Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Latest Automaker Bond Dance merely a Charade.

It is final, it has happened, and no one is going to stop them now. GM will be filing bankruptcy; by June 1, or sooner. Than again, maybe later, but who really knows. The imminent filing which has been reported on almost a daily basis for the past month. They ran out of adjectives about 10 days ago when imminent didn't seem appropriate anymore. Journalists may no longer be intersted in the truth, but they are at least good with grammar, and "now" wasn't appropriate in the past tense. The reality is the last month of negotiations have been nothing more than a foolish game, one where the only possible solution was some form of bankruptcy filing.

See, even if the government was able to negotiate a deal with the bondholders, which was almost an impossibility given that many of their positions are insured--thus making a negotiated solution less preferable than a total loss-they would still have to deal with the legal liability of all dealers they intend to close. To many of the owners, their dealership is their sole source of living. When it gets unceremoniously yanked, it is not like they won't sue. Bankruptcy was and is the only solution to these contingent liabilities.

As I have said before, bankruptcy is not a bad option for these companies. It is important to restructure the bloated distribution infrastructure. However, bankruptcy won't do anything to modernize the propulsion technology. Remember, and I can't say this enough, cars have the same propulsion system today they had 100 years ago. Why? Is it because we don't have new propulsion system's that would work in cars? No, the electric engine has been available for over 25 years! Because, the new propulsion system's are as efficient? No, we all know hybrids are way more efficient! The main reason, and there are others, is because the massive infrastructure in place is built to make the internal combustion engine. Remember the Brady Bunch episode when Peter Brady was recruited to be Johnny Bravo because the suit fit, that is our auto industry. We continue to build internal combustion engines because that is what we are set up to build--the suit fits. 3 million American jobs rely on the status quo, and in the midst of this current recession, we can't afford to send them on there merry way to find new employment.

While I don't take the needs of the 3 million workers lightly, retaining the current infrastructure, and by design creating ongoing disincentives to develop new propulsion technology, comes at a cost. Imagine what would happen if that infrastructure collapsed, and incentives to develop new technology existed. I am just guessing, but the hybrid engine would look prehistoric in 2 years. Let's remember folks, this is America. We developed the car, we can take it to the next generation. That being said, we won't get there with financial, economic and government incentives against it.

I have a theory. There have been rumors that GM will sell off some of its assets to the government after the Chapter 11 filing. Why would they do this? Well maybe they intend to temporarily nationalize the company through the modernization of new propulsion technology. After a period of nationalizaion, the modernized automobile infrastructure which it could then privatize. This would maintain some form of status quo, avoid a total collapse of the car industry(and the 3 million jobs reliant on them), and put America on the forefront of next generation of vehicles.

I like this idea. It is bold, and need I say audacious. However, I don't think it will happen for a few reasons.

1. President Obama is a capitalist. I don't care with Limbaugh and Beck say, while a liberal, the President is a dyed in the wool capitalist. This move is a bold energetic move of socialism.

2. Similarly, the government doesn't have the economic resources to run a car company. Republicans will say that once that infrastructure is developed, it will be hard to dismantle (by the way, not a bad argument). That being said, there will be a lot of out of work car executives. Moreover, our country has such a capitalist value, I don't see a brief experiment in surgical socialism will be something impossible to undo.

3. In addition, the move is way to bold and dramatic for this President. I like Obama, supported Obama, and trust his judgment, but bold moves are not in his playbook. Obama is quite possibly the most temperamentally conservative president our country has ever seen. Nationalizing the car industry to promote ingenuity and innovation may be to wild of an idea for him.

4. Finally, it is expensive. It may be cheaper to simply prop up the existing infrastructure and hope that technology evolves slowly over time.

Only time will tell whether the current strategy for working out the issues in the car industry will be successful. History really does not give us much to work off of. We have never had an industry which was so important to our economy(or any economy for that matter) in such dire financial condition. For us to prosper from the solution, however, we need bold action, and for our private and public sectors to engage meeningfully in the solution.

1 comment:

  1. I have received a few comments on this post, none about my overall opinion, but about my knowledge of pop culture. I should acknowledge that after review, it was indeed Peter, and not Greg Brady who was Johnny Bravo. I apologize for my mistake and will work harder to get my pop culture references right in the future.