Hello, Is There Anybody In There?

General Motors recently announced it was cutting one of two shifts at its Lordstown, Ohio, plant, which produces small cars. Just a few months ago, the very same factory was running on three shifts plus overtime just to keep pace with the need.

What happened? Well, gas prices that had soared to more than $4 per gallon this pastGm_general_motors_logo
Summer are now back to around $2. And, the Big Three are back to making monster machines. And Americans are back to buying gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks.

Hello, is there anybody in there? Will we ever wake up and end our love affair with gas-guzzlers? Will Obama's car czar step in and finally put the brakes to this short-sighted mindset by manufacturer and consumer alike? Who knows?

One thing we do know, though, is that a day of reckoning will come. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But, soon, and for the rest of our lives (I've been waiting to use that line for three years now).

Ah, but the car companies need sales, lots of them and right away. And, we Americans live solely for the moment. And, so we buy big.

Dwindling oil supplies? Permanent dependence on foreign crude? Gas prices at $10 a gallon? Who cares? Keep building the wrong type of car, Detroit, and we'll keep buying it. Our kids will just have to deal with the consequences.

3 thoughts on “Hello, Is There Anybody In There?

  1. With all due respect, you’re wrong in two ways. You keep putting the emphasis on the word BUILDING more SUVs and trucks. That is simply not happening. Truck plants are idle too. And when you imply that GM is making a strategic decision to push gas guzzlers again, i.e. “business as usual,” that’s giving these dopes way too much credit.
    Blame GM all you want; just put it in context. The sales figures you’re commenting on are based on existing and very distressed inventory. GM’s increasingly desperate dealers are doing whatever they can to get rid of those SUVs and trucks at fire sale prices.
    Moral arguments aside, what are they supposed to do, let this stuff rot? Some of those monsters are over a year old. Wine is the only inventory that gets better with age. 30-40 cents on the dollar is better than nothing. Would you have the same problem if Nike or Adidas were trying to unload Michael Vick sneakers at a penny on the dollar? At that price, someone would consider them collector’s items.
    Hey, I find the push on SUVs and trucks distasteful too, but that’s capitalism (do we still have capitalism?)

  2. Thanks for the commentary, Bomberpete. So, your argument boils down to this: no one is taking responsibility for a coherent energy policy, so I shouldn’t blame GM for continuing to build SUVs and trucks? Sorry, I don’t buy it. They’re leveraging our future to line their own pockets today.

  3. Repman, I think you’re pointing fingers in the wrong place regarding shifting car/truck sales. Lord only knows there’s plenty to blame GM (and Ford and Chrysler, etc.) for. But criticizing them for not producing cars that aren’t selling right now makes no sense.
    There are a number of factors causing this:
    – Why Are They Buying Trucks? The real reason the heavy metal is moving right now is because it’s CHEAP — really cheap. A Chevy Silverado that sold for $35K a year ago can now be had for 40-50% off or more with all the discounts, rebates and other incentives. If you have the cash and need a big-ass truck, there’s no better time to buy than right now.
    – Who’s Buying a Car Now Anyway? The reality: practically no one. The latest estimates for ’09 U.S. auto/truck sales are UNDER 10 million. In an industry that routinely had 17-18 million years until 2007, that’s pretty severe. It’s hitting everyone. Toyota has a 90-day supply of unsold Priuses. Honda, Nissan, VW, BMW… everyone has inventory sitting on harbor docks, dealer lots, empty mall parking lots, everywhere.
    – Who’s Gutsy Enough to Get a Car Loan? Did you notice that I mentioned CASH. People can’t get credit. They could back in July, when gas was $4/gallon and the smaller stuff was selling like the latest Wii. But many don’t have jobs now. Those that do are worried. Assuming they can even get credit, who wants new monthly payments? They’d rather put money into a 5-year-old car, and not feel guilty driving past the increased numbers of their unemployed neighbors.
    – What Does Fuel Really Cost? I don’t know. Do you? The fluctuations in gas prices are ridiculous. Where is a national energy policy? Where is a 50-cent to $1 gas tax? Europe and Asia have small cars because fuel is heavily taxed and expensive. It’s not the case here. Advocating such a thing is political suicide. I’m no GM defender, but next time you want to take them to task, remember to ask the Democrats and Republicans about that.
    Look, I don’t disagree with you that Americans have a short-term memory about gas prices. I remember the Seventies and early Eighties too. We blew it when we had the chance back then and our fleet average was 22 mpg or better. In the Nineties, we fell for that old marketing song-and-dance that bigger, wider, faster and thirstier is better. For that, GM is guilty of extreme greed and short-sightedness. So is practically every other automaker — Saint Toyota included.
    Product planning at a car company now is really a crap shoot, isn’t it? Still, the current gasoline price of $2 doesn’t necessarily mean is that Americans are “going back” to gas guzzlers. We really won’t be able to know that until auto sales “normalize,” whatever that means.
    In the meantime, we continue to dither and pass the buck on fuel taxes and a coherent energy policy. Until that happens, there is no incentive to change the same awful patterns that lead to oil dependence and the short-shifting of our children’s futures. Let’s hope the new folks have the cojones to do what Bush and his Big Oil flunkies avoided.