Tuesday, June 2, 2009

GM, gee whiz

Monday was shit. I made the mistake of listening to talk radio (NPR) for the first time in a long time, and the yackety-yak was all about the GM bankruptcy. And it got under my skin.

Maybe it was the semi-foul mood I already was in — I woke up on the wrong side of Monday, and for the first time in a long time wasn't finding any humor, ironic or otherwise, in my current situation — but hearing people wax about GM, and really starting to think about all of it for the first time, well, it pissed me off.

What triggered it was a caller discussing his longstanding preference for foreign automobiles for reasons up to and including their superior quality and performance. He was critical of the government stepping in and rescuing a company that, when you get down to it, has been insanely mismanaged and misguided in its operations for decades, all the while pumping out product of suspect quality.

I'm on the side of the caller on this one, and don't bother trying to call him or me "unpatriotic" because I don't buy that bull. Somewhere down the line, someone got the idea of selling American cars to American consumers on the notion that it was "the patriotic thing to do," that if you buy a foreign car you might as well burn the flag or push your mother in front of a bus.

I consider myself a patriotic, country-loving American in my own way, but I take issue with someone — be it a politician or a car salesman — using the flag to exploit his fellow countrymen in the interest of say, starting a bullshit war or lining his pockets. But it happens all the time, and people get all doped up on these false notions of patriotism that they can't see what they're buying into for what it really is. Don't get me started on religion.

Getting back to the caller, I'm sure plenty of people gave him shit for what he said, but in his experience, a foreign car has been the better choice. I'm with him on that one. I have owned three cars in my lifetime — the first two American, the third foreign — and I had the first two a combined two years. I have had the third for nearly ten. 

Both American cars were purchased used, and the first one, to be fair, met its end in a run-in with a deer. But the second one, albeit it fun to drive, quickly turned into a maintenance headache. Meanwhile, the third car, a foreign station wagon I leased new and later purchased outright, has been a workhorse over the last decade. It didn't have its first major repair until year seven, and even after 135,000 miles it's still getting over 30 miles per gallon. And I'm not exactly proactive when it comes to car care — my check engine light has been on since January.

What chaps my ass the most about all the "Buy American" sloganeering is that most flag-waving U.S. consumers only subscribe to the idea for their automobile, then they drive said automobile to Wal-Mart to purchase shopping carts full of foreign-made goods each week. Oops, guess someone left their country-loving conscience at home on the counter.

So when I hear that the government is saving this gigantic mismanaged car company with our money just so it can fuck up again, and people call it a good, patriotic, American thing to do that will lead us out of economic turmoil, it incenses me. Does anyone really believe that a lumbering dinosaur like GM is going to reemerge overnight as a smartly-run, forward-thinking, quality-driven, socially-conscious, profitable operation? It won't. And if you don't believe me, let me point you to a little film called Who Killed the Electric Car? and you'll see just what happens when someone at a car company thinks outside of the box.

I understand the argument that the auto industry is a pillar of the American economy and needs to be saved in order to avoid further meltdown, but that doesn't mean I buy it. It should have never gotten this way in the first place, yet here we are running to the rescue of another failed corporation because we're too dumb to think of anything better to do. I guarantee GM will fail again. If in 50 years I'm proven wrong, I'll buy the nicest Chevy on the lot.


  1. Chad,

    I largely agree with your sentiments. What gets to me is that argument that if the car industry fails, then there will be a domino effect of other industries (glass, electronics, tires, etc.) that will follow and our economy will just collapse. Here are my problems with that:

    a) It isn't economically sustainable for the government to prop up industries just so people have jobs. That will not work in the long term.

    b) Who said that all of us driving around in new cars is a good idea anyway? It seems like the ultimate in conspicuous consumption. And isn't that how we got in this mess in the first place, too much unbridled consumerism? Buying stuff we really don't have the resources to afford?

    c) That people are buying fewer cars is a good thing! Not only for carbon emissions, but for all of the resources that go into making the car in the first place. Not to mention the infrastructure requirements that cars create: roads, sprawling suburbs, parking lots, etc. Fewer cars = GOOD.

    d) So either these workers can all train for a new line of work (something the government should help with) now and we don't spend another penny in auto bailouts, or they can all train for a new line of work later down the line and we can spend $20 bil. in the meantime.

    Yea, pretty frustrating.

    - Joe Jaz

  2. Joe,

    Good points about the consumption and less car purchases — I wanted to mention the consumption thing but forgot. Thanks for adding it.

    At the risk of some conservative yahoo accusing me of being a communist, look at Cuba, where, as one article says, "the only way to have a car is to keep the one you have running." The island is full of 50s-era vehicles because that's the last time people could get new ones from America before the embargo. (There are some newer cars that trickle in from other places, but not many.) It's proof that with proper care, maintenance and repairs, an automobile's shelf life can actually be decades.

    On the contrary, we Americans have a throwaway culture, so the minute something starts to go wrong with a vehicle, most people get rid of it. My grandfather used to get a new car like, every two years. Silliness. I will proudly keep my 10-year-old wagon going until it no longer is financial feasible to do so, and when I do need a "new" car, I most likely will buy used because there are plenty of good, reliable cars already out there for the taking.

    You're absolutely right about it being foolish to prop up industries in the interest of keeping people employed. We should be spending that money to train workers in new industries that make sense in 2009 and help contribute to a better future, not only for our country's sustainability but for Mother Earth's.

    This idea of GM reinventing itself is a fallacy. Have you ever been in a shitty relationship that comes to an end, then you get back together thinking it will work with a "fresh start," convincing yourself that it's somehow going to be different the second time, then that past you supposedly left behind comes roaring back as you quickly revert to old patterns? It's going to be like that with the fools from GM.

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