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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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • Re:SUVs (Score:5, Informative)

        by Sleepy (4551) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:57PM (#26239085) Homepage

        >The Big 3 have labor costs about three times higher than other auto makers in America.

        You're quoting a lie that's been well-debunked:
        http://www.factcheck.org/askfactcheck/do_auto_workers_really_make_more_than.html [factcheck.org]

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

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Just Some Guy (3352)

          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?

          • by MsGeek (162936) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:09AM (#26239505) Homepage Journal

            ...have been in CANADA. Where they don't have to pay for crippling, expensive, private health insurance. The workforce in Indiana, Kentucky and Alabama are also of such poor quality there (low education level) that they have had to stoop to pictogram instructions at work stations. And Canada? High literacy rate, great quality workforce.

            Time to get back to basics...invest in educating our populace and cease to be the last industrialized nation without some sort of guaranteed health care for all. Otherwise the rest of the world will continue to eat our lunch.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Ex-MislTech (557759)

              Education works if the ppl want to learn.

              In the US public education system some students have to
              deal with thugs that roam the campuses that are part of some
              gangsta lifestyle.

              Send the thugs to thug school.

              Here in the US we spend more than any other nation per capita
              on Education and we are ranked like 16th in the world.

              If you consider that the US auto factory workers on average
              have at best a high school education then that is the best
              you can hope for in that person.

              Throwing more money at this problem will onl

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Sleepy (4551)

            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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by chill (34294)

          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

          • Re:SUVs (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Sleepy (4551) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @01:43AM (#26239653) Homepage

            No, you're wrong, and you're twisting what was said to support your argument.
            First, you chose not to comment on the lie about US autoworkers wages being "300% higher" than Honda/Toyota USA.
            I don't consider it a small point... especially when factcheck shows cases where Toyota USA employees WAGES are HIGHER than Detroits.

            It's also wrong to suggest that 100% of Detroit's competition comes from Honda USA and Toyota USA. See, Honda and Toyota face import quotas, and once exceeding that quota they can only build in the US. The Lexus stands for ("Luxury EXport to US")... the economics favors keeping production of the big-ticket items (Lexus, etc) back home in Japan.

            Detroit does not even TRY to compete with what's made in Kentucky because THOSE CARS are economy vehicles... Corolla and Prius. Detroit's always made small cheap cars as a last resort, and consumers know it and stay away.

            Detroit's would be in trouble if US autoworkers worked for FREE. Try looking at what Toyota USA pays their CEO, and what the ratio of Toyota managers to workers are. Detroit's #1 problem is management is structured follows the same model as the late years of the Ottoman Empire.

            God this "culture war" is really out of hand. Some people so despise "unions" that they'll make shit up about their pay, and spread FUD to prevent solutions. Where's the anger at CEO pay of FINANCIAL companies getting tax money bailouts?

            It's snobbery. Folks in dirty denim working a trade should feel "lucky to have a job", and get a HELL of a lot more pressure for pay cuts on a 25Bn bailout.

            However when it's a 8 Trillion bailout for wallstreet (not just the 800Bn bailout, but the up to 8 trillion asset guarantees quietly passed) it's borderline communism to criticize the rich conservative elites of Manhattan, and CEO types elsewhere.

            It's all just another chapter in the culture wars, which somehow morphed into a war against the middle class.

            • Re:SUVs (Score:5, Interesting)

              by chill (34294) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:25AM (#26239829) Journal

              I chose not to respond to the "300% higher" comment because you were right, and it didn't need comment. Their wages aren't 300% higher, they're more along the lines of 30-50% higher in most cases -- NOT new hires, which are now lower than their competitors. This discrepancy has been mostly addressed.

              Yes, the Big 3 have focused way too much on high profit margin, large vehicles and it is going to cost them. But keep in mind that for the longest time small trucks outsold cars in the U.S. They were building what people were buying. AND those models have higher profit margins than the smaller cars. Had the Big 3 been focusing on smaller, lower margin cars, they'd have been in this position sooner.

              Yes, there is indignation in what the executives get at the Big 3, and rightfully so. But, it is hand-waving. The CxOs could work for $0 and it wouldn't make any appreciable difference to their bottom line. These companies are hemorrhaging BILLIONS, and you want to scream about a few ten millions. Yes, it needs to be addressed, but that issue is like carping about the amount of money spent on the National Endowment for the Arts in proportion to the Federal Deficit. A pittance, and a distraction from the real issue.

              And I was just as vocal about the bailout for Wall Street. Feel free to check my journal, but don't put words in my mouth.

              The simple fact of the matter is, according to GM's most recent 10-Q filing with the SEC [gm.com] (quarterly statement) is "post-retirement benefits other than pensions" and "pensions" make up the largest single chunk of their liabilities, at 26.6% -- down from 30% a year ago. "Long term debt" and "Accrued expenses", whatever the hell that is, make up another 25% each.

              I'm not primarily blaming the unions, though they do shoulder some of the blame. I mostly blame GM, Ford and Chrysler who orchestrated this scheme way back when in their glory days. Their pension and benefits plan is similar to the U.S. Social Security model, where current employees pay for retiree benefits. That crap only works if "current employees > retirees". Once there are more people drawing benefits than paying into the pot, you start rapidly going into the hole. GM and Chrysler are now very deep in that hole. This is really nothing more than a legalized Ponzi Scheme. That scam only works if you have an ever increasing number of new investors (employees), which is eventually impossible. It is what gutted the U.S. steel industry and is now going to do the same to the U.S. auto industry.

              I'm not targeting unions. The Big 3 made their bed and should be required to lie in it, even if it kills them. But the unions need to realize that their retirement packages ARE a big chunk of the costs. Those benefits are directly tied to the Big 3 still being in business -- unless you feel confident about the U.S. Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp [pbgc.gov] taking over. It is time for the unions to deal with the reality that the Big 3 made promises they couldn't keep.

              The unions share part of the blame for blindly accepting such deals. If someone promises you the moon, you have a certain responsibility to find out if they can actually deliver on those promises. "But you promised!" doesn't have any pull outside the playground.

            • Re:SUVs (Score:4, Interesting)

              by sesshomaru (173381) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @02:48AM (#26239931) Journal

              The sad thing about this culture war? It's going to finish off the United States. As people who produce nothing but human misery and debt servitude have become so important that even industrial capitalism (note, I'm not even talking about industrial labor here) is to be offered in a bonfire so that they'll never even feel slighly uncomfortable. As industrial capitalism dies in the United States, the United States becomes more and more irrelevant.

              Finance Capitalism? What a joke? You want to see the ultimate apotheosis of finance capitalism? Bernie Madoff. Subprime Mortgages. The great black joke that's destroying this country.

              They'll be a few more years where the U. S.'s bloated and ridiculous military is still a great threat, but as the U. S. falls behind industrially and technologically as both new technology and production of that technology is in the hands of non-Americans even that will recede. We won't have the newest tech, and we won't be able to build it, and other countries will be pushing us around...

              Which wouldn't be so terrible until you realize what shitty governments our new overlords have. I mean, China running the world? The entire British/American enlightenment devotion to the Rights of Man hasn't really made a dent over there. Ask some Falun Gong practitioners, sometime.

              I mean, normally bosses are bosses and it doesn't matter who signs my paycheck, but this is the PRC we're talking about. A country that regularly inflicts Hell on Earth on its own citizens because they might think there is a mystical element to some forms of exercise. If they'll do that to them, what will they do to us?

              And why are we giving it up? Well, the same reason why people give food to a tapeworm, until they die. The parasite wraps itself around the guts and becomes difficult to dislodge. Only in this case, the bowels of America reside in Washington D. C.

              Well maybe (snort) that hardcore socialist (chortle) Barack Obama (snicker) will.... Ha Ha Ha... I can't continue, I'm sorry, my eyes are tearing up.

              It's just not fun to get into arguments with people who believe that the Second Coming of Karl Marx would hire Larry Summers to be one of his bankers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by VValdo (10446)

        Detroit didn't come up with SUVs to dupe anybody. SUVs were popular because of their versatility, perceived sturdiness and their status.

        And because the US decided to give Americans up to $100,000.00 in tax rebates [bankrate.com] for buying SUVs. Not only did this prop up Detroit and shit all over the environment, according to the Taxpayers for Common Sense [taxpayer.net], this cost American taxpayers $840 million and $987 million for every 1,000 vehicles sold. They called it "Robin Hood in reverse [bankrate.com].

        With their recent rise in popularity,

    • 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, Interesting)

      by fermion (181285) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:32PM (#26238921) Homepage Journal
      The SUV is more insidious than that. In the late 70's, when this country was almost destroyed by the consistent previous lack of political and corporate leadership and the focus of greed, we found ourselves at the mercy of unfriendly countries. The response to this was to ask the countries patriots a very simple thing. Learn to conserve, learn to be efficient, help out the country, in the same way that people did during WWII with victory gardens and the like. Many patriotic americans, seeing the threat, did. Unfortunately many did not, including many in high level executive positions, who were more concerned about personal profits than the country. One can verify this by looking at the number of companies that set up shell companies outside of the USA. This mean, unfortunately, that patriotic americans had to go elsewhere for the many products, including cars, to attain the efficiency.

      So it was interesting that the first thing Ronald Reagan did was reward one unpatriotic company with taxpayer money, exactly how much is in dispute, but it is much more than the zero that conservatives would have us believe, so the company could continue to build cars that would deliver us into the hands of unfriendly countries.

      As time went by, some political leaders began to understand what was happening, and tried to enact regulation so that all the players would be on equal ground when trying to develop less America Hostile cars, and there would be no competitive disadvantage. As usual, the auto makers refused to allow this patriotic bill to come to term, and insisted on putting a clause in it so it would not hurt the struggling farmer. This limitation said trucks would not have to comply with the regulations.

      They then turned around and used that limitation to create the SUV. A auto specifically created to circumvent the attempt of the US goverment to keep us safe from aggressive foreign influence. A car created by companies that wanted to make money, even it meant the destruction of the country.

      So, what do we have to show for it. On the terrorist attack on new york, 15 of the 19 terrorist were of Saudi origin, yet we can do nothing because Saudi is out only friend in the oil rich region. Eight years of war to stabilize the oil flow, while Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden continues their work, nearly unfettered, 1000 miles away. And what do thes unpatriotic companies want from us? More cash. Why?

      Well, for Ford it might be to actually help american. Since 2000 they have gotten the issues, and tried to help. All they need is a bridge loan anyway. But for the rest? They unlikely have the creativity to do anything other than they have been doing. Which is not much of anything. The free market has spoken and clearly stated that these companies are incapable of producing a product anyone wants. Even with all the free money the banks have been given, no one will loan any of it to the struggling automakers. This should tell us something.

  • 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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TooMuchToDo (882796)

      Besides, the big problem isn't building the individual rail cars. It's building the infrastructure.

      THIS! If you want someone to build out rail infrastructure, have someone like Union Pacific or Canadian Northern do it. They have experience maintaining millions of miles of rail.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gorehog (534288)

      Mmm, I want to correct you by changing the word building to rebuilding. When I was in my late teens and early 20's there was a massive project in Orange County, NY (yep, Orange County Choppers) to rip up unused rail lines and make the old railroad beds inaccessible.

      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.

      • Re:Right. (Score:5, Informative)

        by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:55AM (#26239411) Homepage

        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.

        Here in the real world, the railroads died in the 40's and 50's when faced with the triple problem of a) rebuilding infrastructure worn out in WWI, b) increasing competition from cars and trucks, and c) the costs of switching from the [hideously] expensive to operate steam locomotive to the much [much] cheaper diesel.
         
        Even so, 90% of the now vanished portions of the rail infrastructure were dedicated to freight - serving plants now closed with the production sent overseas. And on top of that, the passenger rail system was always a loss leader for the railroads - an advertisement for their freight services. One of the first big industrial bailouts in the US was when the government bought the passenger lines, mostly due to public nostalgia, and welded them into Amtrack.

      • 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 ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:42PM (#26238171)

    Here [icanhascheezburger.com] is an artist's rendition of the new train currently being planned.

  • 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.

    • Try fuel cells (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gorehog (534288) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:17PM (#26238435)

      Are you serious? No, really, I wonder if you mean what you say.

      Fuel cells are a few engineering problems away from being a viable solution for electric driving.

      1)Any problem with the fuel cell unit itself can be solved with the application of money for engineering. It's all solvable, it just needs an investment of effort which translates into money.

      2)To the whiners who say "We don't have a hydrogen infrastructure" I reply with this: Hydrogen can be produced ANYWHERE there is water and electricity. Every gas station in the civilized world has WATER and ELECTRICITY. All we need to do is drop an electrolysis station in their parking lot. This can be containerized and done with tractor trailers.

      The whole problem right now can be solved with an investment that is far less than the banks needed. Less than the big 3 automakers requested. It would place our nation in the forefront of the energy industry and make us financially and strategically secure for the next century.

      Or we can sit on our asses.

      • Re:Try fuel cells (Score:4, Interesting)

        by rjhubs (929158) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:43PM (#26238977)

        Are you serious? I really wonder if you have thought through what you said. Fuel cells are both a more complex problem and less efficient method of generating power.

        Why would you want to tackle the problems of:
        1. Generating electricity in a hydrogen fuel cell
        2. creating hydrogen from water in an efficient process that obeys the laws of thermodynamics
        3. building a hydrogen distribution network and
        4. transporting the hydrogen
        when:
        1. electricity is generated much more efficiently in power plants
        2. electric from "power plant -> battery" will ALWAYS be more efficient than electric from "power plant -> electrolysis to make hydrogen -> to fuel cell -> to electricity"
        3. Electricity network is already in place
        4. Batteries is the only big problem electric cars still have to overcome.. they are heavy and don't store enough power.
        So unless you are saying that battery technology has just about peaked and fuel cells will solve the 4th problem much more effectively.. I don't know how anyone could think hydrogen is better.

        Note: I understand some of my points are negated if you were talking about using hydrogen in a combustion type engine.. but i am biased against believing that to continue to power our cars on on mini-explosions is the right, efficient answer.

  • by LeadfootCA (622446) on Friday December 26, 2008 @09:43PM (#26238189)
    GM used to make locomotives via its Electro-Motive Division (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electro-Motive_Diesel [wikipedia.org]). They sold the division back in 2005, and I don't see them reentering that market anytime soon, since General Electric now dominates it.
  • 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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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.

  • 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 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.
  • 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 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 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: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Just Some Guy (3352)

      I'd love to ride to work, but I can only pick up two of the kids from school at once and they got tired of playing rock-paper-scissors to see who'd have to walk behind.

  • 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 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 flajann (658201)

      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.

      That's only because the current US landscape has been shaped by the government building lots of highways that only encourage the use of the auto over the train, and thus lead to the sprawl we have today.

      • 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.

        That's only because the current US landscape has been shaped by the government building lots of highways that only encourage the use of the auto over the train, and thus lead to the sprawl we have today.

        Bullshit. Highways shaped only the

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

    by Darth_brooks (180756) <clipper377@gmail ... om minus painter> 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: (Score:3, Funny)

      by khallow (566160)

      Delete all the other posts under this story. Everything that needs to be said is said here. It's astounding how out of touch this story was even by slashdot standards.

      Hey! Maybe GM could abandon the auto industry and make shoes? Maybe Chrysler could make bicycles? And Ford is a shoe-in for skateboards! Why drive when we can walk or bike anywhere we want to go!

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 574km/h? Not quite (Score:5, Interesting)

    by acb (2797) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:38PM (#26238591) Homepage

    France's TGV is moving people at 574km/h.

    Not quite; 574km/h was the maximum speed obtained on a special test run, using a train consisting solely of power cars (i.e., no passenger cars), with modified electrical systems and a special raised voltage, just to demonstrate the theoretical possibilities. The maximum speed day to day is 320km/h.

    Not that that invalidates the rest of the article; passenger rail in the US is lagging behind the state of the art and, in many cases, behind the state of the practice (witness the state of Amtrak, which makes Britain's post-privatisation railways look like a model of efficiency).

    • Amtrak is basically a rural subsidy, linking together far-flung towns across thousands of miles of track, stopping frequently, because serving those towns is its main point, and the main reason that, politically, it hasn't been killed off yet.

      Britain's rail system, by contrast, serves a densely populated, geographically miniscule island, more akin to creating a regional-scale system like Acela than a continental-scale system like Amtrak.

  • Rail, no thanks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sunking2 (521698) on Friday December 26, 2008 @10:42PM (#26238609)

    I just made a weekend trip from western ma to buffalo. About 350 miles. Round trip was over $130 dollars round trip, travel time was 9 hours. Plus all the before and after time dealing with a station, taxi/parking, etc

    Even in my Jeep Liberty getting ~22 mi/gal it ended up being less than $100 including tolls. And this was when gas was over $1 more than it is now. Travel time was a smidge over 5 hours. Plus, when I decided to sleep in an extra hour before my return leg it wasn't a big deal. And when I got there I didn't have to worry about how I was going to get around for the weekend.

    And this was just for me. If I had another 2 or 3 people in the car the train would never be cheaper even at $10 gas and chances are someone would have a better travel car than I have.

    Now don't get me wrong. I tried, and really wanted the train to work. But it simply didnt for me. And where the price to drive stays pretty much the same when adding passengers, trains just start to add up more.

    And this isn't just a US thing. On my company trips to northern France we would have people from other plants in France meet us. The furthest being Dijon, a pretty good 6-8 hour drive. Across the board they almost always avoided taking the train and preferred to drive. Especially if it was 2 or more people. It was simply cheaper, faster, and simpler. Outside of Metro areas I simply think trains are overrated.

    • Say yes to rail (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mozumder (178398)

      Let's not assume your craptastic American rail experience is representative of a REAL rail system.

      The train system in the US doesn't work because it is only a half-assed system. A real train system incorporates end-to-end solutions. It should be faster, cheaper, and more efficient than your automobile.

      Look at Switzerland for a real rail system example. MUCH better than driving.

      We need a wholesale replacement of the automobile transportation infrastructure system with a rail-based system.

      Your car is expen

    • 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 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 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

    • 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 Whatsmynickname (557867) on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:41PM (#26238963)

    If you're going to build an infrastructure, how about this idea?

    How about building an infrastructure which consists of two parts. (1) Have a large network of electrified rails which can transport (2) a new type of electric car which can either run on the street via batteries or use this new electrified rail for long distance "freeway" style movement? The vehicle could be something like this... [washington.edu] but runs on electric and uses the power from the rails...

    That way, the current battery issue for electric vehicles would be solved and this time we can design this infrastructure to prevent accidents with various technologies built in.

  • Keep building cars (Score:3, Informative)

    by vrmlguy (120854) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <esywmas>> on Friday December 26, 2008 @11:52PM (#26239051) Homepage Journal

    Mass transit is neither cost-effective nor green. Per passenger-mile, it costs more to operate and generates more green-house gases than private automobiles. But don't believe me. Check out what the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, The Atlantic, and others have to say about it.

    http://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/re/2004/c/pages/light_rail.html [stlouisfed.org]

    Based solely on dollar cost, the annual light-rail subsidies could instead be used to buy an environmentally friendly hybrid Toyota Prius every five years for each poor rider and even to pay annual maintenance costs of $6,000. Increases in pollution would be minimal with the hybrid vehicle, and 7,700 new vehicles on the roadway would result in only a 0.5 percent increase in traffic congestion.3 And there would still be funds left overâ"about $49 million per year. These funds could be given to all other MetroLink riders (amounting to roughly $1,045 per person per year) and be used for cab fare, bus fare, etc.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/197910/197910 [theatlantic.com]

    The received wisdom on this topic is easily stated: 1. It is self-evident that public transportation is vastly more energy-efficient than automobiles; 2. It is self-evident that investing money to improve transit facilities will attract many more passengers. Therefore, the national energy policy ought to give major attention to building new transit systems and revitalizing old ones. Unfortunately, both of these "self-evident" premises turn out to be false.

    http://www.templetons.com/brad/transit-myth.html [templetons.com]

    Particularly disturbing were the numbers for some of the worst transit systems, including the light rail in San Jose, which I sometimes ride. That system takes twice as much energy per passenger than private cars do. It's not even the worst -- that's Cleveland, which also is part of a grid more dependent on fossil fuels than San Jose.

    http://www.gregburch.net/cars/plans.html [gregburch.net]

    From a purely utilitarian point of view, it would be cheaper to simply buy compact cars for the poorest of the poor, or even subsidize some kind of taxi cab service for poor people. But that idea is too "way out there" - much stranger than ripping up our cities for years and years while the planners implement their expensive dreams.

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:26AM (#26239233) Homepage

    Unknown to most of the people who've commented so far, freight rail in the US is making a big comeback. [camsys.com] US rail traffic in ton-miles has doubled since 1980. LA opened the Alameda Corridor [acta.org] a few years ago, with three tracks in a trench, like a freeway, across LA from the port to connections to the rest of the US. Most major railroads are upgrading capacity. The work often isn't highly visible, because the upgrades are heavier rail, better ballast, better signaling systems, better locomotives, and better rolling stock. But it's happening.

    Chicago is the bottleneck in the US rail system. A deal is about to close under which Canadian National will take over U.S. Steel's old railroad [wsj.com] and upgrade it to route traffic around downtown Chicago. Suburban residents are bitching.

  • Why didn't I think of it before? What the US auto industry needs is.....A genuine, Bona fide, Electrified, Six-car Monorail!

    Miss Hoover: I hear those things are awfully loud...

    Lyle Lanley: It glides as softly as a cloud.

    Apu: Is there a chance the track could bend?

    Lyle Lanley: Not on your life, my Hindu friend.

    Barney: What about us brain-dead slobs?

    Lyle Lanley: You'll be given cushy jobs.

    Abe: Were you sent here by the devil?

    Lyle Lanley: No, good sir, I'm on the level.

    Wiggum: The ring came off my pudding can.

    Lyle Lanley: Take my pen knife, my good man.

    I swear it's Springfield's only choice...
    Throw up your hands and raise your voice!

    All: Monorail!

    Lyle Lanley: What's it called?

    All: Monorail!

    Lyle Lanley: Once again...

    All: Monorail!

    Marge: But Main Street's still all cracked and broken...

    Bart: Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!

    All: Monorail!
    Monorail!
    Monorail!

    [big finish]

    Monorail!

    Homer: Mono... D'oh!

  • by JRHelgeson (576325) on Saturday December 27, 2008 @12:57AM (#26239427) Homepage Journal

    As an engineer, it drives me nuts to watch someone troubleshoot the wrong problem. American auto makers have no problems competing outside the USA. 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. Not to mention that each car made is heavily taxed at every level, from the top to the bottom. The feds, the state and local governments soak the BIG AUTO companies, they've been doing it for years, and now they've finally killed them.

    It is also the Unions. Did you know that GM has roughly 90,000 workers, yet provides health coverage for nearly 10x that? Yes, nearly a MILLION people are getting lifetime health insurance benefits because of the Auto unions squeezing the tit of BIG AUTO, "those big evvvvvil auto bastards that make billions of dollars"... well, the auto unions should be jumping with glee, they've been working to kill the industry for decades just to prove that they hold all the power. Well, they proved their point and in doing so they have killed the goose - and we all know what that means; no more golden eggs. Today, GM is nothing more than an HMO health care provider that just so happens to have a side business of making cars. People blame the auto makers for signing the contracts allowing such generous compensation. However, what they do not realize is that the auto unions threatened massive amounts of immediate pain (strikes) for a labor contract that would meet with disaster in 10-20 years. The industry has had a gun to its head for the past 30-40 years, I just can't believe it took this long to kill them.

    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. It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out when you're not wanted. Big auto doesn't have that luxury of moving away.

    It is the foreign car makers that do not have to comply with CAFE standards, they're doing just fine. Nobody makes big, rugged hard working vehicles like the Americans can. 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.

    • 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 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.

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