Opinion

The Great Debate

Auto plant wars sparked decline of industry

dewar-headshot-150x150– Robert J. Dewar is a former Ford Motor Company general foreman and author of A Savage Factory: An Eyewitness Account of the Auto Industry’s Self-Destruction. He currently lives in Cincinnati, OH and runs a successful packaging business with his wife and family. The views expressed are his own. –

The war in the auto plants never ended. It flared up and died down, but it never ceased. Management and labor circle each other like sumo wrestlers searching for an opening. Like any war, it ignores honesty, human dignity and common sense. Like any conflict, it leaves collateral damage.

As a supervisor at Ford Motor Company’s largest transmission plant, I fought on the front lines. Despite leaving the auto company many years ago, the factory skirmishes were a key factor in the industry’s disastrous decline in the 1980s, and likely continue to play a part in the failures of the industry today.

The factory foremen had one big gun: Form 4600. It was the stepwise disciplinary tool that could take an employee up the punitive ladder to termination. Many supervisors rose in the management ranks not because of job performance, but by virtue of their 4600 tally. The auto industry rewarded tyrants rather than qualified managers with integrity and an ability to successfully lead.

The UAW arsenal easily outgunned management. Production was sabotaged. Critical employees were absent when high production was most needed. Tools mysteriously disappeared. Bad quality was run purposely. The weakest, least desirable employees were protected with the full power of the labor contract. When management and the UAW stood eyeball to eyeball, management always backed down – they had too – productivity and profitability hung in the balance.

One rule for banks, another for autos

jimsaftcolumn6– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

There is one law, it appears, for failing U.S. automakers but sadly quite another for similarly failing banks.

The Obama administration has decided to play hardball with auto firms; rejecting recovery plans from General Motors and Chrysler LLC (GM.N) and warning they could be thrown into bankruptcy. Chrysler, which is controlled by Cerberus Capital Management CBS.UL, has 30 days to complete an alliance with Italy’s Fiat SpA (FIA.MI) or face losing its government funding. GM chief executive Rick Wagoner is out at government request, as will be most of his board of directors in coming months.

Electric cars will not cure environmental woes

diana-furchtgott-roth_great_debate

– Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. The opinions expressed are her own. —

The world is falling in love with plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars. President-elect Obama wants to put 1 million on the road by 2015. GM features them, particularly the Chevy Volt, in its new business plan for a debut in 2010. The EU wants them to shrink greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 by 20% from 1990 levels. This week the Chinese auto company BYD began selling the world’s first commercially-available plug-in hybrid sedan.

No matter that these cars are not widely available; that they are priced far above traditional models; that many have a short range, making them useful only for local trips; that batteries may be prone to catching fire; and that many motorists park on the street, where charging is impractical.

Don’t let U.S. automakers delay restructuring

morici– Peter Morici, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Business and former Chief Economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission, testified before the Senate Banking Committee on the proposed bailout for the domestic auto industry. The following is his written testimony to the committee. The opinions expressed are his own. —

The domestic automobile industry has two major components—the Detroit Three and the Japanese, Asian and European transplants that also assemble and source components in the United States and Canada. Both contribute importantly to the vitality of our national economy. Ensuring these companies have the means to compete globally is vitally important.

The gradual erosion of the market shares of the Detroit Three over the last several decades stems from higher labor costs—having origins in wages, benefits and work rules–poor management decisions, and less than fully supportive government policies. Although the U.S. government has been sympathetic to the needs of the industry, the industry has fallen victim to currency manipulation and other forms of protectionism in Japan, Korea, India, and China.

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