FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Dark Age of the Auto Industry

by RALPH NADER

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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 22, 2017
Mike Whitney
Liberals Beware: Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas
John Grant
On Killers and Bullshitters*
Peter Linebaugh
Catherine Despard, Abolitionist
Patrick Cockburn
The Bitter Battle for Mosul
Ted Rall
Sue the Bastards? It’s Harder Than You Think
Yoav Litvin
The Emergence of the Just Jew
Kim Scipes
Strategic Thinking and Organizing Resistance
Norman Pollack
Mar-a-Lago, Ideological Refuge: Berchtesgaden, II
Fred Donner
Nixon and the Chennault Affair: From Vietnam to Watergate
Carl Kandutsch
Podesta vs. Trump
Ike Nahem
To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Tough Talk Won’t Fix Chicago
Paul Donnelly
Betsy DeVos and the War on Public Education
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
The End of an Alliance for Police Reform
Richard Lawless
Wall Street Demanded the Nuclear Option and the Congress Delivered
Liaquat Ali Khan
Yes, Real Donald Trump is a Muslim!
Ryan LaMothe
“Fire” and Free Speech
CounterPunch News Service
Bloody Buffalo Billboards
February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail