Automakers make some changes to plan

December 2, 2008 7:15:20 PM PST
America's Big Three automakers are hoping for a handout and new sales figures that came out on Tuesday, make it clear why they want one. The car industry had its worst month in 25 years.

At Chrysler, sales were down 47 percent from a year ago, at G.M. sales are off 41 percent, and Ford is down 31 percent. The Japanese automakers didn't do much better with sales at Toyota and Honda also way off.

A government bailout won't get people to buy cars and that's a big problem for the automakers, but first things first. G.M. says it needs $4 billion this month and another $8 billion by March; for a total of $18 billion just to stay in business. Chrysler is asking for $7 billion. Meanwhile, Ford says it doesn't need a bailout to stay in business, but would like a $9 billion line of credit, just in case.

At Tuesday's closing bell on Wall Street the Dow was up 270 points, but whether it stays up may depend on the Big Three automakers -- who return to Capitol Hill this week looking for $34 billion in bridge loans.

"We want to see a restructuring of their approach, that they have a new business model, a new business plan," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Ford's new plan is to accelerate production of electric cars and cut the CEO's pay to $1 a year. GM says it'll slash its work force, sell off its Hummer brand, and focus on Chevy, GMC, Buick and Cadillac. Chrysler is proposing cutting its work force by 25 percent and increasing fuel efficiency on 73 percent of its fleet. On the street, taxpayers tell us the type of car that's built will be important.

More fuel efficient cars should be the key, but if they don't build those kinds of cars, some will be disappointed.

"If they are going to continue to try and go down the same road they've been going down for the last 20 years, then it's $25 billion down a rat hole," said Brent Eubanks, from El Cerrito.

So contrast that sentiment with what was heard at a Ford dealership in San Leandro. The general manager said people aren't thinking about fuel economy.

"I can tell you during those times of high gas prices, people were turning their trucks in and they were buying smaller cars. And now that oil is back down, it's reversed back and we're starting to sell trucks again," said Scott Wade, from San Leandro Ford.

So do you follow what consumers want or what's good for the public?

"Most automakers most of the Big Three executives in their heart of hearts I bet they think that what they need is just to get through the next couple of years and they can go back to making the kinds of cars that consumers want. Unfortunately, if gas prices are down, that means gas guzzlers," said Professor Robert Reich, and economist and public policy expert.

Prof. Reich says it's what we saw after the first gasoline crisis in the 70's and it will likely happen again, unless the government in exchange for the bailout, forces the company's to make fundamental changes.

In San Leandro, the mayor is hoping the bailout goes through and the car companies do change their ways. Tony Santos says the city is staring down a $7 million budget short fall.

"Just yesterday I spoke to one of the dealers, I met him in a restaurant and said 'How are things going?' and he said, 'Sales are down 35 percent.' Well if his sales are down 35 percent, that means our revenue will be down 35 percent from that mall so you know it's pretty much a disastrous situation," said Mayor Santos.

The mayor of San Leandro wanted to do that interview outside in the parking lot next to the new Ford he just bought from the local dealer. The mayor said he wanted to buy a hybrid, but the dealership was sold out. This is the same dealer who told ABC7 people aren't thinking about fuel economy at least not as much as they used to.


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