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Listen up, Detroit automakers: It's time to get real

Numerous 2009 Ford F-150 trucks are parked in a lot last month in Detroit before being shipped. As car and truck sales have plummeted across the country, large inventories are building at dealerships and factories.

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Numerous 2009 Ford F-150 trucks are parked in a lot last month in Detroit before being shipped. As car and truck sales have plummeted across the country, large inventories are building at dealerships and factories.

Watching Detroit automakers wallow toward a rescue plan that passes the low standards of Congress is like reliving the pain of the inaugural Tampa Bay Bucs team as it slow-mo'd to an 0-14 record. They aren't even close to presenting a winning strategy. Knock knock, Detroit. Anybody home? Today — Dec. 2 — is the deadline set by Congress for a "real" road map to regain a competitive edge in the domestic auto world.

Congress deliberates Thursday and Friday before a vote is likely held next week to determine whether the automakers' pitches win some temporary federal assistance.

Remember these two numbers: $71 and $42.

A typical member of the United Auto Workers at Chrysler, Ford or General Motors was paid at least $71 an hour in wages and benefits in 2006. In 2005, workers at Japanese auto plants in the United States earned $42 to $48 an hour by comparison.

So Detroit spends gobs more per worker per hour to make vehicles perceived — right or wrong — as inferior to many models made elsewhere in this country for far less.

Simple economics, Detroit. No bailout can overcome such out-of-whack figures.

If you think I'm picking on you, just wait. Toyota, Honda, automakers from South Korea, Europe and — sooner than you think — India and China will be picking your bones like vultures on carrion.

Detroit: Pick up the pace. Throw out your out-of-date game plan. The goal is not to survive but to thrive in the global auto Olympics.

In October, the auto industry posted its worst monthly U.S. sales tally in 25 years, with GM dropping 45 percent, Chrysler slipping 35 percent and Ford falling 30 percent. Aided by extra buyer incentives, November's numbers are due out today and, while unlikely to be as bad as these declines, will be very nasty.

So let's stop fiddling while Detroit burns. Let's get past your own bloated paychecks and bountiful benefits. Here are five things you should embrace if you want to be more than an intensive care patient living — barely — on a series of federal bailouts.

Are these recommendations draconian? Absolutely. But face it, folks, we're in a downward spiral and need to snap out of it, pronto:

1. Put GM, Ford and Chrysler into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They'll end up there sooner or later. If we wait, all three will be much weaker and harder to save. Use federal aid to ease the hit on auto suppliers and others sure to be hurt by collateral damage.

2. Combine the best of GM, Ford and Chrysler into one new U.S. company with a new name, a new line of vehicles, new management, a new contract with employees and, yes, a new and more competitive culture. Here's today's La-La Land: Ford thinking about selling Volvo, GM contemplating shedding a few of its many brands and Chrysler wondering why pushing Dodge Ram trucks and muscle cars at auto shows still makes it look like a dinosaur.

3. Adopt a federal Manhattan Project-level commitment to invent a true next-generation vehicle. The hyped Chevy Volt, promised (maybe) in 2010, is already obsolete.

4. Set a goal to recapture the world lead in fuel efficiency — and do it. Make quality vehicles. Eye candy comes second.

5. Thin the herd of way-too-many domestic dealerships. And for goodness' sake, get rid of those private jets!

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Listen up, Detroit automakers: It's time to get real 12/01/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 5, 2008 4:49pm]
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