President Barack Hussein Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Dear Mr. President,
Believe me, I’d rather be talking to you about the wonder of electoral politics, your amazing journey to the presidency, and how it cheered so many, so fast. Especially following – and I don’t mean to take anything away from your achievement – eight years of George W. Bush. Seriously. Thank you.
Mr. President, there isn’t a moment to waste. The American automobile industry is melting down. We’re staring not just at the end of our industry’s dominance of its domestic market but at the threat of its utter demise. Some of our largest industrial enterprises, once America’s preeminent job makers, teeter on the edge of insolvency. All of the catastrophic results this might imply – jobs lost, lives ruined, and, not least, the demise of some of your favorite car magazines – are ready to deploy.
Congratulations, Mr. President. Like everything else, it’s your problem now.
As a patriot and a longtime contributor to Automobile Magazine, I can do naught but offer the benefit of decades spent watching this industry that many of us love, the one that helped build this country. The advertising department would have me add that the views expressed herein are solely my own and that reasonable people, including the advertising department, probably disagree with those views.
The brickbats fly because I have been harsh in my assessment of the American automotive industry. Fuel prices helped throw the country into a recession, a credit crunch set consumer finance reeling, and now – barring extraordinary, never-before-attempted measures of government intervention – the domestic industry is going to die. Unless you save it.
So I have a plan, one I think you could live with. It’s a big plan, and it addresses national security, energy policy, and the collapse of the car industry, the biggest issues on your plate. Years from now, historians will look back and marvel how, exactly 100 years after Henry Ford launched his Model T and William Crapo Durant assembled General Motors, the bottom fell out.
But follow my plan and the Big Three will be seen as having arrived at the brink of bankruptcy at exactly the right moment. Because these companies, their factories, and their workers are going to have to diversify.
They might not be financially viable today, but it’s not like these great enterprises and their people are no longer of value to the nation, far from it. It’s just that now is the time for them to build new things. New kinds of cars, trucks, and buses – after all, GM invented two-mode hybrid diesel bus technology – that don’t burn fossil fuel, or that use less of it. And how about trains, trolleys, and subway cars? We used to manufacture them here, but those once-lucrative industries are now dominated by foreign companies. It’s time to reclaim these honorable lines of work on our way to actually doing something about energy independence and curtailing carbon emissions.
There is a great precedent. During World War II, President Roosevelt directed the manufacturing giants of the day to bring the fight to that era’s Axis of Evil. The best Detroit executives were chosen to oversee the wartime conversion of automobile factories to build the weapons of war. American industry, staffed by auto workers, became an “arsenal of democracy,” turning out airplanes, tanks, and guns for the war effort.
That is what we must do with America’s auto factories again, except this time the emphasis will be on saving our nation’s economy and our environment. We need to build something new.
Mr. President, don’t call it a bailout. Americans like a good fight. Announce the opening of the Detroit front of the new war to achieve energy independence, a vital part of the war against terror and to curb global warming. These are wars we can’t afford to lose, and once again the American industry can serve as an arsenal of democracy.
I look forward to seeing you at the Detroit show in 2011.