Last week I was forced to look at the car crisis head-on. The lease on my expensive, foreign luxury car had finally come to an end. The car was not eco-friendly, gas conserving, or compatible with my desire to keep the American car industry afloat. Motivated to help both the nation and my pocketbook, I scoured domestic models and found that I could save money and fuel by buying American.
No, I am not a Prius driving, latte drinking, east-coast intellectual. Yes, I could have striven more to minimize my carbon footprint on the earth. But it seemed to me a great time to buy to support Detroit. As I got engrossed in my “little step” to save an American industry and the Jackson fortune, I realized that one of the reasons the American auto industry is not competitive is that they offer too many choices – too many models, too many colors, and too many options. Suddenly “a blinding flash of the obvious” entered my world – nothing short of a stem-to-stern overhaul will help the auto industry at this juncture in history.
Although the proposed bailout of the big three auto manufacturers has shocked the nation, I can remember discussing the industry’s woes nearly thirty years ago in business school, when the famed Lee Iacocca worked his genius and innovation. The current problems are anything but new. The problem has been that nobody has had the boldness to take on the task of correcting the course of the industry.
As a former steel industry employee, I know that competing with foreign manufacturers in high fixed-cost industries can be tricky. The newcomers have an advantage technologically. They purchase the latest, most cost-effective equipment and target their efforts at the most profitable segments of the going concerns. Time and time again, high-cost plants with heavily entrenched unions have been a major factor in drowning stable American industries in a sea of expenses – making them uncompetitive.
In addition to all of these problems, the big three have a decreasing market share in a diminishing market, while they are drowning in debt. If these were other businesses in nations overseas they would have been tossed aside years ago. Fortunately for them, America cannot afford to lose an industry that involves 1 out of 10 jobs. Although we all can agree with the premise that the industry has been mismanaged, we can also agree that now is not the time to let them go down the tubes. A painful reminder of this fact came last Friday when official data showed that the nation had lost 533,000 jobs in the month of November alone.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.