America has a former New York Times journalist, Steven Rattner, as our auto czar, a man with zero auto industry expertise. And it shows.
To be completely fair to Rattner, he did leave journalism for investment banking, and went on to run a private investment firm, but he has no actual experience in the auto industry. Even worse his firm is now mired in a pay-to-play scandal. This was a problem that the Obama team knew about when it nominated Rattner as the car czar; in Chicago, these types of scandals are met with a blasé attitude. Speaking of Chicago-style politics, Rattner is reported to have threatened an investment fund which initially refused to give up its rights as a secured debtholder in bankruptcy. Perhaps Barack Obama nominated Rattner because he received a vast amount of money from Wall Street during the campaign and he is now repaying a debt with taxpayer dollars. Perhaps he is sending a thank you to Pinch Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times -- a close friend of Rattner's -- for all the help during the campaign.
But didn't Barack Obama indict this type of investors as the cause of our misfortunes? But not to worry! Obama has Rattner paired up with a negotiator for the Steelworker's union! Is the administration convinced that nobody within the Big Three is capable of leading a turnaround? Are they all tainted? Given the fact that Toyota, Honda, BMW, and other highly regarded foreign auto makers run successful manufacturing operations in the US, there is a considerable talent pool of experienced American executives who might have been tapped to help the American producers regain their footing.
The result of Czar Rattner's reign so far? Chaos. Last week's Business Week published an article that chronicled the process, including and business consultants that President Obama has sent to Detroit to restructure GM.
Treasury has a couple dozen staffers and executives from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) scrutinizing operational details at the car company. (BCG is getting paid $7 million from the government for its work on both GM and Chrysler.) Auto task force leaders Steven Rattner and Ron Bloom, both seasoned investment bankers, talk to GM CEO Frederick A. "Fritz" Henderson almost daily, weighing in heavily on big financial decisions. Elsewhere in the company, GM managers say they are encountering all manner of suggestions from the government. ...
During the week of Apr. 13, about a dozen Treasury staffers and outside consultants arrived at GM's sprawling technical center north of Detroit. They reviewed the company's lineup of brands. At that point, GM had announced plans to phase out three weak brands-Hummer, Saab, and Saturn-out of a total of eight.
BCG pushed GM to go further and dump Buick and GMC, even though both make money and get much better pricing than mainstream brand Chevrolet.
I bought a Buick, an Enclave, early last year in my bid to help America and to comfort my wife who wanted to replace the minivan destroyed by our young children. The car drives like a dream and looks stunning. A near perfect car -- and my favorite of all those vehicles I have ever owned. My wife feels the same way. The Buick line ranks the highest in dependability, according to J.D. Powers at a fraction of the cost of high end cars made by foreign companies. This is a coveted ranking.
Did the Feds bother spending any time on simple research? I was spending twenty thousand and did my googling. They are spending -- what are we up to by now? Twenty billion and counting? Yet, the Obama team won't spend a few minutes of their time when they spend a few billion of our dollars?
GM pushed back saying that Buick and GMC not only make money but also bring in different buyers than Chevy or Cadillac. Plus, Buick will get three new sedans -- two of which are sold in China -- and could boost profits by garnering more global sales volume. The BCG team didn't demand that the brands be killed, but sources say the review was intense and GM executives felt pressured by the government's hired guns.
Another example: One Treasury official asked when the new Chevy Malibu sedan goes on sale. It has been in showrooms for 18 months.
Inside GM, executives have little choice but to adapt.
The strings that come attached to government money are akin to marionette strings. In the case of giant companies on the scale of GM, a more appropriate comparison would be the ropes that tied Gulliver to the ground in Lilliputia.
The task force did get one thing right.
"They couldn't imagine why we were spending the time and money to do the Volt," says one senior GM product developer.
The Volt has been roundly criticized as an also-ran, running up billions of dollars and absorbing management focus-both of which should have been directed towards running GM more efficiently. The Volt is an uneconomic mess of a car . Rube Goldberg is laughing up a storm up there. But such a car is an emblem of sophistication among the ne plus ultra of Democrat elites, especially city dwellers in New York City or Los Angeles who do not need to bother with economics for the little man.
Yet the Volt is a favorite car of Barack Obama, as a "green car" and our salvation from the threat to the planet posed by gas-powered cars. The Volt has become a totem and a talisman for the Obama presidency; a symbol for a presidency that is based on symbols.
One recalls the fate of the Concorde -- a pet project of statists in Europe and elites everywhere (who, after all, would be the ones flying in the plane). The Concorde turned out to be a Brobdingnagian boondoggle that costs French and British taxpayers billions of dollars over the years; first in the development and building of it, and then in the operating. The ones that have not fallen from the sky or blown up now are museum pieces, a testament to government folly.
America also had our romantic reach towards mastery of the skies. Our answer to the Concorde was the Supersonic Transport (SST). After spending hundreds of millions of dollars, the project was killed by Congress during the Nixon years. America's losses were cut. Will the current Congress, under President Obama who has made clear the priority he places on being "green", have the courage to call it quits on the Volt-to pull the plug, as it were? One can harbor doubts on that score.
Instead, billions of taxpayer dollars will be devoured by Detroit. There are, after all, deep political reasons behind the largesse shown to the auto industry. Not only will the United Auto Workers and associated unions be prime beneficiaries (they will have a high return on the investments made in the Democratic Party and the election of Barack Obama) but Michigan has become a Democratic bastion. The state -- despite an outflow of jobs and people to other more business-friendly states -- still holds a bevy of electoral votes (17). Several key Democrat Congressional leaders hail from Michigan (Dingell, Conyers come to mind). The state's Governor Jennifer Granholm, is a telegenic (read: beautiful) leader who at one time was being promoted as one of the Democratic Party's leading lights. If the American auto industry continues to decline, the price will be paid by the Democrats in the state. Hence, the bailout billions. Our money.
So how goes that team President Obama sent packing to Detroit with money bulging in their saddlebags? When Washington culture mixes with that of Detroit, watch out below.Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.