Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

The Dark Age of the Auto Industry


It is time for the American people to send a wake-up call to the domestic auto industry (General Motors, Ford Motor Company and DaimlerChrysler). Backlogged engineering advances well suited for commercial application and widespread diffusion are ready for use. Unfortunately, today, as was the case 40 years ago, auto company management stands in the way of benign and efficient automotive technology.

With few exceptions, a vast wasteland of technological stagnation and junk engineering from domestic automakers has destroyed over three decades of opportunities for increasing the health, safety and economic efficiency of the motoring public. This “dark age” of the domestic motor vehicle industry was not the result of a series of omissions. It was the product of a deliberate expansion of the auto giants’ power to block innovation.

During this period, the Big Three, with all their autocratic hierarchical bureaucracies, managed to continue losing market share to foreign manufacturers. General Motors and Ford are experiencing massive annual losses, which would be even more immense absent their profitable financing arms. Their bonds have been downgraded to junk status-something unthinkable a decade or two ago.

One might think that such a state of affairs would itself constitute an internal wake-up call to change directions and provide annual value improvements in their products. No way. Notwithstanding the “talk” in their advertising campaigns, it is still business as usual.

Unwilling over the years to regenerate themselves from within their ranks, despite substantial investment, marketing and engineering/scientific resources, top executives managed to mismanage and waste these estimable assets, reserving their energies to blockade external pressures that would have saved them from their own ineptitude.

Instead, the auto manufacturers, together with their dealers and sometimes the United Auto Workers, used political muscle to freeze regulatory activity in both NHTSA and the EPA into obsolescence and even on occasion rolled back simple standards (such as bumper protections requirements).

The formidable auto industry and auto dealer lobby in Washington stopped any effort in Congress to recharge the General Services Administration into upgrading its safety, fuel and emissions specifications for its fleet purchases over the past twenty years. This occurred even though the GSA, under the leadership of Administrator Gerald Carmen, advanced air bag installations through fleet purchases in the mid-Eighties under Reagan.

Having nullified both the internal and external pressures that would have pressed forward toward engineering excellence, the domestic Big Three reverted to their age-old profit formula. They jerry-built junk, profitable junk, called SUVs. They sold a mirage of safety, the status of size and huge horsepower and less cramped interiors. They invested tens of billions of dollars into more powerful and wasteful engines. They made up for declining market share with higher profit margins on vehicles sold. SUVs were the opiate of the auto executives, making them more complacent and sluggish during a lengthy period of stable gasoline prices.

Now the price of oil and gasoline is rising and the motorists may be awakening. So too should motorists raise their expectations for the kinds of vehicles they should be able to purchase in their own multiple interests. Imagine political candidates making the state of motor vehicle engineering a major political issue, extending to health, safety, efficiency and beyond to global warming, and the lack of modern mass transit.

My associate Rob Cirincione, Princeton-trained engineer, has just completed a report titled: Innovation and Stagnation in Automotive Safety and Fuel Efficiency. This report makes the case for raising public expectations and demands upon the auto industry. It demonstrates how automotive suppliers and solid inventors and University-based researchers have innovated while the auto makers have obstructed widespread commercial application of their innovations. Important, feasible engineering innovations are ready to diminish serious national transportation problems.

Our government has the authority and the tools to move their applications into the assembly lines and the dealer showrooms. The engineers and scientists inside the auto companies are ready to work at higher levels of significance. There are serious roadway, environmental, economic and global urgencies at stake. We all have a role in confronting the executive mastodons of the auto industry who are stuck in their own traffic. It is time to put the federal cop back on the auto companies’ beat. Get rid of the backlog. Put the benefits in the hands of the motorists. And, save the domestic auto companies from their own witless masochism.

Over thirty years of stagnation are quite enough. An entire new corps of the top executives is needed to provide a leadership of receptivity to, if not of outright initiation toward a new generation of motor vehicles.

To obtain a copy of the report please send a $30.00 check or money order to CSRL, to: CSRL, P.O. Box 19367, Washington, DC 20036.



Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017