A tragic thing happened to the leaders of Detroit's automakers as they went twice to Capitol Hill asking for help from U.S. taxpayers: the nation didn't care. If it weren't for the fact that the government reported more than 500,000 people had been sacked by their employers during the month of October, Detroit would have collapsed-a CNN/Opinion Research poll said more than 60% of Americans opposed a "bailout" of the auto industry. Politicians had little sympathy for an industry they viewed as "failing" the American consumer by building big trucks and SUVs instead of fuel-efficient cars and crossovers, while influential groups harped on automakers as the reason for the U.S. failing to lead when it comes to developing alternative energy sources that rely less on foreign oil and let's not forget those on the left coast who continue to complain that vehicles pose dire consequences to the environment. All of these negative forces seemed to have gained ground in turning the auto industry into an evil empire in America.
It's funny how quickly the politicians and interest groups forget this industry was once proclaimed the "arsenal of democracy," one that came to the rescue of the country in World War II, converting automobile plants over to building tanks and airplanes used to bring an end to the bitter battle that cost more than 400,000 U.S. soldiers their lives. What's more, Henry Ford arguably laid the groundwork for the creation of the middle class, paying his workers a fair wage for a day's work so they could afford the cars they built, not to mention the homes they lived in. At a time when this industry needs America's support, it seems there's no respect for the rich history the industry has built for the nation. That said, it must be pointed out that most of the blame for this rests on the shoulders of the public relations and advertising professionals working for GM, Ford and Chrysler. They seemed to take for granted that the companies would always be a part of the fabric of America. They were complacent in trying to build a positive public perception in Washington and on Main Street. Their failure has come home to roost.
Sure, Detroit has made mistakes along the way that should not be overlooked. But they aren't the only automakers who have made mistakes and placed huge bets on the wrong products at the wrong times. Some of the politicians on Capitol Hill seem to think for example, that Toyota can do no wrong: does anyone notice that the massive Tundra pickup factory in Texas has been idle for months? And let's not overlook the fact a large part of the collapse of the domestic auto industry is the same that's affecting automakers the world over: The financial meltdown.
While there should be some loan guarantees in place by the time this is published, it is essential that going forward, a larger portion of the population-those who live where there aren't OEM or supplier plants-needs to realize that an auto industry is critical to the economic stability of our nation. I hope Detroit has learned a hard lesson and that it will build a cohesive campaign to continually show Americans how the industry contributes to the economies of all states, that it affects silicon as much as steel. This may not be as glitzy as getting one's vehicle on the red carpet of the Oscar's or in the company of Paris Hilton, but the fundamental economic argument is essential now and going forward. Detroit's automakers had better realize that they need to convey to the U.S. consumer they matter and that many of their products are world-class. We are one of the few nations that show little support for our national auto industry. Go to Germany and see the vast number of Volkswagen, Mercedes, Audi and BMW products rolling around. Head over to France and see the number of Peugeot and Renault vehicles jumps dramatically. That doesn't happen in the U.S. because our industry failed, in many cases, as they admitted in Washington, to produce the quality products consumers were looking for. They also failed to communicate the vital role our industry plays on Main Street. They fixed the first problem. And they better fix the second-fast.