessa and I bought the the new generation Prius, the second Prius ever sold in New York.

We would have been glad to buy American, but Detroit was so far behind the game that Ford gave up and had to use the Toyota hybrid engine inside the new Escape. The Big Three squandered a decade of innovation during the Dark Ages soon to be known as the Bush II Era, instead calling hybrids “a bad idea” and pushing Yukons and Escalades on a public eager to buy their way out of post-9/11 fear.

And NOW they come crying to Washington like three obese babies suddenly denied their ice cream? Our new, enlightened government should either tell them to go fuck themselves, or we should give them some money WITH THE IRON-BOUND STIPULATION that they re-work their plants and their plans around a new energy structure, a green-based technology that’ll put us back on top of the world and kickstart a million new jobs.

Because if we give them $100 billion, and the limit of their innovation extends to twenty-seven cup holders and 5 miles per gallon, we really should leave cars alone and stick to our strong points: reality television, bad chocolate and gun-related homicide.

0 thoughts on “4:11 positrac outback, 750 double pumper, edelbrock intake

  1. Bud

    I’m with you too… in spirit. I do fully agree that just handing them bags of cash isn’t going to solve anything. So no blank checks.
    That being said, the impact of one (or all) of those companies failing would be, as you imply, economically catastrophic. Beyond that, we have a compelling national security interest in having the ability to churn out huge numbers of vehicles quickly. Without the big three, would we have been able to win WWII? How would we fare in WWIII (perhaps coming soon to a theatre near us…) if all our cars are made by Japan or China?
    My suggestion is to purchase a stake in each of the companies, to be resold on the open market later (preferably for a profit). In return for the cash infusion, we get to tell them what to do (as you propose in your second-to-last paragraph).
    I suggest natural gas cars until we can build electrics. Let’s do it!

  2. jon

    Well, and here’s the other thing: Toyota, Honda, and lots of other “foreign” car manufacturers employ hundreds of thousands of Americans right here in the good ol’ USA. They provide good, stable jobs making great, gas-efficient cars. So the very notion of bailing out crappy “American” car companies is absurd. When are we going to start focusing on employees and not on ownership? Maybe I’m missing something, but should I really care that Toyota is a “foreign” car manufacturer if they are employing thousands of my friends and neighbors making Camrys and Camry hybrids here in Central Kentucky? Let’s start working more with the winners, who have demonstrated commitment to improving technology and who are creating American jobs, and let the losers take care of themselves regardless of where their *ownership* calls home. Isn’t *that* what free trade and free market economies are supposed to be about?

  3. locopop

    The taxpayers don’t need to be involved in this bailout. ExxonMobil and the other oil companies need to invest some of their record profits to keep U.S. carmakers afloat. Isn’t gas guzzling how they got their profits? Well, overpriced crude oil helped, but when the Suburbans of the world turn to Civics, their profits are toast.

  4. tbruns

    Absolutely positively 100% behind you on this one. We preach competitiveness and the free-market economy. Lets see how we roll when it comes down to it. America is full of innovation and ideas when pressed, so innovate and ideate your butts off and build a better car, big three!

  5. Josie

    When Ford Jr. announced they were going green, I thought it was brilliant. But they didnt do so much with it, did they?
    I saw a Hybrid GMC Yukon the other day. Woop-de-doo. For an outrageous amount of money (55K) you too can buy an american piece of crap car that, even as a hybrid, gets a lousy 21/22 mph. NOT a good deal, nor green in any way.
    Then you have geeks like my DH who insist on driving his ’94 isuzu until someone comes out with a family-friendly hybrid that meets his minimum benchmark of 30 mph. (Sadly, the prius does not qualify, as all four of us roadtrip quite a bit). I think there is a big market of geeks out there reserving their money until someone gives them what they really want….which is not an F150 or a Hemi.

  6. Claverack Weekender

    It is a frightening state of affairs on this blog when I am taking the most liberal view on an issue.
    a) These companies are making the cars that people actually want to buy. I know most of the buyers probably voted for McCain or Hillary during the primaries, but they are a market too and they buy an ocean of Chevy Tahoes, Pontiac Vibes, and Ford F-150’s. (Full disclosure: I’ve owned two F-150’s in my life. They are great on the farm.) I personally think Toyotas are just as bland as a Detroit special, and I say that as a proud Toyota owner…
    b) As Toyota has shown, it is possible to build nice cars in America… as long as you don’t have union labor. Bankruptcy of the big three would be a pretty big blow to union labor here. The Writers Guild and the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators will have to pick up the torch for labor, I guess???
    c) You know management is salivating at the thought of cutting the unions and union pension liabilities. Do you really want to give the man another ivory backscratcher?

  7. kevin from NC

    As a small business owner, I have issues with the bailout. There is much pain in my small business today and i wish i had someone’s teet to snuggle up to in times of peril.
    Letting the big 3 go under would hurt a lot of people and I understand that. But something new and better would rise from the ashes; unencumbered by union contracts. That would not be a bad thing.
    And this is not the first time the auto industry has been bailed out… think K cars…they were the offspring of the first time with Chrysler.

  8. Susan

    I am with you on this. My husband and I keep waiting for the american car makers to catch up. We heard that Chrysler was coming out with a line of electric cars (?) but like all cars made American I am skeptical.
    I drive a Toyota Sienna (2004). I was in an accident on Monday (with my 11 month old and 5 year old) and totalled the van. Frightening doesn’t even come close to describing it. We walked away without a scratch thank God. I really don’t think we would have fared as well in an American car! I pick up my new 2009 Sienna tomorrow….:)

  9. Schultz

    I am absolutely opposed to government intervention in any industry. And I would be fine if every union in this country ceased to exist.
    But in mild defense of Detroit, they have engineered better combustion engines and delivered fuel savings to the consumer. It is just FLAT OUT WRONG for anyone to say that Toyota is the poster child of fuel economy. This is the same company that sells the Sequoia, Land Cruiser, Four Runner, Tacoma, Tundra, LX470, etc etc- some of the most NOTORIOUS POOR GAS MILEAGE CARS MADE.
    I have a Honda Odyssey, Chevy Suburban and Ford F-150 for the farm. The Ford gets shitty gas mileage.
    The other two outperform all the aforementioned cars easily. Don’t believe it? Then you probably don’t know that both the Honda and Chevy’s have new engine technology that shuts the motor down to half the cylinders.
    So yes- I am guilty as charged. But I bet my Suburban gets better gas mileage than you think. And my chances of injury are far less. Sorry- my family is more important to me than a few hundred dollars a year.
    Slam away!

  10. Greg T.

    I’m all for a good rant, but I’m gonna defend the big 3 on this one.
    There has been a steady improvement in the quality and feul-efficiency of the vehicles made by the big 3 over the last 5-8 years. Ford produces excellent small, fuel-efficient cars that sell well in Europe but we don’t buy here, the Chevy Malibu is on par with a Camry or Accord in terms of build quality, amenities and gas mileage.
    The larger problem has been that with cheap gas, American buyers have continued to demand large, gas-guzzling monsters. Have they been a bit slow to adapt to newer hybrid technologies? Likely so, but the domestic market was not ripe for hybrids and it still remains a niche market. Toyota and Honda had significant market forces abroad pushing them for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles and they responded in kind.
    Ford, GM and Chrysler have just provided us what we have been asking for.
    Should we bail them out? I dunno, I’m leaning towards no, but I worry that the impact of allowing any one of these 3 to fail might be enough to push us into a real depression and I’m not a fan of depression.

  11. kent

    “There’s only four things we do better than anyone else: music, movies, microcode(software), and high-speed pizza delivery.” — Neal Stephenson in “Snow Crash”

  12. Ehren

    I think a contbuting reason the Big 3 are in trouble has a lot to do with pinning their hopes to SUV’s, but the biggest reason is the unions. Now, I’ve seen the pros and cons of unions having grown up in Detroit, worked in factories in NC and worked in construction in NYC, but the giant pension plans that are the legacy of a bygone era are just sinking the automobile and airline industries. GM has to pay a giant sum of money every year in pensions, and it’s a huge cash suck that foreign companies don’t have to deal with. You obviously can’t just rob people of their pensions, but the Big 3 are going to go down and get chopped up, and that will be the end of an era in the history of organized labor.

  13. Curtis

    GM had a good start on electric car technology back in the 1990s, when California regulations required it to develop one. As soon as the “usual suspects” successfully lobbied to get rid of the regulation, GM killed the car. Those interested should watch the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Some accuse the film of being too biased, but it does make a compelling case that while the technology still needed serious work, GM was making good progress — just progress that it (and the oil industry) didn’t want to make.

  14. Tanya

    I love you, Ian. First and foremost. But I have to take issue with this:
    “These are the BAD GUYS, plain and simple. They fought seat belts, they fought safe gas tanks, they fought airbags, and they fought decent gas mileage FOR FORTY YEARS. If it were up to them, they’d have your kids ride shotgun in piles of shattered vodka bottles.”
    1. Speaking as an employee of a Big Mean Fortune 250 company, you assume that these folks don’t have families and children and drive cars, too. I’m pretty sure they’re not sitting around a conference room table rubbing their knuckles and dreaming up the most unsafe vehicle they can design. More likely, they’re trying to find ways to make their cars safer while STAYING IN BUSINESS, and sometimes the government will come up with a great idea, enact overly strict laws and then leave it up to industry to figure a way to make them work. They’re called “unfunded mandates.” So they fight the legistlation, not because of the principle, but because of the way it gets written. It’ll cost them so much, it won’t be worth making the product. That’s an important distinction that often gets lost in the heat of the battle.
    2. These folks don’t really care what kind of car they build, they just want to build what people are asking for. If folks were knocking down their doors demanding hybrids (or, 40 years ago, seat belts, air bags, etc.), they’d build them. They’re in business – basic business calls for you to sell a product people want. THAT is plain and simple.
    3. I’d like it known that I drive a 4-wheel drive 4Runner, and I get 23 mpg. Not great, but not bad for an SUV. I’m expected to get to work no matter what the weather, and I have 2 kids that I can’t cram into a Civc, so it’s perfect for me. That being said, for good weather and to cover my 10 county territory, the Big Mean Fortune 250 POWER company bought a Prius for me to drive. They converted it to a plug-in hybrid, and it gets 100 mpg. Here’s hoping that I don’t get into an accident while driving it. To be sure, if it happens, I won’t survive the crash. But most likely, I won’t be pulling out of a gas station when it occurs! (heh)

  15. Schultz

    Curtis makes an excellent point about “Who Killed the Electric Car”. This is an eye-opening documentary that left me feeling somewhat nauseous.
    Also, I believe that any bailout of the Big 3 will come with very strict mandates from Congress on “how to build cars”. The United States already has the most oppressive regulations regarding emmissions and fuel standards- many for good reason. But I am concerned that letting our politicians dictate production and design will only worsen the situation in Detroit.

  16. Neva

    I personally wish there was a way to let them fail without hurting the little guy, but I always want to have my cake and eat it too I guess.

  17. Ian

    Schulz – Toyota has had its share of gas-guzzlers, but their mandate since 2004 has been a totally-hybrid line, top to toe. They simply aren’t going to make regular cars anymore, because there’s absolutely no benefit. Can you imagine an American company doing that?
    Tanya – you know I adore you too! But honestly, I don’t think the companies (as a whole) care about people, and will do the absolute barest minimum every single time. Sure, the INDIVIDUALS within a company love and care about their kids, but the company itself remains, in a way, sociopathic.
    I urge everyone to watch “The Corporation” if you’ve seen “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, or even if you haven’t. It’s a brilliant take on “corporate personhood”.

  18. Lindsay

    I think I am more of a “market liberal” than most who chime in around here, but letting the US auto industry die is a bad idea.
    Opening with “I mean, I get it: 10% of America’s workforce is somehow related to cars, and if these companies go under, the suffering will be immense” and then having any sort of “but” after that means that you don’t really get it. You typed it, but you don’t get it. Much of the rest of the entry smacks of you not getting it because you are swayed by a set of consumerist tastes that don’t run to Detroit and a misplaced desire for political revenge. The autoworkers can eat Priuscake, I suppose.
    Yummy priuscake.
    The proposed “bailout” for the automakers is being framed as a loan, last I checked. This will enable the automakers to exist when the recession is over and people are able to spend on cars again. It will enable millions to feed their families and donate to the local soup kitchens during the same period, instead of feeding their families IN those soup kitchesn.
    If the proper strings are attached to that loan, this is an historic opportunity to FIX US emissions. Fix them in a way that the hoodoo of burying carbon when you fly will never do.
    So, spending tax money now to help keep working families working and off the dole, while taking a once-in-a-lifetime chance to retool the American auto industry instead of letting the businesses fail and spending those same tax dollars on aid for ex-autoworkers and on longer-term less effective solution to the US emissions problem?
    Where do I sign, President Obama?
    P.S. The unions have been a different beast for years and are being unfairly maligned. Our terrible health care system is more to blame for Detroit’s troubles than greedy blue-collar workers are. Unions have been trading current salary for future health and retirement benefits because they have to. The lower wages have helped the bottom line of the Big 3 over the years, but the economics of health care have finally and unavoidably caught up to the auto industry. The rest of the country is next.

  19. Ian

    Lindsay, thanks for the heads-up, but I really don’t need more Sensitivity Training. The writing has been on the wall for American automakers for two decades, and it seems clear that Ford, GM and Chrysler are constitutionally incapable of forward thought. By no means am I advocating for American workers to suffer; in fact, we should use that bailout money for training them for the next billion dollar business – something in the alternative energy sector. It can even be based in Flint, Michigan if that makes you feel better.
    And while my “consumerist tastes” may fuel my gadget purchases and Apple fetish, the Prius has nothing to do with it. We bought the car because it gets 45mpg. If Detroit had made it, then we would have bought it from frickin’ Detroit.

  20. Paul G

    The government shouldn’t have bailed out the banks. And they definitely shouldn’t bail out the automakers.

  21. Lindsay

    Yes, Ian, I know you have greatness of soul and deserve the benefit of the doubt (not being sarcastic, here) about sensitivity towards the workin’ man. But your post didn’t reflect that, which is what I was responding to.
    What you actually wrote was dismissive of the concerns that Obama wants to address with the bailout: the “massive suffering” of 3 million employees who are directly or indirectly employed by the industry and the impact of that suffering on the rest of the economy. One of the more persuasive arguments for the bailout is, “if not this, then what?” You didn’t really address that.
    So, now you’ve amended that. Cool.
    But are you suggesting 25 billion dollars for jobs training (and I assume support of trainees’ families)? You can’t train 3 million people for the next industry at the same time. Where are the jobs? Who are the trainers? My point is that if the bailout/loan/whatever is done right, the coming green sector jobs in Flint can be the same jobs the autoworkers are doing now. It’s ssentially the WPA with assembly lines: you get cars as an end result, while keeping people working and their families fed, and an industrial infrastructure in place for the inevitable green tech.
    And if you think that Detroit makes bad products, you should see job or skills training programs. What a load of shite they are, and I’m referring to the rather high-end, privately paid ones I’ve experienced. Chevy makes much better cars than Sylvan makes learning systems.
    But I’m being pessimistic about the training option, and my argument is not necessary a negative one. The pessimism of your argument (“Well, it’s been this way for 20 years, it will always be this way”) is part of the reason I find it so unattractive and out of step with, you know, what that biracial fella who is about to run the world has been insisting during his entire campaign.
    Yes, Detroit can (and does) design better cars. You’ve been to the NY Auto show, right? Plenty of forward thought comes out of Detroit, the economics have just not been there to mass-produce those ideas. Using conditions of the loan to put the right amount of pressure on the Big 3 can change the numbers in a hurry, and we would then start seeing those ideas on the showroom floors.
    US cars are also doing well in Europe and Asia. One of the pundits on Meet the Press said today that Chevy is the world’s fastest-growing brand, and that one of the Big 3 (sorry, forgot which pundit and which company) leads the Chinese market. That’s possibly a dubious honor, but one that shows they have adapted their global strategy and responded to new markets well over the last decade or so. Success in Europe also shows that they can sell cars with better mileage–to consumers who obviously and historically want them.
    Auto execs might be cowardly and narrow-minded, but they ain’t stupid. The Administration can take advantage of this fact to use this carrot to force them to change their ways.
    As a final note, my comment at your consumer taste was sincere, and not about the Prius. I’m sorry you took it as a cheap shot. Of course you bought your car for its quality. I was actually referring to your Apple fetish and related gadgetana, rather than what you drive today. If you felt the same way about, say, Dodge, as you do about Volkswagon or Apple, your attitude might be a little different. It clearly wouldn’t be the difference-maker in your thought process–but you yourself wrote that your opinion of the product affects your ideas about the bailout (“boring, shitty, uninspiring . . . hideous, ostentatious”). I won’t bother to do the research, but I’m sure brand preferences for VW and Apple, as well as for other stuff you really and honestly like, tend to run together and have an emotional component that is as important as their actual quality, even on philosopher-kings like your friends. To wit: I’ve been anxiously awaiting the budget-conscious, anime-inspired Dodge Demon for years, and I’d hate to see the company fold before it’s made. I’d also like for this country not to devolve into Road Warrior, but the Demon must have some impact on my thinking.

  22. Lindsay again

    Paul, can you (or someone else) explain how the credit crisis would have solved itself and the likely affect on American businesses large and small?
    The bank bailout was certainly imperfect, and Paulson is seeming like a weasel right now. But any sustained period when businesses could not go to banks for bridge loans to make payroll and settle accounts payable while waiting on accounts receivable would have been catastrophic.
    The auto industry is like the banking industry in that it touches many other sectors and could generate a big enough wave as it went down to swamp lots of public and private entities.

  23. Paul G

    I think the free market needs to work out its own problems. And when the people that screwed it up in the first place (or didn’t stop the coming economic tsunami) ask for more money, I think it is a terrible decision to actually give it to them.
    I’m sorry to say, but I don’t care about businesses that can’t support themselves. If they die, they die. I think that other businesses would have sprung up, revitalized parts of our economy, or we all would eat ramen noodles and rice for a few years.
    I’m a single guy who rents (b/c I knew I couldn’t afford to buy) and whose parents have no investments. Now, I’m a single guy who rents and gets an awesomely large tax burden b/c I get to help other people who couldn’t afford to buy (but did anyway!), pay for their homes.
    I was more for letting it burn, then taking another giant step deeper into the muck. Now my goal is to just start a business and run it so poorly, the government can bail me out, too! :-)

  24. ChrisM

    I grew up in suburban Detroit and my father worked in the auto biz. I totally agree that pouring money into the Detroit 3’s existing business model will only delay their inevitable deaths. The changes needed to make the companies viable are no secret, but I don’t hear the companies or the UAW discussing them. But they want tax money. FU!
    The auto companies cost structure evolved in partnership with the UAW. Like the companies, the UAW is totally unwilling to change and has significantly helped make the Detroit 3 all the lously things Ian said about them.
    Consider this: All those big expensive SUVs are partially the RESULT of the bloated cost structure. In recent years selling big SUVs was the only way these companies could make any money. Without a big reduction in cost structure, Detroit can stay in business, even if it makes great fuel efficient vehicles.

  25. Lindsay

    Just a couple of quick hits.
    Paul: This guy says most of what I want to say better than me: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-paul/will-we-let-detroit-go-an_b_145418.html
    As I see it, the problem is that whether you own or not, or have stocks or not, your taxes will go up if the autoworkers have to co on the public dole. The bailout/loan was design to come out of the 700 billion that Paulson is greasing Wall Street banks with, so it won’t raise your tax bill anymore than it is already raised. Supporting the Detroit loans is good from both a tax bill AND a bleeding heart point of view. It only hurts from a philosophical perspective. I think that perspective is a decent one (and yeah, I understand how the free market works), but I’m not prepared to pay more taxes and deepen the recession for it.
    Chris: Everyone agrees that the unions and executives need to change. And they have. Maybe it’s too little too late, but the benefit costs that the unions have taken away from the automakers by setting up freestanding funds earlier this year are evidence against your point that the unions will not change.
    Detroit execs have also begun to make changes, and are having more success than they are being given credit for (mostly overseas). And the whole point of the loans, the way leading Dems see them, is that they would have forced more changes. Especially now, with Henry Waxman taking over for the Big 3’s biggest Democratic whore on fuel efficiency, this can’t be discounted.
    Lastly, the cost structure is might be a factor in the success of SUV’s, but don’t forget the oil-loving Bush administration’s cheerleading. They had a tax incentive for the importation SUV’s that didn’t exist for more fuel efficient cars that fueled their popularity.


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