Friday, November 14, 2008

It's never good to rejoice in the failure of others, but I have to admit I'm very happy about the current woes of American automakers General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. The three have presided over a mind-numbingly stupid intransigence in the face of innovation that has seen the American market overtaken by Japanese, Korean and German products. The Big Three in Detroit, of course, represent for the backwards-looking face of the automotive industry: they produce large, inefficient vehicles and, the vice-chairman of G.M. has been quoted as saying that global warming “is a total crock".

It would be gratifying to see companies so willfully blind to the market fail, and fail spectacularly at that. Detroit, much like the city itself, has been undeniably and irrevocably left behind by the modern world. Ford only makes money when it sells large pick-up trucks, and the future strategy of American automakers consists of lobbying Congress to not change fuel efficiency standards and, failing that, to begging Congress for money.

Here is an example of why I would relish seeing the US auto industry fail. In late 2007, the US Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act. The law aimed to increase the fuel efficiency of new cars by 15% by 2015 and 30% by 2020. Here in Korea, Hyundai has decided that it can improve fuel efficiency by 30% by 2015. Detroit has decided that it can't even do half of that by 2015, and doesn't even want to try: they are already lobbying Congress for an exemption. Big, slow animals like dinosaurs, the Ford F-150 or American automakers truly deserve to be relegated to the history books.

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