En route to Netroots Nation as we speak, I’m currently sitting in Detroit’s airport. Layover in Charlotte, then I’ll arrive tonight in Austin.
The big news around Motor City way is, of course, GM’s massive woes, and the realization that entire types of vehicles may be on their way out. New pickups and SUVs are selling for five or ten thousand dollars than they used to, and they’re still sitting there, waiting to be sold. Repercussions trail down the line – when GM inevitably cuts out lines, they don’t just lose their own money, they put thousands of dealers out of business and tens of thousands of people out of work.
The most interesting thing about it, though, is that everybody saw this coming. From newspapers to talk radio, this was simply the inevitable result of a market giant that overextended and overcommitted, making redundant (and bad) models and simply creating a glut that helped choke itself out of the market.
In many ways, the automobile industry helped shaped the face of America’s economy, from production lines to international manufacturing and marketing to branding. But the American automotive industry not only doesn’t innovate any more, it’s not even a leader in terms of how the American corporation is constructed. GM needs cheaper healthcare, but it’s virtually silent on healthcare reform. GM needs cheaper energy, yet it’s barely a player in alternative energy or production debates. It’s not simply about producing better cars – Japanese car companies in particular have fundamental advantages over American ones that come from the way the government aids and promotes its own industries, from healthcare to the educational system. I don’t have an answer for why one of the largest sectors of the American economy seems so wholly unconcerned with the basics of its long-term survival, but it’s not exactly helping the rest of the economy, either.