Sunday, December 7, 2008

Found On Road Dead

Years ago, I bought a 1992 Ford Tempo, and it was, without question, the car from Hell.

In the four years I owned it, everything went wrong. The front bumper came loose, a headlight went out, one speaker on the radio stopped working, the power windows wouldn’t go up and down in cold weather, a problem with the electrical system drained several batteries, and one windshield wiper slipped off its moorings and left a big scratch on the windshield. The last straw came when the fuel line broke in two and left me dependent on a jerk of a co-worker for transportation for several days. (And I bought the car two months before Ohio passed a lemon law. Of course.)

It was the last time I even thought about buying an American car.

My roommate when I worked in Minnesota in the summer of ’95 loved his Toyota pickup, and he gave me some advice.

“When you drive back to Ohio,” he said, “take a look at the cars you see broken down on the freeway. I guarantee you that every one will be American.”

I think I saw six cars pulled off to the side of the road on my trip back—and, sure enough, all were American.

My next car was a Honda Accord. I drove it for 13 years. I recently bought a Scion xB that I plan to drive for just as long, if not longer.

Judging from my experience with American cars, it’s not surprising that the industry is in trouble. We are being told that the Big Three automakers are weeks away from bankruptcy. We are being told this by their CEOs as they fly to Washington in private jets to beg for tax money.

While it’s tempting to tell them to pound sand, that would put thousands of people out of work and make a bad recession even worse. At the same time, the automakers should not be written a blank check with our tax dollars.

Give them the bailout—but attach some big strings to the money. Since this is our money that’s going to the bailout, we have the right to make sure it’s done right.

Bail them out only if part of the money is used for the development of hybrids and electrics, and fuel-efficient cars in general. Make them cut the production of wasteful SUVs and urban assault vehicles like the Hummer. Hold them accountable for the use of the money. Increase quality control and stop making cars that will be available for $4,000 at J.D. Byrider before the next Presidential election. And no more private jets.

Who knows? If the industry gets its act together, the next car I buy might be American.

In another 13 years or so.

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