Noise, Vibration Harshness: GM Needs An Energy Policy

#GM, #Viper

Genetically modified, government-monitered GM needs an energy policy.

To think some once worried about havoc being wrought upon General Motors and Chrysler as the U.S. government officially attached its creeping socialist self, like some kind of alien pod, to the automakers' brains. But now that the government control unit is in action - new directors named, executive committees reformed, and product plans laid out - we're starting to see there's no new cause for alarm.

Rather, it's looking like some variation on the same old cause for alarm. The federales have let familiar faces guide Chrysler and GM in and out of bankruptcy, passing through the courts like they were the high banks at Talladega. They've helped the companies legally ditch their creditors, workers, dealers, and retirees. And now, thanks to us taxpayers, these firms are back to the exciting business of selling Grand Cherokees and Silverados in the middle of a grand recession.

Not much has changed yet in the age of Government Motors.

For example, two things made the headlines recently: Chrysler's Dodge Viper was given a new lease on life, and the retirement of GM's Bob Lutz was canceled. Neither sounded like change we need, the thing standing between the nation and 40-mpg cars. But they sort of lessen the gloom and post-bankruptcy austerity, lending a sense of cheer to the recovery.

Maximum Bob rings the right bells. He knows a good car when he sees one, he's experienced, and we're all for giving seniors a chance. The 77-year-old's new brief is fixing GM marketing, and he can't lose because it can't get any worse. MC Bob exudes the confidence GM is going to need, but he'll want to avoid calling global warming "a total crock of *** again if he plans to participate in Chevy Volt online events. Web marketing is but one part of this tough senior statesman's new brief. The other is to seem tough and senior statesman-like.

By amusing coincidence, Lutz had a hand in creating the original Viper when he was at Chrysler in the early 1990s. As Chrysler hurtled toward bankruptcy last year with Cerberus Capital Management at the wheel, the Viper brand was put up for sale. Yet it proved unsalable, with potential buyers questioning the relevance, in a dust-bowl economy, of a V-10-engined, rude and crude roadster that left the rails in its Mark 2 iteration as part of Daimler's "We're Building Chryslers As Bad As We Can" campaign.

So why bother saving the Viper, now that the money's run out and resources are scarce? Good question. Except one remembers Chrysler's connection through Fiat to Ferrari, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo - and suddenly imagines a Viper made of last-generation Ferrari parts. Or an electric Viper. There could be worse calling cards for Dodge. However, what Chrysler really needs is a decent mid-size sedan and somebody to engineer a 300 replacement while dramatically altering its powertrains in favor of electric, hybrid, and smaller engines. The real question for Chrysler: is Fiat up to it?

The government's plan is to hustle, not sprint, the two no-longer-bankrupt American carmakers into more-fuel-efficient-car mode. Ironically, Ford, which has not gone bankrupt or taken bailout money but which has some big loans coming due, is moving faster, betting the farm of its own volition on smaller, more efficient cars, retooling several American plants to build formerly Europe-only models.

Ford based its strategic plan on expectations of high gas prices. And the government's own longer-term plans for more economical GM and Chrysler products will succeed only if there is a powerful incentive to buy fuel-efficient cars. High gasoline prices move the market, as has been demonstrated several times. But gas prices collapse and rise, without warning or apparent reason, when it serves the oil oligarchs' interest.

It follows that if the government is going to fix the auto industry, it has to close the deal with a serious national energy policy, which must include a price floor below which a gallon of gas will not go. Only surety here will sustain the new technologies needed.

Don't worry about the free market. There is no free market - except for oil companies, which play governments and the public like regular patsies, free to do whatever they please.

Ford's right-minded investment deserves to succeed. And if GM and Chrysler aren't going to build different kinds of cars, what was the point?

Where are those soul-sucking socialist pod people when you need them?

By Jamie Kitman Illustration: Tim Marrs

lmenezes
For God's sake! Kittman is freaking nuts all right. Say it as you see it please. The man is a socialist that saw bits and pieces of Europe and assumed an inferiority complex towards it.I'm european and can attest that it doesn't work. All the big government does is to perpetuate power for some, at the expense of high taxes and fabricated, self-feeding and development-blocking taxes. The people... oh the people gets the law and pay up. The governants get the privileges and the high life. That's what awaits you America. You and the likes of Kittman will drive America to ground. Do not fool yourselves, the US is not Europe and it will sucumb under the weight it is piling on its back.
Bryansix
When a person writes it always behooves them to know their audience. This article is a case of Jamie Kitman not knowing his. I actually enjoyed this column although I smelled something fishy when Jamie ragged on Bob Lutz for calling Global Warming "a total crock of ***". Global warming and energy policy have about as much to do with each other as polar bears and figure skating. Then Jamie took the remaining audience and turned the sword on them and told them to walk the plank. He offered up that Government should set a price floor on Gasoline as a way to make fuel economy important in the eyes of Americans. The absurdity of the suggestion obviously got past Jamie as he still wrote it. It essentially is like saying to the readers of the magazine "you should have less money". Never mind that fuel economy speaks for itself. It saves real money and usually cars which are good with fuel are less expensive. It also is worth mentioning that the auto makers have less profit margin with economy cars. Would not a better (and more palatable) idea be to incentivize auto makers to make cars with better fuel economy and less pollution through competition and contests? For instance the Government could offer up something like the X-Prize or they could offer to buy their next fleet car from the auto maker who can deliver a decent sized car with better than 40 mpg. These are real ideas and I just came up with them off the top of my head. What Mr. Kittman offered up was a big bag of smelly ideas founded on the ideal of narcissism.
rmelone
just saw this blog today..i'm also shocked that it didn't elicit more comments ..even though i must agree with mr. kitmaneven we car folk must be blogging about health care insteadnot much chance of this congress having the nerve to set a floor on gas - even though that's what helped bring us a lot of those Euorpean cars we like so much - none of mine qualified for clunkers- they always got better milage..and enough power for me to collect a few speeding ticketsby the way..i also agreed with mr. kitman on why gm should have kept opel..thought they were going to listen to him for awhilei've enjoyed automobile since it began...and always look forward to both mr cumberford's and mr. kitman's columns most of all
lmenezes
Oh, one more remark: interesting enough Mr. Kitman's column had only my outraged opinoins and 2 mistaken posts (#1/2). Mr. Editor in Chief: PLEASE LET MR. KITMAN GO!
lmenezes
Once again, LET MR. KITMAN GO, please!
lmenezes
GOT TRABANT? LET ME KITMAN GO, PLEASE.I am puzzled of why someone like Mr. Kitman has the privilege to share the editing floor with professionals like Robert Cumberford or Ezra Dyer. Most of the time I simply can't digest more than the first paragraph of Mr. Kitman's column but, living in Detroit and subsisting on the fate of GM & Chrysler I put up with the abuse here... To suggest that the US government should control the minimum price of fuel as "energy policy" is absurd. If not plainly crippling to the economy, to imply that more taxation will help government subsidized companies to succeed is "S.T.U.P.I.D.". If America is yet not fed-up with the socialistic rampant of this government and Mr. Kitman’s (2010 elections to settle it), energy taxation will never fix GM; Chrysler or any company for that matter. To the contrary, at best it would make government more powerful and invasive (see Europe). These same bureaucrats and accountants will not make up for the lack of passion and innovation that plague most of the GM and Chrysler product lines _ let alone socialism!“BTW”, when I want to read about politics I go for the professional opinions in specialized publications. Here at Automobile, I expect to pay for always-reliable auto enthusiast articles and I'd like it to continue to do so.
Archer99
Good facts. I'm gonna wait for the next update on this<a href="http://www.yahoo.com/">.</a>
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