Driving the Future: The New American Auto Industry is a slick brochure extolling the virtues and manufacturing prowess of a reinvented U.S. auto industry. It arrived in the mail last week with a cover letter from Steve Collins, the president of the Automotive Trade Policy Council (ATPC) which is the Washington-based lobbying group for Ford, GM and Chrysler. To give you a flavor of what the ATPC is all about, the lead headline on its web site this morning was “Japanese Yen Subsidy Hurts U.S. Automakers.”
The brochure paints a pretty picture of an ugly automotive landscape. GM last week reported a stunning $15.5 second quarter loss.
Here’s some of the report’s highlights: the Big Three or more accurately, the Shrinking Three spend more than $12 billion on R&D and they are making unprecedented gains in fuel economy, safety, quality and reliability. The 11-page report devotes two full pages to green technologies such as plug-in electrics, hybrids, Flex Fuel and clean diesel. The same amount of space is given to safety. But the thing that jumped out at me were the pages about “America’s Manufacturing Engine” which suggests that without the auto makers, the U.S. would be a third rate country. The auto industry accounts of a quarter of all manufacturing in the U.S., more than 14 million jobs and 12 per cent of our GDP.
Here’s a more startling statistic: the report boasts that the three companies pay pensions to 775,000 retirees and surviving spouses. We all know the balance sheet ball and chain that is THE retiree pension and healthcare burden is something the auto makers are trying to jettison.
Get ready, the PR blitz about all the good things U.S. auto makers are FINALLY doing constitute central themes in their ad campaigns. Oh and by the way, there was nothing in report about why it took them so pathetically long. I was struck by all the gas guzzlers in their Detroit Auto Show exhibit areas (particularly Ford’s) in January. It’s a safe bet that their sprawling 2009 exhibit areas will look markedly different.