Sunday, April 19, 2009
I went to the NY Auto Show this week. I haven't been in years, nor has KB. My daughter has never been at all. If you want to know what's wrong with the auto industry, it's a great place to go. No wonder they're begging for government handouts.
KB wanted to see the concept cars - the weird, scifi models that never see the light of day. I always find them sad - they're what engineers would do if they were allowed to make cars that people truly could be excited about. This year, there was no money in the budgets for futuristic vehicles - most companies showed their slightly-better-than-before fuel sippers. Excitement? Zero.
Chevy tried. It had a massive transformer figure standing above its two uninspiring Volt models. If the robot moved, it would have been a show-stopper - but it didn't move while I was there and the cars looked like cheap plastic toys; people yawned and moved on.
The big excitement was next door at Scion. That's where the iQ was on display. It's a Toyota with a new look, but they get it. It's economical, it's cheap, it's great on gas and it looks like nothing else on the road.
Smart Cars got a lot of attention, as did mini-Coopers. There were lines to get close to the electric luxury cars, the Fisker's Karma.
And then there were the tired old white bread cars in different settings. VW had a futuristic stage and everyone else was completely forgettable. My daughter wondered why anyone would ever want to go to an auto show, though she was quite fond of the Scion iQ.
Land Rover and Hummer, the old dinosaurs, were pushing luxury over efficiency. I heard the Land Rover shill informing visitors that the new model has more leather inch for inch than any other vehicle. Dead animals and gas guzzling - there's a winning combination.
There was one truly amazing car in the "no way!" category, and it made the whole show worthwhile. It was the Bertone Bat 11.
It put the other millionaires' sports cars to shame and it was a great story. Apparently the company was about to fold. Because of their finances, for the first time ever, they didn't have a stand at the Geneva Show. But they did have the Bat. And this latest version of a 50 year old concept car so excited investors and the world's top designers that they decided Bertone had better stay open to produce up to 50 of these babies.
Where are the exciting ideas from GM, from Chrysler? Conservatives continue to push the argument that the Obama administration is inappropriately stepping into the car industry - demanding changes in corporate leaders, dictating salaries, calling for new business plans. "He's socializing the industry!" is the alarmists' rallying cry.
I have one question. Didn't they ask for help?
Let's be clearer - didn't they beg for help? Didn't they say they were going under, and said it again after receiving an initial monstrous loan?
I'll make it simple. My money (which God knows I wish I could keep) is keeping them afloat because they can't do their jobs. They haven't ever anticipated the market - they always react to it, and later than their Japanese competitors. So now they want a loan - I don't loan money to a business without guarantees that they're spending it wisely. And if they can't get it together after the first loan, I'm fine with walking in, booting the people at the top and forcing the changes that will turn my money into a sound investment.
That's good business.