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Transportation Technology

Can the Auto Industry Retool Itself To Build Rails? 897

Posted by Soulskill
from the cross-training dept.
knapper_tech writes "The scope of the auto industry troubles continues to increase in magnitude. The call to retool and develop new vehicles has been made several times already, but with all of the challenges from labor prices and foreign competition, how exactly can the industry retool itself to be more competitive? In light of superior competition facing losses, there doesn't seem to be enough room in the industry moving forward. In the context of finding a new place in the auto industry, the future isn't bright. Calls for no disorderly collapse of the cash-strapped big three and a reluctant congress can only point to an underlying lack of direction. However, consider two other standing economic challenges. The airlines have continued to struggle due to fuel prices and heightened security. Consumers backed off of SUV's due to high fuel prices, and while those prices have eased in the face of global recession, the trend will pick up again with growth in China and India leading the fight for resources. In short, things are moving less, and the industries that support the movement are in need of developing new products while consumers are in need of a cheaper method of transportation." Read on for the rest of knapper_tech's thoughts.
knapper_tech continues:
"Looking abroad, it's clear the US has far less invested in local and regional rail systems. With regard to high-speed rail systems, the US is conspicuously behind. France's TGV is moving people at 574km/h. China operates the world's first commercial maglev line while the famous Japanese Shinkasen goes without mentioning. In the US there is only one line in operation between DC and Boston with a few more planned as a result of the 2008 election in California.

The traditional barrier to implementation of rail systems is the initial investment costs, but in the context of economic stimulus, such investment sinks are actually desirable. The auto industry has clearly taken note with proposals from companies like Caterpillar for huge new infrastructure projects.

A friend who recently bought a house observed that real-estate prices are on the rise nearer to city centers, where the fallout of mortgage problems and expensive, time-consuming drives from the suburbs can be avoided. Recalling the huge number of urban revitalization plans and efforts to increase the viability of older city centers, it seems as though many municipal governments would also be in line to gain from the added density of rail systems and increased activity they can support in downtown areas.

Putting it all together, it seems like now would be a good time to direct the industrial capacity of the automotive and supporting industries to developing local and regional, high-speed rail systems to provide a more efficient and effective infrastructure basis for US cities while essentially creating a new market where competition from foreign car manufacturers will not be a problem. At the same time, a huge labor force would be required. The task would call for engineers for development, factory workers for manufacturing, operators, and maintenance workers. Caterpillar still gets to sell construction equipment. The inevitable stream of stores popping up around stations would provide new commercial areas. Last-mile bus and taxi services would also have a new place. The list goes on.

Besides the savings in fuel, the US could also gain international prestige and possibly help lead China and India away from our mistakes, helping to stem the rising demand for oil globally and avoiding the attendant international tension. Climate change is yet another win in this scenario.

It seems like we're not exactly headed in that direction, and I'm curious to see what Slashdot readers think of all this. What pieces need to be in place to make the investments pay off? What are additional resources that are required? Can the industries really make such a change of direction? Do we have everything we need in the US? How would such systems work out long term? Would the initial investments be able to pick up fast enough to stimulate the economy?"
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Can the Auto Industry Retool Itself To Build Rails?

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  • SUVs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ta bu shi da yu (687699) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:32PM (#26238121) Homepage

    I think that SUVs really say it all. An SUV is a gass-guzzling inefficient monstrosity of a car, yet its name "sports-utility vehicle" is meant to convey fun times and yet excellent functionality. Consumers were taken in for some time, but then they realised they'd been duped.

    Now U.S. car companies are paying the price for trying to satisfy the market. The market has now moved on, and the car companies are are left with... SUVs.

  • Right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:35PM (#26238139) Homepage
    Industries that are based on building 2000-10000 pound widgets have no particular reason to start building things that are several orders of magnitude heavier and more expensive. The neighborhood Dodge dealer is going to start selling switching engines?

    I think not. You're better off asking Caterpillar to start building rail cars.

    Besides, the big problem isn't building the individual rail cars. It's building the infrastructure.
  • by DanielRavenNest (107550) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:43PM (#26238187)

    A major problem with electric vehicles is the weight of batteries. My suggestion is to build "electric lanes" on major highways. These would supply power to electric cars as they drive along, and so give them more range. Locally in cities, or at the home end of trips, you would use internal batteries.

    If you can supply more power than the car is using, you can "charge while driving" and top off the internal batteries.

    The way to transfer power to the cars (sliding contacts, induction coils buried in the road, etc), safety, and payment features are left as jobs for smart engineers.

  • by retech (1228598) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:44PM (#26238195)
    Seeing that they killed the rails, why would they want to build them?

    Seriously, Detroit and SE MI used to have trains, cable cars, etc. But they were killed off so that everyone would buy a car.

    They wanted to make a world with only cars. They can flounder in the world they made. Let some new business spring up and seize the chance to build. Let the automakers die off.
  • by unassimilatible (225662) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:48PM (#26238227) Journal
    You have the cart before the horse. Customers define the market, not the business. First rule of business isn't starting with a good idea, it's doing market research and seeing what people will buy (how's that world-changing Segway selling?). If GM can't sell Americans what they want at a profit (cars) how the hell can they sell them something they don't want? The Big 3 should be emulating Honda, not Amrtrak.

    The solution is not a bailout, by rewarding the same failed business model, but for the Big 3 to declare bankruptcy, shed their ridiculous labor costs (and spare me UAW's FUD and disinformation campaign, already heard it), and actually start making a profit per vehicle again - like all the other "American" auto companies (Toyota, Honda) have done in states outside of UAW's thumb.
  • by bogaboga (793279) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:52PM (#26238261)

    ...but with all of the challenges from labor prices and foreign competition, how exactly can the industry retool itself to be more competitive?...

    To me, the solution is and has always been simple and it's just one solution:

    Build cars that people want to buy.

    What are the metrics that will bring about this? Here is how: -

    1: Build cars that are appealing to the eye. I mean, cars that are as beautiful to look at as they are beautiful to sit into.

    2: Build cars that do not break just after their warranty mileage.

    3: Build cars that are easy to repair...cars that even the Joe Six Pack will "understand."

    4: Build cars that have excellent resale value. Not cars that lose 50% of their value in 1 year.

    5: Build plants in USA. What these giants are doing is to close plants here while opening others in China in order to export to the USA. Absurd! Focusing on [short term] profits.

    This is a quote from one auto industry insider GM/Ford and Chrysler were so short sighted! This is what they did: -

    "...[They] created multiple versions of every product under a bunch of different brand names, hoping that if buyers shun one, they'll take a more favorable view of another..."

    This is customers message to Detroit: "Consumers aren't that stupid. Give them a bit more credit, and you might have a future."

  • by Cordath (581672) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:54PM (#26238267)
    The problem with the big auto companies, like GM, is that for every dollar they pay in salary to workers, they pay two for benefits and pension plans. Their labor costs are absolutely horrendous. The rest of their operations are similarly inefficient. They're going to have a real tough time competing no matter what they make.

    Personally, I say let the big auto companies die. It's going to be a clusterfuck, but we can't just keep bailing them out year after year. Remember, the current dire state of affairs has come about after a decade of prosperity, and this isn't the first bunch of government cash they've asked for and gotten(in Canada at least)! The important thing is to find a way to keep workers employed and parts companies in business.

    What is needed is not more of the same incompetence from the big 3. What is needed is for proven companies who know what they're doing in their respective industries to take over the auto plants. It's not very enticing though. These plants have the wrong equipment and the auto unions will probably make all sorts of trouble for them. This is where the money saved not bailing out the big 3 again and again can be used to offer incentives to lure these companies in. Likewise, parts companies that are run competently should receive short-term loans to help them transition to working with these new industries. Government intervention should be used like a surgeon's scalpel. Cut out the cancer and reroute blood to the healthy tissue.
  • by D_Blackthorne (1412855) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:57PM (#26238291)
    ..and solve three problems at once: Zero emissions, doesn't require fossil fuels, and more people will get off their fat lazy butts and get the exercise they NEED to be a reasonable weight and otherwise healthy.
  • Re:SUVs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:03PM (#26238337)

    The only people who were "duped" were those who bought an SUV sight-unseen. All the other people who bought SUVs could see they were bloated, wasteful tuna-boats (albeit with better interiors), but they bought them anyway because they were shallow, easily convinced dumbasses.

    The American auto industry should not die, but it needs to become much smaller. Fewer Fords and GMs but also fewer Hondas and Toyotas. Cars are almost a monocrop in America. It's dangerous to have so many people and so much GDP centralized in one product sector.

    Read up a bit on how the LA trolley lines were sabotaged in the 40s. That's how it started. The car does provide freedom, in spite of that five year loan. The problem is that there is no place to run to anymore.

  • by Dachannien (617929) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:09PM (#26238383)

    I pay $160 for a monthly pass on the local commuter rail line (VRE in northern Virginia). They're increasing fares by 7% next month, and they're still heavily subsidized by both the state and federal governments.

    The population distribution in most of the US is simply not geared toward passenger rail except possibly at the local level (i.e., subway/light rail). This isn't Europe, and you can't necessarily repeat the same things that work in Europe and expect them to work here also.

  • by alen (225700) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:12PM (#26238399)

    most SUV's are nothing more than 1970's style station wagons with kits to give it more room off the ground and larger wheels. when rednecks put those big wheels on their trucks the coastal people laughed at them and how stupid they were. the same people are buying station wagons with the same kits and big wheels and paying a huge premium for it and calling them "crossover" SUV's or some other stupid name.

    Toyota makes a station wagon version of the Avalon. It's called a Lexus RX and people pay $40,000 and more for it.

  • by sjames (1099) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:18PM (#26238445) Homepage

    It's not necessarily sub-optimal. It may well be that the extreme emphasis on short term ROI has resulted in sub-optimal short term 'solutions' winning over the more optimal long term solution.

    Meanwhile, various industry lobbiests such as airlines and aerospace manufacturers certainly haven't been encouraging a high speed rail program.

    A strong drive for economic stimulus connected with workforce availability make this a good time to re-consider. Such programs are much harder to pull off politically when you're hiring people away from existing employers and the economy seems to be expanding nicely on it's own (even if the expansion is largely illusory).

    It's notable that a number of those public works programs from the '30s are still paying dividends today.

  • They could... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darth_brooks (180756) <clipper377@@@gmail...com> on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:19PM (#26238451) Homepage

    But honestly, why? The US has demonstrated that there is little to no interest in pubic rail. Well, there may be interest, but when it comes down to the "money where your mouth is" part of the argument, rail measures have traditionally fallen short (and yes, sometimes at the hands of automakers trying to push their evil agenda of....selling their products). California and Hawaii have made gains on rail projects, but even those are years away from laying track.

    Looking at this from the 500 mile view may make this absurd enough to clarify your point: You're saying that the Big 3, a group of companies that have either A. Inepted themselves to bankruptcy at the hands of idiotic management and/or greedy workers or B. collapsed as lines of credit disappeared and their customers easy access to the means to purchase their respective products vanished should.........completely leave the industry they created and rebuild themselves as the primary suppliers of a product that is:

    1. Already dominated by foreign (or domestic. Hi GE!) suppliers who are already producing fine products
    2. Outside the scope of what these companies have built in the last 50-ish years
    3. So limited in demand there is a market for at most a few thousand of these items over the next decade, for companies that have been producing millions of a particular product,
    4. Not a priority for a nation whose infrastructure is dominated by products these companies currently produce.

    Yeah...Not gonna happen.

    The Big 3 aren't the ones having problems. The AUTO INDUSTRY is having problems. Every manufacturer of automobiles has seen the sales numbers drop (at best) by 20% a month for the last three months. Even the industry's anointed "do-no-wrong, their shit smells like fresh cinnamon buns" companies Toyota and Honda are taking beatings. Hell, Toyota is going to take their first loss EVER. EVER. The Big 3 were in a bad spot because they were left holding the bag when gas prices skyrocketed. They were making what the public wanted, and were getting fat. Shame on them. Toyota and Honda benefited from their innovations, and the Big 3 have now gone into full chase mode. For the previous years, Toyota was chasing the Big 3 in the SUV and Truck market, and were getting their asses handed to them.

    I do have to chuckle at the backlash against the UAW. The UAW is evil because they "bent the big three over the table during the fat years" by demanding profit sharing, and reaping fat bonuses for their workers. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is evil because they don't provide benefits, make employees work unpaid overtime, and their management gets fat bonuses....

    (I'm not too interested in the debate about wage disparity and the cost of labor vs the cost a car, I just find it funny that when a company doesn't provide something, the company sucks, but when a union bargins for that same thing for employees, they're being greedy assholes.)

  • Re:SUVs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tubal-Cain (1289912) * on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:21PM (#26238465) Journal
    People would be better off renting a truck for a day if they don't haul stuff around at least once a week or so.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:22PM (#26238473)

    I agree with the first paragraph... I have no desire to wait around for a train to show up. Of course, the submitter of the story wants us all to live in urban environments, but alas, this is not the case for most of the US.

    The second paragraph is flame-bait. No links? Foreign car manufacturers even in the US are subsidized far more than US counterparts. That's not FUD, it's a simple fact. Inside the US, they are subsidized. [goodjobsfirst.org]

    "Spare me?" Is that an argument? Mod this down.

  • You are an idiot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gorehog (534288) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:24PM (#26238485)

    This Fox News meme about "government programs causing the great depression" is ignorance in action. It only showed up recently as some Rovian talking point.

    Fact is that it was a combination of poor free market regulation and then the Dust Bowl disaster that threw things into disarray.

    Try getting facts from someplace other than the Morning Zoo Croo.

  • by carlzum (832868) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:28PM (#26238519)
    Sure, they can retool to make anything, but the Big Three's problem is not the product they manufacture. If they produced things more efficiently than other manufacturers, they could leverage their processes, work force, and facilities to compete. But they don't have a competitive advantage in those areas, in fact, those are their weaknesses. US automakers should learn to make cars better in a modern global market instead of applying their poor model in other sectors.
  • Re:SUVs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:30PM (#26238531)

    Considering that SUV's where only a small part of Detroit's problem, there is no need to smear the machine. Like it or not some of us drive trucks or SUVs simply because they are very practical modes of transportation. Further some of us simply can't fit into the common compact car, that is certainly poor engineering because I'm only a hair over 6' tall, but highlights that one size doesn't fit all.

    The problem with Detroit and the American car makers is that quality sucks, and is barely third would. Unfortunately I've learned this the hard way! Some models are better than other but the over all fleet is a wreck. Frankly I don't think it is even remotely possible for the auto makers to address this with the current union / management arrangements. That is why I fully support the complete destruction of both.

    THIS MEANS NO BAILOUT

    Sometime for something better to evolve what is currently in place needs to die. This might be seen a a Darwinian view on the business but it really is the only solution right now. Give the economy the room to evolve something viable in the place of the current auto industry.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by glyn.phillips (826462) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:31PM (#26238547)
    Detroit didn't come up with SUVs to dupe anybody. SUVs were popular because of their versatility, perceived sturdiness and their status.

    The Big 3 have labor costs about three times higher than other auto makers in America. They also pay pension and health care benefits for about twice as many people as are currently working. In order to make a profit they had to sell large high-priced cars.

    The high gas prices scared a lot of people away from SUVs for now, but what Americans want in their cars has not changed.

    First of all, the automobile represents freedom. Freedom to go where you want, when you want. You are not tied to mass transit schedules and routes.

    Americans still want cars that are status symbols. Even those who buy hybrids do so to show how much they care about the environment.

    Americans want cars that are safe and useful. A family of five wants a car that can comfortably haul the family plus a couple of friends plus their stuff.

  • Detroit Rock City! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SoupIsGood Food (1179) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:34PM (#26238563)

    In American industry, the more unreasonable the request, the better the engineers and workers assigned to the problem like it. American White and Blue collar labor loves and lives for the "moon shot" - we don't know how we'll do it, the current state-of-the-art says we can't do it, and we've got an irrationally short timeframe to do it in. Out of our way, we'll freakin' do it.

    This is reflected in the Aerospace industry, in Silicon Valley, and even in Detroit. Ford asked their engineers and UAW workers to build a hybrid. They built one [wikipedia.org], then two [jalopnik.com] hybrids that beat the everloving hell out of the Japanese models.

    Here's the deal, tho... if Ford didn't have an "outsider" CEO, a guy who came from Boeing, it would never have been done.

    There is a class of employee in Detroit who refuses to see the writing on the wall. Who refuses to alter the way they've been doing things for decades, convinced of their inherent superiority.

    Not the UAW line workers. Not the pencil-pusher engineers. The management. The MBA miracles who have, in concert, done their damndest to run the US auto industry into the ground.

    The engineers love a challenge, and American engineering stands for itself - from the original Model T to the Apollo Program to the Apple II. The workers stand for themselves, Union or not - Ford (Union) and Honda (Not) get about the same productivity from their American factories, and at the same cost, and it's a hell of a lot better than even the Japanese factories. (The problem facing the Big Three is actually =overproduction= - their factories churn out too much product that no-one is buying, because the product is crap, as mandated by MBA Miracles.) The Unions take pride in their work... you don't hear much about "those shoddy Boeing Jets", despite being engineered and made by Union members.

    The management, the "money-men" - they all suck. Universally. This is the same class of management pros who ran Wallstreet into the ground. Fire them all, and put an engineer or a union boss in charge - I can guarantee a better product at a lower cost.

  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:40PM (#26238595) Homepage
    Chrysler, Ford and GM can't build small cars and make a profit. That's a HUGE problem. They have to build large cars like SUV's because they have enormous labor costs. The only way they can make a profit is by making larger items with less labor cost and more material cost per vehicle because their non-labor costs are still competitive. They have preexisting contracts that the UAW got them into by squeezing their nuts hard enough. There's not much that can be done.
  • Re:SUVs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:46PM (#26238633) Homepage

    I am saying that trucks are not only required but are also wanted. There is nothing wrong with that.

    I beg to differ. What percentage of the population actually does construction? 1%? Probably less. I live in farm country and most people I know drive a truck that gets 12 mpg all the time so they can haul stuff maybe once or twice a month. And that justification gets weaker and weaker as you get closer to town. My former stock broker insisted his wife needed a giant SUV so she didn't have to bend over to lift stuff out of a trunk. Lot of people drive a 12 mpg vehicle all the time so they tow a boat to the lake five or six times over the summer, haul their 4 wheeler out in the woods so they can go hunting. I'm not saying those are bad things, but multiply those flimsy justifications across the nation and it adds up to 25% of the world's gasoline being used by 3% of the world's population. Our economy being dependent on a string of oil tankers stretching around the world and something on the order of $700 billion a year going to countries that don't like us.

    So, yeah, there's a lot wrong with that. And that ignorant, short-sighted mentality is what keeps us dependent on foreign oil. That let's us think that drilling more here, not conservation, is the solution. It's a national security issue and you're on the wrong side of the equation.

    And I haul lumber behind my sensible sedan that gets 33 mpg all the time. It hasn't broken yet. Once or twice a year there might be something bigger than my car can haul and I slip one my buddies a few bucks to haul it for me...with their giant pickups that get 12 mpg all the time. But I could rent a truck if that wasn't an option. If it's a big enough load of lumber I'd just have the yard deliver it.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:47PM (#26238637)

    Some anecdotal information:

    Everyone's sales are down BIG [nytimes.com]. Sure - the big three aren't producing the "vehicles that people want to buy", but who is producing them? Anyone?

    I live in Detroit (full disclosure: I hate GM more than anything). When the "snooty foreigners" come here, they tend to buy a bigger vehicle - most often an SUV. What I have noticed is that people tend to buy the most that they can afford as a percentage of income. In Europe, they tax the shit out of gas - so people drive smaller vehicles. Maybe we should do that here (perhaps tax gas when prices are low, using the money exclusively for subsidizing electric vehicle tech).

    It takes about 5 years to adopt in the automotive industry. If gas prices go up and people suddenly want different vehicles, it takes a while to develop and get them into the dealer lots.

    I recently tried to buy a car - something not so small (a Ford Freestyle). Even though my credit score is 765, I was denied a loan. Perhaps the credit crisis (that was caused by the bailed-out aristocrats) is the real cause of the auto crisis (including Toyota et al). Why can't we give 2 percent of $700 billion to the collateral damage here?

    If we can subsidize corn to the tune of billions EVERY YEAR - money that tax payers will never get back - then why can't we just make a small attempt at keeping the auto industry around? Surely, this is in the name of national security.

    If we go to war and China decides to stop sending us cars, then what exactly happens to our economy?

  • by MrZaius (321037) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:47PM (#26238639) Homepage

    The population distribution in most of the US is simply not geared toward passenger rail except possibly at the local level

    That's not really true. It rarely makes sense to extend light-rail systems beyond the densely packed urban centers, but you're ignoring the old heavy traffic. The layout of our towns, highways, etc are all heavily determined by the paths that the railroads took 150-75 years ago. This hasn't changed, as many of our Interstates were built along similar pathways.

    Now, Amtrak may suck, but it's not like there's good competition available. Driving takes every bit as long and already costs far more, and our piss-poor airlines with worse food than a Flying J: Don't even get me started on the Fly America Act [fcw.com] and even greater sins [usatoday.com] our government commits in their favor.

    If we had new rail-systems and new stations (with ZipCar and other car rental companies etc. colocated thereupon), they might very well be able to perform profitably. Let foreigners run 'em, too, so that the food doesn't taste worse than the truck stop food you'd get when driving (which is still better than the nothing-to-ramen spectrum on American air carriers), and this may very well be worthwhile. If speedy rail systems can be built that are fast enough and substantially more environmentally sound, we might even consider taxing competing air routes to subsidize them in an effort to meet soon-to-be-adopted CO2 emissions goals. Of course you may wish to hold off until after opening them up to all comers to knock the price down an equivalent amount.

    Regardless, I'd assert that there is a market for a competently run Amtrak with maglevs et al or, better yet, multiple competing private firms. We just don't see it right now because the Amtrak service is (marginally) worse than the (insanely bad) domestic airlines. If we can restore service to all the cities over the million-person mark, I think they'd do just fine.

    They just can't compete as long as:

    1: They're as slow as a car
    2: They serve worse food than truck stops (like the airlines)
    3: They fail to advertise and compete aggressively due to lack of real market pressure
    4: They fail to service many large cities

    Still, that's half the point of the above. Look beyond light rail - The car manufacturers can make a lot of money regearing to deal with the above issues. If they're going to be bailed out with taxpayer money anyway, perhaps we should lead them in this cheaper and more fuel-efficient direction.

  • by glyn.phillips (826462) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:47PM (#26238641)

    Rail has been a popular environmentalist cure for traffic, pollution and fossil fuel use since at least the Arab oil embargo of 1972.

    The issues which have prevented its universal adoption across the United States are still here.

    1. Legal costs
    2. Right-of-way acquisition costs
    3. Construction costs
    4. Traffic Disruption due to construction (an intangible but real cost)
    5. Operating costs
    6. Maintenance costs
    7. Americans still want the freedom that cars give them.

    Don't hold your breath on rail.

  • by akintayo (17599) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:01PM (#26238733)

    Autoworkers negotiated a pay packet with their employers, which included pensions and other benefits. These obligations should have been funded by the companies when they were accrued, so the pension fund should be paying pension costs rather than the company. Likewise with health care costs for pensioners should've been funded.

    Why should the pensioners pay, for what was obviously a management decision ? I don't see how you can slash the income of retired people in such a cavalier manner.

    And why do the unions get all the blame, they aren't the ones who jack up the margin on the good cars that these companies make? The new Ford Thunderbird ? Was it the union selling these for above sticker ?

  • by mozumder (178398) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:07PM (#26238779)

    Actually, the real solution is to burn down the suburbs.

    It's the suburb, which were designed around the car, that's the problem.

    There are smaller steps that could be taken to eliminate the suburban problem, though, such as putting small grocery stores right in the middle of the neighborhoods, and implementing telecommuting. These would help reduce total miles driven.

  • Re:Rail, no thanks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:11PM (#26238799) Journal

    Sunking2,

    If you think about it just a bit longer, you'd be surprised how much that car trip would cost. Your Jeep Liberty cost about $25,000, and let's be generous and say that you'll drive it 150,000 miles with no maintenance costs whatsoever. Then the 350 miles cost another $58 in wear and tear on the car. It probably makes sense to add in insurance costs as well, if you drive 15,000 miles per year and pay $500 in insurance, then the insurance costs were another $10. Oil changes every 5,000 miles at $30, then that's another $2 for your 350 mile trip.

    When I realistically add up all the costs of driving my Prius, I get to something on the order of $0.67/mile (calculated from here [commutesolutions.org].)
    So, your 350 mile trip would cost me something north of $200 in direct attributable costs.

    Now, it is true that if you have multiple passengers, cars start to make a whole lot more sense. And yes, it's great to have the mobility when you get there. But looking at just gas costs are not a realistic way of measuring your own costs.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:11PM (#26238801)

    I find it more than a little disheartening that an article that talks about the collapse of the ENTIRE auto industry is cited as an article about "superior competition". This person is obviously living in the 1980's. The product coming out of Detroit today (where I have lived most of my life) is as good as any product coming out of Japan or the Japanese US plants in any statistically meaningful way, gets as good or better (Ford) gas mileage and are generally safer (again Ford). I will agree that the past management of the auto industry is largely at fault for many, but not all, of their problems. 30 and out was a BIG mistake (Thanks Jack Smith), cradle to grave health care was another big mistake (thanks UAW) but these are benefits that many government employees still enjoy today. As to the folks that say let them go broke I have news for you. Any failure of one of the Detroit 3 will cause financial hardship like you have never seen in your lifetime. One in 10 jobs in this country depends directly on the auto industry. Think California is immune from it - what do you think is the most microprocessor intensive thing that you own? (Hint, it's not your PC or Mac) Its your car. Automobile manufacturing is nothing less than the most high-tech manufacturing industry in world. Moreover if you think that we should let all of our cars be built overseas you need to think back to that little conflagration from 1941 to 1945. If it weren't for Detroit you would be speaking either German or Japanese right now and if you weren't the right religion you wouldn't be speaking at all. Everyone in this country also needs to think about a little more recent issue we had with a couple of planes used as missiles on 9-11-2001. Did any of the tech companies answer the call to get the US out of the economic doldrums it was in? NO! It was GM and 0% financing that got the economy going again. The Detroit 3 have done a lot more for this country than to it and it is time that the rest of the country realizes that without a strong manufacturing base this country becomes a toothless tiger in a very dangerous would. I for one don't want to see that happen. I find it interesting that the very companies that once rebuilt Japan after WWII are the one's that are now paying the price for their success and many so-called American don't seem to care. Shame on you!

  • by Gybrwe666 (1007849) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:17PM (#26238823)

    You know, as much as we've heard about the auto industry in the last few months, and their ailments, as well as endless ad nauseam fixes, there are a few things that *NOBODY* wants to talk about here, at least no one involved.

    First off, tage a gander at CAFE regulations, or the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards set by the EPA in the US. This is something which, of course, was instituted after the Oil Crisis in 1972. In theory, its a nice noble set of standards for regulating better fuel economy in the US.

    Now, in spite of the fact that these standards are something of a joke (they haven't changed a bit since 1992, and have only been increased a grand whopping total of 9.5 MPG since they were instituted over 30 years ago), there are a few peculiarities in the enforcement of these which, I think, are specifically causing or have caused the problems the Big 3 face today, and, in fact, were specifically caused by Congress and the Clinton Administration.

    Now, buried within these standards is a little rule called the Two Fleet Rule. Essentially, what it says is that the foriegn produced cars imported by a company to the US are a different "fleet" from the domestically produced cars. It goes further to say that, in fact, if a car company (by default the Big 3) want to be considered "domestic" producers that the cars they produce in the US are, in fact, the only ones that count for their inclusion in the CAFE regulations.

    Now, this has some nasty side effects, the biggest being that, in order to be considered "domestic" car producers, the Big 3 were actually forced to manufacture all of their vehicles in the US, regardless of whether or not they could actually afford to sell said vehicles at a profit. In other words, this "2 Fleet Fule" was a very specific sop directly to the Auto Unions and forced the Big 3 to produce and sell their economy cars a loss for 2 decades. Not only that, but since they were actually losing money on a huge percentage of sales, they were forced to concentrate production on the most profitable lines, namely SUV's and Minivans. Which worked great, sort of, for a decade or so. Until the public decided that a) gas was too expensive to spend in a gas guzzling vehicle, and b) the enviroment matters.

    So, a downturn in large vehicle sales causes a double whammy against the Big 3, in that they can't afford not to make them, and the fact that they still have to produce a significant amount of small vehicles to sell at a loss since they can't make a profit anyway. Not only that, but they can't make a profit on increased sales of economically viable vehicles as those were already selling at a loss...

    Sucks to be them.

    So we need to blame government, specifically the Democrats but I believe the measure had decent bi-partisan support, for this mess. By giving a few people job security, they've endangered the well being of an entire industry.

    Oh, and these are the same people we're trusting to solve the mess...

    What could possibly go wrong?

    Bill

  • Re:SUVs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Henry V .009 (518000) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:18PM (#26238833) Journal
    I own an SUV. Given my driving needs (2 or 3 thousand miles a year), I don't save much money by going with a car. SUVs are safer so long as they don't roll. Not drinking and driving, always wearing seatbelts, and not being a teenager, tends to plunge rollover fatalities to background noise levels. At that point, the added weight of an SUV makes them a lot safer.

    Also, my SUV looks cool and attracts females. Women may spend a lot of time talking about how attracted they are to men with smartcars, but they spend more time having sex with men who drive SUVs. (Women also talk about loving sensitive guys, quiche eaters, etc. On the other hand, they tend to have sex with meat-eating cads. This is part of the reason that women perennially complain about guys who won't commit, when 80% of the male population would like nothing better than to commit. Women don't want the beta.)
  • Re:SUVs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrraven (129238) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:34PM (#26238933)

    "It's just that I also happen to see trucks as being much better built and ultimately safer to drive."

    Except in the rational world of facts you'd be wrong, people drive SUVs too fast in wet and icy conditions leading to these top top heavy vehicles rollin over or not stopping in time. SUVs also suck at accident avoidance which is half the battle due to inertia and poor steering compared to smaller more precise cars. For empirical substation of this see Malcom Gladwell's excellent article on SUVs:

    http://www.gladwell.com/2004/2004_01_12_a_suv.html [gladwell.com]

    And as for better built I'd say the average American V8 is very, very lucky to make it to 175,000 miles where as OHC Japanese 4 bangers OFTEN make it to 250,000 and Mercedes diesels and Volvos to 350,000. A heavier car wears out faster due to simply physics even if built to the same build quality standards which American trucks aren't.

    In the long run I hope we do have the social will to switch our auto plants here in the U.S. to making hybrids, small diesels, trains, buses, and windmill parts but I am NOT holding my breath. :(

  • Re:SUVs (Score:1, Insightful)

    by JustNilt (984644) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:48PM (#26239019) Homepage

    Except in the rational world of facts you'd be wrong, people drive SUVs too fast in wet and icy conditions leading to these top top heavy vehicles rollin over or not stopping in time. SUVs also suck at accident avoidance which is half the battle due to inertia and poor steering compared to smaller more precise cars.

    I hear this argument a LOT. The same argument could be used regarding a school bus, however. Yes, a larger vehicle may be dangerous when driven as though it's a sports car. When driven properly, however, they are no less unsafe than any other vehicle. This is a specious argument; the issue here is drivers, not the vehicle.

    And as for better built I'd say the average American V8 is very, very lucky to make it to 175,000 miles where as OHC Japanese 4 bangers OFTEN make it to 250,000 and Mercedes diesels and Volvos to 350,000. A heavier car wears out faster due to simply physics even if built to the same build quality standards which American trucks aren't.

    I have to say I doubt this to an extent, inasmuch as many people fail to properly maintain their vehicles. A larger vehicle would seem to be less able to handle this than a larger one, I suppose.

    I drive a full size truck daily and my wife has a Jeep. I use my truck for hauling bulky items at least weekly in the course of managing our properties. We do actually use the Jeep offroad unlike the majority of Jeep owners around here, according to the dealer; hehe. Both of our vehicles have just shy of 200,000 miles on them and are in essentially flawless mechanical condition because we maintain them. If you don't maintain a vehicle properly, sure it'll fail. Again, the issue here is people, not the vehicle as such.

  • Hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by coryking (104614) * on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:52PM (#26239053) Homepage Journal

    Look, an auto company would have been a fool not to tap into the SUV fad--it was quick, easy money. The problem was only a fool would have seen SUV's for anything but a fad. A smart auto company would have pimped SUV's for as long as the fad lasted, but all the while plan for something else once the fad goes away.

    The US automakers seemed to have thought SUV's would be a long-term trend and not a short term "cheap gas" fad. They put all their eggs in the SUV basket and forgot about the whole "long term" thing. Now they are Screwed with a capital S.

    If gas prices go up and people suddenly want different vehicles, it takes a while to develop and get them into the dealer lots

    Maybe this business model doesn't work anymore. Maybe smart auto companies will engineer business processes that don't require 5 years of re-tooling between models.

    If we go to war and China decides to stop sending us cars, then what exactly happens to our economy?

    Seeing as how they are making said cars on our soil, we just kick them out and re-purpose the plants to make stuff.

    In Europe, they tax the shit out of gas - so people drive smaller vehicles. Maybe we should do that here

    There are very good arguments for creating a "floor" to gas prices to a) stabilize oil prices and b) encourage domestic companies to create replacements.

  • Re:Right. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by modmans2ndcoming (929661) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:17AM (#26239189)

    well... those were commercial rail. We need light rail for passengers to travel regionally.

    Michigan is the worst. If we built light rail for passenger transportation with the rail running in a web from Lansing to Pontiac to Detroit and the upper east side burbs and to down river and to Ann Arber with some criss cross in there, and have stops every 10 - 15 miles, with stops lasting no more than 1 minute and have multiple trains so that a train came by a stop every 30 minutes, (maybe get it down to every 15 minutes), then we could have a very functional non car based economy.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:24AM (#26239225)

    Why do trucks have to be restricted to those in construction? Why isn't it enough for the person to ENJOY driving a truck? If they can afford it, there should be no objections. Modern trucks are actually some of the most comfortable vehicles to travel in.

  • by characterZer0 (138196) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:35AM (#26239277)

    If bicycling is going to work for more people, drivers need to learn traffic laws and pay attention.

    I bike to work - 8 miles each way. Many drivers do not know that cyclists follow the same laws that drivers do (with a few minor additions), and have the same rights of way. Drivers see a bicycle and think "slow". They then pass me at 30mph while I am doing 25, and proceed to begin to turn into me because they assume that I am far behind. Despite the fact that I wear bright clothing and have bright blinking lights, many drivers simply do not see me. They do not pay attention to their surroundings; only keep a low-level awareness of large objects.

    Every day somebody gets next to me and honks. Every week somebody rolls down his window and yells at me. Ever couple of months, somebody rolls down his windows and throws something at me. I have no doubts about why more people do not subject themselves to this.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:47AM (#26239347) Homepage Journal

    Health care costs are certainly hurting Detroit, but that's because they're competing against nations which benefit from "socialized medicine".

    They have socialized medicine in Indiana and Kentucky, where they build Toyotas?

  • Re:SUVs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jshackney (99735) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:49AM (#26239365) Homepage

    http://www.gladwell.com/2004/2004_01_12_a_suv.html

    I'm hoping that wasn't your blog because whoever wrote it sounds like he was eavesdropping on a conversation about automobile manufacture.

    A good term to know before writing uninformed garbage like this would be:

    "Unibody" or more informatively (I'll spare you the wiki link), a style of monocoque construction where the metal is stressed and connected in such a way that it reinforces itself. Kinda neat really, but not quite "unit-body". That would be different.

    I couldn't read past that without laughing.

    "It's just that I also happen to see trucks as being much better built and ultimately safer to drive."

    The 'better built' part, probably refers to a subjective analysis of the vehicle's engineering. The 'ultimately safer' part. Probably a subjective opinion.

    "...people drive SUVs too fast in wet and icy conditions"

    Perhaps your personal disdain for SUVs is clouding your objectivity by making you think this behavior reflects poorly on the engineering of the vehicle. Don't worry, it's common here.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chill (34294) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:15AM (#26239539) Journal

    Health care costs are certainly hurting Detroit, but that's because they're competing against nations which benefit from "socialized medicine".

    No, you're wrong.

    Toyota USA and Honda USA do not have socialized medicine. They are run as separate companies, just like GM Europe and Ford Europe are. They just haven't been here as long and their dependency ratio is very favorable. From what I've seen Toyota USA only has like 200 retirees in this country right now, so their associated costs are minuscule.

    And the United States already has a socialized retirement program called "Social Security", as well as socialized medicine called "Medicare". Neither seem to have helped the auto industry regarding their retiree costs -- which are EXACTLY the demographic those programs serve.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sleepy (4551) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:20AM (#26239563) Homepage

    Well, now that we've established the original post about US autoworkers was 100% factually incorrect... out comes the next piece of fud.

    Actually, if you bothered to check the factcheck link, you'd know that Toyota Kentucky autoworkers actually get MORE in wages in benefits.

    You might want to not know these things, but when you cross the line to spreading mistruths - you're just hurting America.

  • by moosesocks (264553) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:35AM (#26239631) Homepage

    We can start looking at passenger rails again when Amtrak starts making a profit.

    Just like the interstate system, right?

  • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:39AM (#26239645) Homepage Journal

    Fact: We have far more space to cover than most countries, and we cover it with highway, not rail. The auto industry knew, and knows, this. The problem is simply that the means of propulsion is in transition. Peak oil (see chart [blackbeltsystems.com]) seems to have pretty clearly passed, and even if it hasn't, geopolitical issues are having the same effect. So motive power is really the key issue here.

    What Detroit needs to do -- and what I think it will be forced to do -- is convert to long range electric vehicles, that's all. Light through heavy. That's what the environment needs, that's what petroleum product availability will require, and that's what works with the US infrastructure.

    They can do this. It's all about the power sources. Batteries are getting close to what we might be able to put up with, and the promise of ultracaps is still somewhere over the horizon (and if it ever gets here, that'll pretty much be the end of batteries.)

    As for rail, land is too expensive / valuable in the US for any real rail development. Look at the highline, an east-to-west rail passage that is extremely busy; but no amount of congestion has been able to get the rails or the government to invest in a second line so that they don't have to delay trains by side-tracking them to spurs to let one train pass by another. This is where they already own the right of way. Nothing is going to get them to open new right of way. Financially speaking, it is incomprehensible.

    Electric is the coming thing. Petroleum, hydrogen, hybrid, ethanol, all these will fall by the wayside, because nothing can compete with the distribution system or the mass efficiency of large electricity generating stations. Even petroleum produces far more power in a central electric generation situation, even accounting for transmission losses (which are not as high as most think) than it does being consumed on a per-car basis. But that's not the kicker; the kicker is that we can transition to any mix of any type of generation we want once the transport system is electricity based, because any type of electricity generation system can add power to the entire grid. That means a measured transition to nuclear, solar, wind, wave, geothermal, anything reasonable that comes along.

    The problem - as always - is getting US concerns, both political and corporate, to invest in systems and ideas that extend beyond the next quarter, or at most, fiscal year. Everything is about the next quarterly report or the next election. The obvious weight, horsepower, pollution and efficiency advantages of electric should have anyone with any sense investing their heads off. Detroit will get the message eventually. That, or they'll die. And in that case, we'll have a whole new industry springing up, good riddance to the old.

  • Re:Right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuasiEvil (74356) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:00AM (#26239739)

    We used to have a massive rail infrastructure in the USA. The neo-con revolution killed it when Reagan made the point of gutting social infrastructure.

    Bzzt, wrong answer, thanks for playing. Almost all of the railroads were on the verge of failure in the 1970s and early 1980s. The weakest couldn't survive - evidence the failure of the Rock Island and the Milwaukee. The rest were deferring capital spending and running on an increasingly weak infrastructure, destroyed by their inability to turn a profit. The reason? Well-meaning government rate regulation that eliminated any actual competition by setting uniform rates (usually out of step with costs and far too low), discouraged any innovation, and forced railroads to carry on the financial black hole of passenger service. It was only deregulation that saved the network we have today. If the railroads hadn't been allowed to set rates to cover their cost of capital and discontinue unprofitable services, we'd probably have one worn-out, crappy nationalized system today similar to what Conrail was in the 1980s. Instead, we have the best rail freight system in the world in terms of ton-miles carried and cost per mile.

    Detroit does not need to be retooled to build rail vehicles. It's a whole different engineering problem, and there are plenty of qualified companies out there who could do the job. The problem is that if we want national passenger rail service, we need to somehow encourage a network of high speed lines to be built.

    In the long distance market, Amtrak is an anachronistic novelty. I say this as someone who takes the SWC and CZ from Colorado to Chicago regularly - at least 6-7 times/year. I hate flying and I regularly get too lazy to drive it, so I spend more and take Amtrak because I'm a train nut at heart. It cannot compete, no matter how much money you throw at the problem, because it's dependent upon its host railroads. They're not interested in building out 200+ mph infrastructure - hell, half the time they're not even interested in keeping Amtrak on schedule.

    Quite frankly, it's nuts to mix express passenger traffic with an endless glut of coal and mixed freight on the existing network. It needs it's own dedicated network, and that's going to take some serious private-public partnership that will, no doubt, find powerful enemies in the airlines and bus companies. If we're serious in developing a long distance passenger network, we need to start from scratch and leave the freight boys to what they do best - move freight.

  • by twostix (1277166) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:12AM (#26239779)

    Yes actually, the "big three" do have problems competing outside the USA, for example here in AUS, there's almost no native US cars, Chrysler is non existant here, GM is non existant here, they have a subsidary called Holden that designs and builds it's own, and Ford - we design and build our own. US designed cars are big ugly hulking piles of unreliable shit. So straight off the bat you're talking rubbish.

    Oh and the poor "big three" who are so innocent and vulnerable, definately no match for those "greedy" (lol class warfare at its finest) mean nasty workers.

    Big threes multi-million dollar mid and upper level "management" negotiated contracts with those workers.

    If the big threes "management" offered to pay too much and offered to many benefits then it's "management" who fucked up, not the workers. It's funny that when it comes to the average man on the street, the mantra and "rules" of freemarket capitalism (greed is good!) are conveniently turned around and it becomes "oh those greedy workers! Looking out for themselves first?! Who would have thought they're so evil and bad!"

    What the hell happened to the whole "personal responsibility" BS that gets thrown around here whenever it's the worker getting hamstrung by a company? If the big three don't like it then FIRE THEM AND HIRE NEW WORKERS, oh they can't survive without their labour? Well good thing we live in a freemarket system where workers are payed according to their value to the company (as we keep being told about 30 million dollar+ packages for management". Management signed contracts giving them pensions? Then TO BAD, personal responsibility BS goes both ways it doesn't just apply to the peasants. Though many around here seem to believe it does.

    Class traitors; people who hate themselves and their own and have allowed the middle class which they inevitably belong to, to be decimated for 30 years.

    Otherwise known as lickspittles.

  • by QuasiEvil (74356) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:17AM (#26239797)

    They're not, much in the same way it'll be a cold day in hell before I'm a GM customer again.

    I grew up on a farm. We drove all sorts of GMC/Chevy trucks, because they were what we needed to get the job done. Sure, they broke down, but they were the best option available.

    I continued being a loyal GM customer through college and into my professional life. Each one was a progressively more annoying piece of junk. Each generation found more bells and whistles added (that often broke) without going back and fixing the powertrain / steering issues that had plagued the previous generations. Basically, rather than focusing on what was really important, they kept adding crappy "features".

    Finally, with my 2001 Yukon having chronic steering and transmission issues that started right after the warranty was up and costing me a grand or so in repairs every 10,000 miles, I bought a Honda. Just a little used 95 Civic as a commuter car that I bought for $3k. I was hooked - the damn thing was simple, without many of the extras to which I'd become accustomed, but it ran. And ran. And ran. It seldom ever needed maintenance, and usually when it did, it was cheap and easy to fix.

    I still have it. It now is closing in on 300k miles with the original engine and transmission. I do scheduled maintenance, and it mostly just runs. I now have a CR-V and an S2000 backing it up, and you won't find a GM product around. My Yukon is gone, my Pontiac is gone, my wife's truck is gone, and I don't even look at what they're offering these days because they haven't learned to concentrate on the basics yet.

    My parents, back on the farm in Iowa, have learned the same thing. The troublesome GMs and Fords are gone. In their place are Toyota trucks and Honda/Acura cars.

    GM & Ford, hear this: Build a car that is first and foremost fundamentally sound, and then look at which of those "features" you really should offer.

  • by khallow (566160) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:43AM (#26239913)
    There's a couple of comments to make. First, it is worth noting that the best rail service in the US is in this area. For example, the Boston to New York City line is probably the most modern Amtrak line. Second, there's the matter of right of ways. A lot of Germany's right of ways were obtained at a time when either land was cheap or the government was powerful enough to take what it wanted. In the US, it'll be an expensive endeavor (politically as well as financially) just to get the right of ways.
  • Re:Rail, no thanks (Score:2, Insightful)

    by horli (1082207) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @03:00AM (#26239959)
    You forget that you have a power outlet and a table at each seat in the train. Therefore I can connect my notebook and work 6-8 hours instead of stupid driving. If I bring in those working hours in the equitation, car and plane has financially lost. While working, those 8 hours are going by that fast, I even don't realize them. Furthermore there is a nice dining car in the train with excellent food. (in Europe) Space and comfort is much more generous in the train than car or plane.
  • by volkris (694) <volkris@gmail.com> on Saturday December 27, 2008 @03:13AM (#26240011)

    Right: the pension is a legal obligation on the company. And like all legal obligations, they're not expressions of divine truth but are instead dependent on very earthly circumstances... like the obligated being able to pay.

    The government insures pensions because of precisely what I said: they are a gamble. The PBGC is precisely a government effort to cover the losses of a gambler.

    But it's not really correct to claim that PBGC payouts are the same pension as the one the employee was originally promised. It's an entirely separate deal amounting to charity that we, the taxpayers, are handing over to the employee because he (presumably) made a mistake believing that the company would be around as long as he was.

    We could change the law and pull the plug on the PBGC at any time... if only we had the political guts to do so.

  • by plasmacutter (901737) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @04:35AM (#26240293)

    Yay, more "blame the unions".

    how about you read more from others in this response column who have noted that, at triple the wage union workers have right now, the cost of labor would still only be about 2k per car.

    for an economy car, that leaves about 8k left. .. now let's get down to reality, in which labor is only about 600, and even if they used slaves the difference in costs would be.. *fanfare*.. 600 bucks less!

    Do keep blaming the unions though for corporate's incompetence at engineering small, light, fuel efficient cars. No, that doesn't mean sacrificing that american tradition of visceral driving either. Japanese sports cars run on in-line 4's and 6's, and go faster on half the gas through competent engineering.

    Stop blaming the unions.

  • by evilviper (135110) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @04:44AM (#26240321) Journal

    American auto makers have no problems competing outside the USA.

    Yes, yes they do. They are losing substantial market share internationally, just not quite as quickly as they have in the US.

    Why? Well, they are not subject to asinine CAFE standards, congressional regulations and miles and miles of red tape that have been added on to BIG EVIL AUTO MANUFACTURERS by the US Congress.

    Ford Motor Co. is subject to the same regulations as GM and Chrysler, yet they aren't going in front of congress saying they may go bankrupt within a week...

    Toyota and Honda are subject to the same regulations as GM, Ford, and Chrysler, yet they have seen huge market-share gains over the past few years, where GM has seen record market-share losses.

    Yes, nearly a MILLION people are getting lifetime health insurance benefits because of the Auto unions squeezing the tit of BIG AUTO,

    Yes, poor, poor GM. They have no power up against the big bad Union. Clearly, they were forced to sign the employment contracts. It's completely unfair to expect them to pay retirement benefits for their former employees.

    It's always nice how ultra-right-wing types like to rant and rave about Unions, even as their ranks dwindle and their power disappears, and ignore the billions and billions of dollars going to compensation for highly paid executives... particularly galling that they very, very often get paid MORE when their company does worse, and have to go to the government with hat in hand asking for free money to keep their Ponzi scheme afloat.

    the auto unions threatened massive amounts of immediate pain (strikes) for a labor contract that would meet with disaster in 10-20 years.

    Yeah, because employees can induce unlimited pain on companies, while companies can't possibly apply ANY pressure at all on employees. Oh the poor oppressed multi-national corporations.

    Every single other industry in America, when faced with similar treatment (Big EVVVVil oil, or evil [insert industry here]) they simply pulled up stumps and moved their industry overseas.

    Except that they didn't... Big Oil has just as big of a footprint in the US as they ever have. A great many companies in the US have grown. Manufacturing in the US has never stopped growing, so there's more now than there has ever been.

    And let's not get distracted by hyperbole. Let's stick with THIS INDUSTRY. While GM has been hemorraging money for years, Japanese car companies have been building more plants in the US. Clearly, the US auto industry and manufacturing is only a problem if you're a US company... And not Ford. If you're a foreign company (or Ford), it seems to work out just fine.

    Nobody makes big, rugged hard working vehicles like the Americans can.

    Funny, because plenty of Japanese car companies sell extremely successful lines of large trucks. Toyota certainly does quite well with their trucks.

    People WANT to buy American vehicles, if they weren't so expensive due to regulations, taxes added to production costs, and union overhead added on to the sticker price of each vehicle

    When gasoline was $4/gallon, NOBODY wanted to buy a truck. Plenty of people who DID buy American vehicles, put them in their front yards with For Sale signs in the window, and at ridiculously low prices, no less... And this was even before the recession began.

    Besides, it's only in your imaginary world that people who desperately want to buy a $40,000 (US-made) truck are getting scared off by the extra $2,000 in the price tag due to legacy worker and environmental costs, and turn tail to go buy a tiny Japanese-made car... It's a laughable assertion.

    You are actually half-right that the US makes the best trucks in the world, that people want to buy... Unfortunately, those aren't from GM, Ford, and Chrysler... They're from companies like Mack, CAT, Peterbuilt, etc. Entirely different.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 27, 2008 @04:54AM (#26240341)

    Like most people, you've missed the point and assume that because you have the money, you should be able to do anything you please. You don't seem to understand that your actions DO have an effect on others, and because of that, you have a certain amount of responsibility.

    This is another one of those little notions that people reject now, and the consequences will later smack them hard in the face and they'll be left wondering "why did this happen?". It's just like the current economic situation. Decades of hedonism and rampant borrow/spend attitude and somehow so many are surprised at how it's ended up.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gtbritishskull (1435843) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @04:54AM (#26240345)
    Along the same note, the reason why most people argue against electric cars is basically because they can't go on long trips. Most people travel less than 40 miles a day, which electric cars can currently achieve. But, they need to have a car that can drive across the country for some reason.
  • by lloydchristmas759 (1105487) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @05:36AM (#26240463)
    IMHO, pushing for car-only transportation cannot work in the long term, even if it's eletric. The huge costs of maintaining and developing the road network will make it unsubstainable in the future. Several european cities introduced congestion pricing to reduce the traffic and help finance the public transports. The problem with roads is that you cannot make them broader and broader when the traffic increases, especially in areas with high population density.

    A single rail track can handle up to one 1000-passenger train every 2 minutes [www.etcs.eu], i.e. 30000 passengers per hour. On the other hand, an highway lane can handle about one car every 2 seconds, i.e. 1800 cars per hour, or 3600 passengers per hour if you count 2 people per car on average.

    The federal and states governments had funding to build the Interstate Highway System, so I think they should have it to build an 'Interstate Rail System' as well, especially when you know than rail tracks are cheaper to build than highways...
  • Re:SUVs (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 27, 2008 @05:37AM (#26240467)

    After reading many opinions regarding the ulterior motives of those in power, and the responses to them, I've noticed a very consistent trend:

    The "conspiracy theory" is intelligent and well written, containing logical reasoning and a very plausible sequence of events.

    The "rebuttal" is a one or two liner that contains an ad-hominim insult or feeble joke about tinfoil and absolutely no counter-argument whatsoever. The impotent attack actually lends even more credence to the original theory since the opponents have revealed that they have nothing of value to add.

  • by Ex-MislTech (557759) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @06:37AM (#26240639)

    I am an former member of the US military and spent some time
    in parts of Europe.

    Most of the time trains were at stops a few times per hour.

    Every so often an "Express" came through that would take you
    all the way to the nearest major city.

    If you look at rush hour traffic patterns most ppl head to the
    city in the mornings and home in the evenings.

    I have sat in traffic at a total stand still in major US cities,
    and riding that non-stop "Express" into London was a real eye
    opener to me. No slow crawl in traffic for hours.

    I was able to sit and read the lastest book I was studying for work,
    and eat and drink my version of breakfast all the while.

    Once oil shoots back up real high the rail solution will start
    looking better to the ppl.

  • by NuShrike (561140) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @07:12AM (#26240729)

    You're one of the lucky few, educated ones.

    For many in the USA, sitting in traffic is the only way of life. Anybody trying to change it would be a crackpot or a terrorist, while none of the Execs care since they got their corporate jets.

  • Re:Right. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 27, 2008 @07:21AM (#26240755)

    the fact that the government pays for roads but not rail had a lot to do with it too. If a truck company had to make and maintained a road without the benefit of both federal and state taxes things would be very different.

  • I'll admit most people are short sighted and stupid. But you're assigning blame where none is needed.

    In order for the US to transition to rail, our massive roads infrastructure to function properly during the whole transition. That means tax revenue, in addition to covering all of the colossal debt and expenses we already have from other sources, would also have to pay for maintaining all existing roads WHILE ALSO paying to build rail.

    Try pitching that plan in an election. "I know most of you are having a hard time finding work, and those that have work are working longer hours for less pay. But I have a plan: we're going to tax you an extra $5,000 per year per person, and in 5 years the 30% of you that still own a home will be able to use trains to commute!"
  • Re:Rail, no thanks (Score:2, Insightful)

    by noidentity (188756) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @09:53AM (#26241185)

    But looking at just gas costs are not a realistic way of measuring your own costs.

    Even in your cost calculation, you didn't include the 5 hours of sitting behind the wheel, having to concentrate on driving. I love riding the city bus during rush hour, watching all the dense traffic I would have to deal with if I were driving.

  • by stabiesoft (733417) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @11:06AM (#26241465) Homepage

    While I agree we (americans) have bought way too many SUV's and trucks for image sake, why does everyone blame the big 3? Hello. Have you seen a toyota sequoia? A nissan titan? Even honda's pilot ain't very efficient. Don't blame the big 3. Look in the mirror! The big 3 just built what you wanted. And japanese companies followed like puppies. The SUV's were cash cows and everyone wanted some. I think maybe the most popular suv I've seen is the lexus. And there is no way those are used for hauling manure.

  • Re:SUVs (Score:1, Insightful)

    by lloydchristmas759 (1105487) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:40PM (#26242591)

    I drive 1 block to where i work. My dailey commute in my V8 ford p/u uses less than 5.00 in gas per week.

    One block ? Then may I ask you why you don't walk ? That would be 0$ in gas per week...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 27, 2008 @05:40PM (#26244319)

    Moving freight has the same problem. Load it onto a truck, bring it the first mile to a rail yard, load it onto a train, unload it from train back onto a truck at the destination, then truck it the last mile. All that loading/unloading kills any savings from using a train.

    You haven't seen many trains lately. Huge numbers of rail cars are devoted to carrying truck trailers. Put 'em on the train at the point of departure, take 'em off at the destination. Hugely efficient.

  • Re:Rail, no thanks (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Neuronaut137 (1420457) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @05:44PM (#26244353)

    You're also forgetting one additional thing:

    Driving is focused labor, and riding transit isn't.

    Unless you're an incredibly reckless misanthrope, you can't read a book or work on your laptop while making a 5 hour drive. Riding a train or bus you can. 5 hours of getting work done at the rate I bill is a considerable amount of money. Even if I was just reading for pleasure, that 5 hours is worth a lot more to me than the few tens of dollars I *might* save from driving. So unless the thrill of driving the open highway is something you'd pay many tens of dollars an hour for, riding transit makes more sense, all other thing being equal.

  • Re:Rail, no thanks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KevinIsOwn (618900) <herrkevin&gmail,com> on Saturday December 27, 2008 @06:05PM (#26244517) Homepage
    This calculation is flawed simply because most people can get work done on a train, or benefit from the relaxation of a train ride. Simply staring out the window on a train is much nicer than dealing with all the slow pokes driving in the left lane, and idiots speeding in the right. (Before/after work you can just read a book or the paper. Can't do that in a car. Please don't try.)

    It is also fairly obvious that you can't write a report or program while driving, but on a train it is possible. Now I will concede that many commuter rail trains in the US are relatively crowded and uncomfortable, making this difficult (MetroNorth for example), but you can still get something done. Amtrak is fine for this, and if you ever ride a European train like the German IC or ICE, or French TGV, it's actually a really great working environment. (Many of those trains are being equipped with wireless internet access now too)

    One problem you allude to is the fact that trains are often late here, and that adds in extra time when you indeed cannot get work done. This is a real problem and we need to address the issue of the rail structure in this country- hopefully Obama will make rebuilding and improving it important, so that people are valued over freight trains and the rail network is reliable and complete.
  • by TheOriginalRevdoc (765542) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @06:08PM (#26244533) Journal

    This isn't Europe, and you can't necessarily repeat the same things that work in Europe and expect them to work here also.

    That's not correct. Parts of the US - especially in the north-east - are very much like Europe, and both heavy rail and light rail are viable in those areas. That's also where the bulk of the population lives.

    You live in a very big and diverse country. Just because something won't work in rural Arizona or Nebraska doesn't mean it won't work anywhere else.

  • Re:Rail, no thanks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LordVader717 (888547) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @08:56PM (#26245641)

    Other's have pointed out the extra costs when driving. But here's another thing to consider: I bet them 5 hours of driving weren't really much fun. Sitting back in the train however, is much more "me-time".
    You can catch up on the sleep you lost by getting up earlier, you can listen to music or watch movies on your laptop, and if the dicks in management were to get off their asses, we might even see widespread WiFi deployment on passenger trains.

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