Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Death And Rebirth Of Ford Motor Co.

Ford is only a hair's breadth or so away from bankruptcy, and so a new commercial for that company's future has everyone in a tizzy criticizing Ford's Way Forward, a corporate strategy that has the usual elements American carmakers have unleashed on their workforces since time immemorial, or the 70's, anyway: more plant shutdowns, more cuts in workforce, and the ever-present threat of actual Chapter 11 proceedings hinted at slyly.

Like all the other domestic carmakers, Ford got blindsided by the side effects of high oil prices. Bill Ford, in the understatement of the decade, mumbled that "Domestic demand for SUVs fell sooner than anticipated," which is essentially code for having been caught outdoors in a blizzard in only his tighty whities. He's not alone in that; over the last two years, despite the considerable increase in the price of oil, every time I've seen a GM ad, it focused on their already slow-moving truck lines at the expense of their smaller cars, sights American car buyers are increasingly rejecting. If these guys are going to get off the mat, it's going to be through more than just terminating product lines, firing UAW employees (no matter how enjoyable that might seem to certain parties) and mouthing platitudes about catching up to the imports.

And unlike yesteryear, "imports" no longer means just Japan and Germany. With the dubious capitalists in China hawking implausible stories of self-made men rising to positions of power (come on, now -- would the Politburo really allow such a thing?) in their fledgling auto industry, Detroit looks vulnerable to the kind of kneecapping it hasn't seen since the 70's.