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Blue Tuesday

So, first Volkswagen announces that they’re building their new plant in Tennessee, and then like two hours later, General Motors comes out with another little ray of sunshine: No more health care for salaried retirees, bonuses for nobody, and they’re closing the hell out of a bunch of plants.
You know, times have been tough, but even taking that into account, we’ve had better Tuesdays, you know?

The manufacturing economy. (Artist’s rendering)

We’re taking it a little better in here in Michigan. We’re used to this by now, even if the process did bring Michael Moore to national prominence. (And don’t you think crushing our economy for the past 25 years as punishment is excessive? How many times can we say we’re sorry?) Realistically, no one expected VW to put a plant in a state where the UAW is so strong that organizers are snapping their jaws and foaming at the mouth for a new challenge, but we were still kind of hoping Tuesday would be Opposite Day and we’d be able get our employment on. And it’s almost kind of cute to see GM execs sweat about losing their jobs and health care like the little people.

If you’re not a Michigander, it’s safe to skip the next paragraph.

Actually — and this is a ridiculous digression, so feel free to skip ahead — I know exactly what’s wrong with Michigan’s economy: We put all our eggs in one basket. It’s happened over and over again. Fur trapping (“Sacre bleu! Zee animals, zey are all gone!”), logging (“Well, let’s plant some more trees. They’ll be ready soon. What?”), mining (“I could swear I saw some copper here yesterday! Just keep looking, guys.”) and finally automobiles. (“Japan? Pshaw! People will always want cars as wide as bowling alleys.”) Will we learn our lesson? Fifth time’s the charm, I always say.
Okay, back to the car stuff. Putting the new plant in Chattanooga is a good move for VW. The UAW isn’t a 500-pound gorilla down there, they’re getting tax breaks larger than the GNP of Luxembourg, and the Euro-dollar rate makes the construction the next best thing to free. Of course, Alabama isn’t all that union-heavy either (Wal-Mart, anyone?), the tax breaks were sweet there, too, and the exchange rate’s the same no matter where you go.
Look at how spiky that line is! My science is ironclad!

If you’ll allow me to wildly theorize and connect some dots here (Honestly, you couldn’t stop me, but I like to pretend there’s some give and take in our relationship.), I think the plant location decision is another facet in the design that moved Volkswagen of America’s headquarters from Michigan to Virginia. That move was made ostensibly to move VW HQ closer to the company’s customer base. It could be the VW brass feels the mid-south is a more fertile ground for sales of their wares, and they’re reinforcing that by becoming a local product.
Eh, it’s a wild guess, but it feels pretty good once you roll it around in your mind a little.
As for GM, well. Well. It’s unsettling to watch a corporation of that size flail around every year or so amputating limbs and then trying to stanch the bleeding with a billion little Band-Aids.
And they don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing. Lashing back at the doomsaying of critics and analysts during a Tuesday conference call, Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said, “You’d think at some point, the analysts would learn that car companies don’t die that fast.”
Okay, two things, Bob.
1) There’s a Russian proverb that says, “When ten people tell you you’re drunk, it’s time to lie down.” How this applies to your situation is left as an exercise for the reader.
2) Whether it’s with a bang or a whimper, the world ends just the same.
Highbrow poetry reference FTW!

1 Comment

  • Michael Collins| July 19, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Is this a personal blog or something that is supposed to represent a professional organization? It really reads like you have college kids writing class essay or opinion pieces. I don’t get any feeling of expertise or knowledge, just emotional, female-oriented thoughts that have little to do with the state of the industry, the solutions that experts are discussing, and so on and so forth. I live in California and have read your blog for a long time. It used to rock the house. No more. I would say your blog is right in line with American auto companies: out of touch, out of sync, and out of time.

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