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

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Martha Durkee-Neuman
Millennial Organizers Want to See An Intersectional Understanding Of Gun Violence
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
December 08, 2016
John W. Whitehead
Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On
Mike Whitney
Rolling Back the Empire: Washington’s Proxy-Army Faces Decisive Defeat in Aleppo
Ellen Brown
“We’ll Look at Everything:” More Thoughts on Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail