Blaming the workers

An interesting article by David Leonhardt on temptation to blame union workers for the Big 3 failures (as well as a point/counter-point debate in the LA Times last week). Turns out labor costs aren't much higher than at auto plants in Japan, and that sticking it to the unions won't make much of a difference:
" Imagine that a Congressional bailout effectively pays for $10 an hour of the retiree benefits. That’s roughly the gap between the Big Three’s retiree costs and those of the Japanese-owned plants in this country. Imagine, also, that the U.A.W. agrees to reduce pay and benefits for current workers to $45 an hour — the same as at Honda and Toyota.

Do you know how much that would reduce the cost of producing a Big Three vehicle? Only about $800."

Leonhardt and others claim the real problem is that the cars Detroit makes aren't very good. They have a reputation for unreliability, most of them are boring, and they get lousy mileage. But it's a lot easier to blame the guys and gals at UAW.

It all makes me harken back to my days living in post-communist Hungary. The car of only-choice had been the fibreglass, East German Trabant. The Trabi had a 27hp, 2-stroke engine. No, that's not a typo -- there are riding lawn mowers with more power. But with it's light fiberglass body, the Trabi didn't need much HP. Actually, not even fiberglass but Duroplast, a mixture of cotton and ground wood pulp, soaked in artificial resin.

Of course, after the iron curtain fell, things got exciting. Trabis and BMWs don't mix well; I saw a number of accidents where the BMW might get a bit scratched, while the Trabant would crack in half. And then there were the folks who retrofitted their Trabants with VW engines; it's amazing what landspeed records you can set on the puszta with a massive engine in a car that weighs next to nothing.... as long as you don't mind occasionaly flying sidways off the highway.

There were some beautiful and terrible cars in the Eastern Bloc! They reflected a particular view of the universe -- sometimes idealistic and futuristic, sometimes cement-grey-functional, and sometimes just bizarre:

What does it say about our country, that for decades we've been manufacturing, and selling, cars that just aren't all that interesting? For a nation that loves to drive so much, when did we get so boring?

No comments:

Post a Comment